The Primordial Ground



   by Peter Holleran


   ”We must think very intensely on what the nature of the One is, and then there is a point at which you let go of anything. But do not think that the discussions of this are pointless, for the One is the only important thing you can discuss in your life - at any time, anywhere - there is nothing more important.” - Anthony Damiani (1)

   "A fella ain't got a soul of his own, just one great big soul, the one big soul that belongs to everybody." ~  Tom Joad in The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck


   At the outset we would like to point out that writing this article has likely taken a few years off of the life of the author, yet it was felt necessary that it be done, if only to save others many long hours of difficulty wading through the available material on the subject, with the added hope of not confusing him further! The ideas expressed are not his own but of those greater than he, as well as that of the muse that guides his pen. Anthony Damiani stated succinctly:

   "...when you're working out the meaning of the doctrine in all its implications, and you're trying to make it explicit, you'll find that you can't do it under your own power. It's only when the higher power within you, the Overself, starts taking a hand in the game, that you start finding the material you need to answer certain questions, and you find other material to provoke you into asking certain questions, and so this mysterious process keeps going on. When a person is under the surveillance by the higher power, you can almost say the Logos is working its meaning out in that person, and the person will become conscious of that. Everything else is secondary. That's the process that happens....But the interesting thing is that the World-Idea is working itself out and becoming self-conscious in you. That's the amazing thing. And anyone who has experienced that doesn't go around saying "my ideas." (2)

   [For those unfamiliar with Paul Brunton's (PB's) terminology (Mind, World-Mind, World-Idea, Overself), found throughout this paper, please click here for a precise and necessary explanation].

   The writer is indebted to Alan Berkowitz and Mark Scorelle for helpful suggestions.

   That being said, with the reader having referenced the above hyperlink, we shall proceed, beginning with some difficult preliminary material from PB and Plotinus, necessary to do justice to the ancient vision of the Soul (as opposed to its modern watered-down equivalent which usually turns out to be some version of a subtle body and not an eternal subjectivity), followed by a thorough discussion of the views of many traditional and contemporary non-dual teachers. [It needs mentioning that in this article we have not addressed the important-for-completeness Tibetan Buddhist conceptions of the "Ground", "Ground Luminosity," "Dharmakaya," or "Ultimate Sphere"; we touch upon them and other related and important issues in the lengthy "Non-Duality and the Soul - Some Knotty Problems", on this website].

   First it must be said that herein we are looking, as the title implies, for the 'Ground' of existence, and not the 'cause' of existence. 'Cause' implies either a Creator or 'First Cause', with many attendant logical complications, and we wish to emphasize the Ground, meaning what Reality 'stands on', or what 'allows it to be', which essentially reduces simply to what It is. We are not so much interested in theories of creation in this paper.

   Let us state that there are positted three eternal Principles or Hypostases: the One, Intellectual Principle or Nous, and Soul, by Plotinus, which may loosely be correlated with that of Mind, World-Mind, and Overself of PB. In Vedantic terms, all of these can be considered as beyond the five sheaths, mind, matter and illusion.

   Anthony Damiani argues, in Plotinus' terms, that someone who has realized his Soul, in Sahaj Samadhi, can then intuit that Soul's "priors," ie., the "Intellectual Principle" or Nous, from which it is an eternal emanation, and the "One”, but that one must forever return and be Soul, or, in PB’s terms, the divine Overself, the "eternal wanderer in the infinitude of God's Being." Realization of the Overself or Soul is itself the realization of non-duality, or the recognition of the inseparability and sameness of substance of Consciousness and its manifestation. That is, it is not fully known via nirvikalpa samadhi, or as consciousness excluding the world, but in the all-inclusive realization of knowing consciousness and its expression as distinct-but-not-separate. Though the One or Mind depends on nothing, it is maintained by a number of sages that the triad of eternal distinctions or Principles are real and can neither be bypassed or discounted. The sage, once established in identity with his Overself or Soul (Consciousness), is then in a position to know his relationship with the Nous or World-Mind (as a ray of light is to the sun), and also know his innermost essence as Mind. These forms of knowledge come from three deepening degrees of penetration into the Void-Mind.

   Nevertheless, the ultimate Substratum of both the personal self and the world is the World-Mind, not the Overself, although that may at first appear to be so for the usual mystic. That is where the notion that the "I"-thought is the cause or source of the world or creation comes from, yet it is not exactly true. The World-Mind (God) projects a sense of "I" and a master-image or World-Idea through each emanated Overself, which accounts for a common world experienced by each apparent individual. The Soul or Overself, then, shares in the World-Mind's attributes but not in its scope and power. In making these distinctions both Plotinus and PB differ from traditional Vedanta. And in this conception we can see the truth of the biblical phrase, "in Him [World-Mind] we live, move, and have our being."

   One advantage with this view of a Soul and ultimate Mind, that they are one in essence but distinct as Principles, is that it keeps one humble. One is less likely to jump into the position of declaring himself to be God. We will continue with this classification here, rather than just say that everything is the Self in the traditional vedantic manner.

   As Plotinus said:

   "The more perfect the man, the more compliant he is even towards his fellows; we temper our importance, not thrusting insolently beyond what our nature warrants; we must allow other beings, also, their place in the presence of the Godhead; we may not set ourselves alone next after the First in a dream-flight which deprives us of our power of attaining identity with the Godhead in the measure possible to the human Soul, that is to say, to the point of likeness to which the Intellectual-Principle leads us; to exalt ourselves above the Intellectual-Principle is to fall from it." (3)

   Another way of explaining the above is given by Kapali Sastri's interpretation of the teaching of Ramana Maharshi:

   “The Maharshi’s position is simply this: the Divine is, indeed, everywhere. But, you must first find your own self, your own centre in the Divine who is everywhere. Once you find it, you are no longer yourself in the usual sense; you are in His hands. What you call yourself is nothing, does not count; it is that, the Self, the Real ‘I’ that matters. There is no longer any problem for you; your problems are His ‘problems.’ “ (4)

   Once again, World-Mind is the true substratum of the world, and projects the master-image or World-Idea through each Overself, which is itself an emanation from that same World-Mind. Thus, the sage knows the world as essentially an emanation from his own essential being, and is not moved to separate himself from it in an exclusive mystical inversion. In this view he knows his Soul in a different relationship to the creation than the conventional dualistic mystic does. He sees the soul not in the body per se, but the body as a manifestation of the Soul and the World-Idea, producing a vehicle through which the soul can experience a world and come to conscious recognition of itself by intuitive reflection and philosophical reasoning. Put another way:

   “The [usual] mystical path culminates in the experience of nirvikalpa samadhi, a state of mind characterized by the total absence of all thoughts and appearances. The philosophic realization is a stage beyond this mystical peak because it involves next assimilating the experience of the world and ego as ideas into the experience of oneself as real [this becomes sahaj samadhi, or non-dualism]. This assimilation [through fundamental understanding] discovers the World-Idea in a different relation to the soul than that described in mystical schools as the relation of embodying soul to adventitious vehicles.”

   [An example of the latter point of view is the following:

   "Our real self, our soul, is totally captured in our physical body. The five senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch are acting as the soldiers that captured us." - Sant Rajinder Singh]

   “The realization that the World-Mind as source of the unit soul is parallel to the realization that the World-Mind is the source and ultimate ground of the World-Idea. Soul/Overself is not the ultimate reality or source of the universe, and must realize its relation to the World-Mind in order to shift its relation to the world. Plotinus says that the Nous (World-Mind) is the higher knower in us: either soul knowing itself by means of the World-Mind, or the World-Mind knowing itself in the soul. Ultimately, the deeper realization completely annihilates the attachment to the ego, and turns the relation to the World-Idea inside out.”

   “At an earlier stage of the journey to spiritual maturity, the freedom of the soul may be felt as a possibility of detachment from the ongoing World-Idea. This freedom inheres in the inviolable nature of consciousness, which is imagined to have put itself in association with the system of nature, the ongoing karmic continuity of the universe
[i.e., “the fall”]. A deeper exploration of this consciousness in relation to Divine Mind reveals the same Mind to be the source of the World-Idea. An entirely different order of freedom results from the realization that the whole world is a manifestation of one’s own being, not something imposed from or by an alien source. Freedom is not only detachment from the ongoing circuit of life’s evolution, but the cosmic circuit seen as the free expression or emanation of one’s own essence. Therefore, there is no longer a dualism of purpose. One consents to and expresses the World-Idea because it is inseparable from the law of one’s own self.” (5)

   I apologize for this rather long-winded introduction, but it is necessary for our discussion and understanding. This philosophy yields what might be called a hybrid of non-dualistic monism and theistic dualism, or in another manner, Vedanta and the theistic Samkhya of the Bhagavata: here the soul and God are distinct, yet they are one. Atman is ultimately of the same essence as Brahman or Mind/World-Mind; the individual Soul is not other than the One Supreme Soul, shared by all.

   Contemporary teacher Adyashanti and others, in places, appear to assert, contrary to Plotinus and PB, that one can in fact permanently realize the One. "There is only the One," they say. PB maintains that the sage, once awakened to permanent identity as Soul or Overself, can then know that there is only the One, and that he in essence is not separate from it, but that he can not actually be the One, that there is a paradox of identity-relatedness that is irreduceable and essentially unfathomable mystery. Can we say then, which view is more correct? Or are both somehow true, coming at the issue from different points of view? Is the problem just words, or is their an ontological truth to be uncovered by our endeavors? Adya states:

   ”First, one awakens to personal freedom: the realization that you are formless consciousness itself. As consciousness, you are free of body-mind identity.

   [This could be equated with formless absorption in the I-AM, consciousness, perhaps via Nirvikalpa Samadhi, or it could mean a form of embodied Witness consciousness.]

   “Then, there is the awakening to non-personal freedom. This is the birth of a vast non-personal Love for the whole, for all beings and all things. It is the realization that you are the whole. Therefore, a freedom that is in any sense personal seems pale in comparison to a love, which is so much greater. This is a phase of surrendering any and all personal attachments to the greatest good, the Self. As self-centered concerns dissolve, a love that is all-inclusive sweeps you up into its arms and into a new life of service, celebration, and love.”


   [This might (or might not) with reasonable certainty be seen as a description of sahaj samadhi, the ‘natural state’, 'maha ati', ‘open eyes’, or Turiyatita where there is no distinction between inside and out, and the world is seen to be no different than or non-separate from Consciousness Itself as described in the first freedom above. The subtle distinction between mind and its contents, consciousness and perception collapses into the non-dual state; consciousness is seen as the substratum of both the ego-I and the world.]

   To this, however, Adya posits what appears to be a third possibility:

   “Beyond non-personal freedom lies Liberation. A liberated person has transcended any motivations, personal or non-personal. Everything happens spontaneously, free of any sense of being the doer of deeds. The liberated one has association with consciousness but does not dwell there. The liberated one has returned consciously to the ultimate principle, which resides before the consciousness. He or she is the awareness of consciousness. An evolution has taken place in that person."

   Sri Nisargadatta in one set of quotes appears to mirror these three stages spoken of by Adya:

   "Consciousness is the sense of knowingness "I am" without words, and it appeared unknowingly and unsolicited. It is the manifest universal life force and, therefore, cannot be individualistic...Hold on to this knowingness "I am" and the fount of knowledge will well up within you."

   "In the process of this revelation, your individualistic personality confined to the body shall expand into the manifested universe, and it will be realized that you permeate and embrace the entire cosmos as your "body" only. This is known as the "Pure Superknowledge" - shuddhavijnana."

   "Nevertheless, even in the sublime shuddhavijnana state, the mind refuses to believe that it is a non-entity. But as one subsides in the consciousness, one develops a firm conviction that the knowledge "you are" - the sense of your being - is the very source of your world...Hold on to this knowledge. Do not try to give it a name or a title."

   "Now comes a very subtle situation, what is it in you that understands this knowledge "you are" - or from your standpoint "I am," without a name, title or word? Subside in that innermost centre and witness the knowledge "I am" and just be. This is the "bliss of being" - the svarupananda."
(6)

   One can see our problem here, however. “Awareness” is usually considered to be the same as consciousness, but Adya is saying that formless ‘awareness’ is the ultimate principle before consciousness.(As implied above, Nisargadatta used similar language, distinguishing between consciousness, or beingness, which arises with the sense of 'I Am', depends on a body and is dualistic, the witness, and the Absolute which is pure awareness, alone and without attributes, unaware of itself, the awareness of the beingness. Nevertheless, he says that the Absolute is 'Sat-Chit-Ananda' and is our true nature, so it is not something unknown. We will return to Nisargadatta's use of this language in a while).

   Adya continues:

   "Whatever you accept, you go beyond. Liberation is complete acceptance and, therefore, complete transcendence. If you accept everything, you go beyond everything. Going beyond the world, you are free to be in it because you are the world. The knowingness that you are all-that-is, that knowingness itself, is beyond the world, beyond consciousness, beyond all. The truly liberated one has transcended even the oneness of consciousness, as if being in deep sleep but fully awake.”

  
Another problem here is the use of the terms “as if being in deep sleep but fully awake.” That has traditionally been used explicitly to refer to the nature of one who has realized pure consciousness, not a principle 'before' or 'beyond' consciousness.

   "The truth is ever new, existing only in the now. The highest truth is beyond knowledge and experience. It is beyond time and space, and beyond beingness, consciousness, and oneness." (7)

   This, like the second example given above, could also be our traditional sahaj samadhi or natural state, for Consciousness Itself is beyond time and space, beyond oneness, and as if 'being in deep sleep but fully awake'. In fact, this quote seems nearest to the traditional interpretation of sahaj. So a confusion arises. The confusion would disappear, however, if the second example given above does not, in fact, indicate sahaj, but rather is describing what might be considered a form of savikalpa samadhi known as the unio mystica or the sense or feeling of at-one-ment with the all that the medieval saints speak of. Not really the nondual realization which one thinks of as the dropping of the sense of separation, but still a state generating a great feeling of abundant love, albeit with a subtle dualism. It may sound the same as the non-dual realization but is very different. This may be what Nisargadatta refers to as the impersonal consciousness or beingness of 'I am', which is the totality of manifestation, before falling into egoic identification. Still, a distinction exists here between consciousness and its manifestation, so it is not yet true non-duality.

   Sri Nisargadatta, however, as mentioned, also frequently and usually used similar language to speak of the non-dual realization: he said that one returns to the
absolute principle 'prior to consciousness' - while occasionally, however, he says that it is just pure consciousness:

   Nisargadatta states:

   "Awareness is primordial; it is the original state, beginningless, endless, uncaused, unsupported, without parts, without change." (8)

   The apparent confusion may rest in the distinction between the 'I AM,' the Witness consciousness (which Nisargadatta maintains is still 'dualistic consciousness', consciousness 'of' something), and the Self, 'pure consciousness' (which Nisargadatta usually calls 'awareness' (or his disciple Ramesh Balsekar 'consciousness-at-rest'), and which Franklin Merrell-Wolff refered to as 'consciousness-without-an-object').

