01 October 2012

My Helicopter

One day while listening to a Teisho at Mount Baldy Zen Center given by Sasaki Roshi, he mentioned that one of his students from the Los Angeles Center had complained about helicopters flying overhead during meditation and during the night. The student was deeply disturbed and distracted by their passing. Cimarron is located in one of the poorer and more crime ridden parts of town, and police and news helicopters are ever present.

Sasaki had responded to him, “You only feel this way because it is not your helicopter. If it were your helicopter you would delightedly point to the sky and tell others, “That’s my helicopter!” Because it is not yours, you feel irritated because it interrupts your pattern and what you’re doing. But if it were your helicopter, it would be following your bidding.”

Isn’t that true for all of us? It’s when we think something is out of our control, that we have no control over it, it becomes an irritant, whether it’s our obsessive thinking, or the noise of the air conditioner the apartment next door, or a barking dog.

Now this is what spirituality is all about: identification and what we identify with.  If we can identify with everything as me, then there are no problems.

As I have said many times before, spirituality is exploring all the dimensions of self, and the analogy I used is that the self is a hundred room mansion, and we need to enter and explore every room so we feel comfortable in any part of the house, even those parts that we have not so far owned, such as rejected anger, feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, depression, anger, as well as the entire, “apparently external” world.

Through the spiritual “work” process, through internal investigation and abiding in the I am and eventually abiding in the self, we see eventually view all the dimensions and aspects of the self, all the hidden rooms and closets, the basements and the attics, and the penthouses of our inner and outer mansion.  We own it all, and that we are able to pass easily from room to room, emotion to emotion, apparent problem to apparent problem, from depression to bliss, from physical pain to sleep, from sorrow to deepest love, all without batting an eye, totally identified with whatever arises, or with the emptiness that contains it, or with both, or with neither, because it is all us, me, I am.  Nothing hostile, nothing threatening.  Just me.

We become infinitely pliable, sometimes being the witness or host, sometimes identifying with the feeling, sometimes both simultaneously, becoming oneness, and sometimes we identify with none the phenomena taking the position of the absolute, as pure, untouched witness.

In essence, we accept everything as “me,” which is the first stage, meaning we can pass easily from room to room, state to state, engage in any activity or rest, while equally enjoying everything. This is the first stage, learning everything is me.

For example, we look around us, we look at the walls of our room that were at this moment, or the trees and sky if we are outside. It feels external to us, that we are separate from it as the “outside.”

But there’s something you have to realize, without you, as the subject, there is no object, there is no external world. People in that external world can tell you there is an external world, but they are telling you the subject. They are just objects too. But you “precede” any of them. If you did not exist, there would be no “external world” from the viewpoint of where your body is in that particular, apparent space-time of that external world. 

That is, there may be an external world that objective to all, but without you being present as sentience, as the subject, there would be no awareness of that external world at your apparent place in that space.  You are an individual drop of sentience sitting in a chair at Starbucks, creating the huge infinity of the world!  This is the greatness of your power, part of the magnificence of your mansion, but you miss it because the world does not appear to be yours, but an “other.”

In this sense, with you as creator, that external world and everything in it is yours. Without you being present, as subject, as witness, there would be no external world. You must understand this.

Secondly, if you go very deeply inside during meditation, when you plunge deeply into your inner self experience, at some point you will suddenly “turn around” and face the “outside” again, and totally emerge outside of yourself so to speak, outside of that “inner self” that you had been diving into deeply, and reenter the world without any mind, without any mental activity whatsoever.

Your body and mind will have disappeared, and there will only be the external world. That there will only be sound of an airplane passing overhead, the sound of the wind in the trees, the green forest blowing in the wind against the blue sky background, and you will become the world.

That is, you as body/mind will have disappeared, and only the “external” world as perceived will exist, and you will become that. This is called Nirvakalpa samadhi. There is only oneness here, one consciousness, one world and you are that. Everything is me in this world. You identify with everything in the external world. You know by direct seeing, direct feeling, that everything in the world is you because your body and mind do not exist anymore. Your mind is not thinking, and you are no longer aware of your body. You see your identity with every THING in the world which moments before were apparently external to you. When the you disappears, YOU becomes much larger, embracing everything as your identity.

But this is not awakening. The state is temporary, but it does show you that consciousness is oneness, that it is the mind creates the separation between the apparent you when you’re not in samadhi, and the external world which is “YOU” when the self-awareness of being a little person confined to a body disappears. Then there is only one consciousness, at least on the surface, identification with the world as seen by the senses, but we have yet to penetrate many levels lower into consciousness, heading for the deepest level of consciousness, and then beyond.  This identification with the totality of the world is just a beginning of mansion-exploration.

