Chapter 17. How to live one’s life

17.1.  The problems with reading the scriptures

In the meditation for April 13 in A Net of Jewels (1996), Ramesh says,

"We do not really live but are being lived.  There is nothing anywhere but the one universal, impersonal 'I', and not a single object anywhere has any existence independent of it."

In the meditation for August 9, he says,

"Anyone who has truly apprehended that it is impossible for him to live independently according to his own "will power" would naturally cease having any intentions. When he is convinced that living is a sort of dreaming in which he has no control over his actions, all tension ceases and a sense of total freedom takes over."

The title of this chapter misconstrues the living dream because we as individuals are not living; we are being lived. We are merely dreamed figures, and as such are being dreamed.

For the purpose of ease in communication, we shall often use the active voice as though there really are individuals doing something, rather than the passive voice, which is more appropriate for describing events happening spontaneously (causelessly). All spiritual sages and masters do this, but one must understand that it is only for convenience in communication and does not accurately portray what is happening. In fact, a common source of misunderstanding of the spiritual scriptures is this confusion. In many cases, the writings of the enlightened are descriptions of what is happening, not prescriptions for attaining enlightenment. Enlightenment cannot be attained by a doer, it can only happen spontaneously. A good example of this is the much-quoted Chapter II, Verse 47 of the classic Hindu text, the Bhagavad Gita in which Lord Krishna (a manifestation of God) describes to Arjuna the essence of karma yoga, the yoga of action (as translated from Sanskrit by Ramesh, in The Bhagavad Gita: A Selection (no date)): 

"All you can do is to work for the sake of the work. You have no right to the fruits of the work (the consequences of your actions are not in your control). But do not let this fact make you lean towards inaction." 

Ramesh explains that the nondualistic interpretation of this verse is that nobody has the freedom to choose whether or not to work. There is no free will, and work merely happens spontaneously. Any fear that acceptance of this verse will lead to fatalistic inaction is unfounded because whether action is to occur or not is not up to the individual. [Note: When you read the Bhagavad Gita, your insight into your true nature will be much more incisive if you identify with Lord Krishna (God) rather than Arjuna (the seeker)].

While we are considering this verse of the Bhagavad Gita, it is worth comparing Ramesh’s translation with one by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (MMY) in Bhagavad Gita: A New Translation and Commentary with Sanskrit Text (1969): 

"You have control over action alone, never over its fruits. Live not for the fruits of action, nor attach yourself to inaction." 

This is a good example of how radically different the meanings of two different translations are. From MMY’s translation it would be difficult to extract Ramesh’s interpretation even though both translations presumably come through enlightened beings. The lesson here is not only to distinguish between description and prescription, but also to be very cautious in reading any writings that have been translated. Any translation will inevitably convey the message that the translator wishes to convey. Of course, the danger here is much greater if the translation was made by an unenlightened person. This is a difficulty with many translations of the ancient scriptures.

[Note: Many ancient scriptures were originally passed down in the oral tradition. Buddhist scriptures were not written down until about 25 B.C., 500 years after the Buddha's death ( The sacred Sanskrit literature of India is thought to have been first written down at about same time     ( Because Jewish scriptures had been in writing for centuries B.C., there was no oral tradition at the time of Jesus, but he himself left no writings. Thus, the first record of his teaching is thought to have been written about 70-80 A.D. by the apostle Mark ( In every step of these long processes, there were dangers of errors of memory, translation, and transmission.]

It is possible that the two different translations of the passages from the Bhagavad Gita above may be a result of the two different audiences that Ramesh and MMY intended to reach. Ramesh had no interest in diluting or compromising his message in order to reach a large audience, while MMY was interested in reaching the largest possible audience. Most people will not be interested in hearing that there is no free will, thus Ramesh’s message inspires only a few, whereas MMY’s message is welcomed by millions. (Again, of course, we must remember that both messages are part of the impersonal functioning of Consciousness, and neither Ramesh nor MMY is functioning as an individual.)

In the Advaita Fellowship Newsletter of November 2008, Wayne Liquorman says,

"I was particularly amused when in one scene in the DVD Maharaj talked about the LIFE FORCE being responsible for everything. What was written in the subtitle was that the LIGHT SOURCE was responsible for everything! It was certainly a simple and understandable mistake but it illustrates the inherent danger of considering the recorded statements of the guru as being Truth. I would not be surprised to learn that somewhere in the world there was a seeker earnestly prostrating himself in front of a light bulb!"

