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JAMES SWARTZ

PART 1

NDM: Can you please also tell me what exactly is "moksha", the root meaning of this Sanskrit word, as well as how is this manifested, according to Vedanta and the ancient teachings? Who was the first person to use this symbol?

Ram: It is a Sanskrit word that comes from the word ‘muc’ which means to release from bondage, to set free. It is impossible to tell who used it first. It is many thousands of years old.

NDM:  What do you see as the distinction between Bodhi/awakening and moska/liberation?

Ram: Awakening is an experience that happens to the mind, one that gives the individual some kind of understanding that there is something beyond the visible. It is not enlightenment although it is often thought of as enlightenment. Most modern teachers are simply awakened. The self is ‘the light.’ It never slept. It is not enlightened. Enlightenment is moksa, freedom from experience, including awakening, and the notion that the self is limited. It is the hard and fast knowledge “I am limitless non-dual ordinary actionless awareness…assuming that it renders all vasanas non-binding and cancels the sense of doership. Chapter 2 of my book deals with this topic in depth. There is a sub-heading in the chapter called Stages of Enlightenment. The second stage roughly represents self realization/awakening, where there is still an individual who has ‘realized’ i.e. experienced the self. There is still the sense of duality, a ‘me’ and the ‘self’ which appears as an object. It differs from the third stage, which is not a stage, called ‘enlightenment.’ The word enlightenment is not actually technically suitable because of its experiential connotations.

 

James Swartz

 
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NDM:  In your book, 'How to Attain Enlightenment", you go into the history of how Vedanta was brought to this country and somehow became distorted. How this New Vedanta introduced the idea of four paths or yogas: action, devotion, knowledge and meditation. How the traditional Vedanta only focused on action and knowledge.

Do you think the reason why the yogic path seemed to take off more than the knowledge path because westerners are hardwired differently and have been conditioned to be fundamentally more corrupted and pleasure seekers, sybarites, through hardcore advertising, television, pornography, Hollywood, Rock and Roll and so on. Essentially programmed from birth and were using yoga experientially, like alcohol or LSD to get high, as opposed to how it was used in India and in the Yoga scriptures of Patanjali?

James: Yes and no. No, in the sense that the yogic view of enlightenment is the dominant view in India as well and has been the dominant view for thousands of years. People are experience oriented and their suffering makes them unimaginative, so that they cannot connect the suffering with self ignorance. They just want quick relief and are susceptible to the idea that there is some kind of permanent blissful experience that they can gain by Grace, by yoga, by transmission, etc. This is why they are eager to call an epiphany, an petty awakening experience, enlightenment. But yes, in the sense that materialistic cultures like ours place very little value on self knowledge although they value relative knowledge highly because it is instrumental in gaining worldly things. But it is only a matter of degree. Indian’s crave experience like everyone but the society is duty oriented and based on the Vedic model which is knowledge centered. The word ‘veda’ means knowledge and self knowledge is still respected in India today.

NDM: . What are your thoughts on Deeksha and Shakipat and the "Oneness school" An Indian school that teaches westerners to give Deeksha? Or a blessing in the form of a mantra, or laying hands on someone's head or other parts of their body?

James: Shakti sadhanas are useful up to a certain point in that they generate epiphanies, awakenings. Epiphanies can be helpful spiritually or they can be a serious hindrance if they cause you to formulate enlightenment as a kind of permanent feel good shakti experience. Shakti is not liberation because shakti is fickle. It comes and goes and has many forms. Shakti is just a particular subtle kind of experiential energy. I debunk the shakti as enlightenment myth toward the end of Chapter 2. There is a subheading called, “Energy as Enlightenment” in the Enlightenment Myths section that will help with this.

Deeksha, which is similar to Reiki, is a big con game cooked up by a greedy ambitious fellow, Kalki ‘Avatar’ and his equally greedy wife to sucker gullible do-gooders out of their money. Fortunately the bloom is off the rose and Deeksha is suffering the bad karma that inevitably flows when the idea behind it is incorrect. But you will be happy to know that Kalki and his wife are set for life. Kalki’s son broke with him over money and power and took many of the dasas with him. They have predictably taken up with a big money person, Tony Robbins, who has mined and monetized the lowest levels of spirituality with great success for years. It is a fad that has lost most of its appeal in America and has had to move to other countries to stay alive. It will die because shakti is fickle. You get high from it and then, like any drug, you come back to reality only to discover that the brain rewiring was faulty and you are caught up in your old world view once more. Hopefully, even though you are poorer, you may be a bit wiser. It is hardly worth discussing. I satirize it at the very end of the book in the Chapter on Neo-Advaita.
 

