Watching Suffering: Journals of Two Young Girls

Contents:

  1. Introduction
  2. Tannupriya’s Journal – Suffering
  3. My Comments to Tannupriya’s Journal
    1. Kinds of responses to suffering shown by people
      1. Escape through Materialism
      2. Solutions through Materialism
      3. Solutions through Spiritual Materialism
      4. Solutions Through Dualist Spiritual Paths
  4. Facing Suffering Without Any Belief Or Concept
  5. Simi’s Journal – Death
  6. My Comments on Simi’s Journal
    1. Non-Duality and Formless Awareness
    2. Suffering is Born of Ignorance of Real Nature
    3. Suffering and Choiceless Awareness of ‘What Is’
  7. Conclusion

Introduction

One does not need to work hard in convincing another human being that life is full of suffering. The question is how we deal with this. Self inquiry is about understanding and ending of suffering. Understanding suffering and ending suffering are not two separate processes.

In this blog article I am reproducing the journals of two young girls – an eighteen-year-old and a twenty-year-old who are learning self inquiry with me in the psycho-philosophy group. Anyone interested in learning self inquiry and joining this group can visit the NEEV Psycho-Philosophy Inquiry page and contact me.

The journals of these two girls shall show that suffering can be ended only by understanding it. To understand suffering one has to learn to watch it. The process of watching suffering is not at all easy. The journals of these to girls along with my comments draw out all the subtleties and pitfalls encountered in learning all about the vast sea of suffering.

Tannupriya’s Journal – 21/8/2020

Suffering

There is one thing in common – suffering. We all are suffering in one way or the other. Different kinds of people deal with suffering in different ways. In my opinion, there are three major types of people – those who run away from suffering, those who find solutions, and the third who just calmly watch the suffering.

When I fear something I try to hide. But what will happen if I hide?! Will the fear vanish?! No, it remains there still. It is useless to hide yourself from suffering. If I try to find a solution then I just want to get out of this suffering as soon as possible and stay calm but that doesn’t happen. Even if you solve your problem that is not the end of it. It never ends, but it will or it can be ended by doing nothing. To be more clear, if you want to end all the suffering you have to do nothing to move away. You just have to watch and go through all your sufferings. You have to watch and face every suffering with awareness. I think if you do that continuously till your last breath then soon you may reach a point where you have no suffering. And this too is very difficult to do. It demands a lot and a lot of clarity and courage. These two things should be the two determinations to reach happiness and peace.

I am on the way of facing suffering. To be true I sometimes want to get rid of my sufferings. I lose patience and awareness. But then a thought comes that – no, I can’t lose it. I have to face it anyhow. There is no point running. I have to watch it with all my emotions. And when you think, when you watch your thoughts, trust me you are watching the reality of yourself. At that time you see yourself like seeing in a mirror. This is very difficult as well as powerful. I would say that to reach happiness you have to go through every single obstacles and suffering. To end suffering is to face suffering.

My Comments to Tannupriya’s Journal

Kinds of Responses To Suffering Shown by People

1.) Escape Through Materialism

Tannupriya’s journal very aptly starts with outlining the different responses people can, and exhibit towards suffering in their lives. I shall examine all these responses in increasing order of subtlety.

The general run of people typically exhibit the first response: escape from suffering. Our society is based on escape from suffering: it’s technology, it’s workaholism, it’s entertainments and it’s relationships are all means of escape from . We are taught all kinds of skills, sciences and technology, but we are never taught to understand life. We are never taught to look inside, to look into our thoughts, feelings and emotions. On the contrary we are actually rewarded by schools, parents and society to exhibit ‘professionalism’, which actually means cultivating the intellect while being emotionally and spiritually retarded human beings. We do not have a complete map of life. I wrote about this in my articles Have We Got A Complete Map of Life and How Maps Of Mind Condition Us to Live and Act. The intellect being an instrument of thought is not capable of knowing the whole. Thought is a product of memory and time. Thought being a product of time and memory is always a flow from the past, appearing in the present, directing the future. Because we are caught in the field of time we are always caught in the feeling of deficiency and anxiety of becoming. I have written about this in my article What is psychological becoming and how it causes suffering?