   Merrell-Wolff in comparison wrote:

   "The One, nonderivative Reality, is THAT which I have symbolized by 'Consciousness-without-an-object.' This is Root Consciousness, per se, to be distinguished from consciousness as content or as state, on the one hand, and from consciousness as an attribute of a Self or Atman, in any sense whatsoever. It is Consciousness of which nothing can be predicated in the privative sense save abstract Being. Upon It all else depends, while It remains self-existent." (9)

   In the Yog-Vasistha we read:

   "One alone is, the pure consciousness. Nothing in the three worlds is ever born or dies. The infinite consciousness alone exists." (10)

   It is doubtful if the ancient sages like Shankara or Vasistha didn't know what Nisargadatta was talking about. Yet, the 'Absolute prior to consciousness' is a big part of Nisargadatta's main body of teaching.

   Sri Atmananda also has said that Consciousness is the ultimate Truth, but, then again, has said it was not, that consciousness was only a pointer towards the Absolute:

   "WHAT IS THE BEARING OF THE WORLD UPON TRUTH?
  Answer: The world is a compromise between opposites; life is impossible without reference to opposites. But Truth is beyond opposites and unlike the world in its characteristics. The characteristics of the world, when strictly analysed and reduced to the generic standards, are found to be: changeability or impermanence, inertness, and misery (anrita-jada-duhkha). All these terms make unconscious reference to their opposites. But the characteristics of Truth are utterly different; and so they are represented as the opposite of these, viz. Permanence, Consciousness, and Peace or Happiness (sat-citananda). These by themselves are only lakshanas (pointers) to the Truth, and so have to be transcended, in order to get established in the Absolute. The purpose of the term ‘satcit- ananda’ is only to divert your attention away from the phenomenal, to the substance beyond. When the world has disappeared, the characteristics of the Truth – sat, cit and ananda – also vanish; and you stand in the ultimate Reality, originally pointed to by these terms.."
(11)

   Greg Goode who holds Atmananda to be his karana guru and an exponent of 'The Direct Path', says that what is actually meant by 'consciousness' by certain teachers like Sri Nisargadatta is really the 'generic waking and dreaming' states, while what is 'prior to such awareness' is traditional turiya or "pure consciousness without the superimposition of the witness aspect" (The Direct Path, p. 227). He bases his interpretation of Atmananda's position on extensive study of Atma Darsana and Atma Nivritti so we can reliably consider his assessment of Atmananda's position to be correct. But uncertainty is still there, as we shall see.

   For instance, Rajiv Kapur teaches (based on his association with Ed Muzika (and interalia Robert Adams and Ramana Maharshi/Sri Nisargadatta)) that the so-called 'absolute' is 'beyond' even turiya. This is novel, and apparently more than even what the Mundakya Upanishad teaches. Rajiv and Ed, contrary to Greg, feel even turiya is not who we ARE, that we are beyond even that. Here is a graph of Rajiv's conception of the self, followed by a link to Ed and Rajiv's fascinating book, Autobiography of a Jnani, in which they get into intricacies and depths of self-inquiry in great detail. [Warning: they are both of a relatively hard school of practice, and feel that most modern self-inquiry-based teachings lack meditative depth].

   In the book, Samana, by the venerable theravada master Luangta Maha Boowo (1913-2011), it is similarly argued that after working one's way through the samadhis of the 'emptiness of the self', and 'emptiness of the world', and even the transparent 'oneness' these two produce, there is beyond this the 'samadhi of the Buddha', which is simply 'beyond' - the recognition that even emptiness is a mental fabrication. Muzika mentions time an again that many practitioners get stuck in emptiness because they cannot recognize and follow the I AM sense and truly go beyond. Anadi also warns not to lose awareness of the soul while experiencing impersonal awareness.

   Contemporary Karl Renz also sometimes talks about a principle before consciousness. The ancient text, the Ashtavakra Gita, in at least one translation speaks of one's true identity as the 'awareness beyond consciousness', but in others it does not, maintaining that consciousness is all.(12) The use of this type of language by these sages, therefore, only at times seems to imply a state higher than Sahaj (non-dual consciousness, that is, consciousness, whether thoughts or a world appear or not), as it is commonly described. But is this really true? And, if so, what would it be? Is this, perhaps, Meister Eckhart’s “primordial ground where distinction never peeped” , a favorite phrase of Adya’s? [Check out hyperlink for biography and selected sermons of Eckhart]

   "I have occasionally spoken of a light in the soul which is uncreated and uncreatable.... This light has more unity with God than it does with any of the soul’s faculties…. This light is not satisfied with the simple, still and divine being which neither gives nor takes, but rather it desires to know from where this being comes. It wants to penetrate to the simple ground, to the still desert, into which distinction never peeped, neither Father, Son nor Holy Spirit. There, in that most inward place, where everyone is a stranger, the light is satisfied, and there it is more inward than it is in itself, for this ground is a simple stillness which is immovable in itself. But all things are moved by this immovability and all the forms of life are conceived by it which, possessing the light of reason, live of themselves." (13)

   Elsewhere, however, he gives what appears to be a more suggestive rendition of the non-dual perspective:

   "Our being here is our eternal being. Many people imagine here to have creaturely being, and divine being to be yonder. It is a popular delusion." (14)

   Plotinus, often accused of being a gnostic - even though he decried the gnostics, said a similar thing:

   "What, then, is spirit? The Spirit of here and now. And the God? The God of here and now." (15)

   In the first quote above, however, did Eckhart imply in fact a greater realization than what is meant by the traditional Sahaj or realization of the Self, Consciousness Itself? Is this also what Dattatreya, author of the Avadhut Gita, was saying:

   "Some seek non-duality, others duality. They do not know the Truth, which is the same at all times and everywhere, which is devoid of both duality and non-duality." ?

   Or what Robert Powell, summarizing Nisargadatta's philosophy, meant when he wrote:

   "On the level of beingness or manifestation, through seeing that all divisions are unreal and that not a thing has self-nature or an intrinsic identity, one comes to the clear conviction that the ultimate reality is Non-Duality or advaita. However, even this understanding becomes invalid when transcending the beingness itself on the level of the Absolute or Unmanifest. The Absolute, being attributeless or non-qualitative, cannot be said to be even non-dual; it lies beyond both duality and non-duality....Another way to approach this problem would be to ask: "Who poses this question about duality or non-duality?" He must himself be of the nature of duality or non-duality, as the case may be, and this renders his conclusion in the matter meaningless...Meditation on this point silences the questioning intellect and leads to its transcendance." ? (16)

   The answer is not clear. Both positions appear to have been argued for. But in my opinion the confusion lies, as stated above, with making a distinction, in differing forms of speech, between the witness consciousness, which is a conscious of objects, and pure consciousness. PB said that the witness-I is awareness of awareness, and the Soul or Overself was just 'awareness', whether or not objects appear or not. Consciousness is certainly beyond all concepts of consciousness, such as duality and non-duality, but that is not to say there is something beyond consciousness (which is not a "thing" anyway).

   Ramesh Balsekar, disciple of Nisargadatta does not always speak of a realization other than Consciousness itself. In his book, A Duet of One, a commentary on the Ashtavakra Gita, he continually refers to the ultimate reality in its traditional reference as consciousness. However, in A Net of Jewels he writes:

"What does one want to protect? That without which nothing else has any meaning or value: the animating presence of Consciousness, without which you cannot know or enjoy anything. And the best way to protect anything is not to be away from it at all. This is the purpose of spiritual practice - to remain continuously one with Consciousness all the time." (17)

   Most of the time he does not stray from Nisargadatta's central arguments and terminology. In this example, for instance, by consciousness, he actually means the sense of 'I am', which is the first thing to arise from the Absolute awareness as the 'totality of functioning' or manifestation, which, forgotten, leads to exclusive identification with the individual body-mind. By practice both Balsekar and Nisargadatta meant to hold onto this primary sense of being-presence, the 'I am', prior to exclusive identification with the body-mind, which will lead one to the Absolute, which, as mentioned, he says is unaware of itself. This is strange, IMO, because by also calling it 'Sat-Chit-Ananda' and our true nature, he implies that this awareness is self-aware and is known as ones true identity or 'I'. It is, of course, not 'self-conscious' in the empirical sense, but in a noumenal sense, is it not?

   So not to get ones knickers in a fit, it may really be very simple: according to Nisargadatta, when we eliminate all that we are not (phenomenal existence, objective and apparently subjective (the me), both of which are objects appearing in consciousness, what we really are (absolute noumenal reality - which is not separate from the totality of phenomena) becomes self-evident. He also makes his position clear when he equates 'awareness' with 'consciousness-at-rest' (noumenal) as opposed to 'consciousness-in-action' (phenomenal), both as one in the great 'unicity', the Unmanifest which is non-dual. (18) This is akin to saying 'form is emptiness; emptiness is form'. So there is really no contradiction between his teaching and that of other great sages, if this matter of awareness and consciousness is thusly clarified. But, alas, we will later see that it may not be as simple as that.

   Sri Atmananda Krishna Menon, again, most of the time spoke of Consciousness as the ultimate realization of truth:

   "WE GENERALLY SAY ‘I AM HAPPY’ AND ‘I AM CONSCIOUS.’ IS IT ULTIMATELY TRUE?
   Answer: No. It is only at the moment when you are happy that you are aware of the fact that you are happy. That knowledge is in identity, where ‘knowing it’ is ‘being it’. But when you say that the happiness is past, the subject-object relationship sets in. It is this kind of knowledge that people want. Because the ordinary man stands as the empirical subject and is incapable of thinking of anything beyond. Thus, when you say you are happy, you are really not happy. Similarly, when you know Atma, you stand as Atma or you are Atma. But when you say so, your stand changes and you cease to identify yourself with Atma. Still, Atma, as self-awareness, stands as the background of even the saying of this. Thus, self-awareness is the ground of awareness of objects. Even when objects vanish, Awareness continues. In all the three states, Awareness is the only principle that does not change or die out; and Awareness is indivisible. Therefore it is this self-awareness itself that appears as, or is the ground of, awareness of objects."
(19)

   He also makes it clear that realizing non-duality does not cause perception of objects to disappear:

   "An ornament is an ornament only by convention; but actually it is only gold. The object of Vedanta is not to help you ‘not to perceive the appearance’; but to help you to see the essence, even when perceiving the appearance through the senses." (20)

   Rupert Spira also argues for the 'awareness' school:

   “There is something present that is conscious of these words. Whatever that ‘something’ is, is what is referred to here as Consciousness or Awareness. We may not know what this Consciousness is, but we have no doubt that it is present. It is. It has Being."

   "We never experience the absence of Consciousness. Consciousness cannot ‘not be’ and it cannot ‘not be conscious.’ Moreover, no experience is possible without Consciousness. Everything that we know or experience is experienced by, through or in Consciousness."

   "However, if we try to find this Consciousness we find nothing objective and yet, at the same time, it is our most intimate and direct experience that Consciousness is present.  As Consciousness is undeniably present and yet has no objective qualities, from where do we derive our certainty that it is located in time and space, that it resides in the body or the mind, that it was born and will die, or that it is personal?  In fact all these certainties are simply uninvestigated beliefs and if we go deeply into the ultimate cause of suffering, we find that it is rooted in this belief that Consciousness is limited and personal."

   "There is nothing in our experience to suggest that Consciousness is either limited or personal nor is there anything to suggest that there is any other reality to the mind, the body or the world, other than Consciousness itself.”
(http://www.nevernothere.com/rupert-spira)

   Finally, Sri Nisargadatta seems to clear up the matter rather simply by saying:

   " 'Nothing is me,' is the first step. 'Everything is me' is the next [the 'cosmic vision'?]. Both hang on the idea: 'there is a world'. When this too is given up, you remain what you are - the non-dual Self. You are it here and now, but your vision is obstructed by your false ideas about your self." (21)

   Francis Lucille gives some pointers on how to realize in a sensorial manner this universal body; he says that the essence of the body is joy and that this joy is aware of itself:
   ”How can I perceive in a sensory fashion that I am not the body?....Don’t reject the body sensations and emotions that present themselves to you. Let them blossom fully in your awareness without any goal or any interference from the will. Progressively, the potential energy imprisoned in muscular tensions liberates itself; the dynamism of the psychosomatic structure exhausts itself; and the return to fundamental stability takes place. This purification of body sensation is a great art. It requires patience, determination, and courage. It finds its expression at the level of sensation through a gradual expansion of the body into the surrounding space, and a simultaneous penetration of the somatic structure by that space. That space is not experienced as a simple absence of objects. When the attention frees itself from perceptions that hold it in thrall, it discovers itself as that self-luminous space which is the true substance of the body. At this moment, the duality between body and space is abolished. The body is expanded to the size of the universe and contains all things tangible and intangible in its heart. Nothing is external to it. We all have this body of joy, this awakened body, this body of universal welcoming. We are all complete, with no missing parts. Just explore your kingdom and take possession of it knowingly. Do not live any longer in that wretched shack of a limited body.” (Francis Lucille, Facebook post)

   The non-dual Self, then, is not 'beyond' consciousness, as generally defined by most sages, but it is certainly beyond entification, duality, and egoic-consciousness. Thus it seems so far that this problem is basically solved and semantic in origin. Indeed, Powell admits as much when he writes:

   "It must be noted here that other sages as well as classic vedanta scriptures are commonly using "I-am-ness" and Beingness (spelled with a capital B) interchangeably with the Parabrahman or Absolute, and the Absolute is then referred to as Consciousness (with a capital C) and consistently denoted by the term "Self" (Sri Ramana Maharshi) and as the "I-Principle" (Sri Atmananda)." (22)

   Now that the non-dual realization seems clear, what about the consideration of the Absolute?

   PB, without elaborating further, enigmatically wrote in his Notebooks that Sahaj Samadhi was the highest state attainable by man, but not necessarily the highest state possible. (23)

   Shri Atmananda similarly said:

   “The ego never sees the light, though he always uses light. The Sage sees that light alone (the most vital part) in every perception. No human being has ever reached the Ultimate.” (24)

   [This appears in contradiction to his statement above that man can realize the Absolute. Unless he means by Absolute something other than the 'Ultimate', this use of language is unfortunate, and more unfortunately, we can no longer ask him what he meant by it, nor can we ask the obvious question, "if man can not reach the Ultimate, how does he know it exists?" - or the obvious conclusion, "if the true nature of man is the Absolute, the 'Ultimate', of course he can not 'reach' it, because that is what he already Is."]

   The closest that PB comes to admitting of a 'principle before consciousness', or that 'no human being has ever reach the Ultimate' is as follows:

   "The authentic thing does not enter consciousness. You do not know that it has transpired. You discover it is already here only by looking back at what you were and contrasting it with what you now are; or when others recognize it in you and draw attention to it; or when a situation arises which throws up your real status." (25)

   While he says that it 'does not enter consciousness' (which, of course, would make it an object), he does say that it is discoverable, which means it can be known, although not by thought but by direct insight or apperception, which is not other than Being it. Mind can be "known", for lack of a better word, after one is established in identity with his divine Overself. If this was not possible, how could the One even be spoken of as our true nature?

   Sri Nisargadatta, finally, admits as much when he says:

   "When you know what you are, you also are what you know. Between knowing and being there is no gap." (26)

   So the sages are coming more and more in accord with each other.

   On the other hand, we are still not satisfied, as Sri Nisargadatta said that as the Absolute he was just 'awareness', without 'awareness of awareness'. That without duality he could not know that he was conscious. This suggests a "lila" view of creation: that it was 'needed' for the Absolute to now itself, that it, if it was pure consciousness, was not self-knowing. This contradicts the Direct Path as usually explained by Atmananda and Ramana Maharshi.

