The rational approach to awakening

  • My approach to awakening has been through insight. I think there are other approaches which I’m not very familiar with (devotion, surrender, extreme suffering, selfless service, spontaneous, and so on).
  • Insight comes from observation and investigation. I get a pointer from someone, I take it as a hypothesis and I look for the truth of it in my own life and experience.
  • It’s been important to develop self-honesty and humility.
  • It has not served me to just mentally agree with a pointer. It’s only useful if I recognize or realize it in my own experience.
  • Equally, it has not served me to take fixed mental positions against spiritual assertions or practices or ideas. I’ve done this, and realized that often I’m just not ready to see the truth yet.
  • Awakening is a first-person science. Consciousness investigating consciousness. Science is a third-person science, where scientists investigate what they believe is objective phenomena and get external confirmation. With awakening, there is only you.
  • Awakening is fully rational. That is, I have no insight or realization or recognition which is based on faith or belief.
  • Awakening rational but cannot always be conceptualized. Concepts can often even be obstacles. This makes it bit tricky, particularly for people who start with intellectual egos.
  • Awakening a process. It takes time and work. For me anyway.
  • I don’t know exactly what gets people started. I think it’s the realization that dissatisfaction with life many of us feel is indicative that there’s something fundamentally wrong with our understanding of existence. About 20% to 30% of people I’ve met are thinking about their existence in some way. That’s quite a lot. I’ve been twice to Vipassana meditation retreat (, which is a ten day residential retreat. It’s rigorous and requires high commitment. I was surprised that there was a waiting list!
  • I think I am fortunate that when I started I had a very open mind. I was in emotional pain and so my ego was soft. I understood that if my approach to life had already been right, my experience of life in the last 45 years would have been very different. There must be something fundamentally off in my outlook.
  • Awakening/Spirituality makes certain assertions about consciousness, mind, ego, thought, belief, emotion, feeling, conditioning, attention, intention, fear, desire, acceptance, compassion, forgiveness, gratitude, judgment, attachment, presence, the nature of physicality and so on. Probably the main assertion is that consciousness is all there is.
  • Some of these insights can be pretty wild, in the same way that the assertions of quantum physics are wild. Still, the insights are completely rational.It can be confusing and depressing and exhausting at times. I’ve found that I only need to know my very next step. Right now, I’m investigating the truth of the hypothesis that consciousness is all there is, and my physical reality happens in consciousness, not the other way around.
  • Eckhart Tolle’s Power of Now is a pretty good place to start. I do have some criticisms of it. I would say to Tolle that he’s made enough money, and the book does not cover fear and self-inquiry adequately, and perhaps it over-demonizes the mind and ego; and, importantly, as Davidya covers in the comments below, Tolle’s awakening was spontaneous, and it may be more helpful to listen to those who have worked on it, like Nisargadatta, John Sherman, Jed Mckenna, Anthony de Mello and others. But still, the Power of Now covers the basics in simple and easy language.
  • Possibly the most important tools of awakening are self-observation and self-honesty.
  • The three techniques I recommend (look-at-you, release, and, observe) are techniques of specific types of observation. All forms of meditations which I’m familiar with are techniques of self-observation.

12 thoughts on “The rational approach to awakening

  1. Davidya

    Nice list, Kaushik. Insight is much like some describe as inquiry. For some, they take up a formal practice. For others, it arises spontaneously. But I would suggest to be careful it’s not the mind looking at itself – that it is indeed consciousness studying itself. Some “inquiry” is mind games.

    I can note that surrender, and terms meaning the same thing, is intimate to every path. We have to let go of something for the way to open. This is why fixed mental positions don’t help. Sometimes, it can be like stepping off a cliff. But step we must. 😉

    The indescribable can also be related to it not being clear yet. One teacher I know tests clarity by your ability to describe it. But at first, until the mind has caught up to that shift, there are no words.

    “something fundamentally off in my outlook” (laughs) It’s called being an outlier. Being on the front edge of the wave of change. 😉

    Right – what is real for me now. And what is the next step. Having a sense of the map can be useful, but trying to adopt truths of a stage you don’t live is just another barrier.

