Why is Suffering Still Here?

If you know who you are, but are still suffering, there is probably one of two things going on. Either: 1) you still want something from the world, or 2) you have bad thought habits.

For the first problem — you still want something from the world — just keep going with
Vedanta and keep sorting yourself out from the objects appearing in you. We don't realize how subtle those ties can be, and we need help seeing them. Seekers commonly get proficient at discriminating between awareness and material objects, including the body/mind, but still want that state of permanent bliss, not realizing that spiritual objects are just objects, too.

For the second problem — you have bad thought habits — I recommend you watch
this YouTube with Christian Leeby. He explains it much better than I could, so I'll just leave it at that. Christian is a student of James's, and he ventures into some territory that James doesn't — namely, how to polish the jiva mind, and why.

There really won't be any suffering in the experience of the
jiva when the vision of non-dual reality is complete, so if there is suffering in your experience, just trust that it won't be there forever. And keep doing self-inquiry with Vedanta as your guide!

Who Gets Enlightened?

There is a question about “who” gets enlightened that seems to devolve into illogic. But there is an explanation that resolves this problem. (This isn’t my explanation, by the way – it’s all strictly Vedanta. I’m not making this up.)

First of all, “who” are we talking about? Not awareness. Awareness doesn’t get enlightened, since awareness is all there is, unchanging, and already complete and full. Nothing is going to change there. Awareness is who I am, and nothing about that changes with enlightenment.

So it must be the apparent person who gets enlightened – the one who feels bound and is suffering. In the apparent intellect of an apparent person, there is a knowledge that is gained whereby the identity, or location, of the “I” is seen or known to be identical with awareness, and not with the apparent person or intellect.

I’ll say that in a simpler way: The person figures out that it is not really a person, but is really awareness.

Now here’s where it seems illogical. If a person figures out that its existence is unreal, and its being is really awareness, then who remains to know this? It seems on the surface that the realized person would be “gone,” the intellect would be gone. These things have become subsumed or dissolved back into awareness where they came from, leaving no one here to be enlightened.

Here’s another way of saying this: How can this dissolving be known? There has to be an intellect here knowing the dissolving, but how can that be, if the intellect has dissolved? There seems to be an error in the logic.

But leave it to Vedanta to sort it out.

The solution is simple: The apparent person doesn’t go away! The person and intellect that appeared
before this knowledge took hold continues to appear after the knowledge takes hold. Enlightenment, or the knowledge that I am awareness, does not remove the apparent world.

The knowledge informs the apparent intellect about its true place in the scheme of things. That's its whole job. The intellect gets clear on the fact that it is not actually real (since only awareness is actually real), and that therefore any idea of “I” must not belong to it. It is apparently known in the apparent intellect, or reflected awareness, that the “I” can only possibly belong to awareness alone.

So this realization does not wipe out the apparent person, it only shifts the identification of who I am to the real one, away from the false one. The false one remains, with apparent knowledge.

I hear this question all the time – who is left to be enlightened? The question casts doubt on the whole idea of enlightenment, seeming to suggest that there is no such thing, or that it’s impossible – that anyone claiming to be enlightened is lying. But if you look at the question through the lens of this knowledge, you see that it’s only a conundrum when we are stuck in the notion “I am this person.”

The shift in identification is what enlightenment is. It is knowing with certainty that I am unchanging, unlimited, unbound awareness, and that all these objects appear in me.

How is this shift made?
Vedanta! Vedanta explains all the ins and outs of how this is done. Please see my Vedanta page for more information.

I Am Awareness


I don’t know where I am
I am just this awareness noticing, seeing
I can be anywhere, it doesn’t matter

I’m nowhere and everywhere
The body and mind want to play with objects
But it’s getting tiresome
Now they would rather just go home

They turn to me
And I have been here all along

How am I known?
I am all there is, so it’s pretty easy
I am known by myself

The mind can go out to an object
And I am here
I did not move
None of that happens outside of me
None of that is other than me

Are You a Person?

