All of reality, thought, and experience is already an interpretation (that was too, by the way).
My exegesical leanings did offer great service: the piercing through layers of experience for deeper meaning. This leaning is still present today, and I take great pleasure in the interpretative understanding of others. I recently came across a teacher and author named Jed McKenna that, in his second book, Spiritually Incorrect Enlightenment, offered a gorgeous interpretation of Moby Dick in relationship to the path of Spiritual Enlightenment or Abiding Non-Dual Awareness, as he terms it. This re-awoke in me the passionate enjoyment of using literary, historical, and religious works to explain and present greater experiences within existence.
After my first Saktipat, I reexamined the Book of Genesis and interpreted it from a Tantric perspective, retelling this story as the arising of awakened non-dual consciousness. This work will probably never see the light of day, but perhaps.
Since my own experience of awakening, I am, at least for now, doing my best to express the reality that this represents without relying on the content of my own experience. There are a lot of so-called awake teachers out there that try and express the truth and freedom of awakening through the content of their experience. I doubt that most of these teachers are awake, at least as far as I experience it. I would never assume that the content of my experience is what defines awaking. Content is produced by structures and structures are very subjective and personal. The content of my awakening may not be the content of your awakening. To define awakening based on content, is to remain in the delusion of the individual. It might be an updated, freer delusion, but it's still a delusion. Maya is a tricky bitch - be careful.
A huge mistake is made: students compare the content of their experience to the content of their teacher’s experience and then always fail to measure up or wonder why they’re not experiencing things the way their teacher does. The mind then, doing what the mind does, assumes this to be a problem and the student goes spiraling back down to illusion land. Awakening is not a content thing, it’s a context thing, and it’s the great context of everything. The content is just the details.
When myth and story is used to express the nature of awakening, we can point more directly towards reality as it’s devoid of personal content. This of course is still a pointing towards and not a telling of, as we could never tell of the fullness of reality with the limitations of language. Even if language could capture it, there is too much to capture, and writing it or speaking it would be impossible.
By the way, you’re in a state of interpretation right now, assuming you’re reading and understanding (sort of) these words. This brings us to an important preamble truth, truth has nothing to with what is spoken, but is limited to what is heard, and what is heard is already an interpretation. Know that there is no truth in these words, and that there is no truth in your understanding them, as Truth rests effortlessly as the very thing that perceives you perceiving these words. Truth is already in your experience, as your experience. Nothing more and nothing less. Stop looking for truth, and truth is already right there.
I became curious about Captain Nemo a couple of months ago when it occurred to me that Nemo meant “no one” or “nobody.” The awake state of liberation is sometimes termed as the state when self dissolves, or the recognition that there was never an individual self there. This is just one way of pointing towards it, of course, and is not entirely the nature of the experience.
To all of my so-called Tantric Saivite friends that oppose (which, by the way, is a great way to turn non-dual/oneness teaching into dualistic sectarian bullshit permeated by delusion) the so-called Buddhist idea of “no-self”, consider this: if all things are Shiva, then what is it you think your individuality is? Bingo: Shiva. If there is only Shiva, then show me were your so-called individuality ends and Shiva begins. I dare you.
Before I left for this trip, I picked up a copy of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea for a little reading and interpretative fun. Maybe something was there, and maybe there was nothing there. Though, I can say, before I interpret the hell out of it for the benefit of my own teaching, it was an enjoyable read.
In researching this project, I was interested to learn that 20,000 was novel for Verne in the sense that he had never created a character like Nemo. Most of his novels were formulaic, and follow very specific patterns of story and character. But 20,000 was different. Nemo was a character entirely unto himself. In certain terms, it seems that the “awakening” elements in 20,000 have more to do with Verne’s rebellion and distain towards his controlling publisher, and are symbols of him breaking free from this. However, there are certain unmistakable qualities in this work that point towards the state of awakening and the human relationship with it. I have over 100 pages of my copy of 20,000 ear marked and underlined. By way of symbolism, there’s a lot there.