As this quote illustrates, another difficulty with reading spiritual writings is that most of them were written to be understood and accepted within the culture of the original audience. Because such cultures were usually vastly different from contemporary Western culture, reading translated spiritual writings has the additional difficulty that the spiritually meaningful must be separated from the culturally irrelevant. This is true not only for ancient scriptures, but also for the translations of relatively recent dialogues between sages and their disciples. One particularly misleading and aggravating example is that of Ramana Maharshi’s concept of the Heart. Maharshi spoke frequently of the Heart, a term which he used to signify the Self. However, this causes no end of confusion, not only for today’s readers of his dialogues, but also for his original audiences. Because many sages refer to the feeling and emotional center in the body as the heart, people commonly tried to locate the Self in the body rather than thinking of it as pure Awareness.

Translating a spiritual system from one culture to another can be treacherous. For example, traditionally, the teachings and practices of Buddhism contained more than 200 rules of behavior for monks and more than 300 for nuns ( However, as Buddhism has spread to the West, these rules have presented huge obstacles to Western laypeople in their efforts to practice Buddhism. Consider some examples of the Buddhist precept against killing (from

"Deliberately killing an animal — or having it killed — is an offence. [This includes creatures down to the size of a bedbug or ant.]

"Using water, knowing that it contains living beings that will die from one's use, is an offence.

"One of the monk's requisites is a water filter. This is employed to prevent the killing of (visible) waterborne creatures when making use of water from a well or stream. Practically, this also leads monks to take extra care that they cover water jars or regularly change water so that mosquito larvae do not have opportunity to breed.

"Intentionally damaging or destroying a living plant is an offence ... Therefore destroying a living plant — for instance, felling a tree, uprooting a flower, burning grass — is an offence; as is picking fruit from a tree, a flower from a bush, etc. It is an offence of wrong-doing to damage or destroy fertile seeds or pips, or viable seedlings."

Now let us compare this precept with the proscription against murder in the Bible (all biblical passages are from the New Revised Standard Version at

In Exodus 20:13, the original Sixth Commandment is stated:

You shall not murder.

But this is followed by the following passages from Deuteronomy 21: 

18 If someone has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey his father and mother, who does not heed them when they discipline him, 19then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his town at the gate of that place. 20They shall say to the elders of his town, ‘This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a glutton and a drunkard.’ 21Then all the men of the town shall stone him to death. So you shall purge the evil from your midst; and all Israel will hear, and be afraid.

and the following ones from Deuteronomy 22:

20 If, however, this charge is true, that evidence of the young woman’s virginity was not found, 21 then they shall bring the young woman out to the entrance of her father’s house and the men of her town shall stone her to death, because she committed a disgraceful act in Israel by prostituting herself in her father’s house. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.

Interpreting the Christian Bible has not only the difficulties of being written for a different culture, and being written or translated by writers whose enlightenment is dubious, but it also has the additional obstacle of being intrinsically dualistic. Nevertheless, as we see in Sections 14.3 and 21.3, several passages have nondualistic interpretations, although these interpretations are virtually unknown in Christian circles. Furthermore, any scripture that is based on the God-concept is most easily given a nondualistic interpretation if God is assumed to be Awareness/Presence (see Section 14.3) rather than being separate from us.

Question: Have you ever been unable to understand the Bible? Have you ever been able to understand it?

Compare the above passages with the following ones from Chapter 18 of the Bhagavad Gita (see ):

16...the one with bad understanding,
Who looks upon the soul as the agent of all action,
Is of perverted mind and does not realize the truth.

17 But the one who does not feel that he does it,
And whose self is not attached to what he does,
Does not kill any beings even if he kills them.

The Bhagavad Gita is not a manual for behavior, but rather is a description of nondualistic action (which we can call nonaction).

17.2.  Whatever happens must happen

In physics, the invariance of physical laws describes what does and does not happen. For example, because physical laws are observed to be the same everywhere in space (invariance in space), momentum is observed to be conserved. Because physical laws are observed to be the same at all times (invariance in time), energy is observed to be conserved. In general, anything that is permitted by invariance principles and conservation laws can and does happen, and anything that is precluded by them does not happen. However, although we call these principles laws, there is no obligation for nature to obey them. They are merely man-made descriptions of what is regularly observed to happen or not to happen (see Section 12.4).

Theoretical cosmologists apply the known physical laws to the study of the universe as a whole. The cosmological anthropic principle was first stated by Australian theoretical physicist Brandon Carter in 1974 (Carter, B., Large Number Coincidences and the Anthropic Principle in Cosmology, in Confrontation of Cosmological Theories with Data, M.S. Longair, Editor. 1974, pp. 291-298). Simply stated, it says,

"What we can expect to observe must be restricted by the conditions necessary for our presence as observers."