Are you really a person? With a continuous life, with a history, with a future? With problems, worries, fears? Joy, love, satisfaction? Accomplishments, opinions, righteousness? Is that you?

Most people think of themselves this way, and that's fine. But if you are reading this blog, there is a good chance this presents a problem for you in some way. There is something that doesn't feel right about the "separate" aspect of being a supposed person, and you've been inquiring into this issue for some time.

The inquiry leads to freedom, ultimately, so don't give up. And the freedom is from the idea of yourself as a person. You experience the freedom of being what you are, which is non-separate from the one undivided awareness, which is all there is. There is a happy ending to this story — always remember that. It's already here now, actually.

Can you ever really experience yourself as non-separate? Well, by definition, no, you can't. But what you can experience is a freedom from the thought-prison of continuity, which leads you on a moment-to-moment basis to keep creating the idea of a person in your mind. It really is possible to stop creating that idea of a person in your mind. Then who will you be? You will be what you already are, which is non-separate, non-dual, just this awareness here, with perhaps the current thought passing through. Nothing more.

The bondage and suffering comes from taking a current arising thought and attaching to it a habitual chain of other thoughts, which your mind is conditioned to follow. No arising thought, by itself, is ever a problem. Look for a thought now, and see if its arising in awareness creates any problem. It doesn't matter what the content of the thought is — you will notice it there, not disturbing anything, until you attach the rest of the "plot" to it. This is the habitual chain, and it is what I mean by "continuity."

Look into continuity and see if it is actually real. Is there any connection between this moment and the next? Really? Do you have any proof of that? Do you know for a fact that whatever is worrying you now even exists in the next moment? The beauty of reality is that it is completely unhinged from time. It is independent of causality. Your mind is free to drop whatever thought comes now, because any continuity or causality that you are attaching to it is just a habit of conditioning, not reality.

Bring up a thought right now that seems to always be troubling you — a worry, a doubt, it can even be a physical pain. And then do a little reality check on it. Do you notice that even though you say "this is on my mind all the time," it really isn't? Notice how often your mind will flit away to something else, and then where did that constant worry go? It wasn't there for a moment. The things we say are constant — they aren't really constant. Nothing is. It may be that a very small percentage of your time is occupied with that thought, and yet the thought arises, "It's on my mind all the time, causing me pain" — but before
that thought arose, it was not present! So we can deduce that that thought is not true. All of your thoughts will eventually reveal themselves not to be true.

We base our lives on the idea that things are constant and continuous, but neither of those things is true. You can look and see for yourself. We put so much pressure on ourselves to fix the problems, work on them, plan for them, be a superhero around them all, all day, every day. When in reality, we really don't have to do any of that. All of that only ever appeared in thought, in the idea that I exist in a continuous, constant flow of thought, and I have to work hard to keep that "life" working properly.

But the truth is, that is not your existence. You know this. You feel it in your bones, in your heart. You don't have to work to be. Keep coming back to awareness and notice how little impact those passing thoughts have on you. Remember that for next time. And after a while, you just won't think of yourself as a person anymore, because the whole person-creating mechanism will have been seen through.

Between and pervading all those passing thoughts of personal needs and cares — there is just you alone — just awareness alone. This is the happy ending that already is.

Nothing is Conditioned

I recently answered a question about whether it is necessary to address the conditioning, when inquiring towards liberation. I said in my answer that Yes, it is necessary to address the conditioning. But I have to qualify what I mean by that.

Addressing the conditioning, in self-inquiry, does not mean going to the therapist and digging through every hangup you have acquired since the moment you were born. Now, I'm not saying
not to go to the therapist — therapy can be really useful and sometimes even urgent, as things are unfolding and as you are facing your ego.

But the kind of "addressing the conditioning" we talk about in self-inquiry is different. It is not digging through the infinite pile of reasons you got so screwed up in the first place. Instead it is seeing how the mind tricks you into believing that that screwed up person is you.