   PB, while stating that sahaj was the highest state attainable by man, nevertheless in agreement with Damiani wrote of three degrees of penetration into the Void-Mind for one who had attained sahaj, in a similar manner as had Plotinus. But he had this to say of the 'I':

   "He is not separate from his own experience, not an observer watching it. For there is only the inner silence, with which he is identified. If he turns to examine the I, only the pure consciousness exists." (27)

   I venture that this is the pure awareness that Nisargadatta refers to. Now, what about the idea of levels, distinctions, or degrees of penetration within the Absolute?

   Returning to the thoughts of Anthony Damiani on Plotinus, he said that the philosopher sage will remain Soul, even though as Soul he will be able to intuit or catch the emanations of the Soul’s priors, which in the language of Plotinus were ’The Absolute Soul,” “The Intellectual Principle,” and “The One.” But he would not perpetually rest as the One but must return and be Soul. Soul in PB’s terminology is a combination of the pure subject, the eternal consciousness of the I AM, and the Witness-I, or the projection of the consciousness that views the world or World Idea. The two of these together is called the “We” by Plotinus, and is the essence of non-duality according to Damiani. The realization of the philospher sage, then, is that Consciousness is the subtratum of both the ego-I and the world. Soul is thus a “double-knower” as Plotinus wrote.

   "The sage unites with his soul and he's permanently soul. He can get a glimpse of the Intellectual Principle but he cannot become the Intellectual Principle. He must return and be soul. He will always be soul. You, I, and everyone else. So the higher glimpse is not your glimpse of your soul [which may be what many experiences of non-duality and satori are], but the soul's experience of the Intellectual Principle. When you achieve identity with the soul, you can get a glimpse of that Void. You can call it the Intellectual Principle or you can call it the Absolute Soul in the Intellectual Principle. It doesn't matter what you call it, because the One, the Intellectual Principle, and the Absolute Soul of Plotinus - those three Primal Hypostases together - can be considered as the Void Mind. But this higher glimpse is distinct from the unity with the soul, the identity with your soul. It is a different kind of experience. You could know many things when you have achieved identity with your soul, but when you have the glimpse of the Intellectual Principle, the only thing you could know is that it is. Nothing else. So, in other words, you could know that God is after you have achieved union with the soul. Before that all you could know are the contents of the soul, and the soul itself." (28)

   "They don't have texts available on these things. When PB speaks about what a philosopher sage is, he points out that the philosopher sage is a person who has achieved permanent union with his soul. He doesn't say that the philosopher sage is one who has achieved permanent union with the Intellectual Principle or with the Absolute Soul, but one who has achieved permanent identity with his soul. This soul that he speaks about, this is what he refers to as made in the image of God - in other words, the image of the Intellectual Principle. And this is what the philosopher or the jnani is, he's the soul. He knows that his essence comes from the Intellectual Principle. He knows it, not intellectually, he knows it because his soul is a direct emanation from that, and the soul's self-cognition automatically includes the recognition of its principle - where it comes from."

   "So it's true that the glimpse into your soul is of the nature of the Void. It's true. But it's also true that the essence of your soul, even though it is void, and the essence of the Intellectual Principle, which is also void, are distinct.
[important point]. Now what is the distinction between these two? When the philosopher sage says to you, "God is," he's not saying that my soul, even though it is cosmic and infinite, is God. He's speaking about the Intellectual Principle, and that's the experience that comes to the philosopher sage. PB even says that if that's all they can communicate, it is enough. When the individual soul or individual mind has that experience of the Intellectual Principle, that is the announcement he makes, by referring that experience to God. He says that's God. Plotinus goes further and says that in that identity he even achieved mystic identity with the One itself, Mind itself, Absolute Mind, that which is beyond the Intellectual Principle. And he goes on and describes it." (29)

   For much more on this topic please see
PB and Plotinus: The Fallacy of Divine Identity and THE INTEGRATIONALISTS AND THE NON-DUALISTS - 1 on this website.

   Meister Eckhart seemed to speak in a manner both wishing and not wishing to get rid of the above mentioned distinctions. In Sermon 52 he said:

   "I pray God to rid me of God."

   While in Sermon 10 he proclaimed:

   "The nearness of God and the soul makes no distinction in truth. The same knowing in which God knows Himself is the knowing of every detached spirit, and no other. The soul takes her being immediately from God . Therefore God is nearer to the soul than she is to herself,' and therefore God is in the ground of the soul with all His Godhead."

   He also makes a mysterious remark:

   “When the soul enters the light that is pure, she falls so far from her own created somethingness into her nothingness that in this nothingness she can no longer return to that created somethingness by her own power."

   In German Sermon 5b, he states:

   "God's ground is my ground and my ground is God's ground."

   He also said the following:

   "Theologians talk of the eternal word.  God never spoke but one word, and that is still unspoken.  The explanation is this.  The eternal Word is the logos of the Father which is his only begotten Son our Lord Jesus Christ. In him he pronounces all creatures without beginning and without end.  This accounts for the Word remaining unborn, for it never came out of the Father." (source misplaced)

   This seems to imply something like the ajata, or 'no-creation' theory of Advaita, where all of apparent manifestation in always already in the One and nothing but the One. The 'Word' as used by Eckhart also sounds like what Plotinus called the Intellectual Principle or Nous, which is an eternal Principle not separate from the One ('it never came out of the Father'). Yet Plotinus implied quite clearly that one had to go through the Soul and the Intellectual Principle in order to realize the One. So we are back where we started.

   Rounding out this discussion of the three Primal Principles, Plotinus wrote:

   "The gradation of the One, the One-Many [Nous or Intellectual Principle], and the One and Many [Soul] is eternally fixed, and is an expression of reality."

   Similarly, Sri Aurobindo tells us:

   "There is an essentiality of things [the transcendant, infinite Spirit], a commonality of things [the universal Spirit], an individuality of things [the individual Spirit]; the commonality and individuality are true and eternal powers of the essentiality; that transcends them both, but the three together and not one by itself are the eternal terms of existence." (30)

   Somewhat similarly, Thomas Taylor, commenting on the Timaeus of Plato, writes:

   "In the first place, therefore, since wholeness is triple, one being prior to parts, another subsisting from parts, and another in each of the parts, that wholeness of the soul which is now delivered is that which subsists prior to parts; for the demiurgus made it one whole prior to all division, which, as we have said, remains such as it is, without being consumed in the production of the parts: for to be willing to dissolve that which is well harmonized is the province of an evil artificer." (30a)

   So this notion of a transcendant ground is very mysterious.

     Continuing, PB referred to Sahaj as the “awareness of awareness whether thoughts of a world appear or not,” (which he also described as "pure awareness" or consciousness itself). The "gaze" of the sage, as it were, is poised between the One and the World. He knows both simultaneously. Adyashanti, above, stated that the liberated one is the “awareness of consciousness.” It is assumed here by his terms that "awareness" is apparently not the same as "consciousness". But is this any other than saying that Consciousness is Self-aware? Other than that, what would the 'awareness of consciousness' mean, unless we differentiate between the witness and pure consciousness? In addition, Adya states that the Liberated individual is beyond all motivations, personal or impersonal, but is there, in fact, even such a thing as "non-personal motivation" or "non-personal doership"? It seems to be a contradiction in terms. Isn't a sage in sahaj samadhi beyond all motivations?

   We possibly can see no contradiction between the position of Adya, PB, and Damiani on this last point, however, if we say that one who has become established in permanent identity with the Soul or Overself receives emanations or inspiration from the Nous or Intellectual Principle, which thus 'impersonally' guides his actions.

   The 'priors' of Plotinus possibly seem to suggest a principle(s) beyond or before consciousness, if by Consciousness Itself we mean the Soul, but they may also simply point to a deepening within Consciousness Itself. That is the implication of PB, and Adya himself has also said that there is an infinite deepening that goes on after realization.

   The following quote by Ananda Wood may help us out:

   "Tennyson described a state which was induced by repeating his own name, the name that represents his individuality. This brought about an "intensity of consciousness of individuality"; and out of that intensity, "the individuality itself seemed to dissolve and fade away into boundless being". This 'boundless being' is of course the 'all', in the aphorism: "All is consciousness." Shri Atmananda remarked that this 'boundless being' still has a taint in it, because it still implies a conception of some world of things that are added up into an unlimited 'all'. There is still there a sense of things additional to consciousness -- either in a world outside, or brought in from outside."

   "Where it is truly realized that there is nothing outside consciousness, then there cannot be anything that adds conditioning or quality of any kind to consciousness -- neither by sending any influence from without, nor by being brought themselves inside. Without any such addition, there can be no bounds or limits in consciousness; and so there can't be any sense of the 'boundless' or the 'unlimited' or the 'all'. So, according to Shri Atmananda, this 'boundless being' is not the end of the road, but a last remaining stage of transition, with a last remaining taint that dissolves itself into the final end."
(30b)

   These sages may be speaking about the same thing from different approaches, and each has used different language at different times as well, perhaps according to who they were talking to. It is also possible, however, that there are different degrees in the realizations they have attempted, however inadequately due to the limitations of words, to describe.

   We propose that this matter might be cleared up if we rely on the traditional Upanishadic wisdom of Vedanta, forgetting for the moment the three eternal distinctions established by Plotinus and PB. In Vedanta, we don't worry whether the Soul is One or Many, only that there is nothing prior to Consciousness. Consciousness is the Self, the All, our eternal yet ordinary nature. It is neither big nor small but is beyond all attributes. It is our contention, therefore, that Sri Nisargadatta, Shree Atmananda, Adyashanti and PB seem to know what they are talking about, but at times appear to be inconsistent. The logic of Vedanta is as follows:

   First of all, awareness and pure consciousness are synonyms. Therefore, it is a contradiction to say that the liberated one is beyond consciousness, or is the 'awareness of consciousness'. Consciousness is all there is, and it is inherently Self-aware. If that is what is meant by the 'awareness of consciousnes', then it is all right. Otherwise, how could one be aware of anything or any principle beyond or before consciousness if he wasn't consciousness to begin with? If one says that one can only be awareness without being aware of it, as Nisargadatta has said most of the time, it sounds, IMO, misleading, especially since the qualities of 'Sat-Chit-Ananda' have been ascribed to it. As long as one has dispelled himself of the hypnotic illusion that he is an inherently existing separate 'entity', then the rest will soon become clear. No worries. (For an exhaustive consideration of this point, please see the book, Consciousness Is All, by Peter Dziuban (2006, Blue Dolphin Publishing, Inc.).

   If we are interpreting the thinking of Vedantist James Swartz correctly, it can be said that the witness is the awareness of consciousness as reflected in a sattvic mind. The witness is an impersonal awareness, but still the 'experience' of consciousness or the Self, which implies a subtle dualism, and not yet the knowledge that one IS that consciousness, or, more accurately, that Consciousness whether or not a world or thoughts appear, that is to say, the non-dual Self. That further understanding is liberation. The witness, Schwartz suggests (although this may be wrong), is experienced as a rarified form of Savikalpa Samadhi in which, once again, one experiences the reflection of the Self in the mind. It is not Self-realization or Liberation, which is the ‘hard and fast’ knowledge that one is the eternal, ever-free, ordinary, actionless Self, the One-without-a-second.

   According to Schwartz, direct knowledge can actually come in Savikalpa Samadhi, "because you are there, ignorance is there, and the vision of the Self is there, so the akandara vritti [the unbroken 'I-Am the Self' thought] can destroy the ignorance and set you free...if you identify with it":

   "Experience of the Self is not enlightenment, but it can lead to enlightenment if the intellect can assimilate the knowledge - "I am awareness" - that arises when the attention is turned within and the mind is sattvic."
(31)

   [A problem I have with this assessment is that if the attention must be turned within then the realization would be of the pure I AM itself, and not the higher realization of the “We” of Plotinus, i.e., the I AM and the Witness known non-separately. This simultaneity must be in place or be recognized for realization of the Self to be unveiled. One can call it Pure Consciousness, or Consciousness-Being]

   The problem with any form of Savikalpa Samadhi, however, says Swartz, is that if you are not very dispassionate and do not have at least a rudimentary self-knowledge you will be so overwhelmed by the vision of the Self that you will not grasp its significance and will not therefore be freed.

   We suggest that perhaps the waking state itself can be seen as a form of Savikalpa Samadhi and thus is a primary domain in which for realization to take place. Every perception or experience can be seen as a 'pointer' towards the Self or Awareness, for everything perceived appears in this pure awareness which is what you are, and when inquired into, can reveal the Self. In fact it does reveal the Self, since everything perceived, as well as both seeking and non-seeking, confusion or clarity, only and always arise in ever-present awareness. It can only apparently be gained or lost. This full awareness of the Self is not possible in Nirvikalpa or sleep, however, because there is no awareness of the World or World-Idea there, thus the value of the waking state.

   On the other hand, says Schwartz, in Nivikalpa Samadhi the knowledge which comes is indirect because it is only after the samadhi ends that you realize that you were 'not there'. This 'not there' inferentially proves your existence as the Self, but it doesn't achieve direct knowledge that one IS that Self. One thus remains Self-ignorant and the ego reconstitutes itself, albeit somewhat weakened. Nirvikalpa is useful, says Swartz, chiefly for purifying and concentrating the mind and eradicating vasanas.

   Saying, however, that the Self-knowledge that comes from Nirvikalpa Samadhi is "indirect" because it is only after the fact that one realizes that he "wasn't there" is surely different from the accounts of other sages, such as Swami Sivananda who considered it to be Asamprajnata Samadhi and definitely a state of consciousness, not unawareness. The only point under consideration is if it grants permanent non-dual awareness, since it is itself only a temporary state.

   There appear to be several forms of Nirvikalpa Samadhi, the differences among them have a bearing on the form of knowledge derived therefrom.

   One is the classic form in Raja and Kundalini Yoga where the aspirant ascends through the chakra system and penetrates to the Sahasrar or crown chakra, or even unto the further reaches of the light beyond all bodies and worlds, attaining  Kaivalya or release or immersion into the void of mystic isolation. Swami Sivananda gives a classic description of this experience:

   “If he reaches the spiritual center in the brain, the Sahasrar chakra, the yogi attains Nirvikalpa Samadhi or the superconscious state. He becomes one with the non-dual Brahman. All sense of separation dissolves. This is the highest plane of consciousness or supreme Asamprajnata Samadhi. Kundalini unites with Siva.” (32)

   The yogi in this samadhi does “experience” consciousness, but on return from this state, depending on his prior understanding, he may still be confused by and not fully understand the nature and origin of the ego-I and the world, which confront him once again as Not-Self, and he may thus retain a nostalgia for the bliss he enjoyed in  his supreme ascended  trance. This state is a limited one, and it soon passes. Therefore it is not the Reality or One-without-a-second, which never changes. Ramana Maharshi said that even repeated experiences of such Nirvikalpa Samadhi is not enough for liberation, because it would not erase the samskaras, or vasanas, the hidden tendencies of egoity and embodiment. Sri Ramakrishna, moreover, berated Swami Vivekananda over his desire to be put into Nirvikalpa Samadhi by saying "you fool. There is a state much higher than that!"

