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Always Awakening: The Continuing Playful Exploration of Self-Inquiry & Life

Awakening for the Rest of us

 The spiritual path before awakening is often about trying to become something you are not. After awakening, the path does not add to what one is, but rather increases the capacity to see through what distracts you from what you already are. That was true even before awakening, but after awakening you know it in a way you never imagined before. Ultimately the very concept of awakening is transcended.

Non-Duality is here to stay

All around us today there doesn't seem to be anywhere you can go without bumping into someone who has awakened to Unconditioned Awareness. Whether you call it The Self, Buddha Nature, The Conscious Principal, Consciousness itself, The nature of Mind, Naked Awareness, Witness Consciousness, Bare Attention, Clarity, or the Basic State, people are awakening to it and as it all over the place.

Google the word "awakening" and take a look. Gangaji, Adyashanti and Mooji are just the tip of the Ice burg. Eckhart Tolle has rocked the world with Oprah. Jim Carey is on Youtube claiming his awakening (and very credibly I might add). This isn't a secret anymore, it's entering (gasp) the mainstream.

Practice can't awaken you, but it can be an obstacle

Folks are taking the direct route. The direct route is to explore your own interior experience and isolate the dimension of Self which is simply aware of everything and entirely unchanging. This is called self-inquiry or pointing out instructions. It is not the gradual approach of working your way to enlightenment.

Doing hatha yoga, pranayama, prayer, mantra, japa, kirtan, puja, kundalini yoga, prostrations, sitting meditation, samatha, vipassana, visualization and every other practice are fine, but practice in itself can distract you from the direct experience of the Self. Effort that requires you to create a goal for something that doesn't exist now furthers the duality and separation that it seeks to solve.

If any of these practices brought you to the point where you are ready to directly examine awareness now, then they have done their job, and there is no need to continue with them. The same goes for the practice of self-inquiry once you have found that you are unfindable consciousness. When you awaken, it's time to forget self-inquiry as a technique to get you something and leave it behind too, because it can't add a thing to who you are. There is nothing to do except to keep vigilant. Simply abide as Consciousness, nothing else. And that's the rub.

The Fine Print about Awakening

You see, there is a bit of fine print in the contract of awakening as Consciousness. It's not that anyone has been hiding it, or has been secretive about it. It's throughout the Buddhist sutras, it's there in the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita. It's clearly stated in Ashtavakra, Avadhuta and Ribhu Gitas. And lest anyone suspect that these institutional scriptures are all too attached to some gradual notion of indirect paths, it was also clearly stated by Sri Ramana Maharshi and HWL Poonja (Papaji).

What is this open secret? Just this: Hope and fear must not be followed. Grasping and aversion must not distract you. The sanskrit word for this is "vasana". Vasanas are the habitual tendencies that govern our attention. You can't ride two horses at once, if you are following the desire for anything at all you are then (by definition) not abiding as Consciousness. That's it. Pretty simple and obvious isn't it? And pretty huge.

It's for this reason that when folks are lucky enough to have a great non-dual teacher and they wake-up (and I'm assuming a genuine awakening here) they are still not in the same place (realization wise) as Buddha or Sri Ramana Maharshi. Well, not exactly anyway. Of course Buddha-nature is Buddha nature, and we are all Buddhas when we are abiding as that basic state, but is your lack of following desire total?

One phrase that comes to mind about this is "A chosen few in any generation". Another one is "They can be counted on the fingers of one hand". That sounds just about right to me.

Awakened but not Ramana

Now I realize that there are plenty of folks out there who insist that if you are not one of those few great souls who have no vasanas, no hopes or fears, no governing sentimentalities or preferences then you simply are not awakened at all. While I can appreciate the integrity of someone holding that view, I really can't agree with that. I personally don't define things that way. There certainly can be an awakening with the seeds of desire uncooked, and awakened folks can become distracted. This seems to be the main difference between an awakening and a Supreme Enlightenment such as Sahaja Stithi or Samyak Sambodhi, in which very very few are present in any given time on earth. That's my sense.

To be clear: awakening to Consciousness itself is a recognition that is not a passing experience, it's a direct and continuous knowing. It is not simply an intellectual understanding. It has effects in how you experience yourself that are lasting in relation to identity. There is a clear seeing that thought and feeling are temporary constructs arising in consciousness which is YOU, you may identify with thoughts and feelings, but they are an appearance in you, and you can (so to speak) come around to that again and again even after awakening.

