I recently stumbled upon the website http://www.shiningworld.com and went through some of the articles by James Swartz, an old guy who is teaching the age old Vedanta and claiming himself to be enlightened. There are many so called enlightened teachers in the West who are offering satsangs, courses and retreats and James Swartz is one of them. But he is not teaching neo-advaita (and I dont think neo-advaita is really helping people towards realizing the Self either.. That is just another big joke); He is teaching the traditional Vedanta and he was a disciple of Swami Chinmayananda in India.
I usually don’t write long articles or posts criticizing the spiritual teachers and questioning their enlightenment. I am completely aware that trying to find out if somebody is enlightened is not going to help me towards my own liberation. But this post is somewhat like a question; I am not saying any conclusive statements about his enlightenment. I just find it questionable. Even though this post is not going to help me towards my liberation even a little bit, I don’t care..
I also want to stress on the fact that a person who is not enlightened cannot really help others towards realization; It will be like a blind man leading other blind men. At the same time, one must be aware that if he or she is a true seeker and have a real thirst to know the truth, being with a false Guru or unenlightened teacher is not going to be a problem. But most of the time, in reality, the people who get stuck with unrealized teachers don’t make any progress at all but fall under the illusion that they are getting some valuable help towards spiritual enlightenment.
Also, there is also a well known saying: A Guru will appear when a disciple is ready. You don’t have to really search for an enlightened person to guide you. It will automatically happen.
But, there are people who get impressed with the talks of so called enlightened people who are not really enlightened. And, usually, there is really no way to tell if a person is enlightened or not; Only a true liberated person can recognize another liberated person. But there are some signs which may indicate that somebody is not enlightened. In this post, I am going to talk about those signs that I have observed in James Swartz’s teachings and attitude.
Also, Vedanta just read as a piece of theology is not going to offer much help. In India, so many books are published on Vedanta and thousands of people read them. All that reading doesn’t make much difference in their lives, except that their egos may feel good because now they know something that others don’t know. There is also a good feeling that generally comes from knowing things and committing them to memory, which is not in anyway going to offer lasting fulfillment in a person’s life. But if there is no transformation at all, then not only Vedanta, any doctrine will become a bunch of concepts and ideas in people’s mind, strengthening their ego further. So, there needs to be a presence of a realized Guru to guide the people.
Now, Let us get back to James Swartz. The first thing that I want to talk about is the enlightenment quiz that he has in the website. It has 34 questions and just by answering the quiz, he says, will give you an idea if you are enlightened or not.Here is the quiz: http://shiningworld.com/site/index.php/resources/enlightenment-quiz
Before I came across this quiz, I had read a few articles written by James and also watched a couple of short videos. Then I answered the quiz and scored 87, which means that I am enlightened. But this seems to be a big joke and utter nonsense. If you are a little intelligent and if you read some of his articles, you can score above 90, especially if you are good in answering quizzes. The quiz only tests your ability to understand things and your memory. Why would a real enlightened person will have such an unnecessary and misleading quiz in his website? James also says in an interview that he comes to know about at least a number of enlightened people every year based on this quiz. (The Quiz doesn’t really have an interactive form where people can submit the answers. The results of the quiz are not stored in the database. So, I assume he says that based on the emails he might be receiving from people who answered the quiz with a score more than 80 or 90.)
Also,when it comes to the usage of words, each and every person might use a word in different sense. For Vedantins , everything is Self but for Buddhists, there is no self at all. So, even if somebody who is truly enlightened takes the quiz, he still might not pass the quiz because he might be using the words mentioned in the quiz in a slightly different sense.
