Final destination or never ending beginning?
Johan van der Kooij talks with Susan Frank

I used to know what self-realization would be like: after a long period of meditation and contemplation I would arrive at a dazzling moment of grace and clarity.

My life would fill with radiance, peace and harmony. This peace would never ever leave me. I would have arrived at the end of my journey, at the final destination.

But now I am no longer sure whether that final destination actually exists…
Self-realization does not seem to manifest according to a fixed pattern.

Finally every seeker arrives home..… Naturally these are only words that describe how an apparent dreamer shall apparently awaken. In clear daylight there is no personality that will reach enlightenment. That is exactly one of the starting points of non-duality. The idea of the so-called separate identity, what we call the personality, dissolves the moment one sees that there is no such thing as separation.

  • Speaking traditionally, the path of Advaita Vedanta ends in self-realization or enlightenment. But does that path actually come to an end? Or is there a process after self-realization?
  • Is it true that for someone who is self-realized things happen by themselves?
  • Is self-realization still an experience?

Johan van der Kooij spoke about these questions with Prajnaparamita (Susan Frank). For a number of years Prajnaparamita has been giving non-dual teachings in Dutch and English in various countries.

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Johan: My previous teachers, Wolter Keers and Jean Klein never spoke about the 'phase' after self-realization. Because of that I thought that talking about it was 'not done'. However, my curiosity about this subject has become bigger than my modesty. Is there actually a process after self-realization?

Prajnaparamita: What is self-realization actually? Let's talk about that first. Everybody has his or her own dictionary about that. Self-realization is rather variously interpreted.
At the deepest level I don't know what it is… what it actually is cannot be said, words don't reach there… however I can make an attempt:
At the most one can point to it. There are wonderful testimonies and scriptures, written down from the enlightened mouth of the Masters. There is very beautiful poetry and mystical expression by means of which one can taste the flavor of enlightenment. But what it really is cannot be spoken. There are words that give an indication, such as: truth, freedom, peace, love and wisdom.
These are some of the flavors of the unnamable. But what is all that? What does that all mean?

J: Can you say some more about that?

P: The word mind comes from the Sanskrit word 'manas': that which measures and compares. The standpoint that we call 'I', in reference to which everything is compared and measured, needs to be seen as being illusionary.
That standpoint is the difference between ignorance and freedom. 'I' is the difference between ignorance and freedom.
One needs to see that there is no I and no you, no I and the world, no inside and no outside, only indivisible One. And even this One is too many.
This view is so deep; words don't reach there, no experience reaches there.
Being unwaveringly anchored in this realization…
Nothing more to defend, nothing more to prove, nothing more to reject.
Just being available with a clear head and an overflowing heart.

J: Is this deep insight self-realization?

P: Self-realization is not an insight. No matter how deep your insight goes, no matter how wide your insight is, this is still not self-realization.
Self-realization is the consummation of all insights.
Become a prey to God, sacrifice your insights and allow yourself to be devoured.
In this ultimate moment of grace all the knowledge of the insights evaporates and disappears. The One evaporates and disappears and from not knowing, wisdom will rise.

J: So even the highest insight is not realization?

P: There is still a sense of 'I', I who has such striking insights and has received such wonderful revelations.
The experience of subject/object, the feeling of here and there, me and you, this and that, is still there. The sense of witnessing is still there.
And this is not enough, there is still a notion of a witness, of that which is witnessed and the witnessing itself, that triangle is still there.
All of this needs to evaporate, burn up or implode.

Little by little you will come to see that everything is empty. You come to see that all thoughts are empty, all feelings are empty, all experiences are empty, and the entire manifestation is empty, including that which sees.
You have to go through the experience of emptiness, and subsequently need to see that emptiness is also a concept, transparent and illusionary.
Emptiness is a concept, God is a concept, self-realization is a concept.

J: When you realize that, is that also a revelation?

P: Yes, sooooo subtle!

J: Does the apparent duality of observer and observed, dissolve in that revelation?

P: Yes, the sense of an observer evaporates altogether.
And what then? Words fall short, but if we have to make do with words…: openness, clarity, naturalness, availability. You just live your life out, as life itself.

J: Do you still have this sense of a witness and that that is witnessed?

P: No that has disappeared. The disappearance happened so unbelievably subtly. If I hadn't been very aware, I might have not even noticed it.
Imagine that you take a walk in the mist and that your jacket, your clothing and your skin slowly get damp. By the time you come home you are drenched, but you have not even noticed it, it happened so gradually. And your buddy says to you: 'Wow, aren't you wet!'

That's the way it actually happened with me, I hardly noticed it, it was so thin, so rarefied, there was no question of: aha, yes look: now there is realization.

J: Does it happen differently for everyone?

