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Consciousness as the Portal to the Absolute

Sitting Down With: Stephen Wolinsky


Written by Felicia M. Tomasko, RN

Stephen Wolinsky is a direct student of Nisargadatta Maharaj, the author of I Am That, a book which swept the community of consciousness in the 1970s and still has a strong influence today on those who are seeking. The path Nisargadatta Maharaj taught is Advaita Vedanta. As Wolinsky explains it, Advaita means one substance, not two and Vedanta obviously means the end of the Vedas. Wolinsky applies this understanding that everything in the Universe as being made up of one substance to fields such as Quantum Psychology, a fine-tuning of psychological theory which he defined based on Maharajs teachings. A seemingly simplistic phrase to illustrate this in Sanskrit is neti neti: something is not this and not this. Since everything is one substance, everything is illusory it is not one thing, and not another. Everything we see is not this and not this. By its very nature, because of the fact that language is dualistic, defining, it can be a challenging concept to perceive and to understand. But it can be liberating. This is the basis of the Science and Nonduality Conference being held in October: that from both the view of scientific discovery and the world-view of Jnana Yoga (the path of knowledge) teachers such as Nisargadatta Maharaj, the illusory nature of the world keeps us from seeing the real truth that everything is One.

Felicia M. Tomasko: How did you connect to your teacher, Nisargadatta Maharaj? Stephen Wolinsky: I was given the book I Am That, in 1976. I went to see Nisargadatta Maharaj in 1977 in a very flippant way. I didnt even see him; I went midday and then left. I went back in 1978 and thats when I really connected with him. The main teaching of Maharaj is that there are three basic principles of Yoga, no matter what Yoga. Youre not the mind, youre not the body and youre not the doer. For Maharaj, spirituality was defined by one thing and one thing only and that was the realization of who you are. It didnt matter as far as path or technique. Either you know who you are, or you dont know who you are and his entire focus was to get you to know who you are. The approach that he used was very confrontational. Whatever you think you are, youre not. Whatever you think or believe yourself to be, youre not. It doesnt matter if Im happy, sad, loving, kind or compassionate, if Im a great yogi, if I believe the world is one substance. This has nothing to do with who you are. These are thoughts, ideas; these are pointers at best to point you in the direction to find out who you are. There is a famous Zen saying: The finger that points at the moon is not the moon. For most people, the path becomes their religion. Theyre more attached to how theyre doing it, then what theyre actually doing it to get. Because how you do it doesnt matter, really. The only thing that matters is: Are you going to find out who you are or not? Maharaj, said Forget me, forget Maharaj, even forget the teachings, and just stay in the consciousness, and your own unique path, whatever that may be, will emerge for you. That is significant because it levels everything. The right thing for me is going to be different from you and from somebody else. If they stay in the consciousness, everybody is going to have their own unique camp that will emerge for them. I think, unfortunately, in spirituality everything is one size fits all. Everyone gets the same mantra, tantra, yantra, the same thing to do as if it is all right for everybody. I think a lot of the problems that people have, or pain that they face, is because they

take on somebody elses system and try to fit into it rather than stay in the consciousness of their own self and their own system and see what emerges. FMT: It makes me think of Krishnas teaching in the Bhagavad Gita that it is better to do your own dharma badly than someone elses well. SW: Absolutely. Depending on who was sitting in front of him, Maharaj would try to find the key that unlocked their door. For example, Maharaj said to one of his students, Your practice is to study quantum physics. Its not that quantum physics as a model is significant. Whats significant is that the Yoga understandings could come through quantum physics because of the way this persons mind is organized. For somebody else, they might come through chanting. For somebody else, they might come through meditation. FMT: It explains why there are so many different paths. A skilled teacher will be the teacher who helps you unlock your specific path. SW: If you look back 1,000 years or so to stories by the Sufi masters, lets say there are ten Sufi masters and you go to Sufi master number one. He sits and talks to you and says Im not the right Sufi master for you, go to Sufi master number five. After sitting and talking with Sufi master number five, he says, You need to see Sufi master number seven; hes the guy thats best for you. At that point the practice is studentcentered, not teacher-centered. Im going to send you where you might need to go, rather than keep you around because I need you. When Maharaj said, Forget me, forget the teachings, forget Maharaj, stay in the consciousness as the portal to the absolute, what hes saying is, if you dont depend on your thoughts, memories, emotions, perceptions, associations, whatever, you can always reach a no-state state. You dont depend on the mind, or the subtle body. The no-state state is the state of I Am. What makes Maharaj unique is that hes saying this is a temporary state; a station. As youre in no-state state, not depending on thoughts, memories, emotions, associations, perceptions, et cetera, then it is quiet, it's still, and youre conscious of the no-state state. If you let go of that of then its just the consciousness. Maharaj approached this in two ways. One was the classic neti neti Advaita Vedanta: not this, not this. Not my thoughts, memories, emotions, association, perceptions, et cetera. The other approach is that everything is consciousness; nothing exists outside
