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Karma and Reincarnation
Bedtime Stories: Are They Real?

   by Peter Holleran

   "Subhuti, I remember that long ago, sometime during my past five hundred mortal lives, I was an ascetic practicing patience. Even then I was free from those distinctions of separated selfhood." - Buddha

   “Knowledge [of the Self] can remain unshaken only after all the vasanas are rooted out…Experiences gained without rooting out the vasanas cannot remain steady. Efforts must therefore be made to eradicate all the vasanas. Otherwise, rebirth takes place.” - Ramana Maharshi (Talks, p. 113-114)

   "One cannot transcend Karma, without performing Karma." - Bhagavad-Gita (3.4)

   “What he calls the “I” does not get reborn in further bodies, as he believes, nor did it do so in the past. But it does appear to do so. Only deep analytical thought associated with mystical meditation can de-mesmerize him from his self-made idea.” - Paul Brunton


   Bedtime stories: are they real? hmmmm....Depends on what “real” means, doesn’t it? Many teachers and teachings have tightly woven arguments showing the non-existence of every-thing: birth, death, karma, reincarnation, soul, God, manifestation, and on down the list, and there is merit to their insights, certainly on an absolute level. Yet, when all is said and done, despite the protestations of more radical advaitists, we must accept that karma, for better or worse, and its counterpart, reincarnation, on a practical level are facts of life, maintained as true by all cultures worldwide for centuries. That in itself is not proof of their reality, of course, in fact it might only mean there has been a universal need for man to believe in his continued survival in order to tolerate a short and brutish mortal existence.

   That might be the case if it were only common folk who believed in such things, but when the sages teach about them, one must consider some truth to be found therein. It is the purpose of this essay, through juxtaposition of differing views, absolute and relative, from various sources, to get a little closer to understanding - or getting a feel for, an intuition perhaps - of what that truth may be. Even while propounding the most esoteric forms of non-dualism, non-creation, non-bondage, non-liberation, no-self, only the One exists, and so on, the greatest of sages have accepted the truth of these doctrines, albeit relative truth, the only difference being in the interpretation and level of explanation given. And even after enlightenment, the conditional process (i.e., karma, cause and effect, rebirth, death) continues, as the opening quote to this article from the Buddha implies, and as Ramana Maharshi affirmed, so answers to our questions are warranted - even if in the end they may be unattainable. Given the impossibility of mind, or point-of-view, or waking-state-awareness, or any-state-awareness, to know Reality which necessarily transcends mind, and change, and all forms of imperfect knowledge, this must necessarily be the case. The best we can know is what truth is not. So let us set our sights on that. Patience, dear reader, this article is of some length, but one thing leads to another, and we have tried to be as exhaustive and conclusive as possible in tying up many loose ends.

   By way of introduction, prior to awakening, according to Advaita, the conditional process of manifestation is a projection out of an identification with a spurious concept of “I”, itself said by Sankara, to be the product of undescribable, undifferentiated Maya, by others as a spontaneous apparent arising in consciousness, or by still others out of a misidentification of consciousness with the psychophysical organism. Robert Adams, disciple of Ramana Maharshi, said:

   “If it weren’t for the “I” there would be no universe, there would be no God, there would be no creation.” (1)

   According to Ramana, and many of the newer teachers who have come after him, this “I”-notion is the causeless cause of creation: i.e., no “I”, no world. However, is this really true? If the child does not develop the notion of a separate “I” until the age of 18-24 months, which most psychologists and philosophic thinkers agree upon, are we to assume that the world is not already there for his perception? Surely it is, even though he may not yet have conceptually identified himself as separate from it as yet. Therefore, we may need to look elsewhere than just the “I”- thought for a complete understanding of the creation or manifestation of the world or world-image. Further, unless we fall into solipsism, we must grant that even if there is no world as such for us, there is still a world, or more properly, a world-image, for others. Therefore, the process of manifestation of a world must be seen as a mixture of a master World-Image projected through each of us and our own mind and brain mechanisms translating that individually into an apparently outwardly projected world-image. That is how we can all seem to see a more or less similar world, even though it is only known to each individually as his own idea. I am leading up to a brief description of the doctrine of mentalism as put forth by Paul Brunton (PB), which will be valuable in understanding the workings of karma. [For those unfamiliar with PB's unique terminology (Mind, World-Mind, World-Idea, Overself, Mentalism], found throughout this paper, please click here for a precise and necessary explanation].

   In short, for PB, as in many high teachings, the fundamental reality is One, or undifferentiated Mind, sometimes called the Godhead or, in Christianity, the "Father". In its active aspect, spontaneously is born from or as the One what PB calls the World-Mind, theologians call God, and Christianity calls the "Son" or the "Word". This World-Mind or God periodically or cyclically over eons of time, both emanates distinct-but-not-separate Souls or Overselves, and, through a series of stepped-down emanations, projects or manifests through each Overself a World-idea, which, through the contribution of our own mental mechanisms, becomes constructed by time and space into a world or, more aptly stated, world-image as we normally perceive it. The Hindus call this cycle of outward and inward movements of the universe pralaya or maha-pralaya, or dissolution and grand dissolution. So the Overself and World-Mind, or Soul and God, are, in a sense, co-creators of the world: the World-Mind provides the content, while the individual-but-not-separate (this paradoxical language must be maintained) Overself projecting a ray of itself through the heart and brain of the person, shapes that content into the form apparently externally recognizable by our five senses. PB states:

   "The World-Mind thinks its ideas into our mind. It is the thinking of the World-Mind that is primarily responsible for the world. We share the ideas, participate in the sense-images thus evoked, it is true, but we do not project their original stimulus. There is a cosmic activity within ourselves. The world is originally the product of World-Mind, and only secondarily by reflection the product of our mind...With every breath and every thought he is co-constructing this universe with the World-Mind and, therefore, in the New Testament phrase, "in Him we live and move and have our being." (1a)

   All the while, in truth, the universe is never separate from the "World-Idea" (source of the World-Image), which in turn is never separate from the World-Mind, which finally is never separate from Mind Itself, the Ultimate Principle of Being. Nor are the emanated Overselves separate from their source, the World-Mind; they are distinct but not separate, sharing in some of its qualities but not in its scope. All is One, then, but experienced at different levels.

   Thus, while it is true that if the "I" thought of an individual person subsides in the spiritual heart from which it arises, the world will temporarily disappear for him, but that does not satisfactorily answer the entire question of the world manifestation or the birth of the universe.

   We will return to this a bit later when elaborating on an interesting definition of God put forth by the sage Robert Adams which pertains to the discussion of karma.

   This explanation about the World-Mind and the "I" and so forth is not at all to take away from self-inquiry (i.e., “Who am ‘I’?”, the primary practice avocated by Ramana Maharshi) its power to dispell ignorance for some aspirants, only to say that, one, in order to understand the workings of karma in all its ramifications we may need a more expanded model of creation than that which his teachings as commonly interpreted imply, and, two, we may also need a more expanded description of what the ego is for the average person rather than merely saying that it is just the "I"-thought. Many fail at self-inquiry because they assume this view, not realizing that Ramana was serious when he said that inquiry was for "ripe souls." For others, ego really is a set of complex patterns of thought and behavior that must be transcended with actual sadhana in order to isolate the "I"-thought in order to engage real inquiry or vichara, if that is to be ones primary practice. In Ramana's company it may have seemed easy for some - he did transmit a magnetic current, Hridaya shakti, or power of the Heart - but in the real world and without such contact it is not always so. In other words, one must mature. PB as well as Sri Aurobindo developed an understanding of the ego and creation or manifestation which is different than the traditional advaita, that we will look at later in this paper, also saying more about the nature of the supposed “I”-notion (i.e., is it real?, is it illusion?, how does it come about?, is it really the 'cause' of creation?, is it just a 'thought'?, and so on).

   To remedy our state of ignorance in identifying the notion of “I” with the body, as stated, Ramana proposed primarily the practice of self-inquiry [which neither he or Robert Adams ever personally employed], although he did assert that bhakti, if sincere, was equally effective. Robert, too, emphasized self-inquiry, but lauded bhakti, calling it:

   "relying on 'The Current That Knows The Way'... It's all part of the grand illusion. But even in this illusion which appears in front of your eyes, there is a Presence and a Power that lifts you up." (2)

   Ramana likewise said:

   "Surrender yourself fully and whole-heartedly to the One Universal Force, and you will become one with that Force." (3)

   Some contemporary teachers as well as traditional advaitins tend to ignore or down play this aspect of the divine, emphasizing only understanding. Why is that? I think it may hold the key to reconciling Vedanta with mystic paths such as Sant Mat, as well as the teachings of Paul Brunton (PB) and Aurobindo. The latter called Ramana a "Hercules among the yogis," and said that "his tapasya had won glory for India." (4)

   What these quotes suggest to me is that right here in the relative realm, the realm of karma, of cause and effect, there is the working of grace; that they are not radically separate. This will be an ongoing theme of this article.


   The traditional understanding of karmavada is one of recompense, of balancing the scales of good deeds and bad deeds, and of good thoughts and bad thoughts. The very idea of ‘balancing the accounts’ has often been given as the reason for taking human birth again and again. We suggest, however, that a more positive, philosophic understanding is one in which the law of karma is an instrument of the Divine in furthering its purpose in this universe, and that experiences of ‘good’ or ‘bad’ - by human standards only - come to people not primarily for punishment or recompense but in order to further their growth and spiritual evolution. Since the Divine ‘Agent’, to use a term from Sri Aurobindo, is the ultimate Source of His manifestation, He is free, along with his ‘deputees’, to change, modify, or bypass seemingly ‘destined’ karmas, in order to provide the unique experiences a particular Soul needs for its eventual Union with the Supreme. Sri Aurobindo writes:

   “...the statement of the Law of Karma errs by an over-simplification and the arbitrary selection of a limited principle...the maintainance of human standards of morality cannot be the sole preoccupation of the cosmic Law or the sole principle of determination of the working of Karma.” (5) “Karma is only a machinery, it is not the fundamental cause of terrestrial existence - it cannot be, for when the soul first entered this existence, it had no Karma.” (6)

   Furthermore, for Aurobindo one does not start a new life precisely where he left off in the previous one: during the soul’s sojourn in the higher regions after death, the essence of the lessons learned in life are distilled and carried forward with the soul, the inner or ‘psychic’, being, which partakes of the divine nature and is therefore also eternal and immortal. Thus, for Aurobindo, the same individual progresses from life to life, unlike Vedanta or Buddhism, which speak only of the One Self or “Suchness” as eternal with no reincarnating entity allowed. [For Aurobindo, moreover, the higher realms are real, objective regions, and not just products of one’s imagination - although there are such imaginary heavens and hells as well, which he calls “annexes of the supraphysical worlds”. This view is not inherently in contradiction with the mentalistic doctrine of PB and other sages, one need only assert the “Master Image” of the World-Mind to account for the apparent “objectivity” of the subtle realms; the purely subjective realms of ones imagination are an overlay on those, and in which the soul does not tarry for long]. Not just the forces of Nature or the ‘Lords of Karma’, but the inner being itself has a part in the creation of its future incarnation, which will be the best suited for its continued spiritual evolution:

   “...a law or chain of Karma is only an outward machinery and cannot be elevated..as the sole and absolute determinant of the life-workings of the cosmos...the Spirit within is not an automaton in the hands of Karma, a slave in this life of its past actions...If a certain amount of results of past Karma is formulated in the present life, it must be with the consent of the psychic being which presides over the new formation of its earth-experience and assents not merely to an outward compulsory process, but to a secret Will and Guidance. That secret Will is not mechanical, but spiritual...Self-expression and experience are what the soul seeks by birth into the body; whatever is necessary for the self-expression and experience of this life, whether it intervenes as an automatic outcome of past lives or as a free selection of results and a continuity or as a new development...that will be formulated...Karma cannot be accepted as the sole determinant of circumstances and the whole machinery of rebirth and of our future evolution.” (7)

   “Cosmic existence is not a vast administrative system of universal justice with a cosmic Law of recompense and retribution as its machinery...It is the field of a self-developing movement of consciousness, a movement therefore of Spirit working out its own being in the motion of Energy and Nature. In this motion takes place the cycle of rebirth, and in that cycle the soul, the psychic being, prepares for itself - or the Divine Wisdom or the Cosmic Consciousness-Force prepares for it and through its action, - whatever is needed for the next step in its evolution, the next formation of personality...for each new birth, for each new step of the Spirit backward or forward or else in a circle, but always a step in the growth of the being towards its destined self-unfolding in Nature.” (8)

   PB likewise states:

   “The forces which move men and bring about events are not always to be found by rational analysis. There is another factor present which eludes such analysis. It may be called the evolutionary intent of the World-Mind [Absolute Mind or the unknowable Godhead in its active aspect as World-Mind, Divine Intelligence and creative power, or Adi Buddhi, whose further expression is the World-Idea; moreover, “The World-Mind holds in one eternal thought the entire World-Idea” (9) ] ...Abrupt changes in history and brusque changes in ideas came in our time partly because they were karmically due, or even over overdue, and partly because of pressure from the World-Idea... World-Idea is drawing us little by little after the pattern of its own inifinite perfection...We can call it evolution if we wish but the actuality is not quite the same. The universe is being guided to follow the World-Idea - this is the essence of what is happening.” (10)


   "The universe expresses infinite intelligence and possesses meaning precisely because it is a manifestation of infinite mind. The presence of World-mind invest the whole world-process with sense and sanity. We may translate this into the statement that God is the secret and original source of the universal mental and biological activity, the basis and bedrock of the whole world-experience.. Evolution is guaranteed because some fragment of the cosmic mind is itself the life-force which strives upward through all the muffling veils of the four kingdoms of nature, a striving to attain self-maturity which is inherent in every finite form from that of a so-called dead mineral to that of a living man. Consciousness too develops along with the life-force, attaining conscious sensation in the lower animals, conscious thinking, that is intellect in the higher animal and lower human stages, and spiritual self-knowledge that is insight in the higher human stage. Therefore we need not fear that the cosmic purpose in its creatures is doomed to final failure..Thus the world evidences a hidden mainspring of life and mind, will and intelligence..anyone with an eye to see can see that the universe reveals that it is being held in intelligent and intelligible order. Arbitrary caprice did not create the world once upon a time. Blind disorder has not ruled it since. There is true meaning, there is strict law, there is genuine coherence...When this is understood, it can then also be understood that karma is not merely a law of inheriting previous impressions or of self-reproduction or of moral retributive justice but is also something much larger. It is an eternal law which tends to adjust the individual operation to the universal operation. It works for the universe as a whole to keep its innumerable units in harmony with its own integral balance." (10a)

   For Aurobindo, between births, this forward process continues:

   “There is an assimilation, a discarding and strengthening and rearrangement of the old characters and motives, a new ordering of the developments of the past and a selection for the purpose of the future without which the new start cannot be fruitful or carry forward the evolution. For each birth is a new start; it develops from the past, but is not a mechanical continuation: rebirth is not a constant reiteration but a progression, it is the machinery of an evolutionary process.” (11)

   I have placed these quotes here from the teaching of Aurobindo and PB because both of their philosophies are different from the Advaita and Zen teachings we will hear from shortly, and also because they have similar ideas about spiritual evolution found with teachers like Eckhart Tolle and others; and, finally, because I currently feel that their views present a more encompassing vision than some of the traditional teachings.Three final important passages before we move on:

   “It is the secret Spirit or divinity of Self in us which is imperishable, because it is unborn and eternal. The psychic entity within, its representative, the spiritual individual in us, is the Person that we are; but the “I” of this moment, the “I” of this life, is only a formation, a temporary personality of this inner Person...It is the inner Person that survives death, even as it pre-exists before birth; for this constant survival is a rendering of the eternity of our timeless Spirit into the terms of Time.” (12)

   The Mother speaks of the psychic being in terms of a first awakening:

   “The moment you are in contact with your psychic being, you have the feeling of having always been, and being always, eternally.” (13)

   Finally, Aurobindo states:

   “The pure Self is unborn, does not pass through death or birth, is independent of birth or body, mind or life or this manifested nature. It is not bound by these things, not limited, not effected, even though it assumes and supports them. The soul, on the contrary, is something that comes down into birth and passes through death - although it does not itself die, for it is immortal - from one state to another, from the earth plane to other planes and back again to the earth-existence. It goes on with this progression from life to life through an evolution which leads it up to the human state and evolves through it all a being of itself which we call the psychic being that supports the evolution and develops a physical, a vital, a mental human consciousness as its instruments of world-experience and of a disguised, imperfect, but growing self-expression. All this it does from behind a veil...But a time comes when it is able to prepare to come out from behind the veil, to take command and turn all the instrumental nature towards a divine fulfillment. This is the beginning of spiritual life.” (14)

   Jugal Kishore Muhkerjee summarizes all of this for us:

   “It is through a conscious individual being...that the evolving consciousness becomes organised and capable of awakening to its own Reality. The immense importance of the individual being, which increases as he rises in the scale of evolution, is the most remarkable and significant fact of a universe which started without consciousness and without individuality in an undifferentiated Nescience. This importance can only be justified if the Self as individual is no less real than the Self as Cosmic Being or Spirit and if both are powers of the Eternal Transcendant. It is only so that can be explained the necessity for the growth of the individual and his discovery of himself as a condition for the discovery of the Cosmic Self and Consciousness and of the supreme Reality. Thus the world is real, the individual is real, and the manifestation is real and not illusory without any purpose behind it. [This is slightly misleading; Aurobindo’s “universal realism” does not grant the independent existence of matter, if that is what is meant here; the idea of "purpose" also requires further explaining, if one is not to fall into the mode of thinking of a finite egoic-sense-mind]. There is a great purpose and that purpose is to usher in the full manifestation of the Transcendant Divine in time and space...The soul has not surely finished what it had to do, by merely developing into humanity; it has still to develop that humanity into its own higher possibilities. We may reasonably doubt whether even a Plato or a Shankara marks the crown of human birth and therefore signifies the end of the outflowering of the Spirit in man.” (15)

   PB similarly speaks of the” reality of the illusion”:

   “If the world is shere illusion, how could man - himself a part of this illusion - ever know the real? Were he merely an illusion he could see only further illusion. Were he part of the Real he could see further reality.” (16)


   "If the experienced world were really the complete illusion that so many mystics pronounce it to be, then it could teach us nothing and our pilgrimage through it would be utterly useless..Those who would turn the world into an illusion to which no value should be attached, are nevertheless compelled to recognize its presence and evolve their theory to account for it. That the world is worthless to them is an indication of their inability to grasp its deepest significance..It is wrong to ..regard the universe as illusory but right to regard it simply as what it is; a mental creation. Imagination is a power belonging to the cosmic Mind and therefore neither it nor its products can be deceptions in the ultimate sense. What is illusory is the world's materiality, not its existence..Duality is an illusion of the mind. The ancient dualism between Spirit and Matter dissolves and disappears for the enlightened man..Illusion and reality are but counters for the beginner to play with. Dualism is only for the ignorant. There is only the One..The Real and its expression through the World-Idea are, after all, not two irrevocably separate things but an unbroken unity..We are seeing the Real all the time when we see the external world. Only we are seeing it at second remove, as it were, and not immediately, the ice and not the vapour. As St. Paul phrased it: "The invisible things of God are clearly seen, being understood from the things that are made." (16a)

   Zen Master Dogen said:

   “Unwise people think that in the world of essence there should be no bloom of flowers and no fall of leaves.” (17)

   We will speak more on this important view later. If this form of evolutionary language does not get the imprimatur of non-dualism or Vedanta, so be it. Our chief aim from here will be to speak in relatively accessible and practical terms. There will be plenty of time for the Absolute to intervene.


   Both Robert and Ramana advised humility first and last as an essential quality to cultivate in order to grow spiritually. Ramana in fact once excoriated a fellow in his ashram who proclaimed his enlightenment, knowledging that ‘all was consciousness’, and he had a realization equal to that of Ramana, etc., by shouting, "Enough! Enough! You think you are a transcendental being! Enough!". The moral of the story is, only when we don’t know who we are, or what anything is, are we awake, or even have a chance of being awake.

   [To understand the difficulty mystics and yogis have with the notion of 'causality', and which will also be useful in navigating through various arguments proposed here regarding karma and the like, the serious reader is directed to A Brief Summary of Creation Views on this website. In order not to interrupt the flow of a first reading, however, one might want to come back to that later on].

   The following is an interesting comment made by Robert Adams, the meaning which may become clearer in succeeding passages:

   "You can call God the law of karma."

   If God is the law of karma, how can anything be bad? Yet already we have suggested that the law of karma is not a rigorous law of its own, but an instrument for the Divine Agent in fulfilling His will and Purpose. In this view all is not predetermined - free will and predetermination being but human concepts in any case. PB tells us:

   "The Overself does not always play the part of a witness however. Still and unmoving though it be, nevertheless its presence paradoxically makes possible all man's activities and movements. In a broad sense it is not only the hidden observer but also, by virtue of its being a function of the World-Mind, the inner ruler of the person. Thus it arranges the karma of the coming incarnation before birth, for it contains all his karmic possibilities out of the past, and it is the secret actualizing agent which passes them down into time and space for his ultimate progress. At critical moments in the personal life it may suddenly and dramatically interfere by engineering unexpected events or by imparting a powerful urge toward a sudden decision. This also is an act of grace. In the result the man is super-rationally guided or miraculously guarded...More precisely, grace is a mystical energy, an active principle pertaining to the Overself which can produce results in the fields of human thought, feeling and flesh alike on the one hand, or in human karma, circumstances and relations on the other hand. It is the cosmic will, not merely a pious wish or kindly thought, and can perform authentic miracles under its own known laws. Such is its dynamic potency that it can confer insight into ultimate reality as easily as it can lift a dying person back to life again or instantaneously restore the use of limbs to a crippled one." (17a)

   Furthermore he says:

   "And because the Overself is the source of [his] karmic adjustment, it may be said that each man is truly his own judge. For it must never be forgotten that fundamentally the Overself is his own central self; it is not something alien to or remote from him. The real nature of karma is not grasped if it is believed to be a power external to the self, ruthlessly dictating its decrees for our helpless submission. On the contrary, by virtue of the fact that the whole world is mental it is a power working in everything and everyone. This yields the clear implication that what happens to him happens by the secret will of his own innermost being. From this standpoint the sufferings he my have to endure are not evils in the ultimate but only in the immediate sense and what appears as a blind external and ruthless force is really a conscious internal and purifying one." (17b)

   On these matters we are as innocent children picking up shells on the sea shore. We may not know what is going on, but we can have Faith that all is well. That may truly be our best starting point and companion on our journey.