P: Yes, realization is a unique opening for each and everyone.
Also everyone's sadhana* is totally unique. So a personal testimony is always a little delicate, because people are inclined to think: Oh, that's how it goes, that's the way it has to be…

J: Prior to being drenched by the mist did you live through exceptional moments?

P: Yes, immense… grand revelations. Actually all these years…especially during the first three years with Alexander*, during which I received the teaching, lots of knowledge and many great insights, and later also with ShantiMayi*, when everything was gradually 'rounded off '.
There was a long period during which everything was clear to me, but still something was missing. I knew that something was missing, although I didn't know precisely what that was. For years I waited… for 'that'.
I learned what patience is. I discovered that patience knows no time. Eventually all waiting transformed itself into an infinite deep bow into the eternal moment now.
And so all expectations were finally extinguished.

J: What was it that changed?

P: I don't know. What has changed? I don't know! Any change after that ultimate non-moment? Well, doubtlessness set in. And with that, authority was born, made from a totally different fiber than authority as we know it in the personal sense.
Peace came, relaxation came. Living in causeless boundless joy, living life in surrender, just listening to the will of existence.

J: What else changed for you?

P: For a long time there was a deep silence. I was by myself as much as possible. It was not easy to talk. I couldn't find the words anymore, there was hardly any capacity to form concepts or images and everything was so rarefied.
Even still now, during satsang, I really have nothing to say. Mostly the people have to come with topics and questions. That brings me into motion, and then the words come out, like a flood.

J: When I ask a question, then you respond…?

P: Yes, then something comes by means of your question, but there is hardly any impulse out of myself. One day ShantiMayi asked me to start giving satsang. And subsequently I was sitting on the couch again, as I had been doing for a long, long time. I took absolutely no initiative. After three months she said: 'And, have you already begun?' Oh yes, giving satsang, oh yes, yes, right, that is true, I'm going to give satsang… but I still just sat on the couch.
Again after a few months she wrote me an e-mail: Are you ever going to start? Apparently she saw that there was no motor in me, so she gave me a big impulse to begin. And that still needs to happen during satsang. People have to bring me into motion, otherwise I am in satsang with something like: anything going on here?

Stimulation brings me in motion; otherwise everything falls silent, there is just nothing, nothing is really there.
It has been like that my whole life. I had no interest in a career or in the joys of the world, but there was a not to be stopped impetus towards coming home in myself.
This is the only thing that ever interested me. Actually, raising my children kept me going. And now my students in the Sangha* keep me going.
I can only say how this is for me. It says something about me, not about something that that has to do with realization. Yes, that is rather different for everyone.
The Sacha-tradition* is imbued with a strong sense of Bodhisattva. Bodhisattvas have a passionate longing to release people's suffering. They are available for all and their life and dedication is a great inspiration to realize freedom, to realize peace.

You could ask yourself: But is there still something to improve in the world? Haven't you seen that everything is illusory, and perfect just the way it is? And what do you mean, a desire?
To which the Bodhisattvas answer: yes, we know all that, we have seen this deeply, but nevertheless we accept this empty longing and just serve, empty handed we serve.

It is all so subtle and full of nuances. How can you say things like: it is like this, or it is like that? How can you even hold an opinion?

J: Did ShantiMayi find it important that you should speak?

P: She said something about that. Even though I have known all my life that this was my destiny, it was nevertheless completely natural for me to remain still and in silence the rest of my life.
However she gave me a powerful impulse and said to me: 'You have too much to offer, spread the light around the world and just offer.' She said: 'You are too young to remain in silence or to go to the Himalayas, you have to give satsang'.

J: But you already knew earlier that you would speak?

P: When I was very young I didn't know exactly what, but I knew that I would be in service of humanity.
When I met Alexander I recognized it immediately: this is what I have been searching for since I was three. This is what I have always missed the most and that I longed for so intensely.
I grew up in a world that was mind- and culture orientated. Everything was there, but that which was the most essential for me was missing. When I was an adolescent, I started my search in the church, in philosophy and psychology, but I found nothing that resonated deeply. I found dogmas, beliefs, fragmentation and division. Over the years I became more and more discouraged. I felt like an alien in the world that was presented to me. At last I met Alexander, and I saw in his eyes what I had been craving for my entire life.

J: What did you see?

P: Home! I thought: You see, it does exist! What life is really about, I see here, in his eyes…
At that time I was at the end of my rope, I was so desperate, from the age of three until the end of my twenties; I barely held it all together. Everything in me screamed for that, but I didn't know what that was.
I only knew that real happiness had to do with total freedom and with nothing other than that. I realized that all aspects of life were secondary to acquiring absolute freedom.
But I knew nothing about the existence of Gurus and self-realization. In my search I had not come across spirituality anywhere.
Then one evening, I sat with a few people in a little attic room with Alexander. Sitting there and merely in recognizing the possibility that I might receive what I saw in his eyes… I was ready to die. The longing was so intense, the suffering so great, I threw myself totally into the teachings, there was no holding back. And I put everything, all and everything at stake to find 'home', in myself.

