James Braha is our fourth author/teacher in this Guest Teachings Series. Our selection from his work will come from Living Reality: My Extraordinary Summer with "Sailor" Bob Adamson. It's a unique work in among the hundreds of Nonduality titles begging for our attention. It's both a tremendously satisfying story, and a fine, fine teaching. Here's part of what I said about in my Amazon review of it in November of 2010:
"Braha recorded his very first trans-continental telephone conversation with world-renowned Advaita teacher and master, "Sailor" Bob Adamson. Who would even think of doing that? Then, a few weeks later, Braha, who is not much of a flier, invites "Sailor" Bob and Bob's wife, Barbara, to visit Braha and his wife, Vashti, in Florida. And offers to pick up the tab. Who the hell THINKS of doing this? Who can pull it off? And who then does it? James Braha. And as it turns out, Mr. Braha is not only a bold and clever guy, but a fine and entertaining writer as well."
That's the history of Living Reality in a nutshell. So it was with a wonderful combination of seeker's heart and writer's mind that James called Sailor Bob Adamson for counsel. He persuaded Bob and his wife, Barb, to come to the States for a summer, and it was James who primarily footed the bill. I think he got his money's worth. Sailor Bob, who studied directly under Nisargadatta, is easily one of the best known and deeply respected Nondual teachers in the world, a true elder statesman of this teaching. The experience was priceless, and its wakes are still being felt around the world. James' photo look like the cat who ate the canary, does he not? There's a reason for that. I hope some of you will be doing the same by the end of this article.
I enjoyed Living Reality so much that I wrote James to say so, and shared my own story with him at the same time. We've written back and forth numerous times over the last eighteen months, and he's always been generous with his time, kind with his praise, and encouraging in his spirit. I mentioned last week that Peter Dziuban was the first Nondual writer to put a bug in my ear about doing some writing of my own in this field. James was the second. Without their nudging there would almost certainly be no Awakening Clarity. Thank you, James.
I'm going to keep my introduction of James to a minimum, because I want to devote the space to our selection, which is going to be longer than usual, but which should be an easy read, because it's the text of the first conversation between James and Sailor Bob. Let me set it up just a little. James Braha is a writer's writer. Reading him is like reading a wonderful novel: the pages seem to fly; you just don't want to put his book down, and you don't want it to end. Yet Living Reality was far from his first book. James had been chest deep in spirituality for years prior to the events related in his book. He's a world renowned authority on Hindu and Vedic astrology. Amazon shows seven titles to his credit. So to say that James was fertile ground is an understatement. The ground was fertile, the seed was in the ground, and the area had been watered. It was only missing one thing when James called Bob. It was missing Direct Light. That's just what Bob brought.
Our First Conversation
James: I am trying to understand the role of the intellect. Does one gain realization through the intellect?
Bob: No. The intellect has nothing to do with enlightenment. It’s that spontaneous presence awareness that is with you right now—and with you all the time. If you look at the intellect of the mind, all the mind does is translate.
You’re seeing me right now, aren’t you?
Bob: Well, if you look around the room and try to label what you see, you can only label or distinguish a small number of things. In fact, you are seeing everything in the room. You’re seeing much more than what you can label through the mind. You may label four or five items, yet you’ve seen everything.
Bob: Well, that’s the difference between the pure intelligence, or pure functioning awareness [other terms for presence awareness, or the natural state], and the thinking mind. The mind translates; that’s all it does. It says, “I think this,” or “I feel that.” That’s all it’s doing.
But the seeing and the hearing, the actual functioning, is prior to the labeling. It’s always happening in its entirety, in the present moment.
James: I’ve been reading lots of Advaita and recently realized that I have been chasing enlightenment like it’s a thing, an attainment. That’s ridiculous.
Bob: Of course it is.
James: I know, but thoughts keep coming up that “I don’t want to waste my life. I want to realize whatever is possible to realize…” I know one cannot make enlightenment happen…
Bob: You see, enlightenment, or liberation, and all the rest of it, is something fabricated by the mind. These are labels, concepts.
James: Exactly, but what do I do now?
Bob: You don’t do anything. You never have done anything as a separate entity! But the doing happens.
It’s the same as when the sperm and ovum that created you came together. Where were you then?
James: I understand that. But what do I do?
Bob: Just let life unfold, just the same as your life has been lived so far. You must realize that the mind, which is the “I” that you take yourself to be, has never done a thing. It hasn’t got any power to do anything. All it’s doing is translating what is actually going on.
So the going on still happens the same way it did before, but you no longer attribute to it a separate entity, or an individual that gets itself into trouble. It’s the separate identity, the idea of separation, that causes all the psychological problems. There is no separation. Everything is equal.