   The Saints on the path of Sant Mat would argue that such Nirvikalpa does, in fact, not go to the highest level of absorption, which requires that the Soul, or its emanant in the form of attention, must retrace its path through the created realms to its origin in Sat Lok, or the region of Truth, from where it will progressively be merged into the Sat Purush and, by stages, Anami, the nameless and formless region, the Absolute God. A similar teaching is also given in Pure Land Buddhism where the jiva (ego-soul) can reach Sukhavati, the Pure Land or Blissful Abode, which is supposedly a point of 'non-returning' and a launching pad to final Nirvana, which is the Dharmakaya of Buddhism, the ultimate reality:

   "O, Ananda, those bodhisattvas who have been born, are being born, or will be born there [in Sukhavati], are all bound to one birth only [i.e., the birth they presently have in Sukhavati], and will thence indeed obtain the highest perfect knowledge; barring...those bodhisattvas who are devoted to the work of helping all people to attain Parinirvana." (32a)

   K.N. Upadhyaya writes on the three bodies of the Buddha, the Nirmanakaya, Sambhogakaya, and the Dharmakaya:

   "The Dharmakaya or Truth Body is the real Buddha. 'Kaya' (body or form) is used here in a special sense: it signifies only a center of power or energy; it does not imply any limitations. Dharmakaya, for example, being pure consciousness, has no physical or material element which could limit it in any way. it is recognised as the ultimate reality, the ultimate ground of all, in Buddhism. It is the absolute, wholly transcending space and time, utterly beyond and at the same time coterminous with the phenomena of our world. The other two bodies emanate from it and are supported by it, although the Absolute itself is not thereby divided. It ever remains one and the same. This Absolute or the real Buddha or Tathagata appears in 'glorious' or 'blissful' non-physical forms known as Sambhogakaya for the sake of teaching bodhisattvas in the pure Buddha-fields, the paradises or Lands of Pure Bliss. In different Buddha-fields different glorious forms of the Tathagata are seen and heard." (33)

   Upadhyaya further writes:

   "In the very first sutta of the first book of the Sutta Pitaka of the Pali Canon, the Brahmajala Sutta of the Digha Nikaya, the Buddha explains how Brahma came to be considered as God, and he exposes the weakness in the theory that Brahma created the world. The Buddha points out how at the beginning of each world-process, a being falls from the world of Radiance because of the exhaustion of his lifespan or merit, and is born in the empty mansion of Brahma. After living there alone for a very long period and wishing for other beings to come and join him, other beings are also reborn there due to the exhaustion of their lifespan or merit. This, according to the Buddha, gives rise to the delusion on the part of the first-born that he is God, the Creator." (3)

   Likewise he says:

   "In the Bhagavad-Gita also, Brahma is said to have come out of the imperishable or supreme reality. Thus, the supreme reality is explicitly said to be superior to the first-creator, Brahma. In the cosmic form of Krishna also, Brahma, along with Shiva and hosts of other beings, sages and heavenly nagas, has been shown to be contained in the supreme God. The attainment of the region of Brahma offers no freedom from the bond of rebirth. Further, the supreme God (i.e., Brahman) is clearly spoken of as the ground, cause, father and creator of the universe." (35)

   This is where the incorrect notion that the Buddha denied the existence of God comes from. In the Pali Canon it is repeatedly shown that the Buddha as the Dharmakaya himself is superior to Brahma; likewise, Upadhyaya states:

   "It is important to note that while considering Brahma as the first-born among the gods and as the creator of the worlds lower than his own (not of the regions higher than his own), most of the Upanishads speak of a being called Brahman as higher than Brahma, and this Brahman is usually regarded as the real cause or ground of the origin and existence of the universe." (36)

   He concludes his discussion of the Three Bodies:

   "Likewise, on the physical plane, a Buddha appears in a physical form. This form is known as Nirmanakaya, which carries on the work of saving the miserable beings of this physical world." (37)

   Although the Dharmakaya is the Absolute, the One, the undivisible, Buddha declared that it is also a transcendental realm:

   "Truly there is a realm where there is neither the earth nor water, neither fire nor air, neither ether nor consciousness...neither sun or moon. This I call neither being born, nor dying, nor staying; neither arising nor passing away." (38)

   Finally, the Samyutta Nikaya declares the Buddha as one who has become one with Brahman - Brahmabhuto, or Brahmapatta.

   To continue our discussion of samadhis, a second type of Nirvikalpa Samadhi  may be called Jnana or Jnana-Nirvikalpa Samadhi. In this state of absorption the practitioner does not ascend but instead traces the ego-I or 'I'-thought to its source in the Heart-root, according to Ramana Maharshi felt relative to the body-mind as being two digits to the right of the midline but, once fully realized, in itself is infinite, formless, beyond time and space, and neither inside or outside of the body. Rather than ascending there may in this samadhi experience be a feeling of descent, bypassing the Sahasrar and the realms of light. Here, upon return to normal waking consciousness the seeker retains the intuition of the Witness-Self and is enigmatically fixated by its presence. He has witnessed the death of his ego-I in a way unlike the mystic in ascended Nirvikalpa Samadhi, who goes into the void, as it were, blind, without necessarily achieving firm knowledge. In this second type of Nirvikalpa Samadhi, unlike the first, the practioner has witnessed thought dissolving into its source. Therefore, there is knowledge about the nature of the ego-I and the world.

   He may, in some cases, emerge from this experience with the full knowledge that he is the non-dual Self, as Lakhshmana Swami, disciple of Ramana, suggests in the following quote, although generally this is not the case, as a subtle sense of separation between Nirvana and Samsara, Consciousness and its manifestations tends to remain. He, too, then, may feel a nostalgia to 'return to consciousness', or abide in consciousness, exclusive of the world. While the illusion of the self being a separate entity is seen through and a great deal of freedom is gained, this state is  yet a halfway-house, although an important one, on the path to the true Sahaj of the Jnanis. Lakhshmana Swami, wrote of this type of experience:

   “The Kundalini tradition is not speaking from the highest standpoint because it does not teach that the mind must go back to the Heart for the final realization to occur. When you speak of the kundalini rising to the Sahasrar you are speaking of a yogic state which is not the highest state. At the moment of realization the ‘I’-thought goes down the channel (amrita nadi) and is destroyed in the Heart. After realization neither the amrita nadi nor the Heart-centre are of any importance. The jnani then knows that he is the all-pervading Self.” (39)

   One can see here that Lakhshmana Swami felt that this experience granted full realization, whereas Ramana repeatedly said that even with such an inner “experience of the Self”, the further knowledge “I Am the Non-Dual Self” must be stabilized over time and the lingering vasanas eradicated.

   A third form of Nirvikalpa has been described by Swartz. In his autobiography (see www.shiningworld.com) he tells of having a vision of Sri Ramakrishna on a subtle plane, then merging in His belly (!), and going into Nirvikalpa. This experience, like the others, did not grant him knowledge that he was the Self, but It does suggest that one can experience Nirvikalpa from any plane - with the waking state generally being considered the most valuable for spiritual purposes. In any case, all three of these experiences are temporary and arise and disappear in pure Awareness, the substratum of all states.

   Ramana defined enquiry as 'holding the mind on the Self, which, again, means keeping your attention on the reflection of the Self in the sattvic mind - a state of Savikalpa Samadhi - which at some point or another, inevitably leads to knowledge that one is the Self, ie., non-duality. Schwartz argues that the many years Ramana spent in caves after his famous death experience were engaged in this terminal sadhana from enigmatic fixation on the I, aham sphurana, or experience of the Self as reflected in the pure mind, to final identification AS the one Self. For more on this see The Lost Years of Ramana Maharshi.

   PB in most places has argued against the fixed notion that there is, in fact, just One Self. He, like Plotinus, was inclined to let the irreducable paradox of Soul as a One-and-many stand, as well as the three Principles, rather than reducing all to the One:

   "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." (40)

   He elaborates further:

   "The actual experience alone can settle this argument. This is what I found: The ego vanished; the everyday "I" which the world knew and which knew the world, was no longer there. But a new and diviner individuality appeared in its place, a consciousness which could say "I AM" and which I recognized to have been my real self all along. It was not lost, merged, or dissolved: it was fully and vividly conscious that it was a point in universal Mind and so not apart from that Mind itself. Only the lower self, the false self, was gone but that was a loss for which to be immeasurably grateful." (41)

   Sri Nisargadatta also used this term: “points in consciousness” as an indicator of the I AM, which he said one must ultimately go beyond. So we are back to 'beyond consciousness' once more.

   This quote of PB seems to be of realization of the I Am or the “who” of the inquiry “who am I?” - and not yet the “We” - or the I Am and the Witness. That, according to PB, is a second and harder task, that of the stabilizing of the non-dual realization, which can take some time, due to the pull of the vasanas, and the necessity for the philosophic discipline. Why the need for the philosophic discipline? Because one may know that Consciousness is the substratum of the world and the I, but not know how the appearances arise from that substratum. One cannot “see” that. Damiani says:

   “You don’t see that appearance arising out of consciousness. You’re going to have to work that out through hard dialectic and reasonng and understanding. It’s not a perceptible fact, even when you have insight going on [In PB’s term, ‘insight’ is the faculty of self-recognition that reality has of Itself, an intrinsic self-awareness]. When the faculty of insight is developed or functioning, you recognize that consciousness is the Reality, the substratum. In that act, there isn’t the realization or the perception of the appearance arising out of consciousness. They’re both simultaneous. With the senses and with the intellect you see the apparent world, and with the faculty of insight you see that consciousness is the substratum. But you don’t see it as arising out of that....you have to understand that thoughts arise from the mind; you have to bring the intellect and the intuition to operate on that - that all arises from the mind, comes from the mind. You’re not going to see it....The philosopher has brought to bear all personal understanding and reasoning and intuition on the fact that the world appearance arises from consciousness. It’s a process that you come to, reason out, and understand.” (42) [This, of course, leads to the ajata or non-causality doctrine; see A Brief Summary of Creation Views for more on this]

   PB continues:

   "Without keeping steadily in view this original mentalness of things and hence their original oneness with self and Mind, the mystic must naturally get confused if not deceived by what he takes to be the opposition of Spirit and Matter. The mystic looks within, to self; the materialist looks without, to world. And each misses what the other finds. But to the philosopher neither of these is primary. He looks to that Mind of which both self and world are but manifestations and in which he finds the manifestations also. It is not enough for him to receive, as the mystic receives, fitful and occasional illuminations from periodic meditation. He relates this intellectual understanding to his further discovery got during mystical self-absorption in the Void that the reality of his own self is Mind. Back in the world once more he studies it again under this further light, confirms that the manifold world consists ultimately of mental images, conjoins with his full metaphysical understanding that it is simply Mind in manifestation, and thus comes to comprehend that it is essentially one with the same Mind which he experiences in self-absorption. Thus his insight actualizes, experiences, this Mind-in-itself as and not apart from the sensuous world whereas the mystic divides them. With insight, the sense of oneness does not destroy the sense of difference but both remain strangely present, whereas with the ordinary mystical perception each cancels the other. The myriad forms which make up the picture of this world will not disappear as an essential characteristic of reality nor will his awareness of them or his traffic with them be affected. Hence he possesses a firm and final attainment wherein he will permanently possess the insight into pure Mind even in the midst of physical sensations. He sees everything in this multitudinous world as being but the Mind itself as easily as he can see nothing, the imageless Void, as being but the Mind itself, whenever he cares to turn aside into self-absorption. He sees both the outer faces of all men and the inner depths of his own self as being but the Mind itself. Thus he experiences the unity of all existence; not intermittently but at every moment he knows the Mind as ultimate. This is the philosophic or final realization. It is as permanent as the mystic's is transient. Whatever he does or refrains from doing, whatever he experiences or fails to experience, he gives up all discriminations between reality and appearance, between truth and illusion, and lets his insight function freely as his thoughts select and cling to nothing. He experiences the miracle of undifferentiated being, the wonder of undifferenced unity. The artificial man-made frontiers melt away. He sees his fellow men as inescapably and inherently divine as they are, not merely as the mundane creatures they believe they are, so that any traces of an ascetical holier-than-thou attitude fall completely away from him."

   "Only after he has worked his way through different degrees of comprehension of the world whose passing his own development requires, and even after he has penetrated the mystery beyond it, does he come to the unexpected insight and attitude which frees him from both. In other words he is neither in the Void, the One, or the Many yet nor is he not in them. Truth thus becomes a triple paradox!"
(43)

   On the nature of the Ultimate, PB continues:

   "The Real is forever and unalterably the same, whether it be the unmanifest Void or the manifested world. It has never been born and consequently can never die. It cannot divide itself into different "realities" with different space-time levels or multiply itself beyond its own primal oneness. It cannot evolve or diminish, improve or deteriorate. Whereas everything else exists in dependence upon Mind and exists for a limited time, however prolonged, and therefore has only a relative existence, Mind is the absolute, the unique, the ultimate reality because with all its innumerable manifestations in the universe it has never at any moment ceased to be itself. Only its appearances suffer change because they are in time and space, never itself, which is out of time and space. The divisions of time into past present and future are meaningless here; we may speak only of its "everness." The truth about it is timeless, as no scientific truth could ever be, in the sense that whatever fate the universe undergoes its own ultimate significance remains unchanged. If the Absolute appears to us as the first in the time-series, as the First Cause of the Universe, this is only true from our limited standpoint. It is in fact only our human idea. The human mind can take into itself the truth of transcendental being only by taking out of itself the screens of time space and person. For being eternally self-existence, reality is utterly timeless. Space divisions are equally unmeaning in its "Be-ness." The Absolute is both everywhere and nowhere. It cannot be considered in spatial terms. Even the word "infinite" is really such a term. If it is used here because no other is available, let it be clearly understood, then, that it is used merely as a suggestive metaphor. If the infinite did not include the finite then it would be less than infinite. It is erroneous to make them both mutually exclusive. The finite alone must exclude the infinite from its experience but not vice versa. In the same way the infinite Duration does not exclude finite time." (44)

   Atmananda also makes this enigmatic comment, well worth pondering:

   "To the individual soul (the ego), everything is outside. To God, everything is inside. To the Sage or Jyanin, there is neither inside nor outside. He is beyond both." (45)

   To help understand some of the above, we repeat the following clarification. According to a private conversation Tim Smith and Alan Berkowitz had with PB long ago, PB said that one could equate his terms of Overself, World-Mind, and Mind to Plotinus' Soul, Intellectual Principle (Nous), and the One.

   Regarding the One, Damiani says:

   “In absolutely pure knowledge in the One itself even the logical distinction that exists in the Intellectual-Principle between the Object and the Idea is abolished. We’d be wasting our breath to come back and try to explain that kind of knowledge. Plotinus attempts it and, in certain cases, I think more than anyone else I know of, succeeds in portraying it... its knowing is not distinct from Itself. That’s what they mean by pure knowledge. Even in the Intellectual there is some residue between the Object-in-the-Intelligible and the Object. But in the One itself even that distinction is completely abolished. If the soul has the experience of that, the soul has to be left behind.” (46)

   Atmananda seems to suggest something similar to this when he writes that even Nirvikalpa is phenomenal:

   1420. "HOW CAN WE DISTINGUISH THE SPIRITUAL FROM THE PHENOMENAL? Answer: The real ‘I’-principle (also called Atma, Truth, real Self, Consciousness, Peace, etc.) is alone spiritual. Everything else, including even the much applauded nirvikalpa samadhi, is phenomenal. In other words, the ultimate subject alone is spiritual, and everything with the least trace of objectivity is phenomenal."

