Self-realization: a little balloon you get when you buy a new pair of shoes.
After a spiritual ramble that lasted almost thirty years I unexpectedly came face to face with the Unknown. A sobering meeting, because I dis-covered; I am the Unknown.
My spiritual search began in the seventies when I met Wolter Keers. I was looking for a hatha-yoga teacher and didn't know much about advaita or self-realization. Enlightenment was for me something that was reserved for yogis in the Himalayas and medieval mystics. Wolter Keers had just retired and devoted much time to editing the magazine Yoga & Vedanta. In addition he gave lectures on advaita and translated the discourse of Jean Klein in Holland. I felt at home in the untidy student room on the 's Gravelandse weg where I met Wolter regularly and spoke with him about life questions and advaita. I was impressed by his insights and his stories about Ramana Maharshi and Krishna Menon with who he had been 'in study' in India.
I felt a deep friendship for Wolter and mid-way in the seventies I moved with him and a number of other 'advaita-addicts' to south France in order to set up a yoga-advaita-center at the request of Jean Klein. We rented a large old ghost house in the mountains and held seminars there for Dutch guests. Wolter and Jacques Lewensztein wrote the first pages of Yoga as the art of relaxation there. It was a special time with much advaita and hatha-yoga. I began work on a study translation of I Am That. Later Wolter went to work on a serious translation. Wolter gave discourses about advaita and in addition lived a cheerful life-style, so to say. That was the beginning of a disagreement between Wolter and Jacques. Wolter did what he felt like doing and settled up with the samskaras of five generations of preachers that came before him. That was completely contradictory to the life style of the others in the 'commune', who strove to conform to the hatha-yoga health norms. In practice it came down to the fact that I cooked brown rice, but that we went to eat tasty pizza and drink red wine in the village café. There was humor and dynamics, but we didn't succeed in staying together as a group. We were back in Holland after half a year.
The collaboration between Jean Klein and Wolter Keers came to an end at the end of the seventies. Wolter was regularly an angry young man. During one of the lectures that Jean Klein gave in Holland someone asked whether animals can also become enlightened. Before Jean Klein could answer Wolter proposed that a rabbit cage should be installed for the next discourse to see if they were realized. And, that was too radical for the gentleman Jean Klein who no longer permitted Wolter to translate his lectures.
Wolter chose his own way from then on and allied himself more with the style of Nisargadatta whom he visited often in Bombay.
In my eyes Jean Klein was an authentic guru. I melted in his presence, but I noted with disappointment that self-realization had not yet happened to me.
I fell into and advaita depression. I decided to visit Nisargadatta in India in the hope of finding liberation. In the back street of Bombay many self-realized fell as ripe apples from the tree according to Wolter. I knew that I could not wait too long. Nisargadatta had cancer of the throat. When I arrived in Maharaj's small room I felt a deep recognition; here I wanted to stay, here I wanted to die, but the reality was different, he sent me away after three days. He was unrelenting, I may not come back. 'You ask too many questions... you must come to silence'. I can still remember how afraid I was of him. Why? I was twenty-eight, healthy and strong. He was eighty years old, old and sick, but something in me knew that this man could kill something in me that I could not let go off. I wrote him a letter begging to please be able to come back. Maharaj asked a friend of mine: 'When are you leaving Bombay? Next week? Take him with you'. End of the exercise.
Returned from India disillusioned, I went to Wolter for advice, he said: 'don't be upset, the most important has already happened. You are floating along in the river that comes to the ocean by itself, don't place so much emphasis on self-realization: 'It's just something like a little balloon that you get when you buy a new pair of shoes'.
It was an old desire of Wolter's to write a book about the similarities between Christianity and Advaita Vedanta: 'Jesus and the Yogi'. Wolter asked me for practical help with this. We were to begin on the first Monday of January 1985. On this ice-cold winter morning he called me up, he was sick. That was the last time that I spoke with him. He died two hours later.
With a feeling that 'there is something still not right in my life' I continued to visit a number of teachers such as Byron Katie, Hans Stiekema, Mother Meera, Isaac Shapiro, Barry Long, Ramesh Balsekar, Tony Parsons but nothing special happened and slowly I began to give up the idea of 'becoming enlightened'. A good friend asked me: 'Have you done everything that you could do?' Yes, I had seen enough gurus, read enough books, gone deep into advaita, what else could I do? I put advaita in the fridge.
