Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Spiritual Lifestyle and Stages of Awareness

By Min Wae Aung

This article is a short summary of a talk given during my personal meeting with a group. Its probably not exactly what I said in those 2 hours or so, but is essentially that, as far as I can recall. The group is a newly formed meetup.com group.

Its my own perspective on what being spiritual means and how does such a lifestyle look like. Then we go into deeper stuff - stages of awareness.

What is the meaning of the word "spirit" or "spiritual"?

Many people would reply that its like being this or that person, a saint, a monk or a Guru they saw somewhere. Some may say it is something not related to this world, something other worldly, stuff that happens after death, aka paranormal. Some may think it is concerned with adopting certain beliefs in a mindless manner. So on and so forth. I, obviously, find all such ideas unsatisfactory.

One has to find one's own meaning of a concept, and it depends on their own experiences. I will present my own understanding, it is not to be taken as an "absolute truth" or something. In my opinion, the meaning of the word "spiritual" is very simple, it means the Essence. It is very close to its literal meaning - when everything that is unnecessary and inessential or having no consequence is removed, whatever remains is the Spirit, or the Essence.

So what remains when all that is unnecessary, illusory, impermanent or false is removed from "I". Obviously, the Self remains, which is another name for pure consciousness. So if "I" am spiritual, I am concerned with nothing but the Self, the consciousness.

The Sanskrit word Adhyatma is more precise, of which "spiritual" is a common translation. It means concerning the Self (Atman). We do not need to guess or interpret anything here, its very clear.

So you see, it has nothing to do with wacky experiences or horror movies of Hollywood or tall stories. It is concerned with the ultimate truth itself, which is simply here and now. Its right before us, self-evident and shining brightly. So one must wonder, how did this word got so twisted and gotten associated with every kind of BS there is and why so many people, including many seekers, have no clue what it actually means? The answer is one word - ignorance.

However, we being humans, do not prefer simple things, we spice it up and hence everyone has got a different meaning for it. As I said, one can choose any meaning whatsoever, but beware that there will be consequences accordingly, especially if you are planning to take up a spiritual path. Do not plant a Neem tree and expect mangoes.

What's a spiritual lifestyle?

Its a lifestyle that is oriented towards being spiritual. Well, looks like this last sentence says nothing really. But nothing more needs to be said. It is simple. Simple and minimal is most beautiful and most useful.

So a lifestyle which involves knowing the Self, studying it, learning about our own essence, the true nature of everything, dispelling ignorance and most importantly - implementing the teachings in everyday life - is a spiritual lifestyle.

A mind, aka the person or the identity comes closer and closer to the Self by following such a lifestyle. The mind become just like the Self in essence.

A spiritual lifestyle is not self-centered, it is Self-oriented. A self-centered lifestyle is all about the separate self, the ego, just survival and mechanically acting out our egoic tendencies. A Self-oriented lifestyle is when all our actions, speech and thoughts reflect our true nature, which is making an effort for being more knowledgeable, implementing that knowledge, benefiting all by sharing it, destroying ignorance, correcting once behaviour, liberating one's mind and basically approaching infinite happiness and freedom, which is the closest a mind can get to the Self.

So in essence, by following a spiritual lifestyle one gets purified to the extent that one starts resembling the Self itself. By one, I mean the person, which is just our mind - a bundle of memories and processes. Gradually, the person dissolves and becomes an image of the Self itself, which it already is, although clouded by ignorance and beliefs. We do not become "a Self", we already are that, we just realign with it more and more. So a seeker would start getting all the qualities of the Self as he progresses - purity, truth, universal-love, detachment, innocence, knowledge, perfection, beauty and the infinite eternal permanent unchanging nature.

Also, it has nothing to do with people or the world. You do not become spiritual by serving the world or its inhabitants, rather the service is a natural outcome of knowing who you are. Needless to say, the world and the people are essentially the Self, just you. Seeing them separate, causes all those actions towards them, of any kind, but is just ignorance.

So you see, in my opinion, it is not a fancy lifestyle which involves mindless following of some tradition or cult, or to wear certain kinds of clothes or speak peculiar things, or rituals, or hard beliefs or techniques to twist the mind or body or energies etc. It is a simple thing - be your Self.

So how do we "become" our own Self? It is simple too. Just be aware of it all the time. Let your actions flow out of awareness of who you really are instead of out of mere conditioning or ignorance. There, I gave you the key, the rest of the article is mere details.

So we reach an important question here.

What is Awareness?

Again you will find various connotations and meanings of this word. From the "awareness" of a disease or political situation to the name of the absolute reality (as in Nisargdatta's teachings), it means many things. And again, I choose to stay with the simplest meaning, which is - to know, to be conscious, to shine the light of consciousness. Or even simpler - to take the viewpoint of the Self.

