J. Krishnamurti, along with many other prominent spiritual teachers throughout history, had a powerful sense for the impossibility of effortful doing in order to gain enlightenment. Many of the great non-dualistic teachings such as Zen Buddhism, the Advaita Vedanta teachings of Shankara, the Tibetan Dzogchen and Mahamudra teachings, and other independent teachers such as J. Krishnamurti, Adi Da, Dr. P Kaushik, and so on, all pointed to this dilemma facing any serious student of life. In various forms, all these teachings and teachers describe a wholeness of the living moment, which, from their perspective is always, already, the case, and cannot be reached through a gradual movement toward it. Gradualness, as a movement toward, implies time, effort and the kind of ‘becoming’ Krishnamurti referred to, which clearly has to be seen as a denial of Being (the non-dual reality of the living moment). While becoming is the case, Being is not. For Being to be, any sense of movement toward it has to cease.
Being and becoming, wholeness and fragmentation, the ‘I’-state and that which remains when the separate self-sense is not – are mutually exclusive states of human experience. And any attempt by the separate self-sense to seek and find the wholeness which it intuitively feels to be its birthright, must of necessity fail, for illusion and reality are of categorical different orders. The self can, and most likely will seek within its own perimeters a unity of life, a wholeness, as part of a healing process it believes it has to engage in, yet, the simple truth of such an endeavor, as one of the Zen masters suggested, is that the ‘I’-state is the problem, it does not have problems. The ‘I’ cannot transcend itself.
From this it may be clear why this categorical division between fragmentation and wholeness, becoming and Being, has been such an important and often sensitive issue with regard to the spiritualization of humankind, throughout the ages. The realized teachers for whom the living reality of the non-dual was simply true throughout manifest existence (including the false ‘I’- dominated state of their students) had to find skillful means to bring the student to the same non-dual realization which characterized their lives. All spiritual traditions acknowledge the need for practice of some kind – and this is true also of all the great non-dual teachings of the traditions. Practice is necessary to facilitate the revelation of the non-dual condition of Being.
Clearly this was no easy task, and in the process much confusion and even serious disagreement developed both within and between traditions as they all tried to present forms of practice which would not again strengthen the very entity it was trying to transcend. Whereas most traditions agree that the ‘I’-sense is an illusion, it was in how to address this illusion that the difficulty arose. And as our non-dual spiritual traditions are as much founded in philosophy as they are based in the direct realization of the non-dual, it was exactly this loyalty to both philosophy and direct experience where much of the confusion arose. Philosophy seeks truth through the logic of words and concepts and tends to argue its way from some ultimate viewpoint, in this case the concept of non-duality or a supreme Essence as the ground of everything or Consciousness etc. Direct experience, on the other hand, transcends all knowledge and cares little for making philosophy out of experience. Unlike philosophy, experience is founded in reality. It could be called realism as apposed to the idealism of philosophy. The truest philosophy is always only a reflection, an image, of experience. Mostly it is mere thought upon thought, duplicating and modifying itself through endless argument.
Whereas experience-based living therefore accepts the reality of the illusion of the ‘I’-state, (as this state is the living truth for those in whom the presumption of separation dominates and control their lives) and thus involves itself with methods of ridding the being of this unnecessary illusory affliction, philosophy, based on what it conceptually presumes to be the highest, non-dualistic ‘truths’ cares little for the state of illusory identification with the fragmented reality of the separate self-sense. Philosophy sees and acknowledges only philosophy. It is a self-enclosed discipline of mind, and as a product of thought, can neither see, nor go beyond itself. Its reference is always of the nature of thought. Its concerns are conceptual, not reality-based.
From this it may become apparent why there developed a sensitive schism between philosophy and practice. Philosophy talks of the highest, from an intellectual disposition which starts out with the notion of non-duality. Experience follows the truth of living reality (whether illusory or real) and therefore finds itself in conflict with philosophy as it refuses to accept the fundamental point of departure of the philosophical mind. Experience concerns itself with the truth and falseness of the here and now, while philosophy concerns itself with arguments which uphold and defend its non-dualistic propositions about the ‘ultimate’.