 

 
 

NDM: Do you believe it’s possible to transmit permanent enlightenment, through shatki, qi, chi, prana, orgone, kundallini or any other kind of energy?

James: Definitely not. There is only one self and it is already free. If the self thinks it is an individual and bound, no energy i.e. experience will remove this ignorance. Shakti will not change the orientation of one’s thinking patterns. Only the application of self knowledge will. The best shaktipat can do is to give you a glimpse of your true nature. Non-dual experience, if interpreted correctly, may give rise to this knowledge but it will only cancel the belief that one is bound in a very subtle, highly mature individual like Ramana. And even then, once the shakti, the experience, has worn off ignorance almost invariably reasserts itself and the self goes back to thinking that it is incomplete and bound. The idea that enlightenment is an experiential something that it can be transferred to another person is a fantasy that appeals to lazy people who do not want to do sadhana.

NDM:. Can you please describe the difference between the self enquiry that Sri Ramana taught and the self enquiry that Papaji and his followers/disciples teach in the west today?

James: Papaji’s very unrefined notion was to simply ‘be quiet’ and wait for something to happen. His idea suited the level of seekers that came to him. He himself cynically said they were not qualified for moksa and he gave them shaktipat as an indulgent parent gives children ‘lollipops’…to use his own words. Ramana’s view was that self inquiry was only for highly qualified mature purified individuals. It is an aggressive moment to moment inquiry into the nature of the self. Vedanta’s conception of self inquiry is akin to Ramana’s but is much broader. It presupposes self knowledge and asks the inquirer to apply the knowledge “I am the self” when the inquiry has revealed a limited dualistic orientation.

NDM:  What is the history and Vedanta tradition of charging for satsang or guru instruction? For example do you know if Dattatreya, Sri Ramana or Adi Shankara or any of these sages ever charged for instruction or satsang?

James: There is no history. Wealthy donors who value spiritual culture support the teachers. My guru took care of my room and board for two years and never asked a dime. I charged once in Tiruvannamalai only to keep the gawkers, window shoppers, and lifestylers, away. It worked, but now I use other methods to get rid of them without denying access to the teachings to sincere seekers. A true teacher does not see what he does as a career, a profession. It saddens me to see the terrible exploitation that goes on in the Western spiritual scene.

NDM: . I would like to ask you about this new school of advaita. Often referred to as neo-advaita. One English teacher by the name of Tony Parsons says "Any communication that supports and encourages the seeker’s belief or idea that it can find something it feels it has lost is only reinforcing and perpetuating a dualistic illusion........ There can arise a wish to help or teach other people to have a similar experience. That communication can sometimes seem to be “non-dual” when the teacher describes the nature of oneness, but it contradicts itself by recommending a process which can help the seeker attain that oneness through self-enquiry, meditation or purification, etc"

How do you believe that someone like Adi Shankara the Indian philosopher who consolidated the doctrine of Advaita Vedanta, would have responded to this, according to his teachings?

 
 

James: I have a whole chapter on Neo-Advaita in my book, How to Attain Enlightenment, The Vison of Non-Duality. I do not think highly of it. Shankara would have had a good condescending laugh. It is a superficial ill-considered counterintuitive belief system that seems to be reasonable on the surface, but does not hold up when you actually think about it. Tony Parsons exemplifies the worst of the Neo-Advaita teachers. He spouts a plethora of vague advaitic ideas that have gained a certain degree of traction because Westerners are very spiritually unsophisticated and want a quick easy enlightenment. It amounts to little more than the denial that you exist as a human being and offers no methodology for preparing the mind for enlightenment, much less serious experience based teachings that patiently and effectively remove self ignorance. Traditional Vedanta completely disagrees with Tony’s statement. He is one of the most ill-informed of the Neo-Avaita types. He has virtually no knowledge of Yoga and Vedanta apart from the recycled conventional wisdom that has been circulating since Papaji’s minions infected the spiritual world with their advaita-lite version of non-duality.

It is actually incorrect to see Shankara as a philosopher. He was just a link in the sampradaya, the Vedanta tradition that stretches back to the Upanishads. And Vedanta is a only a means of Self Knowledge. It is not a school of thought or a philosophy. Chapter 3 of my book clearly explains Vedanta as a means of knowledge…a pramana…and debunks this myth.

NDM: What are your thoughts on "evolutionary enlightenment"?

