The fundamental mistake

For a long time I couldn’t make sense of any of my experiences. I landed into existential crisis after crisis and things just got grimmer. On multiple occasions, I got ready to give up existing. I even made a few failed attempts. All the therapy and all the positive reinforcements felt empty and absurd. Life felt absurd.

As beings, we cannot handle absurdity. We like beauty and its synonyms – meaning/ love/ happiness. When we can’t see any, boy, do we freak out!

Nothing made sense. I kept hearing that I need to ask Who am I? And I couldn’t find this I. All the medications and all the theories around wouldn’t help. The what and how of life were so dim that nihilism made complete sense.

I am a student of science and it took a long time for me to hear that we made a fundamental mistake in our understanding of reality.

We think there is matter, in which arises the mind and then arises consciousness. And that is a dangerous error.

There is consciousness, in which arises matter, in which arises mind. In fact, there is only consciousness. It is all that reality is made up of:

That’s why the problem of consciousness is so hard. We’re just so fundamentally wrong that there is no way to solve it with our current understanding.

I do believe that we will figure this out sooner or later. It will be tied into our evolution, I’m not sure whether it’ll be as a cause or an effect.

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Wild Wild Country and the ocean in my palm

I watched this story of no heroes and no villains spellbound. I am not invested in any of the two thought complexes at loggerheads with each other, so I could watch this objectively without any existing biases.

At the end of it, I couldn’t help myself wondering at the sheer force and audacity of this experiment. It was like centuries of possible human history condensed into a brief span of time. It was a crash course in human bigotry, paranoia and ego at both ends of the spectrum.

I couldn’t help but recognise that Osho had stumbled upon some truth and with the confidence that it gave him and of course, his extraordinary intelligence, was able to pull off this massive lesson for mankind. At least, that’s the way I saw it.

Then, I went on to explore a few more documentaries about cults and saw two distinct patterns:

  1. The cult leader was wack and as weird as many existing traditions and still a lot of gullible people fell for it.
  2. The cult leader made sense and clearly displayed evidence of stumbling upon the truth and decided to build an utopia to serve as a lesson for the rest of mankind. Somewhere along the way, they lost the plot to disastrous consequences.

While I read and watched more and sifted through opinions to find facts, I began to question my understanding of enlightenment and sanyas. A few things I found worthy of noting:

  • Enlightenment was not the destination or the end of evolution. It was just a game-changing pit-stop.
  • Enlightenment was more common place than I had imagined.
  • Enlightenment did not make you perfect and did not magically transform you into a super-human. You still remained a human with all the problems of the human condition.
  • Enlightenment was available to anyone who cared to discover it and paid careful attention.
  • Enlightenment is a powerful experience that can seriously push you to run to everyone, share the good news and want to transform the world because you realise how beautiful the world can be if everyone just woke up.
  • Renouncing the world or isolating yourself (with or without a band of followers) always led to a disaster. Renunciation only created a dangerous echo-chamber for your ego to prosper.
  • Absolute unquestioning devotion to a teacher can make even the most sensible person to make really bad decisions.
  • Given enough time and isolation, eventually, everything becomes a petty power game of abuse, exploitation and violence fuelled by blind faith.

I had had my experience of the so-called enlightenment or awake state before I watched this and some other documentaries and I won’t lie, at some point I really felt that I had found something really rare and precious and I should start a movement teaching and advocating it.

Watching these documentaries and reading all the articles and books made it extremely clear to me why that could be such a bad idea. Also, I chanced upon this little nugget:

Do you see that sea, sir? Can you hold that water in your hand? When you hold that water in your hand, it’s no longer the sea?

There’s a breeze. Can you hold that? Can you hold the earth? What are you holding?

And I realised that all I had found was the little bit of water that I had held in my palm for just a brief moment till it just flowed out and I was back to where I was. But I had touched the ocean. I knew I was standing in it all the time, even if it wasn’t obvious.