If you look in nature, you’ll see the equality of everything. Day follows night, silence follows sound, the tides go in and out, seasons come and go.
We put these labels on everything, this differentiation on everything… But really, all is one. All is consciousness. It’s like a wave on water. The wave is still only water. The wave that arise on the ocean is still only ocean. There is no differentiation, except in the mind, in the labels. All is one. All is consciousness.
James: Well, for example, tonight I had the thought, “I’ll call Sailor Bob…”
Bob: Yes, well that thought simply came up at that particular time. When the actual experience happened, you picked up the phone and dialed. There is no entity who did that. The thought to call did not do the calling; that was simply a translation of what might or might not happen.
James: Okay. Well, I know that chasing liberation like it’s a thing is absurd, but every day thoughts keep coming up that “I want to get rid of this ‘me’ identity.”
Bob: If you look closely, you’ll see that this “me” identity has no power or independent nature. Could you have that idea of a “me” if you weren’t conscious or aware?
James: So you’re saying it’s fine to have the ‘me’ identity?
Bob: Yes. It’s going to appear, but now you know the falseness of it. Look, you go down to the ocean, and you see that the water is blue. But you and I know that you can’t get a bucket of blue water from the sea.
Bob: You’re not going to stop seeing the blue sea or the blue sky, but you know the truth about it. And the same with the water in a mirage. You’re never going to try to drink the water in a mirage.
Knowing the truth about it, you’re not bound by it. Remember the old scriptural saying, “Know the truth and the truth will set you free”? So in knowing the truth that you are not a separate entity and never have been and never will be, you are no longer bound.
It’s the same with the idea of a “James” as an independent entity. It’s still going to be there, but you know the truth about it. You’re not bound by it. It loses its hold.
James: So it gradually loses its hold.
James: Or it doesn’t. But it doesn’t really matter, either way.
Bob: That’s right. It’s equal. In essence, it’s equal. It’s got not independent nature. You couldn’t have that thought of an identity, or that concept of a “me,” if you weren’t conscious and aware. When the life essence goes out of your body, the body still has eyes and ears and a nose and a heart, but none of it is functioning. It’s like having all the information in the world on your computer, but if the power isn’t on, it’s worthless to you.
So you are that functioning intelligence energy, that presence awareness, that has never had any beginning and will never have any end. It always was and always will be. The energy vibrates into different patterns, into different shapes and forms, just like the ocean appears to be blue, but it never was blue.
So the self identity is still going to be there. First, you’ve got to look through it and see the falseness of it. When you take a stance in the concept of being a separate identity, that’s resistance to “what is,” and that’s stopping the flow of energy. That’s where all our problems arise from.
Bob: Yes. You can’t be anything else, if you examine it closely. Look you’re aware of presence right now, aren’t you? You know that you “are”.
Bob: What do you have to do to cause that to be?
Bob: It’s spontaneous; it’s self-shining presence awareness. It’s functioning by itself. And on that presence awareness appear all sort of different patterns.
James: The problem is that I get everything you’re saying right now, and tomorrow I’ll probably feel great and peaceful, and I won’t be seeking like an addict. But in two or three days, I’ll remember some spiritual book where the author talks about his or her fantastic bliss experiences and all the the miracles constantly occurring. And then I’ll want my individual identity to go away completely, so I can have all that great stuff. And I’ll start wondering what I can do to make that happen.
Bob: You see, your individual identity started around the age of two, when you learned language. That’s when your sense of separation started, and the seeking of wholeness began. But not, you’ve seen clearly through that false identity. That’s it.
But the habit patterns, which have been constantly reinforced, day in and day out for so many years, will come up again. Now as you immediately recognize an old habit pattern, then no energy goes into it. Nothing can live without energy.
Now that you’ve seen through it, how can you believe it again?
James: So, what you’re describing is understanding?
Bob: Yes. By realizing falseness, you can’t believe in it again. Even though you’re seemingly caught in it, the energy drops out of it immediately, and the “head of it” will fall off. The self identity, or false reference point, may come up for a while, but the more and more that you catch yourself just going back into a habit pattern, eventually the habit is broken. Haven’t you had habits that you have broken before?
James: Of course.
James: The times that I feel separate mostly occur when I am dealing with other people. You know, some upset or hurt feelings come up. Then, later on I realize that what happened previously was absurd because there is no James to get hurt or upset. James is a false identity, a false reference point.
Bob: That’s right. Interactions happen. That’s the functioning of the universe. Things will happen. But you know that there are no people. If you see clearly that there is no self center in you, with any independent nature, then you must know for certain that there is no self center in anyone else, with any independent nature. That puts you in the box seat, doesn’t it?
