The Knowledge of Non-Duality is the Goal

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The whole point of seeking, if what you want is moksha – liberation – is to know the nature of reality: that this is a non-dual reality, that you are the Self, and there isn’t anything else. It’s all you. Tat tvam asi. The point of the teaching of Vedanta is to show you the vision of non-dual reality, the knowledge of what reality is. You want this knowledge, and that’s all you want, if you are seeking moksha. Knowing what reality is – this is moksha.

It’s kind of funny to think that we might have wanted along the way an experience of some kind. We wanted an experience that felt really blissful, in which we felt merged with all of the objects appearing. And we kind of have to admit we wanted to have that experience all the time – permanently. Merged, blissful, “me” feeling wonderful all the time, feeling non-separate from everything.

When you look at this desire in the light of the knowledge that this is a non-dual reality, it’s silly. Why would I want an experience of oneness, as an experiencer, when the reality of non-duality is that I
am the oneness, and there is no experiencer? With the vision of non-duality firmly in my mind, my mind and everything else in existence is seen to be me, the Self, whose very nature is bliss. The mind doesn’t go away. It is just seen for what it is, an object appearing in me, awareness. That’s the goal of self-inquiry. This knowledge is the goal, because when this goal is attained, any experiencer remaining who wants an experience of non-duality is known to be ME – the Self – already, and its needs and desires are put to rest in the knowledge of non-dual reality.

But haven’t we been led to believe that it can’t be just knowledge, “just intellectual,” but that it has to be somehow felt or experienced? Oddly, this is what we’re told. I say oddly because it doesn’t even make sense in a non-dual framework. If there is a claim that reality is non-dual – that you are all of it – and at the same time a claim that an experience of non-duality is the goal of your seeking, then there is a huge problem in the logical consistency. Because if you are really all of it, the experiencer of anything is resolved into this. The experiencer, the experience, and the experiencing, in fact, are all resolved into this, meaning that you are “before” all of those. You are the substrate on which all of them appear.

The question might arise, if I’m not the experiencer, aren’t I also not the knower? Right, you are also not the knower. The experiencer and the knower are both objects appearing in you, awareness. And beliefs in the mind – also objects appearing – change and shift in light of new information. These beliefs in the mind are where the entire problem is coming from, not from the experiencer. So it’s the mind that needs to get straightened out. The experience is always of pure awareness, so the experiencer really doesn’t have a problem. The mind overlays that pure awareness experience with the belief that something else – the multiplicity – is being experienced. So it’s the mind that is the problem. When the problem is addressed, with knowledge, the knower doesn’t go away, and the experiencer doesn’t go away. They are just seen in the mind for what they are. The knower – an object appearing in you – now has correct knowledge, and will not suffer anymore. But you never were either the knower or the experiencer. You were always the Self, which is non-suffering by nature.

When you know that the nature of reality is non-dual, and that it is all you, your needs and desires are neutralized. As a liberated “person” – someone who knows the nature of reality and therefore of his or herself – there is never again an experience needed or desired to complete you, or to improve how things feel for you. The feelings are not important. The only thing that has any importance is that your mind is free of ignorance about the nature of reality. When it is, the subjective experience will be generally blissful, but that’s a by-product, not a goal.

If you are looking to have a better experience, you’re not seeking
moksha. You may get something nice happening in your experience, if that’s what you want, but you won’t find moksha. Moksha is freedom from experience. This is why we say liberation is about knowledge, not experience.

But you can’t learn the vision of non-duality by just saying that nothing exists but awareness. Awareness
appears as a multiplicity, and you have to understand the nature of the multiplicity, too. Every bit of it has to be looked at and understood as the Self, because it appears as bits and pieces. If it only appeared as One, then there wouldn’t be any mistake about it. But it appears as many, and we need to learn about the many in order to quit mistaking the bits and pieces for the Self.

This is what Vedanta does. It teaches you about the multiplicity, not in material terms like science does, but in terms of how it relates to you, the Self. This relationship is what gets confused, causing you to suffer. It’s not an
experience of non-suffering that will end this nightmare, it’s knowing how you really and actually are related to the things that appear in you. This is what Vedanta teaches. It takes time, and it takes unfolding slowly. Be patient, and hear it over and over. And be thankful that it is available to you. Vedanta is a true gift, and James Swartz – Ramji – compassionate unfolder of Vedanta, is a great blessing to the world.

Do I Need to Shed Ignorance?

If I am the Self, do I need to shed ignorance?

I came across a definition of the “direct path” in a popular book. It says, “In [the direct path], your nature as nondual awareness is emphasized at the very start. There is no ignorance to shed…” This is a common claim of non-dual teachings, about there being no ignorance to shed. And from the standpoint of the Self, it’s true that there is no ignorance to shed.

But Vedanta assumes that you are not usually “standing” as the Self, and that’s why you are looking into a teaching in the first place. As with the direct path, Vedanta also emphasizes your nature as non-dual awareness from the very start, but Vedanta also assumes that if you are seeking liberation, you are standing mostly as the separate entity you imagine yourself to be. And from the stance of that separate entity, there
is ignorance to be shed. That is where the ignorance lives – in the “stance” of the imagined separate self.

What’s missing in the direct path, direct pointing, and other non-dual teachings is a discussion of the structure of this imagined separate self, and the ignorance that accompanies him wherever he goes. This discussion, missing in other teachings, is the heart of Vedanta, and is the means to liberation.

In Vedanta, it is established pretty quickly that you are the Self. It doesn’t take much doing to show you that in a convincing way. This is pretty much where most non-dual teachings stop. And so what you are getting in most teachings are the same pearls of wisdom, over and over: You are the Self, pure awareness; stand as that, rest as that; you are that which is being pointed to; the person is not real, your suffering is not real, the world is not real; if you take those things to be real, reclaim your stand as pure awareness. And then you might also get long flowery descriptions of what it is like to be firm in the knowledge of the Self.