There are many layers to this kind of
discrimination — that's what it's called in Vedanta. It is called discrimination because you are applying your intellect to tell the difference between you and the apparent person you take yourself to be. And there are many layers to it because this false idea of a personal self pervades your apparent being, from the grossest layer — the flesh of the body — to the most spiritual and subtle layer — the sense of "I am." And everything in between.

Vedanta helps you see how many layers you identify with as an apparent person, and how the deception is accomplished. Little by little, layer by layer, by applying your intellect and the tools of Vedanta, discrimination between me and apparent-me is complete.

Conditioning is not personal. Because you (might) feel that your conditioning determines what you do, think, and feel, you mistakenly assume that the conditioning is your
personal conditioning. But there is no personal conditioning. Conditioning is (apparent) matter, acting as it must act, based on everything in the universe that came before. It knows no person. Matter appears, and the universe happens. Bodies appear and actions happen. Thoughts and feelings happen. But nowhere in there has a person been created.

Conditioning isn't even the right word for it. Conditioning is training, and there is nothing being trained. We're just talking about a life as you see it unfolding, and appearing to be acting out certain learned behaviors and thought patterns. Maybe it would be better to call it the unfolding. There is truly nothing personal in the unfolding of the universe.

What is conditioned? Nothing. There is nothing to be conditioned. Okay now I'm sounding like John Wheeler! But John is correct — there is no separate person, there is no cause and effect. I've never argued with John's impeccable logic. I've only offered that there is a way, a method, that you can come to recognize this for yourself, and that is with the tools of the teaching of Vedanta.

Addressing the conditioning, then, in my view, means inquiring into what is underneath
all of it, and seeing, bit by bit, layer by layer, that there is a false picture of a person who is trained to do this or that. Seeing that the picture is false is liberation, and the means to liberation is discrimination between you and the not-you.

Keep Coming Back

Keep coming back to the things you know:

1) There is only consciousness. This consciousness is all there is. Any personal story that appears on top of that consciousness is, let's say, artificial, and does not need to be monitored in order for you to be. You are free in every moment to simply be this uncomplicated consciousness. How nice is that? How lucky are you to know that?

2) Nothing in the world needs to get fixed. There is no amount of fixing, for your own personal life situation, or for humankind, that ever accomplishes anything. There will always be, in life, good things and bad things. If a good thing occurs, great, but the rule of life is that a bad thing will occur sooner or later. The world is not the place to look for any permanent goodness.

As seekers, we have a tendency to think that there is a permanent solution — that other people may have their lows and their fears, but we aren't supposed to have that, we're supposed to have the ticket out. So I think that hard times in life are particularly hard for seekers. Non-acceptance of life's ups-and-downs seems to be built in to our seeking equation. So be easy on yourself in this regard — life is tough for you!

There IS a permanent solution, but it's not in the world. The world has nothing to offer. The world can't provide freedom from the pain of living, NOR can it provide the lasting, unshakeable freedom that we seek in our spiritual inquiry. We're not going to find either of those freedoms in the world. So it's time to remind ourselves once again: the world has nothing to offer.

We might find great joy in life, and be passionate about wonderful things, like grandchildren, or service, or work that we love. But just don't confuse passion with freedom from the duality inherent in that passion.

3) What you think of as yourself is just conditioning. Inquire into your actions, your thoughts, your feelings, and see for yourself. Is there any real "you" there that is independent? Look and see how deep it goes — see if you can find anything that is not conditioning. The layers get very thin and hard to spot, which is the advantage of using the tools of Vedanta to help you spot them. Once you peel all those layers away as "not-me," what remains? Consciousness. You.

4) There is no continuity in time. There is no connection between the "you" of your story right now and the "you" of your story a moment from now. There is nothing happening now that "causes" something to happen next. So anything that is troubling you now can be dropped right now. In consciousness, there is no law which says that a thing appearing now will still be appearing in the next moment. In consciousness, limitlessness is the name of the game. Spontaneous healings, miracles — everything is possible.

5) Ishvara (God) is taking care of the world. You don't need to worry about it. The universe is benign, and you are being taken care of. Whatever is needed, Ishvara will provide. Ishvara never screws up. Ishvara smoothes out the road ahead of you. You can relax.