    The other issue with Tolle is that he woke spontaneously, without any background in it. Then spent 2 years on a park bench, sorting out what was real. While he’s very simple and clear, his techniques tend to be about culturing what is already present rather than gaining presence in the first place. So yeah, good starting point but then move on…

    Thanks for your voice.

    1. Kaushik Post author

      Good points, Davidya.

      Yes, surrender. It often feels like backwards-walking journey of letting go.

      I like that: being on the front edge. Nicer way to say it.

      The next step thing–I learned that from Jed Mckenna. It’s been very helpful. Otherwise it can feel overwhelming.

      Really good point about Tolle. That his awakening had been acceidental and he doesn’t really know what happened, is why I looked for other teachers. I wanted to find people who had worked on it. Jed Mckenna, Nisargardatta, Anthony de Mello, and so on. And the practice of presence never really resonated with me, probably for the reason you point out. It’s a description of what it feels like, rather than a way of getting there.

      Good insights, Davidya. Thanks!

  2. Kathleen Brugger

    Great list. It’s nice to hear someone talking about awakening and rationality in the same breath. You do a very good job explaining why those are compatible, not opposites as so many people mistakenly believe.

  3. Yvonne

    Interesting stuff Kaushik! And a nice break from what I’ve been reading lately, as my country (Scotland) reels in the effects of aggressive campaigning both for and against separation from the UK.

    Yes, there is a point to that aside – I think all your points are valid, and sometimes situations take over and we will be pulled in and out of awakening – but if we choose to stay with process, all of it can bring us back to it.

    I’m not sure if I’m being clear here, so I’ll try to explain. I have been verbally attacked several times lately and although my initial reactions have generally been fear, releasing that and finding where there is truth in the criticisms people level at me has helped me enormously. Looking through this to see that there is no such thing as “me” has helped enormously too. That often is not my first reaction, and yet eventually I get there. I go in and out of that awareness. And perhaps that’s not true either – it’s there but I look away from it, get caught in the situation – and then I don’t. Sometimes I’m aware that there’s no me to defend, but sometimes not.

    Sometimes my fear reactions have coupled with anger, and again I’ve found it valuable – to notice how I was trying to stop my anger. What Davidya says about “trying to adopt truths of a stage you don’t live is just another barrier,” is something I have to watch very closely – I thought I “should” be able to love those who disagreed so strongly with me. I’ve also noticed this cropping up in the words of those who verbally attack me. It’s incredibly common for people to latch onto concepts, and I agree with you that they can be a hindrance.

    Probably not surprisingly, it was after I’d allowed myself to feel anger, and after I’d voiced my frustration and disappointment with a certain group of politicians, that I read something that brought me to compassion. Trying to release it hadn’t got me there. But that’s not to say releasing didn’t work. I’m sure I needed to open more, be more willing. I recommended the article to others – one person (planning to vote the opposite way to me) found it helpful, whereas someone else became incensed – at it and at me for recommending it.

    For many years I have avoided facing anything to do with politics thinking it was not remotely connected to spiritual awakening, but it seems that’s not the case. I guess what we avoid the most will eventually find a way to speak to us and give us what we need – if we are willing. It’s good to come here and be reminded to see this as an opportunity.

    1. Kaushik Post author

      Hi Yvonne,

      Thanks for you open and helpful comments. My experience is the same as yours. Often, I can get caught up in egoic reaction, but perhaps the process of awakening helps in seeing this more and more quickly, recognizing the ego, and releasing. It’s a back-and-forth thing. I’ve been humbled often enough–whenever I have felt the arrogance of advancement, life has reminded me that there there is further to go.

      Politics is probably not far from suffering in providing the opportunity to awaken!


  4. Charlie

    The next step thing–I learned that from Jed Mckenna.

    is this a book you read? or is there a link, or can you explain it more?

      1. Charlie

        Hi Kaushik,
        I just started my journey four months ago because I went through a hard time in my life due to addiction and other things. My sister turn me onto “Letting go: Pathway to Surrender” by David Hawkins and it was difficult to grasp at that time because I was learning during the hurricane instead of preparing for it. I then read “power of now” which did resonate some, but I agree with you on his assessment. I happen to find your site and I like what you write, especially about clearing the mind.

