Through Non-attachment to Freedom

A previously unpublished talk by Marjorie Waterhouse

When we choose to follow the inner path that leads to the ultimate self-knowledge, we may be told that true practice is to rise above the pairs of opposites (joy and sorrow, gain and loss, success and failure, etc.), to regard the material world and the realm of higher experience as one in essence though seemingly different in manifestation, to reject nothing, and therefore to be at home everywhere.

At the same time, this free and spacious outlook is qualified by another approach to experience, which encourages an attitude of withdrawal and renunciation, a recognition of the sorrow-breeding nature of phenomena, and a distaste for the objects of the senses. This latter approach is known as vairagya, and may be translated as non-attachment.

So here we have, apparently, two different teachings, each prescribing a particular attitude to life. There can be no surprise that the alert pupil will wonder how this seeming contradiction is reconciled. The answer is that the freedom one hears about at first is the state of the adept, while the rejection and the dissatisfaction which is to be encouraged is the training which prepares the way to that freedom.

The higher training has as its goal the realisation of non-duality. This is the vision that knows with intuitive certainty that all objects, despite their multiplicity, variety and particular uniqueness, are fleeting and ever-changing appearances of one imperishable, unchanging reality, which abides universally as their true self. This is the illumined understanding referred to in the Vedanta classics. As the sage Gaudapada expresses it:

All objects are in origin as limitless as space, and multiplicity has no part in them in any sense. All are by nature deeply still, full of serenity, mutually alike and indivisible—a pure, eternal identity.

The higher training and discipline has, as its goal, a return to this state of consciousness.

There is an intimate connection between immobility and bliss. Conversely, fear, restlessness and suffering have their roots in the conception of multiplicity and separateness. But the destiny of every mind is to transcend this duality and mature the growing awareness that in fact unity and oneness do exist precisely where it has been accustomed to see variety. This deepening understanding produces, on the one hand, a feeling of disillusionment, but it is also accompanied by a growing, if hidden, sense of satisfaction and security.

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This article is from the Spring 2023 issue of Self-Knowledge Journal.