The next level down after the gross external world percept, is the world of thought, which is part of what the jnanis call the subtle body. When we have practiced meditation long enough, we can actually watch thoughts come and go, as external waifs, subtle entities, much like tiny ghosts, that are translucent the size of a nickel floating around inside the visual field around us.

These are universal thoughts, these are the thoughts of the human race, and our culture. These are thoughts like “chair,” “right and wrong,” “should and should not,” “atom,” “molecule,” “racial identity,” “dog or cat,” “husband,” “wife,” and “family.” All these thoughts float around throughout our culture, through our sense of presence, inside of our bodiesy, and some come to rest in our brain where they take root and we think, evaluate and judge, and create an external world versus an internal world, me versus not me.

Thus thought creates the apparent external world, it divides the YOU into me versus the not me or world.

Sooner or later you begin to understand that thinking is the problem, and that you have to sink deeper into consciousness to find reality, whatever that is.

Then you go deeper, you let your awareness sink deeper into the consciousness of yourself, deeper than the mind our emotions. Some neo-Advaitins belief that emotions arise only after the mind creates stories to sustain them. This is not true, although the mind can create stories that do cause emotions, mostly the emotions arise first, and then stories arise.

For example, a growling dog running towards us creates fear, and fear is an emotion. Then we may think about being bitten, and then run like hell.  Emotions are like that, sometimes they are immediate responses to situations in the apparently external world, and are very primitive ways of adaptively reacting to the world.

Or else we see our girlfriend talking to some other guy in what appears to be a very intimate way, and instantaneously we freeze, we feel an explosion in our chest, our whole body freezes, with shock and utter disbelief, and then fear arises. This is jealousy, full-blown. Then we may create stories which sustain the jealous feelings, but initially it is felt as a crushing explosion and being stunned into silent disbelief that our lover may disappear.

This emotionality is perhaps the most difficult level of our existence we have to explore. This is the level that’s most frightening for most people. This is the level of our existence that most disturbs us, and it is what causes most people to run into spirituality in the first place, to escape emotional suffering.

This is the world of depression, rage, anxiety, fear, jealousy, hopelessness, helplessness, sorrow, loss, but also of love, longing, and desire, which can lead to pure energy states of bliss and ecstasy, which themselves are created from internally moving oceans of love, longing and devotion that we begin to feel.

This is the level where psychotherapy works, where psychotropic medication works, where your devotion and love lead to increased sensitivity and desire to feel all of our emotions, matter how fear provoking, no matter how frightening, no matter how dense they appear, because we know that the full feeling of them, and the full acceptance of them, comes increasing fearlessness to experience and all parts of our self.

This is the most difficult level of all. Very few people ever completely experience all aspects of their emotionality that have been repressed since childhood by society, convention, and parental teaching. It is my belief that this area is mostly ignored by all of the Asian religions and spiritual practices, except the part about devotion.  It is this level that Asian spiritual practices mostly miss, and this explains the “failures” of many eastern teachers in our society.  A few deal with emotionality, like Rajneesh, and utilize emotionality to make spiritual progress, but others, such as Ramana, Nisargadatta and my own teacher, Robert Adams ignored this part of the Self.

For example, many Ramana followers, such as Mooji, refer to emotions as “guests,” they are temporary, transcient, and in that sense, unreal, and we should not identify with them. I think this is a big mistake to reject portions of our experience as not-I, just because they are temporary.  Such an attitude can lead to an aloofness, and uncaring attitude towards suffering, and also of being authentic in the moment.

We are taught from an early age what feelings are acceptable and about which we can express, and those that are unacceptable and must be repressed, especially in the area of sexuality. We learn morality, create a super ego that tells us what to do in particular situations, which feelings to repress, which feelings to deny, but which creates a tight container of repression around an area feelings which are always trying to escape and be owned by the totality of our consciousness.  Psychology explores all the kinds of mechanisms that the mind uses to suppress these emotions, and how the emotions gradually leak through mental mechanisms in order to express themselves unconsciously, and often in destructive ways.

Most people will go into spirituality should really be with a good psychotherapist so that they learn how to dwell in a full acceptance of personal, the vulnerable human side of oneself, as opposed to the transcendental side that Ramana, Nisargadatta and Robert Adams talk about.

Most spiritual seekers have an idea of the transcendental side, of what Robert is like, and what Ramana’s interior life was like, and want to reach that stage of “imagined” love, self acceptance, and being untouched by life, and want to go there without going through an opening all of their emotionality, vulnerability, fragility, brokenness and fear.

But as Ken Wilbur pointed out, as well as many others, the stuff that was never completed, the emotional work that was never completed, especially revolving around issues of love and losing love, will always come around to bite you again, no matter how much progress you make towards the transcendental, no matter how many states of samadhi you’ve experienced, no matter how many times you had lucid dreams, no matter how many times you’ve touched the I am and then been immersed in it, you will always be pulled back into dealing with your humanity and the human condition.  You can do it now, or do it later after years of frustrating seeking and trying to attain the absolute.