From this it would be clear that here we have a rather distinct form of a mixing of categories. Philosophy and practice are always of two different categories. Although practical experience may inform philosophy, philosophy cannot inform the living reality of practical experience. Yet, as I indicated, because the traditions which support the view that reality is non-dual (rather than a dualistic phenomenon) have placed so much emphasis on the philosophical approach to this matter, that it has greatly influenced the approach of many teachers throughout the ages - an influence which has often proved to be confusing and debilitating to the serious student who is acutely aware of the necessity for entering into practical work relative to the reality of their inner disorder, emotional dysfunction and relational fragmentation - all direct consequences of the false sense of ‘I’-consciousness. Non-dual philosophy, if mistaken for the truth, and explored out of the rich experiential context from which it borrowed its ideas, must of necessity lead to the notion that because the ‘I’-state is an illusion, it does not exist and therefore nothing needs to be done to relieve the being from its debilitating presence as there is nothing to be relieved in the first place. And it is this unfortunate mixing of categories within the non-dual traditions which brings conflict and bewilderment in the minds of students. For whereas the traditions offer clear guidelines with regard to practices to free the being from its addiction to the illusory ‘I’-state, they also mix into this the philosophical ideas which should be clearly divorced from practical work.
It is not that philosophy, or what I rather call ‘reality consideration’, has no place in any teaching work. To consider the non-dual reality of things brings the mind in line with this reality – even if such truth is merely on the intellectual level. Once the truth of non-duality is clearly grasped, this knowledge can serve as a useful map if used correctly and judiciously –especially in relation to other teachings with which to compare the validity of ones own path. It may also serve to point the way for correct practices to be engaged in so as not to fragment one’s life any further in attempts to establish wholeness. However, it has to be clearly grasped that words can only point, and should never be mistaken for reality. The word ‘non-duality’ is not the living experience of the truth of non-duality. Practice and philosophy should therefore each serve the spiritualizing process in the areas of enquiry where they are appropriate, and should not be mistaken, the one for the other.
It is therefore important that we briefly look at the non-dual traditions to see how they contributed to the confusion between Ultimate descriptions of the non-dual and practical work to be done to facilitate the unfolding of the non-dual. We should not delude ourselves: there is not one non-dualistic tradition, (other than the confused message of Neo-Advaitism we see nowadays being propagated by teachers in both east and west who take their stand on no practice, no-doing, no-self, no effort, no inner work etc.) which does not have a clear practicing agenda for its students. The great non-dual traditions all show a healthy respect for inner work and have developed many systems to lessen the burden of the false sense of ‘I’-consciousness. But, as I have indicated above, because these traditions have been kept alive intellectually by their different philosophies, often no clear distinction has been drawn by some of the teachers within these traditions between the teaching of practice and the teaching of underlying philosophy.
In all the non-dualistic traditions we find a lack of maintaining a separation between philosophy and practical work and this has lead to rather confused messages being given to students within these traditions. Students are never absolutely clear what is philosophy and what is practical teachings. This is a sad reflection on the inability of the teachers not to make the differences between philosophy and practice clear. And this unfortunate inability to make a clear distinction between intellectualism and realism is reflected most poignantly in the no-effort ‘talking school’ of Neo-Advaitsm.
As I indicated, the non-dual traditions have developed many systems of practice to weed out the apparent reality of the illusion of the ‘I’. For instance, in Dzogchen, although resolute in its prior non-dualistic position of Primordial Presence, nevertheless sees the value of teaching practices such as Samatha (see: The Oral Instructions of Manjushrimitra) as one of the many preliminary practices which could facilitate the experience of Rigpa or the non-dual state. We find the same in Zen where students begin their practice with the traditional forms of Passive Awareness, Mindfulness and general concentration, either on the breath or on a koan, leading to deep states of inner quiet – not unlike the Samatha of Dzogchen. Both Dzogchen and Zen are fully aware that these practices and the effects they produce within the student are not to be mistaken for the Mind (Zen) or nature of Mind (Dzogchen), yet these preliminary exercises are regarded as integral to the student’s path of liberation. Of course these traditions make use of many other forms of practice which gradually liberate the being from delusory inner activities.
Advaita Vedanta also presents its own inner work to facilitate the revelation of the non-dual. Ramana Maharshi, for instance places great emphasis on a method he referred to as : Vichara, self-enquiry. Here the student is required to discover for themselves the non-existence of the ‘I’-state through deep, subtle and penetrating inner work. In one of his early writings called: ‘Self-enquiry’, Maharshi makes it clear that there is indeed the illusion of the ‘I’-state in the unenlightened being and in this regard he mentions the ‘destruction of self-hood’. Maharshi emphasizes the importance of sadhana (practice) where the mind is not allowed to ‘go into the direction of whatever thoughts may appear’. Maharshi states further: ‘The enquiry ‘Who am I?’ is the principle means to the removal of all misery and the attainment of the supreme bliss’. Clearly Maharshi subscribes to vigorous forms of inner work.