   This is difficult to understand, inasmuch as the experience of Nirvikalpa, although something that comes and goes and is not permanent, and not therefore the Reality, is still usually considered to be the realization of the essential nature of the individual as consciousness, and consciousness is not generally considered to be phenomenal. But perhaps that is simply what Atmananda meant here, that Nirvikalpa, not being a permanent state is therefore not Reality.

   Similar to Atmananda, the guru of Irena Tweedie, Bhai Sahib, remarked:

   "It is said somewhere in the Hindu scriptures that Ishwara (the creator) sees the Parabrahm (absolute reality) through the veil of Maya. That is, immersed in Prakriti (matter). His vision is somewhat blurred. This is the reason why I told you once that in order to reach the Supreme Reality we must renounce the fruits we have gained in Samadhi. The state of Samadhi is still within the limits of Prakriti." (Daughter of Fire, p. 470)

   V.S. Iyer, professor of PB, in his Commentaries mentions that there are two types of Nirvikalpa, conscious and unconscious. I am still researching this idea also, but perhaps the 'unconscious' type is, in some sense, phenomenal as Atmananda says, and may be related to the first type of Nirvikalpa that I pointed out earlier, or perhaps a variety of what the Hindus call laya.

   Mark Scorelle suggested to me that "IMHO Nirvikalpa reveals the essential nature of the individual as consciousness but not the identity of the individual essence with unnameable inconceivable reality. So its a type of objectivity." That is perhaps to say, in Nirvikalpa there can be seen to be a subtle dualism between Consciousness and Being. Perhaps that is why many non-dualists say, "Presence-Awareness." Saying it another way, until the realization of Sahaj, there is a dualism between consciousness and the world of perceptions. Perhaps, as previously suggested, Sahaj might be considered to be the realization of the 'Nous in the Soul,' rather than just realization of the Soul, thus accounting for a higher principle than consciousness. Sahaj, according to PB, is realization of the Soul, or Overself, which is Consciousness with the World-Idea from the Nous being projected through it.

   But, again, the majority of sages assert Consciousness to be the fundamental reality. This causes some confusion among those who follow "Awareness" teachings, in that, if one is not very discriminating, they can lead to a conception of a one or a singularity, instead of non-duality. That is why the Soul in itself must project itself into the world and a body to then understand its own manifestation (i.e., its own inasmuch as the Soul is a 'particle' or 'ray' of the World-Mind Itself,whose World-idea is projected through the Soul, and thus not separate from It) and 'take that manifestation into Itself', for true non-dual understanding to take place - and for the Soul to come to the realization that its 'prior' is the Nous.

   Another way of looking at it is that combining the teaching of Advaita with 'Emptiness' teachings will produce the same result. 'Emptiness' logic will show the inherent interdependency of all phenomena, and the non-existence of an inherently independent phenomenal self, that is, the Mahayana Buddhist concept of 'dependent origination', while Awareness teachings will show the 'empty' or noumenal substratum of Consciousness in which phenomena simultaneously arise. Phenomena are not conscious, but are the actualization of the World-Mind's World-Idea projected through the Soul.

   A possible problem with Awareness teachings is that their 'idealism' can lead to an avoidance of the world, while 'Emptiness " teachings, not being idealistic (since they view any mind, or consciousness, or substratum, as 'empty'), actually 'liberate' the world while asserting its non-inherent reality, or reality only as dependently arising conditions or phenomena. One can take emptiness teachings as a path unto themselves - the Middle Way of Mahayana Buddhism, as taught by the Buddha, Nagarjuna, as well as the Dalai Lama - or as an aid to the second half of PB's quest, the first being realization that one is consciousness, and the second being the realization of the non-separate nature of that consciousness with the world of manifestation. Either way or in combination one comes to selflessness, compassion, and non-duality.

   Some sages refer to Sahaj as the combination of permanent Nirvikalpa with awareness of the world. PB was not of this type, preferring more to express Sahaj as a sort of seamless interpenetration of Consciousness and its perceptions.

   Granted, while all this must be said, at some point the mind reels and gets overheated with all such talk. Which is as it should be, for whether we speak of Consciousness, or an 'awareness beyond Consciousness', it is something that the unaided intellect will never grasp. This must be why both Jesus and Buddha remained silent when asked, "What is Truth?", and why in the Yoga-Vasistha we read, "I was not silent because I could not answer but because silence is the only answer to your question."

   And we have certainly come a long way from dealing with something practical, like the existence and eradication of pain and suffering. Adya simplifies the predicament for us, fortunately, and suggests that, however one views the liberated condition, whatever terminology one uses, the following three things ring true:

   “All inquiry is meant for one purpose: to take you experientially into the Unknown as efficiently as possible. Once you get there, simply be still because the inquiry has delivered you to its destination. The rest is up to Grace.” (47)

   By admitting grace one admits distinctions. Not separation, but distinctions. A beautiful statement by Adya, but Grace - from where does it come? the One? Or the Overself? PB taught it was from the Overself. Marshall Govindam, in The Wisdom of Jesus and the Yoga Siddhas, writes about the Tamil Yoga Siddha tradition of South India, epitomized in the Tirumandiram, and whose bright lights were often referred to with devotion by Ramana Maharshi. He says that in that school:

   "The soul is not equivalent to God. The Siddhas taught that the Lord has functions, which the soul does not have: creation, preservation, destruction, obscuration, and grace...If we want to know the Lord, we can do so by realizing our true Self, behind the mask of the body-mind-personality, as pure consciousness. Realizing the Self, the consciousness gradually expands and realizes the Lord as Absolute Being, Consciousness and Bliss." (48)]

   This is pretty much what Sastri wrote describing Ramana's position earlier in this paper, and is also similar to PB's teaching of a deepening realization of the Void-Mind once one has become established in identity with his divine Soul, and further, that this intermediary is necessary in order to come to know that the One is the One. From the sage's perspective as Soul, he is poised as it were in two directions; as the Witness his transcendant gaze perceives all of the phenomenal changes as emanating and disappearing into, and, once again, distinct-but-not-separate from the One, Infinite, eternal, Nameless Supreme Being - the source of his own Being with which he is indissolubly linked. As PB has written, just as the person looks up to the Overself as his personal "God" and source of grace, in turn the Overself Consciousness looks "up" to a higher Being as its source: the World-Mind/Mind, or the One. Ultimately, the source of Grace for the individual must be that magnificent Being itself, through its intermediary, the divine Overself.

   Adya continues, on the nature of beliefs:

   "Keep questioning right down to the marrow, until the questioner dissolves -- leaving only a passing draft where there was once a solid illusion called me." (49)

   And

   "This is really a fundamental transformation. That's why I say that we can have a very deep and profound realization of the truth and, in the end, the final real freedom doesn't necessarily come about through a realization. It comes about through a deep surrender at the deepest seat of our being. Of course, most people are going to need a profound realization of their true nature in order to be able to surrender naturally and spontaneously. But it completes itself in a blind and unpredictable release of control." (50)

   As the Tibetans say, "don't confuse understanding with realization, and don't confuse realization with Liberation."

   Adya elsewhere, as stated, has said that even for the liberated one there is an ever-deepening process, ie., that even liberation is not in any sense "the end":

      "The realization of your true nature is the end of not-knowing who and what you are. The belief that you are simply the body-mind mechanism comes to an end, but this is not the end in any absolute sense. It's the beginning of another mysterious unfolding. It's the beginning of something without end. When you awaken, you realize that around that body-mind is presence and space, and you know that you are this infinite presence. This presence is inconceivable, even to those who realize it. You can't say what it is; you just know that it is what you are. It could be called emptiness, consciousness [Notice that here he does not say the 'awareness before consciousness'.], God, or spirit, but still there's a certain mystery to it all...In the infinite, you have great, ever-deepening realizations, and yet there is simultaneously the sense that nothing is going anywhere. Everything is an unfolding of stillness within stillness." (Summer/Fall 2008 Retreat brochure).

   "An ever unfolding or deepening within consciousness or stillness" - that is just what PB has said. So it may be that our sages are in agreement after all.

   Furthermore, there is no "end", that being just a concept. The end, or "stopping", says Adya, is not the same thing as "cessation." Cessation of what? - conceptual, dualistic experiencing, including a subtle, almost impenetrable dualism created by many teachers through too much adherence to non-dual concepts that lead more to a form of monism than true non-duality. In the example given above by Dattatreya, surely the sage wasn't pointing to something beyond real non-duality, but was merely guiding the reader to the state of what is beyond the concepts of both duality and non-duality. [If one really wants to get confused, he should look toward Zen master Hakuin, who spoke of going beyond both non-duality and non-trinity!]

   "Pure consciousness", the "ultimate principle before conscious", and the "awareness of consciousness", are, after all, mere words. Nevertheless, they should, as much as humanly possible, be wielded skillfully with razor-sharp discrimination like Shankara so as to leave few doubts and lead the disciple swiftly to Liberation. An endeavor in that direction has been humbly if feebly attempted here. If I have been a stickler for details I readily apologize. I wrote this as much for my own understanding as for that of others. It is hoped that discriminating readers will respond with much-welcomed feedback and comments.

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Hold on!

   Before we close this section of our essay, we beg the reader's forgiveness for throwing a last monkey-wrench in his way. For the following quotes from Sri Nisargadatta have recently come to our attention:

   "The body appears in your mind, your mind is the content of your consciousness; you are the motionless witness of the river of consciousness which changes eternally without changing you in any way. Your own changelessness is so obvious that you do not notice it...the universe is in you and cannot be without you...God is only an idea in your mind. The fact is you... The word exists in memory, memory comes into consciousness; consciousness exists in awareness and awareness is the reflection of the light on the waters of existence." (50a)

   The first sentence is more or less familiar non-dual language, i.e., there is nothing but consciousness and its manifestations, or, as argued by Ramesh Balsekar and Colin Drake, conscious-at-rest and consciousness-in-motion. But the second sentence is much more elaborate than the average Advaitic or Vedantic pronouncement, or most common non-dual teaching - even Nisargadatta's own teaching about an 'Absolute beyond consciousness'. For here he talks not only of an 'awareness' beyond 'consciousness', but 'waters of existence' beyond that. What precisely does he mean by the 'waters of existence'? Certainly it would not be prakriti or primal matter as Sam 'khya maintains, could it?, inasmuch as this light is that whose reflection on the waters produces the 'awareness' or 'absolute' (or occasionally the 'absolute consciousness', which would change the meaning considerably) that contains the 'consciousness' which contains the word (or world)! And where would such a 'light' come from to be reflected on those waters to produce 'awareness' - if absolute awareness is all there is? He seems to confuse effect and cause by equating the awareness with the light which is said to produce the awareness.

   'Prakriti' is defined in the Appendix to I AM THAT as "the Cosmic Substance, the eternal uncaused cause of phenomenal experience", while 'Purusha' is "the Cosmic Spirit, the eternal and efficient cause of the universe that gives appearance of consciousness to all manifestations of matter." The Absolute is the source of both. This is pure 'Theosophical Sam 'khaya'. Yet he also describes the Absolute as "steady, changless, yet ever-new, ever-fresh." How can it be both changeless and ever-new?

   Generally, in non-duality, consciousness, awareness, and the light are taken as synonymous, so what does he mean then by the word 'light' producing 'awareness'? See how complex this view is becoming!

   Why didn't one of his listeners - or Maurice Frydman, compiler of I AM THAT - ask Maharaj what all of this means? It seems pretty important indeed.

   With these words it appears that Sri Nisargadatta is leaning more and more towards what many have been saying, including theosophists, anadi, Sri Aurobindo, Plotinus, certain Sufi and Taoist schools, and even teachers of Sant Mat, that reality is not so simple as just 'consciousness'. This then, if it is not to be taken as poetry, is beginning to seem more and more like a 'secret teaching' of Maharaj.

   In addition, elsewhere he states that "in the immensity of space appears a drop of consciousness, and from that drop appears a world." Again, inevitable questions arise. Can you measure space? Is it not, after all, a construct of the mind, or consciousness? He says that it is. What then, in fact, does 'immensity' mean? Is there only room in the 'immensity of space' for one drop of consciousness to appear? And, if there is more than one drop, does that admit multiple souls?

   Here is one more quote that further shows an apparent uniqueness in his teaching from that of conventional advaita:

   “There can be no experience of the Absolute as it is beyond all experience. [this is a bit odd as if the Absolute can’t be experienced - or at least realized - how can one know it exists? The Upanishads affirmatively say that the sage knows Brahman. And, elsewhere he also says that 'without Conscousness we would never know that the Absolute existed', yet Consciousness is itself dependent on the Absolute for its own existence!] On the other hand, the self is the experiencing factor in every experience and thus, in a way, validates the multiplicity of experiences. The world may be full of things of great value, but if there is nobody to buy them, they have no price. The Absolute contains everything experienceable, but without the experience they are as nothing. That which makes the experience possible is the Absolute. That which makes it actual is the Self. (Ibid)

   This seems to come very close to saying ‘God’ and the ‘Soul’. As 'Self' is capitalized here it is assumed it does not mean the psyche or small ‘self’, but unconditioned Consciousness.

   More on these teachings of Sri Nisargadatta are delved into in the Appendix at the end of this article.

   It is our perplexed opinion that these quotes pose a serious challenge to many simplistic non-dual arguments. And we metaphorically offer a huge reward for whomever can illuminate us on this subject!

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   What we can be more or less sure of is that the ordeal of realizing any one of these stations is profound, requiring much of a person, to purify the mind and ready the aspirant for enquiry, which leads to Self-Knowledge. To this end in most cases, despite contemporary non-dual exceptions, there must be karma yoga. There must be adherence to dharmic laws. There must be cultivation of the various paramitas, perfections, or noble qualities mentioned in Buddhism. There must be devotion to 'God', guru, or the Self. All of these means thin down the ego and the ego-creating vasanas, and are also a guard against 'enlightenment sickness' after realization. There will be inevitable pain as the heart is cracked open. There will be valleys, peaks, and plateaus. Madam Guyon implied as much when she wrote:

   "The life of the believer is like a torrent making its way out of the high mountains down into the canyons and chasms of life, passing through many experiences until finally coming to the spiritual experience of death. From there, the torrent experiences resurrection and a life lived in concert with the will of God while still going through many stages of refinement. At last the torrent finds its way into the vast, unlimited sea. Even here the torrent does not totally come to be one with the vast ocean until it has once more passed through final dealings by the Lord."(51)

   Eckhart Tolle said:

   "The down cycle is absolutely essential for spiritual realization. You must have failed deeply on some level or experienced some deep loss or pain to be drawn to the spiritual dimension. Or perhaps your very success became empty and meaningless and so turned out to be failure." (source misplaced)

   Meister Eckhart wrote:

      "A man must become truly poor and as free of his own creaturely will as he was when he was born. And I tell you, by the eternal truth, that so long as you desire to fulfill the will of God and have any hankering after eternity and God, for just as long you are not truly poor. He alone has true spiritual poverty who wills nothing, knows nothing, desires nothing." (52)

   Richard Moss writes in his book, The Mandala of Being (highly recommended):

   "The great spiritual tradition that places major emphasis on compassion is Buddhism. If we have - and I don't believe this happens just once - "crossed the ocean of despair" as the Buddha is described as having done, we know how much this journey was not only about courage and hard work but also about grace. Knowing that we have been the recipients of grace - that something has happened beyond our efforts, our understanding, or our insights - creates humility. This humility is what protects us from becoming egotistically involved in grandiosity and self-importance about whatever level of liberation we may have achieved." (53)

   "If, as you step back into the Now position, you cannot find the compassion to see others as they are and accept them that way, if instead the old stories keep pulling you out of your beginning and into resentment or hurt, it is because underneath these painful feelings lurks an even more threatening feeling, one of the untamed emotions. Perhaps it is a core feeling of worthlessness, or a terrible sensation of abandonment that has crystalized into a belief...This primal fear will not go away simply because you can recognize the falseness of your you stories. You cannot truly come back to the beginning of yourself until this feeling is fully met and held in the Now....When we begin to consciously face feelings that do not immediately dissipate even when they are no longer reinforced by thought, it means we are uncovering fears that our faith is not yet great enough to allow. We are getting to the root of our present survival structures. This is deep work, the darkest hour before the dawn. But even at the darkest times, the power of awareness abides: we are always larger than what we are aware of. By trusting this truth and resting in the Now of ourselves, embracing anything at all that we feel, we steadily build muscle until we are no longer accepting our limited identities, no longer the victims of our stories about others. More and more, we live authentically in the fullness of our beings." (54)

   "It is the ego and its survival project at the helm of our initial, youthful spiritual experiments, and inevitably we are called to spiritual maturity. Since the last thing we are willing to trust without "hope" is a relationship with the untamed fears, we find it difficult to redeem these dark places, and we postpone doing so...After any awakening or any new opening into a state of expansion and new vision, these darker aspects are always the next energies that come forward and ask for our acceptance. If we do not turn away, do not keep burying the darkness over and over again, then we can, at last, rest in the fullness of ourselves, and the limiting conditioning of the fear-hope process no longer enslaves us." (55)

   As Ayn Rand once famously said:

   "You can ignore reality, but you can’t ignore the consequences of ignoring reality."

