19 May 2010


The Need to go Beyond No-I

I have a fundamental disagreement with the Neo-Advaita and Rinzai Zen position that awakening begins and ends with the discovery that the I-thought has no internal object of reference. That is, they hold once you look inside and see that there is no I, one immediately recognizes that all that there is, is Consciousness, and that is the Absolute, and no more practice or self-investigative effort is needed. Actually, it is only the first freedom.

Firstly, many people who do look inside find all kinds of internal objects. Others have very poor introspective skills and find nothing. Others find endless, internal and imaginal objects, from thoughts, to feelings, to memories, imaginations, images to body sensations. If you are naturally introspective, or have developed introspective awareness, the internal-imaginal world is a zoo. For this person, to say they find no I is not a compelling argument, because they don’t understand which of those zoo inmates they are supposed to reject as not-I or I.

On the other hand, the non-introspective person easily finds nothing because the inner world has never been open to them. Thus, following the command and interpretation, “Look within for the I,” followed by the statement, “You didn’t find anything, did you,” makes complete sense. There are many, many people who are not aware of inner objects like the I-sense, emotions or images. But they can grasp concepts.

From there they can easily accept the Neo-Advaita guru’s statement, that indeed, there is no I, and that which you see and experience now is all that there is, call it “isness” or whatever they want to call it. The guru tells them this Is-ness is the Absolute and unborn nature of reality. The guru now tells them they are enlightened. Just look inside for a moment, finding no I, and know that this is the beginning and end of spirituality.”

In fact, if the person accepts this, he or she has merely accepted a new concept about awakening. There is no need to do anything. You are already perfect, no-I, blissful, complete and absolute. Now go forth to facebook and trade quotes with other neo-Advaita gurus and students. “Is-ness” for the non-introspective person is more or less the waking external world.

However, the sophisticated student for whom the inner world is blindingly complex will not buy this. He or she understands there is much more to the I-sense than merely the I-thought. For this person, seeing that there is no internal object to which the I-thought points is merely the first step in a long process of finding out who or what he or she truly is at the deepest level.

Both Ramana and Nisargadatta speak of deeper levels of I and consciousness, and of the I-sense that even goes deeper than waking or sleep consciousness itself. So does Robert who endless told students to dive deep within themselves. He never said look within and find nothing, and then know you are liberated.

The I-sense is quite complex and must be understood completely at all levels before there can be any talk about the absolute or the ultimate meaning of life and death.

The Neo-Advaitin’s discovery of no I object related to the I thought, in no way supports any argument that waking consciousness and the abundancy of the waking consciousness is Absolute or immortal.

What is immortal is entirely beyond consciousness as we know it and this can only be understood by a progressive deepening of awareness of the internal world and more especially, the I-sense. The I-sense must be followed downwards as a thread, through all the sensations associated with the body, down through all the imaginations and images/feelings of the mind, and even further downwards into the empty darkness of not being awake to the world, the state of no awareness of anything.

Consciousness as we know it, appears and disappears. It comes and goes. It is not absolute. It is temporary and time limited. The neo-advaitins do not accept this obvious truth which is the common sense understanding of ordinary people as well as the enlightened Jnani.  Yet, we are aware of the coming and going of the various forms of phenomenality, which I may call consciousness. When I awaken in the morning, it is not as if I am a newborn with no knowledge of the world. I remember that there have been numberless cyclings of the coming and going of various grades and activities of consciousness, from the dream state, to the awake state, to all grades and varieties of consciousness including the coming and going of sleep and nothingness. Nothingness too is an experience that we can remember. If  asked to describe the sleep state, most people will take a shot at a description, such as it was darkness, nothingness, peaceful, restful, with no experience of consciousness whatsoever.

Yet, each day I awaken and feel the same identity as the same and unchanged as the day before. Indeed, throughout my life, I feel the same and unchanged no matter how much my body changes, or my mood changes, or activity level or any other change.

It is this central core of knowledge of the unchanging, which witnesses and observes the coming and going of consciousness, sleep, images, thoughts, imaginations, emotions, etc., which is the ultimate subject, the witness which we must become aware of to pass beyond life and death.