If we briefly look at Shankara’s definitive work on his teaching of the non-dual, his Vivekachudamani, he makes it clear that: ‘Jnana is achieved only through vichara or steady enquiry’. He further states that: ‘in order to realize the bliss of liberation one’s own individual effort is an essential factor’. And this work consists of, ‘devoted attention to the precepts of the guru, deep contemplation and the cultivation of equanimity in the Self’. Shankara makes it absolutely clear that: ‘it is very difficult to undertake enquiry into Self and non-Self’. He further states: ‘one must ferry over to the other shore of Liberation …having an ardent desire for liberation’.
Krishnamurti, who made the statement: ‘Becoming is the denial of Being’, nevertheless explored with his listeners ways of self-observation, passive awareness and a kind of cognitive approach to all forms of conditioning. He made it absolutely clear that ‘you are the door through which you will have to walk’ – implying deep inner work. Krishnamurti set himself the task to ‘set man absolutely and unconditionally free’. Clearly this implies a condition of bondage within the humanity he was addressing - bondage characterized by the false sense of ‘I’-consciousness.
From the brief examples above it is therefore evident that although the non-dual traditions hold as ultimate truth the undivided nature of manifest existence, they acknowledge the need for practice by those for whom this truth is not yet a living reality because they are caught in the illusion of the separate self-sense or ‘I’-state.
This brings us to a critical consideration: if practice is necessary, how could it be conducted without strengthening the very entity it will endeavor to transcend? To come to some clarity with regard to this pivotal question, it may be useful to enquire into the word ‘becoming’ as such. On the one hand we would have to become clear what kind of inner work would of necessity deny or obstruct the revelation of the non-dual or ‘Being’. On the other hand we would also need to enquire whether there may be a kind of ‘becoming’, a gradual shift within our being, which could allow for the non-dual to become self-evident as our living reality.
To become, is to become either more or less. In terms of the spiritualization of our being we could say that to become more, is to add to that which presumes it exists, i.e. the separate self-sense. And as this presumption of separation is the core fragment within our being (giving us a true sense of being separated out from our living reality - both inner and outer) – this self-sense or ‘I’-conscious state will of necessity make the realization of the wholeness of life impossible. Perceiving itself as separate, isolated, self-existent, with everything it comes in contact with as the ‘other’ or not-I, this bundle of self-contraction cannot, from within the perimeters of its own self-sense, free itself from itself. Anything this self would do to free itself from the agony of its own self-presumption, could only lead to a strengthening of its own self-centeredness. The self is caught in a condition of its own reality, and nothing it can do, can relieve itself from the condition it most fundamentally is. When the self therefore attempts to free itself from itself by modifying aspects of itself through forms of inner work, it can only add to itself, and this kind of inner work could then be called the denial of Being.
Being is whole. The separate self-sense is the illusion of fragmentation or duality. When the fragment attempts to become whole, such becoming is a continuous process of the denial of Being. Nothing can be added to Being. So, the self-sense, in its illusory strivings toward Being, will always remain in a state of denial of that towards which it believes it is moving. By adding to itself more refinement, more knowledge, more systems of self-improvement, more clarity, more depth in understanding of the non-dual or Advaitist traditions – even adding to itself the belief that it is fully enlightened – the ‘I’ only strengthens itself. All of these become components of the ‘I’ and thereby solidify the center. The ‘I’, no doubt , can ‘become’ to feel very good about itself, but it can never transcend or lose itself. Any such attempts would serve to deny Being. We could also say that such attempts could be called ‘doing’ – the kind of ‘doing’ or ‘becoming’ Krishnamurti and the traditions have been critical of.
If we now consider the other type of becoming which is to become less, not more, we may enter an aspect of our self-enquiry which could prove to be of tremendous value with regard the transcendence of the separate self-sense. At this level of enquiry seeking by the self for self-escape or self-fulfillment has been investigated and clearly observed to be counter-productive. Here a deep sensitivity with regard to ‘doing’ begins to sensitize the student to all aspects of effortful doing, where and when these may be appropriate and where not. I say appropriate, because there are times when effort and ego-work is of absolute necessity. This is true especially in the beginning stages of this work. We bring so much ego-baggage to our path that introspection, psychological and mental deconstructive cognitive work, discipline and a thorough change in attitude to our undertaking are essential to smooth out some of the rough edges and emotional dysfunction which characterize our uninspected living reality.