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of consciousness. If I AM the consciousness, then Im not my thoughts, feelings, memories, emotions, associations, perceptions, et cetera. I only know of one other person who spoke this way in the last 2,000 years, and that was Nargajuna, the founder of the Middle Way, Madhyamaka Buddhism. The consciousness is a state, an appearance, something that appears on me. Its not me. I am prior to consciousness. That probably is the most unique statement: complete realization is realization prior to consciousness, prior to the emergence of consciousness itself, including its very subtle brother or sister emptiness. Emptiness and consciousness are the same substance, two sides of the same coin. Emptiness is consciousness; consciousness is emptiness. Form is emptiness; emptiness is form. The emptiness is a subtle form of consciousness, but I am neither. I am the absolute prior to consciousness. FMT: So, if emptiness and consciousness are part of the same thing, and we live in a world of Purusha (consciousness/emptiness) and Prarkiti (manifestation) where duality is expressed, what is the relationship between duality and nonduality? SW: There is no such thing as duality and nonduality. Nonduality and duality only exist in language. Language is binary and dualistic by nature. FMT: So it exists only in language. SW: Wittgenstein called it a language game. Nonduality is a concept which does not exist outside of language. People are trying to understand it with the vehicle of a concept. There is no such thing as nonduality, how could there be? It requires another perceiver. Narajunas basic principle is that there is no unity, there is no similarity. There are no differences; nothing arises, nothing subsides. Nothing is similar, nothing is different. There is no unity; there is no duality, prior to language. It is a language game. FMT: How does Bhakti and the current emphasis on devotion within the Yoga community fit into this? SW: If you stay in the consciousness, your own unique path will emerge as a portal to the absolute. What the ultimate bhakti or bhakta wants is for the lover and the beloved, the devotee and the object of devotion, to become one. For Maharaj, when you focus your attention on your own consciousness, thats Bhakti Yoga and the
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mantra would be, Being the consciousness is worshipping the consciousness. People asked him, Why is there no Bhakti in here? He said, Im a bhakta; Im an atma bhakta. I worship the consciousness. I worship myself. FMT: I think people often see those things as being opposed to each other. That its an either/or. SW: Its not. Everything falls away as not this, not that. Everything falls away as an appearance made of consciousness. By focusing your attention on the consciousness, you are worshipping the consciousness, the two have become one. And in that process you have the neti neti of Advaita Vedanta because, when you become the consciousness, everything else falls away as not this, not this. Everything falls away thats not prior to consciousness. Maharajs primary teaching, for ninety-five percent of the people was, Hold onto the I Am and let go of everything else. If someone came in and said, Im not the I Am, Im not my thoughts, memories, all that other stuff, Im just the I Am, he would say, the I Am is a temporary state, its a station. If I were in San Francisco and I were taking a train to New York, theres Salt Lake city, and Denver and Kansas city; theres all these stations. New York is the destination, metaphorically there are all these stations. Why would you want to get off at any particular station? What made Maharaj most unique was that consciousness was a station. FMT: Why is this conference combining science and nonduality important now? SW: Theres a famous Sanskrit saying, drishti shristi vada, the world is only there as long as there is an I there to perceive it. Science is a model, its a map. Its dependent on a perceiver; thats obvious. The I arises after the fact, after events have already occurred, so how could you be the doer? Maharaj once said, Fluids come together and the I Am appears. He summarized eighty years of neuroscience in one sentence. Neuroscience has proven that the nervous system is late and the perception of I arises through a biochemical reaction in the brain after the event has already occurred. An atom is mostly empty space. If you took the nucleus of an atom and the electron that goes around it and expanded the size of the nucleus to the size of the sun and the electron to the size of the Earth, you would see that an atom, like the Solar System, is more than 99% empty space. And our world is made up of atoms. But the nervous system and the brain use a process of abstraction, or omitting, to fill in our view so we
