Tuesday, October 13, 2009


Well, better grab yourself a cup of coffee -- I'm partial to the Americano these days -- because we're about to engage in some theoretical reasoning. (I'm sorry, chai or herbal tea won't do -- you're gonna need the hard stuff.)

What is realization?

Call it what you will -- God realization, self realization, liberation, moksha, enlightenment, Brahma jnana -- without an answer to this question, we cannot know whether the conventional wisdom expressed by so many is correct. And what is that conventional wisdom?

The conventional wisdom is that realization and sexual misconduct cannot go together. That they are mutually exclusive personal attributes. That a realized person -- by definition -- cannot engage in immoral behavior. That an unethical person -- by definition -- cannot be realized. That's the conventional wisdom.

The conventional wisdom makes intuitive sense and is hard to argue with, but is it right?

If the state of realization is synonymous with moral rectitude, then I think we're on safe ground assuming that Guru was not realized (since we've already concluded that Guru's treatment of some of his female disciples was unethical). From that, of course, it would follow that my paradox conjecture -- that Guru could be both realized and act unethically -- is flat wrong.

If, however, the state of realization is not synonymous with moral behavior, then -- as a matter of logic anyway -- the paradox conjecture might have some merit.

Our inquiry, though, must begin by defining the term "realization." Here's the story of how I began to conceptualize the term and how my thinking about it has evolved over time.

I first began to think about the concept of self-realization when I was 12 years old, reading Paramahansa Yogananda's masterpiece, Autobiography of a Yogi. Swamiji's preferred term, it seemed, was "cosmic consciousness" and it took me in.

"Cosmic consciousness" has some panache. In contrast to the synonymous terms of "God-realization" and "self-realization" -- which both sound like fixed destinations -- cosmic consciousness sounds boundless and adaptable, liquid perhaps. In practice, based upon the examples Swamiji gave in his book, cosmic consciousness appeared to manifest itself in individuals as both free access to a perception of the Divine coupled with some facility within the individual for magical powers.

As an insecure 12 year old grappling with identity issues, the power of control over both oneself and the natural world seemingly promised by the cosmic consciousness described by Yogananda was extremely seductive. (You can read about some of my early "issues" here and more generally about how famed psychologist Erik Erikson explains the stage of development I was going through at the time here.)

Couple that seductive attraction with the seminal pop culture event of that same year (1977) -- Star Wars -- and the basic parameters of my cosmological worldview had been forged. The idea of an undivided and all pervasive intelligent Force -- free from anthropomorphism -- with which I could obtain oneness (or "realize" my existing oneness) with was an idea that seemed natural, if not obvious, to me at the time.

As we'll discuss, over time my concept of the aim of yoga -- realization -- evolved from this first simple understanding of my pre-teen years. One thing that stuck with me, however, was the discovery of my own ideal self-image. Whether it was Sir Alec Guinness as Obi-Wan Kenobi in the brown cloak of the Jedi or Sri Yukteswar in the gerua robe of the swami, both presented the same image to my young, wide-open eyes -- that of the wise, self-confident loner.

That image, that ideal -- of the wise, self-confident loner -- never left me.

As I approached my 16th birthday, I added to my working concept of what realization entailed. It included not just the image of the wise and quietly powerful loner (ala the fictional Ben Kenobi) but it also required a facility with trance.

To my mind, trance -- or samadhi -- became the hallmark of my understanding of realization. Contrary to my initial impression, though, not all masters -- I was learning -- presented the image of the wise, empowered loner. But they all, it seemed, had ready, conscious access to the Beyond.

As I became a disciple, more nuance was added. There were grades of trance, grades of exaltation I learned. While the experience of a trance of some kind during meditation might be personally transformative, it might not necessarily guarantee permanent access to such experiences.

So, realization wasn't just the experience of trance. Instead, it entailed some sense of permanence, some sense of free and easy access to the cosmic consciousness. Guru made this point more or less explicit.

In an uncomplicated (and seemingly contradictory) way, Guru introduced some more nuance into my developing sense of what realization was. In a general sense, Guru used simple metaphor, speaking of the "Golden Shore." The Center was a boat, Guru its captain, and the disciples its passengers. As long as we stayed in the boat -- i.e., never left the Center -- we would, one day, arrive at the Golden Shore of realization.

I didn't find such simple metaphors of practical use, but in some of his early talks and writings, Guru spoke of concepts like liberation, partial realization, full realization, partial avatars, and full avatars.