So you know where everybody comes from. Ninety-nine percent of the world don’t see this, or grasp it. So they’re coming from that false self center, even many who preach enlightenment—which implies some future time, and there is no future time—are coming from a false self center.
So others will have a concept about you. And you will have a concept about yourself. Now, which concept is right?
James: Neither one.
Bob: That’s right. So you can’t believe the concept you have about yourself. That’s garbage. And you can’t believe someone else’s concept about you. That’s also garbage. So there’s no one superior to you and no inferior from that point. It’s all equal.
So you go along, and you have an argument with someone if necessary, but you don’t take it to heart, because there’s no self center, or reference point, where it can take hold. They might, but that’s their perception. That might be the thing that turns them around. It’s generally suffering that turn people to this teaching, you see?
So it all goes along the way it should. But the actuality is always this moment. You can never live this moment again. If we’re worrying yesterday or anticipating tomorrow, we’re not living fully. Half our senses are taken up in that past and future, and we’re not totally with the present, where everything is happening.
James: So, when I live my life …
Bob: You don’t live your life. Your life is being lived.
James: Okay. As my life is being lived, it’s just as well if I have no thoughts about gaining enlightenment?
Bob: Well, have a look at this, James: enlightenment implies something that you haven’t already got. And that’s taking you away from presence, taking you away from omnipresence, which is all there is, into an anticipated and imagined future that doesn’t exist. So, you’ve put yourself in a trap!
James: That’s a habit pattern developed over the last thirty years.
Bob: Yes, but if you see it as a habit pattern, are you going to believe it anymore? Now that you see it as a habit pattern and see its falseness, it will drop off on its own.
Bob: Now, you can’t force it away, because the idea of a “you” trying to stop it gain has got you subtly. It’s got you into duality, into a false reference point again.
James: It’s really a strong habit. Often, when I find myself not chasing enlightenment or feeling I’m thinking about it enough, I actually feel guilty.
Bob: James, you always have been and you always will be. What you’re seeking, you already are. Start from that.
You don’t have to try to do anything; you only have to scrape away the rubbish that is stopping you from seeing that. Recognize the garbage that is stopping you from seeing it. It’s as simple as that. It’s so simple that we miss it.
James: What about all these teachers who say you must do meditation and yoga and all the techniques? What’s that all about? Is it useful?
Bob: For some people, it might help to slow down the mind a bit; it might thin the cloud out a little bit, so they can see the sun shining in its fullness. For some people, meditation and other techniques just happen. But if you can see the directness of this teaching, all these things aren’t necessary. There is no need to go anywhere or do anything. Presence awareness is what you are. Just relax into presence awareness.
James: I see. Well, I appreciate your speaking with me. It was a bit hard for me to call. It took some guts.
Bob: Well, if you see that you have no self center, you know that no one else does either. Then the fear of dealing with other people fades away. No one is superior and no one is inferior.
James: My friend Kerry is going to see Ramesh Balsekar [a famous Indian teacher who was a disciple of Nisargadatta]; that will be exciting for him. I often think about going to see awakened teachers, but then I wonder what exactly they will do for me. They aren’t going to give me enlightenment. I may feel good for a few days, and then in time I’ll feel the same as before. The good feeling comes and goes. It’s just the peak experience.
Bob: That’s the trouble. Many seekers get stuck in experiences. All experiences are in the mind; they are mind stuff. I was with Muktananda in the 1970s when I met Nisargadatta. I was in Muktananda’s ashram at the time. Well, some people have been going to Muktananda’s ashram for thirty years, and they are stuck in the experiences. They don’t move away from that.
James: You mean blissful experience.
Bob: Yes, people have all kinds of experiences, but they are transitory. People have kundalini experiences [energy rushing up the spine], bliss experiences, all kinds of things. But thse come and go. They are not what you’re looking for. Presence awareness is beyond experience, prior to experience. I have long periods of silence, and I have periods of mental chatter. It’s all the same to me.
James: You don’t prefer the silence?
Bob: No, because these things are experiences. I am beyond experience. What I am is that in which all experience happens—the experiencing, not the experience or the experience. Just like seeing, in which the seer and the seen appear, the seer becomes the pseudo-subject, and the seen is the object. But they’re both contained in seeing. If there weren’t seeing, there couldn’t be a seer. If there weren’t seeing, there couldn’t be a seen.
James: So, there really no need to do all those purification techniques, meditation and yoga and all?
Bob: No, no need whatsoever. Of course, if it happens, there’s nothing wrong with it. But all they will produce are experiences. They come and they go.
Bob: You see, since you’ve been talking to me has the presence awareness changed?
