EXPERIENCE & KNOWLEDGE - BOOKLET
Except for a few excerpts from James’ oral teaching, this booklet is an edited collection of his written responses to questions raised by Vedanta students and later presented as eSatsangs on the shiningworld.com website. The material is direct and shines brightly with the immediacy of students’ concerns and the teacher’s compassionate exposition. There is repetition in this material, as any living encounter would entail. That is necessary to help the student become established in the teaching. As James once said, students of Vedanta are swimming up the stream. The hypnotic concepts of the world seem to contradict the teachings of Vedanta. Hearing the teachings once is rarely enough. Much like looking closely at various facets of a diamond, we hear the words and recognize the truth from yet one more angle until we develop unshakable confidence in their veracity. These brief expositions are best read with the attitude of inquisitive appreciation, savored slowly, allowing their meaning to percolate up and release us into the realization that I am whole, complete, actionless, ordinary awareness. Where would we want to move from that? Just what could offer us something better?
Discernment of experience and knowledge is the golden key in Vedanta. I’d like to give a brief story of my personal journey, which includes a seventeen-year discipleship with an Indian Bhakti guru. That path entailed strict daily discipline, a monastic-like lifestyle, and frequent periods of meditation, lasting hours. As students, we were taught that “God realization”, a direct experience of the Supreme, requires arduous efforts of many lifetimes. We were struggling to maintain perfect discipline and to conform to the various strict precepts of living. The necessity of effort to reach Nirvikalpa Samadhi, the experience of no self and no objects, did not seem at all strange and fit perfectly with the conditioning I received in my childhood. One has to work to get anything of value, I thought.
As Grace would have it, I was finally released from that path by being thrown out, a fact that took me some years to appreciate, but which I now see as a great gift. At that time the laborious work on “spiritual development” seemed harder than ever. A number of wonderful teachings and teachers followed. Many have given me pieces of truth, but it wasn’t until listening to James’ teaching on the rooftop in Tiruvannamalai, India, with the sacred mountain Arunachala and the screeching noises of Indian traffic in the background, that I got that moksa, liberation, is not an experience. The problem has never been my separation from Brahman. Brahman is nondual and therefore separation could never take place. What I experience is not separate from awareness. The problem has been my ignorance of reality and a misunderstanding of who I am. Knowing does not require doing. Nor does it require any special experience. As ignorance was the problem, so knowledge is the solution. And that knowledge appears when scripture or a skillful teacher reflects back, as if in a mirror, what requires no doing, no effort, no special mental state. Means of knowledge, knowledge, liberation, and ultimately even experience are no longer separate. These short teachings, like rough diamonds, will sparkle for you if you hold them up to the light and then the self, the teaching and the teacher will be one. Paul Bahder