The more I tried to understand, the more I realised that I didn’t know anything. That there was no end to the knowing. Enlightenment as it was presented was only the start of knowing.

While on this subject, I got extremely curious about something. There had to be an instance where a cult was formed but instead of ending in cruel disaster the leader had enough clarity to see their mistake (howsoever late) and to try and make amends. That’s when I found Andrew Cohen. See: https://medium.com/@bescofield/integral-abuse-andrew-cohen-the-culture-of-evolutionary-enlightenment-2010-dace41c982eb and https://www.andrewcohen.com/enlightennext-story/

When I looked for more information, I found this conversation between Andrew and Tim Freke:

That led me to an exploration of the thoughts of both these people and from there even more modern spiritual gurus who did not speak about enlightenment as the end but a stage in the evolution of mankind. I won’t go into the specifics here and I will write about these ideas as I understand them, later.

One of the least confusing and understandable teacher that I stumbled upon on this journey who helped me make sense of most of the things I was contemplating was Rupert Spira. Just watch any of the videos on the link to get a sense of his clarity and honesty.

Honesty – a willingness to admit that you don’t have all the answers, clear mental models (in terms of metaphors) are some of the best qualities that a teacher can have and I feel Rupert is one such teacher who really can help me.

However, I’m deeply interested in learning from Tim and Andrew, as well. There’s a lot to learn but now I have hope of finding my way back to the ocean, even if it is just holding a little bit of it in my palm just for a few moments.

Trusting my self

After my strange experience, I started an enquiry both external and internal into what it was and what it meant.

Everyday, I revise my understanding based on newer concepts (mental models & patterns) that I acquire from the existing knowledge that humanity has about it.

There are a few things that became extremely clear in just a few minutes of searching online:

  1. I am not the first and only person to have this experience.
  2. There are people who have a better understanding and mastery (skill?) over it.
  3. All the masters place great emphasis on direct enquiry and experiential understanding of my true nature over any body of knowledge or tradition of practice.

All this is extremely confusing and can be easily misunderstood, especially with the heavily loaded traditional concept of enlightenment that we have in the Indian culture.

I can see how simple could it be to run with this tiny experience I have had and form a whole tradition or even a cult around it as so many before me have done.

So, I started looking for individuals who seem to have answers to my questions. I discarded anyone who had definitive answers for me. I followed the ones that kept asking me questions, kept pushing me to look, look closely and find the answers from within myself. All they did was to describe them in ways that made sense and helped me understand my own experience.

I’ll probably write about this later but three individuals that I found the most interesting were Andrew Cohen, Tim Freke and Rupert Spira.

Thanks to technology, I was able to meet Tim and Rupert through online webinars that they host regularly and extremely fortunately also got to interact on an one-on-one basis with both of them.

When asking Rupert a question that I couldn’t even formulate properly, he told me that I wasn’t able to trust my own experience.

That sunk in slowly but boy, did it sink.

For the better part of my life, I have been trained to identify the real and unreal parts of my experience. I was labeled mad and was institutionalised for a couple of months about two decades ago. So, my first reaction to any new experience I have is, “Am I going crazy, again?”

But what if I am not going crazy? Hmm, this is going to be tough! 😉

The mind is a process, not an entity

The main quality of depression (or another mental illness) is that it is in a way an intense focus on the mind, the mental experience. Our deepest, on the edge scientific understanding of depression is that it is an extreme form of rumination.

At the apex of evolution, why does the human experience involve rumination? Why is it not enough to be? Why does our experience include contemplating our experience?

Even though, I have no answer to the why and even though I can’t decidedly declare its advantages or disadvantages, as a fact, it is a trait that has come about through evolution and hence is a part of evolutionary progress in time.

