The Literary Quality Of Seeds Of Consciousness

Whoever reads Seeds of Consciousness: The Wisdom of Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj from a literary point of view can’t but ache.

I cite just three examples:

  1. A man wearing ocher robes has been playing the spiritual game for 25 years and still doesn’t get it. For instance, Nisargadatta asks him, “Who is it that says this?” and the man answers, “Probably the Self” (p. 62, my italics). The man, it becomes clear in the dialogue, is obstinately proud and spiritually ignorant and both are evident in his modeling, again and again, the ‘right responses’ to Nisargadatta’s genuine questions. (Out of grandmotherly compassion, a Zen master would have hit him with an incense stick and then told him to leave.) I feel my heart ache when I see this man, who’s gotten so used to playing the “spiritual game,” wasting his precious time.
  2. Nisargadatta observes of his questioner: “You are not very steady mentally. Whenever I talk I want you to go to the source instead you go forward. You don’t perceive the source. Can you ask questions” (p. 162)? What perceptiveness! What compassion! The man then proceeds to ask a question, “How was the first body made?,” that is not germane to finding the Self. Nisargadatta: “Whether the first or the last, the process is identical” (p. 162). He goes on later: “Here you will not get the reply of words. Dwell in the source. Stabilize there and you will get your reply” (p. 162).
  3. Someone who presumes to know what he does not. It is especially painful to read the following: “Q[uestioner]: I came for what I have.” “M[aharaj]: Still I have to say that you have not fully understood your presence, your beingness. If you really understand it, everything would be thrown overboard” (p. 169). The questioner only has intellectual understanding but believes he has true, direct, intuitive understanding when he does not. Oh, how the heart aches.

I imagine, day after day, Nisargadatta meeting people where they are. By turns, he pleads, cajoles, argues, and above all points to the nameless absolute. How many listen with their entire hearts? How many really ‘get it’?

At one point, he says that he is like a mother who sees those who come as his children. We need to read this, published in 1979, not as a patriarchal or a patronizing statement since it is neither. It is an analogy the point of which is to reveal that Nisargadatta is teaching out of love.

And the ache? Yes, the ache comes from recognizing that only some of his students could fully receive his love because only these could recognize that they are that very same love.

Nisargadatta Was Not A Sage

Yesterday I set forth 3 propositions:

Proposition 1: Enlightenment is the realization of the most real.

Proposition 2: Full, or great, enlightenment is the realization that the most real is the highest good.

Proposition 3: Wisdom is the purest expression of the most real in the form of the highest good.

For good measure, let a fourth:

Proposition 4: Beauty is the purest expression of the most real in the form of the most fitting.

Alas, Proposition 4 has nothing to do with this post, which takes up something that Nisargadatta, that great Indian teacher, said.

In Seeds of Consciousness: The Wisdom of Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, we read the following:

Q[uestioner]: What does one do about the practical side of this relative existence? That is, the working, the achieving, the goal-oriented society that we live in, the families we have; what is to be done for them?

M[aharaj]: This world expression is out of the five-elemental consciousness, whose responsibility is to take care of this manifest world. The world is the expression of your consciousness, but you [i.e., who you truly, ultimately are–AT] are not the consciousness. Understand this principle [of Awareness] and carry out your life as you like. (104)

In other words, just see your True Nature directly (Proposition 1) and establish yourself in and as your True Nature (Proposition 2) and let the rest take care of itself (“carry out your life as you like”).

Well, I don’t buy it. Yes (I might joke) to Prop. 1 and yes to Prop. 2, but Prop. 3 does not follow from 1 and 2.

This is where Nisargadatta, despite how great his teaching was, was wrong and the Ancient Greeks were right. Wisdom is concerned with the practical conduct of life. It is exactly where the rubber hits the road. And while it’s true that, as one Chan poem stated, “The Way needs no cultivation,” in matters of practical conduct cultivation is necessary.

In my definition (Prop. 3), wisdom is the purest expression of the most real in the form of the highest good. This is a question of forms, of modulated movements, of subtle adjustments, all of which require practice, experience, discernment, reflection, and humility.

It’s true that Maharaj really cared the most about Proposition 2. He was candid about the fact that the only reason to come to see him was to find out your True Self. Wonderful. But this is not enough.

A wise person is a transparent vessel through which the most real can easily, readily express itself in the form of the highest good. Many fields, as it were, will have to be cultivated in order for that expression to be precisely what is needed, mete, and just so right here and right now.

This is just to say, by implication, that an enlightened teacher is not necessarily a sage. A sage is something more. Which is just fine so long as we remain clear that this is so. Let’s stop asking the guru, the roshi, the rinpoche how best to live.

What Full Enlightenment and Wisdom Are

Proposition 1: Enlightenment is the realization of the most real.

Proposition 2: Full, or great, enlightenment is the realization that the most real is the highest good.

Proposition 3: Wisdom is the purest expression of the most real in the form of the highest good.

The Essential Point

Wisdom is where the rubber hits the road.

Some Simple Arguments

1.) Socrates did not realize the most real. It follows that Socrates, as he understood, was not wise. Koan: What is beyond ignorance and knowledge of ignorance?

2.) Ethical misconduct by spiritual teachers suggests that either Proposition 2 or Proposition 3 is the true. Either they were not fully enlightened (see, e.g., spiritual bypass) or they were not wise.

3.) Secular modernity, succumbing to the Third Poison in Buddhism, denies out of hand the possibility of Proposition 1. (See also “the noble search.”) Remark: Very dangerous.

4.) Proposition 2 implies that kensho or sartori does not suffice (Proposition 1). Nor does a “mere glimpse.” One has not, in fact, carried the inquiry all the way through. Only in full enlightenment is there complete stabilization in What Is.

Why St. Benedict Was Right

1 Brothers, Divine Scripture calls to us saying: Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled, and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted (Luke 14:11; 18:14). 2 In saying this, therefore, it shows us that every exaltation is a kind of pride, 3 which the Prophet indicates he has shunned, saying: Lord, my heart is not exalted; my eyes are not lifted up and I have not walked in the ways of the great nor gone after marvels beyond me (Ps 130[131]:1). 4 And why? If I had not a humble spirit, but were exalted instead, then you would treat me like a weaned child on its mother’s lap (Ps 130[131]:2).

St. Benedict’s Rule

What’s come up for you is dis-ease bound up with certain longstanding behaviors and, in turn, the disconnect you feel from other sentient beings, including the ones you love. 

The term pride still seems to me to nail it. “I know best and I brook no other authority but my knowledge.” Or: “I will best and I need no other will to make this happen.” Or even: “I doubt best and I trust my faculty of doubting.” Pride is how the sense of self insulates itself not only from others but also from the Other.

Contrariwise, humility begins with the realization that, actually, I can’t rely on my self–my knowledge, my own power, or my skepticism; I’m simply not up for it; I, as the sense of self, am not enough. Humility alludes to, even if it doesn’t point directly to, the metaphysical core of lack. “I’m not.” “I lack.” “I cannot.”

To be clear, this “I’m not” or “I can’t” does not issue from the sense of self wrapping itself up more in itself. On the contrary, “I’m not,” “I lack,” or “I can’t” bespeaks the deconstruction of the sense of self, bespeaks going beyond, while seeing deeply through, the games the ego keeps playing with itself.

The result of rarified humility is opening the door to the Other, to another superhuman Power. Being able to surrender oneself to the teacher is a sign that one can, as it were or without as it were, surrender oneself to God. It’s in this way that the self-enclosure comes to an abrupt end.

Further Reading

Gregory Bateson, “The Cybernetics of ‘Self’: A Theory of Alcoholism”