Siddharameshwar, Nisargatta’s teacher, had a model of Consciousness and a larger reality that included the Absolute which was outside of Consciousness, and which knew Consciousness.
Consciousness had four levels, the waking body and world seen, the Subtle Body, the Causal Body, and the “deepest” level, Turiya, or the Fourth State of Consciousness, also the home of the I Am, also known as the love/bliss body.
The aspirant was to start an inquiry for Self, the sense of existence, in the waking body/world state, and gradually go deeper and deeper following the I, not the I-thought, but the feeling I am, penetrating through the subtle body with all of its energies, the mind, visions, emotions, voids, emptiness, space and time.
After penetrating the Subtle Body, one had to follow the I Am through the Causal Body of complete unknowing, the complete absence of knowledge, even of the self.
Finally, the aspirant penetrates through that body and emerges in the root level Consciousness, Turiya, the love/bliss body, and dwells in Satchitananda, existence/knowledge/bliss. This is the level of the Deepest Self, one’s True Nature as manifest Consciousness, as the entirety of the world and Self and beyond.
However, even here the aspirant cannot rest, for he or she sees that he or she is apart from the witnessed Consciousness, including the Self. This one who is apart he called the Witness which contained the principle of knowing Consciousness, but the Witness was not Consciousness, but was beyond it, untouched, unborn, the ultimate subject of everything witnessed as object.
So, there was Consciousness, our manifest or phenomenal existence, with its four levels, and the Absolute which was entirely beyond existence in the sense it was the unmanifest, noumenal, in Kant’s terminology, the thing-in-itself, not as it is viewed as a phenomenon. You could call this the subject of all that is experienced, including the Self, both personal and divine, as found in Turiya.
Thus we are both an Absolute, an unseeable, unfeelable, unknowable witness, and the totality of Consciousness that is the entirety of our manifest existence, including the love/bliss body and the divine. Ultimately we are beyond even God and Self according the Siddharameshwar.
Ramana Maharshi had a similar model except he included the Absolute within Consciousness and called it Turiyatta.
To both these lineages, Consciousness was self-contained, it did not depend on anything outside itself. For Nisargadatta, the Absolute was his truest nature, and Consciousness was merely a picture show he watched from beyond consciousness.
Using this model we can understand the differing paths of the Jnani and Bhakti.
The Jnani, using his mind and inner visual sense watches, watches and watches Consciousness endlessly, penetrating the different levels perhaps in a linear fashion as per the model, perhaps not in a personal, idiosyncratic mode.
Although he passes through the Subtle body, it is not done with the intent of enjoying it, but to see that it does not contain either the I Am, or the Self. The intent was the see that what was here in the Subtle body, was not ‘me’.
Next, the unknowing principle of the Causal body was explored, then Turiya, where the Self lives, and still, the ultimate subject is not found until the aspirant realizes that it is the ultimate subject that has been witnessing the entire seeking, and there the Jnani finds his rest, disidentifying even with the Self of Turiya, the energies, ecstasies, and mental elements of the Subtle Body, as well as the entirety of the body/world consciousness we live in on a day to day basis.
Note: It is not easy to find this understanding of Nisargadatta and Ranjit unless you carefully read the works of their teacher, Siddharameshwar. It needs to be noted here that this model talks about levels of Consciousness far beyond the “here and now” teachers of experience in the Now, the “present” of everyday “beingness.” For these neo-Advaitins, Consciousness is whatever is happening in awareness in the now, whatever arises. For Siddharameshwar, this would amount only in attending to the most superficial level of Consciousness of the body/world, and would never result in Self-Realization which takes place in Turiya.
Self-Realization takes place on two levels: 1. where the aspirant identifies with the witnessing subject, and disidentifies with Consciousness, and 2. where the aspirant finds the divine, the Self within Turiya, the love/bliss body and identifies with it.
Nisargadatta, the Jnani, primarily identifies himself with the non-existence of the Absolute, as “existence” is a property of objects in Consciousness, and not of anything that lies beyond Consciousness.
