Illumination: The Direct Path of Shri Atmananda Menon (DVD)
The Direct Path of Shri Atmananda Krishna Menon
2 DVD’s (113 mins & 96 mins)
Review by Michael Jeffreys
StillnessSpeaks has put out a two DVD set that contains three and a half hours of a conversation between Greg Goode (author of Standing as Awareness) and Chris Hebard, on the Advaita Vedanta teachings of Shri Atmananda (Krishna Menon), who lived in South India from 1883-1959. While less well-known than his Indian contemporaries, Ramana Maharshi and Nisargadatta Maharaj, Atmananda’s teachings are no less important. In such works as “Atma Darshan” and “Atma Nirvriti,” his words point directly (hence this teaching is known as “the direct path”) to our true nature, which is Consciousness. In fact, the heart of this teaching is that there is only Consciousness.
However, the notion that we are pure Consciousness is certainly not a popular one —most people believe that they are a separate individual, in a separate body. Note that once this belief takes hold, everything outside of themselves is perceived as “not them.”
Furthermore, they feel as if the actual essence of their being is located somewhere inside their head, usually behind the eyes and they somehow interact with and connect to the outside world via the five senses. Greg describes this way of perceiving ourselves as the Cartesian model, aka “the container metaphor.” This comes from Descartes who believed that something immaterial (our soul), is enclosed inside something material (our body). Thus, we feel that we are an entity or spirit (or even a homunculus —a tiny human being) that exists within our body (a container). This belief is so deeply held by most people on the planet, that it is assumed to be a fact and seldom questioned, let alone deeply investigated.
These DVD’s, like Atamanda’s teachings, are all about investigation. Greg and Chris take you step-by-step though a series of observational experiments to help you begin to explore reality AS IT ACTUALLY IS. This is an important point: during the experiments, you are looking and seeing what is so and not so about YOUR direct experience in the presently arising moment. Because you are only interested in what is true in the current moment, it is important to note that beliefs, memories, and assumptions are not valid (since all the information they contain is from “the past”) and thus not used in these inquiries. Therefore, care must be taken (as much as possible) to be sure that they are not inadvertently brought into the “experiments.”
Because physical objects appear to be so “real” and “solid,” and thus an exception to Atmananda’s teaching that ALL is Consciousness, the first experiment on the DVD deals with their deconstruction. And since sight is our primary sense for determining what appears to be a physical object, Greg and Chris’s begin the inquiry by asking:
What does visual evidence by itself tell us about an object?
To illustrate one way to go about this investigation, Greg asks Chris to remove his dark brown skull mala (bracelet made of tiny skulls) and set it before them on the back of a notepad. Next, they both look directly at it and report back what vision alone communicates to them. Greg reminds us of the importance of not bringing in (“super-imposing”) extraneous information that isn’t actually there in our direct experience, such as information from our other four senses, or from memory or inference.
Funny enough, Chris does exactly this out of the gate when Greg asks, “Does vision itself tell you that this is a bracelet?” And Chris responds, “Yeah.” To which Greg replies, a bit taken aback, “Do you see a label there that says ‘bracelet’? And Chris quickly says, “No,” as he knows vision alone contains no information as to what something is called/named (this would be memory).
I mention this “error” (and it actually isn’t an error since that would be a mind’s interpretation, whereas Awareness itself cannot/does not label anything; everything simple is.) because it shows just how tricky and subtle this business of deeply investigating physical objects can be.
Color = Shape
As it turns out, direct vision actually only tells us two things: color and shape. You can’t have color without shape, and you can’t have shape without color (don’t take anyone’s word for this, look around right now and see if this is so or not so.) What’s more, shape and color indicate nothing other than what they are; they don’t indicate or point to something else. Why is this observation critical? Because it means that anything beyond shape and color is being added (“superimposed”) by the mind, via memory or other senses!
This same direct examination experiment can be applied to your remaining four senses and the conclusion will be the same: everything is known only as a singular (one at a time) arising perception. This includes your body and mind. All of it.
I want to mention that there is a good chance that much of the material on these two DVD’s is not something you are likely to fully grasp and understand deeply on the first go through. I found myself frequently rewinding the video segments over and over until my lack of understanding/block/stuckness gave way to clarity/understanding/seeing. When this happens, the scent of Divine Truth will suddenly become obvious to you. Her sweet aroma, once a mystery, is now all you smell. Her loving face is now all you see (wearing different costumes).
Every perception is making a claim, however you find that you are no longer believing it or taking its word for it. Now, all perceptual claims are deeply investigated, held up to the light if you will, and seen for what they are.
Chapter Titles on DVD 1:
The Common View of the World: the Cartesian Model
Are We Physical?
The Collapse of the Sensing Container
Where is All This Taking Place?
The Physicality of the Body
Let’s Get Real
Where is Perception Perceived?
Is Consciousness Contained Within a Body?
Is the Body the Vehicle for Sense Perception?
Do We Ever Experience an Object?
Do Sensory Perceptions Happen in Different Locations?
Bubbles of Sentience: The Lower Witness
Time and Sequentiality
If the above titles “speak to you,” its happy days for you because these videos are all about experiencing Reality as it actually is and that includes yourself. Loving, perceiving, changeless, eternal Stillness, that is what you are and have always been. Everything else are objects arising within your Awareness. (Awareness has to be here first in order to perceive whatever arises.)
Some comments about Greg Goode and Chris Hebard
While many philosophers tend to be quite serious in nature, Greg and Chris do not fall into this category. They have a relaxed “buddy-buddy” kind of rapport between them, and so their approach/energy toward the material is playful, spontaneous, and curious. Indeed, several times they spontaneously start laughing as if to remind us not to take any of this too seriously. That a light touch seems to work better than a tight grasp.
Greg is very good at explaining deep philosophical concepts in ways that can be understood (or at least get you looking in the right direction!). I learned a lot from observing how he approaches this type of inquiry. For example, how a question can be answered from more than one perspective ( i.e., from the perspective of a body —which is how most experience the world) or the perspective of Awareness.
A nice little “test” to see which perspective a person is coming from has to do with the belief that objects exists whether or not you are aware of them (meaning that even if you turn your back on a tree, you believe it is still there). One looking out as Awareness would never make this claim for the argument would be that in order to know something is “there” one MUST be Aware of it by definition.
I also appreciated how Greg uses the Socratic method of drawing out the answers from Chris, rather than just telling him the answers immediately. Obviously those insights that we see directly in our own experience are much more impactful than those simply told to us.
While Greg plays the role of the expert, Chris represents the viewer in that he asks the questions that we would ask, IF we knew what to ask. In other words, Chris is taking us on a journey of exploration, but he is doing it very logically and systematically. Each section builds upon the information that you learned in the previous section.
The nice thing about having this information on DVD’s, is you can watch them over and over until you feel you have a clear understanding of the finer points of this teaching. On a technical level, the quality of the footage is very sharp and clear.
*Special thanks to Michael Jeffreys for the review.