I would like to share some observations with you regarding the long journey we all seem to be on, namely, the trek through many life-times to return to our natural home. It is a required journey and an inevitable journey that everyone eventually makes. Yet, paradoxically, it is a totally unnecessary journey. It need never be made because we are already at the final goal, we are already there to welcome the weary traveler home. In truth we have never left home.
In this booklet, I hope to explore with you both the wonder and the dilemma of this human condition. Our discoveries will lead us to the same revelations that the great mystics of the Upanishads realized 2500 years or more ago, and that saints and seers have realized throughout the ages. Towards the end of the booklet I will touch upon the teachings of a renowned saint of our time, Ramana Maharshi, and I will also briefly take up one of the most sublime and most succinct of the ancient mystical outpourings, the Mandukyo Upanishad. This Upanishad provides the basic framework for the whole Vedanta. It consists of only 12 short verses which cover the totality of everything.... physical, mental, supramental, and transcendental, as symbolized by the universal seed sound, Om.
To give you a little synopsis of the discussion that follows, let me skip ahead to the conclusion of this journey to truth we are all on, the journey which lands us back at the starting place we never left. As we follow the path that the Vedantic seers trod, we discover a remarkable view of reality, which to our surprise was always there, just waiting to be seen. It is this: When we look out at the world we no longer see the world as we had known it before. Now we see only multiple reflections of our self. And that self is not this familiar outer form and its associated personality, but the beautiful face of Divinity. Wherever we look we see only the one Brahman. For we discover that is all there is. There is nothing else. As many sages have proclaimed, to see anything other than Brahman is sheer ignorance. And ignorance leads to duality, which gives rise to all suffering.
But then there is the deeper discovery that even this ignorance and duality do not exist and have never existed. Being unreal they cannot be the cause of anything. There can be neither suffering nor bondage. Every being is already free and forever remains free. In truth, neither ignorance nor bondage needs to be removed, or for that matter can be removed, whether through spiritual practices or through divine grace. Because, ignorance and bondage were never there to begin with. When this becomes firm conviction and direct experience, then the concept of bondage, the feelings of suffering, the belief in a separate individual existence, the perception of an outside world, and the idea of an ego, of victims and victimizers, of good and bad, and all the rest, will be seen for what they are: nothing. Once we withdraw our energy and belief from these false perceptions and identifications, they naturally fade away.
Then what about our daily experiences in the world? From the moment of waking in the morning through every moment of the day, 365 days per year, we reaffirm our belief in the reality of this body and its individual personality, and the world which surrounds it. But in time, we realize that these individuals we thought we were, battered about by circumstances and forces outside ourselves, are just dream characters playing out their roles in an ongoing dream. All our daily adventures in the world are dream happenings experienced by dream characters. They are not real. We keep the error alive by constantly reinforcing the habit of believing in the reality of our worldly experiences.
It is we who have made up this dream and are responsible for every part of it. By opening the mind to the fact that it is merely dreaming, spiritual practices turn anxious dreams into joyful dreams. Nevertheless, these practices have only limited value in that they produce results only within the dream. In effect, they provide dream water to slake dream thirst. The thirst exists in the dream, not in reality, and the quenching of the thirst provides an outcome and a satisfaction only for the illusory dream characters. Spiritual practices cannot awaken us from our dreams. We are always already fully awake. It is just like having our spectacles sitting on our noses and then looking everywhere for the spectacles we think we have lost. We will not find them elsewhere. All that is necessary is to realize that they are already part of us. The Self is our unchanging, eternal, immortal reality. It is ever-free, ever-awake, ever-complete, ever-undiminishable bliss. It is not affected by our spiritual practices. It knows nothing of dreams.
Spiritual teachings and spiritual efforts serve to purify the mind of the dream character, allowing the mind to become clear of ancient mistaken patterns of perception. A clarified mind penetrates beyond the objective world and learns to discriminate between reality and illusion. It perceives itself to be the dreamer as well as playing a part in its own dream as the subjective dream character. As dreamer of our dream we are totally unaffected by the vicissitudes of dream life happening to us as dream character. This step of mind purification is not the final awakening to truth, but it does herald the end of all suffering. Whether or not we continue to dream ourselves as the dream character having painful episodes in the dream world, we are not affected.
We use spiritual practices to clear the mind of its dross in the same way that we pick up a thorn and use it to remove other thorns that have hobbled us. Here it is the tamasic thorns of sloth, inertia and delusion and the rajasic thorns of desires, repulsions and frenzied activities which are removed by the helpful satvik thorns of spiritual practice. But eventually, even the helpful thorns are thrown away, and we cease all doings and settle into the deep silence of being, far beyond the reaches of the mind and its understandings, and far beyond the influence of intentional spiritual exercises and penances.
When the clouds of illusion fade away and disappear, ie. when the illusory dream subsides, we speak of awakening as taking place. But, in truth, nothing at all is happening. The Self remains as it always is, and always was and always will be. The Sun does not know of darkness and never sees the shadows cast by clouds that appear to have come and blocked its light. So also, the Self knows no illusion and does not know of anything other than itself. Awakening has some meaning for us in the dream, but in truth it is a meaningless idea. The clouds, whether they come or go are always unreal. They cannot be the cause of anything. Time and causation have no place in reality.
That there are no cause and effect relationships violates all our perceptions as dream characters. To us it appears that our spiritual activities are the cause of the disappearance of the clouds of illusion, ie. our practices are responsible for our awakening. But the situation is more like that of a coconut which is about to fall just as a crow lands on the coconut tree. It appears that the coconut falls because the crow landed, but there is no direct connection between the two happenings. To connect them in a time-ordered causal relationship is just a misperception. Spiritual practice is not the cause of awakening; it is merely a mark that awakening is in process. We can merely say that along with the awakening, when it appears to take place, the dream story line changes to take on the character of spiritual yearning, spiritual practice and heightened spiritual awareness.
Seen another way, awakening is frequently thought of as divine grace and spiritual practice is seen as the personal effort required to evoke that grace. Both grace and effort appear necessary and unavoidable. But all of these, namely, awakening, grace, spiritual practice, time-ordered causal relationships, time itself, and the whole perceived world, are all just the stuff of dreams which have been given meaning by the characters in dreams believing themselves to be bound. All these illusory concepts are equally unreal. Whatever form illusion appears to take, there is never anything separate from Brahman, the One Self. The truth is that nothing can disturb the unruffled field of pure consciousness that is our reality. The Self alone is. That is all.
A hint of this truth lies in the most common of experiences, a process we all go through daily, that of the cycling between waking and sleep. The exploration of these common states of experience will be our principal focus in the discussion that follows. We will look at these states of being from the point of view of the relative individual, ie. the illusory dream character, with whom we have mistakenly identified ourselves, for so long.