In other words, what we observe depends on our existence as observers (see also Sections 6.4, 6.5, 6.10). The physical laws that we observe must be compatible with life as we know it. If they were not, we would not be around to observe them. This is tautological but it is also profound.

Cosmologists use the many-worlds interpretation of quantum physics (see Section 6.7) because it does not require a separate observer and because it describes and includes life itself. In this interpretation, anything that is allowed by physical law can and does occur in some universe. Cosmologists study a variety of theoretical universes, in only some of which are conditions such that life is possible. If we consider all of these conceptual universes, plus the general principle that whatever can happen does, we can restate the anthropic principle in a slightly different way:

In every universe in which life can happen, it does.

However, since Advaita is not theoretical, there is no objective reality and there are no other possible universes. Because life happens in this moment, there is no possibility that it does not happen in this moment (another tautology). Thus, we can say:

Life happens because it must.

Because we know from our own experience that life does not happen without suffering (see Sections 14.5, 21.1), we can also say:

Suffering happens because it must.

Suffering is universal, therefore it is impersonal. It is a problem only if we think it is directed at us personally rather than being an impersonal fact of life. When suffering happens, it is foolish to resist it (see Section 21.1). If we could feel our anger and sadness without thinking they should not be this way, we might experience a profound shift in our perception of life (see Chapter 25).

Question: Suppose you accepted that suffering is not your suffering, but instead is impersonal. Would it still be suffering?

In the meditation for July 2 in A Net of Jewels (1996), Ramesh says, 

"Once there is a clear apprehension that an individual human being is an inseparable part of the totality of phenomenal manifestation and that he cannot pull himself out of the totality as an independent and autonomous entity, man naturally ceases to have personal intentions.  When he is convinced that living is a sort of dreaming in which he cannot have any effective control either over his circumstances or his actions therein, all his tensions cease, and a sense of total freedom takes over. He then willingly and freely accepts whatever comes his way within the totality of functioning that this dream-life is."

In the September 2009 issue of the Advaita Fellowship newsletter, Wayne Liquorman says,

"One of the most common responses I get during my talks about the Living Teaching is, "If everything is 'just' a happening and is predetermined, why should I make any effort to do anything?" The key word in the statement is "should." In fact, there is truly no question of should. Whether you realize it or not, you do what you do because the Universe dictates your actions. It does so via a combination of genetic predisposition combined with subsequent environmental conditioning (experience and learning). If you look deeply into your own actions you may see that you do things regardless of your feelings that you should or shouldn't do them. The "should" is simply a story that is told about what will happen or has happened. Sometimes what happens is aligned with your feeling of "should" and you are content. Other times there is a disconnect between what has happened and what you feel "should" have happened and there is guilt (if it is YOU that should have done it differently) or a feeling that the world is messed up (if it is the UNIVERSE that should have done it differently).

When our decisions are in agreement with what happens, our mistaken sense that we decided what we were going to do is reinforced, and then we feel pride at our successes. At other times, no matter how determined we are to do something or not to do something, our actions are just the opposite. This causes guilt and frustration at our incompetence, lack of discipline, or lack of character. The truth in both cases is that neither our decisions nor our actions are ever in our hands, but are entirely spontaneous.

A good metaphor for this situation is given by Wei Wu Wei in his 1964 book, All Else is Bondage.  A child rides in one of the toy cars going around a track at a carnival. The cars are confined to the track by the mechanism, so that the steering wheel has no effect at all. At first, when the car goes in the direction in which he is steering, the child thinks he steered the car in that direction. Then, when he steers in the wrong direction and the car does not go that way, he either becomes frustrated or learns that his steering has nothing to do with the direction the car is going in. If he learns this, he is a lot smarter than we who still think we have the power to do something.

In the meditation for July 14 of A Net of Jewels (1996), Ramesh says,

"Understand that there really is no doer and continue to act in life as if you are the doer; then the appropriate attitude of compassion gets developed."

With all this in mind, what can we say about how to lead one’s life? In general, we can say two things. First, since the ego is powerless to choose or to act and everything happens by itself, it is clear that everything that happened in the past had to happen just as it did. Nothing about it could have happened in any other way. Really understanding this means that there can be no possibility of guilt, regret, shame, or blame for anything in the past, either directed towards oneself or anybody else. However, until total understanding occurs, guilt, shame, and blame are likely to continue.