J: Can you say that the moment of self-realization is the herald of the all-freeing insight?

P: It was a closure in a way. The insights were already there.
I can't say that all kinds of deep insights came to me after self-realization. That golden no- moment was not a herald of new revelations; it was more a seal and the consummation of all insights.

J: You say with that: the moment of self-realization was the end of the path.

P: Yes, in a way…, a sealing.

J: Did nothing change after that?

P: Nisargadatta has a beautiful definition of self-realization: no longer imagining being identified with the body, thoughts and feelings. Beautiful!
But knowing and recognizing this is not enough. You have to really live it, always. And, are the actions ethical and integral? Does an inner morality come into being? Can you still measure yourself by something after self-realization, for example by behavior? Difficult questions, how do we ever determine the immeasurable?
Let's see if we can get another flavor: love for all that is, and wisdom, simplicity, boundless compassion, pure presence, selflessness, no sense of ownership, clear eyes…

Some Masters even assert that you have not even begun on the path; you haven't even taken the first steps, until you have come to self-realization.
Others say that when you have had a deep revelation, that that is self-realization and after that the purification begins.
In my life the purification and the insights were first, and then came the self-realization…
And what was that? I have never told anybody about that ultimate glorious not-moment, I didn't even tell ShantiMayi. It happened in India.

J: The final push?

P: It was not a push, it was really enlightenment, all my cells became enlightened. It was a physical experience that lasted for hours and hours in the night. It was so subtle that if I had not paid close attention it might have escaped me, as you forget a dream the moment you wake up.
In this flood of light there was an immense power that went through me. My body could barely take it.
The next morning I went to the ashram as usual. Nothing had changed. I did not interpret the golden happening; I did not assign any meaning. Only much later I realized: that night, that night that was it, the sealing.

J: Were there striking changes during this phase?

P: Yes, this sense of total autonomy and the arising of authority that I mentioned before; an authority that arises 'there' where every trace of self-consciousness is dissolved.
That gave in a way a tiny, but huge shift in all areas of my life, also with ShantiMayi.
Nonetheless, she remains my Guru; my heart rests in her heart forever.
The readiness to yield, bow and receive, who knows how much more…
And ShantiMayi lives in profound surrender to her Master, Maharajji. And Maharajji still listens deeply to what his Guru instructs from within.

This is something very remarkable in this lineage. Not at all like the suggestion you often receive in spiritual circles: o.k. guys, good, the job is done, the world doesn't exist, I do not exist, you don't exist, and for the rest let's take a vacation….
In this Sacha lineage you have learned to the very deepest what it means to be a disciple. And a disciple is what you remain for the rest of your life, even when Mastership has awakened in you. That is a rather delicate dance.

J: Do you think it is necessary that a Master confirm your awakening?

P: No, of course not. Wouldn't you be absolutely sure and unshakeable after all? A confirmation is not needed at all. That is the quality of doubtlessness and the vigor of the inner authority that awakens. This authority is born out of doubtlessness and is totally impersonal.

J: Does the mantra: Gate Gate Paragate Parasamgate Bodhi Svaha* apply to the phase prior to self-realization or the phase after?

P: It applies to both. Lets just keep Gate, Gate…. always in our pocket. The tendency to claim is not easily burnt to ashes. 'I-am-realized' is more often than not too swiftly proclaimed...
But what goes on and on and on is expansion, and more and more subtlety, and more and more power.

J: What do you mean by 'more power'?

P: When I first began giving satsang I was like a little Mini. Now I am more like an Opel, on my way to becoming a truck… something like that. It is somehow a sense of having more capacity.
Abilities can spread in all directions infinitely. However, the greatest capacity is unconditional love. That carries everything, opens everything, and has the greatest power. Unconditional love is supreme.

Let's never make a final destination, and remain alert, living on the razor's edge, living in humility, living not-knowingness, living in free fall, living in God's arms…

ShantiMayi: Prajnaparamita's Master
Alexander Smit: Prajnaparamita's first spiritual teacher
Sangha: a group of seekers who gather around a Master, in order to attain, with the Master's help, realization of the highest truth.
Sadhana: Spiritual practices; applying the teachings.
Sacha tradition: The ages old lineage of transmission from which Prajnaparamita was given assignment to begin to teach. Sacha means: Truth in all and everything.
Gate Gate Paragate Parasamgate Bodhi Svaha: Go, go, go beyond, go beyond the highest, beyond the highest reality, beyond self-realization, go beyond that too.
(From the Heart Sutra)

[interview: Johan van der Kooij]

Website Susan Frank (in Dutch: www.susanfrank.nl.