SATSANG # 1 Jnana Marga: Are You Sure You Want to Walk this Way?
From online Satsang with Edji, November 4, 2010
Well, this is our first international satsang. People from all over the world have nothing better to do. So, while you’re here, let’s talk turkey. This is something Robert never discussed with people in satsang… what is this trip all about? What is Jnana Marga all about? What can you get out of it? What do you have to put into it? And I’d like to take a few minutes of exploring this so that we’re much clearer in the future as to what happens, and what can be accomplished.
Now, Robert called this path (the path that he walked, and that he taught me,) jnana marga, or “the way of wisdom.” The methods he taught were two-fold: meditation in the form of Self-inquiry; and being in proximity of the guru, namely Robert. Of course, Robert always denied he was a guru. Robert always denied that he had anything to do with anybody’s cooking or anybody’s progress, or anything like that. Yet, everybody considered him as “teacher,” and he always talked about the need for the guru.
For me being around Robert was of extreme benefit, because at some point I stopped doubting him and just opened to his teaching, to his methods, and his being. Such surrendering is very important. Before surrendering to Robert, I only had trusted the method, which was Self- inquiry. I had started practicing that method back in 1968, and I met Robert first in 1989. However, the Self-inquiry I practiced for those twenty seven or twenty eight years, although it resulted in hundreds and thousands of amazing experiences and understandings, had not led to liberation. And that was really — although I practiced other techniques — that was the main one I had practiced for many, many years. This is the one I read about in the books, too.
Now being around the guru, on the other hand, helped me because I saw Robert was not of this world. Robert was always far, far away from the happenings in this mundane world. One could just see it. One could feel it. He spoke from a different world, and a world I wanted to know.
But even after surrendering to Robert, I seemed to make little progress. It was only after he left Los Angeles and I was thrown back onto myself, that I spontaneously began to practice once again the method of Self-inquiry, and I did achieve some level of success. I talk about this on the website, where I talk about Robert leaving town and I was sort of bereft and lost. And so I just kept laying on a couch listening to spiritual music and going inside, like I had always done. Which is of great comfort to me — it brought me great comfort — and I did this for day after day, week after week, for twelve or eighteen hours a day. And this kind of Self-inquiry is a variant called “Abiding in the Self.” (At first you look for the “I” thought, or you look for the “I”… We’ll get into this later, the techniques.)
But after you’ve found the sense of presence, and you know your inner world pretty well — you know the voids, and you know the presence, and you know the feelings, and you know the images, and you know the energies; all you have to do is stay there and watch. You don’t even have to watch. It’s just being there, in your inner world, immersed in your inner world, and covered by your inner world.
And it’s this method of Self-inquiry that I first read about when I was, I think, eighteen… I read Ramana Maharshi; and of course, later, Robert, and Nisargadatta, and hundreds of other teachers. Even when I started practicing Zen seriously in 1968, Philip Kapleau in his book, The Three Pillars of Zen, mentions Bassui. And Bassui’s koan, or problem, was “Who am I?” And it describes Bassui’s struggle with the “Who am I?” over a number of years until, I think it took him twenty or thirty years to awaken in one of those smashing satori experiences they talk about.
(That’s another kind of thing we’re going to discuss in the future, is – what the hell is awakening? What are these satori experiences? And why do these monks act so bizarrely after having a satori experience? And it’s something that has to be discussed, because it always puzzled me. I didn’t know what the hell it was!)
Now, there are a lot of books that really talk quite clearly about the method of Self-inquiry. Michael James wrote two books along with Sadhu Om. One is called The Path of Sri Ramana, Part One (Chapters 7 and 8.) He wrote another book more recently. I think it’s called Happiness and the Art of Being. You can look up his name, Michael James, on the Internet and find his website, and you can download the books for free there.
And there’s The Nisargadatta Gita, which is now available on Scribd.com. You can download it… or you can buy it, I think it’s for $7.50, plus two or three bucks to have it delivered; I would recommend that. This is basically a meditation manual. You follow step-by-step. You read the phrases that Apte took out of the many books about Nisargadatta, where he talks about the “I.” He put them in sequence, and you follow this book, and it naturally leads you into deeper and deeper meditation.