The I-thought is only one small, but very significant part of the I-sense, which actually penetrates downwards through the perceptions of the gross body, through the subtle body of the imaginal

This fundamental witness can never be cognized as an object, because objects are objects of investigation of the mind. The mind cannot penetrate downwards deeper than the mind-body level (subtle body).  The becoming aware of that which lies deeper than the darkness of sleep, the causal body existence, can never be known as we are used to knowing an object of mind. We can only be at that deepest level, and in that being, apprehend existence beyond existence, a different sort of existence beyond the mind and body, not cognizable by mind.

This area of spiritual existence is explored more fully in Autobiography of a Jnani. It is existence entirely beyond human existence. Even to call it the absolute is to give it qualities it lacks. It is entirely beyond any property, description or experience of the mind or consciousness.

I want now to turn to secondary confirmation of this understanding to be found in the teachings of Robert Adams, Ramana Maharshi and Nisargdatta.

From Michael James and Sadhu Om's Path of Sri Ramana Maharshi, Vol. I

(PR1-Page 106)

  The wrong identification ‘I am the body’ is itself all of these: mind (manas)intellect (buddhi), the storehouse of tendencies (chittam), ego (ahankara), wrong knowledge (ajnana), nescience (sunya), mayaand so on. The prana is a gross form of this mind, and so is the physical body! Even the mind is a body, but a subtle one; prana is a little grosser than mind; and the body of flesh and blood is still grosser than the pranaThe subtle mind in its subtler form is itself the tendencies (vasanas) or the darkness of ignorance. Let us classify all these forms of the mind into three categories, namely the gross, subtle and causal bodies.20

All the gross forms – the body, blood circulation and respiration – which are cognized by the mind through the five senses constitute the gross body; this is because all these are clearly cognized by the mind, the subtle body, which is the second in our classification. Though the sastras usually include pranamaya kosa in the category of subtle body, we have here included it in the category of gross body because it is clearly perceived by the mind as an object other than the mind, and since this will help us a great deal in applying our test. Moreover, since all these five sheaths are finally to be discarded as ‘not I’ (non-Self), no man with a little common sense will object to its being included with either of those two bodies21.


Further, in the same manner as this ‘I am the body’- consciousness (dehatma-buddhi) clings to the gross body as ‘I’, it can also cling in a subtle way to many other bodies. For instance, when the gross body is inactive, is not the mind working? Dream is one such case. It is an example of our taking a subtle body. During dream, the mind – as if it had taken another gross body – functions and knows many things through that body. This dream body is simply a mental projection. It is nothing but the mind itself. So it can also be called the subtle body, But do we not exist in dreamless sleep? Therefore, since we can exist even without this dream-body, we can clearly understand that it is not ‘I’. We should not think that the mind thus functions with a subtle body only in dream. Even in the waking state, do we not day-dream? We know that these subtle bodies which we thus take now and then are transient. When we wake up from dream, the dream-body is gone. In the same manner, the body assumed in day-dream also becomes false (non-existent). That is, these bodies are false forms which come on us and go. Thus we can conclude that we exist even in the absence of these bodies. Therefore, they are not ‘we’.

Now, if we scrutinize further, we will find that we have another kind of body even subtler than the subtle body. Here also, to support this, each one of us has his own experience, namely dreamless sleep. At that time we have neither the gross nor subtle body. The mind having completely subsided we sink at rest in total darkness, knowing nothing. When the mind rises again from this darkness, either dream or waking results. When we wake up from deep sleep, we remember our experience thus, ‘I slept happily and did not have any dream’. That is, we know that we existed even in that state of seeming darkness in which there was not even a dream. That dark state is called the causal body30.

We who know that we knew that we existed there, is the real ‘I’.