   By fear Moss refers to the fundamental fear of non-being, in all its permutations, and by hope, the ego's perpetual hope for survival. In general, both must be faced for higher spiritual realizations to become possible. As Anthony stated, the greatest purgation occurs in the emotional realm. Further, the deepest witholding out of fear, and the 'existential grip" that Adya speaks about, must be let go before realization, liberation, or the Self can be fully known.

   Having detoured somewhat from our original inquiry, the question then remains: does man by realizing consciousness realize the One, or only the Soul? Is our problem merely one of words? Is there a 'principle before consciousness', or just Consciousness? Who is right? Is it Rupert Spira, Peter Dziuban, (sometimes) Adya, (sometimes) Atmananda, (sometimes) Sri Nisargadatta, and many non-dualists, or Damiani, (sometimes) Adya, (sometimes) Atmananda, (sometimes) Sri Nisargadatta), anadi, and Sri Aurobindo? Further, does the Upanishadic wisdom resolve all of our doubts? Is Consciousness all there is? Or is there a 'pure potentiality', or 'Tao', standing prior to Its 'divorce' into a paradoxical 'marriage' of Consciousness-Being, Consciousness-Radiance, Existence-Non-Existence, Presence-Awareness, Emptiness-Awareness, Identity-Relatedness, or Shiva-Shakti? Are these better pointers to Reality than 'Consciousness'? I don't know. For instance, Sri Nisargadatta says "Being is consciousness." (56) I ask, then why are there two words, Sat and Chit ?

   I leave it for those with greater insight than I to answer this question. Having taken our consideration thus far, it must be admitted that, in light of further research, the conclusions tentatively drawn to this point (if any!) may NOT be entirely correct. That there is an absolute that is 'beyond consciousness' but consciously realisable is emphatically and discriminatively argued by anadi in his book, "The Human Buddha", and his newest work, "book of enlightenment". If this is so, Nisargadatta and Adyashanti (sometimes!) are right. anadi goes even further, however, and maintains that even this absolute state is not the final reality, and there is, in truth, a 'Primal Dualism' beyond non-dualism as generally defined, however illogical that sounds. To continue one's study of this matter, therefore, the reader is encouraged to refer to Dual Non-Dualism on this website. We must certainly think twice before assuming to know more about consciousness than the Upanishadic seers, but further arguments are mentioned to stimulate and make firm our total inquiry into these matters.

   In the final analysis the best we can do with this mystery may lie not in finding an answer to our questions, but in questioning our answers. Or perhaps the truth lies somewhere in between. To prematurely abandon questions will lead nowhere. Yet to come to fully realize that one knows nothing is perhaps the greatest achievement.

   "To see that all knowledge is a form of ignorance is itself a movement of reality...Wonder is the dawn of wisdom.To be steadily and consistently wondering is sadhana." (57) - Sri Nisargadatta

   "Wisdom is knowledge you learn after you know it all." - anonymous


   A sign of progress

   "How is one to know he is making 'progress' spiritually? Could it be that the surest sign of 'progress' is a lack of concern about progress and an absence of anxiety about liberation in the wake of clear apprehension? An instant apperception of the total 'functioning' of Nisarga (nature) in which there is no place for an autonomous entity." (58)

   A lack of concern, yes, a lack of interest, no.

   Finally, Jeff Foster cuts to the quick and reminds us, what are we really
talking about anyway?

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   Twelve centuries ago the following words were spoken:

   “Don't seek from others,
   Or you'll be estranged from yourself.
   I now go on alone.
   Everywhere I encounter It.
   It now is me, I now am not It.
   One must understand in this way
   To merge with being as is.”
- Dongshan Liangjia (807-869)

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   The Primordial Ground: Part Two


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Appendix - a critique of the teaching of Sri Nisargadatta: clearing up some confusion

   This appendix is meant to illustrate some of the difficulties we get in when trying to determine exact meaning of a teaching. This material has become almost article-length in itself, but we feel it is important. This is not a criticism of this great man, but questions some questions over language in his published teaching. There is no doubt that in his personal company there was much effective grace and instruction. But for people trying to put it into practice today, there may be much that remains confusing - to us at least. After reading Sri Nisargadatta's Consciousness and the Absolute (his final and supposedly most definitive talks), we conclude that much of the difficulty in understanding his teaching, especially regarding the so-called 'absolute prior to consciousness', lies chiefly with idiosyncratic definitions of certain traditional Vedantic terms that he often used. We feel that many - but not all - of the problems are semantic ones. For instance, when taken in context,  by 'consciousness' it seems clear that he really means 'waking consciousness'. And with his interchangeable use of 'the absolute prior to consciousness', 'awareness', ‘capital 'C' Consciousness', 'univeral consciousness', or 'absolute consciousness', he appears to mean what most other Vedantins (including Guadapada in his Karika and Sankara in his commentary on the advaitic ’gold standard’ of the Mandukya Upanishad, and also the teaching of Ramana Maharshi) meant by 'pure consciousness', ‘pure awareness, or 'turiya'. [Ed Muzika, disciple of Robert Adams, and his student Rajiv Kapur, authors of "Autobiography of a Jnani," mentioned earlier, think that the absolute is ‘beyond turiya'; we once were leaning in that direction but now think this may not be so. The word turiyatita evolved to indicate the true nature of turiya, that it wasn’t really a fourth state over and above the other three: waking, dream, and sleep, but rather their very substrate, nature, and ground. However, Anadi writes that turiya is the natural state of the Soul, and turiyatita the 'universal I AM' in which the Soul finds its ultimate identity. So this point remains controversial]. Sri Nisargadatta also used the word 'Brahman', not in its traditional usage,  but to mean God as the creator, and 'ParaBrahman' to mean what is usually meant by  Brahman, or specifically, 'Nirguna Brahman' (absolute reality without attributes). And, contrary to most Vedantins, he is not at all averse to speaking of the five elements, prakriti, the gunas, etc - whereas most of them say they are all expedients and nothing but consciousness. He can also be confusing when he says that 'consciousness', or what he calls 'I AM', or ‘the feeling of being’, is the product of the food body, and not the other way around - i.e., the bodies being manifestations of consciousness, as most advaitins teach. [However, as we have seen, his use of the terms 'absolute', 'absolute consciousness', and 'universal consciousness' cover for this discrepency: the body, world, and consciousness are spontaneous and simultaneous manifestations of the absolute. We will explain at the end of this Appendix, after exposing what we feel are contradictions in his views, in what way we feel he is actually partially right].

   We suggest that if there is an absolute state such as Sri Nisargadatta points to, that contemporary teacher anadi, as mentioned earlier, has taken it an important step further.

   Maharaj holds obvious preference to reality being the Unmanifest, the impersonal, the unborn, the timeless - not seeming to recognize that these are conceptual halves of relative polarities. This has implications, in that it leads one to teach from a seemingly traditional yet dissociative Hindu perspective. His ideal of the jnani is one who is ‘a witness’, in ‘the state of no-return', the 'eternal state’. Yet nonduality sees no problem with re-incarnation, if an adept so chooses or it is willed by the 'Absolute'. And also, he, like Ramana Maharshi as well, tended to hold the common Indian view that everything in life is predetermined or predestined, and, therefore, spoke in a way that discouraged seeming acts of will. He said, "I know full well that this knowingness will not remain. I abide in that no-knowing state. So, this being the case, where is the question of one's engaging in activity? With such a spiritual orientation, can one be affected by worldly or family life?" His disciple Ramesh Balsekar carried this view to the extremes of pre-determination, with both of them teaching that everything is just the 'spontaneous manifestation of the totality of manifest consciousness', or Nature. Yet, man is part of Nature, too (!), and can just as easily 'engage' or 'intervene' within this natural process without any contradiction. To deny the will is just as foolish as to grant it complete freedom and power. The West and the East are now meeting head-on, and such a partial view as total determinism is no longer as compelling or appropriate as it once may have seemed, and must be seen as what it is: one side of a pair of relative polarities or complementaries. As Osho opined about the oriental view, "The East has forgotten how to assert, the East has forgotten how to do anything about its condition." This is the root of the peculiar fatalistic spirituality of India in particular. More than fifty years have now passed since the world-view of Maharaj and Ramana was in vogue, and it is futile to try to put the genie back in the bottle. A new form of spirituality is necessary for our times, one in which realization is not just of the impersonal, but also of the individual.

   Sri Nisargadatta states in this book that prior to birth he was in 'the perfect state' - as is everybody [Question: how does he know that?], but because the sense of 'I Am' - which depends on the food body for its arisal - was not there, he was 'trapped' and not able to 'refuse this birth', which he would have done if 'he' knew what was coming. But 'what was trapped', and why couldn't he have known what was coming? The Tibetan Buddhists have all sorts of practices for closing the womb door and preventing birth in a lower realm (whether successful or not). And why would he have refused? - many masters willingly incarnate to serve others. This is basically vague languaging, and in direct contradiction to the teachings of one such as PB who said that this world was not “neither a trap nor a degradation of the divine essence”, and of Daskalos, and newer channeled teachings (much as we resist going there), which say that there is actually, after a brief swoon, much after-death processing, as well as pre-birth planning, that goes on in coordination with the personality, non-physical helpers, other souls, one's own soul, and Spirit. And further, that the soul or its extension is actually going in and out of the body during the second and third trimesters, until finally embodying it fully, and only then forgetting entirely what it knew before birth while it builds up a new sense of self or I Am, by the age of two or so, and eventually a full personality-structure before renewing its quest for growth and liberation. Sri Nisargadatta also has stated that one goes directly into the Absolute after death, knowing nothing, being aware of nothing, until the next helpless birth when consciousness arises again. Once more we ask, how did he know this? We think he didn't, and couldn't, because he never consciously or fully explored those intermediate regions, which he admitted that to experience and/ or remember required ‘special training’.

   His basic teaching as summarized in Prior To Consciousness by Jean Dunn on this point is that consciousness can only become conscious of itself when it manifests in a physical form, that when consciousness leaves the physical body there is no individual, no world, and no God, and that before the physical form manifests one is the Absolute ParaBrahman. We say, respectfully, that this is a narrow and unproven view. He refused to allow scriptures to be quoted from in his gatherings, making people rely on their personal direct experience only, yet thereby in essence asked most of them to take his word for it, as very few had the capability of verifying such claims, or their own insight, which might prove unreliable in the early stages. We feel he is in a way saying that the tireless efforts of the great sages in articulating the scriptures were for nothing. His claim about consciousness and the sense of I AM being dependent on and arising from the physical form is contrary to so many spiritual teachings, which hold that man is a multi-layered being, and the physical form is only the gross cloak or body, and he is fully capable of functioning after death - and during life if he is an adept - without it in other, finer bodies. Further, that the sense of a pristine 'I-consciousness' is even older than the earth itself, arising long before man's incarnation into physical form, with only the darkness of earthly ignorance and earthly egoism being due to the taking on of gross incarnation. Maharaj is true, as are many other teachers, in saying that before each birth the sense of 'I' is made dormant and reawakens after the age of two or so, but that it is absence for the entire inter-life period is not only refuted by many saints and sages, but something that we believe is mere speculation on his part. Asking a disciple if they were aware of their existence before their birth or after their last death is a pointless question, as how are they to remember? In fact, some do remember, but it is the divine mercy that we generally do not so we can get about our business in this life.

   We are not questioning all points of his wisdom on the question of absolute identity, but are questioning his relative wisdom. The teaching of immediate dissolution into the Absolute after dropping the physical body is contrary to what many teachers, including the masters of Sant Mat, have said: that there are virtually a myriad of souls 'lined up’ waiting to incarnate here, earth-life being such a great opportunity for spiritual awakening. Sri Nisargadatta  contradicts himself further by saying that  the 'I AM' is the source of all our misery, but on the other hand, without it we could not become liberated (which for him means never to be physically born again), and further, that it is "preserved and glorified in the Absolute." This seems itself a confession of the value of physical incarnation while at the same time a negative judgement of it.

   In places he say that the absolute awareness is never aware of itself, while in others he says that it is self-aware, until it 'falls' into error, and that the goal of practice in fact is for 'the Self to become aware of Self', and that it takes many births.

   He says again and again that the sense of being or "I AM" or 'conscousness' is a product of the ‘food body’ only (traditionally known as the annamaya kosha), but then also says that the I AM or consciousness is prior to the world - and the body is an emanation of the greater consciousness - which is precisely what most everyone else is saying.

   He also has unusual definitions for Isvara (which is usually considered Saguna Brahman or the creator god); for him it is the ‘total  impersonal manifest consciousness’, which is still based in the waking state. Most Vedantins equate Isvara with prajna, the causal body, or the macrocosmic equivalent of the deep sleep state, itself transcended by turiya.  Sri Nisargadatta, however, uses ‘causal body’ as the ‘small physical seed of the human form’, and not prajna as the Vedantins say, or as the higher mental or archtypal body the way that Sant Mat or Kriya Yoga uses the term. His definition of Atman is also unique: "Atman is only beingness, or the consciousness, which is the world. The Ultimate principle, which knows this beingness cannot be named." Again, this is not necessarily wrong, but also not a standard advaitic usage of the term Atman, which is equivalent to Brahman or ultimate reality.

