Some Questions about Abiding, and about Liberation (Moksha)


Q: On your website, you use a quote from James Swartz: “For moksha, all you need is to understand the truth of one teaching. And there's nothing more to it than identifying the ‘I’ with consciousness rather than with the body and mind.” Is the below explanation correct as “identifying the ‘I’ with consciousness,” or am I off-track?

Mindfulness seems to be the key for me: for example, the sensation of the computer keyboard, a sound from the other room, the thought of “how do I ask this,” and the feeling that “I might be off-track.”

As each of these appearances (sensation, sound, thought, feeling) arise in the moment, I understand that they are what-changes and are therefore, not-me. There is also my conscious awareness, or knowing of the appearance which is what-never-changes and is-me.

The awareness feels like a blank slate in which an appearance arises, there is the knowing of it, and then suddenly another appearance in (made of) the same knowing.

A: This is right on!

Q: My confusion is with a quote of yours where you stated that you realized that you didn't have to “stay” in awareness.

It seems to me that if “I” am not consciously abiding in awareness (aka, being mindful?), then I'm just lost in the appearances and ignoring (ignorant in the moment of) my true nature as consciousness.

I understand that, that which I am, awareness, is always present, but I feel that I must “take a stand” as awareness, to quote Rupert Spira.

So to perhaps narrow my question: doesn't the word “identifying” in the above quote amount to moment-by-moment abiding, or taking a stand as awareness: “being” conscious?

A: Excellent analysis. What I said about not having to “stay” in awareness is true. It's me. I don't have to stay in or abide in or return to me. Just like as the apparent person named Brad, you don't have to be reminding yourself all day long that you are Brad. This awareness that I am is always present, as clear as can be, and so the mind doesn't have to go anywhere to find it.

But this being said, there is the habit of thinking of “I” as the apparent one who needs to abide in awareness. This persists because it is really subtle. The person thinks, “Well if I'm not abiding in awareness, then I am still this person.” But you never were the person. So it can get to be a bit of a circular effort.

But there is a way, as I’ll get into. Your question about the word “identification” is right on. Identification is a passing thing, just like an abiding for a moment, or “taking a stand as” – all of these things are really just a thought that comes and then passes. And I remain, untouched!

So it's not important if “identification” is going on or not. Just like James says
in the video that ignorance is an object, and it doesn't change me regardless of whether it is present or not. The same is true for identification – it is an object, and it doesn't matter if it is present of not. Abiding, taking a stand as – same thing. All are just objects, passing thought forms, you might say, and I remain right here, unchanged.

But of course the apparent person feels limited, and so it's important to address the person and give it the tools to break the habit of limiting belief. Saying “take a stand as awareness” is something you can tell people to “do,” so that's a tool, but it's frustrating because nothing you can do in the appearance ever gets you to the realization of who you are (a limited action cannot produce an unlimited result). I don't feel that “stand as awareness” ever helped me – the thing that helped was seeing everything as just an object appearing in me, leaving me here untouched.

The tools are great for bringing clarity to the mind, to the person, so that the vision of who you really are can be seen. So it's good to keep that up, keep up the discriminating for as long as it takes. The vision in the mind of who you really are dawns eventually. But then, to whom did it dawn? And did it make any difference, did it change anything? No it didn't. This is what you were all along.

You alone are real. So the search and the abiding, etc. appear, and immediately resolve back into the non-dual reality of just you, being. So yeah, looking at it from the person, you could say that your identification of “I” shifted from the person to awareness. But from awareness' point that makes no sense.

Doing this work is kind of like pushing a stick along the ground, first the right side gets too far ahead, so you push the left side a little, then the right, then the left. You're always working both the “me” and “not-me” sides of the stick until it all falls into place. Sounds like you are really on the right track and doing great.

Q: What is a day like in the absence of ignorance? From awareness’ viewpoint, I understand that nothing changed. There must be some apparent difference from the viewpoint of thought and feeling. Did the apparent self fall away to a degree?

A: Can I use the Sanskrit term “jiva” since you have been exposed to James’ Vedanta teaching? It basically can be used interchangeably with “person.” So there is still an experiencing jiva here. The difference from before is that the pressure is off of it. There is always this constant pressure in the experience of the jiva, based on constantly arising thoughts of one thing being good and another thing being bad. We are constantly pushing away some things and trying to pull in others. The extent of it is really mind-boggling once you see it. It’s all-pervasive in the jiva life, even when it is extremely subtle. Only when the jiva is in a really in a clear state of mind (which passes) does that duality subside a bit and give us some peace. But normally, there is a pressure to “get it right” all the time, and it’s exhausting, both mentally and physically. The reason this is happening is that the jiva is operating on the false belief that it is the conscious one – the one who is “me,” the one with the life, the aliveness. The knowledge corrects that, and reveals that the “me” is not the jiva at all, but is this already free livingness, beyond the dualities that I talked about above. So the pressure comes off the jiva – fears vanish when they are seen for what they are, and needs and preferences quiet down to nothing. There is an attitude that anything can happen and it’s okay – in Byron Katie’s language, that I know it’s the right thing since that’s what’s here.