These are only a few of the things that you know. I suggest you keep coming back to them, and whatever else you have in your personsal toolbox, whenever you find yourself caught up in stories of separation and pain. You will find that the more you bring yourself back to what you know, the easier it will get, and the less time you will spend wandering in the dark.

This is really true — I guarantee it!

Tired of Not Being Happy?

Is it that you are not happy now, and you want to be? If you want to be happy, that must be sometime in the future that you are talking about, right? But what about now? Don't you want to be happy right now? Maybe you already are.

Is there really anything here that you can call unhappiness? Look what is here in this moment — right now, there is peace, there is stillness. There might be some movement on that stillness, and that movement might be a thought that refers to some other time — the past or the future — but that movement doesn't actually MOVE the stillness, does it? Look in your experience and see.

Isn't the stillness still here?

Are you tired of feelings of anxiety? Let's look at those. A fearful thought can arise out of the blue. A little squeeze of anxiety might hit you in the gut somewhere. And what about it? We are all remembering that feeling, right now. And we don't want it to happen anymore. But in this very moment, isn't there a stillness, a peace? Anxiety can only be in the future or the past, but it can't be right now.

"But when I'm in it, it's awful! I run a whole story out in my head and it gets so bad!"

I'll tell you why there is only peace and stillness here, and not anxiety. It's because you are beingness, you are awareness, and your nature is peace and stillness. When anxiety appears, it's just like anything else that appears — it belongs to the story.

Yes, it can be painful and it can be convincing. But it's not in reality. You are the only reality, and you are by nature peace and stillness, aware, being.

The story is self-perpetuating. It's job is to self-perpetuate, and it can do that because of your thoughts. You create a story that is not really there. A whole world of story! As soon as your thoughts are pulled from the story, where is it?

It is nowhere. There is only stillness.

So look for things that only belong to the story. This is what
Vedanta calls discrimination. It's knowing what is real and what is story. As you do your inquiry, you will learn more and more things that are only in the story, and you will learn that things in the story have no power to hurt you, to make you anxious, or to make you unhappy.

Each time an anxious or unhappy thought appears, ask about where it is, where it lives, what it refers to. Does it refer to itself only? Its own story of itself, and the other components of the story? Yes, I guarantee, that thought of the story only refers to the some other part of the story. And you do not live in the story. You do not exist anywhere in the story. Your being is totally independent of the story.

And so….you are free. Now, and all the time. If this isn't how it is for you, it's okay. It's nothing you need to get in the future. Just be present, think of stillness, and it is here.

Free by Nature


I am awareness.

I alone am real.

When I think, "I can't find me right now," that
is me. I am always present. A thought cannot appear without me.

I can never be lost. I can never be hidden.

The insentient thoughts appear in me, and the "I" mistakes itself for that. But only sentience — me — makes that possible.

Whatever is going on in the mind does not distract the mind from me.

Mind appears in me. Mind comes and goes. I am, free of mind.

Experience appears in me. Experiences come and go. I am, free of experience.

I remain pure, as an ever-changing world in thought appears on the movie screen of my mind. The world in thought appears, but is not real. I am the only reality.

Everything I know and experience, as an apparent person, is known because of me — awareness — the singular reality.

Whatever thought appears, how is that thought known? It is known because of me, awareness.

The thoughts are free to come and go. The awareness they appear in is ever-pure, never touched by a thought.

This awareness is who you are.

You are free.

Inquire and learn what can be negated as not real. What remains — you, awareness — is revealed as the one and only reality, free by nature.

Check out the
Vedanta page for my recommendations on how to accomplish this inquiry.

Understanding Ishvara for Liberation

Who is working “you”? Are you the operator of “you”? Are you doing your actions and thinking your thoughts? Is it “you” suffering?

If you have been studying
Vedanta for a while, or are a follower of any non-dual teaching, you know that all there is is awareness. There is only one reality, and a little investigation reveals this reality to be consciousness. The bottom line of Vedanta, and any non-dual teaching, is “I am that,” or “I am awareness.” Since awareness alone is real, and you know you are real, how could you be anything else?

