On Spiritual Temperaments

To simplify to an extreme, it could be said that spiritual temperaments come in three basic types: experimenters, lovers of knowledge, and lovers of the sacred. We need all three, but only the last two are totally legitimate.

Experimentation implies an openness to submit your questions to practical tests. Up to a point, this is a good thing. But a danger, often discussed as far back as Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, creeps in quite early: such experimenters can get too caught up in having altered experiences and in acquiring certain great powers (or siddhis). Experimenters, when guided purely by an interest in performing experiments and not the higher aim of knowledge or love, too readily succumb to what Trungpa Rinpoche called “spiritual materialism.”

In contrast with experimenters, lovers of knowledge are guided, from beginning to end, by Absolute Knowledge. Accordingly, the path is laid out by inquiry, an inquiry into who or what they really are. Experiments will be undertaken as needed but solely with a view to realizing the essential understanding of their very being. It is the longing for knowledge that lights the way.

Similarly, lovers of the sacred, who are more aesthetically and affectively inclined, set their hearts on God, the God that resides in the very depths of their being. And so, more and more they surrender their sense of separation to wholeness; give up their will to the divine; place all their resistance in the hands of the divine source; relinquish everything and all, becoming at once “impoverished” and  “spiritually rich.”

There is a twist, and Ramana Maharshi is not the only one to voice it: to know is to surrender, to surrender to know. For this reason, those disposed to knowledge will also need to dive deep into areas–like the intricacies of the body, the intensity of stuck emotions, and the vagaries of sexuality–that could otherwise seem foreign. And heart-centric ones will need to sharpen their intellectual understanding while also finding out what the “I” that is inclined to love truly is. Both legitimate spiritual temperaments, then, will have, in the end, to converge on unity: the unity of higher reason and the heart, of deep inquiry and utter intimacy, of clarity and sweetness, of Truth and God. 

The philosopher must be none other than the poet, both being blessed by the highest–and only–love.

A Brief Summary Of Paragraphs 1-10 of Sri Ramana Maharshi’s Nan Yar (“Who am I?”)

I provide a brief summary of what I take to be the main line of argument from Paragraphs 1-10 of Sri Ramana Maharshi’s Nan Yar (“Who am I?”).

The following points, it should be understood, do not directly map onto the paragraphs from the main text.

For an excellent translation of Nan Yar, go here.


1. Everybody longs for abiding happiness: this is the ultimate aspiration of human life.

2. Abiding happiness is not to be achieved through action, ritual observations, or works. Instead, abiding happiness is identical with self-knowledge.

3. So, one must come to know, first and foremost, who or what one truly is. As Ramana says, “[T]he knowledge… alone is ‘I.’ The nature of [this] knowledge [‘I am’] is sat-chit-ananda.”

4. One will not come to self-knowledge just so long as one takes the world to be real. For this reason, one must understand that when the mind rises, the world also rises. Therefore, one must get to the bottom of the mind and thus see the world as unreal.

5. One can only get to the bottom of the mind–that is to say, one discovers the svarupa or essence of the mind–through self-inquiry. The latter essentially shows one how to “tack back” from perceptions (world) to thoughts (mind) to the I-thought or I-notion (ego) to the Self.

6. Practices other than self-inquiry prove not only to be insufficient but, at the worst, to be a waste of precious time. Pranayama, for instance, is insufficient since it does not shine a light on the nature of the “I.” It may, however, be a helpful preliminary, Ramana happily concedes, inasmuch as by softening the breath one is relaxing the mind. But at this point, one must turn to self-inquiry. Ripe souls might just as well turn to self-inquiry at the outset.

7. Self-inquiry is essential in that (a) it shows that the ego is non-existent while concomitantly (b) revealing the source of the rising I-thought. That source is none other than the Self.

Living With The Question: From Socrates, Via Jean Klein, To Atmananda

In a section entitled “Living with the Question” from Jean Klein’s The Book of Listening, we find the beginning of a fertile conversation:

Q. I would like to ask you what you mean exactly by “the question”?

Jean Klein: The question is the answer. Before the question was formulated, the answer was already there. The answer was there before you were conceived.

Q. So when you say, “Live with the question,” you’re talking only about the ultimate question, not just any question?

JK. Yes, the ultimate question to which all questions, in the end, refer. You come to the ultimate question when you have explored all the relative questions. By relative questions, I mean those questions which do not fully express what you are really looking for. Any question which has a residue of book-knowledge is relative. Any question which comes from memory, from past conditioning, is relative. Any question founded on emotional desire is relative. So question your questions and you will see their limits. This seeing brings you nearer to the nearest: the ultimate question.

We need to understand how, on the path of jnana, it’s important, perhaps even necessary, to begin with Socratic philosophy.

