James Swartz

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.


5 Responses to James Swartz

  1. Willie R. says:

    I guess James Swartz figures that there is an actual problem that needs to be solved.
    I agree that there is a problem. But I do not agree that it needs to be solved. What for?
    I have been miserable for 61 years. I have also been enlightened for 43 of those years. The two states are not exclusive.

    There is nothing that can be done about anything. Ever. It’s just Reality at play.

  2. Kiwi Yogi says:

    Hi Willie, sorry to hear about your miserableness. Yes, I am aware that this can happen. Swartz says in the book that after awakening sattva, rajas and tamas continue to play out according to your prarabdha karma. He also says that self-knowledge over time purifies the rajas and tamas and results in mostly sattva – ie happiness.

    I’ve met a couple of people in this situation. One man said his life was “absolutely shit” for eight years after his awakening.

    Another time I heard a man say to Swami Maheshwarananda that he’d been enlightened since he was a child and he felt that God had abandoned him. He was a gloomy looking character. The swami said that if he was enlightened then “there is no problem. Finished.”

    Maharishi Mahesh Yogi describes this state of witnessing depression or whatever life presents as Cosmic Consciousness. He also calls it ‘enlightened ignorance’. He says that in this state you know yourself as the actionless awareness and that life unfolds by itself. So yes, there is nothing that you can do because you’re not the doer. He also says that from this point of view it appears that there is no further possibility for spiritual development. But he says that with time, automatically, the senses refine and one becomes aware of the finest level of manifest creation and this brings devotion, love and joy. He then describes further states after that.

    Swartz also points out the value of sadhana after awakening. He said Ramana awoke at age 17 but then didn’t go and play cricket with his buddies, he went and sat in silence for 20 years.

    Have you been involved with any spiritual teachers and practices or did awakening come to you without looking for it? I’m curious to know what others have said about your state.

  3. Jonathan says:

    What exactly is James’ beef with the neo-advaita people (who happen to make a lot of sense to me)?? …i heard an interview with him once where he somewhat sarcastically referred to “Mooji-rama or whoever he is..” in reference, i assume, to the Mooji of YouTube fame.

    As for awakening resulting in a shitty life and cosmic consciousness being a state of ‘witnessing depression,’ to me these sound like the most off the wall ideas of enlightenment i’ve heard to date. Enlightenment is the end of suffering and the attainment of bliss. Period.

  4. Kiwi Yogi says:

    Hello Jonathan.

    James’ beef with neo-advaitins is that they are not educated and don’t know how to help others get enlightened. They ignore the long tradition of advaita and its useful teachings. Instead they give out all kinds of useless non-teachings to unqualified people. Many neos advise those who are ignorant and suffering to “just be” which is equivalent to saying, “Why don’t you just be enlightened?” It is a step too far for the majority of seekers – so it doesn’t really help them.

    No, there are definitely degrees of enlightenment for the embodied individual. Ramana mentions them, as well as others. You can wake up to the fact that you’re pure consciousness and your story can continue to be unhappy, as Willie mentions above.

    If you talk with enough enlightened people you’ll find out that they didn’t suddenly turn into blissful saints. In fact, there are plenty of enlightened people with unpleasant personalities.

    I studied with a swami who said that the goal is to be a liberated master. This means self-awareness and mastery over life: ie like Buddha, Shankara, Anandamayi Ma… Newby neo-advaitins are nothing compared to these great masters even though I’ve heard a number of them calling themselves great master, messiah, the most enlightened being on the planet and other nonsense.

    There are a lot of fantasies around about enlightenment, which is why traditionally one has a guru who is enlightened and knows the scriptures and can keep your ego in check.

    For more information I recommend you read James’ book. It’s very good.

  5. t says:

    there’s a good interview here of james swartz where he describes the problem with neo advaita.


    and yes get his book. excellent.

    many people get a glimpse of unity but quickly fall back to ego. that’s not enlightenment. personality remains much the same. look at u g krishnamurti, he was kind of a jerk but awake!

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