But where the bulk of the self-inquiry work comes in is actually taking the sense of “I,” your normal, everyday sense that you exist, and understanding that this “I” is pointing to awareness and not to the individual being that it feels like you are.

This is where
Ishvara comes in. Ishvara is a term in Vedanta that describes that which operates the field – “the field” meaning the entirety of that which appears, commonly called “the world.”

The field is only apparently real. It isn’t
really real, because only awareness is really real. But undeniably, stuff appears, and the stuff that appears is apparently real. But even though the field is not really “real,” it still operates under a totally consistent and logical system of laws. The field does not behave in a random fashion – actions are followed by reactions, and they’re usually pretty predictable, even just by casual observation.

Ishvara operates the entire field. That includes you. That means your body, your mind, everything. We think we control our body and our mind, but Ishvara actually does that, down to every last detail. There is nothing in the appearance that is not totally Ishvara’s realm.

So there is no actual “you” that exists in the apparent world! Would you still call this entity “I” if it were clear you had no control over it at all? It’s Ishvara’s job to keep you thinking that entity is you – to keep the dance of duality going, to keep you involved and playing along. But unfortunately, this role-playing robs you of the knowledge of your true identity as inherently free and limitless awareness. The real fruit of self-inquiry is putting an end to the mistaken placement of the “I” sense onto a body and mind that is appearing in the field. Goodbye and good riddance to the apparent bondage!

If you were actually controlling the body and mind, then it would make sense to have your “I” attached to that. And that’s what we generally keep thinking, for years and years, even after we have heard and assimilated the knowledge “I am awareness.” There is a tendency to try to keep both identities afloat – both “I am awareness” and “but I’m still in a little bit of control here in the body, I’m still in a bit of suffering, I still need to fix things here,” etc.

There is a reluctance to let go of the idea that I am the person appearing in the field, because it’s not readily apparent how the suffering is going to finally end unless I stay here in the world and get rid of it myself! But you can’t get rid of the suffering by arranging things in the world – not in a million years. Only the understanding that the “I” you actually are is already free ends the suffering. That means knowing without a doubt that the “I” appearing in the world with a body and a mind is not you.

So when we say “I,” there are a few tests to run through your mind to challenge your thinking. It’s just a habit of yours (Ishvara’s habit!) to associate the “I” with the person. But if you have looked into it, you have seen how there is really no control there on “your” part. Thoughts come without your willing them. Feelings arise in response to the thoughts. Actions happen based on the thoughts and feelings. Physical laws are obeyed. There isn’t any choice about any of this. It’s all just happening, according the rules of the apparent matter, and we call that Ishvara.

So if Ishvara is running the body and mind you think of as “I,” that takes away the “doingness,” doesn’t it? Not thinking, not feeling, not acting – not doing anything at all. Just being. And I’m still here, even though Ishvara is running the body and mind. Knowing that Ishvara is in charge does not take away the “I,” does it? So then, what
is the “I”? If there’s no doingness going on, and yet there is beingness, what am I?

There is only one possible “I” – it is the awareness within which all this activity appears. I am awareness. There is nothing I have to do in the appearance to make myself more full, more safe, more satisfied. The appearance will never provide the mind with a sense of safety and fullness, because the mind is a duality machine, operated by Ishvara. The job of Ishvara is to keep this appearance going. Ishvara gives your mind a duality banquet every second, and for every step towards liberation in the appearance, there is a step away. As long as your “I” is planted there, you believe you are not free.

Place the “I” in the right place – that’s all! The beingness you know right now, just pure beingness, conscious presence – take this, see the logic in taking this non-doing, non-controlling beingness as the real “I.” This is liberation.

* * *

As always, I recommend checking out
James Swartz’s Vedanta website, Shining World. My deepest gratitude to James and his tireless work of teaching Vedanta for forty years.

Is Your Freedom a Feeling?