Second, since we cannot decide or choose our actions, everything that happens now and in the future must happen in the way that it happens. There is nothing that we should or should not do, and nothing that we should have done or should not have done. This understanding helps remove any vacillation or indecision that is based on fear of making a mistake, since we know that mistakes are not possible. (It need not remove all indecision since there can be natural indecision not based on fear of making a mistake.) We then know that what we want as well as our choices and the outcomes of our choices all happen spontaneously and impersonally. When we become accustomed to the idea that we not only do not make decisions but cannot make them ,and that decisions just happen, we just witness what happens. We can then witness the chain of thoughts leading to a decision, and see the inevitability of each decision. A simple, practical way to summarize this approach is to just be aware that we are not doing anything. Most likely, no radical change in behavior will occur because in fact we have never done anything.

Question: What is the "I"? Where does the thought that it can do something come from? 

17.3.  Meaning and purpose in life

In the meditation for March 8 of A Net of Jewels (1996), Ramesh says,

"To this that you see as the universe, there is no purpose. It is all a lila, a play in which we join and contribute some entertainment to pass the time."

In the meditation for July 16, he says,

"The meaning of life is that life has no meaning other than the living of it as a dream over which one has really no control."

In the meditation for April 29, he says,

"To consider that the world has no meaning or purpose is merely to say that the world is not centered on humanity. Without his ideals and motivations, an individual is frightened of being a nothing in the nothingness of a purposeless world. In actuality, man's ideals of "purpose" as the basis of life and nature are nothing but his own conditioned concepts. Nature cannot be seen in terms of human thought, logic or language. What appears cruel and unjust in nature seems so only when the matter is considered from the view point of a separated and estranged individual human. But the rest of nature is totally unconcerned because the rest of nature is not human-hearted."

In the meditation for May 6, he says,

"That this entire phenomenal show of the universe has no purpose indicates the obvious futility of seeking a goal in life. No sooner is a goal conceived than spontaneity is at once destroyed and the self conscious ego takes over in destructive competition against everything that comes, thus missing all that is worthwhile in life. It is, indeed, the "purposeful" life which entirely misses out on the purpose of life! The true purposeless vision misses nothing and enjoys everything without inhibition."

Question: Is it fearful to you to think that life has no meaning of its own?

Whenever good or bad fortune strikes, the thought may arise in the conditioned mind that there must be some meaning to it, particularly if a belief in God is also present. Thus, the event may be thought to reflect either God's favor or disfavor, and this can result in either pride or guilt. However, if God's will is all there is, (see Section 12.5), there can be no individual to feel pride or guilt. If pride or guilt arises, it is God's will, not the individual's.

In the teaching of nonduality, the world has no meaning in itself. Birth, life, good and bad fortune, sickness, suffering, and death are all impersonal. Therefore, to think that "my" suffering is due to "my" failure is a misunderstanding. Any thought of meaning is just a thought that has no more meaning than any other thought. However, do not make the mistake of believing that absence of purpose is the same thing as presence of randomness. We know from our own past and from history that events occur in a pattern, not at random (see Section 12.3).

In nondual teaching, it makes no sense to ask, what is the meaning of Love, Being, Presence, or Awareness. The notion of meaning itself is superfluous because the essence of nonduality is Love, Being, Presence, and Awareness (see Chapter 16). But remember, these words are intended as pointers, not descriptors, because nonduality cannot be described (see Section 10.1).

In the meditation for May 20 in A Net of Jewels (1996), Ramesh says,

"Essentially, what the average person wants out of life is just one thing: happiness. It is in this quest that he goes through life day after day in the firm belief that he will somehow, someday find final satisfaction through the things and circumstances of his world. There comes a time, however, when man gets utterly tired, physically and mentally, of this constant search because he finds that it never ends. He comes to the startling discovery that every kind of satisfaction has within itself the roots of pain and torment. At this stage his search cannot but take the turn inwards toward that happiness which is independent of external things."
Question: Does this quotation describe your experience?

Ramesh's statement is consistent with the Buddha's "Four Noble Truths" (see Section 14.5): the Presence of Dukkha, the Cause of Dukkha, the End of Dukkha, and the Path Leading to the End of Dukkha.

On p. 95 of I Am That (1984), Nisargadatta says,

"You have a purpose only as long as you are not complete; till then completeness, perfection, is the purpose."