   Robert then makes the following statements:

   "In reality karma does not exist. Yet how many of us have such reality? Therefore, the best thing for you to do is to practice the jnana practices, but...whatever [other] practice you have, keep it up...If you try to act like a Jnani before your time, you will have a lot of problems, for you will develop an “I don’t give a damn” attitude, and that’s not what we’re talking about...A real Jnani has more love and compassion than anyone else...For while the Jnani carries a body, the body becomes an instrument for good in this world. Therefore, you can never judge a Jnani, for you have no idea what a Jnani is.You can see a Jnani praying to God, just as ardently as a bhakti. Yet the Jnani knows there is no God, but does it for the sake of others.” (18)

   “As long as you believe you’re human, a personal I, then there is a personal God. This is where prayer comes in. You can pray to that God and you will be helped. Your personal God will take care of you if you surrender and submit. When you submit, you are giving up your ego. You are saying, “I am nothing and you are everything...This will help you. One day you will awaken to the fact that the God you have been praying to is none other than yourself. How can this God be separate from you? Where would he live? What would His nature be? You begin to understand that “I am That.” You find freedom in yourself. You begin to see that God is not within me, but that I am in God. What I had called God is Consciousness. I am conscious. I am aware. I exist. I am. There is nothing else.” (19)

   But that mysterious statement of Roberts, "you can call God the law of karma," needs some explanation. It makes sense from a non-dual standpoint, i.e., the universe of cause and effect is a non-separate manifestation of the ever-free World-Mind; they are not-two. Yet PB supplies us with an additional way of looking at it. He tells us, as mentioned above, that from absolute Mind spontaneously is born, out of its own nature and unchanging law, the World-Mind. He refers to this law as karmic law, and in doing so differentiates between two types of this:

   "Karma is a two-fold law, one being general and the other special. The first is ultimate, and applicable to everything in the universe for it is simply the law of every individual entity's own continuity. Whether it be a planet or a protoplasm it has to inherit the characteristics of its own previous existence and thus adjust effect to cause. The second is immediate, and applicable only to individuals who have attained self-consciousness, thus limiting the start of its operations to human entities. This makes the individual accountable for thoughts and for the deeds born of his thoughts."

   "The World-Mind brings forth its general world images not by arbitrary fiat but by their natural continuity as the consequences of all those that have previously existed. They are a continuation of all the remembered world-images which have appeared before, but modifed and developed by their own mutual inter-action and evolution, not by the capricious decree of a humanized God. The World-Mind makes the universe by constructively thinking it. But it does not think arbitrarily. The thoughts arise of their own accord under a strict karmic and evolutionary law...When the collective karmas of all individual and planetary centers exhaust themselves, cycle of world history closes. The manifested universe then retreats and the World-Mind rests from its labours. But dawn follows night and the cosmic dawn witnesses the re-imagining of all things once again. When the same karmas begin once more to germinate and to reproduce themselves a new cycle opens and the visible world comes into being once more as the heritage of all the existences which were to be found in the previous one. The characteristics of the preceeding cosmos determines the nature of the one which succeeds it...All the potential thought-forms are not brought into activity simultaneously. Out of the innumerable host available, a selective process inherent in the intelligence of the World-Mind and working always with the immutable law of karma, accepts, associates, and gathers together those only which make for a gradual unfoldment in time and an orderly unfoldment in space. They do not emerge together but successively. hence the universe never appears as ready-made, but as a gradual evolution."

   "When we understand mentalism we understand too that the World-Mind does not exist separately alongside the universe but in it and of it...From this loftier standpoint the universe is a veritable self-revelation of God, not merely something made by it...The world was not arbitrarily created by outside intervention but was periodically self-born through the hidden activity of karmic forces under an ultimate law. The impressions of all objects in the universe lie latent within the inner depths of the World-Mind until they become active by the general working of karma when they are externalized in the familiar space-time level which we call the physical world...The World-Mind obeys the everlasting law of its own being and periodically manifests or reabsorbs the world-image. What is the inner nature which so compels it to do so? It is karma, the ultimate and eternal law governing the rhythm of universal existence and non-existence...Now whether the force we call the World-Mind lies concealed and latent in the illimitable and absolute essence out of which it arises periodically under an immutable law of its own being or whether it is actively engaged in the work of emanating a cosmos, it is as inseparable from that essence as the sparkling luster is inseparable from a cut diamond. It forever abides with Mind. Hence John says, "And the Word was with God."...The Absolute does nothing to bring forth the World-Mind but the World-Mind appears spontaneously and periodically by itself according to an eternal law whereas the universe is emanated by the World-Mind's active force."

   PB then makes it plain that the manifestation of the cosmos is not for the World-Mind's own sake, for that is eternal and needs nothing:

   "The World-Mind abides unchanged and unaffected by the general movement. The cosmic process goes on therefore not for the World-Mind's sake but vicariously for the sake of the individuals within it. Hence the inner necessity which calls it forth into existence must not be misread. It is purely karmic. If we are called upon - as we are - to become co-workers in this process it is not really for the World-Mind's sake but for man's sake. Let us not make the mistake of imagining that our participation in the divine work is needed to help the World-Mind's interests...The World-Mind is forever producing and perfecting out of its own substance and under the necessary conditions of time and space a universe whose members will grow in consciousness through a series of planetary wanderings towards a sublime goal. (19b)

   One begins to get the picture: in light of the above one can say that "God (World-Mind) is the law of karma."

   We are faced, then, with two modes of understanding, the apparantly absolute and relatively absolute: “Only God or Consciousness exists", and, “God is the law of karma.” For the sake of our discussion, both views must be held simultaneously. We must also explain the workings of what PB called special or individual karma. Yet it must also be admitted that all of this is something that we can barely even talk about intelligently. Nevertheless, we will try as best as we can, remembering the following maxims:

   “Nothing that you can explain exists.”   “If it made sense it wouldn’t be the truth.”   ”It wouldn’t be a true teaching if it weren’t paradoxical.” ! (20)


   So let us start the heart of this essay from square one. On the subject of the ego, traditionally considered the primary source of karmic bondage, Anthony Damiani, contrary to many contemporary teachers, issues this warning:

   "Don't kid yourself. Don't come to me from the point of view that the ego doesn't exist, because it's been around as long as the Overself [Soul] has been projecting itself, manifesting itself through some kind of life. The residue of all that living becomes a tendency which you're going to find is perhaps not a permanent entity, but good enough to drive you up the wall for the next indefinite number of incarnations...As soon as you say the ego is "empty" then you're in for it. I don't think you understand why I regard any talk like that as utterly futile and even esoterically stupid. I don't care who says it. Anyone who thinks he's going to outwit his ego is in for a real rough time. That's why I don't like to call it empty. I like to think of it as a real fire-breathing dragon.....That's why I sometimes tease you by saying that anyone who tells me the ego is illusory is out of his mind. He hasn't even encountered it yet." (21)

   He said that once a person has a glimpse of the soul, and also sees into the nature of the ego and its "tyrannical sway", then one is truly on the path.

   Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche warned:

   "My advice to you is not to undertake the spiritual path. It is too difficult, too long, and it is too demanding. What I would suggest, if you haven't already begun, is to go to the door, ask for your money back, and go home now, this is not a picnic. It is really going to ask everything of you and you should understand that from the beginning. So it is best not to begin. However, if you do begin, it is best to finish." (22)

   Sogyal Rinpoche adds:

   "All the Buddhist teachings are explained in terms of "Ground, Path, and Fruition." The ground of Dzogchen is this fundamental, primordial state, our absolute nature, which is already perfect and always present...Yet, we have to understand that the Buddhas took one path and we took another. The buddhas recognize their original nature and become enlightened; we do not recognize that nature and so become confused...The Dzogchen masters are acutely aware of confusing the absolute with the relative. People who fail to understand this relationship can overlook and even disdain the relative aspects of spiritual practice and the karmic law of cause and effect. However, those who truly seize the meaning of Dzogchen will have only a deeper respect for karma, as well as a keener and more urgent appreciation of the need for purification and for spiritual practice. This is because they will understand the vastness of what it is in them that has been obscured, and so endeavor all the more fervently and with an always fresh, natural discipline, to remove whatever stands between them and their true nature." (23)

   Finally, PB writes:

   “All spiritual study is incomplete if it ignores the facts, truths, laws, and principles of cosmogony. To attempt to justify this neglect with the accusation that they belong to the world of illusion is silly and useless. For the accuser must still continue to live in an illusory body and use an illusory self governed by those laws. After every such attempt and for each violation of those laws - upon which the order and harmony of the universe depend - which his neglect brings about, he must pay the penalty in suffering.” (24)

   In his poem, "The Higher Pantheism," Alfred Lord Tennyson lyrically expresses this thought:

   "Dreams are true while they last,
   and do we not live in dreams?"

   Gangaji, commenting on the need for maintaining "vigilance" after having a glimpse of ones true nature, writes:

   "If you are serious in your resolve to be vigilant, then your resolve will be tested. Once you consciously say, "Okay, I am ready. I am ready for everything to appear and test my confidence in what is true, what is real," then of course you will be thrown to the ground time and again. You are playing with the master, life itself." (25)

   Bodhidharma (CE 440-528) says:

   "To find a buddha all you have to do is see your nature. Your nature is the buddha. And the buddha is the person who's free: free of plans, free of cares. If you don't see your nature and run all day around looking somewhere else, you'll never find a buddha. The truth is, there's nothing to find. But to reach such understanding you need a teacher and you need to struggle to make yourself understand. Life and death are important. Don't suffer them in vain. There's no advantage in deceiving yourself. If you don’t find a teacher soon, you’ll live this life in vain. It’s true, you have the buddha-nature. But the help of a teacher you’ll never know it. Only one person in a million becomes enlightened without a teacher’s help. If, though, by the conjunction of conditions, someone understands what the Buddha meant, that person doesn’t need a teacher. Such a person has a natural awareness superior to anything taught. But unless you’re so blessed, study hard, and by means of instruction you’ll understand." (25a)

   It is fitting to begin our essay with these sobering words, to counter naive assumptions of both seekers and teachers alike. Another such message is delivered by D.T. Suzuki in his comments on Shin Buddhism, where self-effort of any kind is sometimes summarily dismissed in favor of faith or devotion to ‘Amida’ Buddha to deliver one to the ‘Pure Land’, which also is implied to exist somewhere far away, quite the opposite of the Zen view in which the Lotus Land of Purity exists right here and now:

   “There is a deep and impenetrable chasm between Amida and ourselves, and we are so heavy-laden with Karma hindrance that we cannot shake it off by our own power. Amida must come and help us, extend his arms of help from the farther end. This is what is generally taught by the Shin (Buddhism) school. But from another point of view, however ignorant and impotent and helpless we may be, we will never grasp Amida’s arms unless we exhaust everything we have in our efforts to reach the other end.”

   “It is all right to say other-power does everything by itself. We just let it accomplish its work, but we must nevertheless become conscious of the other-power’s doing its work in us. Unless we are conscious of Amida’s doing his work, we shall never be saved. We can never be conscious or sure of the fact that we are born in the Pure Land and have attained our Enlightenment. To acquire this consciousness, we must exhaust all our efforts...The other-power is all important, but this all-importantness is known only to those who have striven, by means of self-power, to attempt the impossible.”

   Currently in vogue, the non-dual argument often given is that, since there is no-self, no time, no world, and no God, there is then no need for effort or practices, no goal, and no possibility of cause and effect or karma either. This very well may be true from an Absolute standpoint, but one needs remember that ‘non-duality’ itself is not ‘non-duality’, it is ‘empty’, in itself a concept, just like everything it may deny. A broader application of the non-dual viewpoint, however, recognizes the following very real paradoxes with their own practical implications. Peter Fenner writes:

   “...paradoxes arise with the realization that the experience of the unconditioned mind is neither conditioned nor unconditioned, and that it is neither one nor many. Another characteristic of the unconditioned mind is that it can't be lost or gained (be-cause it isn't anything), yet we repeatedly enter it and then lose it!”

   “One of the most delightful paradoxes is that at the end of the nondual path we realize that we haven't traveled any distance—that no path has been traversed and that we haven't attained "anything." But we also realize that if we hadn't believed that there was a path and made the effort we have made, we wouldn't have arrived at the point we are at. Even though we realize that our struggle and commitment has been pointless, in the absence of this effort we would still be drifting in the illusion that there actually is somewhere to go and something to achieve. Without doing what we didn't need to do, we wouldn't realize that we didn't need to do it.”

   This is just what Advaita Vedanta says: the Self, even though it is ever-awake, self-knowing, and “never not realized”, can paradoxically hide itself from itself, and one must engage practices to eradicate this ignorance. James Swartz elaborates on this perplexity:

   “If there is only one Self and this Self always knows who it is, i.e. that it is limitless and whole and therefore does not need any particular experience to erase its sense of limitation and make it whole, how can it forget who it is?  Vedanta says that it can't forget but that it can forget. Or to put it another way it says that there is only one Self, pure Awareness, and that this Self is capable of both knowledge and ignorance. It would not be limitless if it were unable to be ignorant. This capability of being two opposite things at once is called Maya.   The definition of Maya is: that which is not. You can see the problem in the definition. How can something that is not, be?  Well, strangely, it can.”

   “There is a strange notion that when one permanently experiences the Self the intellect is switched off for good and you just remain forever as the Self in some kind of no thought state. The fact is that the intellect keeps right on thinking from womb to tomb.  God gave it to us for a good reason.  Clear logical practical thinking is absolutely necessary if you are going to crack the identity code.  It is called inquiry. You want to think before realization, during realization and after realization.  Realization is nothing more than a hard and fast conclusion that you come to about your identity based on direct experience of the Self. Only understanding will solve the riddle...No experience
[an awakening or ‘epiphany’] will eradicate vasanas born in ignorance and reinforced with many years of negative behavior.” (28)

   He further suggests that those who are not capable of pursuing direct inquiry need to employ other types of practices, such as bhakti and karma yoga, in order to purify the mind so it can successfuly inquire. How paradoxical can you get, needing to perform actions in order to become what you (actionlessly) already are! So one can begin to see how the relative and absolute domains are inseparable.

   Here are the words of an excellent teacher, Abbot Zenkei Shibayama, on an appropriate attitude to come to at some point towards oneself, karma, and the need for Grace. It is not meant to be a form of mea culpa, mea culpa, or an artifice of humility, but an honest assessment of the actual condition one is in:

   “The first step in pursuing the way to religion is to “empty oneself.” But this “emptying oneself” does not mean, as ordinarily understood, merely to be humble in one’s thinking or to clean out all from the self-deceived mind so that it can accept anything. It has a much deeper and stronger meaning. One has to face the “ugliness and helplessness” of oneself, or of human life itself, and must confront deep contradictions and sufferings, which are called the “inevitable karma.” He has to look deep into his inner self, go beyond the last extremity of himself, and despair of himself as a “self which can by no means be saved.” “Emptying oneself” comes from this bitterest experience, from the abyss of desperation and agony, of throwing oneself down, body and soul, before the Absolute.”

      “It is the keenness with which one realizes one’s helplessness and despairs of oneself, in other words, how deeply one plunges into one’s inner self and throws oneself away, which is the key to religion. “To be saved,” “to be enlightened,” or “to get the mind pacified” is not of primary importance. Shinran Shonin, who is respected as one of the greatest religious geniuses in Japan, once deplored, “I am unworthy of any consideration and am surely destined for hell!”....When one goes through this experience, for the first time the words of the great religious teachers are directly accepted with one’s whole heart and soul...”

   Master Po Shan similarly discoursed:

   “Therefore the proverb says, after enlightenment one should visit the Zen Masters.” The sages of the past demonstrated the wisdom of this when, after their enlightenment, they visited the Zen Masters and improved themselves greatly. One who clings to his realization and is unwilling to visit the Masters, who can pull out his nails and spikes, is a man who cheats himself.” (30)

   As said by one great Zen master:

   “First realization, then deal with the evil karma.”

   In the Sant Mat tradition, the spiritual master is all in all for the disciple, responsible for both his karmic destiny and liberation. The following is an interesting passage from Kirpal Singh:

   "The moment [a competent spiritual Master] accepts an individual as His own, He takes in His own Hand the process of liquidating the endless process of Karma coming down from the untold past...all Karmic debts are to be paid and their accounts squared here and now, and the speedier it is done, the better, instead of keeping any outstanding balances to be paid hereafter. In the time of Hazrat Mian Mir, a great Muslim devout and mystic, it is said that one of his disciples Abdullah, when down with an ailment, withdrew his sensory currents to the eye-focus and closed himself safely in the citadel of peace. His Master Mian Mir when He visited him, pulled Abdullah down to the body consciousness and ordered him to pay what was due from him for he could not indefinitely evade the payment by such tactics." (31)

   What can one say? Better stay away from Masters with such powers! PB also cautions us:

   “Beware what you pray for. Do not ask for the truth unless you know what it means and all that it implies and nevertheless are still willing to accept it. For if it is granted to you, it will not only purge the evil out of you but later purify the egoism from your mind. Will you be able to endure this loss, which is unlikely to be a painless one?" (32)


   Peter Dziuban argues, contrarily, that the assertion ‘Consciousness Is All’ is irrefutable, and therefore things such as karma and reincarnation have no reality whatsoever:

   “As Consciousness is All or One - It thus is not a higher Self, but the only Self. It precludes there being another, lesser consciousness that has to or can become anything. No transformation is necessary or even possible. This shatters the myth of a would-be secondary self struggling to get at-one with a vague "god."...As there is only the Unchanging Present I AM, I leave no place for a time process called karma or reincarnation to operate. Omnipresence simply cannot be subject to, or allow for, “karma” - and there honestly is no other being present or alive. Where I AM All, and changelessly so, there is no not-I-Am... It means no time-process called karma ever could have begun, nor could there be anyone held in bondage.” (33)

   Dziuban’s book is brilliant, and this quote is an ultimate statement worthy of contemplation, written as he states, 'from the position of Consciousness." Yet we promised to be practical. So perhaps to say in the logic of Nagarjuna that karma or time are neither real nor unreal, both real and unreal, is a safer assertion for now than saying that they do not exist. The truth is, we are profoundly ignorant, perhaps blessedly so, and do not know even what they are, much less whether or not they exist. Even to say, as is common in spiritual teachings, that it is real on a relative level, but unreal on an absolute level, may be saying too much for our purposes here. As V.S. Iyer points out in his commentary on the Mandukya Upanishad :

   "Advaita...uses the term "unborn," in reference to the Atman, only to refute those who say it is born, i.e., created, produced. So we say it is "uncreated" in reply. For "birthless" is only a word, i.e., a thought...not the truth. It is a thorn to pick out the thorn of causal-grounded ideas." (34)

   In Zen or advaitic terms, the word ‘unborn’ is also not the truth but only a ‘pointer’ to the truth. Similarly, the Buddha said that he never denied the existence of the Soul, he just said it was ‘unborn’ and indefinable. The same can be said for other concepts, such as karma, reincarnation, consciousness, reality, and so on. They, as concepts, are all ‘empty’. As the Dalai Lama once said, ‘emptiness is empty’, so also is nirvana ‘empty’. And because they are in essence ‘empty’, they can also be said in some sense to exist. In non-duality, the sage is said to abide simultaneously in time and the timeless. That being said, Dziuban's book, Consciousness Is All, if read and re-read slowly will likely have one go through a revolution in one's thinking. Is is a fresh exposition of the One.It is also, however, essentially traditional advaita vedanta, and thus different from Plotinus' and PB's - and also Aurobindo's - doctrine of three Eternal Principles, essentially united yet distinct.

   Robert Adams, like Maharshi, made similar remarks:

   "There are no problems. There is nothing wrong. Everything is unfolding as it should. Everything happens in its own time. Space and time are illusions. They really do not exist. They're stationary. Causation doesn't exist either. No thing has a cause, therefore no thing has an effect. Cause and effects are again products of your own mind. When the mind is quiet, karma ceases. Samskaras are non-existent. There never was a cause for anything. But if you feel that in a previous life you did something wrong and now you are paying the price, or if you think that you did something wrong in this life and you're paying the price, then you'll pay the price, because that's what you think."

   But, like his master Ramana, he also balanced this by saying:

   “You want the results of the saints and sages, but they did their homework. If you seek self aggrandizement and acknowledgement by others, you will become very unhappy. For this is not your True Nature. Live correctly, do daily practices, spread sunshine and love to others, and these things will awaken Grace and Forgiveness in your life. This will make it easier to experience your True Self. This will become a beautiful reality for you. Live in Brotherhood with all, and live according to scriptural precepts. You cannot escape this. Live correctly. Live in Brotherhood with all. Without this, you will not alleviate your own suffering." (35)

   PB explains the significance of the absolute and relative dimensions in relation to awakening:

   “It is true that illumination is itself an instantaneous experience, since we pass into it from one moment to the next, and since the real is timeless. But to hold this illumination against the intrusions of negative personal habits and negative personal characteristics is another matter and success in it is quite rare.” (35a)

   "Without virtue," said Plotinus, "God is only a word."

   Kirpal Singh wrote:

   "It is not the inner experience which determines the spiritual progress, but the basic personal attitude of serene living of the child disciple, which proves his or her true worth." (36)

   The following dialogue occurred between Prince Chandragarbha and his guru Atisha. It might also be seen as an anecdote to spiritual hubris or immaturity:

   "O guru! On entering samadhi, I perceived (a state of voidness) like a cloudless sky, radiant, pure and clear. Is that the nature of the Dharma, O guru? Then, after coming forth from meditation, I was troubled by no attachment, but longed to be of benefit to sentient beings. I recognize the reality of karma, even though all objects are revealed as illusions. O guru, is my practice without error?" The guru answered: "Fortunate man. You are a product of accumulated merit. As a bhikshu I do not exaggerate or pervert the truth. Although at the time of concentration one perceives that all objects share the voidness of the sky, one must lift up all beings through compassion after the concentration has been performed. This is an exposition of two truths (absolute and relative)."

   Atisha's guru, Avadhutipa, himself gave this stern admonition:

   "As long as you do not properly modify your actions according to the law of cause and effect, you could still go to hell, despite being a great adept and yogi. Until you abandon grasping at a self and while you still place little value on the law of cause and effect, always remember that yogi so-and-so was reborn in hell." (37)

   The great Padmasambhava said the same:

   “My realization is higher than the sky,
   But my observance of karma is finer than a grain of barley flour.”

   When great teachers like these say such things we might better listen to them with heart, mind, and soul.

   In the Heart Sutra it is written, "Form is Emptiness, Emptiness is Form.” That is, the phenomenal and the noumenal are two sides of the same coin and one cannot exist without the other. Yasutani Roshi wrote:

   ”For the truly enlightened man
   Subjection to the law of cause and effect
   And freedom from it
   Are one truth.”

   And Mumon says:

   ”Every existence is a momentary form appearing according to prevailing conditions, without a fixed form of its own. This absence of a fixed form is freedom from the law of causation; having a form which acords with the conditions of the moment is subjection to the law of causation. Therefore the very subjection to the law of causation is tantamount to our freedom from it.”

