The Story of “My” Spiritual Awakening

Jagjot Singh nonduality

The Ignorance

I was a regular guy, who in his 20s, was extremely ambitious and aggressive to climb up the corporate ladder and make a name for himself. Therefore, I would do what most youngsters in that age group do. I bought flashy clothes and gadgets, chased girls, tried to impress people, occasionally indulged in alcohol, and so on.

However, being an introvert, I did all of that secretly. I never liked associating with one particular group. At that time, I did not have any concept of work-life balance. My only drive was to succeed and win at any cost. Being an obese child I struggled with body image issues and confidence. I would work out obsessively pushing my body to extreme stress to be in shape. I would lose weight but would end up gaining double the amount after some time.

While outwardly I appeared sorted and confident, deep down I was struggling with serious self-worth issues. I hated everything about myself. My inner child was wounded, scared, and bitter. While I remained reserved most of the time, there were times when I was aggressive and reactive.

My mind would be bombarded with painful thoughts. Most of it was self-centered thinking, the usual complaints about why I don’t get things I deserve while the truth was that in a country like India many people would jump at the chance of living my life at that time.

This pattern continued till my 30s, even when I was married to a beautiful woman, had a successful career, and was blessed with two lovely children. I had no time for my family because my progress and growth meant everything to me.

I pretended to care, but deep within it was all about “me” and “my miserable life”. I put up a façade to hide the discomfort of the void that was growing within me with every passing day. My relationships were falling. I was not in touch with any of my friends. I became distant from my mother and brother.

My children were scared to approach me. My self-absorbed behavior was not only impacting my life but also of people around me. I did not want to be “me,” but I saw no escape. I was never into substance abuse, so I self-soothed by eating unhealthy processed food. Reckless and untimely eating became my default defense mechanism to soothe my anxiety.

I recall that during the peak of my career I was fifty pounds overweight. I started experiencing recurring migraine headaches and debilitating lower back pain. Yet, I was persistent in my goals and ambitions. There was no stopping “me.”

And then something happened that shook my world. I received the news of my father passing away while I was at work. A successful bureaucrat who was my strength, inspiration, and great role model, was no more. A man who came from humble beginnings and had risen to become one of the most powerful and influential government officials in the Uttar Pradesh province of India had suffered a major heart attack.

My entire world came down crashing. I had never imagined this could happen to a man like him who was so disciplined and particular about his health. We never even got a chance to say goodbye. It was the nature’s brutal reminder of how fragile human life is. No matter what greatness we accomplish, the end will be dust and bones. The final resting place is the grave. This simple but difficult-to-accept truth was now evident, as put simply in words by Nisargadatta Maharaj, “What was born must die.

The body that takes birth has to die. Every accumulation is a borrowing from nature that will eventually return to it for nothing is permanent in phenomenality. The impermanence and unpredictability that we most fear are the forces that make the phenomenon or happening possible. Life as we know is not possible without them.

I remember seeing my father’s motionless body and the thought that came to my mind was, “This is not my father. This is just a shell. Where is the life? Where is that essence that was my father?” At that moment, I didn’t feel any closeness or a feeling of loss towards what I was witnessing. Of course, there was shock and denial. While my brother and mother were crying, I watched the lifeless body and kept wondering where my father had gone.

The next day, when no one was around, I locked myself in a room, held his picture close to my heart, and cried for hours. There was an immense outpouring of grief. No thoughts, only the pure emotion. I saw the fragility of life. It was tough to see his body burn on the burial ground. This was my father.

The man who held me in his arms when I was a child. Now I was the one to light the pyre. The man who stood as tall and firm as a mountain was reduced to bones and ashes in a matter of minutes. This was the beginning of spiritual seeking within me. I wondered where the person goes after death. What happened to that consciousness that was my father? He must be somewhere.

