Gauging Realization in Oneself and Others
by Bob Cergol
Most of us have observed in some fashion the capacity for self-delusion in others, and any serious practitioner of self-inquiry has also observed—often with surprise and distress—examples of self-delusion in their own life. So it is understandable that the question arises of how does one know the degree of realization (or delusion) in oneself or another.
My attempt to answer, or rather comment on, these questions is based on defining the spiritual path as one’s journey to discovering who and what one ultimately is, i.e. self-definition. The spiritual search ends in the discovery of what remains when all that is not your true Being is taken away. You do not willfully shed the false, so the words “taken away” are used deliberately. You look, and when you are ready to accept that which prevents you from seeing (fear), the false falls away. Looking beyond the very core of what you take yourself to be requires a shock or accident concurrent with your intense, unselfish looking.
No matter how often individuals have heard the term “reverse vector” applied to the search or that the spiritual path is subtractive, the automatic and unconscious direction of their mind—of their very individuality—is additive. Every experience results in a reaction of instantaneous interpretation that the experience affirms and magnifies their individuality, or denies and diminishes that individuality.
Such a mentality is in a very poor position for evaluating its own progress on the path, let alone the attainment of another.
I’ve written somewhere else that one cannot really lie to oneself, that one only looks away from the truth because one is not ready to accept it. In our heart we know the difference. We have only to look in earnest. In this sense, the spiritual path is a journey of acceptance and a willingness to have a look, directly and honestly, at just who and what we really are—and are not—and it takes time, for it is really the process of dying—and who willingly rushes to embrace that?
Nisargadatta was quoted as saying: “He who knows himself has no doubts about it. Nor does he care whether others recognize his state or not.”
Someone who does not know themselves is in no position to judge the spiritual attainment of another. The best they can hope for is to make an accurate intuitional assessment of that person’s sincerity, friendship and capacity to help them in their search. The reliability of their intuition is dependent in large measure on the degree to which they know themselves and can be unselfishly honest with themselves. Their evaluation, either way, of the other person has no bearing on the fact of the other person’s state. Therefore it is more important that one look at oneself than to be preoccupied with proving or disproving the status of another and whether they are self-deluded or not.
There is an underlying assumption, held by convention, that self-realization automatically makes of the person both a teacher and some sort of epic character whose entire life thereafter takes on epic proportions. Along with this comes a whole laundry list of personality traits and behaviors that are applied as a test of whether someone is self-realized or not. These assumptions are erroneous and come from a mentality that believes spiritual realization somehow increases the individual.
The individual who was the trigger for Richard Rose’s realization was not even an active seeker, let alone a realized teacher, so one should not equate efficacy in evoking realization in one’s self with the state of self-realization in another or rule out the value that any specific individual may have to you in your attempts to see yourself clearly.
Richard Rose once told me: “Enlightenment doesn’t change the fact of who you are in the world. A whoremaster could realize the Absolute, after which he’d still be a whoremaster. Oh, I ain’t saying he’d have the same attachment to being that character as before. In Zen you hear that before Enlightenment the hills are hills and the valleys are valleys; in enlightenment the hills are no longer hills and the valleys are no longer valleys; then after enlightenment the hills are once again hills and the valleys are once again valleys.” (Note: To argue that this saying limits enlightenment to a mere experience in time is to miss entirely the point that this saying makes.)
Another common assumption is that self-realization must bring happiness and joy—even physical health. This comes in part from the use of the word Bliss in many Eastern writings. Apparently, the Indian term translated as “bliss” in English does not mean “intense, unbroken, happiness” as I think is the most common interpretation. From the context I see it used in, I conclude it means a state that is beyond both joy and sorrow—a state that is unaffected by the swirl of relative experience and its accompanying emotions. Bliss would be equanimity at one’s core—the result of the knowledge of one’s true Source and the result of both knowing and experiencing oneself to BE that Source—even all the while experiencing the tumult of one’s life’s circumstances (karma) and the emotional reactions that belong to the personality and the body. (The Zen teacher Pulyan, in response to a question regarding what his system was, replied: “You want a process that ‘enhances.’ What does that mean—gives you joy & pleasure. This will NOT!”)
Having said all this, I feel comfortable in laying out these characteristics of someone who has realized their true nature, beyond which I don’t think one can generalize.
1. They have witnessed and experienced their own non-existence and so have solved the problem of life and death in regards to themselves.
Not merely as discursive conclusion—though I acknowledge that such tail-chasing could precede and precipitate a final realization. In that case, I would say that any such discursive thought process was merely the experience—not the cause—that coincided with the process by which the individual’s awareness disassociated from that which was not the Self. When the body-mind dies and is dissipated, when motion which is all of the content of consciousness ceases, something remains. It is No-thing—but the word “nothing” connotes absence and denial, and that which remains is quite real—the only real being—alive but beyond life and death—and is all that is. Hence, Richard Rose also said that it was Everything. The dreamer, by virtue of the very nature of his source, has seen his dream nature. This seeing itself is but a reflection of the Source, for the Source doesn’t see or hear—it simply IS.
2. They live with two simultaneous points of reference.
One point of reference is relative, which I would describe as awareness-illuminated experience; the other is absolute and impersonal and beyond experience, i.e. awareness independent of any object. The former is the point of reference of individuality that has peered back through the mind, back through individual consciousness, and in doing so left that individuality behind, revealing a different point of reference that is anterior to that individual and from which individuality itself is witnessed as an experience—an event, a movement apart from eternal stillness. Paradoxically, only the latter point of reference is real. Language breaks down because such expressions always suggest or inject the notion of the personal, i.e. an individual experiencing or witnessing. In reality the personal only exists as a dream, and the dream character has an experience of realization and lives in that experience; all the while there is a persistent background of impersonal awareness, an abiding sense of That which alone is real and in which the personal is a fleeting reflection. (Pulyan replied to a question on this very subject: “This is a paradox to make the angels weep!! Since you are ‘God’ & nothing else it is God realizing himself in this time-space episode.”)
3. They are permanently changed.
This change is not necessarily visible to others. No matter how they live their lives and what happens to them, there is a perspective that cannot be lost. I call this perspective “seeing from the other side,” and it is the background of all their experience. The quality of their awareness is changed—not their Being, since that which they truly are is beyond change. The reaction of the personality to this change in awareness is highly varied and, for me, explains the wide divergence of vocabulary and actions among those who have written convincingly about their realization.
Nisargadatta provides us this succinct description of Self-Realization: “… A state of pure witnessing, detached awareness, passionless and wordless. It is like space, unaffected by whatever it contains. Bodily and mental troubles do not reach it—they are outside ‘there’—while the witness is always ‘here’.”
There is no doubt in one when this witnessing occurs as to its finality—though one may be dumbstruck and poorly equipped for explaining it. There may even be a period of adjustment for the personality. It is unexpected—and these words do not prepare you for it no matter how much you might think you understand them, no matter how well you have learned the language of the literature—so I see little chance for enduring self-delusion here by him who is honest with himself. One would have to ignore the fact of their own mortality throughout their entire life and the question it presents them—and one day will present them one final time: “Who am I?” and “What is this existence?” and “What comprises me?” and “What remains when body and mind perish and are dissipated?”