Next we go a little deeper, into what Siddharameshwar called the “causal body.” This is an extremely important experience for the foundation of finally attaining the absolute.

The essence of the causal body is of “ignorance” of the absence of knowledge, otherwise known as consciousness.  The causal body, when witnessed itself, also provides the special structure which allows the world to be created in, for the world cannot be seen except as spread out in three dimensions within the flow of time.  This is the inherent internal structure of sentience to arrange all things for consciousness to make sense of the world by creating inner and outer space, and is called emptiness or the Void. 

The Causal Body is that Void, and to reach awakening, self-realization, requires thorough awareness of the Void on every level of being.  We must know and love the peacefulness of emptiness, of the void, because that peacefulness “eats” the fear blocking further exploration and self-acceptance.

When entering the causal body, the mind becomes hard like a rock. Our brain feels heavy. Thinking stops. There is no room in the brain for thought to enter. One feels as if one is going unconscious, because in many ways, thinking and awareness go together, and when thinking stops, awareness sometimes stops also. So one feels that one is sinking into sleep, into nothingness, non-existence. We are self-aware that our awareness is getting dimmer and dimmer.

Then a moment passes, and we recognize for period of time, we were not aware at all. We “remember” that for a moment we were not conscious of anything, we were not self-aware, yet we know we existed because something in us remembers that we did not exist for a period of time.

The ame with sleep. Is it not true that we can have dreamless sleep and awaken during the middle of the night and feel “in our guts” that some hours have passed? We may not know how many, but even if in a dark room we know it’s not time to get up yet. Our body is not yet rested enough. We know we been asleep for more than 10 minutes, but don’t know exactly how many hours. However, we are aware, that we were not aware of anything or of ourselves during some period of time. That is, we know it in our guts so to speak, that we existed, but were not aware of our existence for some duration in time. We know that we did not know anything for a while.  This is called “knowing ignorance.”

In other words, we are aware that sometimes we are not aware, not self-aware, nor aware of the world. Then at other times, consciousness appears, existence appears, phenomena appear. This is what Nisargadatta calls “knowledge.” The phenomenal world, its appearance, he calls knowledge.

Then he says, there is a principle in us that is aware or awareness, and also is aware of not being aware at times. The way he puts it is there is a principal in us that recognizes knowledge and the absence of knowledge or ignorance. There is in us a principle which recognizes consciousness, and then the disappearance of consciousness.

This is something you must study profoundly. You must become deeply aware yourself of that principle which is there before consciousness arrives, is there while consciousness is present, and is there when consciousness leaves, and this consciousness is knowledge of existence of the world and all other levels of inner awareness, as well as the leaving of awareness.  Siddharameshwar and Nisargadatta call this the supra-causal body, or the “I Am,” which is also known as Turiya, or the fourth state.

This is the fundamental state of existence, this is the fundamental level of consciousness, this is where the sense of I am arises, this is the fundamental state which permeates all the others, the causal body that recognizes the coming and going of consciousness, the intellect, emotions, and the gross world and body that we see on the surface, what most people call the “real” world. It is the attaining of the recognition and direct experience of Turiya, the I Am, which is called self-realization.

I mentioned above that when one passes through the causal body when diving deep into one’s inner space, the void, suddenly the mind drops totally out of the brain, and little you disappears, awareness of the body and mind disappears, and suddenly the big YOU appears, which is identical with the totality of the world—just one consciousness, and you are that.

This is the I Am state of oneness; Turiya permeates all the other states.  But in oneness, you have identified with Turiya, the totality of existence with no division between YOU and the world. There is just Oneness.

Now the exploration of Turiya can actually take years, because it has so many different facets, so many different essences, so many different qualities, such as love, bliss, ecstasy, devotion, grace, and a sense of the divine, of being held in “God’s” hand so to speak. It is an experience of the transcendental, of being beyond this world, of being the totality of love and all of the other qualities we miss-attribute to God, which is really part of YOU, yourself.

This is when you may begin to experience amazing things, such as experiences of the rising of the Self within one’s own consciousness as an ordinary human being-witness, and recognizing from some mysterious place that you are that majestic, awful, huge energetic being that is rising in you like God with immense majesty, and you can take your eyes off of this ecstatic entity that you are, filled with light, love, devotion and energy. Then follows repeated experiences thusly of self-realization.

However, even this is not the last step. There is one more.

At some point you realize that all of this experience, all of the world, all of consciousness including the various samadhis, blisses, ecstasies, love, and self-realizations are happening to that basic principle of sentience, that which is aware of the coming and going of consciousness. Even Turiya is witnessed, but by what?