In deep sleep, the ego (ahankara – the mind in the form of attachments) is still alive in the very subtle form of tendencies (vasanas); it is this form which is that base and cause for the rising of the subtle and gross bodies, and therefore it is called the causal body. Even in death, it is in this causal body that we exist. This causal body is not destroyed by the death of the gross body. The reason for asserting that even this causal body is not ‘I’, is that we exist there to know even that state to be alien to us. There, our existence alone is real, and we cannot be the form (darkness or ignorance) which we assume there. Just as we rejected the gross body of the waking state as ‘I am not this body’, even though it appeared to be ‘I’, and just as for the same reason we rejected the subtle body of the dream state as ‘not I’, let us now also reject this causal body (darkness or ignorance) of deep sleep as ‘not I’, since it is only a form which comes on us and goes. Therefore, having firmly eliminated all these three bodies as ‘not I, not I’, what then remains, that knowledge, the consciousness (chit) of our existence (sat), alone is ‘I’.

(COMMENT By Ed: This is the core of the teachings of Ramana, Robert, Nisargadatta and I: the awareness of existence beyond all forms of consciousness of the waking reality, the dream subtle body reality and the causal existence of darkness and emptiness. However, this complete knowledge is only obtained after working through all levels of phenomenal existence, watching these various phenomenologies come and go, and recognizing we are apart from them, they are alien to us, the ultimate witness. All these states and things are experiences, objects to us as witness, who lies entirely beyond existence as the subject. The subject, the witness, is at the core of the sense of I. Following the thread of the I-sense through all the levels of existence reveals the existence of the subject as beyond all of that.)

Can we eliminate these three bodies? Certainly we can, because they are only our sheaths and are extraneous to us. From what is extraneous to us, we can separate ourself. It is within our ability. Only when we thus separate ourself from these sheaths, which are extraneous to us, will we know our true nature. According to the truth which we have already established, namely that our true nature itself is happiness, knowing our true nature is itself experiencing perfect happiness. Thus, the experience of Self-knowledge (atma-swarupanubhavais the very pinnacle of happiness. It is the ultimate goal for which all living beings are knowingly or unknowingly searching through all their innumerable endeavours. Attaining – through the enquiry ‘Who am I?’ – the knowledge (chit) of our reality (sat) as the perfect happiness (anandais the supreme goal of mankind. The sole cause of all miseries is the mistake of veiling ourself by imagining these sheaths to be ourself, even though we are ever this existence-consciousness-bliss (satch it-ananda).

From Robert Adams:

Before I am by Robert Adams; Satsang, November 1, 1990.

Robert: Let me ask you a question. Where do you think you were, or what were you, prior to consciousness? What do you think you were? Who can tell me? Before you came into this body, before you became conscious, what were you?

S (Henry Dennison (H.D.)): You mean prior to individual consciousness…?
R: Yes.
S: (Henry D.)...as opposed to consciousness itself?
R: Both.
S: (H.D.) Is there any prior to consciousness?
R: Yes, there is.
S: Prior to consciousness. Would that be consciousness at rest - no content?
R: Exactly. What were you prior to that?
S: (H.D.) There is no prior.
R: There's no prior. Are you sure?
S: (H.D.) Yes.
R: Any more bright answers? 
S: (Henry D.)There can't be! It's absurd!
S: (Bob Solomon) Why can't there be, though, why would you just dismiss it entirely?
S: (Henry D.) Because consciousness is fundamental. Consciousness is all. It's all that is. What can be prior to totality, to all that is?
R: Tell me.
S: (Ed Muzika) Anything that would be said would only be a concept and would be in phenomenality. It would miss the point entirely. 

(Listen to audio of that Satsang here..)

R: That is the answer. You got it. As long as you can describe it (or experience it as Robert considered all experience as illusion), it's not that. It's a mystery. It's beyond description. The finite can never comprehend the infinite. So as long as you can describe it, and you can talk about it, it's not that. And this is something you should always remember.

(Comment by Ed: Whatever I am cannot be in phenomenality. It cannot be an object of or in consciousness. The self is the subject, entirely beyond the phenomenal world.)

R: So the answer is silence. That's the correct answer. You are space, and now you appear to be the image superimposed on space. Now why do you identify with the image, but prior to consciousness you were not the space, really, nor the image? The reason I say you were not the space is because we can talk about it.

(COMMENT by Ed: Here Robert is saying you are even beyond the Void.)