Maybe he can see and hear me. How can a human life so vibrant disappear like an extinguished flame? What is the purpose of living when ultimately death is our final destination? Why create attachments only to feel the pain later? I felt scared for all of my loved ones. What if something happens to them? What will I do without them? My mind was preoccupied with such questions and wonderings that kept me awake many nights.

I started binge-watching endless videos on NDEs (near-death experiences) and the afterlife in the hope that my father would be there somewhere. At that time, I felt comfort in believing that the consciousness in form that was my father was continuing somewhere and was peaceful far away from the troubles of this world. I thought maybe he was continuing in spirit form and experiencing new dimensions for further evolution of consciousness. Perhaps, that is true or not. I don’t know. It’s been almost ten years, but I still dream about him.

I remember he used to listen to Osho sometimes. I stumbled upon one of Osho’s videos and kept watching. Some people warned me that he was a conman, a charlatan and a rascal, and about the whole fiasco that happened in Oregon’s Wasco County in the United States. A majority of people in the West know him through the popular Netflix documentary, Wild Wild Country.

Documentaries related to fake gurus create sensationalism and do good business. I was promptly reminded every time that he was a bad influence. But I was still drawn to his ideas. So before discarding the messenger, I wanted to see what the message was about. While he may be a complete rascal I can’t deny that his message initiated something.

It brought into light my own rascality – the hypocritical lives we live and then complain and blame others for our misfortunes. Maybe there’s something about his rascality we never understood. Some say he was a rich man’s guru, but I disagree. Some of his talks recorded in Hindi language touch upon the concerns of the common man. For some time, I listened to his lectures which helped me understand how we get trapped in our identifications and roles that cause suffering.

Although Osho’s teachings were profound they didn’t bring me peace. I still carried a lot of fear, anxiety, shame, and guilt for my past actions. So, my seeking was mainly to get rid of these and be comfortable with others. I subsequently started studying Eastern scriptures like Adi Shankaracharya’s commentaries on Upanishads like Mandukya and other Vedantic teachings.

I simultaneously explored Buddhist teachings. Six months after my father’s death I quit my corporate career and immersed myself completely in spiritual exploration. All teachings were profound but none brought me peace. Some of them created more confusion and conflict. I was told I needed a living guru to fully understand the scriptures. I was also told that the guru comes to the seeker when they are ready. So, I didn’t know what to do.

Now that I had immersed myself in spiritual exploration there came a problem. How do I financially support myself and my family? I had a wife and two kids to take care of and there was no source of income. My wife was not working then so it was getting difficult to manage daily expenses like paying bills and so on. My mother and younger brother were still mourning my father’s death.

My brother was not employed back then, so being the elder, I had to be there for them as well. Therefore, I decided to go the entrepreneur’s route. I tried hard but couldn’t find success in anything. I felt like a failure, depressed and distraught. I kept awake many nights thinking about how I would manage things.

My anxiety was through the roof. There were no friends or relatives to ask for help. My father knew so many politicians and influential people but no one came to help. My brother informed me that our father had invested in a business where he had suffered losses. Now there was a loan on our heads that needed to be repaid and the time window was short as the interest was mounting high.

The only option to pay that loan was to sell a property. So, my brother put up an advertisement but we weren’t getting buyers. The time was running out. The loan was too big for our savings. There was a feeling of hopelessness. Life felt meaningless. I could see myself becoming more resentful and bitter, day-by-day.

I would keep repeating in my mind that it’s a horrible and insensitive world out there and people are evil. I was always on my guard ready to pick fights with people or distance myself from anyone who tried to come close. The thought was, “Let me hurt them before they hurt me or break my heart.” “Let me reject people and shut down before they get to know my truth.”

Forget about love, I had lost the capacity to trust people. While externally, I showed a brave front, internally I felt scared. I was stuck in a rut and felt miserable. I was too self-absorbed to think about reaching for help of some kind. My whole thought process was based on bouncing back and conquering the world. I wanted to show those miserable losers what a big mistake they had made by ignoring me. It was “me” versus “them.”