Consciousness may come of these huge experiences, all of these life-changing experiences of self-realization, unity, oneness, bliss, ecstasy, yet there is a principle which is aware of all this, and then also is aware of all this passing away into ignorance. Consciousness and the lack of consciousness, with the disappearance of consciousness, are both seen as not touching that basic principle of sentience which witnesses both, which is prior to both, which is prior to consciousness and unconsciousness.

This is what Siddharameshwar, Nisargadatta, and Robert mean by “Para-Brahman.” This is the state beyond states, Turiyatta, or the absolute.

This is yet a further understanding, a refinement of your spiritual intelligence, a final growing up.

The entirety of the hundred or thousand room mansion of spiritual experience rests on this sentience. Without this underlying principle there would be no awareness of anything, not of Self or of the world.

At first you hear this truth as expressed by Siddharameshwar, Nisargadatta and by me. After a while you begin to feel it’s true. After a while you begin to feel the truth as a deep conviction spread throughout your entire body, you feel it’s true in a completely different way than you experience knowledge of the world, or book knowledge, or knowledge of the sutras, or knowledge of what gurus say.

You feel it as truth in your own being deepest sense of being. The truth permeates throughout you and your body as utter conviction. Ramesh Balsekar refers to this way of knowing as “apperception.” One apperceives that one exists prior to existence, and that this “witness,” “entity,” Para-Brahman is you, the deepest part of you, and with it comes utter self-confidence and fearlessness.

You also realize that that state of Nirvakalpa Samadhi that you experienced after the mind disappears and you become the whole world, is where the absolute, Para-Brahman, identifies with the I Am, with oneness.  This is the highest experiential state, but now you realize it as the “knowledge” of Turiya, the fourth state, by that which is beyond any state, any existence, and you are That.  However, unlike Advaita, our way is not to exclude the temporary, the world and emotions as us, but to be able to dive into that human flux, and not get stuck in the transcendent.

At this point, you are now able to go back and explore all other rooms of your spiritual mansion left unseen by your haste to get to the conclusion.  You can begin once again to explore the inner world of feared emotions that we could not face before, feelings of guilt, worthlessness, hopelessness, jealousy and rage, but we do it in a different way now, fearlessly, and having passed through the causal body which gives us the space to experience everything, we can explore and feel now as never before, fearlessly, without the sting and hurt we used to feel.

In the Zen scheme, this is returning to the marketplace, being totally oneself, for everything is me and I am comfortable with me wherever consciousness takes me, however it unfolds.


  1. I, like many seekers, have read many different explanations of the reality of Self, but I’ve never heard it put with such clarity Edji. The importance of diving into the flux of human emotions and being with them as real and as a real part of you is new from anything I’ve read before in classic Advaita- except from you in the past year or so of course. Just want to thank you. I practice way more than I read nowadays, but it is good to hear the fundamentals laid out so concisely. You are very prolific in your writings - and in so many different areas - that I sometimes think you are “not of this world” as you used to say about Robert.

    Love you,

  2. Fascinating!
    What a briliant view !

    "We know that we did not know anything for a while. This is called “knowing ignorance."
    That's the total mistery for me.
    I can't catch this mentally ( that's the purpose I guess ) but it's resonating .
    How can we Be without knowing it ?
    Beautifull and incomprehensible

  3. it looks like the scenario of an enormous fiction movie about Self and what it is ! it would be fantastic to create that movie !

  4. Hey Ed, thanks for the above post. It's great to be able to see your insight into these matters. One thing irks me, however:

    You say that the Absolute "witnesses" both consciousness and unconsciousness. This idea seems to me to be rooted in the false dichotomy of subject and object, which really was the problem from the beginning. I recognize that words are inherently useless when describing states at this level, but should we really be thinking of the Absolute as an "entity" separate from consciousness, that "exists prior to existence"? That seems like a conceptual minefield to me.

    If I think about the state prior to consciousness, I am forced to conclude that I can't say anything about it except that everything merges in it. No existence or nonexistence, no subject or object, no awareness or nonawareness. From this state, consciousness emerged, but in a state of conscious oneness, I don't see existence or nonexistence, subject or object, or even awareness or nonawareness either. I certainly don't see a witness.

    Ultimately, it seems to me that there are no "entities" in either state, whether absolute or conscious oneness. There is just something intangible that I can't say anything about, and which cannot be divided.

    I would greatly appreciate it if you could help me along in the right direction (and, perhaps, correct any errors in my above interpretation). I do not mean to sound disrespectful; I greatly value your guidance.

    1. I think that is whole point to the paradoxes that are presented to us. When people tell us(like Ed does) that ultimately this is all beyond mental (and physical), there are not words to describe it. Like showing a picture of the moon, so the saying goes. Obviously, I have very little of Ed's understanding so I hope that helped a little.

      Paul Stevenson

    2. Thanks for the pointers, Paul. I will try not to conceptualize it, then.