        1) I mediate now using LifeFlow
        2) i do the looking and practice “Focus attention”
        3) I do your release method and I use the one from my sister:
        4) I observe and notice my thoughts.

        I think I am trying too much and not keeping it simple. I do get anxiety and depression still, but it doesn’t last as long.
        Maybe its the looking and I am peeling off the layers after 44 years of fear.

        I read both Sam’s and Dan’s book, which helped some, but sam goes into dogzen and consciousness which confused me more.

        My Questions: how do we know when the mind is clear? is this what you mean by being conscious?

        Should I read Jed’s book to see what I do next?

        1. Kaushik Post author

          Hi Charlie,

          Good stuff here, thanks. Let’s see if we can discuss some of your points.

          I started my journey because of depression and anxiety; you because of addictions. This is good. These kind of problems point to the fear of life, the dissatisfaction of life. That’s a pretty good reason to start awakening.

          I haven’t read David Hawkins. I just looked it up on Goodreads. It sounds pretty good. The way I see it, these people are around to give me ideas. I take an idea and explore it inside of me to see the truth of it. And then, the next idea. And so on. That’s the “rational insight” approach and it’s what I use and has worked pretty well for me. Self-observation and self-honesty, and periodically evaluate where you are and what your next step is. It sounds to me that’s what you’re doing.

          I don’t know LifeFlow but any kind of meditation is good. It helps calm the mind and clear it. I don’t meditate regularly; I meditate when I feel like it; usually when I wake up in morning. I use just an “awareness” meditation. Just being, looking inside.

          I don’t know what Focus attention is, but again it’s been useful in my experience to learn how to shift the focus of attention. It’s was helpful when I did the self-inquiry “Who am I” as suggested by John Sherman.

          Thanks for the link to your sister’s method. It’s similar to my release technique. It looks good and will be helpful to people here.

          I like your fourth point of “observe and notice my thoughts” especially. In my experience, it all comes down to self-observance. Maybe that’s the only spiritual practice there is. Observe thought, emotions, belief, self, awareness…observe the nature of reality.

          I haven’t read Sam Harris yet. it’s on the list. I am currently looking at the nature of reality. I understand intellectually that the reality around me (in me) cannot possibly exist. That is physical reality is can’t be physical. But I have not integrated this–it is only a theoretical belief and I am trying to “see” it. That’s my next step.

          I think Jed Mckenna is very good. He’s frank, direct, no-bs. So yes, read him. I’ll also say that it sound like you’re already doing all the right things. You’re observing.


  5. Charlie

    “focus attention” from John Sherman, i went and did the looking after you recommended it.

    some days are good and some are worse, I think I put too much pressure on myself because I am not seeing the results as fast as I like. My wife tells me I have come miles, yet I only see inches. John Sherman says it can take years to recover from the “fear disease”, and use “Focus Attention” to help with the process.

    How long was your recovery? Did meditation help with your recover?

    1. Kaushik Post author

      Hi Charlie,

      Your wife is right of course. Be patient.

      My experience is as follows: I did the looking for about two months, whenever I remembered to. I felt some agitation almost immediately. After about two months, as I remember, the urge to look went away. A period of low mood and confusion followed. That might have lasted about nine months. And then I came out of it.

      But even now, after about three years, I can feel a conditioned fear come up and go. I had fear of my future. That surfaced and then left.

      So I don’t know when it ends. I know the worst of it was over in about a year.

      To feel better, I use the release method I have described here. John Sherman I think suggests moving attention away from low or painful thoughts. I don’t like that; I’d rather face right up to whatever is bothering me, experience it fully, and release it. But whatever works for you is fine. That might be releasing or meditating or moving attention to something more positive or something else.

      Don’t worry about how long it takes. What else are you doing anyway? It doesn’t really interfere with life–most people around you will not notice. Most of the work gets done during your quiet and alone times.

      You can’t really talk about it to anyone else. Only to people who are already awakening. Nobody else will understand.

      I hope this helps.


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