I would contemplate doom scenarios and how I would react when people did this or that. I was murdering people in my mind. I wanted to kill them all. I wanted to punish those who were responsible for all evils, and more urgently those who were rude to “me.”

Anyone rude to me appeared worse than Adolf Hitler in my mind. After destroying the whole world, I also wanted to kill God for putting me on such a hellish plane. First, he took away my father, and now he’s giving me a hard time. How dare he? I was quite sure God was a “he” cause a woman wouldn’t be this insensitive and unempathetic.

In my mind, I was good, pure, innocent, and virtuous, and deserved all the greatness, success, and recognition, and the world out there was evil. I lived in the fantasy that if “others” were deserving of success, why not me, who’s apparently much “smarter” than them? Why was the luck not favoring me?

I was quick to pass judgment on people based on my limited filters and myopic thinking. I had usurped the subjectivity of the pure subject. In other words, I thought I knew how to run this world better than God.

I started experiencing debilitating headaches and lower back spasms. My mind would incessantly keep running a negative inner chatter that I saw no escape from. I started searching for tips and tricks to calm my mind, but nothing really helped. Everything I did gave me only temporary relief. In my quest to prove myself, I had become a workaholic. I would give excuses that I was doing it for my family, but deep down, I knew it was all about “me.”

My aches, pains, and indigestion were getting worse. They gave me many sleepless nights. The acidic heartburns, headaches, and incessant worry became regular occurrences. People warned that if I continued like this I would end up with a severe ailment. But there was no stopping me. My whole energy was of unease and bitterness. Despite all my efforts to “make it big,” I was reaching nowhere.

A Glimpse of The Absolute

One morning, I woke up heavy and depressed. I hadn’t slept well during the night thinking about my situation. I didn’t know what to do. I went to my house’s courtyard to take a stroll, be with the plants, and get some sunlight. I just sat there quietly and observed the scene. The early morning sun, the dew on the leaves, the birds chirping, the insects and ants moving around the plants, and the gentle breeze that was touching my body. Slowly, a peace overcame and everything appeared to be in harmony. Things appeared to be in perfect synchronization. There was a freshness or newness to this vision.

I had never looked at this most ordinary scene with such a pristine awareness. My mind was perfectly still and I had become the scene. I had become the sun, the sunlight, the plants, the flowers, the leaves, the insects, the breeze, the radiant blue morning sky, the breathing, the heartbeat, the sensations, and everything around as an interconnected whole. Nothing stood in isolation. In other words, there was a pure experience without an experiencer. There was no separation between anything.

It’s hard to describe this experience or non-experience. It was something that I vaguely describe as oneness. There was no sense of separate existence. I looked at the Sun and tears flowed down my eyes. I felt immense gratitude for life; for this experience of aliveness. It was beautiful. I felt a sense of expansion in my heart. It was a complete integration. It was love. It was bliss beyond anything I had ever experienced. I had forgotten all about my problems and merged into the scene.

There was breathing, heartbeat, vivid emotions, but there was no “me.” Everything became one whole. I was not watching anything; the scene was being watched. This watchfulness was complete. For the first time in my life, I got to know what it means to live without anxiety. No feeling ever comes close to this. The love that is here and now, in the simplicity of this present moment that simply Is.

After the moment passed, I was back into the “me,” but now there was an awareness that engulfed everything, and somehow, problems didn’t seem so solid. I left everything to the universe and resumed my spiritual exploration. I had a glimpse of the absolute and experienced a continuous pull into that place of unconditional love.

Subsequently, we found a buyer for the property and repaid the loan timely. My brother found a job at the bank. My wife started her baking business, which took off beautifully. I spent the next four and half years in self-imposed isolation, self-exploration, and deep contemplation into the nature of reality, the mere glimpse of which greatly altered my perception of life. I was living on the savings I had accumulated over the past years.

