I have just finished reading James Swartz’ book How to Attain Enlightenment. It has taken me nearly a month to read it, which for me is a very long time. I usually churn through a book in a matter of hours, not weeks or months. But this book was different. It required slow, deliberate consideration.
The book is about Vedanta which is the science of self-inquiry – using the intellect to understand that you are already free from your circumstances. Swartz is a clever, educated man with a lot of experience and the ability to convey his learning to others.
He addresses self-inquiry in a slightly different way to others, which is only going to be noticed by those who already have a strong grounding in self-inquiry. He puts more emphasis on some points and less on others.
For example, he makes it quite clear, as do the Vedic texts on the matter, that self-inquiry is only for qualified seekers. It is not for everyone. A clear mind is required and this clarity comes from spiritual practices such as the mental and physical techniques found in yoga.
He spends next to no time addressing the theories of creation – such as ajata vada – the theory of non-creation. He figures that there is little advantage in telling seekers that they don’t exist, or that this world doesn’t exist – despite the truth in these statements. Instead he presents logical arguments that have been proven over hundreds of years to turn ignorant seekers into self-aware finders. Thus the ancient knowledge of Vedanta is a systematic method for purifying the intellect so that it can appreciate the self that is already here.
At the end of the book he has a small chapter about “enlightenment sickness” which often occurs after awakening. He also discusses neo-advaita – the modern non-teaching that offers no technique, no teaching, no path and results in confused seekers. His unflattering comments about Tony Parsons, Papaji, Kalki and others can be found here in an interview with Non-Duality Magazine.
I always learn a lot when I read excellent books like this. It is a great insight into how knowledge is gained. But there were parts of the book that I hold differing views about – mainly because I have been exposed to specialist knowledge. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi made a good comment about this. He said that you can’t know everything, but you can know enough to be very happy.
Real knowledge means knowledge of the Self. It is this kind of knowledge alone that sets us free from the bondage and smallness of the hamster wheel of life.