I can remember back in 1996 basically confessing to Papaji that my own awakening as consciousness seemed to last for periods and then fade, much like a drug experience. At that point I was Krishna having experiences of being Consciousness and those experiences came and went.

Later, something flipped and it was bloody obvious that I was Consciousness having experiences of being Krishna and those experiences of being Krishna came and went. That shift in perspective was fundamentally different. The fact that desires and identification with thoughts could happen doesn't preclude it from being called an awakening.

While this seeing is a profound shift and rightly called awakening, it still isn't the same as being free of following desire to the point that attention simply and always rests as unconditioned awareness. If the effort to rest as consciousness isn't second nature, then there's still desire tugging.

Now here's the tricky part: whenever you abide as THAT, there is in that moment, no "you". So in that moment you know you are done and there is nothing else to do and no one to do it. The very idea that there is anyone who could even be enlightened is not present. Yet the capacity to abide as That and be vigilant must be present, and the seeds of desire must roast until gone, otherwise the sense of the separate "I" returns in identification. So as long as you abide, there really is nothing to do because desire is inactive, but if you stir desire before the seeds are totally burnt, desire will pull you into itself. And this is what happens to all but a few... so it needs an effort of vigilance.

The truth is that if you desire anything but freedom then vigilance is as much an austerity, a tapas, a discipline, a yoga, an effort and a practice as anything else, whatever you choose to call it. But it's not a practice to find anything that you haven't already found, so in that sense there's no seeking in vigilance or abiding. And in fact the relaxation and bliss of the Self is a powerful attractive magnet that is a natural pleasure. So there's no effort in resting as awareness, yet the pull to leave that rest is strong for all but a few because of pending desires. So there is effort in vigilance, unless your ONLY desire is for freedom itself, then it is effortless. Denial will not help us here, honesty with ourselves is of paramount importance because simply wishing that we only desire freedom won't work, nor can this be done as an act of will.

Effort or No-Effort?

Papaji himself did Hercules-like practice, probably doing millions of japa recitations earlier in his life. However, when he was teaching he emphasized that abiding as that Consciousness, there is nothing to do, no practice and no effort.

Ramana Maharshi awoke without any practice, early in his life he did spontaneous self inquiry one time and that was it. Yet when he was teaching he emphasized effort (especially self-inquiry) until vasanas were totally burnt and the limited I-self (ego) was dissolved completely in the Heart.

Simply abiding as this Consciousness in this moment distracted by no thoughts (or desire) is all that is needed. This abiding in itself is the means to burning the seeds of desire that might distract one from this very Consciousness. So the goal is the path or the path is the goal. In other words, just abiding as Consciousness burns the seeds of desire and when the seeds are burned you naturally abide as Consciousness. This is the core of it. And for some folks it is enough. In principle, ideally, it is enough for all of us.

But in practice it often seems that it may only be sufficient for those with desires that are not tightly held, otherwise it's asking for more than is likely. It needs the capacity to simply rest as unmoving awareness continuously until every desire is burnt. There are simply not many people in that position, with that level of capacity.

Many folks have become convoluted in denying their real situation. They are awake, they know their buddha nature, they help people, but of course they are not always abiding as That, because there is still some attachment to their preferences or desires. Without getting into guru gossip, we can simply look at ourselves (if we are awakened) to realize that one can be awake without being fully free of suffering, because the potential to follow desires is still there, waiting.

It's not like it used to be

Times have changed. In the past (and even today ) the most common assumption was that unless you can abide as Consciousness itself, then doing any Self-inquiry, or receiving any pointing-out instructions was premature. Without having done a lot of work with desires and vasanas, it was considered too soon to even look there. First you should do ethics, then you proceed to concentration practice, then merge with the concentration object, and so on. Only after years of practice will you have a fit instrument with which to do self-inquiry... The highest teachings were reserved for those who were prepared and did the preliminaries. That approach is the safest and is absolutely valid, but today many people are generally impatient. Many are not willing to go through the whole process without knowing if it's worth it.

For better or worse, for the last 70 years or so there have been teachers willing to do what is expedient and expose those of us who are less that perfect yogis to these teachings right away. There have always been teachers who have done this, but they were certainly fewer than they are today.