James: In so far as there is only one self and it never changes, there is no evolution. Evolve to where? There is no evidence that life is not as evolved or un-evolved as it always was. In the spiritual world it is a long standing belief, made popular by Aurobindo in the last century. In terms of the apparent reality, it is basically a religious belief that ambitious spiritual types like Andrew Cohen tend to promote and exploit to gain fame. Do-gooders and world ‘saviors’ are held in high esteem by gullible well meaning people. Rare individuals committed to truth do tend to grow spiritually, however, but it is not helpful to think of it in terms of evolution as much as purification, getting rid of something unhelpful, rather than getting better, which has the danger of feeding a self righteous ego’s sense of vanity. The initial appeal of Deeksha was largely based on the absurd notion that the planet is devolving and that enlightenment could save it when 2012 comes! It is a notion that appeals to worried people who would greatly benefit the world if they quit thinking about the human race…which after all is just a concept…and cleaned up their own problems. If this is a non-dual reality, then everything here is the self and as such it serves the self. How does suffering help? Suffering usually makes you dull at first but if you suffer enough and hit bottom, it can wake you up. This happened to me. I am very grateful for my suffering. Even if you could ‘make a difference’ and change the world, it will still be a fool’s paradise because the absence of suffering is only the negative half of moksa.

 NDM:. Do you believe that God is evolving?

James: In terms of the limited scientific view, it seems nature…which is one aspect of God…is evolving but even this view presupposes that there is some ultimate purpose to life. And there is no evidence that there is such a purpose. If there is any purpose it is to get rid of suffering because that is what people are attempting to do all the time. But God, whatever that means, is not a person. Presumably, He or She is already perfect. So if ‘God’ means consciousness, it is definitely not evolving. Consciousness is non-dual. Where will evolve to?

 
 

NDM:  Or that the human ego is evolving in some way? Becoming less violent, less narcissistic, pleasure seeking, greedy, competitive, war mongering, less deceitful, manipulative and so on?

James: No. The human ego is just a notion of incompleteness, separation and inadequacy. Ideas do not evolve. However, certain rare individuals do consciously change in line with certain ideals. But there is no evidence that the human race is getting any better. There is no evidence that it is getting any worse either. The light and the dark forces that make up the apparent reality…duality…are always more or less in balance.

NDM:  In your book you say that "Ramana Maharshi gained enlightenment without a teaching and a teacher. Aside from the fact that it is, in very rare cases, possible to realize the self without help, the odds are about the same as winning the lottery, perhaps less."

What are the reasons that you believe that it is almost impossible to become enlightened without a teacher? Or the reasons why someone without a teacher is bound to become self deluded, or stuck somewhere?

James: Because the self is beyond perception and inference and can only be realized by the removal of ignorance. It is completely counterintuitive that you are whole and complete. It does not feel that way at all. And we are so conditioned to take our feelings to be knowledge that we need to be shown how we are actually whole and complete. The one who has the ignorance is almost never objective enough about his or her self to see where he or she is caught up in beliefs and opinions about the nature of reality. We  unconsciously interpret what we experience in terms of their ignorance, no matter how ‘conscious’ we think we are. Ignorance is hard-wired and universal. It formulates itself in many subtle ways. Only collective systematic proven knowledge that comes from an objective source can help. If enlightenment was up to an individual’s will anyone who wanted to become enlightened would become enlightened. So you need help. In my case I exposed my mind to Vedanta for a long period and was eventually freed of all the things that limited me. I did this with the help of my teacher and scripture. I had had much experience of Samadhi and every conceivable major epiphany and I am not a stupid person but I could not crack the code without help. I am eternally grateful to God for giving us this tradition.

 


NDM:  How does karma play into this enlightenment equation? Do you believe that enlightenment is causal, or the result of someone being ripe, due to past actions?

James: It depends on what you mean by karma. Enlightenment is not causal. No action can give you something that you already have. In fact you do actions to gain enlightenment because you are ignorant of the simple fact that you are already free. However, action…karma…is indispensable for gaining enlightenment if it is used to prepare the mind for enlightenment. The mind needs to be qualified (See Chapter3) for enlightenment. This is where Neo-Advaita is completely ignorant. It dismisses action and the doer and sadhana as ‘duality.’ Being ‘ripe’ is an indirect means of enlightenment. Self knowledge is the direct means.

NDM:  What is the importance of being aware of samskaras, vassanas and vrittis and how do these hinder one from becoming enlightened?

James: It is very important because they extrovert the mind and keep it from meditating and inquiring into the nature of the self.

NDM:  Do you believe that it’s possible to be liberated and still maintain a healthy ego with desires, aspirations, attachments and aversions? In essence to maintain a personal and a separate sense of self? To be Brahman, as well who you always were?