The question that we’ve asked is if this rumination or depression is such a problem, why has it continued to survive in a huge portion of the human population. If it were a misstep in the evolutionary process, a hindrance in its becoming (unfolding), why hasn’t it been corrected? Why isn’t it becoming less common? In fact, everything that we know tells us that it is becoming more common. There’s space for scepticism here because this might just be a case of under-reporting and misidentification in the past and only with our current knowledge and understanding are we able to identify depression experiences now.

All these questions and my feeble mind. It keeps getting tired, overwhelmed and exhausted. I can’t participate in the beautiful dance of life around me without inflicting it of the pathos & darkness inside me, this palpable sense of doom, translated into negativity that threatens to break my life down completely at a moment’s notice. It’s like someone activated the self-destruct mode of this mind-body spaceship that I’m piloting and the majority of my time is spent on preventing that.

So, then in the middle of this hopelessness and helplessness, when all choices seem to have disappeared and you give up the fight and are ready to self-destruct, there is a choice. A choice that never seemed obvious. A choice that never seemed to have existed before (but it did, yes it did).

If I’m forced inside and feel locked up in a prison against my choice, I can fight it and bang my head against the walls or the grilled door and scream to be let out or, I can sit down and contemplate.

That’s all that was being asked of me by this depression experience. Sit down and contemplate. When their’s no choice, there is one. To be and investigate the being or to refuse and reject my condition and kill myself. If you have no clue that the first one is an option, you know what you’d end up doing.

So, here I am, I am alive, I am. That’s something everybody agrees on. I exist. For what reason? There’s that trap. I skip the why for the time being because I see that no one has a real answer for that. There’s belief and faith but no evidence that I can experience. There are metaphors that don’t make complete sense. However, irrespective of all that, I am.

Who am I? The day I really asked this question and examined every answer that I had, I had no real answer. I have lived 36 years and I don’t have a real answer to who I am! And I see that people have lived hundred years each and made world changing decisions and come up with ism after ism to create happiness without having any clear answer to this apparently basic question.

I have analysed everything and everyone around me, I wrote (in my view) poignant words to describe it all. I stand up, knowledgeable and intellectual and I have no idea what was this I that analysed, what was this I that came up with those words, what was this I that stood up knowledgeable and intellectual. What the fuck was happening?

And now it makes sense why the world is as messed up as it is. Now it makes sense why I am as messed up as I am. They kind of look like each other, the state of the world and the state of my mind.

So begins atma-vichara. In just a few quick steps, very easily it becomes clear that I’m not my body. That’s like beginner’s existential module. I am not this physical body, I’m the one experiencing this body. Who am I if I’m the one experiencing this body, am I my mind? It’s not as easy as the first one, but then I understand that I’m the one experiencing this mind.

This mind is not an entity, but an activity, a process. A step by step, thought by thought process that’s occurring in me. Just like my body is not an entity, but an activity, a process. A step by step, chemical reaction by chemical reaction process that’s occurring in me.

The body process starts before the mind process and the mind process often stops before the body process. Like any other activity, both mind and body have a start date time and end date time. I am the one performing these activities and experiencing these activities.

My mind is a process, not an entity. That’s where I have reached. I’m not sure if there are other activities and processes that I am involved in besides thoughts and sensations (sub-conscious mind? intuition?). But I am the one running these processes and experiencing them.

I studied biology and medicine, so the idea of the body being a process is easy for me to grasp and understand. The mind process is more difficult. All the mental models that I have are of understanding the mind as an entity (or the entity) and it’s taking time to discard and unlearn. So, there’s a lot of confusion.

The teacher and the teachings

For years, I have been a teacher. In every activity there is a peak experience that you can have, the best that you can be, the need for self-actualisation.

This is true irrespective of the morality of the activity. Everyone derives extreme satisfaction in doing something well, even if that doing well is forgery and fraud. We celebrate excellence culturally, even criminal excellence.

That’s the creative impulse, the becoming, the act of creating things that for a moment relaxes us to the extent that we can appreciate who we are, the thing that we call beauty.

