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Since I have always appreciated and somehow honoured your wisdom and knowledge in this field I dare to ask you about the following thing/question that keeps coming up again and again in an unresolved manner. In case you feel to comment on it or help me clarify this issue I’d be really thankful.
It’s regarding Nathan Gill’s suicide. You probably have heard about it. This whole event triggered so many seemingly unresolved questions here. I wonder if I misunderstood non-duality. Do you have any explanations that could perhaps bring some light into this seemingly incongruent event?.. I am so confused about it… or is any behaviour possible despite having been awakened for years to one’s true nature?
Another conflict that arises here, is the question about the awakening of the heart qualities. I see that there is a huge difference in the expressions of awakened people. Is this not a form of identification with strong fears…? or is it really just happening…like everything else??? I am just wondering and so confused. Also, I know a popular non-dual teacher, who is having an affair for years without his wife knowing.(Sorry, I know that sounds silly) but I am not writing this because I am interested in their business or because I have any objection about it - not at all, but I am interested if I might got some ideas wrong or if I live with false ideals I might have accumulated over the years like “living from the heart”, e.g living from integrity or honesty etc…Are these just some rosy ideas I have about a kind of general heart-behaviour? Seems some awaken but there is not tranformation on a heart level, and with otheres there is - or is it all just happening: an affair, suicide…etc…It seems such a contradiction to the old master’s messages of surrender, honesty & integrity, trust to be provided for or helped for, etc…
I wrote to you because you seem to have an in-depth understanding of people who just teach neo-advaita and people who perhaps transcended things. As you can see I am very confused…Perhpas you want to comment.
Thank you, with gratitude,
Thank you for your email and my apologies for delaying to respond.
I don’t respond to questions by email these days but am touched by your question and have therefore made an exception.
You say, “I see that there is a huge difference in the expressions of awakened people”. I would be cautious in considering that everyone who speaks or writes about non-duality has awakened to their true nature. Even if it were true, recognising one’s true nature is just a beginning, and does not, in my opinion, qualify one to speak formally in public of these matters. After this recognition there is a process in which the way we think, feel, act, perceive and relate is gradually realigned with our new experiential understanding. In fact, this is an endless process in which the body, mind and world are gradually pervaded by and saturated with the infinite light of pure Consciousness.
There is little or no precedent for ‘awakening to one’s true nature’ in the West and, therefore, the term is susceptible to being appropriated indiscriminately as a general term to describe a wide variety of different experiences and levels of understanding. However, in every other field of education there are degrees. Why should the same not be so for teaching, sharing or communicating the non-dual experience or understanding? Is one who has mastered long multiplication qualified to teach maths at university, or one who has mastered the scale of C major qualified to give master classes on the piano?
There is a considerable difference between teachings that are currently being presented under the broad umbrella of ‘Non-Duality’, and thus it is a mistake to believe that they are all talking about or from the same experience or understanding. Many of these so called teachings reduce the true experiential, non-dual understanding to a series of formulaic platitudes that lack the love, depth and spontaneity that are the hallmark of true understanding, and as such they mislead people who are genuinely interested in lasting peace and happiness.
If we see people behaving in ways that, under normal circumstances, we would find unacceptable, we should trust our response, whilst always remaining open to the possibility that there may be elements in the situation that we are unaware of and that may, therefore, vindicate their behaviour. However, we should be cautious of using the so called non-dual understanding to justify behaviour that in any other field would be considered unacceptable. In order to justify such behaviour, some expressions of contemporary non-duality claim that ‘it is all simply happening by itself to no one’, thereby allowing the ego that is at the heart of such behaviour to remain undetected. Suffice to say here that I would encourage you to choose your teaching carefully. In short, trust your intuition.
As regards suicide, from a materialistic point of view, the body gives rise to the mind and the mind gives rise to Consciousness. Thus, from this point of view, the death of the body puts an end to the mind and, therefore, it puts an end to our suffering. However, from the spiritual point of view the body is an appearance in the mind, and the mind is made of pure Consciousness. Therefore, from this point of view, the death of the body is simply the cessation of an appearance in the mind; it is not the end of mind itself. And, just as when we fall asleep at night, the waking-state body and its world vanish and the mind creates a new dreamed body with its new dreamed world, so there is nothing to suggest that on the death of the body at ‘physical death’, the same mind that gave rise to it will not give rise to another body with its own world, in order to experience whatever residues are still remaining in that mind, including its suffering. In this case suicide would give, at best, only temporary relief from suffering. This is not an answer from the absolute point of view, but rather a relative response to the question of suicide.
Please don’t consider what I have said above a personal comment about Nathan Gill, whom I considered a friend, although I didn’t know him well. I do not know about the circumstances of his death and cannot, therefore, comment.
I would be very happy to discuss all this further with you and, if you would like to, recommend one of my meetings or webinars.
I wish you well.
With kind regards,
As some of you know, Ellen and I live in Oxford, in the U.K., on the edge of one of the world’s great educational establishments. Just a week or so before we came to the West Coast, a friend of ours emailed to say that he had heard that a well-known and highly respected philosopher from the university was giving a talk on the nature of Consciousness. So we were naturally intrigued and went to the talk.
I won’t begin to try to describe the abstract, convoluted and irrational lines of reasoning that he used to explain the nature of Consciousness, but I will just quote one thing that he said: ‘Some philosophers say that it is possible for Consciousness to be aware of itself; these ideas should be put in the trash.’