R: As long as you can talk about it, as long as you can describe it, as long as you can argue about it, as long as you stick up for your rights and say it's this or it's that, you're wrong. Not really wrong, just on the wrong track, because if you are wrong, then something is right, and nothing is right, so there's nothing wrong. It goes beyond dualistic concepts.

R: For as long as you search, you'll never find it. After all, ask what you are searching for. You are searching for something that you already are. That's why you can never find it. If you were not that, then you would search, but you're already that, so searching becomes fruitless. 

(Comment: Back then, at this Satsang, Robert did not like the term witness, but he did so in other Satsangs. Robert did not want to give the self a name or attach a concept such as the absolute or witness, as that would make it an object, a thing, and the subject can never be an object or known as having qualities. Self is entirely beyond the universe yet witness to it. 

The witness is the subject, I: it happens to me, or I experience it, or I see or hear it, or otherwise sense it. When one accurately holds onto the I-sense, penetrates through all perceptions, concepts and images, through the darkness of the causal experience, it becomes itself, I become myself. Awareness becomes both aware and aware of itself being aware. That is, attention becomes the witness, the I, and “turns around,” cognizing all, but resting in the knowledge that that all is really alien to me who is at rest. The world and all internal objects are second and third persons, while "I" the first person, is mystery, the ultimate unknowable.

I would note here that in other places Robert states you recognize that the entire observable universe emanates from your mind. That is true, but the mind itself has no real existence. It is appearance only as is the world that it creates, and is not you.)

R: Ramana Maharshi said that the only problem you've really got is that you believe that you were born.
S: That was your leading question today, “What were we before we were born?”
R: Prior to consciousness.
S: Which is really at the time of birth isn't it? Consciousness?
R: At the time of birth, yes, consciousness takes place. But prior to conscious there is nothing - space.
S: There wasn't even potential for consciousness.
R: Absolute zero.
S: But there was something there which was a concept, before.
R: As long as there is some thing, it's not that. There's no thing whatsoever. It's beyond words and thoughts.
S: But there is something.
R: What is it? What?
S: No, I was asking you.
R: It's a mystery. Nobody knows.
S: We don't know what, but there was something.
R: There's nothing. But nothing is beyond the senses so it sounds stupid. When your mind is quiet and peaceful, and you sit in the silence, then you become that you're referring to. And that's none other than yourself. But don't try to explain the self. Once you try to explain it, it's not it.
S: The self then is just a word pointing to something that is wordless, indescribable and can not be possibly explained.
R: Yes
S: But it indicates, it's like a finger pointing.
R: Like an arrow, a finger pointing to the moon.

(Comment: That is, this something is out of the world of existence and knowledge as we know it. You have to be it. In being it, it is revealed that something is there entirely beyond existence, life and death.)

Robert Adams, Four Principals, August 1990.

I can only speak from my own experience. There's no difference, to me, in the waking state, the dreaming state, the sleeping state, or the vision state. They're all the same.

I'm aware of all of them, but I am not them. I observe them. I see them happening. As a matter of fact, sometimes I can not tell the difference.

Sometimes I don't know whether I'm dreaming, or awake, or having a vision, or I'm asleep. It's all the same, because I take a step backward, and I watch myself going through all these things.

(Comment by Ed: “I step backward and I watch myself.” He watches the coming and going of the different states of consciousness, waking, dreaming and sleep. He is separate and knows they are not he. They are object, he is the mystery of the subject or witness. They are consciousness, he is beyond that.

One more step is needed to reach this state. You are aware of the world and all the inner objects too, but you are also aware that you are aware, even though that “you” has no objective appearance. This is not an infinite regression. You are aware that you are aware. It stops there. It is not that you are aware that you are aware, of something that is aware, etc.

When I had my second awakening, I was aware that the world, dream and nothingness states had nothing to do with me. I was apart from them and they came over me like clouds, first waking, then dream then sleep, and I was aware I was apart from those states, and, in fact, I had nothing to do with them, yet I had no existence as a thing.

Therefore there were several processes going on. I recognized I existed. I recognized that all that I had thought made existence, such as waking and sleep states, had nothing to do with me. And lastly, there was the knowledge of transcendence. I was transcendent and I knew I was transcendent.