   Hubert Benoit writes in a similar vein on the action of the liberated man of satori:

   ”In a book on Zen..a Western author affirms that the man liberated by satori can do anything in any circumstance; but this is radically contrary to a true understanding, for the man liberated by satori can only perform one single action in a given circumstance. He can no longer do anything but the single action that is totally adequate to that circumstance; and it is in the immediate, spontaneous elaboration of this unique adequate action that the enjoyment of the perfect liberty of this man lies. The natural egotistical man, activated by partial determinism, elaborates in a mediate manner one of the innumerable inadequate reactions to the given circumstance; the man who has attained Realization, activated by total determinism, elaborates with absolute rigour the unique action that is adequate.” (38)

   Jean Klein makes a similar point:

   “When you are not the doer and there is only doing, the situation belongs to your awareness. Action is according to your awareness, it doesn't go through the mind. But the moment you identify yourself with the doer, it becomes a problem. As long as you take yourself for a person, you are responsible. When you are free from the person, the question of whether or not you are responsible doesn't come up, because you are adequate, appropriate to every situation. What is important is to wake up in the total absence of oneself; in this total absence there is really presence.” (39)

   The Prajnaparamita Sutra, furthermore, speaks on the (karmic) interdependence of all phenomena as the essence of love:

   “All those who clearly understand the fact that enlightenment is everywhere come to the perfect wisdom with a marvelous insight that all objects and structures, just as they are in the present moment, are themselves enlightenment, both the way and the goal, being perfectly transparent to the ineffable. Those who experience the ineffable, known as Suchness, recognize that all structures are radiantly empty of self-existence. Those who attain perfect wisdom are forever inspired by the conviction that the infinitely varied forms of this world, in all their relativity, far from being a hindrance and a dangerous distraction to the spiritual path, are really a healing medicine. Why? Because by the very fact that they are interdependent on each other and therefore have no separate self, they express the mystery and the energy of all-embracing love. Not just the illumined wise ones but every single being in the interconnected world is a dweller in the boundless infinity of love.” (40)

   PB has written that the enlightened sage has become (phenomenally) merged into the World-Idea; and (noumenally) awakened as a point in the World-Mind as a result of the World-idea’s influence upon the Soul, enabling it to come to self-recognition; an evolution has occured in him; his destiny is then neither karmic in the usual sense nor is it a-karmic. He is one with the Tao, yet he is not lost in the ‘soup’; he still retains a form of individuality:

   “Yes, the ego as individuality, a separate identity remains. But it becomes reborn, purified, humbled before the higher power, no longer narrow in interests, no longer tyrannizing over the man, no longer selfish in the sense of the word. For as an enlightened being it may remain, harmless to all beings, benevolent to all creatures, respondent to a timeless consciousness enfolding its ordinary personality. The smaller circle can continue to exist within the larger one until the liberation of death. It is no longer the source of ignorance and evil; that ego is dissolved and obliterated. The new being is simply separate in body, thought, feeling from others but not from the universal, mass being behind them. There all are one.” (41)

   "There is some kind of a distinction between his higher individuality and the Universal Infinite out of which he is rayed, whatever the Vedantins may say. And this distinction remains in his highest mystical state, which is not one of total absorption and utter destruction of this individuality but the mergence of its own will in the universal will, the closest intimacy of its own being with the universal being." (42)


   "There is no final absorption; the individual continues to exist somehow in the Supreme. The fact that he can pass away into it at will and yet return again, proves this." (43)

   [For PB's expanded explanation of this idea, please see "Evolution's goal is not merger" from Vol. 16 of the Notebooks, keeping in mind that this, too, is a 'story' within relativity, albeit perhaps one of the highest articulated by an enlightened human mind].


   This is in line with evolution, which is always headed towards more and more unique and individualistic expressions. The close relationship between the Soul’s coming to self-recognition through the presence of the World-Idea is also in a manner of speaking a manifestation of karma, in the sense that the higher power and ones own inner being will impell him to reincarnate until his illumination is full and complete; karma in such a case is not a ‘bugbear’ but a gift of divine grace:

   “When the mystic comes to the end of this phase of his career but believes he has come to the end of his career itself, he falls under an illusion from which it is hard to recover....Hence, one of the texts belonging to this teaching, the Lankavatara Sutra, says of those who have perfected themselves in yoga: "When they have reached the eighth degree they become so drunk with the bliss of inner peace that they do not grasp that they are still in the sphere of separateness and that the insight into reality is not yet perfect"...There is a fourfold evolution in humanity and it unfolds successively - physically, emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually. Hence the mystic has to return to rebirth to complete his evolution despite his "union" which is consequently temporary...The attainment of this deep state of oneness in meditation by an ordinary mystic may seem to be the end of the quest. Nevertheless the cycle of reincarnation will not end for him until he has become a philosophical mystic. For even though all earthly desires have been given a quietus, there will remain a latent desire to know, to understand his own experience and the world experience. To satisfy this desire, which will slowly come to the surface under the compulsion of Nature, he will have to develop intelligence to the proper degree...For nature is shepherding the human race not only along the road of spiritual evolution but also of intellectual evolution....Giving up the world does not lead to reality, but it leads to peace of mind. Men who lack intelligence...must take to mysticism and yoga, but only the mature and developed mind can enter the quest of enquiry into truth. This means therefore that pupils are not generally initiated into this enquiry by gurus prematurely. They must first have developed their egos and their minds to a high degree, and only after that should they be taught to renounce what has been fostered with so much pain. This is evolution: although truth is ideally attainable here and now, technically it is attainable only at the end of the pageant of evolution, when the whole man has been highly developed and is ripe to receive the greatest of all gifts." (44)

   Of course, there are two sides to everything. PB also speaks from the non-dual viewpoint:

   "The wise man lives secretly in the even, sorrow-soothing knowledge of the Oneness, and remains undisturbed by the inevitable and incessant changes in life. From this lofty standpoint, the tenet of rebirth sinks to secondary place in the scale of importance. What does it matter whether one descends or not into the flesh if one always keeps resolute hold of the timeless Now? It can matter only to the little "I," to the ignorant victim of ephemeral hopes and ephemeral fears, not to the larger "I AM" which smiles down upon it." (45)

   This was Ramana's viewpoint. He said:

   “The theory of evolution, the philosophies of planes and degrees, the systems of spirit descending into matter and evolving back, the idea of the self developing towards perfection–all these things are for spiritually uncultured, materially-minded people, but for the advanced, these thoughts are discarded.” (45a)

   Theosophy speaks of evolving selves. But Ramana asked:

   “How can that be? The true Self is infinite, formless, beyond time and hence beyond evolution, it cannot grow to perfection because it is already perfect, free, boundless.” (45b)

   Ramana says that reincarnation, astral planes are true, but only from a lower standpoint:

   “It is true that subtle astral bodies exist, because in order to function in the dream-world a body is necessary for that world; but it too is real only on its own plane, whereas the One Self is always real, always and eternally existent, whether we are aware of it or not.” (45c).

   ”Changelessness and self-luminosity are the only tests of truth,” says Shri Atmananda.

   Even so, PB states:

   “For us who are philosophically minded, the World-Mind [i.e., Absolute Mind in its active aspect] truly exists. For us it is God, and for us there is a relationship with it - the relationship of devotion and aspiration, of communion and meditation. All the talk about non-duality may go on, but in the end the talkers must humble themselves before the infinite Being until they are as nothing and until they are lost in the stillness - Its stillness.” (46)

   The sage as Soul (Plotinus’ “Double-Knower’) lives simultaneously in time and the timeless. I suggest the idea that, in so far as consciousness is in the body, he lives in time, and in so far as the body is in Consciousness, he lives in the timeless. Both positions appear necessary for a complete understanding. Ramana said:

   "The meaning of the word 'I' is the one reality that exists as supreme bliss, as knowledge. It is indestructible, and although it is within this fleshly body, it is still different from it....Leave out the body-consciousness (the idea that I am the body) and then where is 'in' and where is 'out'? All life-consciousness is One throughout." (47)

   Remembering the words of Sri Aurobindo, ”It is the inner Person that survives death, even as it pre-exists before birth; for this constant survival is a rendering of the eternity of our timeless Spirit into the terms of Time.”

   PB writes:

   “The world could not have been manifested at all if it had not manifested infinite variety as an expression of the infinitude of the divine power behind it. Surely this is what Plato saw when he described time as the moving image of eternity.” (48)

   Furthermore, time itself is relative, as Einstein suggested:

   "When you sit with a pretty girl for two hours, it seems like a minute, and when you sit on a hot stove for a minute, it seems like two hours. That's relativity." !

   Abbott Zenkei Shibayama tells us that in order to come to a complete enlightenment it is important not to ignore or dismiss what appears to be the relative reality :

   “Additional training is needed, however, for one to go beyond all the discipline to return to “original” humbleness, and then to live an ordinary everyday life without any sign of superiorness. This is called the “Training after Enlightenment,” or “Downward Training”...After much toil and labour one comes to the summit of the mountain. Now he must descend the mountain with utmost care and return to the ordinary life on earth. We call such a person the “Great Fool”...Though ordinary and inconspicuous he may remain, he has a serene, lucid atmosphere around him. Anybody that comes in touch with him will be enveloped in it. This is the ideal Zen personality. People in the East, from olden days, have had the tendency to revere such personalities.” (49)

   As it has been said:

   “To be conscious of the original mind, the original nature - just this is the great disease of Zen."

   That is to say, to abide too long in a state of 'oneness', having cast off duality, but not awakened to true non-duality, beyond duality and non-duality, is to become what Zen calls the ‘One-Eyed Monsters’. Moreover, we are also warned:

   “To think that Zen is something mysterious, why that also is the greatest sickness of Zen!”

   The great Bankei, like PB in the passage above, belittled concern over birth and death:

   “Now, I'm sure you're all wondering just what it means to transcend birth and death. That which is unborn is imperishable; and since what doesn't perish doesn't die, it transcends birth and death. So, what I call a man who's free in birth and death is one who dies unconcerned with birth and death. What's more, the matter of birth and death is something that's with us all day long -- it doesn't mean only once in a lifetime when we confront the moment of death itself. A man who's free in birth and death is one who always remains unconcerned with birth and death, knowing that so long as we're allowed to live, we live; and when the time comes to die -- even if death comes right now -- we just die, [realizing] that when we die isn't of great importance. Such a person is also one who has conclusively realized the marvelously illuminating Unborn Buddha Mind. Talking and thinking about something like what hour of what day you're going to die is really narrow-minded, don't you think?" (50)

   If one is getting a feel for the seamless interwoven nature between God and Creation, Consciousness and its Manifestation, Freedom and Karma, then our efforts so far have been fruitful.

   Sai Baba of Shirdi, while asking us to see God as the actual doer, also says that “God is the perfection of the Moral Law”; to me this implies a non-differentiation or non-duality between God and Karma:

   “The Moral Law is inexorable, so follow it, observe it, and you will reach your goal: God is the perfection of the Moral Law. Recognize the existence of the Moral Law as governing results. Then unswervingly follow this Law. Do not be obsessed by egotism, imagining that you are the cause of action: everything is due to God.” (51)

   He is saying that karma as karma is not bondage; karma is only binding when mixed with ego and desire, ahanta and vasana. On the teaching of Sri Aurobindo, Jugal Kishore Mukherjee writes:

   “The sadhaka of the Integral Yoga should try to do all his actions non-egoistically and in an attitude of “utkranta-vasana”, “free from all desires for fruit.” The sole motive-force behind all his activity should be to serve the Divine in conformity with His Will alone. In that case, no action will be able to stain him nor will it lead to his being tied down to the chain of Karma. So one need not be scared on that account and seek to terminate the ever-unfolding self-manifestation of the soul in time and space and escape into the peace of static Brahman.” (52)

   PB partly agrees:

   “The World-Idea contains the pattern, intention, direction, and purpose of the cosmos in a single unified thought of the World-Mind...The World-idea is perfect. How could it be otherwise since it is God’s Idea?...Since our experience of illusion is itself in accordance with the World-Idea, why should we be afraid of admitting its existence? What we should be afraid of is letting it blot out Reality.” [i.e., forget that it is an expression of the World-Mind, the Adi Buddhi or Divine Intelligence, with which our soul is non-separate from, being an unpartible emanation from it, much like a ray is not separate from the sun]. (53)

   Sri Aurobindo states:

   “...who shall persuade me that my infinity can only be an eternal full stop, an endless repose, an infinite cessation? Much rather should infinity be eternally capable of an infinite self-expression.” (54)

   Mukherjee continues:

   “As there is no end to the self-manifestation of the Divine in the earthly field, we shall not seek to draw a “finis” to our repeated rebirths upon earth in physical bodies. We shall rather willingly and joyously welcome this phenomenon of rebirth; for Sri Aurobindo told us:

   “The will of man is the agent of the Eternal for the unveiling of his secret meaning in the material creation...This is his [man’s] dignity and his greatness and he needs no other to justify and give a perfect value to his birth and his acts and his passing and his return to birth, a return which must be - and what is there in it to grieve at or shun? - until the work of the Eternal in him is perfected...”

   But, one might ask, how am I to know if the action I take is in conformity with the Divine Will or not? The answer is, one can only be sincere and have faith, knowing that one has fully surrendered himself, and is under the guidance of the divine Mahashakti that is always protecting him in all situations, and that Divine Providence will provide at every moment that which is good and necessary for ones spiritual growth and understanding. Moreover, as Mukherjee writes:

   “If the sadhaka becomes truly pure, washes himself clean with the tears of genuine repentance, and ardently prays to the power of Grace of the Divine, it will surely be found that the action of that Grace will either scorch out all of his past karmas to ineffectivity or will so arrange the circumstances of his life that these very karmas will produce great good for the sadhaka’s spiritual progress.” (56)

   Sri Aurobindo's teaching, is not Vedanta, but then, Aurobindo said that he had discovered the secret of the Vedas which had been concealed for three thousand years. His views on spiritual evolution parallel PB’s, which are also not Vedanta, quite closely as we shall soon see.


   Now let us examine the fundamental Hindu theory of karmas.

   Speaking from the relative point of view, basic Hinduism posits three kinds of karmas: prarabd or pralabda, kriyaman or agami, and sanchit. Pralabda is what determines what happens during this life. For purposes of simplicity, the Sants have said there is seventy-five percent predetermined, and twenty-five percent free will. And, as Jugal Mukherjee points us:

   “The applied Astrology of ancient India affirms that, of the totality of the deeds done by a particular person in a particular life [which account for the second type of karmas, the kriyaman or agami karmas], roughly thirty-five percent bears fruit in that very life itself while sixty-five percent remains stored in a non-germinated seed-form to be effective in future lives. If the deeds done are of an extreme character, they generally bear fruit in the same life, so it is claimed. Thus, the Mahabharata declares: “Atyugra-punya-papanam ihaiva phalam asnute.” (57)

   PB agrees with each of these assertions, both that much of karma created in this life is dealt with in this life, and that we also have a modicum of free will. This is in contrast with teachers like Ramesh Balsekar who make the blanket pronouncement that everything is absolutely determined:

   "We weaken ourself and injure truth if we believe that all events are unalterably fixed, that our external lives are unchangeably pre-ordained and that there is nothing we can do to improve the situations in which we find ourselves. It is true that we are compelled to move within the circumstances we have created in the past and the conditions we have inherited in the present, but it is also true that we are quite free to modify them. Freedom exists at the heart of man, that is in his Overself. Fate exists on the surface-life of man, that is in his personality. And as man himself is a compound of both these beings, neither the absolute fatalists nor the absolute free-will position is wholly correct and his external life must also be a compound of freedom and fate. No man however evolved he may be has entire control over his life but then he is not entirely enslaved to it either. No action is entirely free nor entirely fated; all are of this mixed double character."


   "Nobody likes to impose a discipline upon himself and that is why everyone has to submit to a discipline imposed by karma. Hence pain and suffering come to us principally through the operations of karma. Their seeds may have been sown during the present life and not necessarily during a past one. The first error which most people make when accepting the tenet of karma is to postpone its operation to future reincarnations. The truth is that the consequences for our acts come to us if they can in the same birth as when they are committed...Karma is a continuous process and does not work by postponement. It is incorrect to regard it as a kind of post-mortem judge! But it is often not possible to work out these consequences in terms of the particular circumstances of this birth. In such cases - and in such alone - do we experience the consequences in subsequent births." (57a)

   From the philosophic point of view, PB also says:

   “You are part of the World-Mind’s World-Idea. Therefore, you are part of its purpose too. Seek to be shown what that is, and how you may realize it...It is nonsense to say that any man is alone in his trouble. He is in the great World-Idea, part of it, belonging to it, sustained by it...Humans are part of the World-Idea...They are free only within the World-idea...All personal fates are fulfilled within the larger predetermination of the World-Idea...The World-Idea’s end is foreordained from the beginning. This leaves no ultimate personal choice. But there’s a measure of free will in a single direction - how soon or how late that divine end is accomplished. The time element has not been ordered, the direction has...” (58)


   "When one is allowed a glimpse of the World-Idea, he feels that he understands at last why he came here, what he has to do, and where his place is. It is like an immense enlargement of the mind, an escape from the littleness of the ego, and a finding out of a long-hidden secret." (59)

   How did PB come to that knowledge? One can only assume it was a result of revelation, allowing him some insight into the divine plan or inner workings of the cosmos. Such an event is rare. As he says:

   “To feel the divine presence is much more common an experience than to perceive the divine purpose...A few fated persons, whose mission is revelation, are granted once in a lifetime the Cosmic Vision.” (60)

   Paul Cash relates something else PB once said about this issue of free will:

   “PB talked one day about free will and predetermination. He said that people who stand for free will are partly right,and so are those who stand for predetermination. Each has something to hear from the other side. When you look at it carefully, he said, life is a highly ordered structure of opportunities. Some of those opportunities are material, some are spiritual. We have no control over the order in which they appear or the time at which they appear. He talked about how if you really understand astrology you can see that the chart is this carefully structured sequence of opportunities that emerge and pass in only one order, in one direction, and in an irreversible way. That's the predetermined part."

   “But then he explained how these opportunities are presented to a soul that is free at every moment to align itself or refuse to align itself inwardly with the opportunity as it arises.
[“Man is free only within the World-Idea”]. If the soul aligns itself with the opportunity, a certain series of events unfolds; if the soul doesn't, that series of events doesn't unfold. Each "choice", if we can call it that at that level, has consequences, and life never presents exactly the same opportunity again. At any given time, we're living out the consequences of choices made earlier. What we've inwardly aligned with plays itself out as well as it can in the context of the other circumstances in which we live. In that sense, our lives are predetermined in the short run: things already set in motion must generally run their course."

   This point has been beautifully expressed:

   “There is one elemental truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one commits oneself, Providence moves all. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issue from the decision, raising in one’s favour all manner of incidents and meetings and material assistance which no one could have dreamed would come his or her way.” (source misplaced)

   Cash continues:

   “At a deep level, our whole version of the world - and what's possible in it - comes about through the filter of the tendencies we've developed and desires we've strengthened through our own repeated choices. But we're also free to change the direction of our lives by the way we respond to the next opportunity; so in the long run free will has the day. I wish now that I had thought to ask PB what he meant by "short run" and "long run." But I didn't. What fascinates me now and then at this stage is thinking of how the consequences of choosing to exercise/ develop that power of choice differ from the consequences of choosing not to exercise it, for whatever reason(s). That's partly why I perked up at the idea that maybe it only matters a quarter of the time. Guess we still have to figure out which quarter?!”

   Not exactly. But we can try. Let's just say that there are a large amount of events that we can be fairly certain are predetermined: the kind of body we have, the parents we have, the kind of job we get, the person we marry, the children we give birth to, the sicknesses or diseases we get, and when we die. In between these events there are gaps, so to speak, where we are called to make choices. Normally, the making of these choices creates karma. However, if we have a Master who has realised Truth and is one with the source of Grace, who takes us under his wing, we can dedicate the fruits of our choices to His will, or, alternately, directly to God's will. This is the karma yoga attitude, a central part of the ancient Vedantic path. "Do your best, and leave the rest to God." "Do action without concern for the fruits thereof." This leaves the karmas to a Higher power to do with them as It likes. Our ego-will is lessened.

   Further, we will find, if we have been accepted by such a sage or Master, that many apparent coincidences that otherwise would not occurred will begin to happen, such as opening a book and finding on that very page the answer to an important question we had, or meeting a certain person at just the right auspicious moment to further our progress on the path in some way, either mundane circumstance or spiritual. As our faith and devotion to the quest increases, our intuition also develops and comes into play. This introduces another element of freedom. We learn to sense guidance from beyond ourselves and to follow it. That takes the burden off our back. We "go with the flow" and come gradually (but not perfectly) out of the grip of the mental choices. PB describes how this kind of a life unfolds:

   "There is no single pattern that an intuitively guided life must follow. Sometimes he will see in a flash of insight both course and destination, but at other times he will see only the next step ahead and will have to keep an open mind both as to the second step and as to the final destination." (60a)

   Of course, in spite of the above, one may say, "how do I know if my choice is the right one?" Or, "my conscience tells me that I did something wrong." I know an advanced soul who told me years ago, "I know when it's Master's will or when I'm making a mess of things." It is true, conscience is a god-given function within us, but, we have to ask in that case, "is this my true conscience talking, or is it my inner critique, my super-ego, a product of my wounded childhood and societal influences?" The answer, fortunately, in both of these situations is this: there are no wrong choices! Everything is a learning experience, whether good or bad. If we do our best and leave the rest to the master, we have nothing to fear. Furthermore, one might do well to keep in mind that true evolution only takes place within the space of not-knowing or the embracing of uncertainty. And while knowing has limits, not-knowing is limitless..

   That, then, is the answer to the "twenty-five percent free-will" question. No doubt there is a certain amount of mystery and paradox involved.

   So the second type of karma is kriyaman or agami, which, as noted, is karma we accrue due to current actions good or bad during this life. Finally, there is the vast sanchit storehouse of karmas from unnumerable past lives, which might be said to reside in the causal body, a portion of which is allotted to each individual rebirth. James Swartz elaborates on this from his Vedantic perspective:

   ”All life forms, excluding humans, do not have karmas, because there is no sense of doership in their actions. They are simply awareness expressing itself in conjunction with the macroscopic vasanas. Agami Karmas are the actions an individual performs, under the spell of ignorance, with a sense of doership. They leave positive and negative impressions in the causal body that fructify in the future. This kind of karma is destroyed by self-knowledge because self-knowledge cancels the doer. In this sense the enlightened are like animals with reference to karma.”

   [This is controversial: the agami or prarabdha karma plays out, but it might be conceeded that the sage is barely aware of it. In any case he does not see it as having anything to do with himself. PB puts it this way:

   “How does the illuminate react to his own karma? “Even after knowledge of the self has been awakened, Prarabdha (the portion of past karma now being enjoyed) does not leve him, but he does not feel Prarabdha after the dawning of the knowledge of the truth because the body and other things are unreal like the things seen in a dream to one on awakening from it,” replies Nadabindu Upanishad. That is, he treats his karmic suffering as being but ideas.” (61)].

   Swartz continues:

   “The store of positive and negative impressions accumulated over time and standing in an individual’s karmic account, waiting to fructify, is called sanchita karma. It keeps the doer doing and is the cause of rebirth. It too is destroyed by the assimilated knowledge “I am limitless awareness.”

   [Again, utterly different than Vedanta, the Sants with their gnostic views argue that the Soul must become purified by ascending to the supercausal plane for the sanchit karmas to be wiped out. (Distinct from traditional yoga schools, they posit a ‘super-causal ‘body’ in addition to a ‘causal body’). Beyond or behind the supercausal body is the anandamaya kosha or bliss sheath, which they consider to be almost like an integral part of the Soul, but which in turn gets transcended when the soul reaches Sat Lok].

   “The results of previous actions that fructify in this life and which can only be exhausted only by either suffering or enjoying them, are called prarabdha karmas. The prarabdha karma determines the form of body and the type of environment that is most suitable for the prarabdha to work out. Whether the environment is pleasant or unpleasant is determined by the nature of the karmas working out. When the prarabdha karma is exhausted, the body dies. Self-knowledge also cancels this kind of karma. The body does not die when the self is realized; the self dies to the notion that it is the body. This closes the individual’s karmic account and karma has no place to deposit itself.” (62)


   In some ways different and in some ways similar to Swartz, here is Kirpal Singh’s description of karma, which can be taken as a general example of the Sant Mat view:

   “At the time of initiation the master takes upon himself the burden of his disciple’s sins and iniquities...he takes in his own hands the entire process of winding up the karmic impressions of the jiva. Having freed him up from the sensual plane by reversing his sensory current so that it flows upward, the master renders him incapable of sowing any more karmic seeds for future harvesting; and whatever trespasses he may still commit through weakness of the flesh, the Master himself gently and firmly deals with here on earth, leaving no debt balance to be carried forward. In this way, the account of the Kriyaman [~ Agam] karma (present deeds) is settled and squared.”

