Forty years ago, an Austrian born Hindu monk named Agehananda Bharati wrote
about the search for enlightenment in a book entitled Light at the Center: Context and Pretext of Modern Mysticism
(1970s, Jossey Bass).
Bharati was both a Sanksrit scholar and an anthropologist as well as being
an ordained sanyassi in one of the Shankara Dasnami sects.
(Bharati wrote a memoir entitled The Ochre Robe - fascinating read.)
I caution the reader that Light at the Center is a difficult read, but well worth the effort. Bharati wrote responding to the issues of the 1960s and 1970s when 'mysticism' was the new thing. Bharati discussed several issues in Light at the Center:
* Defining "mysticism' and 'mystic" -- unless a word has descriptive precision, using it brings confusion.
* Who is a mystic
* What is the goal (target) of a mystic
* What is enlightenment. Bharati called it "zero state"; this may correspond to what others term non dual realization.
Bharati felt qualified to discuss this because he states he experienced zero state himself in several quite different situations. Two times, spontaneously, before he became a Hindu monk, and unconnected with any meditative or yoga practice whatsover, a third time, after (not during but after) he had participated in a tantric ritual and the fourth time after using LSD-25, supplied in pure form by Sandoz, while it was still legal.
Bharati for himself, found that all of these resembled orgasm. He suspected that
the real goal of realization is the ability to experience total ecstasy all by oneself, total autonomy.
Bharati also found that there is no activity that reliably brings non dual realization.
Repeat, there is no activity or method that reliably brings non dual realization. Anyone who claims they can give it to you or can teach you a method that will enable you to produce it is a charlatan.
Bharati tells us that yoga and aestheticism are what professional religious in India were and are expected to do, period. One cannot produce experiences of realization, meanwhile one must fill out one's day and behave according to
society's expectation of how a sage should behave.
Bharati assured the reader that his experience of zero state was the same in all four instances. He stated that he used his opportunities as a monk to query others, both professional and non professional meditators, and their reports matched Bharati's own experience.
Bharati also tells us that having interviewed many who had had zero experience along with witnessing himself, he had to report that character and moral behavior were entirely separate from zero experience (or if you will, non dual realization or enlightenment.)
Bharati, in his years in India, travelled on foot as a monk, teaching in villages, later taught at Banaras Hindu University and met many gurus. He also met many lay practitioners and celebrated holy persons. He tells us a number of things.
* In India the term 'saint' does not denote holiness or virtue. It refers to someone who has dedicated his or her life to pursuit of non dual realization - liberation from the cycle of birth and death.
* Bharati as an anthropologist, warns us that India is a land of ascriptions. There is no official group that ordains or awards titles or certifies someone as genuine. A person gathers a reputation by others talking about him, treating her or him as a realized sage.
Bharati tells us that whether someone becomes a celebrated sage depends a great deal upon publicity. In the old days, it depended on how close the sages ashram was to bus or train transport; today internet and social media enable anyone
from any background to present as a sage.
** Bharati's big revelation (to me, anyway) was discovering that while in the midst of zero experience, it is almost impossible to DO anything or SAY anything -- it is no different from being in the midst of orgasm. To speak articulately
and describe one's non dual experience, to be able to speak articulately and charmingly to a satsang audience, one must be outside of the nondual experience.
You cannot describe or talk about orgasm while in its midst.
Bharati tells us that in India a convention developed for sprititual teachers to adopt a heightened special manner of speaking, because this was expected of anyone in the role of guru, sage, spiritual teaching. It as like the clothes one was expected to wear.
You speak as though you are in the midst of realization, gurus are expected to speak this way, so this has caused people to assume that one can be in nondual realization ALL THE TIME.
No, Bharati says, having experienced it himself. You cannot be in non dual realization all the time. The state is not permanent.
Years ago, there was an essay entitled The Strange Case of Paul Franklin Jones (aka Adi Da), through which I first learned about Light at the Center. Part of that essay mentioned the guru language issue.
'In my original essay, I entertained the suggestion of Agehananda Bharati that enlightenment, or the zero experience” as he calls it, is by definition temporary. It cannot be clung to, and anyone experiencing it is basically incapable of normal functioning, for as long as it lasts.
Doesn't this go against nearly everything enlightenment masters have claimed? Not exactly, at least not as Bharati explains it.
Bharati's most effective argument hinges on the distinction between emic and etic modes of speech. Though the nuances of these technical terms drawn from anthropology are not always clear in Bharati’s work, basically emic refers to the encoded private language of in-groups,; while etic refers to the language of the objective outside observer. Bharati contends that the emic speech of Indian sadhus is governed by complex, unspoken codes, codes that are rarely noticed, much less understood, by outsiders, no matter how clever or perceptive. One of the unwritten rules is that gurus must never acknowledge being in any state other than that of full realization.
"Master, how often do you enter that state of highest bliss and realization?"
"My child, I am in that state even now."
Bharatis claim is that because of the rules governing the speech of Indian mystics, the guru *has no choice but to assert that he is always enjoying satchitananda, even when he knows perfectly well that he is not*.
Further, according to Bharatis understanding, the very fact that the guru is exerting himself by speaking in public proves that he is not, in that moment, enjoying the state of enlightenment. If he were, there would be no motive to speak. Most importantly, from the emic perspective of insiders, there is no dishonesty in this claim to permanent enlightenment, despite the undeniable fact that it is objectively false.
Bharati asserts that a dispassionate look at the evidence will suggest, though not prove, that enlightened states are by their very nature temporary. The great mystics are those who frequently enter transcendent states and make the cultivation of the zero experience the dominant focus of their lives, but no one is permanently in the state of highest illumination. The very idea that one can experience enlightenment twenty-four hours a day is the product of a too literal etic understanding of the emic speech of professional mystics, *who not incidentally benefit from this linguistic confusion.*
Back to mysticism and character.
Bharati stated that if you are a stinker before you have zero experience, you will remain a stinker after you have non dual experience.
Bharati likened non dual realization/zero experience with an aesthetic experience and said, you do not learn to love your neighbor by playing the cello beautifully. To become a better and kinder and moral human person, you need to do character training, and that is entirely different from mysticism.
Thus, Bharati resolves the anguished question so many of us have: how can a realized sage behave immorally, unethically, have terrible political beliefs?
Easily. Great writers and great musicians have been and are addicts who keep lawyers busy, keep police departments busy.