My family showed full faith and supported me in this endeavor. I kept myself confined to a small room on my terrace for most of the day. Only in the evenings, I would spend time with my family. Evening time was dedicated to my children, so I didn’t socialize, or go to movies or functions, or recreations.

During the day I would read books. I’m a very slow reader. It takes me months to complete a book. I also don’t read the chapters in order. It was at this time that I came across Jiddu Krishnamurti’s teachings. However, at that time, I did not have the maturity to understand what he said in his talks and lectures, but somewhere they resonated with my thoughts. The very first of his books that I read was The First and The Last Freedom. That book alone cleared a lot of conflict, or let’s say that it laid the foundation for what was to come.

While for a regular person, these years of contemplation may feel like a waste of time and potential or even self-torture, for me, they brought great revelation about myself. It was clear that if I wanted to have a harmonious relationship with others, I first needed to be in harmony with myself – the way the creator created me.

Till we are at war with ourselves there cannot be a possibility of experiencing true peace. We remain so focused on others that we forget to take a look at ourselves. Facing oneself is difficult because it requires courage to be still, whereas the nature of the conditioned mind is to direct attention to external objects. I silently observed my mind and left everything to the universe.

In those years, I had diverse experiences – all kinds of thoughts, feelings, sensations, and emotions ranging from extreme frustration, restlessness, explosive anger, sadness, depression, and anxiety, to gratitude, love, tenderness, and humility. What I saw was that I was not separate from the content that played in consciousness.

I was my feelings, thoughts, and sensations. As time progressed, this observation became more refined, in the sense that while I experienced myself as the content there was an aspect that remained completely detached and watched everything impartially without analysis or reaction to what was being observed. Slowly, the “Me-sense” started to dissolve and there remained only the bare feelings and sensations.

Let me make it clear that while I isolated myself, I do not recommend this as a practice to achieve self-realization or any form of spiritual progress. Some people may not have the psychological resilience and maturity to deal with their innermost monsters. I took this step because I knew I had the psychological strength to deal with what was to come.

In cases where one is anxious and depressed, I suggest taking help from family, friends, teachers, therapists, professionals, or whoever you feel is qualified to address the issues. Once you have a certain level of understanding about yourself, the self-investigation will happen naturally. It’s tough to deal with repressed feelings, deep scars and traumas, and afflicting emotions that lurk in the darkness of our shadows. While your conscious mind may claim that it can handle everything, sometimes, it’s better to get help.

Search For a Permanent State

My father after retirement from his government job had started meditating every day as a ritual. Within a few years, I noticed a change in him. There was a calmness to his demeanor and the whole body language was relaxed.

In his final year, he looked calm and serene, not much bothered about things. I thought he was slowing down because of aging but that wasn’t the case. I remember asking him, “Have you seen the bright white spiritual light as yet? Do you see the blue light of the third eye?” He said, “I see nothing.” I thought he was doing something wrong. “There has to be some sign of spiritual progress. Perhaps, I should guide him otherwise he would end up wasting time.” That was my idea of spirituality back then. The guy who up until then had never sat even a day in meditation was analyzing and judging someone who had spent years in meditation.

After his demise, I started doing meditation. I would do it for five minutes and it felt good. Slowly, I started increasing the duration. Within one year, I had trained myself to sit cross-legged for one hour every day. I started experiencing deep silence during my meditation sessions.

There was no body consciousness. Everything had become blank or empty. It is hard to describe this state in words, but it was the same peace that I experienced in my courtyard. The only difference was that in my courtyard there was an expansion and mergence with the environment, whereas in meditation, there was a reduction to complete blank or void, which again, felt like bliss beyond measure.

I wanted this bliss to become my permanent state, so I started meditating for long hours, thinking I could retain that state for longer durations, and then it would persist in the waking state as well. I read somewhere that Vipassana is a great practice that enlightened Buddha, so it may even help “me” get enlightened. But no matter how much time I spent in meditation that experience never showed. At times, I was sitting for three hours (sometimes more) at a stretch every day and nothing seemed to be happening. On the contrary, the frustration crept its way back in. “What I am doing wrong?”