What else can we say about purpose in one’s life? The first thing we can say is that we never choose a purpose--purpose happens spontaneously as does everything else. If purpose must happen, it will happen, if not, it won’t. With that said, we can also say that, while most people are unhappy if their lives seem purposeless, purpose is not static, and usually changes as one evolves. Initially, it is likely that one’s purpose will be simply to find a better, simpler, more meaningful, more peaceful, more satisfying way to live, without all of the conflict, stress, and dissatisfaction that accompanies life driven by ego fears and desires. As one evolves, purpose may become more specific, and may narrow down to an all-consuming search for God, for the Self, or for Reality. This search then guides and determines where and what one does, from work, to rest, to vacations and holidays, to reading, to friends, to diet, to exercise, to spiritual practice. Every minute of one’s life becomes dedicated to the search. Gradually, the realization grows that what one is looking for cannot be found outwardly, and attachment weakens, suffering decreases, and the intensity of the search diminishes. Soon it matters little whether awakening happens or not. Then, spiritual seeking and the sense of personal doership both disappear, and the realization occurs that there never was an individual entity doing anything.

Question: Do you feel that your life has a purpose? Has it ever changed?

17.4.  The will to live/the wish to die

In the meditation for November 3 in A Net of Jewels (1996), Ramesh says,

"The essence of manifest existence is continuous change, from integration or birth to disintegration or death. With sentience comes the will to live, to not yield to disintegration, and this is the ego, which generates the thinking mind and all man's misery in the ensuing futile attempt to avoid the inevitable."

Purpose can manifest in a multitude of forms, the most apparent among them being the will to live. However, the Second Noble Truth of Buddhism states that suffering comes from the craving for nonexistence as well as from its dual opposite, the craving for existence (see Section 14.5). An extreme form of craving for nonexistence is the death wish. When the death wish appears in an unaware person, it is usually interpreted as a wish for the destruction of the body, and he/she will try to suppress it out of guilt and because of the religious and cultural stigma against suicide. However, to suppress it is to throw away an opportunity to understand it.  A more aware interpretation is that the death wish is nothing more than a wish for the end of suffering. This need not require physical death because the body is not the source of the suffering (although it is the seat of physical pain). As we have seen in Section 11.4, the real source of suffering is identification with the "I"-concept, which results in the imaginary "me". Thus, the death wish is really a wish for disidentification and for the ensuing peace.

Question: Are you afraid to die? Are you afraid not to die?

The stigma against suicide condemns as sin any attempt to escape from life because religion regards life as a duty, burden, or sentence imposed on us by God. This is an example of the absurdity to which belief in a god created in the image of the ego will lead (see Section 14.2).

Disidentification from the "I"-concept can occur without death (see Chapters 20, 22, 23, 24), whereas disidentification from the body is death (see Section 10.4).  Since the body itself is nothing but an inert mechanism, death has no intrinsic meaning (see previous section).  Whatever state of spiritual awareness is present, life in extreme pain or depression can become intolerable.  Even for the aware, physical pain can become so intense that the impulse to end it all will not be easily dismissed. 

In 1980, Derek Humphry organized the Hemlock Society in order to inform those who are suffering from incurable disease of their options for release.  His book, "Final Exit" (1991), is a how-to manual that discusses "the practicalities of self-deliverance and assisted suicide".  In the plaudits to the book, Isaac Asimov wrote,

"No decent human being would allow an animal to suffer without putting it out of its misery. It is only to human beings that human beings are so cruel as to allow them to live on in pain, in hopelessness, in living death, without moving a muscle to help them. It is against such attitudes that this book fights."  

Whatever the motivation, if suicide occurs, it need not be interpreted as failure. How can there be failure if there is no doer and there is no choice?

Question: Have you known somebody who committed suicide? Do you think that person failed at life?

17.5.  If suffering is to end, spiritual practice usually happens first

Whether or not we suffer is not up to us. Whether or not we engage in any kind of practice, and if we do, whether or not it works, is also not up to us.  As we have said previously, awakening (and all other events) can only happen spontaneously. It can never be the direct result of imagined doership in any behavior or practice. 

What then can we say about spiritual practice? Although there are isolated cases of enlightenment occurring without prior spiritual practice (Ramana Maharshi is an example), in the overwhelming majority of cases, much intense practice comes before enlightenment. However, it would be a mistake to expect that spiritual practice in itself will lead to awakening because there is an imaginary doer in all volitional practice and the doer itself is the problem. If spiritual practice happens, its real value is that it can relieve our suffering (see examples in Section 16.2). 

Let us recall what Galen Sharp says about why we are dissatisfied (see the full document in Section 17.8):

"Because not everything goes our way. Because we dread doing the things we don’t want to do, but have to do. And we can’t do many things we want to do. All this boils down to the fact that we feel we are a person with desires that conflict with our circumstances and responsibilities."

Similarly, in the July 3 meditation in A Net of Jewels (1996), Ramesh says,

“Life presents problems because we fight life; we don't accept what-is in the present moment. We want to become something other than what we are.  We want something other than what we now have.”

