Dear Dr. Robert--
I have been suffering terribly because my daughter has gotten into trouble with drugs and men, and I am afraid that she will never have a decent life. As you know from my last letters, I have been a Christian all my life, and have tried to pass the teachings of Jesus on to my daughter, but she does not believe. A few years ago I discovered gangaji, and since then I have attended her satsangs whenever possible. I have been fortunate enough to have several private meetings with gangaji, and she has told me to stop worrying about my daughter. She told me that I am very close to enlightenment, and that when I attain it everything will seem different. I will no longer suffer, and will experience happiness without an end. gangaji says that if I keep trying I will attain in this very lifetime, and will not have to take anymore rebirths. Until then, she told me to take refuge in my faith, and in her, my guru. You seem to be an enlightened person. Please tell me what I should do to speed up this process of attaining enlightenment, as I am weary of suffering.
Well, I need to say before I begin that you may not like what I have to say about "enlightenment," gurus, and all that stuff, but since you have been reading my website, you already know that I have made it a practice not to mince words when replying to important questions. In other words, I simply speak or write from my own experience for whatever it is worth, without considering that someone listening or reading might be offended by my words. This is the only way, because if I once started considering whether someone's beliefs might be threatened by my words, and so ended up soft-pedaling my reply to the questions I receive--"respecting someone's faith," as this is often unfortunately put--then I would be left with nothing to say at all about these matters.
I am trying to make this clear at the outset because you have said things in your earlier letters to which seem to indicate a set of beliefs, a kind of faith, which, in my view, is not helpful to really understanding anything. Quite the opposite in fact: faith of any kind at all is totally counterproductive to understanding. "Faith" after all is just another word--a better sounding one--for "credulity," which means believing something simply because someone in authority, or who claims authority (Gangaji, in your case for example), has said it. But why should Gangaji be an authority on something that has occurred, or not occurred, in your experience? What makes her an authority on your experience? And if you believe Gangaji, then it is you who has found Gangaji worthy of credence, which has nothing to do with Gangaji, but only to do with your own discernment, understanding, and awareness. After all, Carlotta, there are people who see Jerry Falwell as an authority on spiritual experience. They honestly imagine that Falwell can tell them what "God" wants and what they must do next in order to be "saved." Absurd, isn't it? But why is trusting Gangaji, who for all you know might be hypnotized, deluded, or just mistaken, any different? I do not know anything about Gangaji except that she is a well-known teacher, so this is not a judgement of her, but rather a comment on your process.
That said, I dislike the word "enlightenment," and wouldn't use it myself at all except to reply to your kind of question. The problem with that word is this, Carlotta: it refers to something entirely unimaginable, but about which many people imagine they already know something. Rather than simply accepting that a state of awareness which they are not experiencing (if they were experiencing it, they certainly would not be asking about or wondering about it) is literally unimaginable, people are tempted to use their imagination anyway, and so they conjure up visions of a special state, totally different from "ordinary life," with all of its fear, pain, and suffering. When finally I am "enlightened," this fantasy goes, I will be as I am now, except that I will understand everything, and I will be happy. This is really no different at all from the Christian myth of heaven, which may help to explain why so many humans get caught up so childishly (the guru is like mommy or daddy) in seeking "enlightenment." What is being sought is not awareness or understanding at all, but just an end to suffering such as the religious indoctrination of their childhood promised would reward true believers (while the others burned in hell, of course). How foolish. How dreary.
To put this another way, I do not like the way I feel now, so I imagine a state sometime in the future when I have "attained enlightenment." When that happens, the fantasy goes, I will be special. I will be different from everyone else (except the other enlightened people). I will not suffer as others do, and as I do now. I will know the answers to all of my questions. I will know "God," or know if there really is a God or not. Perhaps I will have magical powers. I will be able to manifest whatever I choose. But that is all just a fantasy, a fantasy of future happiness, future power, all that I will have attained when finally I am enlightened. And the future never comes. When tomorrow comes, it comes as the present, not as the future, and it comes not as a fantasy, but as the facts and feelings of this very moment. So fantasies of enlightenment and salvation are a denial of the present, which is an eternal present. Fantasies of enlightenment are nothing more than a denial of this very moment which is the only moment there is or ever was. In other words, as long as someone is thinking about "enlightenment," or any other version of salvation for that matter, that person is in denial of actual being. That person lives in a kind of trance state which seems to be about something "spiritual," but which is really no more than the self-hypnosis of a mind which, being fearful, has become addicted to escapism.
