Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century

An Interview with
Jody Radzik

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Jody Radzik

Born in 1959, Jody Radzik grew up in suburban towns in New Jersey, Michigan and Orange County, California. He currently works as a graphic designer in Silicon Valley. He is the creator of Guruphiliac, started five years ago and which seeks to criticize commercial gurus who employ 'enlightenment folk theories' into their marketing and personal mystique. Shimmering Dead End is the result of Jody's talk at the Science and Nonduality (SAND) Conference in 2009.

PM: What do you believe and which tradition/philosophy do you practice?

JR: I'm initiated as a shakta tantrika in the tradition and lineage of Sri Ramakrishna, but would have to give a lot of credit to my reaction against the doctrines of the Ramakrishna Math/Vedanta Society, which were set by Vivekananda in the late 19th century and are almost entirely devoid of any discussion of tantra outside the minimal editorial lip-service paid to the fact Ramakrishna was a practicing tantrika himself.

Without guidance from the lineage, I freestyled it with my own version of techno-enabled Aghora tantra, which included attending many rave parties and participating in the psychedelic experimentation that was occurring in conjunction. It was perhaps a bit too much experimentation, because I developed moderate social anxiety, leading me to begin therapy with a former psychology professor of mine who is also a Sufi sheikh from a Turkish lineage. It was his very clear pointing that seemed to allow for a nondual recognition to occur in my life.

As far as meditation practice, I spent a lot of time engaged in the mantra practice I was initiated into, much of it on public transportation in and around San Francisco. But in the last 10 years or so, I�ve found simple breath watching, à la Vipassana, to be effective in terms of bringing the boil down to more of a simmer.

But the very root of my spiritual life has been devotion to Ma Kali Dakshineswari as a kind of nondual shakta. I essentially consider myself Her slave, and try to put up with whatever She brings to my life, which hasn�t always been good, but all of which has been survivable up to this point. This isn�t to say there�s a real Kali out there, but one can employ the cultural artifact as a metaphor for the all-inclusive aspect of being alive in a universe that is much bigger and very much in charge of our individual existence.

PM: Is a teacher necessary in order to gain enlightenment?

JR: I know folks who became nondual realized outside of a relationship with any teacher, so I�d have to say no. However, they�ve seemed mandatory in my life.

PM: You say that you are a 'nondual shatki devotee'. That sounds like a contradiction in terms?

JR: Ramakrishna liked to say, �Brahman and Shakti are like fire and its power to burn.� It's not as much of a contradiction when you think in terms of the whole manifest universe being one Kali Ma standing on the immanent Brahman. Brahman �informs� everything, including being our own primordial awareness, but to a shakta, it's Shakti who runs us and everything around us. For me, it's been very helpful for the last 20-some years to imagine I'm having a fling with the Mother of the Universe.

Ramakrishna innovated the idea that it's not what you believe, it's how you believe. While he was mostly about Kali and Krishna, he understood that you could put up just about any idea of God and find you've established a helpful influence in your life. You can do the same with a formless God, or emptiness. The devotional path isn't really about enlightenment, it's about surrender. That's its great advantage. It gets you away from the idea of enlightenment.

PM: So what IS enlightenment then?

JR: To me it seems that realization comes, enlightenment follows. There�s a point when a nondual recognition occurs that is permanent. Life lived with that recognition, along with continued practice and lots of time, may begin to resolve itself into enlightenment. Since there remains a very strong sense of being the person who is tapping these keys, there�s clearly a lot of enlightenment left to happen in my own life.

However, since the two are conflated in spiritual culture, many consider a simple nondual recognition to be enlightenment, anticipating a host of experiences as a result. This is where the folk theories have their origin.

PM: Is it the same as liberation?

JR: I�m not sure. All these words have multiple meanings depending on who is using them and for what. I�d venture that moksha is the equivalent to realization.

PM: Who is it who gains enlightenment/liberation?

JR: I think you can make a case that the life gains by realization and the process of enlightenment, but only after the essential attachment to the idea of individuality is broken. So in truth, no one gets �it.�

PM: How do you define nonduality?

JR: That�s a term to describe the fact that our primordial awareness is nondual and that this is the foundation of personal identity.

PM: Is that different from oneness?

JR: I�d say no. The oneness that we share is the fact of our awareness being nondual.

PM: I like what you said earlier about surrender. Certainly I know that Ramana Maharshi talks about the fact that there are two paths to 'enlightenment' - the way of Self-inquiry and the way of surrender. So where does knowledge (I am thinking specifically in terms of a system like Vedanta) fit in with your beliefs?

JR: Jnana is what it's all about, isn't it? It's something that's �with� each of us at all times. It's always right here, closer than our own breath, like it was sitting on the tips of our noses. Yet so many are doing (and spending) so much to see what they've never not been, all rather unsuccessfully. What makes it so hard to notice?

PM: Can you define what jnana really means then?

JR: I may be misusing the term. I suppose it denotes the recognition of the nondual in the context of one�s awareness. A kind of �knowledge� emerges out of that, which I�m calling �jnana.� But what gets recognized is identical to the knowledge that emerges. So in this way, �jnana� refers to the fact of our nondual awareness, whether or not it has been recognized.