Suffering is a consequence of identification with the "I" (see Section 11.4). If we feel that we are limited, we will feel that we need to have control over what happens to us. But in fact we are limitless. We have no control but we need none, including in any of the practices mentioned in this course. So, why are the practices mentioned?  If a body-mind is so conditioned that it allows a practice to happen, and if the intention to practice occurs, it might happen. If not, it probably won't (see Sections 5.15, 18.4). But, if a practice does not address the nature of suffering and its causes, it will not relieve suffering.

Effective practices relieve suffering by quieting the thinking mind (see Section 11.9). This is necessary for the efficient functioning of the working mind. A quiet mind is also an end in itself since it is always accompanied by the peace of pure Awareness. In fact, this can be a guide to distinguish between effective and ineffective practices. If suffering is relieved by a practice, it is worth continuing. If it does not, and especially if suffering increases, it is better to discontinue it.

Effective practices help to disidentify from all forms of conditioning. Somewhat ironically, a quieter thinking mind initially allows unconscious conditioning (see Section 5.15), also called vasanas or latent tendencies, to rise to the awareness of the conscious mind. The thinking mind ordinarily represses unwanted thoughts, urges, and desires, which are the dark side of the ego (the shadow). When repression ceases, the shadow comes into awareness. Papaji (H.W.L. Poonja) described this by saying that, when you begin to awaken, all the gods and demons of your past come to reclaim you. Vasanas are no different from any other aspect of the functioning of Consciousness. It is just as possible to disidentify from them as from any other kind of conditioning (see Chapters 22, 23, 24). The potential of vasanas to destroy one’s peace is minimized by the deepening realization that their release represents the dissolution of the thinking mind.

On pp. 477-478 of I Am That (1984), Nisargadatta says,

"The true teacher will not imprison his disciple in a prescribed set of ideas, feelings and actions. On the contrary, he will show him patiently the need to be free from all ideas and set patterns of behavior, to be vigilant and earnest and go with life wherever it takes him; not to enjoy or suffer, but to understand and learn.

Under the right teacher, the disciple learns to learn, not to remember and obey. Satsang, the company of the noble, does not mold, it liberates. Beware of all that makes you dependent! Most of the so-called “Surrenders to the Guru” end in disappointment, if not in tragedy. Fortunately, an earnest seeker will disentangle himself in time, the wiser for the experience."

We must keep in mind that our true nature is characterized by the absence of the sense of personal doership. This cannot be realized if we engage in any practices that require our doing something without looking for the doer that is doing it. Therefore, any other dos and don’ts, or shoulds and shouldn’ts, given to us by a spiritual teacher must be a warning that that particular teacher may not be Self-realized, and cannot help to end our suffering. There are far more teachers in this category than there are who genuinely realize their true nature, and who would never try to impose a regimen that would increase our sense of bondage. The world of spiritual materialism is a vast marketplace of tricksters, magicians, clowns, performers, entertainers, hucksters, and money seekers, most of whom are deluded into thinking they are free, and who disguise themselves in their own fantasy versions of divine garb and persona.

Particularly destructive among the self-deluded spiritual teachers are those who teach that only they and their personal power can bring freedom, or that they are the ones best suited for the task. They would merely increase our sense of boundedness, thus strengthening the chains of our bondage. No genuine teacher will imply that we need anything or anyone, since we are already free and complete. A teacher’s function is to convey this to the student, and to help him or her to see that. A teacher is at best an invaluable resource to the student, and at worst, a "false prophet", the deluded purporting to teach the deluded, the blind trying to lead the blind (for subjective ratings of a large number of spiritual teachers, consult

Question: Have you ever been misled by a spiritual teacher?

17.6.  The rarity of enlightenment

We now say a few words about the probability that awakening will occur in any particular body-mind organism (it would be incorrect to say that awakening occurs to an individual, since awakening is the understanding that there is no individual). For this purpose, Ramesh is fond of quoting Chapter 7, Verse 3 from the Bhagavad Gita. In this verse, Lord Krishna says to Arjuna, 

"It is perhaps only one in thousands of beings who strives for freedom. And among those who strive--and think they have succeeded--hardly one knows the total Truth of My Being."

Because enlightenment cannot be measured objectively, it would be impossible to determine how many enlightened beings there are in the world, but this passage may be a guide. The verse says that only one in thousands is even a seeker. For example, of the current population in the U.S. of 300,000,000, there may be a few hundred thousand seekers. Of these seekers-- who in addition think they are enlightened--hardly one knows Reality. This is a very vague statement, but perhaps it means another factor of 1000 down. If so, it would mean there are fewer than a thousand truly enlightened beings in the U.S. From my own observations and experience, I would be surprised if the actual number exceeded that.

