The Personality Grows Out Of My Silence

The personality–not what I am–grows out of the silence of my elemental presence. It rises out in front and sets out in front.

This can be directly seen, and therefore the beginning–or more than the beginning–of a Gestalt shift may already be well under way.

It’s not only the case that this is clear because I witness the rising and setting of the personality. And it’s not just that I realize that my being is not identical with this. Though, of course, both are true, it’s perhaps more immediately true to say that I know myself as this elemental presence and thus know also that in my light temporarily shines the personality.

This is but one way of understanding why Zen Buddhists and Advaita Vedantins emphasize that there’s nothing to achieve; that there’s no one to achieve it; and that what you are looking for you already, always are.

‘Live With This Representation Of An Unthinkable Subject’

Listen very closely, openly, as a child would, to Jean Klein’s reply to a student’s question during satsang:

[Student:] I find myself overwhelmed by the idea of geometrical representation which you spoke about the other day. How could one begin to approach understanding this?

[Jean Klein:] You know that all you perceive is an object perceived in time and space and an object exists because there is a subject. You know you are the subject, the subject of all objects, but you don’t see clearly yet that this subject can never be an object, can never be perceived. So there is a picture, a representation, of an object needing a subject to be perceived and a subject which can never be perceived. So this logical understanding, this representation shows you that, in order to know the subject, there is nothing to attain or obtain, or to grasp, because all that you grasp or that you attain or achieve is perceivable and therefore can only be an object. Knowing the subject belongs to a completely new kind of knowledge. So the mind sees its limits and gives up. Then you no longer live in thought but in a kind of fore-feeling which is at the threshold of an insight. So live with this representation of an unthinkable subject which are are. Live with it until there is a moment when it dissolves completely and you are it. That is an instantaneous awakening of yourself, what you are, the ultimate subject.

Transmission of the Flame, p. 137.

1. You know that you are.

2. “You know that all you perceive is an object.”

3. You know that all objects require a subject in order to be perceived. There must, that is to say, be that which is aware of these appearances in order for them to appear.

4. You know that you are this subject.

5. You know that the subject is not an object. Thus, you know that you, as the subject, cannot be perceived.

6. Therefore (to bring these strands together), you know that you are. You know what your basic status is (to wit, that of the subject). But you don’t know what you are really. Furthermore, you know that all that you’ve “tried” in order to “know yourself” has been futile since all such attempts–to grasp, to obtain, to attain–involve treating the subject as if it were an object. But it’s not; but you are not. Now what?

7. Points 1-6, Jean suggests, brings us to the limits of the mind. Here, then, we have a very natural koan: who am I?

8. Let the mind give up. Live in this tensile, quivering state. Live with this unverbalized, non-mental Life Question.

9. “Live with it until there is a moment when it dissolves completely and you are it.”

Samskaras & Body Work: A Hypothesis

A dull mind is a lethargic body; a scattered mind is a stressed-out body; and a calm mind is a quiet, energetic body.

This line of inquiry offers us a natural transition into the topic of samskaras, which can be defined as latent ego tendencies or as false, habitual identifications with some object or other. Appealing to samskaras can be a simple way of answering two common questions: why am I suffering, and why am I not enlightened? Because you believe and feel that you are what you are not. An investigation of samskaras simply adds more color to an account of suffering in ways that appealing to “It’s the ego, stupid!” does not.

Jean Klein is one teacher you helpfully points to a related line of inquiry when he engages in body, or energy, work. I would argue that we can grasp the seminal point in the following manner: the physical correlate of samskaras are chronic physical tensions.

If this is true, then body, or energy, work

  • will inquire into habitual, chronic physical tensions and will, in turn, release them;
  • will begin to disclose the more basic energy body (subtle body);
  • will allow movements to flow from the energy body.

Let’s reflect, for a moment, on the first point. Letting go of physical tensions, this hypothesis runs, should go hand in hand with the dissolution of samskaras. A samskara like “I am unworthy” may show up in the abdominal region. Seeing through the illusion of self (mind) can be helped along from another direction: attending very closely to the physical tensions in the stomach while inviting them to release their clutched fist and to offer up their burden to the ground or the space.