I am not sure if Verne ever awakened, but in the least, it does seem that he went through a major transformation over the course of his life. Apparently, he became very depressed towards the end of his life, which may have actually been the stages of a bourgeoning awaking, or at least a huge shift and reordering of his ego structure. He willed a locked safe to his son. For whatever reason, his son didn’t open this safe until 1994. This safe contained Verne’s last novel, which was entirely different from his previous works, including 20,000. In his final work, Verne entirely rejected science, and penned a tale of a poet wondering the streets of Paris, penniless, looking for work. In the end, the poet dies in a snowy graveyard filled with deceased authors. Something happened in Verne’s consciousness, but sadly we’ll never know what it was.
In the authoring of 20,000, several very important markers are present before we look at the work itself. Victoria Blake said, “In his other books, Verne’s heroes are acted upon. The outside world intrudes on the voyage of discovery; it supplies the adventure and propels the books, and their narrators, onward. In Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Verne turns the drama inward by making Nemo the central figure and the propelling force” (Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Barnes and Noble Classics, p. xvi). If we take Nemo, “nobody” or “no one”, to be an expression of reality and consider this to be the driving force of story, then we happen upon a beautiful understanding. Consciousness, which is just another term pointing towards a reality that is one, is the driving force of the story of our experiences. We are not acted upon, be we are acted outward in a reality that is not separate or other from us. We are this reality, as this reality is always, already our own interpretation (both sensory and cognitively).
The state of awakening invites you to consider that there is only one actor, and that is consciousness itself. The story of your experience is being drive by this consciousness, by this totality that renders the futility of your already labored and porous ego meaningless.
In discussing Nemo in a letter to his publisher, Verne said, “It is important that this unknown character refrain from contact with other human beings, from whom he lives apart. He is no longer on earth, he manages without earth” (quoted in Lottman, Jules Verne: An Exploratory Biography, p. 130). The experience of awakening is sometimes described as a departure from the tangles of the human self-perpetuating story. In Sanskrit, this is expressed with the word kaivalya: aloneness. It's not aloneness in the sense that the individual is alone, but the recognition that the universe is one thing, and you are that thing.
Upon awaking, there is a release from the belief in the dramatics that one experiences their self and reality to be into the freedom of the entire unfolding universe – a reality that is one. In a sense, this being stands apart from the immature and delusional ramblings of the bound, has departed from earth, and exists as entirety of the universe: everything (nemo non)/nothing (nemo).
This is made beautifully clear by the first exchange between Professor Aronnax, Conseil, and Ned Land, the harpooner, and Captain Nemo:
A half smile curled the lips of the commander: then, in a calmer tone:
“M. Aronnax,” he replied, “dare you affirm that your frigate would not as soon have pursued and cannonaded a submarine boat as a monster? You understand then, sir,” continued the stranger, “that I have the right to treat you as enemies? I have hesitated for some time,” continued the commander, “nothing obliged me to show you hospitality. If I chose to separate myself from you, I should have no interest in seeing you again; I could place you upon the deck of this vessel which has served you as a refuge, I could sink beneath the waters, and forget that you had ever existed. Would not that be my right?”
“It might be the right of a savage,” I answered, “but not that of a civilized man.”
“Professor,” replied the captain quickly, “I am not what you call a civilized man! I have done with society entirely, for reasons which I alone have the right of appreciating. I do not therefore obey its laws, and I desire you never to allude to them before me again!” This was said plainly. A flash of anger and disdain kindled in the eyes of the Unknown, and I had a glimpse of a terrible past in the life of this man. Not only had he put himself beyond the pale of human laws, but he had made himself independent of them, free in the strictest acceptation of the word, quite beyond their reach.
After a rather long silence, the commander resumed the conversation.
“I have hesitated,” said he, “but I have thought that my interest might be reconciled with pity to which every human being has cast you there. You will remain aboard my vessel since fate has cast you there. You will be free: and in exchange for this liberty, I shall only impose one single condition. Your word of honor to submit to it will suffice.”
“Speak, sir,” I answered. “I suppose this condition is one a man of honor may accept?”
“Yes, sir; it is this. It is possible that certain events, unforeseen, may oblige me to consign you to your cabins for some hours or some days, as the case may be.”
“We accept,” I answered; “only I will ask your permission, sir, to address one question to you – one only.”
“You said that we should be free on board.”