Whatever those words meant, they conveyed to me the idea that when it came to the "higher" stages of consciousness, there was a continuous spectrum leading from less awareness to more. In other words, despite the simple metaphor of relaxing in the Golden Boat to wake up only upon arrival at the Golden Shore, realization entailed a more organic process of unfolding consciousness.

By necessity, it seemed to me as a teenaged disciple, a seeker's growing sense of awareness would alert the seeker as he or she neared his or her goal. And despite the arbitrary labels -- partial realization versus full realization -- consciousness is not a linear function capable of being fixed with these types of rigid, mental signposts.

By the time I moved to New York as a young adult, my take on realization had been further refined by my introduction to Sri Ramakrishna and his small band of disciples.

My personal style as a spiritual loner -- the wise, self-confident individual inspired by Sri Yukteswar (the "real" Obi-Wan Kenobi) -- was bolstered by Ramakrishna's fiery exhortations to his disciples and the image of its result in the person of Swami Vivekananda.

The Gospel, however, conveyed something more subtle to my understanding of realization. If Sri Ramakrishna was not only realized but a full avatar to boot -- as I believed then and believe now -- then it was apparent that realization itself had far less purchase in the real world than I had previously thought.

As profound and exalted as Sri Ramakrishna's trance experiences were, they apparently had little positive effect on Thakur's ability to interact with the world outside a religious context. In fact, reading about his life from a distance, it's hard not to conclude that in a very real way he was weak and afraid of the world, just as five year old child might be.

Whatever realization gave to Sri Ramakrishna, it did not give him knowledge of the world. It did not give him the ability to read. It did not relieve him of a stutter. It did not give him the ability to earn his keep, look after his young wife, or manage his personal affairs. In short, realization seemingly gave Thakur conscious oneness with the Divine and the uncanny ability to talk and sing about that experience in a singularly unique way, but not much else.

As a young 20-something, my own experiences (humble as they were) seemed to confirm this idea (that an exalted spiritual state didn't necessarily translate into facility in any other fields of life).

So, by the time I left the Center, my concept of realization was already nuanced.

While I was personally attracted to the idea of the wise, quietly empowered spiritual loner (the Obi-Wan Kenobi model), I knew masters came in all shapes, sizes, and personalities. (Ever hear the apocryphal tales of Trailanga Swami?) And while a free and easy access to trance seemed to be a necessary attribute of realization, that exalted state said little to nothing about the individual master's accomplishments in any other field.

After leaving the Center, it would take another seven years before I experienced a reawakening and further refinement to my concept of realization.

Though the further refinements were made over the course of the following couple of years, in essence they came down to two basic ideas. First, that my concept of realization as a singular, static achievement was imprecise. Second, that a lifelong assumption of mine that there was necessarily some connection between my "outer" (objective) behavior or actions and my "inner" (subjective) experience of exaltedness was simply wrong.

On the first point, I credit Sri Aurobindo. I'd never read a book by Sri Aurobindo while in the Center, but I ate them up after my reawakening. It was Aurobindo's idea of the triple transformation (as I interpret it) that really affected my old concept of realization as a singular achievement.

Aurobindo identified three component parts to the human transformation: psychicazation, or the process by which the psychic being annexes the rest of the human psyche; universalization, or the process by which the individual begins to identify with the cosmic influences on the being; and supramentalization, or the process by which the transcendental consciousness takes root in the individual.

Importantly, Sri Aurobindo stresses that these three processes are independent of one another. While these processes may take place sequentially -- one after the other -- there's no hard and fast rule. In fact, they can take place simultaneously or in fits and starts.

This seemed important to me because it suggested -- and Aurobindo may have said as much -- that one may have solidified a direct link to the supramental or transcendental consciousness, as Sri Ramakrishna seemed to have done in our example above, but that alone didn't mean that one had complete psychic control of one's human nature. Realization wasn't just a matter of arriving at the Golden Shore.

It was more complicated than that.

On the second point -- that my actions didn't seem to bear on my subjective spiritual experiences -- I had my own life to show for it. I wasn't a celibate disciple; I drank, swore, got angry, spent my days studying "worldly" subjects, gave up meditating on Guru's picture. And yet, the psychic flame within continued grow and grow.