Each of us is caught up emotionally in a very complicated drama called "life." In that drama, "I" am the main character, and other people have supporting roles of greater or lesser importance. Everything I do, everything I say, everything I worry about, everything I desire, everything I avoid, everything I seek (including "enlightenment") only serves to support the existence of that character, to flesh him (or her) out, to solidify his existence, to define him. "I" have a life story which provides the background for that character, and I have relationships which both support but also trouble the character in that drama. And that "I" has a body which can become ill and die. "I" knows this is true because "I" has seen others become ill and die. But the idea that my character, my "I,"--my ego, to use another term--which has struggled for so long just to define itself and to survive, will die (cease to exist at all, that is) is intolerable to me, so I invent an afterlife, or many afterlives one after another. I engage in discussions with others about God, Buddha, karma, enlightenment, etc. And it's all bullshit. It's all fantasy. It's all a claim to know something about the unknowable. It's avoidance. It's denial. It's wishful thinking. And, there is no shortage of people ready, willing, and able to make a profit on that. To sell tickets, to sponsor events, to sell books, be supported by disciples, etc. ad nauseam.
people often claim to be "enlightened,"
but you can be quite certain that anyone who claims such a thing is
either a shameless liar, or totally self-deluded. The very idea of a
separate person with a past and a future--a "someone" who
could become enlightened --is already a misconception, a kind of
contraction or dumbing down.
When I say "contraction" I mean this in the sense in which a hand can be contracted into a fist. The hand is still there, but cannot be seen until the fist is relaxed, then the fist disappears, and the hand appears again "by itself." It was always there, but its contraction into a fist prevented experience of the hand, as a hand. The same is true of awareness. It is always there, and does not belong to any one person in particular. When the contraction called "myself" or "my ego" relaxes sufficiently then awareness experiences itself for what is is. No one can do this or "attain" this. It just happens. It cannot be done or attained because the very idea of someone doing something just strengthens the contraction all the more. That's what the contraction is, after all, the idea of a separate person who does things, makes choices, has a guru, becomes enlightened. I call it a contraction because it is a squashing down of the universal, always existing awareness into the tiny prison of an individual ego, so that what was open-eyed, nonjudgmental, clear-headed awareness (and still is, but unnoticed, not experienced) now is called "my awareness, my enlightenment, my attainment, my point of view, which is the clenched fist, not the open hand. If you get the flavor of this, then you will understand that no one who claims enlightenment, or claims being able to decide who is on the verge of enlightenment or not, knows the first thing about any of this.
When this total inability of the personality to attain "enlightenment" by any means, any practice, any belief, any "purification," anything whatsoever, is seen, the drama of becoming ends. What is, simply is, and cannot become anything. The bullshit stops. Each moment is fresh, different from any other, and entirely unspeakable. The future never arrives. "Enlightenment" isn't even an issue or anything to think about. One simply experiences what humans experience from moment to moment, and that's it. And that is sufficient.
Before signing off, Carlotta, I just want to say that I understand your suffering--you have been through a lot by now--but that I want to encourage you to stop trying to find refuge. Just allow yourself to be, and stop trying to get answers to questions which cannot be answered. Stop trying to find refuge in ideas. Stop trying to find refuge in Gangaji and her opinion of you. Stop looking for refuge in Jesus, in enlightenment, in judging whether your past experiences were special experiences which indicated "enlightenment" or just some of the varied and sometimes intense experiences of the ordinary human mind. Stop believing in things and just be. Stop looking for refuge in in anything. When all of that seeking stops, then see where you are.