I feel like I’m wasting space with this list, because you are probably sickeningly familiar with it already. I just want to reiterate that this is what the non-dual teachings consist of, and I can put it in one paragraph. If it hasn’t freed you by now, it probably needs some elaborating on. That’s where Vedanta comes in.

Where other teachings give you “Nothing is,” Vedanta gives you “While nothing is appearing as something,
this is what it is.” Much more helpful, don’t you think? How can you possibly be free, if you are not knowledgeable about the appearance? In order to be free of the appearance, you have to know every trick it uses to perpetuate itself. If you don’t, you will be constantly taking the unreal to be real, and the unreal will keep sneaking up from behind and giving you a rude surprise.

We know there is the Self, which is real; and we know there is the appearance of “everything else,” which is only apparently real, and nonetheless causes all of our problems. In truth there is only the Self, which allows some teachings to disavow the whole “everything else” business. We know there is no “everything else” in reality; this is a non-dual reality and so these other “things” cannot be. And yet, here they are, causing me problems!*

Should I ignore the “everything else” that appears, and just take my stand as awareness again? Or should I ask, intelligently, “What is this everything else? What is it made of? How does it arise? How does it seem to have power over me? How can it be unreal and still make me suffer? How can I free myself from belief in it?”

The critics of a complete teaching that addresses all these questions say that this appeals to the intellect and so perpetuates the belief in the separate person. Is this a valid criticism? It’s correct that we don’t want to perpetuate the belief in a separate person. But you are unconsciously doing that all the time. Unless you give it voice, give the imaginary separate person some power, a methodology, and some tools to crush the conditioning, the conditioning will continue.

The Self doesn’t do this; the person does. The Self is already free and unconditioned, and has no ignorance. But the person is not free, and the person is the one who needs the tools. So yes, the person is perpetuated. It has to be, for as long as it takes to gain the knowledge capable of bringing about its own collapse.

And does it – will it – bring about its own collapse? Or is it too egotistical to ever do that? The person wants desperately to maintain its own existence, no question about it. In fact, that’s really
all the ego/person wants to do, is continue existing. So how does that work? How does the ego finally let go?

Just the same way everything else gets let go. It resolves into you – awareness, the Self. It arises in you, and it resolves in you, and it never enjoyed an independent existence of its own. The ego/person, through the “magic” of Vedanta, is seen as just another object appearing in me, awareness. It is harmless when seen this way, and has no power. And just like everything else in the appearance, the seeming reality of it just weakens and fades away, in the awesome light of the Self. It’s not a big deal.

But this is why it is important to acquire a set of tools to employ over and over again, whenever anything unreal threatens to disturb the peace of the Self, to determine what is real and what is not. The ignorance cannot survive this kind of scrutiny.

The Self is free already, and that is already your experience. Your experience is that of pure awareness 24/7.** But your beliefs, your ignorance, tell you otherwise. The reality is you, pure awareness, with apparent objects (a body, a mind, sensory events, thoughts about the events, memories, etc.) arising in you, but not affecting you. The experience is really of pure you, pure Self. You are already living the enlightened life! But your beliefs tell you otherwise. Your beliefs tell you that the experience is of a separate person in a world of objects. So your beliefs are the problem, and this is what ignorance is.

So let’s go back to the beginning, when I asked, “Do I need to shed ignorance?”

The Self does not need to shed ignorance. And I’m not faulting the author of the book for stating the obvious. The problem with this kind of statement from highly-regarded non-dual teachers is that it discourages you from seeking access to tools that will help you, that will give you the means to come to the realization yourself that you are totally free and unbound, and that this is actually already your experience.

This is where the tools of Vedanta come in handy. Vedanta has more than a dozen tools which teach you how to discriminate the Self from the “not-self” – yourself as awareness from the apparently real. Until you can tell the two apart, you will be forever taking the “not-self” to be the Self. (“Not-self” is in quotes because it is not really “not the Self.” It is Self, appearing as “not-self.”)

Chapter 12 of
James Swartz’s book How to Attain Enlightenment gives you a really brief rundown of some of these tools I’m talking about. In the complete sets of audio and video talks available on James’ website, these tools are much more fully developed. I talk about a couple of the tools here and here.

Unlike popular non-dual teachings, these tools take a lot more than a paragraph to lay out. But once you know what they are, you keep them in your toolbox, and every time ignorance rears its head, you have something to clobber it with. Once the ignorance is gone, the tools and the toolbox can be discarded, and you live free of everything appearing. Try it! What have you got to lose?

* By way of explanation of how these “things” can be but not really be, Ramana says: “The Vedantins do not say the world is unreal. …[They say] the world is unreal as world, but is real as Self.”

** Greg Goode’s wonderful book
The Direct Path comprises forty experiments to perform which will prove to you that you are already experiencing only pure awareness. Highly recommended.

Audio Downloads

James Teaching
Some wonderful complete audio series are available for free download on James’ website, including my favorite, Vivekachudamani (Crest Jewel of Discrimination), recorded in India at the end of 2011.

I can’t speak highly enough of James’ recorded teachings. They are so thorough, just one listen might clear up all the doubts and questions.
Here is where you can find these series, and please do make a donation.

From the Shining World website: “[This series] presents the fundamental discrimination required to remove the confusion between the Self, limitless awareness, and the reflected ‘self’ - the world and the individual. The topics are: the nature and origin of bondage, how it is maintained; how liberation happens; the nature of the apparent self, the nature of the Self, and how to discriminate between the apparent self and the Self; the benefits of obtaining a non-dual vision; karma for a liberated person; and what happens after enlightenment.”

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