Glad to be of service!
I hope you'll stay in touch and let me know whenever you want to share anything or want my opinion.
Another thing was, and I apologize for giving such a lengthy URL, but this link should take you to a specific page... http://books.google.com/books?id=UCk...age&q=&f=false
Just read a little above the page it goes to, maybe half-way up, and then down for part of that page... it is pretty good. The idea I had in mind was, "The answer is, in the first place, that we must work in the way of lessening misery, for that is the only way of making ourselves happy. Every one of us finds it out sooner or later in our lives. The bright ones find it out a little earlier, and the dull ones a little later. The dull ones pay very dearly for the discovery and the bright ones less dearly." etc.
One thing I just found, this text called the Crest-Jewel of Wisdom... I have not read it before now but after reading a little bit I am very eager to read the whole thing. I've looked for it with some half-hearted interest before but not found anything accessible in the library. But now I see it is easily available online.
But you should always form your own opinion. It is my opinion that truth is within us. There is no one, not even an animal, who does not have truth within. Now that is not really an accepted idea to Westerners, but I am not a Westerner. But anyway, I would encourage study of some different philosophers, like Emerson (The Over-Soul is a good essay), Swami Vivekananda, Sri Aurobindo, Sri Ramakrishna, Alan Watts. But also someone like Srila Prabhupada to give another point of view.
But I have to go now. I wish you good luck!
But why truth? The first necessity is to have a desire for liberation, for enlightenment. And Nietzsche famously said, "Why truth, why not rather untruth?" My answer to him is that in illusion, one eventually feels increasingly restless, more and more, just like in a dream that has gone on too long. If one sleeps for too many hours, eventually one feels like this, increasingly restless until panic comes, just to wake up, to come out of the dream and the illusion. Dreams are nice in moderation, but how much one longs for the sunlight, to stretch one's legs, and walk around, when the dream goes on indefinitely! Thus it is this restlessness which becomes panic, this is inherent in us, and it is the reason as to "Why truth and not untruth?"
But waking up from that, you realize you are the author of your life, you are transcendental. It is like you wake up and realize you are holding the pen, and the sentence you are writing is your life.
Other characteristics are that you may feel that there is a limitless peace, bliss, and knowledge - when you realize that the idea is true, therefore it is limitless. All is connected, therefore all is a continuous pattern. So that limitless peace, bliss and knowledge, that is Atman. And that is called also Sat-Chid-Ananda, or Knowledge-Existence-Bliss.
This is perhaps similar to some lines from different Buddhist poetry, such as "In the final platform, there is no coming or going."
Anyway this is something you can realize, that you have passed all trials, and already traversed all species of life... it is very similar to other ideas of oneness.
My other idea or understanding of transcendence is realizing, yes, as you say, realizing unity with Brahman. In this you realize that there are many levels of existence. This world, based on ego, bodily conceptions, or conditioned, conceptual thinking, is simply an illusion, it is a nothing. It is like playing a video game, it is as insubstantial as that, or it is like a dream.
There are two realizations I have had recently. Well, one recently, and one was a while ago. The one recently I had was also spoken in a line from the Beatles' song, "All You Need is Love." It was: "There's nowhere you can be that isn't where you meant to be." I believe it is a genuine spiritual understanding, a genuinely true statement. It is a trascendental reality. You see, after enough practice, and perhaps also, as with all things, if it is by God's grace, one can come to a very interesting understanding - what the Beatles said. There is nowhere ultimately to go. You are already beyond everything. You realize you have passed all trials, you have performed all purifcations. You are pure as the sun, completely pure. Furthermore, there is nowhere to go, because you have already traversed everywhere and lived all lives. Where you are is simultaneously an impassable distance from all else, and also at one with all other distances.
I fail to understand what you mean by the first option. Yes understanding is the goal, but also, work and worship are necesssary. If we remain idle, as Swami Vivekananda says, we won't attain anything. We grow through struggle.
I don't know of any physical trial, but physical work is necessary for all life. Work is necessary to maintain oneself.
My own personal ideal is to attain harmony through rhythm, practice, service, and relationships. It is necessary to study, too. As well as to meditate. Mantras are especially helpful. Swami Vivekananda also says, it is through concious efforts that we may attain superconscious illumination. And as many Vaisnavas, as well as Sri Ramakrishna paramahamsa, emphasize quite a lot, the company of holy men is necessary. In the Bhagavata Purana, the association of saintly persons is very highly encouraged.
I follow the path of devotion actually. Even if perhaps I am doing it wrong because I am saying that we are all one with the universe. I believe that both are true. Both practices are centered on purity, compassion, willingness or eagerness to work and serve, cheerfulness, renunciation, etc. Those are the divine qualities of saints and sages, which are necessary to cultivate to achieve enlightenment, freedom from attachment, fear, anxiety, disease and birth and death. In the path of devotion there are mantras which help serve to focus one's energy on the Godhead, the meditation of which gradually purifies one's heart and existence, which is the key to finding peace.
quite like george