   “Next come the Prarabdha karmas, which determine what we call fate or destiny, and because of which we come into this world. The Master does not touch them
[otherwise the disciple would die at the time of intiation] and happily the disciple weaves his way through their spell.”

   “Last but not least, the Master feeds the jiva with the Bread of Life and quenches his thirst with the Water of Life (Naam) until he grows into spiritual adolescence and is capable of a certain amount of self-reliance. The touch of the spark of Naam (God-in-Action or the controlling power of God) burns out the storehouse of unfructified karma of ages upon ages (Sanchit or storehouse), thus rendering them incapable of germinating in the future.”

   It is said in Sant Mat that one is freed of all coverings, as well as karma requiring rebirth, when one enters the inner region of Daswan Dwar, but one has yet to reach the eternal realm of Sat Lok, referred to as the 'true home of the soul'. One must first cross a region of dense darkness call Maha Sunn which supposedly only the superior light of a Master can ferry one across. When Sant Darshan Singh was asked by someone who was practicing Advaita Vedanta, "What about the gyan samadhis?"  He responded, "The gyan samadhis are high states of human evolution and are to be revered, but they won't take you to the highest."  Maharaj Charan Singh, when questioned by a disciple who referred to Ramana Maharshi and asked why the need for more planes or stages of consciousness after the 'mind is left behind' upon reaching Daswan Dwar, replied:

   "Between the mind and Sach Khand there are still the impressions of those karmas which, of course, cannot pull the soul back to this creation; but those impressions are still with the soul. There is a darkness we have to pierce before we can reach Sat Lok, Sach Khand...It is only in the company of the master that the soul is able to go through that darkness of Maha Sunn, as we call it, and merge into the infinite...After all the coverings are removed, the soul still doesn't go straightaway and merge back into the Lord. That is why, when the mystics explain the teaching, they always say that without his grace the soul can never go back to the Father...The soul has its own light, but still it is not sufficient to enable it to cross that veil of darkness. Then the master's light, which is much brighter, has to envelop the soul, so to say, and merge back into the infinite light. This is just a way of explaining things which really have to be experienced, to be realized." (64)

   In the terminology of Sant Mat, when the soul leaves the mind in the region of the universal mind, one has attained self-realization, or knowledge of oneself as soul. When one reaches Sat Lok and gets progressively merged into the Source he is said to have attained God-Realization. This is explained here to point out that by self-realization the Sants mean something quite different from the classical yogic or Vedantic definition of the term.

   I heard Kirpal enigmatically say, however, "You're already there, you just don't know it." And when asked, "Master, do you still meditate?", he replied, "If someone gets his PhD, do you think he has to go back and learn the ABC's?!" He also said, “Either you remain or He remains - not two!”, and, "God is nothing!", as well as, “I am Mr. Zero.” So there may be more than meets the eye with the best of these saints.

   Yet how different all of this is from Advaita or Buddhism, where no such apparent entitification as a ‘soul’ is permitted. Even the existence of ‘bodies’ as such is denied; in Vedanta they are consider upadhis or expedients - i.e., concessions to a lesser point of view. Sant Mat appears to be an example of a teaching that holds that the worlds are an actual modification of Consciousness, and that we have to return to Consciousness to be liberated. Yet the only thing that '"returns to consciousness" is attention, which the Sants say IS consciousness. So there is a paradox even on this path. True, on such a mystic path, one starts by assuming he is a separate entity, but the apparent entity "dies" at every plane quit by the soul. And in the end one comes back to the plane of manifestation in a transformed condition:

   “The consciousness is first tuned inward so as to contact the Inner Sound Principle, and then as it comes down saturated in the divine it is turned without, converting the preparation into an Amrit. It is only a competent Master (a true Khalsa with full refulgent light in him) who can, by his glance of grace, prepare the Amrit, and whoever partakes of It becomes truly intuned.” (65)

   Advaita, on the other hand, says there is nothing to 'return' to, that Consciousness is already our true nature, Pure Non-Dual Awareness, Self-Aware as Absolute Reality, the Substratum of the universe, and non-separate from Its objects or Manifestation. It need not be searched for, but only needs to be re-cognized, through the indirect process of finding out what it is not. In addition, things do not come out of Consciousness, rather, everything is Consciousness; thus, 'things' as such do not exist. From here the reader is on his own, to figure out the wheat from the chaff. For instance, Sri Aurobindo’s approach and also that of Sant Mat is in a sense more one of realism than idealism - in the end both still being concepts. The question is, which is more in line with our actual experience? And do they all end in the same place? I can say no more on this point, these systems are just too far apart - but I will give just a hint as to where one might go with this problem. From V.S. Iyer:

   “Epistemology is the enemy, the devil of yogis, mystics and religious teachers because it pries into the truth, the source and validity of the knowledge they claim. Therefore it is the most difficult part of philosophy.” (66)

   In the meantime, the following words of PB may grant us some relief and are worthy of contemplation:

   "Those who look for advancement by looking for inner experiences or for discoveries of new truth do well. But they need to understand that all this is still personal, still something that concerns the ego even if it be the highest and best part of the ego. Their greatest advance will be made when they cease holding the wish to make any advance at all, cease this continual looking at themselves, and instead come to a quiet rest in the simple fact that God is, until they live in this fact alone. That will transfer their attention from self to Overself and keep them seeing its presence in everyone's life and its action in every event. The more they succeed in holding to this insight, the less will they ever be troubled or afraid or perplexed again; the more they recognize and rest in the divine character, the less will they be feverishly concerned about their own spiritual future." (67)

   Shri Atmananda, while not denying relative truths (i.e., he once said that he ‘never promised that one would have no more incarnations, only that one would realize that he had never been born’), gives the ultimate advaitic rationale on the doctrine of reincarnation:

   “People say they have had many lives, before the present one. But the truth is that you die with every thought or feeling. So you live many lives in a short period of time. This is not noticed or perceived by the ordinary man. It is in order to draw his attention to this Truth that the illustration of the broader, and to him more conceivable, chain of life is brought in.” (Notes on Spiritual Discourses, #1193)

   Swartz continues, on the subject of reincarnation:

   “Before we attempt to explain reincarnation, we need to know that the gross, subtle, and causal bodies are not specific to particular individuals; they are the structure that consciousness gives to itself when it appears as an embodied being. In other words, there is only one soul or individual, an “everyman,” not an infinite variety of unique souls. [not quite the same view of Plotinus’ Soul as a One-and-Many] It only seems as if each gross, subtle, and causal body is unique. This is because of the infinite possibilities of experience that come into play when consciousness associates with ignorance and creates multiplicity.”

   “It is important to understand this because conventional wisdom, which upon inquiry turns out not to be wisdom at all, has it that the personality reincarnates. This argument hinges on the meaning of the word personality. Is the personality something that is conscious, eternal and unique to every individual, and therefore transcends birth and death, or is it the result of the interaction of the vasanas with the environment? If it is conscious, eternal and unique, then why do you not remember who you were in preceeding lives? If it was conscious and eternal, human beings would not quest for identity in this life.”

   “Rather than pursue this argument further, let us explain the idea of reincarnation according to the science of self-knowledge, keeping in mind that it is a secondary teaching for individuals who are not yet prepared for the complete vision of non-duality.”
[important point]

   “When the prarabdha karma for a particular birth ends, the subtle body is separated from its physical sheath. Where does it go? When the fertilized egg that will become a new body is established in the uterine wall, the causal body, which contains the template for the subtle body, and the samskaras, which carry tendencies abstracted from previous lives, imprint themselves on the cells of the developing fetus.
[Note: contrary to what is becoming a popular belief is the view that the individual does not choose his or her parents or the next birth; the samskaras choose based on the similarity of the child’s samskaras and the parents ability to fulfill them. How they choose is a complicated topic]. The memory, which is a function of intellect, a subtle body function, is scrubbed clean during this process and accounts for the fact that an individual does not remember who he or she was in the previous birth or births. When the samskaras have been imprinted on the new subtle body, they immediately begin to interact with the environment and a new personality develops, which the individual takes to be “me.” That nothing in samsara remains the same accounts for the fact that the new environment - the parents and their karmic situation - will be different from the previous birth and cause a unique personality to emerge. But the vasana for spiritual work that developed in the past life will fructify in the next birth and bless the next iteration of you, with an inclination for self realization.” (68)


   Fellow student Alan Berkowitz is in general agreement with what these teachers have stated. Through a personal correspondence he clarifies the matter in the following manner, for which I express my appreciation:

   "To start, let’s see if we can agree on fundamentals. One, that within the being, there is a subjective element (consciousness, awareness, unity, atman, overself, Witness I) and an objective element (bodies at different levels, kosha’s, sheaths, etc.). There is a subjective and objective element as we go up the levels until finally after the anandamaya kosha, they dissolve and there is non-dual consciousness, which of course can also be present at any level once it has been established through mentalistic experience. The term soul is used variously by different teachers for either the subjective element or the objective element. This can lead to confusion and disagreement."

   "There is a part of us that reincarnates in which the wisdom and experiences of one incarnation are stored and distilled. Many traditions call this the “subtle body" but some call it soul. It is “higher” with respect to the part of us that dies, but still “objective” to the Subjective awareness
[Atman]. It is this higher objective subtle body element that guides the evolution of the incarnating being because it contains the karma, the plan for the life, and the wisdom of past lives. In this sense it is also called the “causal body” because it contains the seeds of what we know here in a compact, beyond time-space form. Mozart’s receiving his music as a whole in a flash and then having to write out the parts for each instrument in time, is an example of contacting the causal body and receiving knowledge from it."

   Damiani allows that the impersonal ray of the Overself (the ‘light’ of the Soul) oversees a series of lives (as the sutra atma), but the personality (ego, subtle body) is dispersed with each death, i.e., you definitely die as a psycho-physical entity. And even if you didn’t, from the point of view of the ego you’d only come back for more illusion and misery. Reincarnation, therefore, fails on two counts to be consoling to the separate person.

   Sri Nisargadatta, in answer to the question, "Is there a causal link between the successive body-knowers or body-mind?", replied:

   "Yes, there is something that may be called the memory body, or causal body, a record of all that was thought, wanted and done. It is like a cloud of images held together...Once you know that the body alone dies and not the continuity of memory and the sense of 'I am' reflected in it, you are afraid no longer. [I think he was being kind to someone here, assuaging their fear of death by holding out the carrot of continuity, as most religions do]...I do not say that the same person is reborn. It dies and dies for good. But its memories remain and their desires and fears. They supply the energy for a new person. The real [In his terms, 'Awareness', or the Absolute] takes no part in it, but makes it possible by giving it the light" [In his terms, beingness or 'consciousness']. (69)

   This, of course, is a paradoxical statement. By 'giving it the light' the Absolute certainly seems to be 'taking part in it', does it not? Also, tradition would hold that even the "continuity of memory and sense of ‘I am’ reflected in it" dies in the "second death" when the subtle body is eventually dispersed, prior to its formation anew during rebirth. One might then say that the "same sense of ‘I am" is reborn; Nisargadatta does in fact say that "every ‘I am’ is preserved and glorified" in the Absolute. Sri Aurobindo similarly said, as mentioned, that the eternal soul or psychic being, incarnates again and again, even while the true Self or Spirit forever is unborn and unchanging. However, one can see that the hope of continuity is only partially consoling. The personality, after all, does die. For Aurobindo, the physical, vital, and mental natures (sheaths) disperse (except in rare cases), only the inner ‘psychic being’, the ‘representative or emanant of the true Self, along with the residue of karmic tendencies and distilled undertanding from ones lifetime, in seed form, continues or accompanies the psychic being into a new life. Yet unless one is sufficiently evolved he will have little or no awareness of this both after death or upon rebirth.

   As we shall see later on in this paper, the causal body has different interpretations in different schools. Some hold that the subtle body comprises the entire antakarana (manas-buddhi-ahamkara), along with the mental traces or memories (samskaras), and tendencies (vasanas), and that the causal body is undifferentiated, like Maya, with the antakarana in dormancy, the bliss ‘sheath’ only remaining; others sub-divide the subtle body according to koshas and come up with a causal body that contains actual memories, etc.. So one must discriminate semantically when reading the traditions.

   Confused yet?

   Fortunately for us, Robert Adams cuts straight through all of this talk with a sharp sword:

   “When you die, what happens? What do you want to happen? Who dies? The ego dies. The body dies, but you never die. You’ll live forever. Nothing really happens. I know you’ve heard of all kinds of stories about going to different realms and planes of existence. This is all part of the dream. You create these things yourself. You create all these different planes. The subtle plane, the mental plane, the causal plane. All these things you read about in the Yoga text are of the mind. You go according to what you believe. It’s all created by you. [That's exactly what the Yog-Vashista says] You create your world after you die. But the ultimate reality is, no one ever dies and there’s nowhere to go. You’re already here. This is it. You are Eternity.” (70)

   “There are some who want to awaken with all their heart and with all their soul. Yet they always forget that they have to get rid of the stuff that’s keeping them from awakening. The concepts, the preconceived ideas, the dogmas, the belief system that we’ve had for so many years. This has to be given up...Where does everything come from? From the I-thought...It ruins your life completely. It hides reality, and produces a world. You have to somehow transcend the I-thought. And this is done by forgetting all the knowledge that you have up to now. All the knowledge that you know. Everything you’ve been taught since childbirth...all your beliefs, all your dogmas, preconceived ideas, they all have to go. When they’re gone you rest in the Self, and you will be unconditioned, choiceless, awareness.” (71)

   [Sri Aurobindo would dispute the assertion that one creates all the different planes after one dies. The defining question is, “Who” is doing the creating? If it is the World-Mind, Robert’s assertion would be false; if it is the jiva alone, he could be correct].

   However, Robert tempers this statement for people at different levels of understanding, much as Ramana did:

   “If you think you’ve got something to overcome, if you believe that you’ve got to work on yourself, you've got to make some kind of effort, it will be hard. After all, who makes the effort? The ego. Who is telling you all these things you have to overcome? The mind. You think you have to overcome your bad habits, you have to overcome past karmas, you have to overcome samskaras. That’s all a lie. I realize that I talk about these things sometimes, but I am sharing with you the highest truth. There are no samskaras to overcome, because they never existed. There is no karma to overcome because it doesn’t exist. But it does for immature students. They have to work on something. [I remember Anthony Damiani once saying, “Start somewhere!”] So I explain to them there’s karma, there are samsakaras, there are latent tendencies that have got hold of you, and you have to transcend them. Yet I'm telling them a lie. But they really need to hear it at this time of their evolution, otherwise they cannot work on anything else.” (72)

   He gives a reason why, however, simultaneously with Self-inquiry or whatever ones primary practice may be, one should cultivate virtue:

   “This is why you have to work with love, compassion and humility: for if this is the end result of awakening, if you do this first, the awakening will come faster.” (73)

   This seems to suggest that some form of "doing" can speed up one's enlightenment. Thus, it appears like a dualistic statement. But we know Robert Adams better than that - or do we? in any case, he paradoxically also reiterates that without continually pondering the ultimate point of view, each overcoming only leads to another overcoming that one feels one needs to overcome:

   “It never ends until you begin to realize “I” has nothing to overcome. Then you start working on the I. It is then you finally realize it’s this personal I that’s been giving you this trouble. That’s an advanced state, but that’s also a lie, due to the fact that the personal I never existed. But you don’t know that. Because you think the personal I exists, you have to use Self-inquiry to lead you to the place where you realize the personal I does not exist. It never has, and it never will...But while you’re practicing your sadhana, keep it back in your mind someplace, that there is really no one who practices.” (74)

   Papaji said this too:

   "The world is a vast prison. "I" is the prison. "I" are the walls. But "I" is only an imagination from which you haven't woken up yet. One must be released from the "I," from the "I"- thought. But that release is also imagination. Bondage is imagination, freedom is imagination, consciousness is imagination, bliss is imagination. And this knowledge is freedom - How easy it is! And how difficult!" (75)

   PB takes a more philosophical approach in describing the birth of the "I"- thought, in a way that makes it not quite a total illusion, but a manifestation of the whole, of reality, although it still can become a source of illusion:

   "His first mental act is to think himself into being. He is the maker of his own "I." This does not mean that the ego is his own personal invention alone. The whole world-process brings everything about, including the ego and the ego's own self-making." (76)

   The "whole world-process" here could be considered Maya, Consciousness, Isvara, or the World-Mind, depending on ones school or tradition. The World-Mind for PB not only projects or manifests the universe and the ego but also paradoxically resides within or is inseparable from the Soul itself. Moreover, PB describes the ego or sense of "I" in a unique manner:

   "There is no real ego but only a quick succession of thoughts which constitutes the "I" process. There is no separate entity forming the personal consciousness but only a series of impressions, ideas, images revolving round a common centre...The latter is completely empty; the feeling of being something there derives from a totally different plane - the Overself." (77)

   Gangaji said that the ego is the thought of "I", which then gets associated with the thought "I am the body", with endless extensions generated after that. Thus it is not so simple a thing. PB actually made a similar, clarifying point:

   "The ego is a structure which has been built up in former lives from tendencies, habits, and experiences in a particular pattern. But in the end the whole thing is nothing but a thought, albeit a strong and continuing thought...All the former tendencies that you have are actualizing themselves as this thought....The ego is a collection of thoughts circulating around a fixed but empty centre. If the habits of many, many reincarnations had not given them such strength and persistence, they could be voided. The reality - MIND - could then reveal itself... [But] the ego is a knot tied in the middle of our inner being, itself being compounded from a number of smaller knots. There is nothing fresh to be gathered in, for b-e-i-n-g is always there, but something to be undone, untied...The ego finds every kind of pretext to resist the practice required of it...There is no limit to the ego's pretensions...The ego lies to itself, lies to the man who identifies with it, and lies to other men." (78)

   "He will advance most on the Quest who tries most to separate himself from his ego. It will be a long, slow struggle and a hard one, for the belief that the ego is his true self grips him with hypnotic intensity. All the strength of all his being must be brought to this struggle to remove error and to establish truth, for it is an error not merely of the intellect alone but of the emotions and the will." (79)

   Gangaji adds the interesting point that the ego spins off what is known as the "superego", ones internal judge and controller, which further complicates the matter:

   "The superego is your internalized authority, where part of your ego splits off and calls itself "God" or "Mother" or "Father" or "Guru." When you recognize this split, a great inner battle is exposed, especially in the "spiritual" arena where the superego desires to get rid of the ego. Only the superego wants to get rid of the ego. Getting rid of the ego is the ultimate control...If there is an ambition to be egoless, it is a red flag. What is wrong with the ego? Who has a problem with the ego? Does awareness have a problem with the ego? Only the superego has a problem with the ego, and it is a huge problem. The superego wants to control the ego." (80)

   The great Sufi Ibn 'al' Arabi also addressed this problem:

   "Many a wise man claims that in order to know one's Lord one must denude oneself of the signs of one's existence, efface one's identity, finally rid oneself of one's self. This is a mistake. How could a thing that does not exist try to get rid of its existence?" (81)


   Our whole lives and manner of behavior have been distorted by the 'feeling' of "I" (a term Ramana often used instead of the 'thought' of "I" - taking inquiry out of the realm of the intellect only) and must be confronted and understood physically, mentally, emotionally, morally, metaphysically, and spiritually, before the average being is really ready for pure inquiry with any chance at success. Right action creates tapas or "heat", both physical and psychological, which purifies ego - in so far as it is not resisted. One must make at least some efforts in this direction, and will be forced to do so by the pressure of the World-Idea, at least until he finally and fundamentally sees the futility of his efforts and surrenders or understands. Ramana repeatedly said that self-inquiry was for such 'ripe souls'. Further, when told by a devotee:

   "Then Bhagavan, Self-realization is very easy, just as you say in the poem Atma Vidya!" Bhagavan smiled and said, "Yes, yes, it seems so at first, but there is a difficulty. You have to overcome your present false values and wrong identification. The quest requires concentrated effort and steadfast abidance in the Source, when reached...But don't let that deter you. The rise of the urge to seek the 'I' is itself an act of Divine Grace, for which one has to pray." (82)

   This is why PB characterized the quest, at least in its beginning and intermediate stages, as having five aspects: emotional and moral purification, altruistic action, metaphysical study, religious veneration or devotion, and meditation [for more on the need for this see The Long and Short of It on this website].

   Continuing, PB said:

   “The World-Mind is in us all, reflected as “I”. This is why ever-deeper pondering and penetration are needed to remove the veil of individuality and perceive BEING...The Supreme Godhead [the One] is unindividualized. World-Mind [the Nous] is individuated (but not personalized) into emanated Overselves [Divine Souls]. The Overself is individual, but not personal. [elsewhere (Vol. 16, Part 3, 4.178) he paradoxically says that the Overself or Soul is not individual, but is "formless and unindividuated"] The ego is personal...The World-Mind, through its deputy the Overself, is still for humans the highest possible goal.” (83)

   “The World-Mind is not only Lord and Governor of the world but also Lord and Governor of the illusion which makes the world so vivid to the ignorant; that is, It is itself the All-Knowing, the All-Seeing, Conscious of the Real.” (84)


   "The Intelligence which formulated the World-idea is living and creative - in short, Divine. The so-called laws of nature merely show its workings...The World-Mind holds in one eternal thought the entire World-Idea." (85)

   To say the Overself is 'individual' is somewhat illusive, as PB states that it is not that there is a separate Overself for every human being. As Plotinus said, the paradox of the Soul is that it is a “One-and-Many”. PB continues:

   "The ego to which he is so attached turns out on enquiry to be none other than the presence of World-Mind within his own heart. If identification is then shifted from one to the other, he has achieved the purpose of life." (86)

   This is quite different than defining the ego as merely a thought of "I" - as stated, Ramana often called it the 'feeling of "I"' - which nevertheless sages agree, upon inquiry, is illusory and never actually found; rather the real "I", the Self, is found, or better, reveals itself, since it was never really lost. For PB, however, there is a positive purpose behind the creation of the ego; it is not a mistake but an evolutionary product that evolves along with the universe and not simply the creator of illusion. It need not be destroyed - only the Source could do that, which it may, in some cases - but only ones fixed identification with it must be undone.

   Then he says:

   “In the end, when truth is seen and its relativities are transcended, there is only this: nonduality, nonorigination, and noncausality.” (87)

   This does not contradict what PB said earlier, about there being a God - World-Mind - to whom we have a relationship of devotion and aspiration; this is because the Soul-as-double-knower, looking 'above' and looking 'below', so to speak, in Plotinus’ terms, is, according to Anthony Damiani, the essence of the non-dual doctrine. That there are eternal verities beyond even this does not take away from the sublime nature of its realization. Once a sage is established in identity with his Soul or Overself, that is the first stage of enlightenment. Then, and only then, as Overself, he can realize his relationship with the World-Mind, and his essential nature as Mind, through deeper degrees of penetration into the silent Void.