Tannupriya’s journal talks about another kind of people who try to find solutions to suffering. These may be further be divided into two sub-groups

  • Those who seek temporary solutions to suffering
  • Those who seek permanent end to suffering

2.) Solutions Through Materialism

The class of people who seek temporary ending of suffering range from lay people reading books on pop psychology – motivational books, being positive etc or pop spirituality – yoga, meditation, healing and many other forms of new age therapies. The common attribute of this group of people is that they basically do not question the framework of materialism or scientific materialism. I wrote about this in my article The Flatland Map of Scientific Materialism: The Dubious Legacy of Rene Descartes (Part 1) This group of people tries to find solutions to suffering within the framework of materialism – a philosophy which denies any kind of absolute reality other than transient matter. What prevents them from doing so is their attachment to the world of forms which blocks them from inquiring into the very heart of life and reality and find out whether matter is the ultimate reality. While some people in this class do manage to find some degree of freedom from suffering it is never complete because attachment to forms has prevented them from going into the ultimate nature of body/mind/intellect.

3.) Solutions Through Spiritual Materialism

The second sub-group which seeks to find a permanent solution to suffering are those who have faith in the existence of God. So these are people who believe in the existence of a reality that transcends matter. Thee people for some reasons are convinced that matter cannot be the final reality. The reasons for this belief are many: psychological, social and intellectual. This group of people is far more serious than the previous group discussed above. Most of them practice their spirituality within the framework of society – a phenomenon I term “spiritual materialism”. A good overview of this concept can be found in the Wikipedia article on spiritual materialism.

The problem with this approach is that even though the individual seems to be going beyond the materialistic realm in his belief system, the lifestyle remains wedded to materialism. Attachment to forms continues and the God of the spiritual materialists is one who helps them achieve success in the world of phenomena. This solution is nothing but a subtle act of the mind creating a belief in a higher entity which protects them from the inherent insecurity and vagaries of life. The mind has an infinite capacity to invent subtle forms of deities and gods in which it seeks shelter to continue with its existence.

4.) Solutions Through Dualist Spiritual Paths

The more serious among this lot are the followers of dualist spiritual paths which, again are based on belief in the existence of God but who are willing to cause fundamental disruption in their lifestyles and life patterns to completely devote themselves to their pursuit of God. In Hinduism these are alternatively called the paths of Bhakti or Devotion. These people may give up all materialistic pursuits and engage themselves completely in the acts of worship, chanting and meditation on God in order to ‘purifying’ themselves and make themselves divine. The concept of sainthood is the archetype for this group of people. These are highly exalted figures in the spiritual pantheon. Such people describe various experiences of godly visions and ecstasies cast in a lifestyle of monasticism.

While most would find this an acme of spirituality, a deep and penetrating look will reveal that this path is still a path of ‘becoming’. God is not “known” but “believed”. One starts out already with a concept, image or symbol of God. For the Christians it is Christ, for the Hindus it may be any of the countless deities, for the Muslims it is Prophet. God is already a symbol held in the mind conditioned by cultural factors. As J Krishnamurti would say, this is a journey from the known to the known. You reach the God you know.

Another serious critique levelled by non-dualistic paths on the dualists is that all experiences are bound in time and therefore temporal. Experiences, ecstasies and visions, no matter how profound or exalted share the basic characteristic of all mundane experiences: they start and end in time, and they are about forms in space. Advaita, the non-dualist path would raise the question, “What happens to all these experiences in deep sleep where time and space are dissolved?”

Facing Suffering Without Any Belief Or Concept

In her journal Tannupriya writes the following,

When I fear something I try to hide. But what will happen if I hide?! Will the fear vanish?! No, it remains there still. It is useless to hide yourself from suffering. If I try to find a solution then I just want to get out of this suffering as soon as possible and stay calm but that doesn’t happen. Even if you solve your problem that is not the end of it. It never ends, but it will or it can be ended by doing nothing. To be more clear, if you want to end all the suffering you have to do nothing to move away. You just have to watch and go through all your sufferings. You have to watch and face every suffering with awareness.

