While many of us may be familiar with the belief in separation and unity consciousness, few may be familiar with a growing community of teachers who have transcended the separation, so to speak, and who represent the guides to global awakening. These are teachers of Advaita Vedanta and their role is to move us beyond the field of duality and separation with nothing more than our own consciousness or awareness.
Advaita Vedanta is a term that many of us may have never heard of, but what it expresses is the primacy of “consciousness” or “awareness” in our daily experience. When we hear conversations about “separation,” “duality and non-duality,” “present-moment,” “presence,” “the now,” “enlightenment,” we are in the vicinity of Advaita. It teaches that “awareness” or “consciousness” is our true identity. It is the essence of the teachings of A Course in Miracles, and it lies at the heart of the teachings of Eckhart Tolle, Rupert Spira, Mooji and Rebekah Maroon, author of This is God: An Expression of Non-Separation.
As an early, unknowing practitioner of Advaita that began with taking Tijani Sufi vows and being a long-time student of A Course in Miracles, I was attracted to Maroon because she is a woman of African descent and I specifically wanted to know something of her journey of transcending the boundaries of race and gender. While I know of many men and women of African descent who write about spirituality and race, I don’t know of any who have expanded the teachings of Advaita that can pierce through the illusory veils of race and gender, guiding us beyond those stubborn boundaries, to our true identity. There are many Advaita students and teachers who would say that there is no race, gender, class or any other human created boundaries in Advaita, and I would certainly agree. But, at least for me, I could not make that assertion until those boundaries were found false and penetrable. So it is in this context that I have formulated questions for Rebekah Maroon.
You began your journey at an early age. You never thought that you fit in, and when you were in your early 20’s, you had “that” crisis. How much of that crisis was related to “race”?
I’m not sure that much of the break-down actually related to race. I think growing up without a strong cultural identity had an effect on me definitely, in regards to a lack of cultural conditioning, and me not being able to build a strong identity based on my culture or skin colour (I can also see not having a strong cultural identity as a blessing). But this is why in my twenties learning about African history and black identity was such an important part of my human development, in terms of grounding into this human and getting some kind of perspective and viewpoint. But I wouldn’t say not getting that earlier in life was a large reason for my break-down, and actually, as life changing as it was to learn about the story of being black it was then something I had to lose, like all identity.
I feel the break-down was to do with the suppression of my experiences, emotions and feelings. I didn’t have the language, encouragement or guidance of how to express myself, and so everything that I felt growing up was never acknowledged or expressed. I’ve always had this sense of being like a child, dumped on this planet with no instruction. A sense of being abandoned by someone. Funny thing is, I still have that sense of being dumped on this planet, in the human relating sense, but it no longer feels like abandonment; it feels like love.
So would it be safe to say that you felt a “spiritual” isolation and could not find a spiritual community to identify with, regardless of race?
Well, no I felt isolated on the human level anyway (this I’m discovering is part of Aspergers) but yeah for sure; as you get into spirituality, specifically non-duality, on one hand you can feel elated at finding groups and meetings happening where you can connect with others who are also awakening, but also there can be feelings of isolation in your daily life, as your friends and family probably don’t know about it or don’t have any interest in it. But even in these groups which are a great support for reflection, you can still feel isolated and on your own….at the end of the day, each human has to awaken, and at some point, the hand of the other has to be dropped.
How and why were you attracted to Mooji?
I had been listening to Eckhart Tolle for a few years, and was watching a video of his on Youtube, when I saw a recommended video as you get along the side of the screen. There must have been one with a catchy title or something, so I clicked on it, and then he became my new teacher. What he was saying sounded like it was a step deeper than what I had been previously listening to. He was questioning the one who was trying to be in the present moment. I just felt it, and so I followed. And yes, it was also nice that he was black; it meant that this message was for me also, as I felt like I was black, so in that sense, it felt nice. In the same way, the more I embodied female too, it also felt nice to see women speakers.
Here you are saying that you discovered Mooji as you were watching the Eckhart Tolle videos?
Yes that’s right, that’s how it was; a teacher came, I resonated and followed, until another appeared that I resonated with. It was so natural, it just flowed like that.
What beliefs had you identified with did you find challenging to release?
That I existed, was the biggest one lololololol. Seriously though, that is the biggest addiction or ‘belief’ there is. All those things that were identified as me had to be seen through as not me, this is what I would call the collapse and then there was everything. But this isn’t something that I did, or that I saw through, it was a revealing that happened, and this is referred to as awakening. Even though the person may claim to know what’s going on in its un-doing, this awakening isn’t a personal thing. It can’t be. The person hasn’t got a clue!
Yes. I understand that the way of Advaita is to question this “personal” self and to become aware that it is not real, in the sense that it is not eternal.
I don’t know if this is the goal or the practice, it’s just what happens in this awakening.
What beliefs, if any, are you examining now?
I’m not examining any beliefs now. I’m still learning about this body/brain character, but not actively. Things just come up and are seen and understood. But I really enjoy this now, understanding the character and its ways, when it’s not personal and relating to an actual someone, it makes it all a whole lot easier and interesting. When it’s leading somewhere in time and your happiness depends on it, then that’s when it gets heavy and is all so important.
But I’m in no way an enlightened perfect human character, far from it lol…it was a misunderstanding that that was the requirement.
In order to maintain that perspective, don’t you have to maintain the awareness that you are awareness?
That’s the thing, this isn’t a perspective. If it was a perspective or an opinion that I had, then yes, I’d have to keep re-affirming it and propping it up. But this is continuously talking about something that always is. It’s not something being carried around like an opinion or a new idea. What I point to is that which allows opinions and ideas to appear.