The Great Way is not difficult for those who have no preferences,
but what about the rest of us?

For most of us the paradox of needing to be free enough from desire to rest as awareness in order to cook the seeds of desire demands another look. It needs another way to deal with desire and effort, a tantric one.

So I'm going to contradict myself here. Just resting as Awareness is great when it's happening, but for most of us, even those who are awakened as Consciousness , there is still desire. And yes, resting as awareness even for short moments over time does become more and more continuous, but for most of us, desire is still waiting in the wings and not necessarily being dealt with at all. Therefore effort of a sort is still important.

I'd like to suggest that when we are pulled into a sense of limitation that is motivated by desire we cannot help but find that we must make efforts, it's not even a choice really. As long as we have vasanas we will not be able to rest as awareness without effort. So you will find yourself having to make efforts when re-identification with a small notion of yourself happens. These efforts are not a return to a hyper-masculine superimposing of a seeking-based formula of practice. You're not using a mental strategy to fix yourself. It's not a new program to follow. Proceeding from an assumption that there is anything wrong with us that needs to be fixed is exactly what not to do. That kind of return to seeking is a form of suffering itself and is not what I'm referring to here.

This kind of effort is not based in seeking; it is simply a clarifying of our relationship to desire so that it becomes obvious. We are embracing our life as it unfolds and feeling the effects of our actions. We are quite naturally unraveling patterns of grasping and avoidance that occupy attention. We are doing this in a way that is not based on an assumption that anything (including our vasanas or desires) is really an obstacle or problem. Even vasanas do not prove that we are not awakened. Energy and attention is becoming freed from patterns by acknowledging and embracing what appears, even or especially in duality. In other words we consciously embrace desire even as we do self-inquiry.

Yes, that's right, I'm suggesting we go the other direction and consciously identify with our bodies, feelings and thoughts. By both consciously identifying through merging attention with our limited selves (illusions and all) AND consciously dis-identifying with our limited selves through continuous discriminative awareness (forms of self inquiry) we work both ends of the paradox.

Tantra: Embracing Desire

There are two (or maybe three) aspects to unraveling desire and enhancing our capacity to simply rest that I'd like to explore here.

The ideal for all yogis is to be one pointed in their search for the real. To be sure that is the one desire that must be fanned, as Papaji once said "pour benzine on it". But what of those of us who are not "ideal yogis". Now that so many of us "unqualified folks" have discovered our nature as consciousness and have awakened, we are neither exactly asleep nor exactly Ramana. So what to do?

Something that the Non-dual Master Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj once said (in "I Am That", Chapter 26) sums up my sense of it...

Maharaj: "Weak desire can be removed by introspection and meditation, but strong, deep-rooted ones must be fulfilled and their fruits, sweet or bitter, tasted."

Seems to me that a both/and path is probably the most useful approach to desire that we awakened non-monk folks can have. This is a typically tantric approach.

Introspection/meditation while fulfilling desire and tasting it's fruits
(both sweet and bitter)

So the question is, what is "weak desire", and what is "strong deep-rooted desire"? My own sense is that this is not something static. In particular, strong desires can become weak desires over time, if they are being fulfilled and we are bringing discrimination to our lives.

What I mean is that if we bring enough attention to how we actually feel in the midst of fulfilling our desires we spend more time fulfilling the deepest ones and wasting less time pursuing desires that no longer seem worth it.

Introspection-meditation increases discrimination and fulfilling desires frees up energy and attention that was caught up in fighting with ourselves, denial is expensive.

So how do you tell the difference between your current "weak desires" and strong ones right now? Not with your mind , that's for sure. The mind often functions as a form of denial. The mind doesn't get to decide for you how to rank your desires. The way to find out what is strongly held is to "let go" and then notice what's sticking around after that. Let go of whatever you can... let go of everything... and then notice what is holding on to you. This takes a real honesty. Whatever is still there are your strongest desires and what is left should be wholeheartedly embraced and lived.

By living our lives and embracing our desires we learn from the outcomes, and desire naturally lessens, if we pay attention. This happens through both enjoying the fruits of desire and noticing that they don't actually last. We naturally become more content with what is, but this cannot be prematurely cut-off or we fool ourselves.

All the reading and wishful thinking in the world doesn't prove what desire can and can't give you the way that experience does. Leaning into desire with discrimination frees energy and attention. My own sense is that this happens in a way that serves awakening and decreases suffering at a decent pace when you do introspection/meditation along side of it.