Again, I took surprising comfort in Sri Aurobindo's writings on this point, in particular his epic poem Savitri. Writing of Princess Savitri's father -- a king, and unknown to most, a sage -- Sri Aurobindo wrote the following lines, which I think underline this idea that there's no required connection between one's subjective consciousness and one's objective actions.

One and harmonious by the Maker's skill,
The human in him paced with the Divine.
His acts betrayed not the interior flame.
This forged the greatness of his front to Earth.

Apart he lived in his mind's solitude,
A demigod shaping the lives of men.
One soul's ambition lifted up the race;
A Power worked, but none knew whence it came.

He made great dreams a mold for coming things,
And cast his deeds like bronze to front the years.
His walk through time outstripped the human stride.
Lonely his days, and splendid like the Sun's.

I've grown to love this idea of the "interior flame" hidden from the sight of all others, of no outward appearance of "spirituality," of loneliness and inner splendor coexisting. And, of course, these particular lines appeal to my notion of the wise, self-confident loner.

Well, that's about it.

With the exception of one last component -- the neurological basis of spiritual experience -- this is where my understanding of realization stands. While conscious oneness with the Divine -- presumably through free and easy access to trance -- is the defining aspect of realization, as a practical matter that says little about the realized individual.

To my mind, realization does not mean -- necessarily -- that the realized individual has transformed the rest of his or her human psyche or organism.

That's the young Cambridge graduate, Indian revolutionary, and burgeoning yogi, Sri Aurobindo above.


vindicreated vision said...

I also believe that realization and morality do not have to go together, but in a slightly different way. I believe that morality only exists in a dualistic environment. As long as someone is in a state of nondualism, morality simply cannot exist. Right and wrong, good and bad, all have to be thrown out. At least by mental perception.

When someone works in the world(does manifestation), I think its another story. To be in the world you must follow its laws, at least in my opinion.

As your writing seems to show, most of us have a very fixed idea of what a realized avatar is. I think that we have to throw many of those ideas away, because the amount of information that we have now vs the past is extremely significant(yay internet?).

Justin said...

The way you have expressed your beliefs on realization(if I read correctly) is that it is a state of consciousness which does not necessarily have an impact on the individual's personality or actions. Nor does a person's actions necessarily effect the attainment of that state of consciousness.

I have to agree with most of what you say. It makes perfect sense to me that one would first experience realization (or whatever you whish to call it) and not yet have that experience intergrated with the physical being, or every strand of your moral fiber, so to speak.

So I will concede that one can be realized and yet act in an immoral manner. But what about intention? The question is: Can you sit down to meditate, and as someone with access to a realized state of consciouness, attain that consciousness if you are intending to commit acts that are based on selfishness and which knowingly harm others?

It is one thing to have acted in a lustful or wrathful manner and then enter in to spiritual practice open and willing to give up acting in that manner. And another thing entirely to enter spiritual practice with no intention of changing what you are doing. In fact to be able to profess and practice a spiritual way of life and yet commit acts which are in direct contradiction to the very principles you profess, argues for a kind of spiritual schizophrenia.

I know that I bring to this all sorts of long ingrained, and uncritically examined, beliefs. My father followed yogis and gurus before I was born. As I child I had the comic book version of the Ramayana (you can still get a set at the Vedanta society here in SF). So it is difficult to seperate what I have always thought about morality and spirtuality. I definatly don't WANT to believe that realization and harbored intentionally harmful acts can coexist. And from my experience they can't.

I can not enter a spirtual state if I know that tomorrow when I see so-and-so I'm going to do something hurtful to him because of my own wounded pride. I CAN enter a spiritual state willing to give that thought up and yet still act that way tomorrow. But after a few rounds of this my intention is to move past it, or at least avoid so-and-so untill I move past it.

But that may be because I am a product of a spirtual education that put an emphasis on the moral componet as essential to realization.

Maybe CKG's realization had nothing to do with morality or transcending certain patterns of behavior. Maybe he had a moral "blindspot", or was disconnected from certain aspects of reality. Maybe there are 31 flavors of realization out there. If that is the case CKG flavored realization is not for me.

Perhaps exploring the neurobiological aspects of consciousness (as you intend) may shed some light on this problem. The cognitive sciences have made a lot of progress in showing that "consciousness is just a brain process" (U.T. Place, 1956, article in British Journal of Psychology). And looking at it from that angle may help clear up some of my own questions.

Y. said...

Thanks, both of you, for suffering through this long post. I appreciate it very much.