Why here?

Because Socratic philosophy opens one up to “the examined life.” For one so opened, the Socratic question (as the late Bernard Williams would have it) is “how to live.”

Once you get to this point, you’ve already begun turning away from “the world” and toward “the self.” Moreover, to examine a life involves turning every experience over in order to submit it to rational scrutiny.

But this turn, while necessary, is not sufficient since the initiation can leave you stuck in ethics and not yet open to metaphysics.

On the ethical level (i.e., the level of ethos), you want to know how you can live in order to flourish. This is indeed the question of eudaimonia, the one taken up by classical philosophers like Socrates, Aristotle, and Epicurus.

What has yet to be questioned, however, is the “I” keen on leading the good life. Therefore, I regard questions “on the ethical level” as borderland questions: they are still relative questions, yet they begin to point back to the ultimate question.

For the ultimate question, alluded to by Jean Klein, is: “Who am I, or what am I?”

Socratic philosophy, by training you to lead an examined life, readies you for the deepest investigation, that into who you are. Thus, the examined life leads naturally on to Atmananda, the Advaita Vedanta teacher who took Socrates beyond himself into nondual contemplation of the highest order. Only now has metaphysics come forth.

Henceforth, the ultimate question cannot but occupy center stage. And since, as Klein rightly states, “the question is the answer,” for one so ripe “this spiritual journey”–which is no journey at all–is almost over. Just live the question and all else will take care of itself.

‘The Body Is Only Energy’

In The Ease of Being, a student asks the teacher Advaita Vedanta teacher Jean Klein: “If the body we see is not our real body, what is” (my emphasis)?

He replies, “The body [the subtle body] is only energy. The moment there is tension, the moment there is reaction, this energy becomes static, fixed as a form of defense. Awareness dissolves this fixation.”

He’s right.

1. Begin by investigating your understanding of the body. In the broadest sense, we can say that the body is the apparent localization of “me.” More specifically, the body appears to be an ensemble of (a) concepts, (b) percepts, and (c) sensations, all of which serve to localize a “sense of me.”

2. In order to investigate this localization of a “sense of me,” we can let all of our concepts, or labels, go: that is to say, all the “names” in “names-and-forms.”

3. Next, we can let dissolve all of the percepts (or “forms”): seeing an arm object, touching a knee object, and so on. After all, is there a direct experience of a physical body in the absence of sensing?

4. Then what remains? Only sensations. We turn inward and observe very carefully these sensations, only to quickly discover that, yes, “[t]he body is only energy.”

5. Jean Klein often invites us to see where there is tension “inside” the body. Anywhere there is tension implies that here the energy is “static.” His upadesa (spiritual instruction), at this point, ordinarily involves not fixating on this static energy but rather allowing open, moving energy “in other parts of the body” to expand so that it merges with, or washes cleanly over, this “static” part.

6. Soon enough the entire body is only fluid energy. This can feel like humming or subtle vibration.

7. But this humming too must be investigated. After all, awareness is that which is aware of humming energy. But I am awareness, not subtle energy. Being awareness cognizantly, I rest in genuine, abiding peace. In this way, it becomes clear that there is no body and thus no localization of “me.”

Jean Klein: A Certain Poetic Sensibility

It can be helpful to be able to summarize the teaching of nondual teaching masters in a single sentence. Sri Ramana: “Inquire or surrender, then just be still.” Nisargadatta: “Abide in the ‘borderland’ of ‘I am.'” Atmananda: “Reduce all apparent objects to Consciousness and trace the I back to the I-principle.”

I find, at least on my initial reading, that the same cannot be done while reading Jean Klein, a more contemporary French teacher of Advaita Vedanta. Instead, his teaching seems to be about opening one, in his living presence, to a certain poetic sensibility.

One is to welcome, to awaken to subtle invitations, to take note of ‘the facts’–all while remaining in a state of repose. Just be alertly expansive, opening to a fore-feeling of presence. Just be awake to wonderment. Soften. Find gentleness sweet. Loosen the tension from, and as, this loving presence.

One, in brief, must attune oneself to the innermost feeling of Klein’s teaching and respond openheartedly from here.

For while surrendering to the tone and tenor of Klein’s teaching, one can’t help but feel relaxation and sweetness, trusting that one is in good hands. It takes, I submit also, a different hermeneutic of reading to appreciate Klein’s poetry for one accustomed to the adamantine, shimmering logic of Atmananda. Where Atmananda takes you, step by logical step, through the front door, Klein sneaks you, with a glinting eye, through some side entrance.

And that, most surely, is the beauty of the nondual teaching: the same basic message always fresh, always alive, turning and presenting itself creatively time and time again…