   PB also writes:

   "All teachings which try to inform us what the Real is like can only honestly do so if they use negative terms: they can only say what it is not like. For where is the individual who can continue to exist in its discovery and note its nature or attributes? His limited consciousness has dissolved in the larger one. Only afterwards, when looking back at the experience, dare he say that the experience itself was ineffable but what it concerned was incomprehensible; it was luminous, but that which shone was an unseen power....He who experiences it may know its onset or its end because of the enormous contrast with his ordinary self, but he will not know its full height simply because he will not even know that he is experiencing it." (88)

   Let us just say that PB is in agreement with Advaita on the nature of truth - that it is nondual - but not in terms of the comprehensive nature of Reality, in that it avoids the non-separate distinctions of Mind, World-Mind, and Overself, all eternal Principles. An entire book could be written comparing the two schools. Aurobindo, also, gave a detailed critiqued Sankara’s advaita in The Life Divine. PB says, for instance:

   “Vedanta is unsatisfying partly because it is too jerky. It jumps abruptly from the finite and physical individual to the ineffable and unutterable Absolute Itself. It swings from one extreme to another. It fails to recognize that there is and must be an intermediary - the Overself [Divine Soul].” (89)

   Leaving this question open-ended, we shall proceed. Robert continues:

   “As long as you feel body-consciousness, and as long as your mind, so-called, still has the power to make you feel this way and that way, then you have to do some practice. Otherwise your body-mind will control you. The highest practice is Atma vichara, Self-inquiry. The reason I’m talking to you like this is because I can feel that all of you who are here have been through many paths and you’re not newcomers, so you’re ready for this. You’re ready to hear that there is no practice, there is no God, there is no enlightenment, there are no past lives, there is no you, and you’re free.” (90)

   [Question: who wants to admit they are not ready? and also, “Who” wants to admit they are not ready?]

   Gangaji agrees with Robert:

   "To discover the truth of who you are is not only possible; it is your birthright. Any thoughts that this discovery is not for you - now is not the time, you are not worthy, you are not ready, you already know who you are - are all just tricks of the mind." (91)

   Robert speaks more on this paradoxical issue of preordainment, freedom, and the development of virtue:

   “What is compassion? Actually compassion is when you are reconciled with this entire universe. There’s nothing in this whole universe that you are against. Think about that. Compassion means reverence for all of life...Too may Advaita Vedantists, non-duality people, go around shouting, “I am one with this, I am one with that, everything is Absolute Reality,” and yet they have so many bad habits. It’s sort of paradoxical. So many times I tell you everything is karmic, everything is preordained, everything that has happened to you is preordained, you do not lift one finger that it is not preordained for you to do. Yet, at the same time I’m telling you that you have to give up certain things, and develop higher qualities, which is right. For you would say to yourself, “If everything is preordained, why should I care about what I do, how I act, how I live, everything is supposed to happen anyway.” This is true on one level, but then again, you have total freedom to turn within and not react to life’s situations. You have that freedom. So, everything’s preordained, and at the same time you have the freedom to turn within and find out to whom preordination comes to, by lifting up into a higher state of consciousness and becoming free. Therefore, compassion is very important.” (92)

   Free will and preordainment or predestination can only be considered when there is time. When time is not assumed, there is neither predestination or free will. Ramana asserted that that was the ultimate truth. He also taught that everything the body is to go through is already predetermined when the body comes into being. Robert suggests that the only so-called free will we really have is to turn within and inquire as to "who" is the one who has free will.

   Finally, he emphasizes the need for total acceptance, the acceptance of ones dharma or place in the scheme of things, as a way of understanding both freedom and karma:

   “We have to be in our own dharma. Dharma means the right path. You are in your dharma right now, whatever it may be, for there are no mistakes. The dharma that appears that you’re in, is the result of karma. This is why I always say you are in your right place, right now. This is your dharma, this dharma to totally transcend and transmute everything and become free. When there is no karma, there is no dharma, there’s nothing. But while you are searching, you have to be thankful for the dharma that you’re in. Do not feel that something is wrong, or you’re out of place, or you should be something else. I know people tell me many times, “Robert, I feel so spiritual I really don’t belong here on earth.” (laughter) If you didn’t belong here on this earth, what are you doing here? Why are you here? As long as you are here and you feel that you’re here, then you belong where you belong. This is your dharma....I cannot tell you enough that every situation that happens to you is necessary for your growth. There are no mistakes. Everything that you’ve been through, everything that you’re going through, is absolutely necessary for your spiritual growth...The universe is a university to educate the soul. Before we go any higher and awaken, we have to have these little realizations where we begin to feel that there is nothing wrong. There is absolutely nothing wrong. All the good of the universe is yours. There is absolutely nothing wrong - nothing.” (93)

   This is what the Zen masters quoted in the beginning of this article were talking about. And it is also what Sri Nisargadatta said at the culmination of his sadhana: "there was nothing wrong anymore."


   Yet another question at this point presents itself for our consideration: is karma absolute, or is there a power higher than that? Can karma be altered? It has been argued both yes and no. We have already seen the view of the Sants. Kirpal Singh said, "In the presence of the Master our karmas fly like autumn leaves before the wind." Sri Aurobindo held the view that not only agami or kriyaman karmas, and sanchit karmas, but even prarabdha karmas could be altered of eradicated. What is the view from philosophy? According to Anthony Damiani:

   “An extremely evolved spiritual entity can develop new habits. But usually the new habits have to be developed when you’re in the body [“work when it is day, and not at night, when no man can work,” said Christ]. You can’t learn to meditate outside the body in the sense that if you want to make a habit out of it you have to make the habit when you’re in the body.” (94)

   “Insofar as a very highly evolved person, like a Bodhisattva, has withdrawn that desire which wants to be always embodied, when the time comes that he wants to reincarnate, he has to will it. It won’t happen by itself, whereas for most of us, when that desire to be embodied comes upon us, we’ll come right back into manifestation again. But in his case, he broke the habit here. So when he wants to come back, he has to re-employ the habit; he has to bring the will to bear on it in order for him to come into manifestation.” (95)

   “Now the point I’m trying to get at is that, yes, the mind is always what it is, but if it’s the karma or destiny of a person to inhabit a certain kind of body, there’s no way around that. If it’s a defective body, the person will have to experience the inaptitude of that body. He’s getting a different kind of experience than we are. I don’t think we know what that experience is. But there are no two ways about it, the entity is getting an experience which means something to him, otherwise karma wouldn’t be working. In other words, his mind is evidently benefitting - let’s say, exhausting or fulfilling its karma. Otherwise, it wouldn’t make sense. Do you see what I’m getting at? There are mysteries in this world and we’re not going to get rid of them. As a matter of fact, when you finish your studies, and when you’ve penetrated the greatest mystery of all, it’ll still be a mystery. You’re not going to take the mystery away.” (96)

   The spiritual aid of a master in relation to easing ones karmic load is reflected in the Buddhist Mahayana doctrine of Parinamana, wherein the Tathagata, Saint, or Sage can take away the negative karma of others or even impart some of his powers to them aiding in their attainment of enlightenment. According to D.T. Suzuki:

   "If anybody does anything good, its merit is sure to come back to the doer himself - this is the doctrine of Karma; but according to the Mahayana the recipient need not always be the doer himself, he may be anybody, he may be the whole world; merit being of universal character can be transferred upon anything the doer wishes. This transferability is known as the doctrine of Parinamana, the turning over of one's good work to somebody else. This idea comes from the philosophical teaching of Interpenetration upheld in the Avatamsaka.” (97)

   This could be considered a form of miracle. And, according to Patanjali, miracles or powers - karmic or phenomenal as such - can be explained, as a result of profound samyama, or dharana, dhyana, and samadhi on all the stages up to Isvara, from which the creative power of "OM" emanates. Still, from the position of ultimate awakening this would not be considered proof of the final stroke or the necessary accompaniment of jnana or non-dual enlightenment. Patanjali himself warned against attachment to even the highest of such things. Alice Bailey, in her exposition of the yoga sutras, Book 3, Verse 37, said,

   "These powers are obstacles to the highest spiritual realization, but seen as magical in the objective realms."

   On the other hand, I.K. Taimni points out that

   "It is almost impossible to distinguish the terminal stages of self-realization and the powers that adhere in those stages, for the siddhis that come out of that realization are hardly occult powers as such." (98)

   PB states:

   “It is natural as well as inevitable that one who has entered into the larger life of the Overself should show forth some of its higher powers. Such an individual’s thoughts are informed by a subtler force, invested with a diviner element, pointed by a sharper concentration, and sustained by a superior will than are those of the average person. They are in consequence exceedingly powerful, creative, and effective.” (99)

   He writes on one way a master or sage can influence karmas:

   “In this momentous period the true sage has special work to do in trying to protect the human race from its own folly. One way is intercessory meditation which may help to mitigate the effects of the world crisis.” (100)

   PB next speaks on the non-deterministic aspect of karma, how at times the law of grace, being the perfect freedom of the Absolute, may intervene:

   "There is... an unpredictable element in the pattern of human life, which increases rather than decreases as the quality of that life rises above average. We see it markedly in the case of a maturing aspirant who has to undergo tests and endure ordeals which have no karmic origin but which are put across his path by his own higher self for the purpose of a swifter forward movement. They are intended to promote and not delay his growth, to accelerate and not impede his development. But they will achieve this purpose only if he recognises their true aim." (101)

   This is, as we said, much like what Sri Aurobindo spoke of. Damiani concurs:

   “The Master can assign you to a certain work or God can assign you to a certain work. A Master can release you from certain compulsions that you feel your destiny allotted to you...I don’t know if you’ve got any idea what work is involved to reach those heights, but in studying these things I began to realize we’re speaking about the quintessence of Divinity as far as humanity is concerned..So the word “Master” has a lot of meaning, tremendous depth and profundity to it, and I don’t think that we have any idea of what’s really involved. I don’t think we have any idea. You’re speaking about someone who is in touch with the Lord of the Universe, our world.” (102)

   The Mother (Mira Alfassa), Sri Aurobindo’s spiritual partner, asserted that karma could be changed through Grace:

   “The Divine Grace completely contradicts Karma; you know, it makes it melt away like butter that’s put in the sun.” (103)

   PB writes, paradoxically, that the transmission of grace by a sage requires the recipient to be “karmically ready”. (104) This is why purification of the vehicle or a process of evolution or preparation of the ground is often said to be a good thing to have, if not a necessity. So, once again, the two realms, absolute and relative are seen to be indissolvably interconnected.

   Dattatreya, in the Avadhuta Gita, tells us:

   “Through the grace of God alone, the desire for nonduality arises in wise people to save them from great fear.” (105)

   Similarly Ramana replied to a devotee:

   “The very fact that you are possessed of the quest of the Self is a manifestation of the divine grace.” (106)

   All saints and sages have said the same thing. Grace arises in the heart and mind to propel one directly towards the truth of ones being. It also is said to come “to the wise”; implying, to those who have supreme good karma from past lives, having worked hard to prepare themselves for self-knowledge. Here again the line between karma and grace becomes blurred.

   The Guru Granth Sahib, or Adi-Granth, likewise proclaims:

   “By the karma of past actions, the robe of this physical body is obtained. By His Grace, the Gate of Liberation is found.”

   Thus, birth is not, as Ambrose Bierce once wrote, "The first and direst of all disasters," (107), nor is the body a "disease", as Papaji and Ramana said, but rather, scriptures maintain, a great and precious opportunity. It is said that many souls, even gods, are awaiting human birth. Even if ultimately there is no such thing as time - or souls - it is, for such souls, time not to be wasted.

   Sant Darshan Singh wrote this powerful statement on the process in which a saint or Satguru can help to speed up the fulfillment of ones karmic destiny:

   "We are people of little faith and fail to recognize and appreciate the hand which guides and which sustains. Hazur (Baba Sawan Singh Ji) used to say that once a saint has taken a soul under his wing, he is keen to compress the progress of twenty births into a single one. And if we desire to pack the accomplishments of twenty lives into a single one, we must pay for it." (108)

   Finally, PB makes further remarks on the alterability of karma:

   "The Overself cannot separate itself from cosmic karma but it is not subject to the working of personal causality because it is not subject to personality, change, relativity; being beyond the limits of these ideas which appear within it...This fact that personal causation does not exist in the profoundest plane of existence offers a great hope for mankind. For it makes possible the introduction into human life and vicissitude of this totally new and unexpected factor of grace. It is like a lifebelt to which despairing mortals may cling. The worst sinner may receive what he has not earned if he will sincerely repent, make all possible amends and turn his face around in sublime faith."

   "From the standpoint of the person causality exists but from the standpoint of the person's essence it does not. If we accept the materiality of the world we have to accept the ultimate reality of all that goes with it, that is the personal entity and the relation of causality. If we ascend higher and regard the Overself alone, then the world is seen to be not different from it in essence and consequently the causal relation is seen to be an illusion. Hence personal karma, being based on causality, cannot operate here and the descent of grace which nullifies it becomes a possibility."

   Once more he reiterates:

   "These principles must not be misunderstood. They do not abrogate the impersonal karmic forces which govern the universe, which bring it into primal being and which dissolve it into final non-entity. These remain as powerful and dominate as ever. Only, we must complete the circle and perceive that the truth about human life has room enough to include both the clutch of karma and the freedom of that out of which karma itself originates. Which is to say, in the end, that we do not attain our aims, whether they be physical or spiritual, by self-earned merit alone or by God-given grace alone, but by both together. Therefore nobody can afford to omit grace from his scheme of things. Consequently, nobody can afford to omit the yearning for it, either." (109)


   Spiritual teacher anadi says that after destiny, free-will in the sense of creativity, and freedom from destiny through the intervention of Grace, there is also a capricious quality in life:

   "Apart from karma, there is also a place in life for accidents where things happen at random, without any particular karmic reasons..There is an element of accidentality as well, for life and evolution often experiment." (109a)

   Universal Intelligence or Existence determines the basic blueprint for the Soul for each lifetime. Each Soul has to reach a certain completion in each life; for a questor that may mean opening of the Heart, stabilising a state of presence-awarensss, maturing the faculties of thinking, feeling, and willing, cultivating intuition, etc. The soul will keep coming back until the basic blueprint is complete. anadi says, however, that we must not take too linear a view of this. The attainment of enlightenment is not the only reason why a soul might choose not to come back:

   "If the soul doesn't want to come back to this plane, she doesn't incarnate. But most often, even though the soul does not want to incarnate on one level, she does on another level...The soul cannot stop incarnating until she fullfils her blueprint. The scenario which universal intelligence has written for her must be played out until the very end!"

   "Karma is a part of the soul's blueprint. Karma is the scenario of one's life, the basic rules through which this Leela functions. When we speak about transcending karma, we mean that the soul discovers her existence as beyond the Here in her original purity. Karma as such cannot be eliminated, for it constitutes the functioning of the manifest reality. But when the soul reaches her own light, karma no longer locks her in the dimension of forgetfulness. The personality is always there and personality is based on karmic elements, but the soul different to the personality dwells in the beyond."

   "Enlightenment is just a part of this blueprint. It is possible that the soul does not come back even if she is not yet enlightened. Some soul's give up their desire to incarnate prior to reaching enlightenment. For other souls, unity with the divine and realisation of the heart may be sufficient in order to transcend this plane. Some souls are too feminine to attain enlightenment in a traditional sense, which does require some masculine energy. Therefore, don't be dogmatic in projecting one generic vision of enlightenment for everyone, as the past traditions did. Your challenge is to attune yourself to your on evolution and to discover your unique blueprint."

   "The reason why one does not have to incarnate is not merely enlightenment. That which makes you let go of this dimension is your completion and fulfilment. When you feel done with this ridiculous drama, your soul will not wish to incarnate anymore. It is all on the soul's level; your soul decides, not your mind."

   "So when you do not incarnate anymore and you are fully complete with this dimension, the evolution may continue but within universal consciousness. We cannot speak about this because it is beyond human understanding. There are mysteries which are far beyond the totality of human knowledge; no human knows these mysteries, not even the Buddha knew...nobody can know. There are certain mysteries that the human being is unable to know because of the basic limitation of human consciousness. We cannot go beyond that."

   PB once said that he "didn't say that sahaj samadhi was the highest state, only the highest attainable by man." anadi continues:

   "Even the enlightenment we speak about is just the human type of enlightenment. There are other types of enlightenment which no one in the human body can ever reach. So what the human reaches is human enlightenment which is the optimum of completion within human consciousness...When human evolution is complete, evolution still continues but within a higher structure. You still evolve but not as an individual. Your intelligence merges with the universal space of intelligence. It is similar to when you sit in meditation and merge into the space of I Am; in that dimension, there is no point of reference but you still exist. Universal consciousness exists in this way. There is no-one there, there is no entity; but there is movement of Intelligence, movement of understanding, movement of love." (109b)

   [We have already been moving on to our second topic, reincarnation and evolution, but for more on karma and free will, etc., please see The Integrationalists and the Non-Dualists - 4 on this website].

   PB then writes of the sacrifice of one who attains to the stature of the philosophic sage:

   “And for the sage who attains to knowledge of THAT which forever seems to be changing but forever paradoxically retains its own pure reality, for him as for the ignorant, the flux must go on. But it will go on here on this earth, not in the same mythical heaven or mirage-like hell. He will repeatedly have to take flesh, as all others will have to, so long as duration lasts, that is, forever...The escape into Nirvana for him is only escape into the inner realization of the truth whilst alive: it is not to escape from the external cycle of rebirths and deaths. It is a change of attitude. But that bait had to be held out to him at an earlier stage until his will and nerve were strong enough to endure this revelation. There is no escape except inwards. For the sage is too compassionate to withdraw into proud indifferentism and too understanding to rest completely satisfied with his own wonderful attainment. The sounds of suffering men, the ignorance that is the root of these sufferings, beat ceaselessly on the tympanum of his ears. What can he do but answer, and answer with his very life - which he gives in perpetual reincarnation upon the cross of flesh as vicarious sacrifice for others. It is thus alone that he achieves immortality, not by fleeing forever - as he could if he willed - into the Great Unconsciousness, [Mind, the One, Consciousness Itself] but by suffering forever the pains and pangs of perpetual rebirth that he may help or guide his own.” (110)

   He says that at this point the sage has a choice. For the personal self, however, his work is done:

   “When a man has established himself in the Universal self, in the awareness of its oneness, the series of earthly reincarnations of his personal self comes to an end. For himself, they would serve no further purpose.” (110a)

   On the nature of such a choice, PB writes:

   “Whether or not a man will serve humanity after he attains self-realization is not an attitude that he can completely decide upon or predetermine before he attains it. For the matter is then surely taken out of his hands altogether...The question whether he shall share his knowledge with others or withold it from them, will not be a real one for him. Its answer was settled long before, by destiny, by his character, by his past, by the World-Idea.” (111)

   In other words, by his ‘ karma’ - ? The question is mute, for to him, merged as it were into the World-Idea, free choice and karmic destiny are one and the same.

   He further writes:

   “It is not enough for the illuminate when the veil falls and the inner meaning of universal life is read. His efforts do not come to such an abrupt end. For he does not consider his own salvation complete while others remain unsaved. Consequently, he dedicates himself to the task of trying to save them. But in order to do this he has to reincarnate on earth innumerable times. For men can attain the goal here alone and nowhere else. This changes the whole concept of salvation. It is no longer a merely personal matter but a collective one...He cannot dwell in that magical state without transforming his experience in the world so that in some way or other it serves God’s purpose, thus turning even outer defeats to inner victory.” (112)

   Nevertheless, and paradoxically, in the case of the sage both PB and Sri Aurobindo have also said that there is a choice. Mukherjee explains

   “The Jivanmuktas and other liberated souls enjoy complete freedom and are in no way bound by any particular rule or procedure. They can, after the shedding of their physical body, travel to any particular supraphysical world of their choice, may come back to the terrestrial plane in another human embodiment, or may not do so but stay permanently in any desired supernal world such as Brahmaloka, Vishnuloka, Sivaloka, etc., or crossing the bounds of all cosmic manifestation may pass beyond time and space and merge in the Transcendent Absolute. To quote Sri Aurobindo:

   “The Jivanmukta can go wherever his aim was fixed
[This implies that he has to will it, as PB has also said, such as in the case of a further incarnation], into a state of Nirvana or one of the divine worlds and stay there or remain, wherever he may go, in contact with the earth-movement and return to it if his will is to help that movement.” (113)

   With all of this talk, while one must embrace and fulfill his destiny, he must also be on guard against assuming too grandious a role in the overall scheme of things. One must never forget he is no-thing, and even less than that; ‘emptiness’, and ‘empty’ emptiness. As philosopher Bertrand Russsell cautioned:

   “One of the symptoms of an approaching nervous breakdown is the belief that one’s work is terribly important.” !

   Gangaji states along these lines:

   "The willingness to be nothing, to defend against nothing, can lead to exceedingly intense feeling. A great fear can arise: "I could really disappear here, and then the whole of my life will be of no actual importance." But you have to understand that this is going to happen anyway. You really will disappear at some point, and even though you may make great contributions in your life, finally, they too will disappear." (113a)


   For the moment returning to the subject of karma, in Buddhism the twelve links of interdependent origination describe these workings of cause and effect. To end the bondage to the cycle of rebirth (but not necessarily to repeal or end the cycle itself - which the Solitary Realizer, but not the Bodhisattva, may want to do) is to see the point at which the links of interdependent origination can be cut. For instance, feeling gives rise to craving, and craving gives rise to clinging; if the mind is stilled, feeling is stilled, craving ceases, and clinging ceases as well. However, this is not as easy as it might seem. As the Buddha states in the Samyutta Nikaya:

   “Even so, though a noble disciple has put away the five lower fetters [including the sakkayaditthi, the belief in something permanent in the five aggregates], yet from among the five groups of grasping the subtle remnant of the conceit of the ‘I’, an attachment to the ‘I’, and the lurking tendency to think ‘I am’ is still not removed from him.”

   And in the Digha Nikaya, after his disciple Ananda said that the concept of interdependent origination was easy, the Buddha replied:

   “Do not say that, Ananda. The teaching of interdependent origination is indeed deep and subtle...It is because of not understanding and not penetrating this Dhamma that this generation...does not go beyond transmigration.”

   Sustained contemplation and grace are necessary to remove this conceit of ‘I’. The links of interdependent origination reveal the ‘emptiness’ and interconnectedness of all things, that is, the lack of a permanently existing entity or self anywhere. The realization of all things being interconnected gives rise to Bodhichitta, or universal love. The Madhyamaka or Middle Way, the path followed by the Dalai Lama, is based on the teachings of Emptiness, originating with the Buddha but re-formulated by the great Nagarjuna. His Holiness the Dalai Lama gives a very succinct description of emptiness teachings:

   “Ignorance is conquered by understanding the interdependence of all phenomena, or, in other words, “interdependent origination.” So what is the meaning of interdependent origination? “Whatever is dependent on something else, that thing is not independent,” adds Aryadeva. We cannot talk about a self in any other sense apart from this. That means that something that comes about in dependence on something else is not an independent entity. Hence, this “self” is not an independent entity...And that which is interdependent is called empty. This is the Madhyamaka, or middle path...Nagarjuna said, “For me, emptiness is equivalent to interdependent origination. Whatever is interdependent, that is empty..As long as there is attachment to the Five Skandhas, there will be clinging to a self.” The individual identifies with the skandhas as being “I”. ..Yet, there exists no such substantial self. It is empty of substantial existence. There has never existed a self that the individual can base is or her pride on...The Buddha said that the idea that things arising from causes and conditions are existent is ignorance.” He also said that something that is not dependently arisen does not exist. Therefore a non-empty thing does not exist.”