I found a lot of criticisms by James Swartz against Osho. But a lot of things he says about Osho is completely incorrect. For example, here is one passage where he talks about Osho (from http://www.advaita.org.uk/discourses/trad_neo/neo_vedanta_swartz.htm):
“The Neo-Advaita movement owes a considerable debt of gratitude to the teachings of Bhagawan Rajneesh who rechristened himself as Osho when his bad karma became unbearable. Rajneesh perverted the tantric concept that the essence of every experience is Awareness. Tantra is a very broad concept that applies to every conceivable kind of experience and insists that its practitioners enjoy the same qualifications as those practicing Vedanta sAdhana. But Rajneesh focused his attention on the sexual aspect, not that much focusing was required, and opened wide the gates of tantra to tens of thousands of immature disaffected Western hedonists with his brilliant concept ‘Zorba the Buddha.’ Zorba the Greek was the literary creation of a Greek writer Nikos Kazantzaksis. Zorba was not a bad guy but was he emotional! He was the original party animal: lusty and enthusiastic in his pursuit of pleasure. As is well known the Buddha was a holy ascetic. By wedding the two ideas he provided a clever ‘spiritual’ justification for the unrestrained pursuit of pleasure in the name of spiritual growth. Wags not unfairly called his sAdhana the ‘fuck your way to God’ path. I was once told in all seriousness by a devotee that Osho ‘’gave us permission to do what society forbids us to do.” When he died thousands of his disciples gravitated to a relatively unknown guru”
First of all, Osho didnt pervert the tantric concept. Osho has talked about all 112 techniques of Vigyan Bhairav Tanra, which includes various techniques and only about 5 or 6 techniques talk about sex. Many people misunderstand Osho as a sex guru and James is criticizing Osho based on the incorrect public opinion. Osho just taught a way to go beyond our unconscious cravings, including sex, by bringing awareness in what we do. But people understood it the wrong way and thought that Osho was preaching people to do more sex. That notion is completely wrong.
Osho’s main focus was awareness, not sex. Also, out of over 600 books of talks by Osho on various topics, there is only one book which talks about sex, which is called ‘From Sex to superconsiouness’. Even in that book, Osho teaches the way to go beyond the sexual desires by bringing awareness to it. When we become more and more alert and aware, the desires stop by themselves. In all the other books of Osho, he covers a wide range of topics from different traditions like Yoga, Zen, Vedanta, Buddhism, Christian mystics, Hasidism, Sufism and more.. He has talked about devotion, love, compassion, meditation and thousands of other topics and the talks about sex are not even 2% of them.
Also, his understanding of Osho’s concept of Zorba the Buddha is completely wrong. Osho said that it is not completely necessary to abandon the family, renounce everything and stay poor to realize ones true nature. He says that one can be rich both in the inner and the outer world. For example, King Janaka, the father of Sita in Ramayana was a realized being but he was the king of a whole empire. Osho simply says that one can be like Janaka or Zorba and can still realize their own self. Zorba is just a way to exaggerate his point on this. He picked up the extreme example of Zorba in a poetic way. In my opinion, when Zorba and Buddha is brought together in a man, he actually gets balanced in the middle. It doesn’t mean that he is asking to follow the way of Zorba. He is actually asking people to follow the way of Buddha without suppressing the part of Zorba who is in each and every individual.
To put it in one sentence “You don’t have to abandon the material world in the pursuit of spiritual world” is what Osho says.
Here is an excerpt from Osho’s talks:
“Zorba can sing, dance, enjoy food, drink, love. He will have a life, but he will not know who he is. He will not know the meaning of existence. He will never come to experience the deathlessness of life, the eternity of his existence — that he has been here always, and will be always; only forms change. He will never enter into his own center. He will always remain in the cyclone, very busy, concerned with everything except himself. And the center of the cyclone is the most ecstatic experience, the ultimate experience of human consciousness. Beyond that there is nothing; you have arrived home. But I don’t see that there is any problem, there is no contradiction. You can arrive home, you can be at your center — what prevents you from laughing? In fact, you should be the only one who can really laugh, can become laughter; who can really love, can become love itself — where the lover disappears and only love remains; one who can dance and dance to such abandon that the dancer is completely gone, there is only dance.
This is my effort:
To bring ‘Zorba the Buddha’ into the world.
That will create a unity in you; your body and soul will have a unity. If you are one, you would like to dance in the open air under the sun. That will be your real prayer. Nothing is said, nothing is asked, but you are showing your gratitude to existence. Zorba the Buddha will not only destroy the split in man, it will destroy the split in society.
There is no question of escaping from anything. Every moment everything has to be enjoyed without any guilt, without any inhibition. But all the religions have been against it.
I proclaim with this manifesto a totally new sky for religious consciousness: the sky of completion, the joining of the inner and the outer, of the material and the spiritual, of Zorba and the Buddha.”
James is not only criticizing Osho but many other teachers. By the comments about Ramana Maharishi whom he doesn’t consider as a perfect teacher in spite of being a self realized person, James also implies that he is a better teacher than Ramana. He also devalues the way of Ramana Mahirishi’s teaching through silence. James believes that being in the silent presence of a master doesn’t have much value at all but many people know that there is a lot of transmission that happens from a master to disciple in pure silence. The transmission between Buddha and Mahakasyapa is a perfect example.