Then, there’s Langford’s book, which is The Most Direct Means to Eternal Bliss, where he talks about the need to become aware of awareness, or aware of consciousness. There are many, many, many books like this. Robert’s books are filled with this – he says, “Dive deep within… Go within… Follow the ‘I’… Look for the ‘I’… Follow that sense of being deep inside yourself.”
So, there are all of these Advaita books that talk about going within, going deep within. On the surface now in the last twenty years or so there’s been a movement called “Neo-Advaita,” which says you don’t have to do any effort whatsoever. You just look inside of yourself once, and all your questions are solved and you live in perfect happiness forever. But that’s a bunch of bull. And I’ve been posting about it recently, and a lot of negative feedback I’ve been getting from the Neo-Advaitins that say I don’t know squat.
In any event, all those years of practicing self-inquiry, they failed in my case. I burned out. I got nowhere. I had hundreds of experiences – samadhis, and little kenshos, etcetera... but I always came back as the same person. After all the special occasions, all the special disappearances, all the samadhis, all the recognitions, all the internalizations, I always came back, at the end, the same person as when I left. I didn’t feel any more spiritual, I didn’t have any greater understanding. And then I ran into Robert.
In any event, you have to pick one or the other. Either trust the teacher, or the method. And I’m talking about any teacher, and any method. (If he or she has a method.) In the case of Robert and Jnana Marga, the teacher was Robert; and his teacher was Ramana. And I’m in that same tradition. And the method is Self-inquiry. And Self-inquiry can be quite complicated. There’s several books on the website, my website, “Itisnotreal.com” that talk about Self-inquiry. It’s called Hunting the I (the expanded version). And then there’s Rajiv’s book which he calls Steps to Hunting the I, which is also downloadable there. As well as the hundreds of entries on the blog which talk about Self-inquiry and one’s experiences, and the blockages and all the things that can go wrong. And right.
So… that’s the overview of Jnana Marga.
Let me ask you… why are you here? What are you looking for? Do you even know? Can you put what you want into words?
Let that sink in awhile.
When I first began practicing Self-inquiry earnestly in the late 1960’s, I thought I knew precisely what I was looking for. I had just completed my BA in philosophy, and had read many books on Eastern and Western philosophy. I thought what I wanted to know was the basic quantum of knowledge. What is the atom of truth? What’s the smallest bit of logic, or reasoning, or information?
In other words, on a spiritual plane, a spiritual explanation is – what is the core truth of reality? That’s what I was looking for, because the world that I saw just didn’t seem real to me. And by that I meant, it was bizarre! It had people acting in bizarre ways and doing bizarre things that didn’t seem rational to me – it was crazy, and there was killing, and all of this kind of stuff. And it was just — it was a strange world that I didn’t feel was right. I never had felt it was right.
And I think even more than looking for that atom of truth, I was looking for a reality that the ordinary world seemed to lack, the world that — I was in Cleveland. Of course, if you’re in Cleveland, nothing is real anyway. It’s like in the 14th century in terms of the mentality there. (That’s another thing…)
However, the core practice I had learned from reading the books on Zen and Advaita was Self-inquiry, by pursuing the question “Who am I?”… I must say, I got diverted into many other practices over the years, such as visualizations; Zen koans; Zen quiet sitting called Shikantaza; and then, just silently watching everything. And even to say “watching everything” is a mistake, because that implies a duality. Instead, you just sit within everything and let everything happen around you, and through you. You’re an observer, yes, but there’s no distinction between the observer and the observed. This I did a lot. I also attended many satsangs in many traditions with lots of sitting and chanting. But still, I made no progress, that I felt was progress. I always came back as the same old “me.”
So again I ask you: why are you here? What are you looking for? What would satisfy you, and put your heart at rest? Are you looking for knowledge? Are you looking for “no mind”? Are you looking for enlightenment? Are you looking for awakening? Are you looking for Self-realization?