Q: Are you now ever “lost” in thought or activity, and then “return to” consciousness? Or does that type of questioning arise from my own position of ignorance?

A: It’s great to be absorbed in Maya (the world). There is nothing wrong with being lost in thought and activity unless there is suffering happening – then it tends to not be so much fun. So even for one with the knowledge, absorption in the world happens. But the cord has been cut to the idea that I am the one enjoying and suffering.

I think the reason it doesn’t feel like a “being lost” followed by a “returning to” is that the thoughts that come up constantly, without ceasing, kind of evaporate on the spot. Thoughts are seen for what they are – a mind doing its job, which is to crank out duality – instead of being seen as indicators of reality and tellers of what my life is. We’re very habituated to thinking that way, but it’s a habit that can be broken.

Even for one with the knowledge, the mind continues to crank out duality! Check out a couple of
YouTubes by Christian Leeby (James’ student/endorsed teacher) – he has two long ones from Trout Lake 2016. He really nails the role of the mind. He helped me develop the ability to recognize and address thoughts as they arise. I had no idea how many there were!

Also, we have to trust that there is something here, when the world is no longer what we associate ourselves with. At first we have no idea what this is, but little by little we discover it in our meditations and epiphanies and inquiry. It’s like that pushing both sides of the stick I mentioned before. We work on establishing that understanding of the Self, at the same time as we are dismantling our identification with the jiva.

Q: I understand your point that abiding, standing-as, and identification are all thought-forms in the moment. Yet, without some “effort” to overcome the conditioned mind (aka, the apparent self), no matter how non-existent, I find myself lost in thought or activity without the peace/freedom/love experience of conscious-awareness.

A: The effort is all for the purpose of finding out that you are not the jiva, and that you are actually awareness. Efforting to “abide in” awareness – well, let’s just say it’s not the most efficient way to do what you’re trying to do. Because in spite of the effort and the “taking a stand,” there is still this entrenched belief. I don’t believe the “constant returning to” helped me. I tried it a lot. But I didn’t believe it, so it was not really fruitful. I’ll talk more about what was fruitful for me instead, down below.

Q: Some paradigm shift seems necessary, at least to this apparent self (the searcher).

A: Yes.

Q: Yet, I understand that there is no time and no search, except as a thought in the moment. I do experience the timelessness and absence of search in practicing mindfulness or meditation. It feels like just…being.

A: That’s great. Keep doing that.

Q: I completely understand that I am conscious-awareness and that life is just happening (to no one); but that is not yet my experience throughout the day.

A: Yes, because there are still opposites arising in your experience, pulling you this way and that way. It’s an experience of, well, for me it felt like pressure. I wanted to feel free so badly, instead of that pressure. So yes, the pressure stops when it’s known that those opposites are totally free to appear in me. Everything is totally welcome to appear in me. It’s fine – I’m not changed by anything appearing. Even my mood, be it good or bad, no matter! That was a huge one for me, when I realized that a bad/depressed mood could appear and it was just fine, it doesn’t change me.

Q: You stated, “action can't reveal your true nature. Only knowledge can.” So is the understanding/knowledge enough? Should I not expect to “live it” in every moment?

A: You can expect to “live it” every moment. It’s not intellectual. The knowledge dawns in the intellect, but the knowledge includes the fact that the intellect is an object appearing in me! So when everything is seen as just an object appearing in me, including this knowledge, what remains? I do! Free and clear! That becomes the lived experience of the jiva, because the jiva’s mind no longer harbors the distorting ignorance. (The jiva might need some extra help with breaking mental habits – check out Leeby for that).

Q: As you stated, there is definitely a habit of thinking that I have to abide as awareness throughout the day. Multiple times throughout the day, I realize my lack of presence (to use Eckhart Tolle’s term), and I am returned to conscious-awareness. I see these as mini-awakenings throughout the day.

A: Well, the funny thing is, aren’t you always present? You can’t not be present. James takes issue with Eckhart’s “now” teaching, since there isn’t anything but now, there isn’t anything but presence. So when you say “lack of presence,” how is that known? Isn’t your lack of presence simply known by you, awareness? You have to be here, aware, in order for lack of presence to be known at all.

But this is good that you keep coming back throughout the day, to your knowing “I am awareness.” I don’t want to discourage you from doing that. Leeby says to keep that thought going constantly! (I don’t do that, but I can see how it’s useful.)