The reason for this is because there needs to be a level of discriminating awareness when fulfilling desires in order for us to have enough perspective to see when something is and isn't serving us. Introspection meditation continues to clarify who we are, leaning into desires frees them from distracting us.

Tantra: Embracing Discriminating Awareness

It's important that you don't do this form of self-inquiry as a practice to get somewhere, or accomplishing something in particular. It can be simply an exploration without a clear goal. It can clear up misconceptions without you even knowing particularly what they are. Self inquiry can be like dental flossing. It can loosen and remove stuff you had no idea you were carrying around. In order to do it this way it needs a kind of playful curiosity. By noticing the way that you presently identify yourself and exploring what it is like to identify differently, you allow yourself to experience yourself as different aspects of the spectrum of being.

There are forms of inquiry that explore who we are in any number of other ways. Basically I'm speaking of examining the nature of identity and what you think you are.

For instance, the self-inquiry of " who am I?" leads naturally to the foundational realization of non-identification with what arises (neti-neti). Through this non-identification attention (by default) effortlessly merges with unfindable intrinsic Consciousness itself. In that moment there is a "dropping the mind" and no use of thought. That is of course the ultimate use of self-inquiry. Dropping into Consciousness itself is the outcome of this form of self-inquiry most often spoken of by Ramana Maharshi, and it is a key way for many people to dis-identify with the body , emotions and mind.

I'd also like to suggest that introspection can be applied in other ways that are useful for identifying differently. We are unconsciously identified with certain limited aspect of being, what happens when we playfully experiment with consciously doing this in small doses? A loosening of the whole structure. For those of us with vasanas, this is useful.

For instance, I would suggest using the three following explorations when you have time in the future, do them with as much care as you do "who am I?":

1) Very consciously locate the feeling-sensations of "the body". Consciously allow attention to merge with those feelings and become them, consciously identify as completely as possible. As the feeling-sensation of being the body, where exactly does your sense of yourself begin and end? Of course the sensations will change, so doing this at different times will uncover a different direct experience.

2) Very consciously locate the feeling-sensations of "your emotion of this moment". Consciously allow attention to merge with those feelings and become them, consciously identify as completely as possible. As this emotion, where exactly does your sense of yourself begin and end? Of course emotions will change, so doing this at different times will uncover a different direct experience.

3) Very consciously locate the feeling-presence of "the passing thought of this moment". This can be tricky and it may take some time watching thoughts before you get a sense of the "weight" or presence a thought. Consciously allow attention to merge with the presence of any thought and enter it becoming the presence of the thought, consciously identify with and try to "hold" the thought as long as you can. Of course the thoughts and their presence will change, so doing this at different times will uncover a different direct experience.

By doing doing this kind of exploration (as well as "who am I?") on a regular basis our sense of being simply confined to one limited aspect of ourselves continues to be undermined and loosened. So many of our hopes and fears that are based in a permanent limited sense of ourselves become undermined the more we do this. By consciously identifying and consciously dis-identifying, discrimination increases and we are not attached to any particular point of view, even a dis-identified one.

Spiritual or Worldly?

By doing self-inquiry and consciously fulfilling desires we can find that resting as awareness becomes more and more natural and easy to maintain.

I would like to suggest that these are two pieces of one life. We do introspection and embrace desire even as we begin to recognize that we've already always been resting as awareness. You recognize that the body and even desires are never in the way. You recognize that the body and desires (the little "I") are the local manifestation of intrinsic Awareness and are not separate or different from it.

More from Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj:

Q: Why then should we pay tribute to spiritual people and speak slightingly of worldly people? All are spiritual people, in a way.

Maharaj: On the human scale of values deliberate effort is considered praiseworthy. In reality both the spiritual people and worldly people follow their own nature, according to circumstances and opportunities. The spiritual person's life is governed by a single desire - to find the Truth; the worldly person serves many masters. But the worldly person becomes a spiritual person and the spiritual person may get a rounding up in a bout of worldliness. The final result is the same. (chapter 26 "I Am That" alternate translation)

From my perspective those of us who are awake (but not done) are both spiritual people and worldly people at the same time and should embrace the fact. So both paths, that of inspection/mediation and fulfilling of desires is our actual path.


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