What is the point of view of the Self? To witness, obviously. To behold things as they are. So to be aware is to be a conscious witness. Now, this seems like being the Self literally, and yes, it is, to be aware is to be the Self. What can be simpler? Even breathing is more complicated and difficult comparatively.

Aware of what? Of your experiences. There is nothing more there to be aware of. Experiences are of many kinds - of the world, of people, of body, of the mind itself i.e. the thoughts, actions, speech, feelings, emotions, desires, relatives, situations and all that. One can let everything happen, but in the light of awareness.

Who is aware? Obviously, the mind is what becomes aware, the mind is the one who knows anything in the light of the Self. The Self need not be aware, it is the awareness itself, it need not be reminded of that. The mind, when it remembers what it essentially is, is then said to have become aware, or Enlightened.

If you take the person as the mind, then it is a person who becomes aware. In that act, the person dissolves and the Self remains.

And then you will find this irritating thing - the person comes back, the Self is forgotten and the actions or thoughts again start following the preprogrammed monkey business of the mind. This can happen within seconds of being aware. The whole struggle of a seeker is to keep the awareness going.

An enlightened state of the mind is continuous unbroken awareness.

Everyone can do it, everyone has this potential, why not, everyone is just pure awareness - the Self. So how to do it?

Stages of awareness

In my limited experience and understanding, I've come across three ways in which awareness can happen. Now, this can be just an illusion or perhaps there are more ways that I do not know of, but I found this trisection a useful tool. A technique, if you like. I call them stages of awareness. These are :

1. Becoming aware of the events after they happen.
2. Becoming aware of them while they are happening.
3. Becoming aware of them even before they happen.

Its tempting to stick fancy names on them, but I leave it as it is for now or rather unimaginatively call them as stage 1, 2 or 3. 

Why are they stages? Because as we practice being aware, we go through these three conditions, one after the other in sequence, and the later stage is a more evolved and better state of the mind than previous. You may be very talented or odd or both if you never encountered the lower stages, so do not worry if this is not your experience, you are doing just perfect.

So just to be clear, by "becoming aware" I mean switching to a witness mode, taking the perspective of the Self. It does not mean that while the event was happening your were "unconscious"  or like a zombie and the "awareness" woke you up. It may feel like that, but we are always aware as the Self, only that, when we intentionally shift the focus of our attention from the mind to the Self, the mind catches a glimpse of the event happening independent of itself, and just witnesses it. The mind becomes detached from it, and assumes the role of a witness rather than that of a doer (or a victim, or enjoyer etc). In this way the usual mechanical behaviour of the mind stops and it enters a peaceful state.

Does that mean that the action will not happen or will there be a change of some kind in the experience? Yes and No. Both can happen. Say, if the situation is an external one, you may not be able to do much about it, you will continue with it or act there, while being fully aware of it. Say, if the situation is internal (in your own mind), you may intervene and choose another thing e.g. a thought or a decision or a desire, or the mental event may suddenly stop and disappear, as in the case of a thought that is causing suffering.

So the first stage is the one where a seeker becomes aware of the situation or his own actions/speech after its over already. We wake up after a while and discover that something happened in a certain way or that we did or said something, which we shouldn't have done or said. This is waking up in retrospect, and is a very common state to be in. Most of us, when we are practicing being aware, will end up like this. That is, the mind will slip, perform unconscious acts, speech or thoughts, and then will wake up, sometimes after seconds, sometimes after days and become aware of what had happened.

Do not worry, its not too late. Be happy that at least you are aware of it now, even though the actions have disappeared in the fog of time. Remember that the consequences are lurking just in the shadows, be prepared for that. This time the mind needs to be fully aware. This is how we learn. So if you are in this state right now, its still a good thing. The time gap between the slips and becoming aware will lessen with practice and the slips will happen less frequently. Once burnt twice shy. A trained mind will do its best next time something similar happens.

Second stage is the one when we remain fully aware of things happening right now in the present moment. This is real awareness. In the case of stage-1 the awareness is not of the event itself, it is the awareness of the memory of it, which is anyway happening in the now. (So you can see why I remarked that the stages can be an illusion, you can be aware only in the now, there is no other time to be aware). When the situation is viewed in the light of the awareness, it is not very serious, not a burden, not a suffering if it is negative and does not lead to stupid actions if it is pleasurable.

This is the preferred state to be in. And the key here is to keep reminding yourself that you are only a witness. The result is that almost no actions happen while the experience is being consumed as it is. No reactions happen. If anything that is extremely necessary and must happen, then it happens, whether you choose it or not. Remember, as a witness you are not the doer. So if a violent wild animal is chasing you, you do not stand there smiling as a witness, you run as fast as you can, while being fully aware of what is happening. You are not merely afraid, you also know that it is necessary for fear to show up there and it is necessary that the body protects itself. However, say, if a person is insulting you, you witness the situation with full awareness, knowing well that it is not necessary to react, just smile, just watch, its a show, amusing, you need not act here.