James: A healthy ego and enlightenment are nearly synonyms. However, if someone is ‘maintaining’ an ego, whether it is healthy or not, it is definitely incompatible with enlightenment. Enlightenment cancels the notion that you are an ego, so you will not do anything to make the ego healthy or unhealthy. You just see your ego for what it is. You need not tamper with it. If it is sick it will become healthy if you leave it alone and stay with the self. And you will leave it alone when you know who you are. You will love it warts and all. And in the presence of your love it will become healthy.

NDM:  Do you see Neo-Advaita as a form of a depersonalization, de realization disorder, a 'dissociative disorder' a psychotic break of some kind. Or a form of nihilism, or intellectual solipsism. An extremely highly developed and sophisticated egos way to escaping responsibly for ones actions, thoughts and deeds.

James: No, people are just lazy and denial works well with them. It allows them to continue being the fools they are and imagine that it is somehow hip and cool to pretend that they do not exist. It is actually a pretty harmless phenomena. Most of them are only there because others are there and they don’t want to miss out on ‘the energy’. It is more about the sanga, the company of like minded people, than a serious spiritual path. It is true that the spiritual world attracts a lot of psychologically wounded people who really belong on the psychiatrist’s couch but this has always been the case.

NDM:  Many people believe that being enlightened is a license to teach about enlightenment. In the tradition of Vedanta, for one to become a teacher of this, were there certain guidelines, criteria, tests that one had to overcome to prove without a shadow of a doubt one was enlightened and qualified to be a teacher? Such as a peer group of teachers, satgurus that would make these determinations
?

James: In a way, yes. The sampradaya, the tradition, works in very subtle ways to maintain its purity. This is because you only get access to the tradition if you are qualified. If you just break in off the street loaded with desires and are not mindful of dharma and seeking for the wrong reason, you will not last long enough to be accepted by a teacher. It will not make sense to you. Ordinarily, the complaint is that Vedanta is ‘only intellectual.’ You will want some kind of emotional connection, some kind of ‘heart’ connection and you will not be subtle enough to get what is actually going on. So you will wander off. And also you have to be admitted by the teacher and in Vedanta. You cannot just decide that a certain teacher is your guru. It is a two way street owing to the nature of the means of knowledge. If you are not meant to be there you will be out the door very quickly. It is very rare to find an ambitious Vedanta teacher because most of them are really enlightened, meaning that they do not care if they teach or not and are not interested in fame or fortune. I do not want to talk about it in detail. It will give the idea that Vedanta is elitist. It isn’t.

NDM:  Some of these neo advaita teachers say things like there is no karma, because there is 'no doer", that everything is acausal, so it really doesn't matter because things just happen.  Such as murder happens, lying happens, cheating or stealing happens and it’s not happening to a separate person.  They say what causes suffering or guilt is the illusion a separate person is lying, cheating, murdering and so on.  As if to say that oneness or God is doing it and that once you know its God doing it, there is no suffering nor guilt and therefore nothing wrong with it.

James: This kind of doctrine is ridiculous. First of all, from awareness’ point of view, nothing ever happened. So if you say these things happen they only mean something to awareness under the spell of ignorance, i.e. the doer. So it is the doer who believes that things happen. The whole idea is silly because there is nothing wrong with the doer. Doership may be a problem. As a human being you are definitely a doer but you can do without a sense of doership. There is no choice about action. Yes, you can see that you are the self, in which case, you are not the doer. But the self is limitless and can apparently act. If it could not apparently act it would not be limitless. And the apparent reality, in which doing appears to happen is not non-existent, although it is not real either. This whole topic needs careful analysis. I take it up in detail in my book.

Things do just apparently happen, but conscious action apparently happens too. Doing and non-doing are just concepts that are meant to reveal the nature of That because of which doing and non-doing exist i.e. awareness. Knowing God as the doer does not remove your suffering unless you are God. But the doer, the one who believes these ideas, is not God. God is the source of the ideas of doership and non-doership, and the doer is awareness under the spell of ignorance. We call ignorance avidya when it applies to the doer, the individual, and we call it God or Maya or Iswara with reference to the whole creation. Awareness is beyond God, the creator. In any case, this whole issue as I just mentioned needs a lot more discussion that we can give it here.

NDM: What are your thoughts on Aurobindos "Intermediate Zone" letter to his students about the pitfalls and dangers of seeking enlightenment. Becoming delusional and so on.

James: Aurobindo and epiphanies. I suffered through the pretentious Aurobindo torture on epiphanies and, when I got over my headache, I concluded that his view about them is more or less correct. But he certainly makes a big deal out of something that is relatively simple. As I mentioned already, they can be helpful or harmful depending on your understanding.

Continued to part 2

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