You are already free. This you know from all your spiritual literature, from Vedanta, from your own insights and epiphanies. You, awareness, are already free. So why do you not feel free?

Is it that you have not attained
moksha yet? And that you will feel free when you have attained moksha?

What if you’re never going to feel free? What if it’s not about feeling free?

What if the “free” that you already are has nothing to do with feelings, or with anything else that you usually associate with the word “free”?

The freedom that we are used to thinking about is the one that we find in the dictionary. It’s a noun – a thing – and it is defined relative to other things. But nothing about the Self can be put in relative terms. All relativity is duality, and the Self is non-dual, not made of parts – there is no duality in reality. So the dictionary definition of freedom is not applicable to the Self.

A person can feel free – that’s possible, of course – but only relative to other things. A feeling of freedom comes from all kinds of experiences we can have in the world. Which means that the objects, the circumstances, the thoughts, all have to line up a certain way, and this causes a feeling of freedom. This isn’t a very free freedom, is it? When I have to make sure that all the objects in my experience behave according to plan, and then I’ll get my feeling of freedom for a little while, until the objects move on and don’t line up anymore? That sounds like a lot of work and aggravation for a small payoff that doesn’t last. And that certainly can’t be what
moksha is.

So what about
moksha, liberation, the freedom that the rishis talk about? What kind of freedom is this?

It’s a freedom that doesn’t involve objects at all. And it doesn't involve feelings. Nothing in the world has to be – or even can be! – lined up to produce this freedom. It is already the nature of reality, the nature of you, the Self. There is no way to draw this freedom closer to yourself, since it is already the essence of everything. There is no way to increase it, and no point in even trying. And incredibly, it's not something that you feel. You cannot feel this freedom. It is more subtle than your feeling apparatus, and is beyond the reach of feelings.

It is difficult to conceive of this indefinable freedom – impossible, in fact. Freedom, being a word we associate with objects, is not an accurate word for it. There is no accurate word. Nothing about the Self can be conceived of or put into words, or even known by the mind.

And yet, this is what you are.
Moksha is very simply the knowledge that this non-relative, eternal, unchanging limitlessness is your true nature. This knowledge removes the compulsion to try to make freedom happen in the world, and removes the bondage to chasing a feeling of freedom. Removing this bondage leads to a nice experiential state for the jiva, but this is due to a loss of false belief, not a gaining of "freedom." Moksha is a dropping-off, not an adding-on.

Just knowing who you are – not feeling it, not experiencing it, but
knowing it – reveals the ever-presence of this “freedom” which is no kind of thing you’ve ever thought of with your mind, nor can you. And yet, here it is.

How to get this knowledge?
Vedanta and James Swartz! And self-inquiry, of course.

What Makes Me Think I'm Not Free?

We have heard that the Self is described by the Sanskrit term satchitananda – a compound word consisting of three parts: sat, meaning “beingness” or “existence”; chit, meaning “consciousness”; and ananda, which is usually translated as “bliss,” but Vedanta teacher James Swartz defines as “limitlessness.”

The good news is, we don’t need any help knowing that we are two out of the three! We already know that we exist, and we already know that we are conscious. Those two parts are self-evident. But we have a harder time with the third: it is not immediately apparent that I am limitless – that I am free.

You are free, but you don’t know it. Something in the appearance – the apparent objective world appearing in your consciousness – is telling you that you are not free. It’s not your existence telling you that, and it’s not your consciousness telling you that. It’s something that appears to you – appears
in you, consciousness – that is telling you that you are not free. Does an object appearing in you have that power over you? Does an apparent object (be it a thought, feeling, or belief) have any power to limit you? To tell consciousness that it is not free? Can a limiting thought downstream actually limit anything upstream from it?

So it’s only the idea that your consciousness is limited that needs to be sorted out. If you follow the logic, which tells you that you are already free since you are the Self, then you have a platform from which to launch a good line of inquiry, using questions such as the ones above, or any question that is meaningful for you.

As James Swartz says, Vedanta offers a lot of different teachings. But understanding the truth of just one of them will set you free.