This paragraph reflects the non-dual stance to suffering. Non-duality faces suffering. It does not hide behind the screen of beliefs and concepts, even that of God. Any belief, concept or solution seeking is based out of the fear of not facing suffering. One believes in God as the protector and saviour. It is mind’s fear that engenders the belief of God. So even if we reach God, we are still caught up with the first cause: fear. Thus, Shankara, the stalwart of Advaita writes in his book Upadeshasahasri:

Even powerful beings including Brahma (Creator) and Indra‘ are objects of pity to that knower of the Self who has no fear about the next world nor is afraid of death,

Verse 27

I know that I have jumped ahead a bit in this quote by bringing in the term Self. But we can put that aside for the time being and concentrate on the fact that in non-duality every belief or concept including the concept of God is denied.

Tannupriya’s journal talks about facing suffering directly: without any belief or concepts. She says that one has to watch every suffering with awareness. Unlike God one does not have to invent Awareness. It is already present. When you are having pain, it is in your awareness. You don’t say to yourself that you need to get aware of pain. In fact pain cannot exist without your awareness of it. However, as Tannupriya states, the moment any suffering arises in awareness, there is a movement in the mind to escape it through all the gross and subtle ways which I have outlined above. Now, what if we do not escape this suffering? What if we see through all the falsity of all these escapes? Then, as Tannupriya says: we do nothing. The suffering plays itself out like a film in the screen of awareness. However, as she candidly states, this is not at all easy. And this is the reason why we never do it and humanity has invented its billion escapes.

Simi’s Journal – 20/08/2020

Simi’s journal takes on from where Tannupriya left. Of course this is a co-incidence and not intended in any way. She starts off with death as the end of all suffering. Perhaps this should give us some clue. Life is suffering while death is the end of all suffering. We can extend this logic further and say that life is forms and death is formless. Therefore, the world of forms is the world of suffering, and suffering ends with death, which is formless.

Death

Death is a very sudden phenomenon, which has great silence in it. It is the ending of all sufferings, pain, fears, desires, attachments, conflicts and every single thing. Each one of us has to face this one day in our life, where life would come to an end. I chose to write on this topic because today I read Tannupriya’s journal on “life after death” and the dialogue between sir and Tannupriya about the three deep states, dreaming, waking and deep sleeping states. I learnt that in the first two states there are forms and action, but in the sleeping state there is no action and forms and is very close to the formless awareness. In fact the awareness is present in all three states. The awareness is always present within us because we are the awareness, the formless. But we are so much attached with the forms, the action and conquered by the things of the body, mind and intellect that we do not see the reality, the ultimate truth, the awareness. As I have written death is an ending, it is ending of all action, forms and the body. But the soul, the formless awareness never dies, it is immortal and infinite.

So this was great learning and knowledge for me which I could never learn if I would have not been in the group and the path of self-enquiry and lastly because of sir I can learn about these things deeply.

The chapter which I read today was “ambition”. In this chapter, I learnt that how can there be no deep revolution if it does not begin with us? We must begin to understand the conflict and confusion within ourselves. We are never directly in relationship with our problems but always through some belief or formula. We can solve our problems when we are directly in relationship with them. We want to be successful, either directly for ourselves, or for the ideal, the belief with which we have identified ourselves. To be aware of the ambition in any form, whether for happiness or success is the beginning of conflict both within and without. Ambition is an urge to avoid ‘what is’. Whatever we are is always there, there’s no point of running away from it. We may succeed in escaping but it is still there, bringing conflict and misery. Conflict is the denial of ‘what is’. Our conflict becomes more and more complex because we do not face ‘what is’.

My Comments on Simi’s Journal

Non-Duality and Formless Awareness

Simi delves into the concepts of forms and formless by examining the three states of waking, dreaming and deep sleep. One can see that in this entire examination there is not a single belief or concept being invented. Whatever is being discussed is the universal experience of every human being which none can deny. In fact Simi is describing in short the contents of the Mandukya Upanishad. I have discussed this in detail in my article Turiya : The Fourth State of Consciousness & End of Suffering

All suffering comes to an end in formless deep sleep state. This is a fact that none can deny. Thus, the solution to the end of all suffering is the Formless Principle. What is this formless principle? A student of self inquiry in Advaita learns that this formless principle is nothing other than awareness which exists in all three states. In essence, we are not the form – body/mind/intellect apparatus – we take ourselves to be. In ignorance, as Simi describes in her journal, we get attached to perishable forms and suffer. Quoting her

“The awareness is always present within us because we are the awareness, the formless. But we are so much attached with the forms, the action and conquered by the things of the body, mind and intellect that we do not see the reality, the ultimate truth, the awareness.”