When I was forty two a girl friend predicted that my life would be turned upside down. I was positively convinced that it would not happen to me. But the midlife crisis set everything in my life in motion. I lost interest in my work, I lay in the hospital for an operation and no longer knew what I wanted.Clarity
I choose for trans personal psychotherapy, a synthesis of spirituality and psychology. I became so interested that I did an education in it. I have always felt a rivalry between the 'spirituals' and the 'psychologists'. 'The psychologists' emphasize the importance of investigating mental traumas and think that 'the spirituals' all too often only sweep their emotions under the rug. The 'spirituals' on the other hand think that 'the psychologists' are just wasting their time moving furniture around, as Jean Klein expressed so well. Wolter Keers said about it: 'If you try to solve all your problems in this life, then after that you can solve the problems from your previous life'. In other words: if you create dualistic solutions for dualistic problems, then the danger arises that you begin to believe in the dualistic perspective, with all the consequences (for example the maintaining of the I-belief). That perspective never gives definite results because you remain busy solving problems that do not cause the real problem. Like putting gasoline into an auto that has no engine.
One spring morning this year I was thinking about my future. I had given up my job and was worrying about how my life would go on. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I didn't know. No matter how I looked at it I could only accept: I don't know. Every thought about the future was a concept, an invention. This idea of not knowing grew stronger, I was shocked and landed in a state of mental emptiness. I could do nothing else but accept this emptiness and to sit for a daily meditation. I sank into an emptiness that was comfortable, clear and spacious. After a few minutes I suddenly realized that I was surrounded by something that can only be called 'an enormous presence'. An enormous volcanic explosion had taken place in and around me. I understood that this enormous presence could only be there because I was empty. An I, that was used to saying, aha, I experience this, was pushed aside: there was no room anymore for an owner of thoughts. Only room for a witness. I saw my thoughts as mice running into the desert.
Afterwards two things were crystal clear: that 'little bundle of thoughts' that ran into the desert. I was not that. To my great surprise I realized that I was exactly the opposite, the enormous presence. No one and nothing in the world could convince me that it could be different. I had found my center.
After this deep realization, 'the presence' left again leaving an echo of silence and clarity behind. It all felt so natural that I didn't tell anyone about it. My daily life went on in the days that followed. My meditations became quieter and deeper, if I directed my attention inwardly, to my center, I discovered nothing there, but then again absolutely n o t h i n g... And If I directed my attention to the outside I noticed that 'outside' had no limit. It was as an endless expanding universe.
But it was not all Heaven and glory. I was thrown back and forth. One day I was steady and in balance, and another day I was tackled by an emotion or a longing. When I was turned upside down for the umpteenth time I had enough of it and at that moment there streamed a new autonomy above in me: I cannot say that I made a decision, but something in me chose for silence and clarity, everything else I left behind.
What changes then after self-realization?
When Ramana Maharshi was asked this question he answered: 'Before self realization I loved strawberries, now I still love strawberries'. Thus, on a certain level nothing changes. In my body, senses and mind thoughts and feelings appear, but I no longer claim that I am their producer or owner. Consciousness creates forms that I, as ultimate subject, know as objects. Now that I no longer claim the feelings and thoughts (thus also the longings) as mine, the hankering to influence thoughts and feelings has also disappeared. I would like to trade in my old auto for a new one, but I don't need a new auto in order to have peace. For peace I need nothing at all, because I am that. That is my natural state: being one without the feeling that all kinds of conditions have to be satisfied.
As a child I was fascinated by a centrifuge we had at home to dry the wash. Therein a metaphor was being played out: while the clothes in the cylinder were thrown towards the outside an emptiness arose in the middle of the centrifuge. No matter how fast the centrifuge turned the middle remained empty.
That is how it also is with thoughts and feelings. these are born out of an empty middle, how destructive or heavenly, positive or negative the thoughts may be, the emptiness remains the emptiness. Previously I had done my best to quiet my thoughts via all kinds of methods. That was a mistake, the human mind is exactly conditioned to create thoughts. There is nothing wrong with a thought or a feeling, but with all the whining that follow them. The whining tries to create happiness with all kinds of force. That is where the conjuring begins: if I do this, or I do that, then I would be happy... that means trouble, because happiness is not divisible. Time after time my illusory 'I' thought had to run into a wall, time after time I had to realize in the dead end alley; this leads to nothing.
Only when the thought of making myself happy surrendered itself, did the great realization come floating up. And I didn't have to search that great realization, that was completely in me.
[October 2002 Johan van der Kooij]