   “Non-existence, however, does not exist either. Unless this is clear, the refutation of existence is just words. The skandhas, the basis of our notion of a personal self, do not exist at all. This does not mean that no individual exists. If there were no individuals at all we could not speak of samsara and nirvana, of happiness and suffering. Thus the absence of a self contradicts our direct experience. We do exist in some way. But the basis on which a self is imputed does not have the slightest true existence.”

   “There is, however, what is called “nominal existence” or “merely a name.” There is something that the name refers to, but that thing cannot be found. Merely a name is found. It is quite odd, isn’t it? This is the “emptiness of emptiness” or natural emptiness. Nirvana can also be analyzed in this way. Although nirvana is a very famous thing, it is actually the emptiness of nirvana that is found, not nirvana itself.”

   Jeff Foster speaks from this point of view in a not to be missed short, humorous imaginary dialogue called The Advaita Trap.

   To me, the moral of the above is, humility first and foremost. As Hafiz says:

   "Hafiz, there is no one in this world who is not looking for God. Everyone is trudging along with as much dignity, courage and style as they possibly can."

   The Dalai Lama said that we “exist ‘in some way”. The Buddha, in the Diamond Sutra, also pointed out that exactly because of the teaching of the Void (‘No-thing exists’) that every-thing exists in some manner. And His Holiness once said, “He who denies his own existence is a fool.” This must be understood in the right way. It is not ‘understanding’ or knowing per se, but beyond both knowing and not-knowing. Which is a different way of saying that the opposite of doubt is not certainty, but Faith: faith in and fundamentally as the Buddha nature, Self, God, or Reality. In their capitalized forms, I suggest, Faith - as well as Hope, Charity, Knowledge, and Ignorance - are our fundamental Nature, not just conventional qualities possessed by a separate person. [For more on this concept, see the upcoming essay, Shraddha on this website].

   The following section was written some years ago, and may contain errors as well as some repetition of what has already been discussed, but I have tried to be reasonably accurate in the telling.

   The concept of the Bodhisattva, or continually reincarnating adept whose purpose is the enlightenment of all beings, as found in the Mahayana Buddhist tradition, finds little equivalent in the West. Western religious exotericism rejects reincarnation entirely, while its stream of esotericism makes only occasional mention,of perhaps one or another adept being reborn as a specific teacher. In the East the Tibetans have been unique in their outspokenness about the existence of entire lineages of reincarnating adepts, whose relocation has been made into a well engineered science. In India the subject is treated somewhat more casually by the general population, and the adepts themselves are often hesitant to speak of their previous identities. The advaitist and non-dualist may find the following rather silly and besides the point, but for the moment we are talking about mysterious India. Baba Jaimal Singh, for instance, was considered by his disciples to be a reincarnation of Guru Nanak; indeed, there were many resemblance between the two, and the soldier-saint Jaimal Singh was born in the very same district in which Nanak had prophesied he would reappear. Yet when questioned on the matter the saint merely said, "If we spirits were to speak our minds, who wculd allow us a moment's rest and who would spare our skins?" (115) Satya Sai Baba, on the other hand, plainly stated that he was previously the reknown Shirdi Sai Baba, and even prior to that, Jesus the Christ. Swami Muktananda felt that this was not possible, arguing that Shirdi Sai Baba was an enlightened being and that enlightened beings do not take rebirth.

   This finds little support in the traditions, however, and rests on a misconception of the enlightened state, namely, that it is incompatible with existence in the world. Enlightened beings do take rebirth, and such jivan muktas (‘those liberated while alive’) are the best candidates for doing so, for after the sacrifice of re-embodiment their spiritual development is swift and complete, enabling them to most effectively serve the enlightenment of others. The enlightened being is not compromised in his enlightenment by the arising of manifest conditions, for he is eternally present as their conscious source and stands as the Amrita Nadi, the Heart and its Light, the ‘body’ of enlightenment, according to sages such as Ramana Maharshi. And if such beings didn’t reincarnate, what hope would there be for humanity? Damiani writes:

   "..if the Absolute can grant the eternal gift of Being to the Soul, Soul in turn will manifest eternally. As authentic essence the Soul includes a principle of manifestation, and to claim that Soul is reabsorbed when it achieves recognition of its true Being is to deny its status as an authentic essence capable of engendering perpetually a reflex of itself. Consequently, self-realization does not necessarily entail the cessation of its manifestation. The Buddha or a sage will continue to reappear periodically, for it is in the very nature of Soul to be represented by an ego. It is the very nature of Soul as an authentic essence to be a metaphysical wanderer in the infinitude of God's Being." (116)

   It may very well be that, in the case of the adept, the tendency for gross embodiment has exhausted itself, and therefore he must reincarnate or assume a body-mind anew by an act of will or intention, as contrasted with the bound soul whose re-embodiment is more or less inevitable, but that is another matter entirely. The type of view that holds enlightenment and manifest existence incompatible or mutually exclusive speaks more of an inverted witness position than that of the enlightened sage resting in sahaj. The Bodhisattva does not sacrifice his enlightenment in order to remain incarnated for the sake of helping others, rather, he remains incarnated, enlightened, in order to help others. At the same time he knows that in reality there are no ‘others’, but, like the Buddha, he does what he does because that is all that is left for him to do, and he knows there is a divine purpose behind ignorance and illusion, and real suffering undergone in those states; he has been there himself, so he knows. He doesn’t reason it away, but extends compassion and grace to those ‘left behind’. He may postpone or await kaivalya or nirvanic isolation, but not enlightenment ltself. And, of course, since he has realized full enlightenment, there is, in a very real sense, no ‘one’ awaiting such final or ultimate nirvana. That is how he can afford to make the sacrifice of taking on flesh again and again.

   This issue of reincarnation or rebirth is a very mysterious one and worth discussing in detail. What is it, precisely, that reincarnates? If, as popular literature suggests, the notion of reincarnation is consoling to the bewildered ego, why should this be so?


   The common belief about reincarnation is based on the same point of view that is at the foundation of both exoteric religion and conventional mysticism. This is the belief in a personal identity as an ego, or ego-soul, that is somehow inserted or contained within the body and that leaves the body at death, has experiences in subtle dimensions (heavens and hells), and eventually re-associates with a body again after a dip into unconsciousness and is reborn. Understanding of the physics of the body-mind, however, in light of the higher teachings within the spiritual traditions, reveals to us that, yes, something continues, but, yes, something does not. In any case one is born again with, except in rare cases, no memory of anything prior to the present life, and faces a seemingly endless round of suffering in limitation unless and until he takes up the practice of self-transcendence in spiritual terms, through self-enquiry, tutelage under a master-teacher, or some other means of grace.

   The clearest and simplest dissection of the subject of reincarnation classifies the total being into three dimensions. There is the gross personality, composed of the physical body, its life energies or etheric body, and lower mind in its association with the physical body. This ‘gross personality’ does not reincarnate, obviously, it is born and dies, and has ‘parents and grandparents’. This is Jane Doe or John Smith, an apparent but not self-existing entity built up in this lifetime. It generally has no memory of past lives or afterlifes because it has no past lives or afterlives. Prior to the gross personality is the ‘deeper personality’. This consists of the subtle aspects of the being that manifest through the gross personality as tendencies that may or may not bear any resemblance to the parental lineage. This might be said to constitute what is considered the character of an individual, which is the net result of the tendencies built up over the course of many lifetimes and stored ‘deeper’ within the being, essentially in what is subconscious and unconscious to the waking personality. In terms of yoga terminology, the deeper personality would consist of the manomaya kosha as well as the vijnaomaya kosha, or manas-buddhi-ahamkara (mind-intellect-ego), the antahkarana or "inner organ", the (apparent) reincarnating entity. It is also known as the suksman sarira. Some yoga schools say that this does reincarnate (see Swami Rangathananda comments), while others say this, too, disperses prior to rebirth. In theosophical literature they speak of something called the “immortal Ego in the causal body.” I am not sure exactly what they mean by that (it might be what Sri Nisargadatta had in mind when he said that “each ‘I am’ is preserved and glorified”), but in order to avoid confusion, a brief discussion of the differences between ‘subtle body’, ‘causal body’, and Maya is in order before proceeding further. As stated before, different yoga schools have different interpretations of what a causal body’ consists of.

   According to Swami Ranganathanda, in The Message of Vivekachudamani, the classic vedantic text attributed to Sri Sankara, the subtle body is said to be ‘the true man of vedanta’. (This must be contrasted with the ‘true Self of vedanta’, the Atman, ones eternal identity). The subtle body is what is often considered the reincarnating ‘soul’ in western thought. It is in essence a beginningless superimposition on the true Soul (Atman) brought on by its own ignorance, or the power of Maya, Nescience, the Undifferentiated, the mysterious power of the Lord composed of the three gunas: tamas, rajas, and sattva, however you want to look at it. Maya has both a veiling and a projecting power. The latter is activated by rajas and the former by tamas. Further, the projecting power is only manifested once the veiling power is active. Cultivation of sattvic buddhi in which the Atman can be clearly reflected is the Vedantic way to rid oneself of this primal ignorance. (117)

   According to Swami Vivekananda:

   “Maya is not a theory for the explanation of the world; it is simply a statement of facts as they exist, that the very basis of our being is a contradiction, that wherever there is good, there must also be evil, and wherever there is evil, there must be good, wherever there is life, death must follow as its shadow, and everyone who smiles will have to weep, and vice versa. This eternal play of light and darkness - indiscriminate, indistinguishable, inseparable - is always there. A fact, and at the same time not a fact; awake and at the same time asleep. This is a statement of facts, and this is what is called Maya. We are born in this Maya, we live in it, we dream in it. We are philosophers in it, we are spiritual men in it, nay, we are devils in this Maya, and we are gods in this Maya. Stretch your ideas as far as you can, make them higher and higher, call them infinite or by any other name you please, even these ideas are within this Maya...Everything that has form, everything that calls up an idea in your mind, is within Maya; for everything that is bound by the laws of time, space and causation is within Maya.” (118)

   Swami Rangathananda gives us this intriguing description of Maya:

   "No definition is possible for Maya. It just escapes clear-cut description, and when ever we attempt to describe it, the description takes the form of a paradox, as found in this verse: She is neither existent nor non-existent nor partaking of both characters. We cannot say it exists. Then can we say it does not exist? That also we cannot say. Then can we say it is a mixture of both existence and non-existence? Even that is not possible. Similarly, She is neither same nor different nor both. She is neither composed of parts nor an indivisible whole nor both. We cannot predict whether it is with parts, without parts, or combined. None of these predications can be made about nature, Nature is beyond predications. She is a mysterious wonder. This is the beautiful definition of Maya given by Shankara." (119)

   Sankara ecstatically exclaimed:

   “Alas! What a wonderful thing this veiling power is! It can even destroy the wisdom of a learned and wise man! One may be intelligent and wise, a scholar, very clever, and also adept in the vision of the exceedingly subtle Atman. In spite of these high qualifications, even a little breeze of this concealing power can destroy everything.” (120)

   According to Swami Ranganathananda, Maya, also known as the Divine Mother or para-shakti in the Devi Mahatmyam, has two dimensions:

   “It is an important point that comes in Sri Ramakrishna’s gospel. The two dimensions of Maya are avidya maya and vidya maya. When the heart becomes the playground of avidya maya, it pulls us down. Vidya Maya lifts us up. It is the enlightening Maya. The choice is ours. Though everything is Maya, we have the choice to choose either of the dimensions. When we begin to exercise this choice in favor of vidya maya, our life is lifted up. We become moral and steady. Our spiritual growth begins from then onward. But when we take Maya for granted and do not struggle against it, we remain like animals.” (121)

   Maya, according to Vedanta, can only be overcome by realizing the non-dual absolute Brahman through the knowledge ‘I am the Self’. Sankara says:

   “Neither by yoga, nor by samkhya, nor by work, nor by learning, but by the realization of one’s identity with Brahman is liberation possible, and by no other means.” (122)

   This is so because the first false identification of the Self is with the buddhi, wherefrom the sense of ‘I’ comes from. Buddhi is so fine and close to the Self that it reflects the Self’s brilliant light to such a degree that many aspirants have taken this experience to be realization of the Self. Ramana often quoted scripture, saying “the Self is always shining in the intellectual sheath,” or what Sankara called "the cave of Buddhi". This false identification is an error of knowledge, and can therefore only be removed by discriminative knowledge of the finest degree.

   For PB, maya "simply means that matter is an illusion of the mind," (122a) and can be eradicated by the mentalistic discipline combined with concentrative meditation and contemplative reflection.

   The causal body of the soul, or karana sarira, is spoken of by Swami Ranganathananda as the Undifferentiated, the compound of the three gunas, and as such is also of the nature of Maya. It is expressed especially in deep sleep, in which the mind and the powerful mental impressions that activate us in the waking and dream states remain dormant or suspended, held in latent seed-form (bijatmana-avasthitirava-buddeh); only the bliss sheath remains. (123)

   Theosophy concurs with Vedanta in saying that the samskaras are implanted in a “seed-atom” in the heart in the womb where they fructify in the next life.

   The subtle body, as stated, contains mental impressions and inclinations, samskaras and vasanas, which have a direct effect on the development of ones character. The subtle body, Ranganathananda says, is the instrument of action, the true doer (the physical body being but a husk), and is both responsible for creating the physical body in the womb and governing it (by the light of Atman) during life, while the gross body or sthula sarira is the medium of experience for the Atman in the world. (124) This is paradoxical language, for the Atman in itself is actionless and omnipresent and does nothing - or perhaps everything. Remember the saying, “deeds there are, but no doer thereof.”

   The causal body is not a body per se, but the undifferentiated repository of latent samskaras or impressions and tendencies from innumerable past lives, in seed form, and from which the jiva or personality is formed afresh as the subtle body during each lifetime. The astute reader will notice that I have just introduced a view contrary to that of Ranganathananda. He said that the subtle body reincarnates; I take the position, as does Swartz, that it undergoes changes from life to life, and may even disperse completely as the Buddhists would maintain, before reforming out of the causal body, with the help of Nature. However, Ranganathananda may be right when he says that ”the internal organ’s identification with the body as one’s own self is called ego. It makes the soul identify itself with the gross body in the form of “I”...It is a wonderful datum appearing at the human stage of evolution in the form of self-awareness.” (125) [The Buddhists would not even like to say ‘body’, prefering to speak of skhandas, as being more in line with ones direct perception]. The point is that the causal ‘body’, like the subtle ‘body’, should not be considered an inherently existing entity. They both undergo change, within certain predominating limits, and are only activated by the light of Atman behind them:

   “When any human being realizes his or her true Self, he or she becomes free from all bondages and attains kaivalya - the establishment in the state of absolute aloneness of the non-dual reality, which is of the nature of pure consciousness.” (126)

   What did Ramana say? - “the Self is here and now and alone.”

   This (kaivalya) is certainly the traditional goal of yogic sadhana. For Aurobindo, as we have seen, while this is of extreme importance, it would be the foundation or beginning of something grander: the evolutionary establishment of what he called the “Gnostic Being”. In a eulogy he gave, Franklin Merrell-Wolff lauded Aurobindo for his endeavor in this direction. [To explore this topic in depth is beyond the scope of this paper; for more details see: Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine].

   Continuing, for one identified with the gross personality, the deeper personality is not readily available to their conscious experience, both in life and after death. Nevertheless it is a determining factor in any experience of both life and death. Prior to even the deeper personality is the conscious divine Self, the Atman, the source-condition of both the gross and deeper personalities, and the very reality which nevers reincarnates but remains as the unconditional witness and ground of all conditional experience. This conscious Self is eternally unchanged and unmoving. Ramana Maharshi testified to his realization and identification with this omnipresent Self by remarking, just prior to his mahasamadhi, "They say that I am dying but I am not going away. Where could I go? I am here." The enlightened being has transcended identification with both the gross and deeper personalities, as well as the primal root of 'I'-ness or egoity itself. It is somewhat paradoxical to speak of his reincarnation, then, for as the conscious divine Self he does not reincarnate, and neither as the personality does he do so. The Soul is eternal being and can’t reincarnate, and the ego as a matrix of possibilities can’t be said to reincarnate either. PB wrote:

   “What he calls the “I” does not get reborn in further bodies, as he believes, nor did it do so in the past. But it does appear to do so. Only deep analytical thought associated with mystical meditation can de-mesmerize him from his self-made idea.” (127)

   The deeper personality, as an expedient, may be said to reincarnate, and it is this, if anything, which can be said to have past lives or, rather, contains the memory of them. Yet even this is not a totally fixed entity or even a fixed bundle of tendencies, and thus is not really a living thing. It owes its existence to the borrowed light from the emanating aspect of the Soul or conscious Self, upon which one might say, as the ‘sutra atma’, a series of lifetimes are strung like pearls on a necklace. So the issue of reincarnation is a mysterious subject. Ramana Maharshi, once again, speaking from the ultimate standpoint, says:

   "Reincarnation exists only so long as there is ignorance. There is really no reincarnation at all, either now or before. Nor will there be any hereafter. This is the truth." (128)

   He is speaking in Absolute terms, and also about the non-existence of the personality. For Sri Aurobindo, as previously discussed, there is an immortal reincarnating being, a projection of the Self.

   Damiani expands on PB’s comments:

   “Basically, the criticism is against any animistic understanding of reincarnation. I’m John Doe and when I come back John Doe becomes Henry Smith. There’s this notion of some sort of continuity, and he’s knocking all that out. That’s not what reincarnation is. Reincarnation is really misunderstood by anyone who thinks that the same principle, the Soul, is actually in the body. The way we understand it is that Soul is an indivisible whole of which part - the reasoning part of the Soul - projects and makes actualizations in the imagination of the possibilities that are contained withn that indivisible whole. But in itself Soul is the principle and never could reincarnate. He just wants to knock that out, in case you have any idea that you’re immortal because you keep reincarnating. That goes out the window, too. For a lot of people that is a kind of feeling of immortality, that they’re going to be coming back. But what’s coming back is not you.” [A.S. : It’s a funny paradox and that’s why it’s so hard to say “reincarnation,” because the ego incarnates but it doesn’t reincarnate. And what’s permanent, the light, never incarnates at all.”] Thank you very much, that’s perfect.” (129)

   As we have seen, Sri Aurobindo agrees with Damiani that the personality disperses, in stages, after death, but says that a true reincarnating being does exist, which he calls the psychic being or soul, forever linked with the immortal Spirit:

   “It is the central being that incarnates, not the outer personality - the personality is simply a mould that it creates for its figures of experience in that one life. In another birth it will...develop a new character, a new personality...it is the psychic being who stands behind the evolution of the nature and evolves with it.” (130)


   Damiani, speaking of Ramana Maharshi’s spontaneous acting out of his impending death, tries to goad us to keep death in mind as an impetus to practice:

   “You try it. See if you can do it. You’ll find out the strength of the vasanas is unbelievable. They’ll say we’re going to scream for help and beg and cry for mercy. Everybody speaks about how superior they are to death - when they’re not dying. But when they’re dying it’s a whole different ball game. The vasanas take over, the tendencies are powerful enough to take over completely. I can’t conceive of any power except the power of a sage or God to release you from that compulsive fear. So the word “Master” has a lot of meaning, tremendous depth and profundity to it, and I don’t think we have any idea of what’s really involved. I don’t think we have any idea. You’re speaking about someone who is in touch with the Lord of the Universe, our world.” (131)

   This issue of the need for eradication of the vasanas has been emphasized by both Ramana Maharshi and James Swartz, who argues that vigilance must continue even after enlightenment, because while at that point you know that you are the Self, the vasanas don't, and can have the effect of pulling you out of your awakening. Enlightenment can then appear to be lost, according to the Kaivalya Navanita. Ramana said::

   "Realization takes time to steady itself. The Self is certainly within the direct experience of everyone but not in the way people imagine. One can only say that it is as it is. Just as incantations or other devices can prevent fire from burning a man when otherwise it would do so, so vasanas (inherent tendencies impelling one to desire one thing and shun another) can veil the Self when otherwise it would be apparent. Realization takes time to steady itself. Spasmodic Realization is not enough to prevent re-birth, but it can not become permanent as long as there are vasanas." (132)

   It may also be helpful to contemplate the fact that, while there may be no continuity of identity after death to cling to, to base our hopes on, or to be consoled by, in reality there is no continuity of identity right now either. Nothing fundamental changes with death. And the very desire or hope for continuity is what keeps us inevitably in a state of fear, why then desire it? Spiritual practice is to be steeped in this recognition.

   "A Realized Soul who knows the truth is aware of the fact that he is not the body. But there is one thing more. Unless one looks upon death as a thing that is very near and might happen at any moment, one will not be aware of the Self. This means that the ego must die, must vanish, along with the inherent vasanas."   - Ramana Maharshi (133)

   "Your fear of death is really fear of yourself: see what it is from which you are fleeing."    - Rumi (134)

   “The truth is you really are nothing, but this nothing is full, whole, infinite, in everything, everywhere. This nothing is consciousness itself. It is already whole, complete, and fulfilled. This is the amazing irony. What you are running from and what you are searching for are the same.”   - Gangaji (135)

   Paul Brunton further explains, much like Sri Aurobindo, in what sense there is a continuity, albeit unconscious in most cases:

   "The true teaching about reincarnation is not that the divine soul enters into the captivity and ignorance of the flesh again and again but that something emanated from the soul, that is a unit of life that eventually develops into the personal ego, does so. The Overself contains this reincarnating ego within itself but does not itself reincarnate...The Overself never descends or climbs, never loses its own sublime consciousness. What really does this is something that emanates from it and that consequently holds its capacity and power in latency, something which is finited out of the Overself’s infinitude and becomes first, the simple unit of life and later, the complex human ego. It is not the Overself that suffers and struggles during this long unfoldment but its child, the ego. It is not the Overself that slowly expands its intelligence and consciousness, but the ego. It is not the Overself that gets deluded by ignorance and passion, by selfishness and extroversion, but the ego. The belief in the merger of the ego held by some Hindu sects or in its annihilation held by some Buddhist ones, is unphilosophical. The "I" differentiated itself out of the infinite ocean of Mind into a distinct individuality after a long development through the diverse kingdoms of Nature...The self-consciousness thus developed will not be dissolved, extinguished, or re-absorbed into the Whole again, leaving not a trace behind. Rather it will begin a new spiral of evolution towards higher altitudes of consciousness and diviner levels of being, in which it will cooperate as harmoniously with the universal existence as formerly it collided against it. It will not separate its own good from the general good...Nor does this ascent end in the vedantic merger or the Buddhistic annihilation. It could not, for it is a development of the individuality...It is not a game of hide-and-seek that God is playing with man, not a sport for God’s own amusement as some Hindu sects believe, but a process of evolvement intended to give man insight into the real and power for co-operative participation. It is a treasure hunt through many earthly lives..." (136)

   “Students who have come finally to philosophy from the Indian Advaita Vedanta bring with them the belief that the divine soul having somehow losts its consciousness is now seeking to become self-conscious again. They therefore suppose that the ego originates and ends on the same level - divinity - and therefore the question is often asked why it should go forth on such a long and unnecessary journey. This question is a misconceived one. It is not the ego itself which was ever consciously divine, but its source, the Overself. The ego’s divine character lies in its essential but hidden being, but it has never known that. The purpose of gathering experiences (the evolutionary process) is precisely to bring it to such awareness. The ego comes to slow birth in finite consciousness out of utter unconsciousness and, later, to recognition and union with its infinite source. That source, from whence it has emanated, remains untouched, unaffected, ever knowing and serenely witnessing. The purpose in this evolution is the ego’s own advancement. When the Quest is reached, the Overself reveals its presence fitfully and brokenly at first but later the hide-and-seek game ends in loving union.” (137)

   This is almost identical with Sri Aurobindo’s teaching, except where PB uses the words “emanant of the Overself” , or “unit of life”, or “ego”, Aurobindo uses the term “psychic being,” emanant of the true Self or Spirit.

   anadi speaks in a somewhat similar way about this point:

   "The best way to prepare yourself for death is trust, simply trust that the one who created your soul will take care of you. You don't need to be afraid of anything..What dies is the conscious memory. What ceases to exist is the conscious mind. And what does not die is the stage of evolution you have reached...So it is not correct to say awareness does not die. Awareness also dies, or gets de-manifested. Reality, the source is much deeper than awareness - it is the primal energy. You see, awareness only exists when there are two. When there is duality, consciousness can become conscious. Even the so-called non-dual awareness requires duality. The original state does not know that it exists...When you die, you are de-manifested but something continues later on when you again manifest. For example, the level of your emotional evolution continues as well as your intelligence. Intelligence is something deeper than the conscious mind. You have no conscious memory but you have a certain capacity to understand. This ability to understand represents the maturity of intelligence..."