The problem is if you say “Yes” to any of these, you probably can't define what they are. And therefore, you're trying to get something you can’t even conceive. Isn't this a recipe for frustration and failure? What are you looking for? Not putting it in words, explore within yourself to become clear as possible what you’re looking for. If you come here to this satsang, and don't find what you're looking for, isn't that a waste of time — both yours and mine?
But, I plead… I really didn’t know what I was looking for. I thought I was looking for the quantum of truth – but that’s not it.
Therefore, let me set the stage about this path. Let me tell you what this path offers, and the kind of qualities that one needs to succeed on this path. First and foremost, this path offers happiness, happiness so strong you can't believe that it could exist. Happiness in all situations, at all times, even in illness and the death or loss of others that you hold dear.
Even now, when I get home after a busy day of having coffee at Starbucks… walking around the block and doing nothing… to unravel, I’ll lay down on my couch and go inside, and just be open to that space inside. And then suddenly, a kind of happiness descends that is so strong, it’s hard to conceive of. You don’t want to do anything — or at least I don’t want to do anything! The experience is so blissful, it is so complete, that there’s no urge to do anything, because already you’re in the perfect place, with the perfect feelings, and there’s no desire to get up and do anything. That’s why editing medical reports is so damn boring.
Secondly, it offers a state of completion, where you no longer desire to chase after anything — whether it’s enlightenment, or whether it’s an extra hundred thousand dollars, or a new house, or a motorcycle – because you are complete, needing nothing, with nowhere to go and nothing further to learn, and nowhere else to travel. You are at rest. You are at home. This brings great peace and happiness.
Thirdly, it offers mastery of the mind, for the method itself requires you to transcend the mind; and in that transcendence, mind becomes a tool rather than your ruler. The same holds true for emotions. It offers mastery of emotions, for the method requires you to transcend emotions so that you can use them, and they do not use you.
Fourthly, it brings you to a psychological position of immobility; where you are beyond moving, to the unborn core of your being, which is beyond time and space, beyond the world, beyond emotions, beyond the mind, beyond the body. You’re gone. Gone away. In the Heart Sutra, it’s “Gate, Gate, Paragate, Parasamgate, Bodhi svaha!” (“Gone, gone, gone away, gone totally away.”) And in that total emptiness, there’s immense power, because there’s nothing there. There’s nothing that can touch nothing. Or there’s no thing that can touch nothing.
Fifthly, and more practically, it reveals your mission in life. Once you as the body-mind have been transcended, when you are no longer burdened with the path in the world that was laid out for your body-mind to travel since your birth, and you're free to become nothing, so to speak, to let God run your life; it reveals to you very clearly what your core values are, and clearly displays your new path, the one that is natural to you, the unconditioned you. In other words, you get rid of everything in the past – graduate school, the twenty years you spent in jail, whatever happened in your past that’s impelling you in a specific direction almost without any freedom whatsoever because you don’t understand the mind, you don’t understand the deeper things that are driving the mind, you don’t understand the cause-and-effect things that are putting you where you are… and so you’ve been projected along this path, which may be good or bad, but generally people in spirituality don’t like the path that they’re on, and they want to change.
And getting rid of that, getting rid of the whole package of values and of understanding and of concepts and mind, allows a new vision to open up — especially the sense of compassion, and especially a sense of wanting to reach out and protect things in the world that are important. Protect sentient life, all feeling life, whether it’s humans or animals. (It’s easier for me, it always has been with animals, because I’ve always loved them. But for some people, it’s the other way around.)
Sixthly, this path reveals to you the mysteries of the mind and the psyche. Eventually you’ll learn all that there is to know about your subjectivity. You learn about dreams. You learn about memories. You learn about the Void and emptiness. You learn about thoughts. You learn about the non-existence of the ego, and the “I.” You realize that the external world is made up of a thought structure, and the only reality it has is in your mind. There is no objective reality out there. It’s a projection of your mental capacity and your learning, your store of knowledge. And that all disappears.