Question: Do you know any enlightened beings? How do you know they are enlightened?

This is an indication of the rarity of enlightenment. To the seeker, this might be depressing, but in response to that, Ramesh has said the following:  

"Whether you are a seeker or not is not your choice. Whether enlightenment happens in that body-mind organism or not is also not your choice. So continue to do what you think you have been doing, within your own standards of morality and discipline, and enjoy life" (Composite of many statements in Your Head in the Tiger’s Mouth, 1998)."

"Enjoying life to me means accepting whatever is, sometimes happiness, sometimes unhappiness", (Echoes of Consciousness, video tape, 1999)."

For more discussion of acceptance, see Chapters 19 and 22.

In the meditation of February 15 in A Net of Jewels (1996), Ramesh says, 

"The surest signs of spiritual progress are a lack of concern about spiritual progress and an absence of anxiety about liberation."

17.7.  How is peace realized?

On p. 49 of I Am That (1984), Nisargadatta says,

"Nothing of value can happen to a mind which knows exactly what it wants. For nothing the mind can visualize and want is of much value."

Although enlightenment is rare, the end of suffering need not be. It will end when it becomes apparent that striving for either enlightenment or happiness is futile because enlightenment is not a thing that can be achieved, and happiness, like everything else in the world, is fleeting (see the quote for May 20 in Section 17.3). However, peace is neither happiness nor unhappiness. It underlies happiness and unhappiness, excitement and boredom. Because it is timeless, it must be realized now if it is to be realized at all. It cannot be realized in the future or the past because they are nothing but concepts and do not exist.

How can suffering end? Since suffering is to want what we don't have, then peace is to welcome what we do have (see also Chapter 22). Since what we have changes in every moment, what we welcome must also change in every moment. Thus, peace in every moment is to welcome what we have in every moment even as it changes from moment to moment. This may be frightening to those who still think they have some control and can stop change. But because there is no doer, we cannot get what we want and we cannot stop change. If it sometimes happens that we do get what we want, it is never because of anything we do--it is because it had to happen (see Section 17.2). Paradoxically, the only way we can get what we want is by welcoming only what we get, including all of our thoughts, feelings, emotions, sensations, and perceptions (this also can only happen spontaneously).

Exercise: Imagine getting everything you want. Would this bring you peace?
Now imagine welcoming everything you get. Would this bring you peace?

17.8. An exploration of nonvolitional living (1993), by Galen Sharp (from

"Nothing perceived can be me or mine": Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj
"Cease identification with all phenomonality": Wei Wu Wei

Why are we so unhappy? Because not everything goes our way. Because we dread doing the things we don't want to do, but have to do. And we can't do many things we want to do. All this boils down to the fact that we feel we are a person with desires that conflict with our circumstances and our responsibilities. In other words our 'volition' is not always in line with what is happening or what should be done. An understanding of what-we-are and what the mind is can free us from this false sense of volition and remove the burden of our responsibilities. Then, we actually will be happy. Without even trying!

1. You are not the mind.

We have been taught that the mind is ourself, thinking.

We cannot be the mind because we are what is perceiving the mind. Look for yourself right now! You are looking at thoughts from a higher (prior) level. We cannot perceive ourself just as our eye cannot see itself because it is what is looking. The mind cannot be ourself. The Chinese Ch'an master Hsi Yun (Huang Po) said, "A perception cannot perceive." So, are you the perceptions (thoughts and feelings) or what is perceiving them?

We feel we are the mind because of the way the mind itself works. The mind understands things by comparing perceptions and creating objective concepts of them so it can compare one concept with another. This is knowledge. Naturally, it soon creates a concept of itself as 'me' and there the trouble begins. Thus, the mind associates the sense of 'me' with its operation and with the body and we believe and feel we are an individual, thinking, acting entity. This is the origin of all our suffering.  Once we feel we are an individual we begin to see and evaluate everything as it relates to us as an individual. We become a thing in a universe of things.  A very small, vulnerable, but supremely important (at least to ourself) individual, in a vast, infinite, seemingly purposeless, uncaring cosmos. We lose our original, true sense of identity with the Absolute.