Muscular Jerks During Body, or Energy, Work

The Advaita Vedanta teacher Jean Klein sometimes refers to “residues” that his students experienced during the process of releasing contractions and defenses during body, or energy, work. One of his longtime students Billy Doyle elaborates:

When the neuromuscular contractions begin to free themselves there may arise a series of jerks or something that feels like electrical impulses in this body. This is nothing uncommon or anything to worry about. This process may also become more elaborate and take on a variety of forms, such as the head shaking spontaneously side to side or the body swaying or going into spontaneous movements. This happens only when we allow it and we can stop the process at any time. It is a process where the tension in the body are unwinding and releasing tensions.

Yoga in the Kashmir Tradition: The Art of Listening–Following the Teachings of Jean Klein (2019; rev. ed.), pp. 20-21.

Klein and Doyle are right on the mark about two things. First, various muscular spasms, shakes, twitches, and more can occur when one is in the depths of body or energy work. These are all part of what elsewhere Doyle calls “the cleansing process.” The key is just to be relaxed, uninvolved, simply witnessing these as these occur.

Second (and so much is implied), you can allow the process to unfold at its own pace: if it gets too jerky or wild, you can always tone it down by allowing the energy to flow more smoothly, less jaggedly. It’s a bit like slowly allowing less water to flow through an open spigot. And, yes, you can stop the process at anytime if it starts to feel as if it’s too much.

I speak from experience: in 2019, I frequently experienced all sorts of jerks and spasms while doing energy work. I can attest that it’s nothing to fetishize (there is no ego that is having some special experiences) or to worry about (it doesn’t necessarily imply that there is something neurologically wrong). Just gently let it ride.

Furthermore, over time the energy will smooth itself out, becoming clearer and more rarified. After this cleansing process is stabilized, then one can tune into what I would call a natural hum, a sweet vibration. The natural hum is somewhat analogous to the sound of a combustion engine after it’s been driven for, say, 4 hours and now that it’s really going nicely, smoothly, almost harmonically.

One last thing for now: don’t get stuck in–that is, endlessly fascinated by–energy work. This process, quite naturally, should lead to self-inquiry: what is this Awareness that is aware of the subtle body? Be This.

Taking Satcitananda As A Pointer, Not As The Ultimate Itself

Summarizing a key metaphysical point at the end of The Essential Vedanta: A New Source Book of Advaita Vedanta, Eliot Deutsch writes,

Brahman may, for purposes of orienting the mind towards it and for pointing out the basic features of one’s experience of it, be represented or designated as saccidananda–as the fullness of being (sat), awareness (cit), and joy of being (ananda). In its status of pure being, though, no attribution can be made with respect to Brahman. It is neti neti, not this, not that; it is the negation of everything that is thinkable.

The Essential Vedanta, p. 393.

I like Deutsch: not just what he offers here but also what he argues in Advaita Vedanta: A Philosophical Reconstruction. But for today, let’s stick with this passage since it’s clear.

Spiritual seeker, hearing of satcitananda, may, Deutsch implies, get the wrong idea. Even though the teaching as well as guided meditations may point to the direct experience of cit, sat, or ananda, it’s crucial to continue self-inquiry until there is no inquirer and until there is no object, however subtle the latter may be.

If this fine point is missed, then there can be an unfortunate fixation–a fixation, most especially, on the experience of ananda (i.e., anandamaya kosha). Moreover, it can happen that one mistakes the symbol for the essence. For these reasons, Shri Atmananda often stressed our going ‘back’ as Consciousness: for if you are essentially Consciousness, then there’s no-thing–no experience or state or something–to fetishize, to get fixed on, to mis-take. And no one to mis-take either.

We’re not here to bliss out. We’re here to use these pointers, and others too, to realize the Truth (more specifically, to unrealize the false), which is the heart of Being. The Truth, faceless and nameless, is like the original face we had before our parents were born.