THERE IS NOTHING TO DO; YOU ALREADY ARE ENLIGHTENED!
You have heard this sentence before, mostly coming from the “direct pointing” group of neo-Advaitins whom I will not name here. This group “teaches” you about what you find in your own subjective experience when you look within. They do not teach you how to introspect correctly so much, as to tell you what you find when you look within the way they did. They tell you what you find, and they tell you that that is The Truth.
What they will say is that by looking within you will find that there is no “I” anywhere to be found. That is, there is no entity or “object” that “you” will find when you turn your attention inward. They conclude that without an I existing inside you as an entity, there cannot be any object existing outside of you, in opposition to the inner I, as it does not exist. Thus there is no duality between inner and outer, between I and not-I, meaning that there is only one whole, integrated, phenomenal existence. Now, all that you have to do is believe this, and keep repeating that there is no I, and all experience/phenomena is one continuous field, and by this knowledge you are considered enlightened.
This of course is bull shit. Just a couple of conceptual notions conjoined which you accept as truth.
However, there is another way of looking at the phrase “you are already enlightened,” and “there is nothing you need to do in order to discover this.”
In fact, the enlightened mind, your enlightened mind, is already and always available to you within your present experience, no matter what that experience is. It is just that the fully wakened her mind, the mind when experiences normally after one wakes up in the world appears, is incredibly complex, transient, and distracting. It hides the base level of mind or consciousness that one finds in deep meditation, or the transition states between waking and sleeping. It is in that transition state where one goes from deep sleep to waking up, before the I-sense, the I-am sense comes into existence, where you are awake, and aware, but not yet self-aware in the sense of knowing I am. This I-am sense, is what Nisargadatta calls balkrishna, or the original child ignorance. The I am sense is not there directly after the birth of the body, but it takes a few years for the consciousness developing the human to become self reflexive, and the I am sense is born, with I as a separate object from everything else in the world.
However, that original pristine state of being awake, but within which the I am sense has not yet come, where self reflexivity is not yet there, this pristine state of consciousness is what Ramana, Nisargadatta, and Robert Adams call the self, and as such the I am sense, and the external world experience are states of consciousness added on to that nonverbal pristine consciousness, as are the states of deep sleep and dreaming. Waking, dreaming, deep sleep, and the I am sensation, are all states added onto the pristine waking state without the aspect of self reflexivity being get added.
This is the state the knowing of which is called awakening or enlightenment. It is just ontologically prior to the balkrishna or child ignorance state of self reflexivity of the I am sense.
As such, this “state” is always there in our present experience whether or not we have ever directly experienced it without the simultaneous existence of the sleep state, the dream state, or the waking state, all of which are added on to that pristine pre-I-am awareness.
That is, this pristine consciousness, this Self, is always there in all of our experiences, but without meditation, without focused awareness, without awareness of the transition between sleeping and waking and being to isolate that pristine Self-consciousness, we have not had the of knowing the self and only the self without the busyness of the waking mind, the external world, or the lethargy of the deep sleep state.
Now you can understand that part of the phrase it says you are already enlightened, because that enlightenment state is always present in your present awareness, but you are not aware of it specifically as the ground state, the Grundlage, of all other experiences, of all other states of consciousness.
However, we also need to understand the second part of the sentence, “there is nothing to be done to know the state directly.” This nothing to be done however, means that there is nothing to be done in terms of achieving something for the I or for the self. There is no need to do chanting, mantra, frustrations, devotion to the guru, seva, or anything else, EXCEPT to become increasingly aware of your own consciousness. That is, you use awareness of consciousness, to become increasingly aware of all aspects and subtleties, and movements, or none movements within your own consciousness.
You practice kind of meditation called self-inquiry, wherein your attention goes inwards, or is Ramana my heart she says, “heartwards,” while normally our attention goes outwards, into people and into the world. Heartwards really means you turn your attention inwards, and downwards into your chest area rather than into your head area. The center of gravity of your attention must get out of your head, because that is where thinking occurs, and must sink downwards into the heart, or even lower into the gut, in order to get “below” the level of thinking, level of mind-busyness.
As Ramana Maharishi and Robert Adams, as well as Nisargadatta, clearly point out, this requires effort, as most of us have the constantly chattering mind. But all effort made to look within, or to feel within, that area of the heart, is effort well spent towards the eventual goal of discovering that pristine, pre—I-am consciousness, becoming aware of that pre- I-am consciousness. That is, we use awareness to explore all of our consciousness, and to tease out the root states that we are not normally aware of because of our busy minds and the distraction of thought and of the world. So there is nothing to do, except to become increasingly aware of our own inner experiences, our own inner consciousness, and our own awareness.
But this is a far different understanding than offered by the direct pointing neo-Advaitins, who say you already are enlightened and there is nothing to do—believe this and you are free. True traditional Advaitins say there is something to do, an that is to become aware of the Self through self-inquiry, self-abidance, and real Self-knowing.