Now we can make a tremendous discovery: The two different Self-Realizations are usually accessed differently. The Jnani is really only interested in the Absolute and intentionally ignores the qualities of the levels of Consciousness because he is really only interested in the ultimate, that which is beyond heaven and earth, beyond existence and Consciousness.
AS SUCH, HE OFTEN FAILS TO EXPERIENCE THE SELF-REALIZATION FOUND IN TURIYA, THE LOVE/BLISS BODY, AND HIS REALIZATION IS NOT COMPLETE UNTIL HE TURNS THE CORNER AWAY FROM ONLY AN IDENTIFICATION WITH THE ABSOLUTE, BUT WHO THEN RETURNS TO CONSCIOUSNESS TO FIND THE DIVINE SELF IN TURIYA FOR A SECOND SELF-REALIZATION EXPERIENCE AS THE DIVINE AND AS LOVE/ECSTASY.
That is, at this point the Jnani becomes a Bhakti, more and more identifying with the tantalizing bliss/love/ecstasies of embodied Consciousness. He is returning to the world, the so-called return to the marketplace of flesh and bone, of life and death.
At this point, the Jnani turned Bhakti can freely identify with everything at all levels of Consciousness from the unknowing of the Causal Body, to the ecstasy love of Turiya, to the energies experienced in the Subtle body, and finally down to the non-fixed nature of waking consciousness and the world, no longer experienced through a network of thought, it becomes a flowing thing, non-fixed, where even intentions can remake the world. Thus he enters the world of magic, or co-creation, of healing energies, flowing auras, inner lights and continuous ecstasies, surrender to Consciousness and bliss.
The point is the Jnani has turned the corner from witnessing, watching, analyzing, ultimately gaining identity with the Absolute, to feeling, to embracing love, ecstasies, energies and a flowing reality with its visions, intentionalities, and subtle body entities.
Now we can make another discovery. The person who is devotionally constituted, the person who loves and desires to serve and who would never injure a flea, has a very different path towards Self-Realization.
This person is more feeling and kinesthetically oriented. This person is more likely a woman with intense internal burning fires, a fiery emotionality, and a tremendous need and aptitude for love. This is the Bhakta. Her path is so very different from the Jnana. The Jnani proceeds step by step, exploring his inner world ever more deeply, with an exclusionary attitude of I Am “not-this, not-this.”
The Bhakti on the other hand, explores with an inclusionary attitude of, “Oh my God! I am this, and this, and this too!” In other words, as the layers of consciousness are explored, the Bhakti owns each one, identifies with each new level, each new experience and incorporate it into herself.
Thus she proceeds into deeper and deeper levels of exploration until she enters Turiya and thereby finds the source of all the ecstasies, blisses and visions she has been experiencing for years at the level of the Subtle Body. She finds her God or goddess within, and finds she is it, as well as all the levels of Consciousness she has explored to that point, identified with, and then integrated into herself. Hers is a path from the very personal to the impersonal of God, of such great ecstasy, bliss, surrender to Consciousness that is beyond mere human knowing. Her states are far beyond anything she could have known or even considered just a few years before.
At this point she is a complete saint, a shepherd of all things, a compassionate presence mitigating the harshness of Consciousness. Yet, even she needs to turn a corner too, aware from the bliss-Consciousness, to the emptiness of the Absolute, because she realizes at this point that though she is all powerful, all loving, all-sentient, she is beyond even all this, and she recognizes in Consciousness, that which is beyond Consciousness, the Absolute. She realizes her non-being nature, her unmanifest, unpresence. She has turned the corner towards the Absolute of the Jnani, and the Jnani-identification/realization as the subject, the Absolute.
For both the Jnani and the Bhakti, there is complete joy in turning the corner. For the Jnani, a whole new realm of existence has opened up as he begins to explore and own all of that which he rejected before: The existence/knowledge/bliss of the Self, the complete peace of Unknowing, all the energies, bliss and powers of the Subtle Body as he begins a return journey of owning everything within Consciousness as himself.
For the Bhakti, she finds rest after a lifetime of ecstatic and painful emotionality, surrender, and of intense involvement in surrender and service to the suffering masses, animals, etc.