In an email by James to a questioner, he says the following:
(From http://www.shiningworld.com/site/files/pdfs/satsangs/Silence_versus_Words.pdf )
“The Vedanta sampradaya does not have a problem with Ramana’s moksa. In fact, it accords Upadesa Saram the status of an Upanishad. However, Ramana was not a teacher. He said so himself. He spoke to whomever was in front of him according to the understanding of that person. So there are apparently contradictory statements in his “teaching.” Statements made at different times to different people do not mean that the person that uttered them didn’t know who he or she is. Nor does it mean that either statement is untrue, given the context. But when you put them together they seem to contradict each other. So there should be a way to resolve these apparent contradictions. Ramana’s apparently contradictory statements are the words of a jnani, which can be resolved with reference to Vedanta’s teachings. Many people are confused by Ramana’s statements, not because Ramana was confused.”
This clearly shows that James is trying to stick to an organized teaching where as a true enlightened master will really talk to a seeker according to his level. What is the use of reading some mere information and committing them to memory from an organized teaching alone? I am not devaluing Vedanta, but I am saying that a generalized organized teaching alone is not going to be of much help unless there is a realized Guru available to impart the teaching according to the level of the seeker. James may say that he is already doing that, but from what I have observed he only seems to give more importance in just the load of information alone. In fact,from what I have seen, a realized Guru gives an organized teaching only a secondary importance. A realized Guru always speaks from his own authority and he only uses the information available in an organized teaching as an additional device. James’s interest in criticizing other teachers and putting them down as not perfect teachers simply shows that he is trying to make himself superior, though he doesn’t directly say that.
While James Swartz dismisses most of the so called spiritual teachers as self-deluded (May it is true, but I am pointing out that his desperate interest in doing this only shows his interest in showing himself superior), he himself has authorized some of his students to teach and declared them as enlightened. I think it is very easy to convince James that you are enlightened, you just have to parrot what he says but show some confidence on what you are saying and act as if it comes from your own understanding. If what you say agrees with what he says, then James Swartz will probably declare you as enlightened. Because, from what I have observed, how much of what you say is aligned with traditional Vedanta is the only criteria that he will use to decide if you are enlightened or not. His enlightenment quiz is a perfect example for that.
I also came across something from Ted Schmidt, one of those guys who have been declared as enlightened by James. In that excerpt, Ted comments about J.Krishnamurti and Ramesh Balseker. While I doubt Ramesh’s enlightenment, I don’t have any doubt that J.Krishnamurti is a liberated person and he is also a great orator who has been admired by a lot of people for his clarity and wisdom.
Here is what Ted Schmidt says about J.Krishnamurti and Ramesh Balsekar:
“I am familiar with both of these teachers, but to be honest, it has been quite a while since I last delved into their teachings, so I cannot really give you a comprehensive critique of either. I can say, however, that while both gave voice to the non-dual nature of reality, neither employed a teaching methodology that systematically unfolded the implied meaning of scriptural statements or utilized any of the traditional prakriyas (i.e. methods of inquiry) to guide one through a logical analysis of one’s own experience by means of which all erroneous notions concerning it would be laid to rest and the irrefutable truth of one’s essential nature would stand revealed. In addition, neither offered any practical means of preparing the mind for the assimilation of self-knowledge. To the best of my recollection, both Krishnamurti and Balsekar repudiated the necessity for spiritual practice as a result of their confusion concerning the nonreciprocal relationship between paramarthika satyam, Brahman’s non-dual being (i.e. pure, limitless awareness) and vyavaharika satyam, the seemingly dualistic apparent reality of which Brahman, pure limitless awareness, is the adhishthanam, the substrate. Though the apparent reality is entirely dependent on pure awareness for its existence, pure awareness is entirely free of and uninvolved in the apparent reality. Moreover, in terms of the law of karma, the whole purpose of the apparent reality is to provide an arena in which limited entities execute limited actions and enjoy limited results. Thus any attempt to impose such principles as limitlessness, attributelessness or actionlessness on the limited entities that exist within the dualistic context of the apparent reality, whose very existence is defined in terms of distinguishable attributes and discrete actions, is completely untenable. In short, in their best moments both Krishnamurti and Ramesh Balsekar spout the highest truth, yet fail to provide any viable means of assimilating it.”