Q: When I am able to abide as awareness at various times throughout the day (using the limited action/tool of mindfulness), conscious-awareness appears to be my experience. I experience it as an openness that is untouched and unchanged by appearances, as you describe. That makes me feel that I'm on the right track as you stated.

A: Yes, you are.

Q: However, using this practice, I concede that I may be using thought and turning awareness into an object. I have read that any such practice can be taking one farther away, by reinforcing the non-existent self as the ego-witness.

A: I wouldn’t worry about any inquiry you do that seems to be of interest to you. Sometimes we have to explore dead ends. All of your inquiry is eventually leading you to yourself. Any “going away” will be painful to you eventually and you’ll correct it. Yes, we do tend to objectify awareness. But since it’s not an object, the truth will be borne out by your inquiry.

Q: You stated, “This awareness that I am is always present, as clear as can be, and so the mind doesn't have to go anywhere to find it.” This is definitely not my experience. Do you “experience” awareness as always present or do you just rest in the knowledge that it is always present?

A: I think this actually IS your experience. I’m not saying that your experience is that you are not the jiva, but I am saying that you simply can’t escape from awareness – it’s always here. You’re aware now. Can you get rid of awareness right now? No matter what thought you think, even the most suffering or limiting thought possible, you are aware of that thought. Even if you think “I don’t see awareness here, it’s not here,” aren’t you aware of that thought? That thought can only be known because of awareness being present. So you understand “this awareness is always present,” right? The part that is not so clear is “this awareness I AM” – that’s the part that is not your experience.

And it never really does become your experience, because you are not an experiencer. Experience is just an object that appears in the mind. This is part and parcel of the experience vs. knowledge issue that James always addresses first thing. Experience belongs to jiva, not to me. And jiva does not experience “I am awareness,” because jiva experiences only duality.

So this whole idea of the need for a certain kind of day-to-day experience fizzles. It is replaced by the knowledge that any experience can appear in me, and I remain untouched. This is impossible to experience, since awareness is beyond all perception. It’s impossible to see or to perceive what I am. And yet, I am that! This that I am living, this is it, this is me.

So the knowledge refers to knowing which one I am. That’s all. That knowledge takes place in the mind, because the mind is the only unfree thing in this whole equation. The non-dual vision is revealed in the mind, and then the inherent freedom of being is known. From that point, it’s just assimilation, breaking mind habits, and taking time for things to settle in. And then, the experience of the jiva is one of freedom. But still, there is never an experience of awareness (as an object), of myself as awareness, or any of that.

The closest thing to that would be in an epiphany – there seems to be a direct experience of some kind. But of course those always pass. The goal is not to be in that “epiphany” place permanently. All experience passes, but knowledge changes it all once and for all.

Q: Is the clearness coming from the objects that are made of awareness – the “life just happening” part? In mindfulness, I do not experience awareness as bright or clear. In fact, I thought I was correct in the vagueness-experience of it: since it is ‘my-Self’ and I cannot look at myself (the subject) as I would with the clarity of an (apparent) object.

A: Oh, this is great! Because you’ve just proven for yourself the clarity of awareness! You look at an object, and it is perfectly clear – amazing. I love to use the example of hitting yourself on the thumb with a hammer. The sensation/object could not be more clear! Right? As is the case with all objects. But where is this clarity coming from? What is this clarity with which you see an object? This clarity is awareness alone! The clarity with which objects are perceived is none other than you.

Q: You stated, “the only thing that helped was seeing everything as just an object appearing in me, leaving me here untouched.” I completely grasp that as knowledge, but again, it is not my uninterrupted experience. By “seeing,” do you mean that was a “practice” throughout the day for you, or just your understanding in general?

A: By seeing, I mean understanding, over a long period of time of questioning each thing as it arose, each object that appeared, putting each thought or object though the scrutiny of “how does this object appear? It appears because of me, awareness.” I have a friend who uses Byron Katie’s “Is it true? Who am I without the thought?” Same thing.

So yes, maybe a practice, but it comes up spontaneously at some point. James talks about a 24/7/365 period of time when you don’t let one single thing go by without questioning it – “I am hungry. Am I hungry, or is the body just having some sensations?” It is very revealing and gets to the bottom of things, but my mind was constantly pulled back to the belief that I was the jiva, so I wasn’t very good at it. Eventually this kind of 24/7 questioning did occur, in its own time, and it uprooted the final beliefs. It’s good as a practice to do that as much as possible, when you think of it!

What worked for me was reading
James Swartz's book "How to Attain Enlightenment," listening to many of his complete series on audio, over and over, and having someone to ask questions to along the way.

Please email me if you are interested in the audios but are not sure where to start. Or with any other question you may have. I won't post your email without consent.

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