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
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.
do you see as the distinction between Bodhi/awakening and moska/liberation?
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
to part 2
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