   Sri Nisargadatta was a dynamic, genuine teacher, giving much sagacious practical counsel; he had his own preferred method but wisely offered many forms of advise and practice to different people, often even saying ‘just have faith', 'trust', 'endurance', 'earnestness', 'do the best you can’, 'go home, marry the girl next door, take up your father's business,' etc.), yet the inherent contradictions in his higher teaching seems to have forced him to concede, from time to time, things like, "never tell a child to be dispassionate like we tell each other, because they need ambition to achieve further growth and certain goals,” and also, “the jnani doesn't care about any of this, it is mere spit, but do your work with enthusiasm and the best you can - because this world is an orphan!” (referring to the advaitic metaphor, “son a of a barren woman”). But also, "This is a big hoax, a fraud, created out of nothingness...I am not afraid of death. With death the imperfection is removed." One might ask him, however, "what imperfection?", and, “what for any of this work, if it doesn't have any importance, and is utterly unreal?”

   In these talks he uses traditional metaphors that do not reflect the way advaita refers to the concept of what is ‘unreal’. For example, as demonstrated above, he says the world is unreal, ‘like the son of a barren woman.’ Another such metaphor in advaita is ‘like a hair’s horn.’ These are examples given for what is totally unreal in the sense of utterly non-existent. The world is said to be unreal, not in that sense, however, but as mithya - neither real nor unreal. It is not permanent, but it is there nonetheless. It is unreal as paramarthika, but real as vyavaharika. Sri Nisargadatta appears to hold to the older Hindu preference for the unmanifest, the impersonal, the unborn, the timeless - in exclusion of their opposites. Thus, his description of the 'perfect state' is “when there is no I, no other, no manifestation” - but this is just nirvikalpa, is it not? - the thoughtless state, a void - and not true reality. Compare this to what Osho said about his enlightenment:

   “Since that day the world is unreal. Another world has been revealed. When I say the world is unreal I don’t mean that these trees are unreal. These trees are absolutely real - but the way you see these trees is unreal. These trees are not unrel in themselves - they exist in God, they exist in absolute reality - but the way you see them, you never see them. You create your own dream world around you, and unless you become awake you will continue to dream. The world is unreal because the world that you know is the world of your dreams. When dreams drop and you simply encounter the world that is there, then the real world appears. There are not two things, God and the world. God is the world if you have clear eyes, without any dust of dreams, without any haze of sleep. if you have clear eyes, clarity, perceptiveness, there is only God.” (Osho, Autobiography of a Spiritually Incorrect Mystic (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2000), p. 76.

   Incidentally, in Consciousness and the Absolute Sri Nisaragadatta recognized Rajneesh (Osho) as a great sage.

   Maharaj says in these talks that the absolute ‘goes into error’ and forgets itself. This is not the highest advaita, in which there is no causal relationship accepted between Nirguna Brahman and relativity. The soul may be said to forget itself, or to project an emanant of itself to be born in ignorance and develop awakened consciousness of itself, and/ or its own source, as an awakened 'I'-consciousness now within Oneness as never before, or some variant on this theme, but not the absolute or Nirguna Brahman itself, which by definition is one, self-contained, whole, perfect, unchanging, in need of nothing. This is not a nit-picky point, but one that has repercussions for the entire teaching. Sri Nisargadatta’s version of what is the absolute, then, must be seen as a relative absolute, not truly unconditioned Nirguna, in our view.

   We ask, if what he teaches is truly nondual, then why did he say, “the jnani is always getting happier, because he knows that he is going home" ?  Is it because he really believes in the doctrine of videha-mukti, or liberation at death only? In nondual understanding one would assume one realizes he is 'already' home. Yet Maharaj only confessed to something like that level of realization in the last days of his life, and even then expressed it in a rather exclusive way.

   Metaphors such as 'the Self is a mass of consciousness' (found in the Upanishads) and 'I am a solid block of reality' in I AM THAT are at best suggestive. What is a 'mass', or a 'block'? In I AM THAT it also says, "in the immensity of space, a drop of consciousness appears, from which an entire world arises." How 'immense' is space? Is there room in there for more than 'one' drop? This also is obviously not literal. Moreover, does the drop merge into the ocean, or the ocean into the drop? Osho says these mean the same thing, while Anthony Damiani suggests that they refer to distinct stages of realization. Such is the difficulty of referring even to the soul, what to speak of the absolute.

   Sri Nisargadatta's advice to meditate on or abide in the I AM appears similar to Ramana's 'Who am I?' inquiry, or 'holding to the 'I-thought' or 'I-feeling', until it resides in its source - but much of the rest is often confusing terminology, in our opinion. We claim no right to criticize such a great and revered master, but since we now live in the age of the internet and are faced with a simultaneous total exposure to all of the collective teachings of humanity, feel they must be sorted out with discrimination. Sri Nisargadatta was a simple man, never travelled or spent much time reading scriptures, and only was with his guru a very short while; this may account for his deficiencies as an articulate expounder of advaita, and his understanding of other traditions.

   Then there is this highly enigmatic statement:

   "The universe is in you and cannot be without you. The word exists in memory, memory comes into consciousness; consciousness exists in awareness and awareness is the reflection of the light on the waters of existence". (I AM THAT, p.199)

   As he so often talked about the 'absolute beyond consciousness', similarly with the ‘awareness beyond consciousness’, we can equate 'awareness' in this quote with the 'absolute'. And from the bulk of I AM THAT he seems clearly to affirm that the absolute, while not a subject-object type of experience, was knowable or realizable. Yet he even said that without consciousness we would never know there was an absolute. How's that for possible confusion? - 'Awareness' is prior to 'consciousness', yet needs consciousness to be aware of itself?

   What to make, then, of 'the waters of existence', upon which the 'light' is reflected, which itself produces the 'awareness' that contains the 'consciousness', in which the 'word' (or world) is contained? What exactly ARE 'the waters of existence', the 'light', the 'awareness', and the 'consciousness' ? Sri Nisargadatta here seems far from standard advaita. In mentioning a light reflecting on the waters of existence, producing the awareness that contains the consciousness, he is sounding almost like he is embracing a modified Samkhya terminology to some extent, and not just talking like Ramana Maharshi about the light of the moon being the reflected light of the Sun. it seems a legitimate question to ask 'where does that light come from' and 'where do  the waters of existence come from', to 'produce the awareness and consciousness'. Just logically, he is playing loose with his terms, as he seems to be making the effect - awareness - the cause (the 'light') of itself.

   Thus, there appear to be main two camps of interpretation here - with a possible third. The two camps are: (1) that he simply means by 'awareness' or the 'absolute' what most nondual teachers mean by 'pure consciousness' or turiya, and that by consciousness' he means 'ordinary empirical consciousness.'  That, in fact, is what Greg Goode says; and (2) there is some mysterious 'absolute' which he believes in and has known as reality, but which he says does not know itself. Then again he says that it does. His disciple Steven Wolinsky has many YouTubes attempting to explain this absolute. Yet it appears there is possibly a third option, because in the glossary of I AM THAT - while perhaps the responsibility of editor Maurice Frydman and not directly that of Maharaj - there are NO entries for either 'Consciousness', the 'Absolute,' or 'Awareness', remarkably, but definitions ARE given for 'Gunas', 'Prakriti' and 'Purusha'; i.e., Prakriti: 'the Cosmic substance, the uncaused cause of phenomenal existence, formless, timeless, and eternal'; and Purusha, 'the Cosmic Spirit, the eternal and efficient cause of the universe that gives the appearance of consciousness to all manifestation.'  In the text there is one reference that says that the absolute is the source of both, thus differentiating Sri Nisargadatta from modern (post-Kapila) Sam 'khya which only posits a philosophical dualism of two eternal principles with all its attendant problems. So either this glossary was whipped together by the editors erroneously and incompletely, or the teaching of a 'light reflecting on the waters' producing awareness sounds much like ancient doctrines including theosophy and Sam 'khya - which is at odds with the supposed advaitic nature of Sri Nisargadatta’s teaching, if that it is what it in fact is.

   It seems the only thing we can accept without any doubt as bottom-line essential and indispensible advice is his passionate insistence to 'give up seeking' and go into the silence beyond ‘concepts’ ! yet even this is somewhat stage-specific to the individual. But we 'absolutely' agree with him when he says, "You need not worry about your worries. Just be. Do not try to be quiet; do not make 'being quiet' into a task to be performed. Don't be restless about 'being quiet', miserable about 'being happy'. Just be aware that you are and remain aware -- don't say: 'yes, I am; what next?' There is not 'next' in 'I am'. It is a timeless state." (from I AM THAT)

   In summary, however, this appears as a one-sided, polarized teaching, despising the body as a 'disease, ‘not worth spit’, and the world as complete illusion. It seems to lack the deep nondual advaitic roots of the Mandukya Upanishad, while also appearing to be something new (although claiming an ancient lineage) with its talk of ‘prior to consciousness’ and the ‘absolute’. Sri Nisargadatta, moreover, also makes claims of knowledge about the hereafter, the super-conscious states, the process of manifestation, and of consciousness itself, which the evidence suggests he hasn't himself fully experienced or understood, and which this article has in part been written to offer a broader view. Again, we could be completely mistaken, and leave it for the reader to judge if we have raised reasonable questions. A potentially clarifying interpretation of the I Am meditation in the system of Sri Nisargadatta's lineage is given in this YouTube video by contemporary teacher Ramaji.

   Much of this critique, however, is not applicable only to Sri Nisargadatta. Most advaitins in turn have given lip service to the third part of Sankara's famous formula: "Brahman is real; the world is unreal; Brahman is the world,"  but historically in practice have not appeared to have actually lived as if that were so, as opposed to Sankara who was a great adept, both as a nondualist and a bhakti and tantric realizer. Advaitins sometimes have used metaphors like "they are unmoved by the froth of the waves on the periphery of the ocean of their consciousness," thus immunizing themselves from what they claim is only illusion after all, and in effect would seem to be a true nonduality that actually recognized the world as Brahman. Even the much-covetted sahaj samadhi is often experienced "as if one were one with all existence", yet still identifies more or less exclusively with unbounded consciousness of which all the rest is an unreal or unimportant manifestation. Thus we get Maharaj stating near his passing that the pain of his body was unbearable - but he was not identified with that. But is this true nonduality, or what might be considered the beginning 'stages' of sahaj samadhi, still preferring to hold out in consciousness or an 'absolute prior to consciousness', which is yet capable of a much more thorough integration of consciousness and matter?

   What do we mean by 'stages of sahaj samadhi'? Simply (or not so simply) this: having established the state of nondual presence in one's inner consciousness is not the same as varying degrees of transforming the personality into an increasingly profound manifestation of the implications of nondual awakening. Sahaja of the essential type that Bhagavan Ramana or Sri Nisargadatta realized are a more advanced realization than yogic internal nirvikalpa samadhi. Here there is no essential argument. But this can be 'integrated' into Relativity (intuitive, intellectual, philosophical, emotional, and physical - including lifestyle changes) more and more and more. In that regard, one may argue that no one has fully done this, as its implications are vast. Even PB said that he 'did not say that sahaj samadhi was the highest state possible, only that it was the highest possible as yet for man.'

   For instance, profound integration of sahaja into the intuitive and form levels of expression would result in such a deeply integral master or individual that they would fully understand the essence of every path, and could act as a master/guide/guru for any practitioner at any stage, regardless of spiritual path or style - Native American, African Shaman, Dzogchen, Kabalist, Taoist yogi, political activist karma yogi, Christian mystic, Tantric Hindu or Buddhist, Sant Mat yogi, etc.. None of these paths are identical. All have special areas of actualization of wisdom and practice. So all express the vastness of human potential for liberation, enlightenment and actualization of spirituality in all kinds of ways. And many others forms yet to be expressed. Nondual realization in its most vast potential would manifest in a master of profound development a type of richness that would include and integrate all of this. Also, in this respect, one can imagine a person who had reached a level of nondual realization who would have more incarnations to go in order to fully develop. It is also said in a number of traditions that even some who have not attained while in physical form a nondual realization, need not necessarily continue in the cycles of reincarnation. So the matter is quite complex, and simplistic arguments remain just that: simplistic, and only useful for a certain portion of the population. it is highly likely that a complete expression of realized potential has not yet appeared on earth.

   All of which, we repeat, is not at all to say that there isn’t much of great value in Maharaj's recorded works, or that many people haven’t greatly benefitted by his company. We also are in thorough agreement with his wise advice, "mind your own self", and, “never criticize anybody,” but, in this case, the latter just could not be avoided. We critique not the man - for whom we have nothing but praise for his years of devotion and dedicated service - but only the esotericism in his teachings, while at the same time realizing, as Hazrat Inayat Khan said, “There is no scripture in which contradiction does not exist. It is the contradiction which makes the music of the message.”

   And, having said all that, there is a sense in which we feel Sri Nisargadatta was partially right in speaking of an 'Absolute prior to consciousness'! And this is because any type of non-dual language is inherently limited and inaccurate, a 'pointer at best', and when talking about Nirguna or true non-dual Reality concepts like 'consciousness', 'awareness', even 'universal' or 'transcendant' 'consciousness', no longer have any meaning. They just do not apply, and we feel he would have been better off pointing that out, than creating an ontology that may not exist in reality. Any absolute or Nirguna Brahman is 'beyond' any human categorization, whether conscious/unconscious, personal/impersonal, active/passive, or time/timeless. So those who say 'consciousness is all', or 'there is consciousness-at-rest' and 'consciousness-in-motion' are, we feel, being far too simplistic. Is there such a thing as 'consciousness-at-rest'? Would that still be consciousness, for surely consciousness only has meaning in relation to something which it is conscious of - or else the word has lost all meaning? Other questions arise: 'Who' or what in fact knows 'all is consciousness'? On what does consciousness 'rest'? Moreover, to say that 'consciousness moves' is also without meaning.

   To give but a taste of a future article devoted to these matters, we prefer a conceptual model of the Absolute that is a Trinitarian Oneness, as given in many, many ancient systems. One may visualize it as a triangle with an Absolute (Nirguna, or Kether in Cabballa) at the head, with 'Father' and 'Mother' Principles below, the latter two alternately denoted as either Siva and Shakti, Purusha and Prakriti, or Spirit and Matter - all One inseparable essence, however, from which all further emanations of elements and perceptions flow. From this picture as well as reasoned analysis one can see that conscious or awareness is never found without an object, or more properly, a content, nor can it be said to be their source (nor can one even speak of a 'source'). Even so-called 'conscious-without-an-object', or nirvikalpa, has a content - what PB might call the unmanifested World-Idea, consisting perhaps, of 'mula-prakriti' - the 'noumenon of prakriti or matter', in the same sense that 'Spirit' or 'Siva' might be considered the 'noumenon' or 'Soul of the soul'. So consciousness-at-rest' without apparent manifestation, or 'pure consciousness' or 'pure awareness' or 'universal consciousness', are only attempts by our human mind to conceive of the infinite, but are NOT actually the same as the Ultimate or the Absolute in this schema, for the Absolute as such is unqualifiable, inconceivable, and non-attributable in any way. Some prefer the word 'intelligence' to that of 'consciousness', to more closely approximate the unknowing-knowledge that the absolute represents, but truly, we can not really say even that much of it. Perhaps the most that can be said is that it is 'beyond'. "Gate, gate, param gate, bodhi svaha."

   Another way of expressing this is with an analogy proposed by Saniel Bonder in which our identity is like that of a Moebius strip: ego, personality, not-entirely-finite soul-nature (both individual and universal), and unindividuated impersonal infinite essence - all a seamless whole that we can't find hard borders of, that we are ALL of it. He calls it not the One, but the 'Onlyness'.