   "The most important thing to see is that there is a part of you, namely the I Am, which never incarnates. There is a part of you which is beyond incarnation. You are multidimensional. You have a few different layers of yourself which exist simultaneously. That which incarnates is your personality extension. It is your personality which evolves in time, incarnating into various forms. But paradoxically, the essence of you doesn't evolve, for it is already perfect. You are evolving, you are changing...but throughout this evolution, you recognise that which doesn't change, that which is beyond evolution. That is why all this is real and unreal at the same time."

   Furthermore, PB maintains:

   “We reject all theories of the Divine Principle having a self-benefitting purpose - such as to know Itself or to get rid of its loneliness - in manifesting the cosmos. It is the Perfect and needs nothing. The cosmos arises of itself under an inherent law of necessity, and the evolution of all entities therein is to enable them to reflect something of the Divine; it is for their sake, not for the Divine’s, that they exist.” (138)

   While the World-Mind with its World-Idea can be said to have a purpose - for which reason PB rejects Vedanta with its concept of Maya as a philosophy "lacking a cosmogony", and as an attempt to "explain away the purpose of this vast universe as non-purpose" (139) - he is in line with Vedanta when he writes that the Absolute, Mind in Itself, the One Reality, being uncreated, unmanifest, unborn, and uncaused, has no ultimate purpose. “At the ultimate level there is neither purpose nor plan because there is no creation.” (140) We cannot even ask the question of why it emanated the World-Mind or Logos. Even for the adept it will forever remain a mystery. For Meister Eckhart it is the “primordial ground where distinction never gazed”. PB enigmatically writes:

   “The truth is not only that nobody has ever known, that nobody knows, and that nobody will ever know the final and fundamental purpose of creation, but that God himself does not even know - for God too has arisen out of the Absolute no less than the universe, has found himself emanated from the primeval darkness and utter silence. Even God must be content to watch the flow and not wonder why, for both God and man must merge and be absorbed when they face the Absolute for the last time...There is That which abides in itself, sufficient to itself, unique, the Consciousness, the Finality. There is nothing beyond it. Before That one must bow in utmost reverence, humbled to the ground.” (141)

   On an internet post, Jai Maha Dev speaks of it in a slightly more paradoxical way:

   “The Supreme Self does not stand in need of enlightenment. Our ever-pure, ever-real Atman does not stand in need of enlightenment. It is the living self (comprised of mind, body, intellect, ego, and spirit) that must be enlightened. When the living self is enlightened, we say that we have awakened from the dream of Ignorance, and we realize that we have always been free and have never been touched by anything that happened in the dream, because the dream was never real and we never became unreal. This experience is our experience, it is not the experience of the unchangeable Supreme Self—and yet, it really is the experience of the unchangeable Supreme Self; that is, it is our experience of the unchangeable Supreme Self.”

   If a realized individual maintains a connection with the deeper personality or suksman sarira, then it could be said that ‘ he’ reincarnates, even though from the position of absolute Truth this is not so. In other words, if two gross personalities separated in time shared the same suksman sarira then one might say that there was an apparent karmic link between them, even though the ultimate identity of either character is the one divine Self. This is what is to be known, and known directly - while reincarnation continues, which it very well might, even after awakening, as Damiani wrote (note 116). To repeat, the Buddha is reported to have said:

   "Subhuti, I remember that long ago, sometime during my past five hundred mortal lives, I was an ascetic practicing patience. Even then I was free from those distinctions of separated selfhood." (142)

   This reflects the Mahayana Buddhist view that the realisation of emptiness is just the first of ten stages to full Enlightenment.

   Then there is the Avatar theory. If one maintains that some person is an avatar or incarnation of a god such as Vishnu, for example, and not the Absolute per se, that would be permissable. But to assert that the entirety of the Absolute incarnates into a finite human body is not philosophical. This is what Ramana Maharshi had to say about avatars:

   Question: "Meher Baba says he is an avatar (incarnation). Is that true?"
   Ramana: "Everyone is an avatar of God. One who knows the truth sees God in every face and everyone else as a manifestation of God.”

   There are other strange possibilities that have been written about, such as a sage before rebirth inhabiting a pre-formed vital and mental body that have not yet disintegrated but are still existing in the subtle realms; or a sage entering the body of a just died person and enlivening it, or, as in the myths surrounding Sankara, of a sage inhabiting the body of a King in order to win a bet with the queen! Sri Aurobindo writes of one other mysterious phenomenon:

   “There is only one psychic being for each human being, but the beings of the higher planes, e.g., the Gods of the overmind, can manifest in more than one human body at a time by sending different emanations into different bodies.”(143)

   Furthermore, speaking of the Gods and karma, PB writes:

   “There are beings not subject to the same laws as those governing mankind’s physical existence. They are not normally visible to men. They are gods.” (144)

   [End of essay on reincarnation. I hope everyone enjoyed a good story]


   The process of incarnation of a priorly enlightened sage may be viewed as essentially the reverse of the process of sadhana for the unenlightened being. The adept prior to birth is the Self, who, it might be said, ‘reaches towards’ a deeper personality and then a gross personality in order to have vehicles or agency for his work in the world. The traditional disciple begins identified as the gross personality and reaches towards the deeper personality and then towards the Self. This, of course, is only a metaphor. It is not like there are deeper personalities and gross personalities waiting in space somewhere to be claimed by the sage. He has the help of Nature in this process like all souls do. Yet he engages a real sacrifice in order to be born and teach others. He will temporarily lose his enlightenment in the process of embodiment, for the assumption of a new body and brain necessitates a period of re-adaptation and re-awakening in the conditions of the gross dimension. The force of his prior realization, however, guides his development and makes the process of sadhana in his case relatively brief and conclusive. That would be the case for someone like PB, the Dalai Lama, or the Karmapa.

   It has not, in fact, been universally recognized that one need explore the deeper personality or the subtle regions outside the brain in order to attain enlightenment. The purpose of incarnation may in fact be to confine and concentrate experience in the gross dimension. The brain, especially the cerebral cortex, besides serving as an evolutionary adaptation, a mechanism, for the purification of buddhi (the view of Ranganathananda (see 145)), also exists as a barrier to the intrusion of subtle experience and past lives into one's consciousness in the waking state, which, in fact, is the arena where all of the tendencies of the deeper personality as well as the ‘causal ‘body’ (which interpenetrate the gross body) can be purified and transcended at the heart, without one rising into the subtle planes themselves. When the lower life has been so purified and the individual has matured to a sufficient degree, he can pass, as it were, ‘ horizontally’, instead of ‘vertically’, to practice of the witness consciousness, founded, as Ramana said, in the heart, without engaging the mystical tour at all. In the final stroke he transcends attention altogether as it were, as the knowledge that one is the non-dual Self is revealed as what is already the case.

   Thus it is not really the case that the aspirant must necessarily move from the gross towards the subtle towards the Self, although he can. The person on a direct path, however, can in fact ‘sacrifice’ the subtle (the inner self consisting of countless thoughts and imaginative states) to the gross, and then the gross to Consciousness. That is to say, he first transcends, or ignores, the mind or subtle being, but not the body, and then the body, which is a perception to, in, and as consciousness, is surrendered into and as that conscious Self. In other words, he first understands his ego, thereby going beyond the illusion of a self-existing or inherently real inner self or ego-soul, to 'awaken' as the body or psychophysical self in its original unity. Then the realization of consciousness is in a sense coaxed to come forth on its own, without the impediment of a body-mind split. This is contrary to the assumption behind conventional mystical paths, whereby a disciple seeks to transcend the body (generally in an ascetical manner) in order to gain access to the subtle dimension, and only from there hopes to go beyond the mind to find the Self. This path may work out, but it is possible to gain transcendental realization without ever having an experience of the subtle planes at all. Such was the case with Ramana Maharshi. The reason being that Consciousness does not have to be 'found' or 'returned to', since it is our very nature. It need only be recognized. This is the message of the non-dual teachings.

   While most sages say that liberation must be attained here and now, while living in the body, it is not universally considered to be the case. An interesting take on the possibility of liberation attained after death is given by Swami Satprakashananda. Whether it is really a possible option or not I do not know:

   ”Knowers of Saguna Brahman [God with form or attributes], according to Sankara, do not have full knowledge (jnana) and their souls depart from their bodies at the time of death, although they do not have to be reborn. The jnanis (knowers of Nirguna Brahman - God without attributes), however, merge in Brahman, and their subtle bodies (souls) dissolve at the time of death....Knowers of Saguna Brahman realize Nirguna Brahman and attain final liberation at the cosmic dissolution, along with Hiranyagarbha, the presiding deity of Brahmaloka. This is called “Gradual Liberation” (krama-mukti), as distinct from “Immediate Liberation” (sadya mukti), achieved by those who realize Nirguna Brahman in this very life.” (146)

   This gradual liberation has also been discussed clearly by Swami Krishnananda, disciple of the reknown Swami Sivananda, whom Kirpal Singh respected. He argues that one can reach Brahmaloka or union with Puroshottama and, thus purified, gain a relative liberation, and then attain final, unconditional mukti from the after-death realms. Paramhansa Yogananda was in fact of the view that most souls achieve final liberation from the higher regions after death, although he also was emphatic in saying that one should go “all the way” here and now.

   Since a chief claim of Sant Mat is that Sat Lok itself is beyond both Brahmaloka and the “three worlds”, as well as cosmic dissolution and grand dissolution, and is eternal, it would most likely maintain that the above statement only implies a relative liberation in Brahmaloka, although it would not necessarily disagree on the general concept of gradual liberation or the non-necessity of rebirth for as yet unliberated souls, which it, and even some schools of Buddhism, are also in agreement with. It is just that it may take longer - much longer - on the inside than here on the physical plane, if, in fact, it is even possible. [Precisely why this is so is the subject of a future essay].That is why Sants will sometimes send even advanced disciples directly back for another human birth in order to progress faster than they would from the subtle realms. I conjecture also that this might depend on the inner strength of the person. And who knows, being ripe souls they might be sent back to take up a direct path such as Self-or-philosophic-inquiry as a ‘finishing school’, if that in fact is necessary.

   [Two questions arise on this point. First, if Sant Mat is true, and Sat Lok is beyond dissolution and "grand-dissolution", does that mean Souls on that path who attained that level would not be bound even by the "general karma" that PB spoke of earlier, as governing the cyclic appearance and disappearance of the worlds? And second, if in such a maha-pralaya, or grand-dissolution [which only 'occurs' - from a dualistic point of view - every so many billions of years], one resolves back into the Absolute, the One, Mind, the eternal Unmanifest, which is already our true nature, in fact the goal of all of our efforts, both that which is present as the backdrop of all thoughts or manifestation and that which may also be experienced directly in the instant or gap between two successive thoughts (or 'pulsations' of the World-Mind), the eternal witness of the three states of waking, dream, and sleep, and all mystic experience as well - if all that is the case, what is there to fear from a cosmic dissolution, and what is there to "protect" from such an event? If all is resolved into the One, where is the soul to be "saved" by attaining Sat Lok? To put it another way, as Hubert Benoit writes:

   "Man will enjoy his freedom as soon as he ceases to believe that he needs to free himself, as soon as he throws from his shoulders the terrible duty of salvation. Zen demonstrates the nullity of all belief in a personal God, and the deplorable constraint that necessarily flows from this belief...And, if my understanding is right, I am not afraid that death may come, today or tomorrow, to interrupt my efforts before their attainment. Since the problem of my suffering ends with me, why should I worry myself because I am unable to resolve it?...Our emotions, our desires and our fears, have no place in a true understanding." (146a)

   The following may give an answer to the questions posed above:

   "The Sastras speak of three species of dissolution: diurnal, natural, and the absolute. Diurnal dissolution takes place in deep sleep when everything is dissolved into Atman. The natural is when the whole wold is merged in Brahman at the end of each Kalpa or cyclic age. Both these are temporary, empirically speaking; for, sleep and world dissolution occur as a result of karma, individual or collective, and though from the highest stand-point of Reality the souls along with the rest of the world are really one with the real Atman during these states, the Jivas do not know that they are one with the Supreme Self there. As the Chandogya S'ruti says:

   "All these beings, having come from Pure Being, do not know they have become Pure Being." (6-9-2)

   "All these beings, having come from Pure Being, do not know that they have come from Pure Being." (6-10-2)

   Even while every being high or low, is really one with Reality for ever and there is really nothing else than Reality, and even while every being without exception sheds its apparently distinguishing adjuncts, or Upadhi in the shape of body, senses and mind whenever deep sleep or universal dissolution comes on, and consequently there is not even the semblance of individuality in these states, yet creatures of all ranks, beginning with the lowest to the highest, are so prepossessed in favour of their identity with their circumscribing associates in waking, that they are barred from reflecting upon their innate nature as Reality. This ignorance no less than the predilection for their preconceived individuality in waking, is what is called Avidya in Vedanta. When they have the good fortune to secure the sound advice of an adept teacher, they do reflect on their real nature and at once come to know that they have been always the one Reality without a second. This time their ignorance is effectively wiped off by enlightenment and the enchantment of the reality of the conditioning associates - the body, senses and mind - is dispelled for good. This is what is known as the Atyantika Pralaya - Absolute Dissolution."

   One way of looking at this is that dissolution for the unenlightened might be compared with one who has experienced Nirvikalpa Samadhi. When he comes out of this trance, even though he has experienced Atman-in-itself, he reassociates with limitation to one degree or another, and doesn't have the complete knowledge that Atman and Brahman are One, because he has excluded the world in his meditation. Subject and object have yet to lapse and become one as Pure Consciousness throughout all states; one has yet to reside in Sahaj. Thus, while the Soul itself is not destroyed in a universal dissolution, the karmas of unenlightenment arise again for the Jiva when the universe is reborn. For the enlightened, however, they need not be reborn, unless they have previously willed it. In any case, there is nothing to fear from such a dissolution, and the inquiry remains, 'who' is there to fear it?]

   Robert Adams said:

   "In the past, sages such as Ramana Maharshi, Shankara, and others, have said that Self-inquiry is for mature persons. You have to be mature spiritually to understand Self-inquiry, to understand Advaita Vedanta...Advaita Vedanta is really for mature souls. People who have practiced sadhana in previous lives. Self-inquiry, Advaita Vedanta, is like the university of spiritual life. You can't fool yourself." (147).

   Need it be said again that the whole affair is paradoxical and mysterious?

   As mentioned, Paramhansa Yogananda spoke of being liberated after death:

   "Salvation is of two kinds: final liberation from all karma and union with God; and freedom from earthly karma, giving the possiblitiy of living from then on in high astral regions, from which one can work out his astral and causal karma until he reaches final liberation. Salvation from the need for further imprisonment on this material plane is in itself a great blessing, and can be won even without (yet) achieving divine perfection.” (148)

   In Pure Land Buddhism, which some may consider a concession to simpler minds, the Buddha (Amida) declares that arduous practitioners or those with pure faith will reach Sukhavati, a region of supreme bliss and beauty, and also one of non-returning, from which one can attain their Nirvana:

   “O Ananda, those bodhisattvas who have been born, are being born, or will be born there [in Sukhavati], and will hence indeed obtain the highest perfect knowledge; barring, those bodhisattvas who are devoted to the work of helping all people to attain Parinirvana.” (149)

   “In that world Sukhavati, O Ananda, there flow different kinds of rivers...carrying water of different sweet odour, carrying bunches of flowers adorned with various gems, resounding with sweet voices...the sound of which is deep, unknown, incomprehensible, clear, pleasant to the ear, touching the heart, beloved, sweet, delightful, never tiring, never disagreeable and always pleasant to hear..."

   “Having heard these sounds, everybody feels the highest delight and pleasure accompanied by retirement, passionlessness, quiet, cessation, law, and a stock of merit leading to the perfect knowledge...”

   “Being elevated in knowledge...imperturbable in thought, they are like the ocean; they surpass the light of the sun and moon, by the light of wisdom, and by the whiteness, brilliancy, purity, and beauty of their knowledge.”

   [This sounds much like the Sach Khand spoken of by the Sants, the first truly spiritual and eternal region in Sat Lok, although it may, in fact, be a lower created realm; Kirpal Singh equated Sukhavati with devachan of theosophy, a high subtle or astral heaven].

   It must be pointed out, however, that faith in the power of Amida Buddha is not to be a mere formality, or superficial faith:

   “The faith in Amida [or the ‘Other Power’] was simply the outcome of a far-reaching contemplation of the Buddha-nature.” (151)

   The reader is thus directed back to the passages of D.T. Suzuki at the outset of this article for discussion on the true import behind the concept of faith in Amida as a vehicle for liberation.

   [for more on the subject on death, dying, and the afterlife, see Dying in the Master's Company on this website].


   All Eastern religions are in agreement that there is no release from the law of karma as long as one thinks he is the doer. In the Bhagavad-Gita Lord Krishna says:

   “All actions are done by the prakritis, the modes of nature. But one whose self is deluded by the conceit of ‘I’ or ego thinks, “I am the doer”. No one can remain even for a moment without engaging in action. Everyone is made to act, helplessly, by the impulses born of the prakritis.” (152)

   ‘Deluded by the prakritis’ means to mistake one’s temporary mortal body for an enduring reality.


   “As a person does, so does he reap...Beings are inheritors of their karma.” (153)

   In the Hindu tradition belief in God as the absolute ground of being does not relieve one of moral incentive and the need to make efforts:

   “Always performing one’s duty for the sake of duty, one should wish to live for a hundred years. Karma does not defile a person if he lives in this way, and not in any other way.” (154)

   Krishna once again adressed Arjuna:

   “Action alone is your concern, and never at all its fruits.” (155)

   Sri Nisargadatta, a bit traditionalist, a bit maverick, in a nutshell said that:

   "Like everything mental, the so-called law of causation contradicts itself. No thing in existence has a particular cause: the entire universe contributes to the existence of even the smallest thing; nothing could be as it is without the universe being what it is. When the source and ground of everything is the only cause of everything, to speak of causality as a universal law is wrong. The universe is not bound by its content, because its potentialities are infinite; besides it is a manifestation, or expression of a principle fundamentally and totally free."

   However, perhaps reality is not so linear. He also said:

   "Everything causes everything. Most karma is collective, it is just a gross approximation: in reality we are all creators and creatures of each other, causing and bearing each other's burden. In this vast ocean of life we suffer for the sins of others, and make others suffer for our sins. Of course, the law of balance rules supreme and accounts are squared in the end. But while it lasts, we affect each other deeply. As long as you believe yourself to be a body, you will ascribe causes to everything. I do not say things have no causes. Each thing has innumerable causes. It is as it is, because the world is at it is. Every cause in its ramifications covers the universe." (156)

   This is consistent with Buddhism. If interdependent origination is the case, if everything causes everything, then the only worthwhile attitude to take is to perform good deeds for the sake of the whole, to see ‘good’ karma coming to oneself as something to share with others, and to be grateful for ‘bad’ karma coming your way giving you a chance to balance the scales and grow, as well as take on the suffering of others. This is much better I think than to view karma too personally. It is also in line with the Integral Yoga teaching of Sri Aurobindo. As Mukherjee writes:

   “The affair is multidimensional and very complex in character. And the reason is that no man is entirely separate and isolated. He has a universal being as well as an individual being. As a result everyone is indissolubly linked to every other person.” (157)

   Dhanya Moffitt describes this nicely in terms of advaita; it also fits with PB's depiction of the Intelligence behind the World-Idea:

   "We can negate all changing phenomena as ‘not That,’ but then we are left with two things. We are left with Brahman, and everything else which we have negated.  If the teachings tell us, ‘advaita,’ nondual, then we have to put Brahman and duality back together and see that they are one. In order to do this, nothing can be left out.  All those things which have been negated as ‘not That’ have to be seen as Ishvara alone, Ishvara whose very being is Brahman. They belong to Ishvara alone.  They are part and parcel of Ishvara. [the World-Mind] They are part of his infinitely complex and logical order [the World-Idea]. Those things which go against dharma may cause pain, but they are not outside of the laws of Ishvara who manifests as infinite order.These things themselves are part of Ishvara’s order..."

   "This creation is intelligently put together and constructed. I have often heard Swami Dayanandaji say, 'One needs to settle the account with Ishvara.'  How do we do that?  By understanding that everyone has a background, including me, and given the circumstances of one’s life, one could not have behaved differently. That behavior was part of Ishvara’s order.  Granted the results may have been negative, but they were still an outcome of his order. Whatever has happened cannot stand apart from Ishvara’s order, for nothing stands apart from the order.  Furthermore, we come to understand that if someone did this or that bad thing to me, well that person had a background also, and given the circumstances of that person’s life he or she could not have behaved differently."

     "In Swami Dayananda's own words:  "Now there is no alienation, there is total surrender and trust in Ishvara who is both mother and father, the material and efficient cause of everything.  All that is here is Ishvara. We have to discover that, and to discover that, nothing can be left out." Finally we come to understand and appreciate as Swamiji famously says, “Some religions say there is one God.  We say there is only God.” And who is that God?  It is Ishvara whose being is Brahman. And that Ishvara You Are. You are the whole. Tat Tvam Asi.”

   The sage has "squared his accounts" with Isvara or the World-idea because he has become one with the World-Idea.