“I ask you, then, what you mean by this liberty?”
“Just the liberty to go, to come, to see, to observe even all that passes here – save under rare circumstances – the liberty, in short, which we enjoy ourselves, my companions and I.”
It was evident that we did not understand one another.
“Pardon me, sir,” I resumed, “but this liberty is only what every prisoner has of pacing his prison. It cannot suffice us.”
“It must suffice you, however.”
“What! We must renounce forever seeing our country, our friends, our relations again?”
“Yes, sir. But to renounce that unendurable worldly yoke which men believe to be liberty is not perhaps so painful as you think.”
“By what name ought I to address you?”
“Sir,” replied the commander, “I am nothing to you but Captain Nemo; and you and your companions are nothing to me but the passengers of the Nautilus.”
As you can see, the professor and the captain are two entirely different beings. When I first read this, it very much echoed to me conversations I often have in satsang. In explaining the nature and experience of freedom, those listening question how, what I am explaining, could be free.
Captain Nemo has shed all bounds to human reality. He has removed the shackles of delusional reality and entered an entirely new reality, the ocean, which is a symbol for oneness, realization, and the fullness of consciousness in Indian traditions. In this reality, this liberated reality, Captain Nemo can still interact with those from the human world, but as you can see, these interactions are strained. It is almost like they are both speaking a different language, and this is because they both are. They’re obviously using the same grammar, vocabulary, and structure, but their experiences stand in such drastic opposition that they cannot really understand each other.
For the bound individual living in delusion, the state of awakening, when it is pointed towards skillful, sounds like a liberty one would never want. In liberation one loses all ability to believe in thought, value, preference, experience, feeling, or intuition, as it has all been released into the vast and gorgeous freedom of ever present unfolding. All personal ambition, perspective, memory, desire, and consideration dissolve and the entirety of universe moves through you as you.
To the bound - being that they are bound to their perspectives, thoughts, feelings, intentions, memories, plans, desires, feelings - the loss of their experience runs entirely against their experience, as their experience is entirely based on being an individual. Like Aronnax expresses, “this liberty is only what every prisoner has of pacing his prison. It cannot suffice us.”
People want to make enlightenment what they want. People want to be enlightened people. You don’t get you be an enlightened person. Upon awakening, there is the recognition that you are nothing/everything. You see that anything you believed your individuality to be was simply a self-constructed perpetuating illusion. Illusions are not bad, by the way; they are simply illusions. This particular wanting of the ego is not exclusive to perspectives on enlightenment, but pretty much everything. Most people want other people to be how they would like them to be. Most people want reality to be how they would like it to be. It’s nature of the ego: I want you to be the way I want you to be. This is suffering.
Freedom is to forever live in the mystery of the nothing and the ecstasy of the everything. With this, like Captain Nemo, the conventional world has to be left behind. It’s not leaving the conventional world for an unconventional world, it’s leaving the world all together for an entirely different reality. Like Nemo says, “But to renounce that unendurable worldly yoke which men believe to be liberty is not perhaps so painful as you think.”
Christ said, "Any person that loves his father or mother more than he loves me is not good enough to follow me. Any person who loves his son or daughter more than he loves me is not good enough to follow me. If a person will not accept the cross that will be given to him when he follows me, then that person is not good enough for me (Matthew 10:37-38, ERV).”
To step into awakening is to die. The illusion of individuality, and of unity, dissolves into the freedom of ever-present reality. But for this to happen, all bonds to the world of separation have to fall away. These bonds are strong. These bonds are deep. Most of these bonds are entirely unconscious. These bonds are relationships, memories, spiritual practices and traditions, beliefs, morals, values, and perspectives. Everything that you think defines you, must fall away.
Most people that come to me want my help in releasing the stuff they don’t like, the stuff that causes them suffering or problems. This is fine. I don’t mind this. But most have no interest in going all the way. Everyone wants to get rid of the stuff they don’t like, but no one wants to get rid of everything, and this is why almost everyone will remain bound.
Everything must go, for on the other side, truly, everything returns. And by everything, I mean everything. Be Nemo.
* * *
I am still considering if I will continue with this voyage of symbolism and meaning via 20,000. I am not sure. We both will soon see.