Suffering is Born of Ignorance of Real Nature

Since there is total absence of suffering in the deep sleep state, it shows that suffering is not something real. Something that is ultimately real never comes and goes. It has to be existent all the time. But suffering is absent in the deep sleep state and this is because in deep sleep state there are no forms or no duality. Sleep is a non-dual, formless state. Anything that is formless is never born and never dies. Our mind/body/intellect and the world of forms is present in waking and dream states but completely absent in deep sleep state. And yet we somehow intuit that we exist through the deep sleep state. If the mind/body/intellect did not exist in the deep sleep state, what did? It is Awareness. We are aware that we slept. Thus, Simi says that Awareness is our real nature which is eternally free from life and death and therefore all suffering. Quoting her:

As I have written death is an ending, it is ending of all action, forms and the body. But the soul, the formless awareness never dies, it is immortal and infinite.

Suffering and Choiceless Awareness of ‘What Is’

Since Awareness is our real nature and it is always already present, all escapes, all seeking and all becoming are actually a recipe for staying in ignorance and continuing with suffering. Just like when we are caught in a swamp we go deeper when we put more effort. The paradox is to let go off all effort. As Tannupriya said: we have to do nothing. We have to just watch suffering. When we merely watch, we are actually taking our stance in our true nature which is Awareness or Witness.

Initially, because we are steeped in ignorance, we take ourselves to be doers rather than Witnessing Awareness. When we face suffering we want to do something about it: put effort. However, if we are fortunate and stumble into self inquiry we slowly start negating all forms of effort as counterproductive to ending suffering. In traditional teachings of Advaita, a beginner is made to exhaust all his forms of doership through a special method called Karma Yoga (Bhakti Yoga and Raja Yoga are also ultimately Karma Yoga). Only after the mind is purged from all rajas (proclivity for action) and made sufficiently sattvic (proclivity for knowledge), is the aspirant inducted into Jnana Yoga or Yoga of Knowledge, where the thrust shifts from action to knowing one’s true nature. Since one’s true nature is already free of all suffering, one does not have to act in any way to become anything.

However, in the path I teach, a path borrowed from the invaluable teachings of J Krishnamurti, I start directly from the path of non-action. I do not teach Karma Yoga. I follow Krishnamurti’s teachings of what is called Choiceless Awareness of “What Is”. I have discussed this in detail in my page Stages of Self Inquiry. Choiceless Awareness of “What Is”, is just a notch below the teachings of Advaita Jnana Yoga. Actually speaking it is not just a notch below but also continues post Self Realization but I will hold discussing this for another article on this topic. Coming back to Choiceless Awareness of “What Is” as a notch below Advaita; I position it thus because it implies a very subtle form of action: watching. I spent about seventeen years of my life with Choiceless Awareness of “What is” before I came to Advaita. After that the final Advaitic insight dawned to me in just a month after entering my studies into Advaita. Through this one can understand the massive potency of Choiceless Awareness of “What Is” to lead towards ending of suffering. Simi and Tannupriya are students of this path I teach in the NEEV Psycho-Philosophy Facebook Group

Conclusion

I could find no other better way of concluding this article but by quoting this brilliant paragraph from Simi’s Journal. It summarizes the concept of “Choiceless Awareness of What Is” that leads towards the ending of suffering, and quite a lot of what I have written in this article.

We must begin to understand the conflict and confusion within ourselves. We are never directly in relationship with our problems but always through some belief or formula. We can solve our problems when we are directly in relationship with them. We want to be successful, either directly for ourselves, or for the ideal, the belief with which we have identified ourselves. To be aware of the ambition in any form, whether for happiness or success is the beginning of conflict both within and without. Ambition is an urge to avoid ‘what is’. Whatever we are is always there, there’s no point of running away from it. We may succeed in escaping but it is still there, bringing conflict and misery. Conflict is the denial of ‘what is’. Our conflict becomes more and more complex because we do not face ‘what is’.

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