The key here is to keep your guard up always. Keep reminding yourself what you essentially are. A seeker walks like a hunter in a deep jungle. One mistake, and the hunter becomes the hunted. If you slip, which you will, do not worry, do not beat yourself up, just calmly and intentionally rise up, be aware again. Do it again and again, and again. This is the essence of any spiritual practice under the sky.

It helps to set up reminders. They can be your seeker friends, or ideally your teacher (don't need to "set" him up, he is naturally so), or pictures that remind you of your nature, or clothes, perhaps your phone too, even jewelry or stuff. Just do not fall into blind rituals or beliefs/superstitions, these things have a purpose, things are not "spiritual", they do not make you spiritual either, they are just Spiritual Tools. A stone is as good as gold. Remember why you are using it. Dust of time has covered up ancient tools and practices invented by geniuses and ignorant people have corrupted such spiritual practices beyond recognition. Do not forget the real message. You do not need a huge temple with diamond studded walls to do your practice in, nor you must stay in a grass hut or a dark cave. A small comfy house is enough. Just see the essence of such practices and tools. Use whatever you can.

Anyhow, there is nothing right or wrong when it comes to spiritual practices, there are tons of varieties out there, and if you prefer a fancy way, just go for it. Remember the goal, do not get carried away with the practices. Do whatever floats your boat. Once you have crossed the river, there is no use carrying that boat on your back. If, initially, your mind refuses to cooperate, and you find it difficult to stay steady and aware even for a minute, fall back and do something simple, like sit down and be aware of your breath for a specific amount of time per day. However, if after 30 years, you are still doing nothing but watching your breath, something is wrong, you see, you need to progress. You get my point.

Meditation done in a closed room in a serene place is like net practice that a player does. It needs to be carried over to the marketplace. It needs to be practiced in the field. Both are necessary. And again, rather unimaginatively, I call them as Net practice and Field practice. A good player knows well how to do it. Do not be a net champion alone.

Usually, for an ordinary person, an unusual event or situation will put them in total unconscious or unaware state instantly, and the innate or conditioned behaviour takes over. They do everything out of that compulsion, may be its right or wrong or whatever. And later on they justify is unconsciously with a random excuse. For a seeker the situation is exactly opposite. A seeker is extremely aware in odd/extreme/unusual situations and does whatever is necessary in the moment. Whether on a meditation mat or in a battlefield, there is no difference as far as his state of mind is concerned. The actions can be anything, can have any consequences, they cannot be perfect always, but a seeker takes full responsibility, knowing well the reasons and causes behind them, and prepares for the consequences.

Which leads us to the third stage, which is being aware even before something happens. An experienced seeker is the one who can tell from a mile what's coming. Once the awareness grows this big, it encompasses all past, present and future. You not only are now aware of what you did in the past and its fruits, what you are doing now, and the fruits that are arriving, but also, what are you going to do in the future when the experience finally arrives. Well, then do we plan stuff in a certain way when that happens? No, we let what is going to happen... happen. The moment, not the plan decides what will happen. We only plan to remain aware, as usual. As a mind, that is the only freedom you have.

As you can guess this is an advanced stage. I've had glimpses of it, so I know it exists, but I cannot say more about it. You will see it, or perhaps you are seeing it now. 

Results of being aware

If you are wondering what this all is going to do and have lost track of it, read it again from the top. Awareness is the essential state to be in while you conduct your life in a spiritual way. The spiritual way is the way of the spirit or the Self. It is the only way to be, what else can you be?

The result is that we lose everything that was unnecessary, was false, was causing harmful actions and suffering, was impure or negative, and so on. What we are left with is the Self, which is total freedom, purity and happiness. This comes at a cost which is unbearable for an Ego, because it means the Ego must take up a back seat. The worldly pursuits, drama and pleasure appear fake, because that's what they are. Ego doesn't like its show spoiled. Which is why egoic people despise spiritual lifestyle and hence hedonistic or materialist lifestyle has become an antonym for spiritual life. In my opinion, it is just a stage in the evolution of the mind, it is impermanent too. Usually they grow up soon as the pleasures turn into pain and start causing suffering. Suffering is grace too.

Everyone is spiritual, they just don't know it. As I said, its impossible to be anything else. A seeker knows this and takes up a lifestyle that is more aligned to the Self. It is intentional, deliberate and is done with full awareness.

1 comment:

  1. Read the article second time today. The things are more clearly understood this time. Thanks for such comprehensive article.