I was beyond all, untouchable by fire or sword, life or death. I was the real unborn, not the unborn that the neo-advaitins talk about, which for them has something to do with recognizing that the lowly I-thought had no objective ego thing associated.

There is a billion light years of difference between seeing that there is no objective personal ego self associated with the I-thought, and the recognition of I as the transcendent, beyond heaven and earth.)


  1. Thank you Ed. Robert's 'insight' is totally astounding. It is very hard to say anything at all. Concepts are so puny compared to the joy of ......

  2. Thanks Ed. Robert's vision is breathtaking. Concepts are so puny compared to the joy

  3. I'm sure many folks feel the same as me which is a profound gratitude for all you are doing, especially this new innitiative you have started. I hope more will write and give you feedback on how you are helping them also. Mike

  4. We loosely talk of Self-realization, for lack of a better term. But how can one realize or make real that which alone is real?

    Ramana Maharshi

  5. "You are not a kindergarten student of spirituality, so you must cease to think and speak as if you are a phenomenal object. You are the animating consciousness that provides sentience to the sentient being. But you are this consciousness only in manifestation. In truth you are that which is prior to consciousness itself. You are the pure Awareness. You do not need to be liberated. Liberation is a preposterous idea, for were you an object as you still think you are, then as an object you could never be liberated."


    Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj

  6. However, while liberation could be a "preposterous idea" as stated above, we would nonetheless need to be "liberated" from the notion that we aren't already this pristine awareness, yes?

  7. To the last comment. This is the neo-advaita concept that you already are everything you need to be. However, until you realize this for yourself, this insight is useless and even dangerous if it leads you to do nothing instead of making strenuous efforts at self-inquiry.

    The whole point of Nisargadatta, Ramana, Robert and I, is that self-investigation is essential to awakening.

    If someone says you already are perfect, no need for practice, self-inquiry or anything else, how does that help you?

    Another person can say you are imperfect. YOU must self-investigate.

  8. fantastic, bravo, ed, the teaching is an ultimate pointer to the truth

  9. Ed:

    Thank you for being there, however it is that you are, and providing these teachings. I feel like this work, this whatever it is you describe, is like a fast train that throws me off rolling in the gravel, banged up. Later by grace I find myself on the train.

    Or something. I am trying to say thank you.

  10. Dear Edji
    The messages are very inspiring and powerful.Thanks for that.
    But why should there be so much attack on so called neo-advaitins (I dont know who you refer to )? When spirituality is about all inclusivess why should there be a belittling or denial of a few..They may also eventually realize their incompleteness sometime ahead and a real Guru does reach them then, I believe.The thing is even a little negativity makes the mind of the reader narrower. Any day a true seeker never stops till he awakens to his true nature..
    Kindly pardon me, if I'd made comments beyond my capacity..Just a suggestion that is all..

  11. There are perhaps 2700 words in this post and you focus on 100 words of "negativity?" Then you justify your focus on criticizing more or less with the argument that some day they will find the truth? Is this your true position? No matter what a false guru teaches, some day everything will be made good?

    The same argument holds for politicians and scientists. It does not matter what they do or say because some day they will see the light. In the meantime, any criticism of anything is worse than living with illusion, falseness, and over simplification. Is this your position?

    If it s, you will have a very difficult time finding the truth of your existence, because doing so requires an extreme drive to find the truth of your existence.

    Many of the gret ones, such as Buddha, struggled for years, denying one false guru afte another.

    In medicine, the Hypocratic oat requires the doctor to first do no harm.

    All the false gurus who are peddling illusions and false teachings are doing harm to the immediate benefit of the correct teachings and the fastest way to enlightenment.

  12. Yes.I get it..I do understand your concern for people who are misled..
    The quicker we move towards the truth, better are the chances we are not diverted away by illusions.I'm sorry for that comment. I clearly don't want any more delay added to the search for the absolute..


  13. Ed,

    Thanks for going into such great detail on this. There is more to Advaita than throwing around words like Consciousness. The more I practice the more it becomes clear that there are very specific experiential aspects that need to be explored and eventually transcended.