Bob: Thoughts have come; thoughts have gone. Feelings have come and gone. You’ve heard sounds and seen things. But the presence awareness here is uncontaminated, spontaneously ever present, isn’t it?
Bob: Well, that is what you are. To the mind, that’s “no thing”. That’s where the fear of that, or confusion, comes in because the mind is used to grasping at something. The mind can’t understand no thing because the mind is a thing itself.
James: Your teacher, Nisargadatta, used to say [in dialogues in his book I Am That], “Be with the ‘I am.’”
Bob: Yes. But be careful. He didn’t mean the thought or the words “I am”; he meant the sense of presence, the knowingness that you are. You can’t get away from presence awareness. You can’t get away from presence awareness.
James: Yes, I understand. But there seems to be some paradox going on in the Advaita teaching because non-dualism implies oneness, literally “not two”. And that means there is nothing to do, nowhere to go, and so on. But Nisargadatta was teaching that we should focus constantly on the sense of presence, the “I am”. That sounds like a prescription.
Bob: It’s true. But remember that Nisargadatta was teaching all kind of people, from all walks of life, from all sorts of different levels, not that there are ultimately any levels. And some people had no clue what he was trying to convey. So he spoke differently to different people. He was unable to teach many of his fellow Indians because they were consumed with their religion. For them, he performed prayers and chants and sent them on their way.
James: So, it’s just a matter of being, and of being aware.
Bob: Yes, and that’s spontaneously and effortlessly with you now. When you realize that there is actually no self center, or reference point, in you, then what must be there?
Bob: Emptiness. And what’s happening in life is what the ancients call “cognizing emtiness”. It’s the emptiness that’s cognizing. Cognizing is the intelligence factor, the knowing—the knowing that you are. So, “intelligence energy” is not two things. It’s emptiness cognizing emptiness, which everything appears and disappears on.
Something can’t come from nothing. Everything is appearing in emptiness, so essentially the appearances must be emptiness also. In other words, all the manifestation is an appearance only.
James: Yes, I’ve read about that and I get it.
I don’t mean to beat a dead horse, but I want to make sure I’m hearing properly. This whole enlightenment, liberation, self-realization business is really about understanding?
Bob: Yes. As Nisargadatta put it, “Understanding is all.” Understanding is all that is necessary. Look at what the ancient sage Patanjali spoke about. He spoke about right understanding; that’s what he emphasized. [Note: Some non-dualists prefer the term “knowingness” because the feel the word “understanding” undwittingly conveys the idea that there is a person to do the understanding.]
Just remember that the mind is not you. The mind is just a translator. As an infant, before reasoning, you were functioning effortlessly, from the natural state. There was no labeling going on. You were in the natural state. You were seeing, hearing, and you didn’t know there was an “I” there. That came along after reasoning started. From that point on, everything is acquired mind. Everything is learned from then on. But the natural state is still functioning, still beating your heart, growing your fingernails, digesting your food, causing your thinking to happen, and so on.
So, the natural state is still functioning, but it’s seemingly clouded over by that acquired stuff. The acquired stuff is like a cloud. It seemingly blocks out the natural state. Our focus goes into that mind stuff, and we keep repeating it and believing it, so that habit patterns form. And we gon on like this until we pause and question what has happened.
But you must realize that the natural state is still there and always has been
James: Is it us questioning? The thoughts are just coming into our minds, right?
James: Is it us questioning? The thoughts are just coming into our minds, right?
Bob: That’s right; it’s not us doing anything. Get that out of your mind. It’s one without a second. That’s the simplicity of this. The ancients have told us all the way through the ages that it’s non-dual, one without a second. In Dzogchen [pronounced “zog-shen] Buddhism, it’s described as “non-conceptual, ever-fresh, self-shining presence awareness, just this and nothing else.” The Israelis say, “Hear, oh Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.”
James: Well, where are my thoughts coming from?
Bob: They’re coming from that cognizing emptiness. They’re nothing more than vibrating patterns of energy appearing on the emptiness.
James: And we have nothing to do with this?
Bob: No, the idea of “we” is just another vibrating pattern that is appearing on the emptiness. In essence, the thought is the same as the emptiness. It’s still that oneness.
So nothing has ever happened! To no one!
* * * * *
Copyright 2006, James Braha
James' website: http://www.jamesbraha.com/
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Let me welcome Uruguay and Zimbabwe to the ever-expanding list of countries visiting Awakening Clarity. They have respectively become countries number 65 and 66 joining this fast-growing family. We’re seeing a sharp rise in international traffic, and we're getting about 1,000 visits per week now. There has been exponential growth thus far in 2012. Thank you so much; it’s very gratifying to see this blog be of service to so many. Efficiency of effort was always the plan. Namaste!