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see a solid world, all the emptiness is gone. An illusion is defined as seeing or experiencing something which is not there. Youre not seeing emptiness; therefore what you see is an illusion. The body that I look at is an abstraction. Im not looking at my hand and saying, Theres emptiness floating out there. I see hands. Why? Because the brain and the nervous system have omitted all the emptiness. Therefore, Im seeing something that is an abstracted representation of something that doesnt exist. This validates the three basic principles of Yoga. Im not the mind (thoughts, memories, emotions, associations, perceptions, and so on). Obviously, Im not the body because the body is an abstraction. Im not the doer; the I arises after the event has already occurred. I am not the doer. Im using science as a thorn to remove a thorn. That thorn, called, The I arises after the action or event, can now unpack and deconstruct all the thoughts about who you are, what you did, what you didnt do, all your memories; everything is deconstructing itself based on several scientific facts. Maharaj wouldnt say you have to believe in science, you have to use a thorn to remove a thorn. The I arises after the fact; thats a fact. That means Im not the doer. That deconstructs all your ideas about psychology, all your ideas about self. I experience myself as a self or a person because its a biochemical process in the brain. If theres no biochemical process in the brain, then I have no experience of being, I have no experience of self, let alone psychology or spirituality. Its just a story, its just an abstraction. It doesnt actually exist. But you will suffer to the degree that you believe the language games. Cause and effect are just a way of thinking about things. In 1964, John Stewart Bell, in what is considered the most significant discovery of science, demonstrated that not only was there no locality, there are no local causes. Theres only one thing and you cant separate it. You cant say that this isolated thing over here caused this isolated thing over there. But the mind, the thoughts, memories, emotions, perceptions, associations, all want a cause and want to say, this happened because of this. Theres a famous saying that one of the purposes of the nervous system is to organize chaos. The third definition of chaos in Websters Dictionary is the empty space that preceded the creation of the universe. The nervous system has to abstract order from

chaos. The sense of self is not something spiritual; its a biochemical reaction in the brain. When the body dies, the chemicals wont come together. FMT: Is there a purpose to psychology as it is presently in our society? SW: If you look at psychology and go back 2,500 years to Socrates and the early Greeks, their main question was inquiry, inquiry, inquiry. It changed with the Industrial Revolution, when we were asking people who lived in tribal societies and farming and so on, to move to the cities and be nonhumans and work in factories on assembly lines. Psychology shifted from trying to find out who I am to getting you to cope in an insane society. How can you be fixed so you dont mind driving an hour and a half in traffic each way and dont mind working nine to five and having two weeks off. So psychology moved from inquiry and Who am I? to, How do I" and "Can I cope? How do I be more, do more, have more, have more money, get better sex, have a bigger house. The question Who am I has been gone for 150 years. Everybody went outward with psychology instead of going in to the consciousness prior to the thoughts, memories, emotions, association and perceptions. Quantum psychology tries to bring it back to its roots. Basically the theme is, Anything you think you are; youre not. FMT: People search because of the pain that theyre in, whether its the pain because theyre living in an insane world, or its the pain because theyre attached to perceptions and thoughts and emotions. Do you think the process of inquiry ultimately helps people find the place that has nothing to do with the pain? SW: The question is, Who is the person? This is not an easy process. I didnt get involved in this because I wanted to serve the world. I got involved in psychology and spirituality more than forty years ago because I was in pain. I was suffering and I would do anything to get out of the pain. I wasnt sitting around with Maharaj in bliss. I had bliss, but I had a lot of piss. However, when were talking about identification with consciousness were talking about big jumps here. Most people, said Maharaj, who get the teachings stay in the I Am and let go of everything else. The most difficult step is realizing youre not your thoughts, memories, emotions, perceptions, associations, whatever. Most spiritual practice, thats what it is, youre realizing youre not your thoughts whether youre using a mantra, Yantra or Tantra, youre trying to get your mind in a quiet place. It will neverhappen, no matter how hard you try.