I probably should have held it for an extra day to edit down, but it took me so long to get it written that I just got impatient to post it.

@VV: I agree. That's a good distinction -- it's as if in a nondual reality, things are neither moral nor immoral, but rather amoral.

As you say, though, once you take up action it seems right to say that one must follow the laws of such action.

I guess I would add that while I think there are situations in one's personal development where certain moral or ethical strictures can be limiting and must be done away with (perhaps only temporarily), as a general once must at least aspire to harmonize your inner divinity with a noble outward action.

@Justin: It's a great question and I can't profess to know the answer.

I wonder if it has something to do with the idea put forward by VV above -- this idea about amorality?

Ironically, something about the Center makes one heartless in practice. Have you noticed that? For example, the simplistic idea of karma is used to avoid and absolve oneself from feeling any sympathy for those outside the Center (or inside the Center) who may be suffering. "It's their karma."

In a way, this attitude is helpful in rejecting the world and its pulls (which I do think is an important stage to go through in yoga). But it comes at a huge cost to your humanity.

In the same way, perhaps, Guru simply never engaged any feelings of wrongdoing towards our sisters?

What do you think?

vindicreated vision said...

hey Justin,
There's a book(2009) called 'Out of Our Heads-Why You Are Not Your Brain, and Other Lessons from the Biology of Consciousness' by Alva Noe(professor of philosophy, also a neuroscientist and cognitive scientist). Have just started reading it, and its very good.

Another person said to me,'if we are our brains, how could you have near death experiences?'

As far as the 'karma to explain everything', I agree with you to a point. The ability to empathize with other sentient beings seems to be very fragile. Such that manipulating large populations to go to war is possible.

As for CKG, I believe he probably didn't engage in any feelings of wrongdoing or deceit. If there was, then there would be guilt and shame.

Justin said...

Karma, amorality, and dualism.

We are told that those who reach the realized state are completely dissolved and pass beyond duality and thus beyond morality (I believe this to be true). We are also told that they can choose to remain in that state and thus pass beyond the circle of death-life-karma etc. But they choose to return to this mortal, dualistic, plane and sacrifice and serve humanity.

Which brings me to your question: Could CKG do what he did from a non-dualistic state of consciousness and therefore from a place of amorality, never seeing what he did as wrong?(I think that is the gist of what you were asking)

This question gives me a headache.

I want to answer "no", but I don't really have anything to back it up with given the amoral state of non-dualism.

So instead I will observe that what he did has put everything that he worked so hard for in jeopardy. All his aspirations for creating peace and harmony in the world were put at risk as he continued to perform acts that the world consider immoral and downright slimy. He had to be aware of that. The secrecy around it says as much. What does it say that everytime he gratified his desire he put the "mission" at risk? This sounds like the behavior of someone who might be rationalyzing his actions with sophims about karma and the true non-dualistic nature of things. It also looks like the behavior of an addict who risks life and limb (and often the lives of others) to get his entitled fix.

Thinking it over,amorality implies the freedom to choose. If there is no "good" or "right" action then you are free to choose to act in any way that you see fit. So what do you choose and why? If everything is all one then everything is equal and therefore, ultimatly, meaningless. All distinctions drop away. Given that freedom, given a literal blank-slate with which to create your actions, your way of being in the world, it makes no sense to act selfishly. From my perspective you are in a state where there is no right or wrong, why would you act to only please yourself? You are the world, or one with it, why pay attention to the small needs and desires of the bag of bones you drag around?

It seems to me that is what has defined the masters. Instead of looking out for themselves and just merging with the universal consciuosness, they freely chose to come back and serve humanity. All the ones I can think of chose to serve humanity and sacrifice their lives to humanity. Morality had nothing to do with it. They were beyond right or wrong. It was simple choice.

From that choice springs freedom, and in that freedom one is able to consistantly choose what action will best serve their intended purpose. CKG's actions did not serve his intended purpose, therefore he did not freely choose them and thus he was not in a state of consciousness beyond duality.

OK that's my answer and I'm sticking with it. I know that last statement relies on a premise for which I defined the parameters (i.e. amorality = freedom, freedom = choice, choice of a master = for humanity and not for self) and if there are different interpretations, views, etc. I would like to hear them.

jlesjghelrg said...

can you at least hear yourself what you are speaking off? after all this years.. pity!

JEEVAN said...