However, in this instance we are clear that we do this not in order to become‘enlightened’ or to be more spiritual, but simply to be more sane and together. Simply to be a more useful, friendly, easy-going person to be with – both with others and with ourselves. This is ‘doing’ work. It is preliminary work. Such work is necessary prior to us engaging the subtle practices which might serve to undermine the apparent reality of the self-state. The subtlety of the enquiry awaiting us cannot function in any meaningful way to deliver us from the dictates of the separate self-sense while we are so completely dominated and controlled by its many volatile mental and emotional manifestations. So, the initial work has to include ego-reorientation. It is inevitable.
We are completely enslaved and immersed in the ego-state, in fact, totally addicted to it, which necessitates profound enquiry into all its aspects before meaningful self-transcendent work could begin. The reason why this work could be ‘classified’ under the heading ‘becoming less’ is because we make the ego less complicated. Although here no attempts are made to lessen the apparent truth of the ego as such, we do endeavor to lessen the complexity of the ego-state, to smooth things out and to settle the inner instruments such as attention, thought, emotion and their combined effects on the psychophysical being as a whole. This is necessary and vital preliminary work which cannot be by-passed. This work ideally should include the kind of preliminary meditative exercises such as passive awareness, leading to the inner quiet state of Samatha, and further psychological work as I describe in my book: Spirituality Without God.
Once we begin to sense a greater mental and emotional equanimity and we find ourselves no longer merely unconsciously reactive in our responses to the challenges of life, showing signs of more intelligent, conscious living, we will be well prepared to enter the practices which may directly lead to the dissolution of the separate self-sense. Here we truly enter the work which could be described as ‘becoming less’. This present essay does not allow for a thorough investigation into these kinds of practice (Please refer to: Spirituality Without God: Part Two, Chapters 13 -18 for a full description of these) but we could point to the general principle which would make such work valuable and possible.
All true self-transcending work is self-lessening work. This is only possible when we invert awareness back onto the instruments (thought, attention, emotionality) which combine in their activities to create the illusion of the separate self-sense. If the self is an illusion, then it may be realistic to assume that it is the result of something we do on a continuous basis, rather than something we have. The self is not an entity. The self is an ongoing process, masquerading as an entity.
By allowing awareness to invert onto the processes which produce this illusion, (and we need to be clear that awareness is always impersonal and therefore cannot legitimately be identified with any sense of separation or fragmentation – such as the separate ‘witness’ or ‘observer’) the functioning of the ‘I’ is revealed as nothing but a state of thought/emotion/attention operating in a circumstance of unawareness or unconsciousness. All I-consciousness is unconsciousness. Clearly during such inner work the ‘I’ is not active as the presumed doer or observer: rather, those functions which manifest as the ‘I’-state are observed by awareness itself and allowed to relax completely for our natural condition of Being to become self-evident.
Such relaxation is not another form of ‘doing’. It is a subtle form of non-doing which gradually diminishes the reality-manifestation of the ‘I’-state by simply relaxing away from it. This is possible because the instruments which create and sustain the ‘I’-state relax out of the mode of doing so. And when thought, attention and reactive emotionality begin to fall away by non-use, the ‘I’-state disappears by itself. This subtle inner work does not deny Being. Rather it allows for its revelation. So, although the process is a kind of ‘becoming’ , for the very reason that this becoming undermines the apparent truth of the illusion of the ‘I’, it allows for the revelation of Being to begin to shine through every moment the ‘I’-state is sufficiently undermined. J. Krishnamurti once remarked: ‘As the darkness begins to fade, there is light. No movement by any aspect of the darkness toward the light is possible’.
Over time, the process of awareness establishes itself as the functional instrument through which we operate, and is accompanied by a higher Intelligence which naturally prevents us from reverting back into the confused, illusory state of the ‘I’. In this way freedom from the ‘I’-sense gets established and non-duality becomes the sustainable truth of our living reality. This is not brought about by any movement toward the non-dual. Rather, when every aspect of doing by the presumed separate self-state has been observed and transcended through diligent practice, the non-dual reveals itself to have been the case all along. It has just very effectively been obscured by inner states of mental and emotional confusion we call the ‘I’.
See also Möller's discussion with Tony Parsons and Alan Stoltz on Spiritual Humanism versus neo-Advaita.
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