This again shows the same interest of their whole group in putting down other teachers, especially people like J.Krishnamurti. Ted goes on saying that J.Krishnamurti had a confusion in understanding absolute reality and relative reality. While I agree that much of J.Krishnamurti’s teachings were from absolute point of view, I won’t agree that he had a confusion on absolute and relative reality. J.Krishnamurti did uncover the true essence of meditation and taught people to be aware of their body, mind and emotions which is helpful for modern men. In fact, the world has changed so much in the last thousand years and people’s mind have become more complicated. In the modern world, J.Krishnamurti’s teaching of bringing awareness to our everyday life can be much helpful than the practice of Sravana, Manana and Nidhidhyasana of traditional Vedanta.
I have gone through many other criticisms of the spiritual teachers by James and his group, and as far as I have read, they have not accepted anybody, not even a single person as a perfect ‘teacher’ and they always criticize about how incomplete the teachings are.. (They probably accept all the Vedanta teachers who just repeat the teachings of Vedanta as it is as complete teachers) Do they mean to say that James, his Guru and his authorized teachers are the only people who give out perfect and complete teaching? All I find in their way of teachings and satsangs are deep theoretical discussions and Sanskrit jargons. They are trying to create pundits and scholars but not enlightened people.
I also went through some excerpts from James Swartz book “How to attain enlightenment?” and he has given the same criticism about Osho and many other teachers in his books. He brings up those criticisms whenever he finds a chance.
It is very much appropriate to quote a message from Ramana Mahirishi here:
“The scriptures serve to indicate the existence of the Higher Power or Self and to point the way to It. That is their essential purpose. Apart from that they are useless. However, they are voluminous, in order to be adapted to the level of development of every seeker.
As a man rises in the scale he finds the stages already attained to be only stepping stones to higher stages, until finally the goal is reached. When that happens, the goal alone remains and everything else, including the scriptures, become useless.The intricate maze of philosophy of the various schools is said to clarify matters and to reveal the Truth, but in fact it creates confusion where none need exist. To understand anything there must be the Self. The Self is obvious, so why not remain as the Self? What need to explain the non-self? I was indeed fortunate that I never took to it (i.e. philosophy). Had I taken to it I would probably be nowhere; but my inherent tendencies led me directly to inquire ‘Who am I?’ How fortunate!”
It is clear that much of scriptural knowledge, even though intended to serve as tools, always end up creating more confusion. Ramana Mahirishi also says how fortunate he was in not learning those. While James claims in most of his talks that he is also not trying to give a philosophy, he is actually giving more importance to the theoretical knowledge about reality.
One thing that really convinced me to write this post was a discussion that I had on an online forum with a person who is learning from James Swartz. I was surprised to see how much influence James has made on her because all her discussion reflected the same attitude that James has: Finding faults with words and usage of words, finding faults in spiritual teachers etc. The worst thing was, she had the same prejudice against Osho. Whenever I posted something that was said by Osho, she kept posting stuff that said something against Osho. When I asked her why she was doing that, she said she wants to help people by asking them to be wary of Osho’s teachings.That was something that I couldn’t accept because Osho has done extraordinary work in explaining each and everything about spirituality in detail and he has also brought out the real essence of all the major spiritual traditions in the world.
You might argue that Osho also criticized many spiritual teachers. But his criticism was really based on his genuine interest in shattering the false beliefs that people had and leading them in a proper way towards enlightenment. He didnt do it out of hatred or to assert his superiority but he did that out of his compassion on people. He has spoken positively about authentic spiritual masters like Ramana, J.Krishnamurti, Buddha, Mahavira, J.Krishnamurti, Gurdjieff, Kabir, Nanak, Meister Eckhart, Jesus Christ, Ramakrishna Paramhamsa, Patanjali, many popular Zen masters and the great sages of Upanishads. Also, my post is not about whether criticism is right or wrong but the intention behind the criticism and the discrimination between a real enlightened person and a fake one.
To the students of James Swartz: You may feel impressed not because James Swartz is impressive but Vedanta is impressive. (James Swartz might be a great guy, I am not against him but I just want to give you guys something to think about). Vedanta is still new to the Western world but it is an age old tradition in India. But if you are really interested in ending your suffering and knowing your true nature, you need the presence and guidance of a true enlightened master and not just somebody who thinks he is enlightened. It is possible to walk in the path without any Guru, but it is very difficult. It is going to further complicate the process if you are in the hands of somebody who has not yet made it.
I have no doubt that James is an excellent writer. He speaks a lot of things with great clarity which shows that he has taken his time to read many scriptures. That is the only advantage that he has over the other people who call themselves as enlightened. He can help you to learn stuff and become well versed with Vedanta and its scriptural base but I really doubt if he could help you towards your enlightenment.