   The issue, of course, is paradoxical: exactly 'who' or 'what' is the doer in all this? It cannot be the ego, for the ego does not have inherent reality. On the other hand, it is not the Atman, because Atman is changeless and is not a 'thing' that could do anything:

   "Atman seems to assume the forms of the ego, mind, senses and diverse functions of the body, but actually does it do any of these functions? It neither acts nor is subject to change in the least. It appears to be acting due to its association with the psychophysical system. The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad says (4.3.7): "It thinks, as it were, and shakes, as it were"...Atman is transcendant as well as immanent. And though immanent, it is unlimited by space and time, and therefore infinite. Had it been limited by space and time, it would have been finite. And as it is infinite, it can be as much in you in its fullness as in me. Partitioning of the Atman is not admissable. It is an indivisible entity (akhanda vastu)." (159)

   We are then left with only impersonal 'doing', but no doer. About the jivamukta Ramana Maharshi said:

   "The jivanmukta is one without thoughts or sankalpas. The thought process ceases completely in him. Some Power makes him do things. So he is not the doer but the one who is made to do." (160)

   The same view, that the 'mind is dead' and 'there are no thoughts' in the jnani has been expounded by enlightened disciples of Ramana such as Annamalai Swami and Lakhshmana Swamy:

   "The mind must die, there is no other way to realize the Self. Some people say that complete equanimity of mind is Self-realization, but this is not true. This is only a stage one passes through on the way to Self-realization. Other people say that seeing the Self or God everywhere is Self-realization, but this is not true either. To see the Self everywhere there must be an 'I' who sees, and while that 'I' exists the mind will also exist...when the mind still exists one can reach a stage where one can see the whole world as a manifestation of the Self, but when the mind dies, there is no one who sees and no world to be seen." (161)

   Yet this position is not universally held. Only so-called "vedantic mystics' talk this way. Why can't a sage have thoughts and think and see the world and still not be the doer, knowing all to be the One Self? Thoughts tend to come to him spontaneously, yet in a non-dual perspective even his using the mind as a tool is neh-karma or non-doing. So whether or not his 'mind is dead' he is still not the doer. Vedantist James Swartz would definitely say that the mind is not 'dead' after one realizes the Self. It is just seen for what it is.

   Therefore, the body will unavoidably appear to perform actions, within the substratum of the Self. Samsara and Nirvana are one. Freedom and Karma are, once more, in a mysterious way inseparable. Furthermore, Sri Nisargadatta lovingly advises us on the proper attitude to have:

   “Karma, or destiny, is an expression of a beneficial law: the universal trend towards balance, harmony and unity. At every moment, whatever happens is for the best; it may appear painful and ugly, a suffering bitter and meaningless, yet considering the past and future, it is for the best, as the only way out of a disastrous situation.” (162)


   Damiani, elaborating on the teaching of PB, makes a very positive statement about karma and reincarnation, the Soul and the World-Idea. He says that the whole play of manifestation is not a “trap” as many Eastern philosophies have maintained, but a divine process of evolution in which the Soul is coming to self-recognition through the help of that World-Idea:

   “The World-idea is what’s teaching the soul; it’s educating the soul. And it does it in a very precise and exact way, by the kinds of experiences that are going to come to you and by the way you’re going to respond to those experiences, whether you’re going to apply what you’ve learned or whether you’re going to revert to an atavistic procedure...And the instructions that come are very specific. Each person’s natal astrological chart shows the specificity and the chronological arrangement of the experiences that that person is going to go through. What you get out of your experiences shows to what extent you are a philosophic student. To the extent that you grasp the meanings that are inherent in the experiences that you are going through and don’t have to repeat them, to that extent, you’re a student...It’s a very specific kind of education that each and every one who is aiming to be a philosopher is going to go through. The teachers you will meet, those people who will influence you - all these things are very carefully arranged. Sometimes when you think back on some of the things that may have happened to you, you see that in a split second in timing would have prevented an important meeting...So it’s not a mass education. These are very highly selected, specific kinds of experiences that each and every one who’s on the quest goes through.”

   “There are even times when the World-Mind will bring in experiences that are not even destined for you in terms of your karma, but are just brought in ad hoc! Just out of curiosity, you know: “Let’s see what you’re going to do with this one!”

   “Ultimately, you’ll see that the World-Mind is teaching you..You’ll learn to think correctly, whether you like it or not. Sooner or later, usually later, you’ll learn to feel properly. You’ll learn all these things. But it’s the World-Mind that’s always teaching you, imposing...You get the greatest education that can be conceived of, and you’re not even grateful for it.”

   For sages such as V.S. Iyer and Shree Atmananda, a strict vedantic analysis would hold that liberation is truly not release from the cycle of births and deaths, but knowledge or gyan alone, that is, freedom from even the concept of birth and death. Some take this to mean freedom from the wheel of births and deaths, yet that depends on many factors, karma being one of them. because, with all this discussion, one must keep in mind 'karma-no karma is a 'relative' polarity within the absolute. 'No-karma' is a relative concept that is often taken as representing the absolute position. The absolute, however, might better be seen as 'actualizing our enlightenment within relativity', so to speak. Therefore, one may have the liberating insight that there is no such 'thing as 'a self' or 'karma', as in the opening quote from the Buddha, and yet still come back, whether or not one believes he will or not, until one reaches the highest stages as delineated by the Buddha (stream-enterer, once-returner, twice-returner, arhat, and three levels beyond that). We must allow that as a possibility. In addition the sage may return, as PB proposed, just like everyone else, but in the capacity of a bodhisattva. His freedom lies in that he knows all is Brahman, and his sympathies and identification are with the benefit of all. That is why he will come back. He is no longer motivated by the hope of a personal salvation, bliss, or peace. Such a view complements that of the saints - who also have this universal sympathy or compassion - and is worthy of contemplation.

   Sankara said that ”ignorance has an end, but it has no beginning,” while the Sants say that “love has a beginning, but it has no end.”

   These parting words are a fitting conclusion for our little piece:

   "You must find your own way. Unless you find it yourself, it will not be your own
way and will take you nowhere."
-   Sri Nisargadatta (163a)

   "If a person is looking for this inner light, it is not enough to find one's own way, for no one is so independent. Part of the learning process is to explore the inheritance of spiritual traditions and various teachings. These teachings are a reflection of the optimum clarity which has been reached by those who have already crossed the ocean of ignorance and arrived at the Other Shore. A person who just tries to find his own way will not get any anywhere because it is to difficult of a task. You need support from the collective spiritual mind....In order to evolve as an individual you have to use the collective mind, you have to learn from others, but at the same time you are creating your own understanding. You are finding your own unique way. If you are just repeating, following, you miss you own unique evolution. However, on the other hand, if you just insist on finding your own way, without learning from others, as some naive individuals do, you will not get anywhere. You have no way to transcend without the support of the past knowledge. Therefore, the balance is required between learning and finding your own way." -   anadi (163b)

   “No matter how many traditions you go into and study, you’re going to have to, sooner or later, reason the whole thing out. You’re going to have to do it for yourself. There are no two ways about it. When you understand why even the sages themselves - when they come out of the void - disagree in their statements, you’ll see what I am talking about...In my mind there’s no doubt that something like this could happen: Let us say that you come back in four, five hundred years. There won’t be Vedanta. There won’t be Buddhism. There won’t be Platonism. All these traditional philosophies and religions will have diisappeared. Nonetheless, if a person has taught himself to think deeply about these matters and reflect, and has understood them within himself, it won’t matter to him. It won’t matter, because he knows that God can’t be grasped through any graven images, whether it’s a statue made of stone or a statue made of words. He knows that he’s got to find Him within himself, in the impalpable Spirit that is his own mind.” (164) -   Anthony Damiani


   "The spiritual path is twenty-five percent the disciple's effort, twenty-five percent the guru's effort on his behalf, and fifty percent the grace of God. Don't forget...that the twenty-five percent that is your part represents one hundred percent of your own effort and sincerity...The desires on incarnations keep one endlessly wandering. Once, however, a sincere longing for God awakens in the heart, liberation is already assured, even though the process takes more incarnations. For that longing for God, too, is a desire, and must be fulfilled eventually."   - Paramhansa Yogananda (165)

   “It is not what you do, but what you stop doing that matters. The people who begin their sadhana are so feverish and restless, that they have to be very busy to keep themselves on the track. An absorbing routine is good for them. After some time they quieten down and turn away from effort. In peace and silence the skin of the ‘I’ dissolves and the inner and the outer become one. The real sadhana is effortless.”   - Sri Nisargadatta (166)

   “The very desire for awareness prevents it. There can be no preparation for that which always IS.
To ‘aware’ Truth, Reality, God, Self, needs no preparation. Preparation implies time, and time is
not the means of comprehending truth. Truth is time-free.”
  - Sunyata (167)

   “The true men of old knew nothing of the love of life or of the hatred of death.
Entrance into life occasioned no joy; exit from it awakened no resistance.
Composedly they came and went.
They did not forget what their beginning had been, and they did not inquire
   into what their end would be.
They accepted life and rejoiced in it; they forgot all fear of death and returned
   to their state before life.
Thus there was in them what is called the want of any mind to resist the Tao,
   and attempts by means of the human to assist the Heavenly.
Such were they who are called the true men.”
  - Chuang Tzu


(1) Robert Adams, Silence of the Heart Santa Barbara, California: Acropolis Books, 2007), p. 168
(1a) Paul Brunton, The Wisdom of the Overself, (York Beach, Maine: Samuel Weiser, Inc., 1984 (first by Ryder & Co., 1943), p. 68, 436
(2) Robert Adams, op. cit., p. 207-208
(3) Laxmi Narain, ed., Face to Face with Sri Ramana Maharshi (Sri Ramana Kendram, Hyderabad, 2007), p. 222
(4) Ibid, p. 31
(5) Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, p. 809-810
(6) Sri Aurobindo, Letters on Yoga, p. 439)
(7) Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, p. 807-809
(8) Ibid, p. 815-816
(9) Paul Brunton, The Notebooks of Paul Brunton (Burdett, New York, 1988), Vol. 16, Part 2, 2.16
(10) Ibid, 4.171, 3.72, 4.173, 4.175
(10a) Paul Brunton, The Wisdom of the Overself, op. cit., p. 307-309
(11) Sri Aurobindo, op. cit., p. 802
(12) Ibid, p. 821-823
(13) The Mother (Mirra Alfassa), Collected Works, Vol. 5, p. 317
(14) Sri Aurobindo, Letters on Yoga, p. 438
(15) Paul Brunton, The Notebooks of Paul Brunton (Burdett, New York: Larson Publications, 1988), Vol. 16, Part 1, 2.229
(16) Ibid , Part 2, 1.185
(16a) Paul Brunton, The Wisdom of the Overself, op. cit., p. 346-348
(17) Jugal Kishore Mukherjee, Mysteries of Death, Fate, Karma and Rebirth (Pondicherry, India: Sri Aurobindo Ashram Press, 2008), p. 146-147
(17a) Paul Brunton, op. cit., p. 240, 236
(17b) Ibid, p. 231
(18) Robert Adams, op. cit., p. 169-171
(19) Ibid, p. 175
(19a) Paul Brunton, op. cit., p. 48-49, 54, 304-305, 310, 328-329
(19b) Ibid, p. 313-314
(20) Robert Adams, op. cit., p. 234, 256, 267, 355-356
(21) Anthony Damiani, Standing In Your Own Way (Burdett, NY: Larson Publications, 1993), p. 12-13, 34
(22) reference unknown
(23) Sogyal Rinpoche, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying (San Francisco: Harper, 1992), p. 155-156
(24) Paul Brunton, op. cit., Part 3, 4.161
(25) Gangaji, The Diamond in Your Pocket (Boulder, Colorado: Sounds True, Inc., 2007), p. 273
(25a) The Zen Teaching of Bodhidharma
(26) D.T. Suzuki, “The Futility of Pride,” Shin Buddhism
(27) Peter Fenner, “Nonduality and Therapy: The Sacred Mirror,” in Nondual Wisdom and Psychotherapy, ed John J. Prenderegast, Peter Fenner, Sheila Krystal (St. Paul, Minnesota: Paragon House, 2003), p.54
(28) James Swartz, www.shingingworld.com
(29) Abbot Zenkei Shibayama, A Flower Does Not Talk (Rutland, Vermont: The Charles E. Tuttle Company, Inc., 1970
(30) Garma C.C. Chang, The Practise of Zen (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc., 1959 (1970), p. 104
(31) The Wheel of Life (Sant Bani Press, 1980 edition, p. 21, 31-32
(32) Paul Brunton, The Notebooks of Paul Brunton (Burdett, New York: Larson Publications, 1988), Vol. 12, Part 2, 2.143
(33) Peter Dziuban, Consciousness Is All (Nevada City, CA: Blue Dolphin Publishing, Inc.), back cover, p. 218
(34) V.S. Iyer, Commentaries, Vol. 1 (edited by Mark Scorelle, 1999), p. 268
(35) Robert Adams, op. cit., p.
(35a) Paul Brunton, op. cit., Vol. 16, Part One, 2.72
(36) Kirpal Singh, Spiritual Elixer, p. 164
(37) source unknown
(38) Hubert Benoit, The Supreme Doctrine (New York: The Viking Press, 1972), p. 65-66
(39) Jean Klein, Transmission of the Flame (Santa Barbara, California: Third Millennium Publications,1990), p.48-49
(40) Scriptures of the Buddha, excerpted from The Buddha Speaks, edited by Anne Bancroft, 2000
(41) Paul Brunton, op. cit., Vol. 6, Part 1, 1.217
(42) Ibid, Vol. 16, Part 1, 2.200
(43) Ibid, 2.202
(44) Ibid, Vol. 11, 2.222, 238,241,250,124
(45) Ibid, Vol 15, Part 2, 3.239
45a. Paul Brunton and Munagala Venkataramiah, Conscious Immortality (Tiruvannamalai: Sri Ramanasramam 1984, revised in 1996), p. 45
45b. Ibid,
45c. Ibid, p. 122
(46) Paul Brunton, op. cit., Vol. 15, Part 2, 1.72
(47) Laxmi Narain, op. cit., p. 126, 276
(48) Ibid, Vol. 16, Part 2, 1.237
(49) Abbott Zenkei Shibayama, op. cit., p. 136
(50) Peter Haskell, Bankei Zen (New York: Grove Weidenfeld, 1984), p. 63-64
(51) Internet post
(52) Mukherjee, op. cit., p. 137
(53) Paul Brunton, op. cit., Vol. 16, Part 2, 1.87, 1.130, 1.186
(54) Mukherjee, op. cit., p. 137
(55) Ibid, p. 136
(56) Ibid, p. 132
(57) Ibid, p. 133
(57a) Paul Brunton, The Wisdom of the Overself (York Beach, Maine: Samuel Weiser, Inc., 1984) (first publishedRyder & Co., 1943), p. 229, 228
(58) Paul Brunton, The Notebooks of Paul Brunton, op. cit., Vol. 16, Part 2, 4.101, 4.102., 4.99, 4.115
(59) Ibid, 4.121
(60) Ibid, 4.133, 4.166
(60a) Paul Brunton, reference misplaced
(61) Ibid, Part 1, 2.240
(62) James Swartz, How To Attain Enlightenment (Boulder, Colorado: Sentient Publications, 2009), p. 119
(63) Kirpal Singh, Godman, (Tilton, New Hamshire: The Sant Bani Press, 1971), p. 166-167
(64) Maharaj Charan Singh, Spiritual Perspectives (Beas, India: Radhasoami Satsang, 2010), Vol. 1, p. 183-184
(65) Kirpal Singh, NAAM OR WORD (Franklin, N.H.: Sant Bani Press, 1970), p. 225
(66) V.S. Iyer, op. cit.
(67) Paul Brunton, op. cit., reference misplaced
(68) Swartz, op. cit., p. 121-122
(69) Sri Nisargadatta, I AM THAT (Durham,NC: The Acorn Press, 1993), p. 12
(70) Robert Adams, op. cit., p. 177-178
(71) Ibid, p. 137
(72) Ibid, p. 37
(73) Ibid, p. 15
(74) Ibid, p. 38
(75) Papaji, quoted in Berthold Madhukar Thompson, The Odyssey of Enlightenment (San Rafael, California: Wisdom Editions, 2003), p. 37
(76) Paul Brunton, op. cit., Vol. 6, 8:2.15
(77) Ibid, 8:2.31
(78) Ibid, 8:2.44; Part 1, 2.37, 3.45, 3.51, 3.83
(79) Ibid, Part 1, 4.198
(80) Gangaji, op. cit., p. 128-129
(81) Jerry Katz, ed. Essential Writings on Non-Duality (Boulder, Colorado: Sentient Publications, 2007), p. 59
(82) Laxmi Narain, op. cit., p. 271
(83) Paul Brunton, op. cit., Vol. 16, Part 3, 2.42; Part 4, 1.53
(84) Ibid, Part 3, 2.21
(85) Ibid, 2.13, 2.16, 2.17
(86) Ibid, Vol. 6, 8:1.127
(87) Ibid, Vol. 16, Part 4, 1.34
(88) Ibid, 2.141, 2.140
(89) Ibid, Part 1, 1.90
(90) Robert Adams, op. cit., p. 39
(91) Gangaji, op. cit., p. 46
(92) Robert Adams, op. cit., p. 211-212
(93) Ibid, p. 181, 283-284
(94) Anthony Damiani, Looking Into Mind (Burdett, New York, 1990), p. 165
(95) Ibid
(96) Ibid, p. 165-166
(97) D. T. Suzuki, trans., The Lankavatara Sutra (Boulder, CO: Prajna Press, 1978), p. xli
(98) I.K. Taimni The Science of Yoga (Wheaton, Illinois: The Theosophical Publishing House, 1981), p. 312
(99) Paul Brunton, op. cit., Vol. 16, Part 1, 2.73
(100) Ibid, Part 1, 4.128
(101) Paul Brunton, Essays on the Quest (York Beach, Maine: Samuel Weiser, Inc., 1985), p. 197
(102) Anthony Damiani, Living Wisdom (Burdett, New York: Larson Publications, 1996), p. 235-236
(103) Jugal Kishore Mukherjee, op. cit., p. 133
(104) Paul Brunton, The Notebooks of Paul Brunton, op. cit., Vol. 16, Part 1, 4.64
(105) Swami Ashokananda, trans., The Avadhuta Gita (Mylapore, Madras: Sri Ramakrishna Math, 1988), verse 1
(106) Kapali Sastry, Sat Darshana Bhasya (Tiruvannamalai, India: Sri Ramanashramam, 1975), p. iii-v [Note: Sastry was a devotee of both Ramana Maharshi and Sri Aurobindo and found the teachings of the two entirely compatible]
(107) Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary, 1911
(108) Darshan Singh, Streams of Nectar (Naperville, Illinois, 1993), p. 407-408
(109) Paul Brunton, The Wisdom of the Overself, op. cit., p. 243, 335, 244
(109a) Aziz Kristof (Anadi), The Human Buddha (Delhi, India: Motilal Banarsidass, 2000), p. 343-344
(109b) Ibid, p. 341, 421-422, 349-350
(110) Paul Brunton, The Notebooks of Paul Brunton, op. cit., Vol. 16, 25:4.17
(110a) Ibid, Vol. 6, Part 2, 2.172
(111) Ibid, 4.11, 4.12, 4.13
(112) Ibid, 4.16, 2.256
(113) Mukherjee, op. cit., p. 90-91
(113a) Gangaji, op. cit., p. 220
(114) Living Wisdom with His Holiness The Dalai Lama, (Boulder, CO: Sounds True, 2006), p. 106-109
(115) Kirpal Singh, A Great Saint: Baba Jaimal Singh (Delhi, India: Ruhani Satsang, 1968), p. 66
(116) Anthony Damiani, Astronoesis (Burdett, NY: Larson Publications, 2000, p. 43-45
(117) Swami Ranganathananda, The Message of Vivekachudamani (Kolkata, India: Advaita Ashrama, 2008), p. 198-243
(118) Swami Vivekananda, The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Vol. II, p. 97, 112
(119) Swami Ranganathananda, op. cit., p. 230
(120) Ibid, p. 243
(121) Ibid, p. 236
(122) Ibid, p. 128
(122a) Paul Brunton, The Wisdom of the Overself, op. cit., p. 42
(123) Ibid, p. 251-252
(124) Ibid, p. 198-209)
(125) Ibid, p. 192
(126) Ibid, p. 260
(127) Paul Brunton, op. cit., Vol. 6, 8:1.231
(128) Maharshi's Gospel, p. 40
(129) Anthony Damiani, Standing In Your Own Way, op. cit., p. 134, 138
(130) Sri Aurobindo, Letters on Yoga, p. 451-452
(131) Anthony Damiani, Living Wisdom, op. cit., p. 236
(132) Ramana Maharshi, reference misplaced
(133) Ramana Maharshi, Letters from Sri Ramanasramam
(134) source unknown
(135) Gangaji, op. cit., p. 78
(136) Paul Brunton, op. cit., Vol. 16, Part 2, 4.257, 4.261, 4.256
(137) Ibid, 4.256
(137a) Kristof, op. cit.,p. 350-351
(138) Brunton, op. cit, 4.258
(139) Ibid, 1.158
(140) Ibid, Part 3, 1.64
(141) Ibid, 1.60
(142) Jerry Katz, ed. Essential Writings on Non-Duality, (Boulder, Colorado: Sentient Publications, 2007), p.107
(142a) Paul Brunton and Munagala Venkataramiah, op. cit., p.136
(143) Sri Aurobindo, op. cit., p. 442
(144) Paul Brunton, op. cit., 4.242
(145) While the human brain may indeed serve in such a capacity, Swami Ranganathananda appears to depart from the mentalist position in arguing for a metaphysical purpose for a physical brain; he comes close to suggesting that buddhi is a product of the brain, although I doubt that is his intention; he also presupposes the validity of materialistic evolution, which has been questioned and has serious flaws.
(146) Swami Satprakashananda, The Goal and the Way, (St Louis, Missouri: The Vedanta Society of St. Louis, 1977), p. 179
(146a) Hubert Benoit, Zen and the Psychology of Transformation (Rochester, Vermont: Inner Traditions International, 1990), p. 16-17
(146b) Sri Sri Satchidanandendra Saraswati Swamiji, The Vision of Atman (Yagnavalkya's Initiation Of Maitreyi Into The Intuition Of Reality (Holenarsipur, India: Adhyatma Prakasha Karyalaya, 1995), p. 161-163
(147) Robert Adams, op. cit., p. 100-101
(148) The Essence of the Bhagavad-Gita, Explained by Paramhansa Yogananda, As Remembered by His Disciple, Swami Kriyananda (Nevada City, CA: Crystal Clarity Publishers, 2006), p. 569
(149) The Larger Sukhavati-Vyuha, in Budddhist Mahayana Texts, tr. F.M.Muller, p. 51-52)
(150) Ibid, p. 37-38, 40, 56
(151) Junjiro Takakusu, The Essentials of Buddhist Philosophy, p.175
(152) Bhagavad-Gita, 3:27, 3:5
(153) Majjhima Nikaya
(154) Isha Upanishad 2
(155) Bhagavad-Gita, 2:47
(156) Sri Nisargadatta, op. cit., p. 3, 9, 346-347, 383
(157) Mukherjee, op. cit., p. 1120-121
(158) Dhanya Moffitt's blog
(159) Swami Ranganathananda, op. cit., p. 284-286
(160) Laxmi Narain, op. cit., p. 262
(161) David Godman, No Mind, I Am The Self (Nellore District, A.P., India: Sri Lakhshmana Ashram, 1986), p. 103
(162) Sri Nisargadatta, op. cit., p. 511-512
(163) Anthony Damiani, Living Wisdom, op. cit., p. 49-50
(163a) Sri Nisargadatta, op. cit., p.
(163b) Kristof, op. cit., p. 511-512
(164) Damiani, op. cit., p. 172, 174-175
(165) Paramhansa Yogananda, The Essence of Self-Realization, p. 94
(166) Sri Nisargadatta, op. cit., p. 483
(167) Betty Camhi and Elliott Isenberg, ed., Sunyata: The Life and Sayings of a Rare-born Mystic (Berkeley, California: North Atlantic Books, 1993), p. 52