My lower back had started hurting with all the sitting. I reached out to a Buddhist teacher (not a monk but someone who wrote and spoke about Buddhism) and he told me that I may have to endure pain. Going beyond this pain was the bliss of self-realization.

I endured the lower back pain, and after some time, even my knees started hurting. I couldn’t sit anymore. My mind, instead of calm, had become anxious again. I became desperate to re-experience that serenity that I had once experienced. I wanted to make it my permanent state. Sometimes, I would sit in meditation with the expectation to end up with a calm mind, but exactly the opposite would happen. I wondered why.

Meditation is supposed to calm the mind, and sometimes it does, but other times, it does not. It became clear that I could not control this process to have the preferred outcome. When the conscious mind is still, “stuff” that resides deep within the subconscious starts arising.

The individual is not in control of what arises and when, and what intensity of sensations it creates. It’s not that meditating more can hasten this process of clearing the subconscious and fill it with things we desire to have there. Like the wise say, “You cannot hasten the seasons.” Things will take as much time as is needed. So why not just be and let things happen on their own?

A majority of us cannot do that because our minds have been conditioned to the idea of controlling and achieving preferred outcomes. Sometimes, forced control leads to one’s preferred outcome, but happiness never lasts, and it does not give a sense of fulfillment. Soon you find yourself chasing another goal.

You can easily make people obedient and disciplined using fear and intimidation, but in the long run, it backfires; moreover, you never feel good about using intimidation as a control mechanism. Even enforcing hard discipline on oneself to achieve a preferred outcome will have future repercussions. All those years of forcing myself to sit cross-legged gave me lower back pain that I struggle with even today. The universe keeps the score. More on that later.

Slowly, it became clear that the search for a permanent state was a futile effort. No state, no matter how blissful can ever be permanent because we’re living in phenomenality where the only constant is the change. That life comes bundled with pain and pleasure, and there’s nothing the individual can do to break this link of interconnected opposites.

Our finite minds with conditioned perceptions cannot fully grasp the immensity of What-Is – the unaltered and unpredictable flow of life. We see that things happen, but we can never fully understand why they happen the way they happen. As beautifully put by Meister Eckhart, all that we can do is marvel at the beauty of created things and praise their beautiful creator. Suffering is always of the mind that is caught up in the dualism of pleasure and pain.

In daily living, most of our effort is geared towards minimizing pain and maximizing pleasure. While that’s a natural human instinct and there’s no harm in living comfortably and enjoying the pleasurable moments, the suffering arises when one clings to pleasures and creates aversion towards pain. This is one of the most fundamental teachings in Buddhism.

While all of this made sense intellectually to me at that time, there was still unease and conflict. “What is all this? Why am I here? What is the purpose of life? How do I know if I’m on the correct path? Who is running this show we call life? How do I quiet my mind? How do I live my life in harmony with others?” Not only did I want answers, I wanted them to my satisfaction. That’s when the universe brought me to the doorway of the master.

The Teachings of the “Divine Banker”

My self-imposed isolation came to an end when I came across the teachings of Ramesh Balsekar. A retired banker who lived in Mumbai became one of the greatest Advaita (Non-Duality) teachers in the world. I never had the good fortune to meet him in person. The beauty of his teachings was that they were simple and succinct. No beating around the bush or fancy wordplay. No philosophical or intellectual discussions but direct realization of the nature of reality.

Ramesh’s teaching was the straw that broke the camel’s back. The teaching was simple but not easy. It was through his teachings that I discovered Ramana Maharshi and Nisargadatta Maharaj’s books.

People find it hard to believe, but the first twenty minutes of listening to Ramesh, the very first time, were enough to bring a profound understanding. A spontaneous insight stopped my mind and a peace overcame without my trying to make sense of what had been said by Ramesh. It was, as if, I was just waiting for a confirmation of what had been my personal experience over the years of self-investigation.