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You know this: thoughts arise and subside and theres a space. The problem is that that space is made of the same substance as a thought, and the space and the thought are holographic. When I go into the space, when I come out of the space, everything is going to come back. Why? Because, the space and the thought are made of the same substance of course its going to come back! So the space and the thought are the same substance, but theyre both made of consciousness. You've got to get to the consciousness, if you dont get to the consciousness, then the space will create thoughts back. FMT: It seems to be part of language again; we perceive the space and we perceive the thoughts. SW: Theres a perceiver there. Again: drishti shristi vada. Theres only a world there if theres a perceiver there to perceive it. Theres a saying by the Buddha that no being has ever entered Nirvana. Why? Because Nirvana means extinction. No being has ever entered for an extinguished being to enter something that doesnt exist, cannot happen. FMT: It goes back to using the thorn to pull out the thorn, using the tools of language to talk about something that exists beyond language. SW: Right. When you say prior to your last thought, who were you? Theres really no such thing as prior. But if I say, prior to your last thought, prior to this whole conversation, is there duality or nonduality or neither? Obviously, theres neither. All you can do is use language to point you to the consciousness prior to thought. Maharajs basic thing was, All you can teach is understanding; the rest comes on its own. FMT: Theres a difference between being able to intellectualize something and being able to actually know it and to experience it. SW: I agree. Many people understand it as a map. Youre not your system, youre not your past, youre not your memories and emotions and so on. Youre not the space; youre not the I Am-ness. Im not here now, I realize the now is perceiver dependent, Im not the now, Im not the presence, Im not the consciousness, and that ultimately Im the absolute prior to consciousness. Okay, I get it now. All that is a map for you, its a story. Who you are is prior to the story.
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Maharaj gave concepts as thorns to remove thorns. One of his statements was, My words if implanted in you will destroy all other words and concepts. If you just believed Advaita (One substance, not two), from only one substance, that would deconstruct everything. If theres only one substance, there cant be cause and effect. Meher Baba had an interesting statement, The ego or the I is like an iceberg: ninety percent of it is under water. When you are watching, it comes to the surface and it dissolves. It is another way to describe neti neti. Youre in the neti neti or youre worshipping the consciousness as a Bhakti, by focusing on the consciousness, putting your attention on the consciousness, that is devotion, until the worshipper is one with the consciousness, it is an internal process. FMT: It seems to be an internal process you repeat over and over again. SW: Someone asked Maharaj how long it would take and he said, To get established in this condition, it might take some time. He also said, Hang onto your beingness only. Hang onto the sense of I Am and everything else falls away. FMT: What would you describe as his bottom line, the essence of his message? SW: Forget me, forget Maharaj, forget the teachings. Stay in the consciousness as a portal to the absolute.