Also, the Jnani realizes at this point that the whole model of the four levels of Consciousness and the Absolute behind that is really nonsense. The model was only useful as a pointer, a suggestion of a sequence of experiences he would pass through on the way to the ultimate Self-Realization. The model is not real, but was a crutch used to attain an understanding of his nature as the Absolute. At this point he drops all models of reality and begins seeing it in the raw, without the mind’s interpretation based on models or his past conditioning.
This is where things get interesting, because he begins to realize that nothing is as it seems, or has seemed in the past.
The world is not real as he felt before. The underlying things he knew before become a flowing, a fluxing of space and time. There is no solidity in the world, and everything changes, reacts quickly and easily to the power of one’s own intentionality. The world becomes an entertainment and a plaything. He has visions increasingly of things and entities not seen by ordinary perception. His world is not solid and true, but ever changing, wild, insane, and dynamic beyond measure. It is a world of magic and cannot be described in words, and even art and poetry fall short as they are only symbolic representations of the real, and only someone who also experiences the underlying reality could “get” the symbolic connection.
Seung Sahn Soen Sah referred to this part of one spiritual path as the return to the marketplace, from awakening, to becoming a regular person again. It is a world of magic, ritual, healing energies, intentionality, auras and visions.
By “intentionality” I mean the cooperative co-creation of reality by the individual aware of a separate personal existence, and the Self of All, Consciousness as manifest reality. They are not separate, but the connection has to be realized.
Here the mind is no longer functioning except out of habit, but the Jnani/Bhakti ignores it, living instead from the heart, in silence, experiencing continual flowing of reality, sometimes in bliss, sometimes in emptiness, sometimes in deadness.
Each day is new and nothing ever remains the same. Everything is always ever changing and flowing. There is no secure ground to stand on, and the Jnani shines, or he is home in a land of magic, love, compassion, endlessly involved in and exploring inner and outer worlds, which are neither inner nor outer, and in complete happiness and joy.
The Jnani does not think. His gaze is fixed on the underlying changing flux of the “real” world as experienced without conceptual stabilization. He does not live in the world of the person who has never explored himself, and has not gone beyond present beingness.
You can get a taste of this world by just sitting in silence wherever you are and look straight ahead with unfixed vision at some objects or a wall. Look with no thought, a suspended mind, look from an awareness not centered in the head, but from an awareness centered in the heart, a still heart.
You can begin to see reality flow, shapes changing, flowing. The walls begin to move, to swirl, and each object has an aura. Many have seen such things but hardly note these experiences because they “know” that the world and objects are stable and solid. They dismiss these experiences as illusory, or as mirages or hallucinations, but in fact, are glimpses of an underlying reality that is not fixed.
As a matter of fact, this is the day to day reality of the mystic and the advanced Bhakti. The world is an ever changing entertainment filled with magic, bliss, but also at times, hellacious emotional and physical pain and upheaval that needs to be suffered and managed, and finally transcended by finding the layer of joy/ecstasy that underlies even the most severe emotional or physical “pain.”
Also, this is this world that many of us are teaching from. We show people their world is not as they have thought ot imagined, and they become awakened to the mystery of ordinary reality, which is no longer ordinary, and eventually to their own True Selves by means of exploring their perceptions and feelings in real time, as well as the energies and bliss of the Subtle Body, which gradually leads them deeper and deeper towards Turiya and the Absolute.
Rather than the “not this” exclusionary approach of the Jnani, this aspirant uses an Bhakti-like inclusionary exploration of the various levels of Consciousness, gradually unlearning everything they ever learned about themselves and their world until they have a transcendental awakening to Self and the Absolute.
At this point, there is no more to be explored, nothing more to attain, but only to exist within a matrix of reality that flows, with or without a personal sense of self depending on time, place and identification, with each moment being a new discovery and unfolding.
In the end, the Bhakti becomes the Jnani and the Jnani the Bhakti, living in co-creating reality habitation with the Divine which is also us. It should be understood that this model just presented is only a model, only a pointer that suggests one model of spiritual development and stages. But there are many models of reality and development, from the various Buddhist and Sufi models with emphasis on either understanding or feeling/love, and even Christianity and Judaism, such as the writings of Christian mystics and their spiritual unfoldment.