2. The mind goes its own way

By watching our thoughts over a period of time, we can see that the mind is operating literally 'by itself '. Thoughts 'just appear' and keep on appearing automatically. We have this feeling that it is 'me' who is thinking, but this is just a conditioned reflex caused by the concept of ourself as an individual. By watching thoughts we can see how they appear unbidden, uncalled. Just try not thinking for a even a few seconds and see that it is impossible.  No 'me' is controlling them. We may have the illusion of purposely thinking about a particular subject, but notice that the idea to purposely think about something comes by itself. Then we do it, automatically, but with the false feeling we are the 'decider'. That feeling of being the 'decider' is not us, it belongs to the mind.  It is something we are perceiving.

This is not proven in just a few minutes of thought watching. It often takes many months of diligent watching to really see it and to be convinced. This is because the conditioned feeling of being the 'thinker' is so deep that the very idea that the mind goes its own way seems ridiculous. But the payoff of this single discovery is enormous in terms of liberation and deeper understanding of ourselves and the universe.

The very idea that the mind is operating by itself is unacceptable for most people because it seems to remove the control of the mind from the individual and allows the individual to cease accepting responsibility for his actions. Then they will do all the 'bad' things they want. This is a valid reason from the point of view of an 'individual'. Actually, because the mind conceives of itself as an individual, it uses this fear of harm to itself or reward for itself as a form of inhibition to keep from doing things that would be 'wrong' (ultimately  harmful to it or to its image of itself). However, this is not you, it is the mind regulating itself. This is where feelings of bondage and frustration come from. Because the mind conceives of itself as an individual, it accumulates conflicting needs and desires. The purpose is not just to release the inhibitions that keep us under control, but to dissolve the mind's illusion of itself as an individual in charge of and identified with the mind. That will, at the same time begin to dissolve the inhibitions as well as the need for them because the conflicting needs and desires will go with the illusory self!

 3. You are not the doer.

You have never done anything! Because the mind has conceived itself to be an individual it also conceives of itself as the Thinker and also the 'Actor' or 'Doer'. Yet it is not anyone. The mind is not a 'thing' or entity but a process. The thinking process. Simply a process that is happening automatically, the same as the heart is beating automatically. This is why we cannot live the perfect life even though we have been taught how a 'good' person should act. We know we shouldn't get angry at our spouse or our children whom we love, but despite the greatest resolve, we still do. Why? Because we are not the thinker of our thoughts nor the doer of our actions. Because they are not our thoughts or our actions. We are not even the experiencer of the experience. What are we? We are what is perceiving the mind and that is not anyone.

We are what is perceiving the doing, but we are not the doer. We never were. We have never done the bad things and we have never done the good things either. Thoughts are affected by the environment (such as this article), inner habits and tendencies, and by the mind's concept of a 'me', but not by any actual 'me'. We are incapable of interfering with the mind. Why? Because there is no one to interfere. We aren't anyone. Thus, we absolutely cannot have any volition. The concept of being an individual is an invention of the mind itself. It is an artifact of the way the mind works. The feeling of volition is an illusion spawned by this concept of 'me'.

We can never find our own will (volition) in any action.  Every so called action is actually an automatic reaction of the mind with an accompanying feeling of volition. It is not 'me', it is the mind automatically going its own way! Simply watch the mind. Be aware of it. That's all that can be done because that is all we are doing right now. That is all we ever do. That is all we have ever done. It is the mind that thinks and feels otherwise and we are what is aware of what the mind thinks and feels. We are perfectly open, empty and still. We are not in space or time. We can never be affected in any way. We have no needs or desires whatever. We just shine brilliantly, effortlessly.

We are what perceives what is appearing. In fact, it is because of this perceiving that anything at all appears. What we are is the beingness of what appears. The isness, or the amness, if you will, of the very sense of  'I am'. Another way to put it is that we are the Awareness in which everything appears (the here-now, the sense of presence, consciousness). See that we are simply and only the awareness of the mind while it goes its own way. Every sensation and feeling it has belongs to it, to manifestation ... not to ourself. With everything that appears in any way, we can say 'Not me, not me.'

We are the Watcher, not the thinker, or the doer, or the experiencer.

Once this is deeply and completely understood, the mind can let go of its sense of volition and its sense of being an individual, relax and just be knowledge. Everything happens by itself. Everything happens as it should. Everything happens as it must.

When the mind lets go of its sense of self and volition there is the deepest sense of complete peace and fulfillment. It is the Bliss spoken of by the ancient masters. All fear disappears.

We are now looking from our true Source (as we always were but didn't realize) the timeless, spaceless Absolute. The unmanifest. This is what we all are. This is the ultimate source of our light of awareness. We are perceiving the manifest from its source, the unmanifest and it unfolds spatially and temporally as it eternally IS.

This page last updated April 21, 2010.
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