To my mind, the biggest problem is expecting that it will be something glorious, magnificent, out-of-this-world, spectacularly indescribable, the highest peak experience you are ever going to get in your life. It is nowhere near any of these expectations. Thus, folks overlook its very ordinary and rather mundane presence in their lives. It's as if getting on a path to something you imagine will be so insanely great is really the only thing keeping you from seeing your everyday, normal truth, which is where all these paths are actually going, in my opinion.

I've said over and over again, expectations about enlightenment provide the lion's share of hindrances to coming to know it. These expectations are carried in our culture by something I'm calling a folk theory of enlightenment. The main issue is our beliefs about jnana, which are legion, mostly due to the many superstitious notions about it that have been carried over history by Hindu and Buddhist mythology, as well as the thick fog of hagiography that sits in the atmosphere of spiritual culture.

I was very lucky in that I was never aiming for enlightenment. My goal was surrender to Ma, whatever that was. I really didn't have a clue, I was just going for an undefined ideal. So when I stumbled into jnana, it was a bit of a shock, as it absolutely met none of the criteria that I'd picked up over my years as a sadhaka. That's pretty much where my whole deal began, seeing that jnana was absolutely nothing like I'd been made to believe. My next thought was, what was keeping me from seeing this very present, simple truth? In that moment it seemed apparent that what I'd believed was completely capable of glossing over what I was being. My expectations about enlightenment�even though I wasn't really seeking that�were still capable of occluding the actual recognition of jnana in my life.

I have a parable to describe the process of occlusion. In the States we have a bird called the cowbird. It employs a parasitic reproduction strategy, finding the nest of another species of bird and waiting until it's unattended. The cowbird then swoops in, sweeps the other eggs out of the nest and lays its own. The resident bird comes back to a seemingly normal nest full of eggs and ends up unwittingly hatching and raising the chicks of an entirely different mating pair of birds belonging to an entirely different species. The cowbird's eggs are the ideas about jnana we pick up from the folk theory of enlightenment. These effectively occlude the actual, ongoing presence of jnana in our lives.

This is what my online commentary has focused on over the last 12 years, letting folks know they are much better off to jettison all ideas, models, theories and expectations about realization and enlightenment, and either go for surrender, or spend their time trying to figure out exactly who is this person who wants to be enlightened, with as much meditation and introspection as they can muster. My critique has focused on popular, commercial gurus, because these are people who propagate folk theories of enlightenment as a basic marketing strategy.

PM: But do these practices � surrender or asking onself �Who am I?� � actually lead to Self knowledge?

JR: I believe Ramana would agree with that. Worst case, it�s probably not going to hurt one�s chances much. In my experience, most of those I regard as living with nondual understanding have gone through some kind of introspective, transformational process, although not necessarily religious.

PM: So what exactly have you found after jettisoning all the myths about enlightenment? What have you found to be true?

JR: I never really jettisoned the myths, Paula. I saw the need for an incisive critique and felt compelled to try and provide one. The way I see it, there is no idea that can provide any information about jnana. Therefore, every idea is wrong. And if you subscribe to the notion of occluded awareness, then these ideas are clearly counterproductive. Fortunately, the remedy is easy, the simple renunciation of any and all ideas about enlightenment. If you teach yourself to not believe the hype, the simple truth should have a much better chance of emerging.

PM: So what, then, is the simple truth?

JR: That we are as �there� as we will ever be, right now and always. That there's no getting to �there,� although there are often a lot of life experiences�sometimes quite radical and unusual�until it dawns on us that it has always been right here.

That there has never really been anyone needing to go anywhere, anyway.

That it may be helpful to remember that any idea any mind has�or will ever come up with�about jnana, is wrong. There is just no possible conceptualization; therefore, all conceptualizations are irrelevant and meaningless, other than to perhaps give rise to an attachment that occludes.

That because we are always �here,� we need not expect any supernatural powers or phenomena to manifest with our ability to see it directly.

That self-acceptance should come before self-renovation.

Believing it's not possible to be enlightened because we aren't �pure� enough is one of the great lies we tell ourselves as seekers, and it's mostly perpetrated by Hindu guru hagiography. This lie often has the effect of causing us to split ourselves into a higher self versus an ego, reinforcing for us the mother of all lies, one that lies at the heart of so much ignorance in spiritual culture. This isn't to take anything away from the greatness of any authentic saint, yet I believe we need to be reminded that as vaulted as their lives have been rendered, the saints were all every bit as human�in every way you can imagine�as any other human being that lives or has lived on this planet. The reason people are attracted to the idea of a perfect living being is perhaps neurological, but when we allow that idea of perfection to become the standard for our own lives, we are holding ourselves to an ideal that is almost always based on an exaggerated, �enhanced� version of our model; in other words, very occluding to our own nondual truth as it exists in us right now.

That letting go and surrendering to God�in whatever idea you decide to borrow or formulate (or formlessulate) about Him, Her or It�is likely the best thing you can do as a sadhana. Meditation, mindfulness and self-inquiry are at least as helpful, with complete self-honesty and truthfulness to others rounding out the toolkit. Just stop looking for what you already are, drop any and all ideas about what that might be, and focus on your practice and being a good and compassionate person. Ascetic renunciation is strictly optional. Whatever gets you through the night, as long as nobody is getting hurt.

Huh. Maybe that's more �simple truth� than you wanted!

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Page last updated: 10-Jul-2012