What guidance do you offer for those who are dealing with the challenges of racism? First, let me elaborate on that question. I know some of us, people of color, specifically African Americans, who have taken A Course in Miracles, which is a course in non-duality. As people of color, we often remark that there is a disjunction between the teachings and the application of those teachings in our day to day life. So I guess I could reframe the question and ask, how does Advaita Vedanta address racism?*
What I speak of as freedom, isn’t a negation of ordinary human life. So what I’m saying is you can’t take what I speak about and use it to deal with life. So I would say, if you are experiencing racism at work or at school, then speak out. If nothing’s done, then take the matter above the head of the supervisor or teacher. Same thing I would say if somebody was being sexually abused, tell! If no-one gives a sh*t, then do whatever you can to change the situation! Heart-wrenchingly, in lots of cases, people do tell and nothing is still done. This is the raw harshness of life. Such beauty and also such sadness.
In a way this happened to me. From a young age I just felt so sad that there was so much badness in the world, (based on what I saw in the media primarily, the cruelty to animals, and the starving homeless people, and of course racism) and I was so outraged that nothing was being done about it. As a child for example, being a friend to someone who got bullied a lot was really hard, seeing that teachers or nobody else helped. And then with my own mental/emotional health difficulties in my twenties and getting no help from the professionals really showed me that there wasn’t any help externally, and then getting interested in politics and seeing the endless cycles of debating and nothing getting resolved, really showed me that this was a farce.
This was really hard to accept (even though I had felt this was the case when I was really young), but it was also really empowering to accept on the human level, it kind of gave me the strength to move on and find my own answers.
These harsh brutal experiences, can lead to some people questioning life, questioning god, and to look for answers to it all. I feel this is a secret blessing. A call Home. A call to discover that which is untouched by all happenings, neither beauty or sadness. And that you aren’t actually alone, and it’s impossible for you to ever be! This is home; what joy!
But to directly answer your question, I don’t know what Advaita Vedanta says about racism.
All I talk about is the call home, and no racism or sexism or any other -ism is an obstacle to that. From my own experience, what I can say is the treadmill of fixing the world for your freedom is endless, and it happened that a choice was made to get off.
In your book you address the idea of romantic love and finding someone to fill the emptiness or the void. While I am certain that you are speaking to both men and women, how does the awareness of what “Love Is” specifically relate to women?
I think most women are conditioned to seek fulfilment through having a man. Maybe for men, the message they’re taught is that fulfilment is from achieving great success and having the tribe admire you. I know that as a female the message I got from the media and the culture was that happiness and love is in having a romantic relationship. I guess for survival reasons as specie, this has been a necessary program.
All I can say about that now is that that isn’t true. No person, or experience or anything can give you that love you are looking for, that is so clear. And this isn’t something I can convince you of. While there is that sense of incompleteness, there will be seeking to find wholeness, no matter what is said. It’s just the way it is…until it is seen.
Do you think that the search for a romantic relationship and finding it and realizing that it’s not what fills that void is simply part of the program, so to speak, that leads us back Home?
I think everything is…there is nowhere else. As soon as some “thing” is born, it has nowhere else to go other than back to where it was born from. This is the case for every thing, every thought, every sound, every sight. Death is right here; it allows life. We are afraid of death as we are afraid of our self.
How would you describe intimate relationships in light of the teachings of Advaita?
I haven’t had an intimate human relationship since this change, unless you include my kids, but I’m guessing you mean a sexual relationship.
I think they’re a great opportunity for human growth and learning; to get close to and share with another human in an intimate way is wonderful. When it’s without that need to be fulfilled by it, then what a beautiful experience it can be.
Yes. Intimate relationships are not defined or bound by sexual attraction; just as in the case you have mentioned, with our children; and of course, we all have intimate relationships with friends and family. I was speaking here of “romantic,” intimate relationships (homosexual or heterosexual), those that are characterized by a sexual partnership.
I have no issue with sex at all. I am much more of a sexual being than before; the lids really popped off so to speak! I think it’s a beautiful act, especially when it’s not time bound. It’s a way of expressing love.
How has and does abiding in “awareness” shift your life experience? Your relationships? How and what you do with your time?
Just to be clear, I’m not abiding in awareness or anything like that.
But to answer your question, everything just flows easier. That doesn’t mean there aren’t difficult situations and things that happen. Of course it does; this is talking about life. But when there isn’t someone having or owning life anymore, then there is just life. Free to be and appear however it does; there’s no-one left in resistance of it. And I know this will be interpreted by the mind to mean, someone accepting life, someone at peace with whatever happens….but this isn’t what I am saying at all! The mind will always make this personal. What I am saying, is when this someone dies, only everything or life will be left. So what’s left is me raising my kids, without me, and without kids.
I think I understand that, but let me ask you another question, just to be certain. I would like to use a popular metaphor that is used in Advaita circles, especially by Rupert Spira. Are you saying that raising your children, living life, handling the difficult situations is what appears or what arises on the screen? And after the raising of the children, the movement beyond the difficult situations, there will still be screen, because the screen is all there ever was there in the first place?
Yes,Yes, but it’s not after raising the kids, or after the difficult situation….that’s the beautiful, indescribable thing! That’s the part that makes my eyes open wide or my eyes shut tight, makes me hold my breath, and makes my heart want to burst! It’s not just after, it is it!!!!!!
Interview conducted by Akilah t’Zuberi
*Again while I now know that there is no race, gender, sex, class considerations in non-duality, I did not arrive at that conclusion until after years of confronting those obstacles or boundaries in my own mind. I cannot imagine transcending any boundary if I am not aware that it is, in fact, a boundary.