One sentence from Ramesh, “There is no individual doer of any action and everything happens according to God’s Will,” was like a lightning strike that instantly dissolved the sense of personal identification. I felt an indescribable ecstasy. I felt relieved, as if, a huge burden had been dropped from my shoulders. There was an instant surrender to his words. Never had this simple yet profound truth been described to me in such a clear and direct manner.

After listening to Ramesh, I started reading the book I AM THAT, which contains the teachings of Nisargadatta Maharaj who was Ramesh’s Guru. I remember, earlier when I had come across a Satsang of Nisargadatta Maharaj, I dismissed him as a grumpy old man. I wondered what this short-tempered and uneducated old man, who lives in a red-light district and sells cigars for a living knew anything about spirituality.

I had a stereotypical image of a spiritual teacher, one that is seen in contemporary masters who wear colored robes, fancy turbans, and have all the paraphernalia around them. Maharaj was the antithesis of Bhagavan (Shri Ramana Maharshi). All of it changed after I finished reading, I AM THAT. Every word in that book is power-packed with so much wisdom. Maharaj’s disciples, even today, after he is long gone, remember him with teary eyes.

Nisargadatta Maharaj ferociously attacked any concept that created separation between you and your Swarupa (one’s true nature). He was more brutal towards foreigners because he believed they were sincere seekers, unlike some locals who came merely for entertainment. He would say that he cannot be dishonest with people who left their homes and traveled miles across the sea and came to him in search of the truth.

Advaita teachers are sometimes perceived as cold and insensitive because they do not give false reassurances to the ego. They vehemently attack the ego or the sense of personal identification so that the beauty that lies beyond can be discovered.

Ramesh did the same but less forcefully as compared to Maharaj. The way Ramesh taught was to gently hammer the ego rather than giving it one big blow. He believed that a big blow to the ego could create a strong resistance as the ego is all about survival. If you don’t believe me try telling someone that they don’t exist as individuals; that they are not what they think they are, and see what their reaction is. You will likely be certified insane. Therefore, gentle hammering slowly and compassionately dissolves the identifications and patterns that sustain the sense of separate existence.

Ramesh’s words kept reverberating in my mind. Now the self-inquiry in the light of Ramesh’s teaching became more refined and sincere. It would start happening on its own without my trying to initiate it. The most beautiful thing about his teaching was that it emphasized bringing peace to daily living.

That peace had to be discovered through relationships. This resonates so much with what Jiddu Krishnamurti said that life is relationship and the spontaneous action that comes out of it. Understanding that relationship and action born out of it is the key to peaceful daily living.

While most of us desperately look for tips, tricks, methods, and prescriptions from Gurus in the hope of eliminating suffering that comes from the ego, Ramesh emphasized that it is not that the ego is the enemy that has to be annihilated. We need the ego to operate in the world. What brings suffering is the ego’s belief of being the separate “doer” with personal volition. His favorite quote was, “Events happen, deeds are done, consequences happen, but there is no individual doer thereof.

When the understanding of non-doership dawns, the ego questions, “If I am not the doer, then who is this me?” Can there be an answer to this question? If, indeed, a true surrender has happened, then there cannot be any thought after this question is posed. It is the last thought (metaphorically speaking). It is not that you will never think after this, but the nature of thinking will be different. It will not be concerned with what-ifs but will remain rooted in what-Is.

Therefore, any action that proceeds this understanding will be intelligent and spontaneous, without the worry of future implications or what it will do for “me.” Therefore, it is clear that this cannot be a personal understanding. For the ego or “me” cannot conceptualize its non-existence. Any attempt will be futile.

The word self-realization is actually a bit misleading because there is no “self” to realize. Realization is not simply an intellectual understanding of the message of non-doership but recognition of the “Being,” which is the groundless ground of all experiences. This recognition (pure knowing standing by itself as it is) is not of the mind but of the Heart.

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Jagjot Singh
Jagjot Singh

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