(One of the things I realised on the way was that beauty was not an experience outside me. It didn’t arise in the object but the objects remind us of our true nature, and that realisation or rather the memory of it, is beauty. That’s why the same thing can be extremely ordinary and extra-ordinarily beautiful at different times.)

In the space-time fabric around me (in India) are strong thoughts about what a teacher is supposed to be. I understand that those were hyperboles of praise, the same as love notes between lovestruck dimwits! 🙂

As soon as your mind is able to absorb, you are flooded with metaphors like this one:

गुरुर्ब्रह्मा गुरुर्विष्णु र्गुरुर्देवो महेश्वरः
गुरु साक्षात परब्रह्मा तस्मै श्रीगुरवे नमः
aumamen.com/stotra

What that ancient Shloka roughly means is:

A teacher is the Creator, Surveyer & Destroyer of the universe.
A teacher is the supreme self (God) that you can see with your eyes. I bow to such a teacher.

There are more recent ones like this one from Kabir:

गुरू गोविन्द दोऊ खड़े, काके लागूं पांय।
बलिहारी गुरू अपने गोविन्द दियो बताय।।

Which is an old dialect of Hindi which means:

My teacher and God both are standing, whose feet should I touch?
I can sacrifice everything to my teacher, he told me about God.

There are exaltations after exaltations about the holiness and worship-worthiness of the teacher. There are stories after stories of the importance of complete, unquestioning devotion to the teacher, a complete unquestioning execution of whatever the teacher demands at whatever cost, seriously, at whatever cost.

Do you see the danger in that? Have we seen enough examples of that? (Hint: CULTS)

I teach WordPress Development. It has elements of Information Science, elements of Programming (especially abstractions, mental models & patterns) and elements of Creation. If we lived according to these rules (which in India we actually do), we would be exploited, taken for a ride and not learn anything. That’s why we have so many bad teachers and such a horrible education system.

As our stories say, there was a time when boys at a particular age were sent away to live with their teacher alongside the teachers household and provide the teacher all the labour and resources that he needed on a day to day basis. The students would go around the nearest settlement asking for alms and bring those back to the teacher. The teacher was even gifted cows and other resources so that the teacher never had to worry about his or his family’s or even his students’ daily sustenance.

A young student who entered the school would live there for years, learning practicing under strict discipline and absolute devotion. It is still celebrated as the Guru-Shishya tradition/parampara and as you may have realised, this is also the standard plot of many super-hit movies. (Mr. Miagi, anyone?)

This framework is open to abuse and exploitation. We have seen that again and again and again, throughout history.

As a teacher, my peak experience is the ability of my students to acquire the knowledge and skills that I have, with my guidance and help. My job is not to give them the knowledge, not to teach, but to facilitate their learning. I’m not the leader, I don’t stand at the top, in the front. I stand beside, pointing out useful things, adding some information, helping understand and appreciate what they see. I’m the tour-guide in the museum. Why would folks take the focus away from the museum to the guide?

Yes, it is good to feel gratitude towards the guide for helping you appreciate and learn but the museum is there inspite of and irrespective of the guide. If you take out the guide, the museum will probably get very confusing and you may not understand what you’re looking at. If you forget  about the museum and start adoring the guide as the manifestation of the museum, you’re pretty much everyone.

And that is an interesting approach. When I teach WordPress, I don’t create or have any teachings of my own. I just have techniques, questions, advice and activities that can help my students see and understand what WordPress is like and what it does, how and why. My students are allowed to ask me questions and are in fact encouraged and even forced to do so.

I keep finding myself wrong or learning something new, things that I would probably not discover if I weren’t teaching. In a way, I’m not teaching at all. I’m their guide on a journey of learning, a tour of the skills and knowledge required to function as a WordPress developer who can make websites.

In this context and mental environment, I began watching Wild Wild Country. (Fun fact, the Osho Ashram is exactly 1km from my home.) At the end of watching this documentary, began another journey, internal and external, that helped me find my teachers.