Self-Realization Is a Shift in Identity

INQUIRER:

I have an intellectual interest in Advaita Vedanta, with a view to finding some level of contentment with life.

I know you’ll say only self-realisation will provide complete freedom — but perhaps you’ll agree that even an intellectual understanding still provides some measure of contentment, simply due to having a satisfactory explanation of reality.

At this stage, I’m still looking into this tradition alongside other traditions, especially Kashmir Shaivism. I’m looking for the system which seems to resonate with me the most, and see where it may lead me.

What I’m definitely NOT interested in is the current wave of ‘neo-advaita’ which I’ve found to be half-baked, contradictory and confusing. The only benefit of it being that it highlights how important it is to find an established tradition and stick to it.

The neo-advaita movement seems to mix together terminology from all eastern (and sometimes western) traditions resulting in a recipe for confusion.

Now onto the inquiry. Comment on it…

POINT 1:

I've read that Self-Realization is a subtle shift of identity, AWAY from the apparent person, TO Awareness.

Book (by James Swartz) said that after the subtle shift of identity, “…the mind/body mechanisms continue to function as they did before the shift, only now one is no longer identified as them. They seem to belong to someone else. It is like watching yourself in a dream”.

It’s the phrase “they seem to belong to someone else” that clarification is required.

Obviously, from Awareness’s point of view (not that Awareness has a point of view) — the mind/body can’t actually “belong to somebody else” — as nature of Reality is Existence-Awareness (which is attribute-less), and that very reality is not different from myself.

I think the book is saying that the “somebody else” is the apparent identity/person, which I previously identified as.

And after the shift, there is the firm understanding that while the apparent identity is me, I am not it.

I know that this understanding can be difficult to describe which is why author is using analogies here.

Obviously, the mind/body doesn’t really belong to someone else — and the actual “experience” of self-realization (moksha) is not really the same as watching myself in a dream.

But they are all good analogies for conveying that the apparent person I appear to be (jiva) — is merely a fleeting expression of Existence-Awareness.

POINT 2:

One related pitfall I think I’ve managed to avoid is the fallacy of “getting behind yourself”.

This is an erroneous idea that many people on this (Vedanta) path come to hold. They basically IMAGINE themselves as some GHOSTLY presence “behind” all experience, somehow separate from it and watching, and not affected by it. This is basically living in a personal bubble (pratibhasika).

The analogy of a cinema projector is often linked to this erroneous idea, where Self is projector, standing behind the projected world.

I can see how this idea my arise, particularly if the teachings about the relationship between Awareness (atman) and apparent identity (jiva) are not properly understood.

I think it’s more accurate to say that I am the screen, out of which the images are made.

RESPONSE:

Your understanding is correct.

Now the only task is to ruminate over this understanding until such time as your buddhi is as convinced that your true identity is limitless-conscious-existence (sat-chit-ananda), as it once was that you are the body-mind-sense complex.

Once the identification with the body-mind-sense complex is broken — the association with it will continue and the mind and body with continue to experience all the pleasures and pains as already familiar with. However the mind will know that the person of whom it is a part, is NOT the fundamental reality.

And what is the effect of this (Vedantic) knowledge being accepted, pondered-over and firmly-grasped? The alleviation of suffering.

Vedanta defines suffering as the deep-rooted existential angst that accompanies ignorance of one’s true nature.

Though we may experience pain and pleasure, we only suffer as a result when we believe that the pain or the lack of pleasure is actually AFFECTING us.

For instance, if we think that we will be damned to eternal Hell when we die, or that when we die our existence will cease entirely — we experience a level of fear that can have various destructive effects on life experience.

Once we know that no matter what happens to the person (or even the manifestation in general) has no ultimate impact on limitless-conscious-existence — then even though pain and pleasure persist, suffering ceases.

Finally, this understanding is NOT a ticket to apathy or unethical behavior.

The manifestation holds many wonders to behold and opportunities for expression and experience.

Life should be savored.

Also the manifestation is governed by the law of cause-and-effect (karma), which is essentially due to the fact that given the non-dual nature of reality — whatever you do you are doing to yourself.

Thus the apparent person (jiva) will inevitably (may take lifetimes) experience the results of its actions.

Basically, when one knows one's nature, we “play by the rules” for two reasons:

  1. You want to contribute to the smooth functioning of the apparent reality appearing within you.
  2. You know your sense of wellbeing is not dependent on objects, so there is no reason to “break the rules” to get something that you don’t need.

CONCLUSION: When one has genuinely assimilated the knowledge that one's identity is limitless-conscious-existence — then one continues to gladly play the role of the apparent person (jiva) — yet knows that “I” remain totally okay no matter what happens.

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