Lastly, you develop a keen sense of justice and compassion. You know your limits, and you no longer commit to endless battles for good or evil that are only time-wasters. Knowing your limits, you select that part of your world and environment where you can actually make a difference, and decide that you will make things better in that world. You become a protecting shepherd for those who need protection and help — whether it’s for people or for animals, the homeless, your family, friends… you select it. You’ll find it naturally coming out of you, who or what you are the shepherd of, whose brothers you are the keepers of.
Right, Lakshmi? [to cat sitting on his lap] She agrees. Oh, oh . . . she said “No.”
This is the path of Jnana Marga. However, to successfully tread this path there are certain things you need, and without them, you will never complete your work on this path; and you would be better served by trying a different path, such as Bhakti Yoga, Mantra Yoga, Karma Yoga, Raja Yoga or even Hatha Yoga.
Jnana Yoga, or Jnana Marga, certainly is not for everyone. Ramana said it’s only for a few mature souls. Most people who start this path fall by the side. It can be very long, very boring, and difficult. There can be long periods of time were it feels like no progress is made, and a lot of you know about that. It requires certain mental qualities that many people do not have; although they can develop these qualities through meditation.
What are some of these indispensable qualities?
First, you need to be able to introspect. That means you can look inside of yourself and find images; lights, spaciousness, the Void, emptiness, a sense of presence, a sense of existence, the sense of “I am.” You can find dreams, you can find memories, thoughts and images, and internal currents of electricity and kundalini, and lots of other things. You need to know how to introspect.
Next, the second most important is humility. Without humility you will go through your inner exploration armed with your own arrogance and knowledge, and will be unable to see the truth, because it will be too subtle for someone who is not humble. However, humility can be learned, and it is often learned because of repeated failures to gain enlightenment using your own mind and knowledge. When you lose confidence in your mind and knowledge it allows you to become humble. Being with a guru can also help you become humble, either by watching him or her, or having the teacher cook the arrogance out of you.
As a corollary, you must become exceedingly comfortable knowing nothing. You need to drop knowledge. You need to drop intellectual certainty. You need to drop all teachings you have read. You need to forget the words of all holy books and gurus who've gone before, and whom you’ve read about. This is part of being humble, being empty, not knowing anything — “only don’t know,” as Seung Sahn used to say — “only don’t know;” be utterly stupid, empty of knowledge.
Then you have to trust completely either your teacher, or the method. Without this trust, you will always be second-guessing yourself, always checking your progress, always asking whether your latest experience shows that you are on the correct path or not. You always wander and waffle. You will always be frightened that you are losing your way and not making progress.
Also, you need to recognize that the path may be long and difficult, and you need to acquire the ability to concentrate and to persist. Robert used to say when it comes to spiritual work persistence is everything. Persistence develops concentration and focus which, in turn, allows you to develop the power and clarity in practicing technique. You have to be prepared to spend the rest of your life before you finally tread the last step of this path. If you're not willing to do this, please choose a different path. (Maybe become a Neo-Advaitin and get enlightenment the day after tomorrow. Or maybe yesterday. That’s humor; that’s a joke. You can laugh.)
These are the indispensable qualities that you need to successfully tread the path of Jnana Marga, the path of Self-knowledge. The most indispensable quality is the ability to look within and become aware of your inner world with all of its objects, nuances, energies, images, the Void, the sense of presence, etc.
Many people just can’t introspect. They fail at psychotherapy because they can’t look within for one reason or another. Many people can't look within because their ego has constructed defenses to prevent them from looking within due to many painful memories locked inside, because introspection into the spiritual, into the subjective, in many cases leads to unraveling many psychological defenses, resulting in a confrontation with a chaotic emotionality, and sometimes great pain and grief.