   We are generally in our writings complete agreement with this, as far as that statement goes. Not only are all of these realities part of ‘a seamless whole’, but the nature of all of these aspects are thoroughly interdependent with each other, so when realized in a adequately nondual light, are known as part of a mutually defining totality where no part has any meaning or existence without all other facets – universality and individuality, spirit and matter, infinite and finite, temporal and eternal, personal and impersonal, manifested and unmanifest, etc. All of this arises within relativity, but when comprehended in the nondual view, are realized as a seamless and interdependent whole. The only reality that is not mutually interdependent with anything ‘other’ is the absolute, which is the radically transcendent true nature of all that arises within relativity. But relativity only appears to be a polar and complementary opposite to the absolute from the point of view of relativity. From the radically transcendental point of view, there is no relativity as somehow ‘other’, and relativity is realized as neither diminishing nor enhancing the absolute truth.

   One way of summarizing this in terms of the purpose of this article, then, is by saying, there is NO 'lights out' - our Soul-nature, while not ALL that we are, nevertheless continues on eternally.

   Perhaps Sri Nisargadatta said it best when he confessed, "the sum total of my spirituality now is nothing, even that word "nothing" is not there, so there is no spirituality left." Sri Ramakrishna said the same thing before he died.

   It is also possible, although speculative on our part, that some of the apparent uniqueness of Sri Nisargadatta's advaitic style of teaching stems from his Navnath lineage claiming roots that go back to Jnanadeva or Jnaneshvar (1275-1296), who himself differed from some vedantists as illustrated in his work Cangadeva-pasasti. This presented a non-dualistic absolutistic ontology without resort to the concept of maya or avidya. From the linked article, regarding maya, "Jnanadeva says simply, 'I do not think so.' The basic oneness of Reality, Absolute or God is the theme of this work. Jnanadeva holds that the whole world of plurality, of subject and object, is an apparent expression of the Brahman, its material and efficient cause, without itself undergoing any change within itself. Without affecting the basic unity it appears as the duality of the subject and the object, or the triad of the knower, known and knowledge. Jnanadeva says that such manifestation of Brahman is natural to it. He does not subscribe to any element of avidya, or maya as an explanation of this dualism or triadism or pluralism. Jnanadeva's insistence is on the unbroken, continuous nature of Atman even when there is the manifestation of two or more. The Absolute shows itself in such apparent dualism which having its origin in the Absolute is not other than the Absolute, that is real, and yet the Absolute remains completely unaffected. In the same manner Janandeva says that the description of Atman as sat-cit-ananda also could not be regarded as final, as these terms become meaningful in relation to their opposites asat-jada-duhkha. Thus the Absoluteness is beyond any meaningful description. It could be understood by being it, that is going through its experience, and enjoying it in silence or by keeping mum. This experience Jnanadeva has through the grace of his Guru Sir Nivrttinatha."

This only partly answers our questions, as Sri Nisargadatta's speaking of the light reflecting upon the waters of existence, producing awareness which contains consciousness which contains the wor(l)d, sounds much more more like teachings of Qaballa or theosophy, wherein there is what we call a 'modified Sam 'khya' philosophical system (modifed because it is not dualistic as per the later Sam 'khya of Kapila but of much more ancient roots where the dual principles of Purusha and Prakriti derive from a central Source as an unmanifest eternal Trinity of Kether or an Absolute Nirguna at the head, and negative and positive poles (Mulaprakriti, the noumenon of matter, mater, Mother, or Binah, and Purusha, Father, Spirit, or Chokmah), with a 'First-born Son' or Logos (itself the 'soul of the Christos, it in turn the 'soul of the psyche'), and which Logos itself actively fecundates the divine Mother principle of Mulaprakriti and through a series of emanations creates a hierarchy of worlds of supernal light, diffused light, reflected 'lunar' light, energy configurations, and gross objectivity. Thus, 'Mulaprakriti here may be the 'waters of existence' spoken of by Maharaj, and the 'light' could be the Logos. However, this analogy breaks down if we require the awareness produced by the reflection of the light upon the waters to be the absolute awareness, the source of the I AM Consciousness, which Maharaj spent so much time talking about. So work needs to be done correlating his teaching with other systems for a clearer understanding.


   The Mirror Analogy

   Perhaps we should talk a little about the analogy of a ‘mirror’. It can be a source of confusion, as it is spoken of in different traditions and in different ways. A traditional 'lila' way is that the world is a mirror for the Self to know itself in. I think we can reject that one right off the bat, as it posits 'meaning' to the absolute. Anadi, on the other hand, has a novel way of saying that the 'soul' knows herself in the light of consciousness - but apparently is not defined itself by just conscious per se. He says in another of his books, "after all, what does the mirror reflect - the mirror?" The question, then, is what does Anadi mean by the soul? I am thinking it comes down to no words are adequate to describe what we are talking about. Which includes 'conscious is all', or is 'what we are', etc..

   In Dzogchen we find perhaps one of theclearest expositions using the mirror analogy that show us the inherent mystery of existence. According to Namkhai Norbu in The Crystal and the Way of Light, he explains that they talk about the Base, the Path, and the Fruit. What is relevent right now is the Base. The base of rigpa is described in three aspects: Essence, Nature, and Energy. The Essence is pure space-like unconditioned mind with the potential to reflect and manifest; its Nature then is to reflect, and what it reflects is Energy (which includes forms). It is kind of strange, don't you think, to speak of a mirror that reflects its own inherent reflections or manifestations? What is it reflecting them to - itself? Why? He concludes what should be obvious by now that these three aspects are interdependent and inseparable and only a way of talking about this in language. He says:

   "Although in order to explain the base we may artificially separate its Essence, Nature, and Energy, the example of the mirror shows that these three aspects are interdependent and cannot be separated from each other. In fact, a mirror's primordial voidness, its clear capacity to reflect and the reflections that arise in it are inseparable and are all essential to the existence of what is known as a 'mirror'."

   "If it were not empty, the mirror would not reflect, it if did not have a clear capacity to reflect, how could it manifest reflections? And if it could not manifest reflections, how could we say it was a mirror?"
(p. 98-99)

   Isn't this interesting: the mirror itself is manifesting reflections and reflecting them in its own mirrorness? This certainly backs us into the nondual position totally. We can't then just call 'consciousness' the primary datum so glibly. We really do not know what it is. The mirror idea is, of course, just another metaphor. It is, in fact, much more beautiful and multi-dimensional (the mirror having only 2 dimensions) than that. The holographic metaphor comes a little bit closer. But all these are still much to dualistic to capture the way a human being, throughout his or her nature, can miraculously come into attunement/atonement with larger realities and, thereby, 'know' them. But the direct experience is simple and lucid.

   It seems to us that maybe we need to go back to a Trinity model of sorts to more accurately reflect the nature of reality, as opposed to just consciousness at rest and conscious-energy. We might posit Brahman/Nirguna/ Tao, whatever - realizing theat are uncharacterizable, and then two principles, perhaps siva-shakti, purusha-prakriti, or consciousness-manifestation, and reflections on down the line. Within this model we find room for all sorts of things like souls, Cosmic Christ, Shabda Brahman, personified God, for instance, understood hopefully nondually. Then we will acknowledge that speaking of consciousness, and adding superlatives like 'universal consciousness', 'pure consciousness', or 'awareness' , 'universal awareness', and 'pure awareness', or 'prior to consciousness', etc., are just meaningless words. Knowing and intelligence have a different feel, but probably even these will face the same difficulty. But how do we know that it is awareness that 'knows' whatever it is we know? Just because awareness is always there is not proof. That is still a word after all.

   For another instance, how does anyone know that 'things' manifest out of consciousness? Damiani says no one ever 'sees' that, that you can only know that by hard dialectical reasoning. But it is generally assumed by most teachers. Certainly the two always occur together, yet not causally.

   This relates to the very nature of nondual realization and the questions of selfhood. Better perhaps to simply say, as Jack Kornfield and some other teachers are now saying, that we go beyond all notions of a 'separate-self', rather than 'beyond all notions of self', as Adya tends to say. Because just because we feel an impersonal realization doesn't mean there is no 'self' there; it may just be too subtle for us to perceive, or our experience is colored by our expectation. By simply using 'no-separate self' then we are not needing to assume anything about 'self' other than its ever deepening mystery. Because in a nondual world self and other are intertwined and inseparable. And 'who' realizes non-duality? Some kind of self or individuality. Nondual realization excludes nothing. Non-dual realization or Nirvana, as well as samsara, are both in relativity and known to some kind of self. That self becomes ever more interconnected and non-separate, but it still is there, otherwise who could become liberated? Saying it is the Infinite, the Self, emptiness, enlightenment that realizes these same things is not much help, and can lead to misunderstanding of the scope and nature of Relativity. We suggest that samsara and Relativity are not the same. Samsara is bondage in Relativity. Nondual realization, occuring within Relativity, is the realization that Samsara and Nirvana are not separate, and it includes both a realization or perception of the existence of the Nondual Ground (which can not be said to be either realized or not realized, it is beyond all such concepts), but also of the implications of that nondual realization for us within Relativity, and this latter could go on almost indefinitely - including the post-enlightenment increasing of relative 'merit and wisdom' (understanding of impermanence, dukkha, increase of compassion, power, skillfulness, etc.) that began long before one realized non-duality, according to certain teachings.. And I think this is what PB points to in the many quotes where he talks about this thing taking along time, even though it is simple in essence. We can find nondual realization to varying degrees while we are still increasing in relative 'merit and wisdom', as the Tibetans say, and even after more complete, direct realization of non-duality, the relative wisdom is now seen as interpenetrating and mutually influencing the absolute wisdom. Relative wisdom generally does emerge first and forms the foundation of spiritual development which eventually prepares one for direct nondual insight, but at a deeper level they come to be seen as fundamentally inseparable, two aspects of one primordial wisdom.

   Finally, we believe that, for all the obfuscation, Maharaj may have had insight into, and been pointing towards, this indescribable THAT, which is truly neither awareness or consciousness, but nothing at all speakable in human terms. This, in fact, is the task all masters face: to make themselves available and create a circumstance unique for each individual to point to truth and take them beyond the mind and into their hearts. Where they are often lacking is in the depth of their relative wisdom and capability of integrating this knowledge into all of their vehicles, and all dimensions of existence, and interpreting and articulating it accurately. Some of this is inevitable is using dualistic language to speak of the nondual, while some of it is not inevitable, but a want of clear seeing. Be that as it may, in the Avadhuta Gita, it is said that the truth is "beyond duality and non-duality." PB says that "one is simultaneously in the One, the Many, and the Overself; thus, truth is a triple paradox." We are here, of course, at the limits of our language. So what then is this thing we are all after? Apparently not so simple to pin down as 'the soul', 'the Self', 'one thing', or 'no-thing'. But still, do not be discouraged!

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(1) Anthony Damiani (in Stephen McKenna, Plotinus; The Enneads (Larson Publications, Burdett , New York, 1992, p. 712)
(2) Anthony Damiani, Looking Into Mind (Larson Publications, Burdett, New York, 1990, p. 64-65)
(3) reference misplaced
(4) Kapali Sastri, The Maharshi, p. 78
(5) Anthony Damiani, Living Wisdom (Burdett, New York: Larson Publications, 1996), p. 264, 261
(6) Robert Powell, ed., The Nectar of Immortality: Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj Discourses on the Eternal (San Diego, CA: Blue Dove Press, 2001), p. 56-57
(7) Adyashanti, The Impact of Awakening, by Adyashanti www.adyashanti.org)
(8) Sri Nisargadatta, I AM THAT, reference misplaced
(9) Franklin Merrell-Wolff, reference misplaced
(10) The Seven Steps to Awakening (The Freedom Raligion Press, 2010), p. 178
(11) Nitya Tripta, Notes on Spiritual Discourses of Shri Atmananda , 1484
(12) But not in the translation by Ramesh Balsekar, who in A Duet of One, only uses the term pure Consciousness.
(13) DW 48, Sermon 7, Davies
(14) reference misplaced
(15) Plotinus, reference misplaced
(16) Robert Powell, op. cit., p. xxi
(17) Ramesh Balsekar, A Net of Jewels, reference misplaced
(18) Powell, op. cit., p. 28
(19) Nitya Tripta, op. cit., 1445
(20) Ibid, reference misplaced
(21) Sri Nisargadatta, op. cit., p. 518
(22) Powell, op. cit., editor's preferatory notes
(23) [Note: What did he mean here: that higher realizations than sahaj were possible by beings other than man, such as alien beings - or perhaps - by gods?]
(24) Shri Atmananda, reference misplaced
(25) Paul Brunton, The Notebooks of Paul Brunton (Burdett, NY: Larson Publications), Vol 16, Part 4, 2.139
(26) Sri Nisargadatta, op. cit., p. 520
(27) Paul Brunton, reference misplaced
(28) Anthony Damiani, op. cit., p. 207)
(29) Ibid, p. 201, 206-207
(30) Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, p. 381 (as quoted in: Don Salmon and Jan Maslow, Yoga Psychology and the Transformation of Consciousness (Paragon House, St. Paul, MN, 2007, p. 335
(30a) Thomas Taylor, Timaeus, 35b
(30b) Ananda Wood, 2003, internet post,BR> (31) James Schwartz, How To Attain Enlightenment (Boulder, CO: First Sentient Publications, 2009), p. 175
(32) Swami Sivananda, Kundalini Yoga (Shivanandagar, India: The Divine Life Society, 1980), p.
(32a) F.M. Muller. trans., The Larger Sukhavati-Vyuha, in Buddhist Mahayana Texts, p. 51-52
(33) K. N. Upadhyaya, Buddhism: Path to Nirvana, (Beas, India: Radhasoami Satsang, 2010), p. 67-68
(34) Ibid, p. 122-125
(35) Ibid, p. 126
(36) Ibid, p. 125
(37) Ibid, p. 68
(38) Udana, quoted in Upadhyaya above, p. 134
(39) David Godman, No Mind, I Am the Self (Chillakur, India: Sri Lakhshmana Ashram, 1986), pp. 98-100
(40) Paul Brunton, The Notebooks of Paul Brunton (Burdett, New York: Larson Publications, 1988), Vol. 16, Part 1, 2.200
(41) Ibid, Part 4, 2.142
(42) Anthony Damiani, Living Wisdom(Burdett: New York: Larson Publications, 1996), p. 139-140
(43) Brunton, op. cit, , Part 4, 2.142, 2.154, 2.155
(44) Ibid, Part 4, 1.101
(45) Shri Atmananda (reference misplaced)
(46) Anthony Damiani, op. cit., p. 141-142
(47) Adyashanti, Emptiness Dancing (Los Gatos, California: Open Gate Publishing, 2004), reference misplaced
(48) Marshall Govindam, The Wisdom of Jesus and the Yoga Siddhas (Eastman, Quebec, Canada: Babaji's Kriya Yoga and Publications, Inc., 2007), p. 81, 77
(49) Adyashanti, The Impact of Awakening, reference misplaced
(50) Adyashanti, Emptiness Dancing, p. 154-155
(50a) Sri Nisargadatta, op. cit., p. 199
(51) Les Torrents, pt. i. cap. viii.
(52) reference unknown
(53) Richard Moss, The Mandala of Being (New World Library, Novato, California, 2007), p. 293
(54) Ibid, p. 202-204
(55) Ibid, p. 270
(56) Sri Nisargadatta, op. cit., p.
(57) Ibid, p. , 534
(58) Balsekar, op. cit., p. 193