Edited Extracts from longer article available here.
So, how can an individual realize that they are the universal self? In what way can a person who is under the impression that they are a separate individual enclosed in a bag of skin effectively realize that they are Brahman? This, of course, is a curious question. It proposes a journey to the place where you already are. Now, it’s true that you may not know that you are there, but you are.
Suppose I were to tell you that you, right now, are the great Self— the Brahman. Now, you might feel somewhat sympathetic to this idea intellectually, but you don’t really feel it. You’re looking for a way to feel it—a practice for getting there. But you don’t really want to feel it; you’re frightened of it. So you get this or that practice so you can put it off, so that you can feel that you have a long way to go, and maybe after you’ve suffered enough, then you can realize you are the atman. Why put it off? Because we are brought up in a social scheme that tells us we have to deserve what we get, and the price to pay for all good things is suffering. But all of that is mere postponement. We are afraid here and now to see the truth. And if we had the nerve—you know, real nerve—we’d see it right away. But that’s when we immediately feel that we shouldn’t have nerve like that, because it would be awful. After all, we’re supposed to feel like a poor little me who has to work and work and suffer in order to become something far away and great, like a Buddha or Jivanmukta—someone who becomes liberated.
So you can suffer for it. There are all kinds of ways invented for you to do this. You can discipline yourself and gain control of your mind and do all sorts of extraordinary things—like drink water in through your rectum and push a peanut up a mountain with your nose. There are all sorts of accomplishments you can engage in. But they have absolutely nothing to do with the realization of the self. The realization of the self fundamentally depends on coming off it, just as when someone is putting on some kind of act and we say, “Oh, come off it.” And some people can come off it—they laugh, because they suddenly realize they’ve been making a fool of themselves.
In yoga, you can be watchful and concentrated and alert, but all that will ever teach you is what not to do—how not to use the mind. You have to just let it happen, like going to sleep. You can’t try to go to sleep. It’s the same with digesting your food—you can’t try to digest your food. And it’s the same with liberation—you have to let yourself wake up. When you find out there isn’t any way of forcing it, maybe you’ll stop forcing it. But most people don’t believe this. They say, “Well, that won’t work for me. I’m very unevolved. I’m just poor little me and if I don’t force it nothing will happen.” I know some people who think they have to struggle and strain to have a bowel movement—they think they have to work to make it happen. But all of this is based on a lack of faith—not trusting life. How do you get people to trust life? You have to trick them. They won’t jump into the water, so you have to throw them in. And if they’re very unwilling to be thrown in, they’re going to take diving lessons or read books about diving or do preliminary exercises or stand at the edge of the diving board and inquire which is the right posture until somebody comes up from behind and kicks them in the butt to get them in the water…