More than one of you out there knows what I mean by this. That is, you can't find the sense of “I am” because part of you doesn't want to see what else lies inside between you who is looking, and your core. When you do look, you only find pain and suffering. And in psychotherapy you find a lot of people that can’t look inside because of the pain inside. And it’s very difficult to do psychotherapy with people that can’t look inside and introspect dreams, and feelings and memories. And they can’t do it because they don’t want to do it. Their ego won’t allow them, because there’s too much pain locked up in their pasts and in their memory. And the process of self-inquiry begins to unlock that pain, and they feel it, and then they run away.
Now, introspection can be learned through meditation and psychotherapy, but without developing it, Self-inquiry is useless. Choose another path – such as Bhakti Yoga, Karma Yoga, or even Hatha Yoga, until you learn how to introspect; or never learn how to introspect, and continue on those paths.
The humility requirement is hard to develop. Many students come to me absolutely certain they understand Robert better than I do based on reading his book Silence of the Heart, or his transcripts. And they argue with me about what Robert was really about, and tell me I really don’t understand him. And this happens a lot.
But they only read the externals; they only read his transcripts, which were general talks to general people. This is like saying one understands Christ because they read all the public talks in the bible of Christ. But unlike his close disciples, they never did actually spend time with Christ himself. They are not privy to the private conversations between Christ, and Peter and Mark and Matthew, and all the others. Christ spent three years daily talking to his disciples on a personal basis, and only a few hundred words of those private conversations ever made it into the Bible, and yet people say they understand Christ. What they understand is their own idea of Christ. And most people understand an idea of Robert that they’ve constructed based on their past knowledge and what they’ve read in Silence of the Heart, and in the transcripts. And they fight to retain that knowledge that they have.
This reminds me of the story of the Zen master talking to a disciple, and the disciple asks the teacher to teach him. Instead, the master pours the tea into the disciple’s teacup until it overflows. And the student then calls the master a jerk, or something similar, and the master then explains, “Until you empty yourself of all concepts, you cannot understand what I'm going to tell you.” To do that, one must be pure, without arrogance, without a know-it-all-attitude, one who has released all previous knowledge and understanding, in order to receive a different and new truth.
In fact, I spent three to four days a week with Robert by going to satsang or going to lunch, or on the phone, and on the phone. He even told me I was his friend, not a disciple, because we shared so many personal experiences with each other. And I was with him for six years in L.A., and another two years, off and on, when he was up in Sedona. Yet, during those six years I was with him, including lunches, satsang, and talking to him, when taking him to satsang and so forth, I was never so arrogant as to think I understood him or his teachings. They were totally beyond me.
In fact, they were even totally beyond me after my first awakening experiences in 1995, until his death in 1997. It took many years after these awakening experiences before I understood him.
And that’s because I didn’t depend on his words alone to make sense. I had to feel the teachings, and feel they were mine. And this is not a matter of knowledge. This is a matter of humility. I knew nothing. I taught nothing until understanding gradually grew after five years or so, until 2003, when I launched Robert’s teaching website. And even then I didn’t start teaching — it’s only in the last year or two that I really started teaching. Because I really didn’t know. I never felt so arrogant that I could speak for Robert, or had his understanding.
At the same time, you have to develop a confidence in yourself and your own intuition. However, it will be a phony confidence and a phony intuition unless you have first become very humble; an empty cup; a sincere seeker without preconceptions, and without a know-it-all attitude, and have surrendered either to the teacher or the method of Self inquiry. You can't start out having all the self-confidence in the world as to your understanding of the technique or the teacher, or the teachings, and expect to get anywhere, because your mind is not built to see truth; but it is built to construct a conventional reality that allows you to inter-operate with all the other apparent entities in the world, as a supposedly normal person.
What you're trying to do on Jnana Marga, the path of Jnana Marga, is not to survive in the world, but to transcend it, and find the world beyond everything you currently know. Most of you will never do this; you can't let go of your mind or your understanding. Thus, it is better for most to try a different path.
That’s the bad news. However, no spiritual effort goes to waste. Just the act of turning within, instead of the usual turning your attention outwards, is a strong beginning. In fact, Robert used to say this was your only freedom — to turn away from the world, and to turn within.
The next description of this path, should you choose it, will be yours. And it will probably be several years long.