On the contrast between spiritual teachers


I have been wondering about the “place” where various spiritual teachers speak from. They all speak of the ultimate reality as “Oneness,” with no attributes, no features. Yet it would seem, from their interactions with the rest of us, that they “live in” spaces that have features different from each other.

The reason this question occurred is that throughout Nisargadatta’s “I Am That,” he tells the questioner that he’s in a different place, a different reality than they are in. He sometimes describes it. I’ll give a couple of examples (out of many):

N: You are all drenched for it is raining hard. In my world it is always fine weather. There is no night or day, no heat or cold. No worries beset me there, nor regrets. My mind is free of thoughts, for there are no desires to slave for.

Questioner: Are there two worlds?

N: Your world is transient, changeful. My world is perfect, changeless. You can tell me what you like about your world—I shall listen carefully, even with interest, yet not for a moment shall I forget that your world is not, that you are dreaming.


“My stand I take where nothing is; words do not reach there, nor thoughts. To the mind it is all darkness and silence…Once the world comes into being, all you say may be so…But I take my stand where no difference exists, where things are not, nor the minds that create them. There I am at home.”

Someone said, in our “hangout” group for fans of Rupert Spira, that these teachers will address people from where the speaker is, and the answers and descriptions they give are adapted to the questioner’s state of mind, or where the questioner is in their spiritual development. That’s very true; I’ve seen Rupert do that, as well as Nisargadatta and Ramana Maharshi. But for me, that doesn’t explain it: I haven’t once heard Rupert or Frances Lucille say, or imply, that they are in, or experience a different reality than the rest of us. Whereas Nisargadatta explicitly says that.

I’ve found two explanations that satisfy me. One is from Rupert’s book “Being Aware of Being Aware”:

“…it is important to recognize that the inward-facing path explored in this book is only half the journey. Once the essential, irreducible nature of the mind has been recognized, and its inherent peace and unconditional joy accessed, it is necessary to face ‘outwards’ again towards objective experience, realigning the way we think and feel, and subsequently act, perceive and relate, with our new understanding.”

He goes on to say that the Vedantic tradition is inward-facing, and the tantric tradition is best suited for the “reintegration or establishment” in our objective experience. He says that if we don’t go through that reintegration, our life in Awareness “may become a refuge for any lingering sense of a separate self.” (Notice he says “may” not “will become.”)

I would suggest that Nisargadatta never “came back” from the vedantic process of merging, becoming one with the Infinite. And that was a decision on his part; in his case, I don’t think anyone could find that lingering separate self.

As I thought through all this, before I came to that passage in “Being Aware,” I remembered Plato’s Myth of the Cave in The Republic. I have often thought that Plato (or maybe Socrates, or both—I have trouble distinguishing them) was enlightened. Briefly, as I remember this myth, Plato describes humankind as being in chains deep inside of a cave. The images they see are shadows reflected on the walls of the cave. The light source is behind them. At some point, one of them breaks the chains, turns, sees the dim light and follows it, through many turns, to the mouth of the cave. When he reaches the opening, he sits in ecstasy, bathing in the sunlight. But eventually, he feels he must re-enter the cave and free the others.

Consider that, out of 7 billion people, there are probably many who are enlightened (aside from those no longer with us). One in a million? One in 10 million? I have no clue. But I’m sure some stayed at that opening of the cave, just remained merged. As we know, some have returned to free the rest of us. I would suggest there are some “in-between states,” and Nisargadatta stayed at the edge of the cave, spoke to those who came to him, but did not return, didn’t immerse himself in their reality.

Anyway, that’s how I resolved this issue for myself so that I don’t need to consider it again. I would agree with those who say, “It doesn’t really matter: What matters is where you are right now, at this moment.” But from where I am, my mind gets caught up in these questions. Does it do any good to resolve them? I don’t know. I’m ok with ending up in the “don’t know mind,” as I often do.


Bill Smith

By Bill Smith

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/bill2smith/


  1. Thank you Bill!

    Just a quick idea, without much thinking, mixing up realms:

    Imagine… somehow you are part of a group of homeless people, looking for food and shelter. Everything is very difficult, no money, no food, it is cold, and there is blame, shame, pride… the whole shebang of human suffering.

    But you are feeling a small key in your pocket; a key to a known locker nearby with a debit card to your account with $3,000,000 (taxes paid),

    You still are with your friends, hearing and understanding their pain and suffering, but you would be much calmer!

    The same with anyone seeing the me-chanism of the belief “I am this body-mind”.
    We only suffer a sense of separation; we are hypnotized by a deeply ingrained belief we entertain ourself: I am this body-mind.

    But I am the only one who does not appear!

    Body-mind-world appears to me, but I cannot be objectified.

    It is so simple and obvious when experienced, but unreachable for the separate-self.

  2. I am glad both of you have explanations that satisfy you. However, they don’t really satisfy me. My view is that after a person reaches self-realization, the language they use to describe what life is like for them is colored by how they grew and lived before self-realization.

    Rupert practiced gyana yoga for 20 years before he became immersed in nonduality. His first practice was “tantric” in the sense that he experienced samadhi in order to eliminate samskaras (also called vasanas, kleshas, skandhas, kriyas, stresses, or “dense knots of contraction”). So naturally, Rupert would see the distinction between eliminating samskaras and awakening, and advocate both.

    In the case of Nisargadatta, he probably had no instruction in eliminating samskaras, only in achieving self-realization.

    This explanation occurs to me because I am on both paths concurrently. I practice both samadhi dhyana and being aware of being aware (atma vichara).

    1. David, I’m open to what you’re saying and would like to learn more. I’ve read Ramana Maharshi and Nisargadatta for years and studied Zen for years (my “practice” was minimal, though I meditated at the Austin Zen Center and read numerous books). I know my experience and training is more limited than yours.
      I was also a practitioner in the Science of Mind religion, but I don’t really count that: I decided, after a few years, that all I really believed from it was that it was possible to be at one with God and that meditation was important.
      I’m currently reading Rupert’s The Nature of Consciousness.
      In the glossary of I Am That, Samskara is defined at “mental impression, memory,…residual impression. You don’t think Nisargadatta eliminated those when he was self-realized?

      1. Bill, Learning is a wonderful part of most spiritual paths. You seem to minimize your own experiences, but they appear to have taught you the basic understandings of nonduality, which is valuable beyond measure.

        No, I doubt that Nisargadatta and probably many other sages eliminated the residual impressions of relative experience, due to the nature of their path. My actual evidence is little: his frequent emotionality in expressing himself and severity and anger with some questioners (which are omitted from all his books) and his neglect of his body and others’ bodies in his owning of bidi (small cigarette) stores and in his smoking, which stopped only at his death from throat cancer.

        But when I look very closely at the life and behavior of some teachers, such as Rupert and Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, I see a transformation that moved very much more deeply than in just the shift of identification from the separate self to steady and universal awareness.

        My view is that dissolving the impressions or internal stresses of the body is a largely independent issue from awakening to the truth of reality. “Independent” means one can reach either goal or both, depending on many relative factors. As Adi Shankara taught, the remains of ignorance (layshavidya) can continue even in unity consciousness (the eighth flavor of the human reflection of consciousness).

  3. David, I don’t understand your comment.
    Can “me” ever be satisfied?

    Are you looking into the past to find yourself?

    There is only one reality, seemingly veiled by our own mind activity.
    How can we see the distraction game “me” plays with itself to avoid its dissolution?

    With deep respect and gratitude.

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