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An excerpt from Earl Rosner’s On the Road to Freedom illustrates the value of purifying the mind. The first speaker is an early proponent of Neo-Advaita. Rosner himself offers the cogent reply:
“All of these things are only for weak-minded people. You should just go on thinking ‘I am That,’ ‘I am That,’ and you will realize the Truth of it one day.”
“I think that you have overlooked an important point in the philosophy of Vedanta,” I objected. “All of the texts and teachers of that school thought insist that, before one even takes up the study of it, one must have certain qualifications. A child in kindergarten cannot possibly do justice to a college textbook. He may even pervert the meaning. In the same way, before one takes up the study of practice of Vedanta, the mind should be rendered unmoving [i.e., free of attachments and aversions] […] There is not even a trace of bad in the Supreme Reality and one who had not given up such negative qualities as lust, anger and greed cannot be taken to be one who has realized the Truth. A safer course would be to consider oneself as a child of a Realized Soul or of God. To benefit from being the child of such a one, we must try to approximate his character. Only if we can do this, will our mind gradually become pure and unruffled by passions and the Truth will be seen, and not until then.”From Timothy Conway, “Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj (1897-1981), Life & Teachings of Bombay’s Fiery Sage of Liberating Wisdom“
The mind, as it is and thus untutored, is not to be trusted. Instead, the mind must be taken in hand and slowly purified.
What can be seen in seated meditation and in meditation throughout the day is mind arising “out in front.” Samskaras, “subtle stirrings” as Nisargadatta called them, arise and can quickly take shape in the form of thoughts. Especially sticky thoughts seem to come up time and again, carrying the veneer of veracity.
Samskaras can be sticky, in key part, because the mind can actually take up the teachings and noodle on them. Repetitive thoughts, for instance, concerned with the welfare of other sentient beings don’t initially reveal the fact that they too need to be purified and dropped. They too are obscurations of the Ocean of Reality. As such, they need to be seen through with a steady gaze. To realize their unreality is to see them fade away.
Neo-Advaita is just one name for what the Ancient Greeks called “sophistry.” Just as sophistry is a corruption of the spirit of philosophy, so Neo-Advaita is a corruption of Advaita-Vedanta. Just thinking, for example, “I Am That” can very easily become a spiritual game played often, greedily, and selfishly by the finite mind. This is why, in the early phases, “polishing the mirror” may be urged upon those young aspirants truly longing to be completely what they always already are.
Yes, just as you are is Reality. Now, go clean the bowls.
Someone comes to Nisargadatta and says, “We are like animals running about in vain pursuits and there seems to be no end to it. Is there a way out” (I Am That, p. 414).
What clear insight. How astute.
And Nisargadatta replies, “What prevents you from knowing yourself as all and beyond all is the mind, which is based on memory. It has power over you as long as you trust it. Don’t struggle with it–just disregard it. Deprived of attention, it will slow down and reveal the mechanism of its working. Once you know its nature and purpose, you will not allow it to create imaginary problems” (p. 414).
My word is that good!
But before you can disregard it, you need to be open to the possibility that you are not the mind. Next, you need to be able to observe the mind arising: arising as thoughts and emotions and then falling away. Mind arising is arising thought. And, finally, you need to begin to see that identification with the mind is, so observed at such a distance, that which has been preventing you from going beyond said identification.
At which point, yes, you can begin, as Nisargadatta says, disregarding the mind. And, yes, once it is “deprived of attention,” it will “slow down,” showing you its inner workings.
As The Diamond Sutra says, “Mind arises, but I do not abide.” Who is this “I” that does not abide?
Nisargadatta later states, “[A]ll are faced with the fact of their own existence. ‘I am’ is the ultimate fact. ‘Who am I?’ is the ultimate question to which everybody must find an answer” (p. 416).
Right again, though everything depends on that enormous, tenuous “must.” And that “must” won’t likely strike like a viper until one has appreciated the magnitude and apparent endlessness of one’s suffering and until one has begun to be open to the possibility that that suffering is brought about by the false, but sticky, identification with the body-mind. The “must” leaps forth once the truths that are commonly espoused–most notably, I was born and I will die–hit you with the force of their falsity. Or at least once genuine doubt arises like vapors from nowhere.
Freud once said, “Love and work…work and love, that’s all there is… love and work are the cornerstones of our humanness.” As a normative statement about the good life, the claim can’t be true, yet as a description of modernity’s cornerstones, it is close enough.
The invitation comes from a rupture in our lives, a rock that shatters the illusion. Love, it is directly seen, is not all there is and neither is work. What is all there is, therefore?
A simple approach, naturally, is to use work to go beyond work. What, let’s ask, is the source from which all works arise?
Likewise, we can use self-possessive love to go beyond self-possessive love. What is the ground from which all forms of relating to one another emerge and upon which all stand?
What, to ask earnestly, is all there is? What is the cornerstone of all cornerstones? What is prior to all humanness?
Gate gate paragate…
Rare is the person who hears and heeds the call Home unless one has first been rocked by losses and failures.
Yet too often, and too quickly, losses and failures can cement the obstinate sense of pride of the sufferer. Presented with loss and failure, the proud one may try harder, may try to be more, do more, have more, become more.
“What lies are you telling yourself?” the Advaita teacher Stephen Wolinsky would have us ask ourselves. The great lie is that the lie of pride: that I, on my own, can do it.
In the face of loss and failure, the blossoming-open mystic realizes, “I am not whole, and I cannot do it.” The first: a truth. The second: humility.
And humility finds its true companions in trust and wonderment. All these point in the direction of the Great Mystery, the Great Unknown.
Loss and failure are how the divine lovingly, compassionately, and, yes, forcefully calls the newborn mystic Home.