There is what I think of as a state. I see it a lot in non dualists. It is simply keeping the consciousness in the crown chakra which seems to keep one removed, keeps one in an immortal power state. Don Juan ( of Castaneda fame) talks about it as one of the four places where people get stuck; Power. It is decidedly removed from being viscerally alive. In that state one is spiritually powerful but seems to develop after a while a schizophrenic like separation from ones " ego" or humanness. So that when one engages it it is on a un-lite urge type way. It seems that it is the way the mother or feminine consciousness hen pecs (ultimately keeping it impotent if it resists) the shiva state into integration here in the mix. My experience is that the game of spirituality for me changed to one that demanded that I remain full, complete and vibrant at all times. Anything that suggests differently than that, any emotion, perspective, voice inner or outer, being simply a lie. In this shift in the coarse of my spirituality there disappeared morality and right or wrong. There seems just what gives vibrance or takes it. Sometimes lying will keep you vibrant where "truth" drains you. So truth becomes your full and vibrant state. At first the tendency is to sit in the head. But like Totapuri or Vivekananda who had to bow to the creation. It seems to be the feminizing balancing to the hyper-masculine shiva power state. Fire doesn't burn the soul, water doesn't wet the soul : being emotionally vulnerable wont kill the soul, being human, mortal and insecure or sad wont kill you ( it's just f-ing embarrassing.) It seems a state that allows you to be fully human and grounded and in that state one can sympathize with with the pain of others and truly care but not need to save everyone.It seems to be able to hold the seeming paradox of being a fully committed imperfect Human and vibrant, complete, Devine.
One of the Spiritual Kung Fu moves I learned is is a perspective shit desined to keep wholeness is the Idea that every expirience is hand taylored for you by god. And one must have ultimate faith in this. A woman friend of mine sprung this jedi healing trick on me and I was rattled by the story she related to me. She said that when she was 7 or so she was abused by a relative at a family gathering. She went on to tell me (she is an accomplishes opera singer) that she attributed her powerful voice to this man's semen in her young throat. I had up till then never herd and incest survivor or abuse victim say anything remotely like this. It was a heroic statement. And as she seemed free of any residual story or damage so I began to employ it in my own practice.
What guru did and his intent behind it we can never know. How we use this to our advantage, what perspective on it serves us the best is indeed up to us. Do we adopt one that keeps us broken or makes us fuller? What happened allegedly to Suchatula Will kick her into a much more broader spiritual perspective and view of the world. I view it as one of those evolutionary grenades that blows everything apart only to bring a deeper balance. She will realize that she has achieved something extraordinary in her being, that no longer fits in the tiny black and white devotee perspective; a perspective that doesn't allow for integration of the souls light into the other parts of the being or life. This idea makes me happy for her, as she is a good friend of mine.

vindicreated vision said...

Justin and Jeevan, great ideas and thoughts.

Anonymous said...

Pushpit*a says...
I too was molested at the age of 6(as many,many, woman and men have been). It was certainly, undoubtedly, why I went "in-ward" and started my life as a seeker.
I became so quiet that I hardly spoke up to the age of 18...
as I developed my inner life.
It has the same value as many other significant experiences that one has.
?Is it not about the equivalent of getting hit by a car and then valuing your life?
Some could get hit by a car and say how horrible the universe is! We get a choice.
p.s. We don't really have much control of anything...do we?
As far as the Universe is concerned...I live by the motto...
"Everything is as it should be."
This may be mistaken as a lazy idea...But it is actually quite hard to achieve.

Y. said...

Dear Pushpita,

Thank you so much for your contribution. I'm truly humbled ... talk about a courageous stand.

You really bring up the wider paradox of the spiritual life that so many of us also experienced (though I suspect not in the same intimately painful way you did).

For me, for example, it seemed that it was these very issues of shame that drove my young human personality to engage the disciple life to such an extreme.

Looking back, I can honestly say that I would not have had what for me were profound, life changing meditations with Guru had it not been for the severe emotional and psychological pain I experienced before entering the Center.

Somehow, it seems, those experiences lit the fire of dispassion, which is the concept I think VV, Justin, and the Jeevan raise above.

Finally, I should point out how rare I think it is for someone who has experienced what Pushpita experienced to have such a nuanced view of that experience. I suspect it took her some time to get there.

For those of our sisters whose abuse is still a fresh wound, it will take time and I hope they know that they all (including those who have yet to come out) have our love, friendship and support.