I’m touched, David, by your introductory words about how gentle I am, but I have to confess that at that moment I began to feel my sword rattling in its sabre. I managed to hold onto myself till the end of the meeting, and then I said this to him: ‘Everybody in this room is aware that they are conscious.’
He pondered for moment, but nevertheless agreed with me. So then I observed that whatever it is that is aware that we are conscious must itself have two qualities: one, it must be present, and two, it must be aware. What would that be? Consciousness! That’s what Consciousness is: that which is present and aware.
So I suggested to him that the simple experience each of us is now having — the simple experience that ‘I am aware’ — is the experience of Consciousness knowing its own Being.
‘Oh, no, no, you’re going far too quickly’, he said. He took off again into lines of abstruse, convoluted, academic reasoning, which I failed to follow, and when I remonstrated with him again, he simply turned away and took the next question. Profound ignorance masquerading as wisdom, all the worse for coming from a highly respected professor of philosophy at Oxford University.
Not only does Consciousness know its own Being; Consciousness never ceases to know its own Being. In reality, Consciousness never knows anything other than its own Being. And this is everybody’s primary, most intimate and fundamental experience. If I were to ask you now, ‘Are you aware?’ you would pause — actually, in this crowd, none of you would have to pause too long — and would answer, ‘Yes’.
The question ‘Am I aware?’ is a thought. The answer ‘Yes’ is a thought. What takes place between those two thoughts? The experience of being aware that I am aware.
In between those two thoughts, Consciousness is divested of the objective limitations it assumes in order to rise in the form of the finite mind and ask the question, ‘Am I aware?’ There is a plunge of the finite mind into its source in between these two thoughts. In that plunge of the finite mind, or attention, into its source, Consciousness recognizes its own Being — re-cognizes, or knows again, its own Being — which it seemed to overlook or forget when it rose in the form of the finite mind.
The answer ‘Yes’ is again an expression of the finite mind. But the experience of being aware that I am aware takes place between those two thoughts; that non-objective experience is not an experience of the finite mind. Consciousness needs to rise in the form of the finite mind if it wants to know something that is apparently other than itself. But to know itself, it doesn’t need to rise; it need only remain resting in the knowing of its own Being. This knowing of its own Being shines in the mind as the knowledge ‘I’ or ‘I am’ or ‘I am aware’, and is felt in the heart as peace or happiness.
* * *
How does infinite Consciousness rise in the form of the finite mind? It simultaneously creates and identifies itself with a body. This conjunction of infinite Consciousness plus the limitations of the body produces what is called the finite mind. In other words, the finite mind borrows its quality of knowing from infinite Consciousness, and it borrows its apparent limitations from the body. As a result, in between Consciousness and the body stands an entity called ‘personal consciousness’, ‘the ego’, ‘the separate self’, or ‘the finite mind’.
This finite mind, personal consciousness or ego never actually comes into existence. If Consciousness is infinite, how could it possibly know something that is finite? What room is there in infinity for finiteness? As soon as a finite object would arise in infinite Consciousness, the finiteness of that object would displace a little bit of Consciousness’s infiniteness, and therefore Consciousness would cease being infinite, and that cannot be.
It is not possible for Consciousness to know a finite object or self, so for whom is there a finite object or self? For whom is there personal consciousness? For whom is there an ego? Not for Consciousness; not for that which truly is. That which truly is, is and knows itself alone. The finite mind is only a real finite mind from the illusory point of view of the finite mind. The separate self is only a real separate self from its own illusory point of view.
For that which truly is, the only Consciousness there is, Consciousness that knows no limits within itself, there is no object or other. In order to know an apparent object or other, Consciousness must cease gazing at itself, must seem to turn its attention away from itself and rise in the form of the finite mind by assuming the limitations of the body. It is only as that apparently finite mind that Consciousness can turn its attention away from itself and direct its knowing towards an object.
The object that the finite mind seems to know is made out of something called ‘matter’. Matter is a concept invented by the Greeks two and a half thousand years ago to account for that part of our experience that takes place outside mind. They didn’t have a word for Consciousness in those days; they called it ‘mind’. So ‘matter’ was the name they gave to the stuff that seems to exists outside Consciousness.
For two and a half thousand years it seems to have passed our civilization by that we have never found anything outside Consciousness. Physicists are still looking for the nature and cause of this stuff called ‘matter’. They’ve been looking for it for two and a half thousand years; they’ve never found it, and they never will. It’s not there.
* * *
The belief that there is a world out there made out of matter is predicated on the belief that there is a self in here made out of mind. However, if, in order to know the nature of itself, the mind turns its attention away from the objects that it seems to know and redirects it towards the knowing with which it knows its experience, its attention is gradually drawn back and back and back towards its source.
In fact, it’s not a directing of the attention; it is a falling back of the attention. It is what Rumi referred to when he said, ‘Flow down and down and down in ever-widening rings of being’. It is a sinking of the attention into its source.
As the attention sinks into its source it is, in most cases gradually, divested of all the limitations that thought and feelings have superimposed upon it, and at some point it stands revealed as it truly is, infinite Consciousness. Then, as the attention rises again, if we look very closely, we see that the attention never actually leaves Consciousness.
Try now with your attention to attend to something just outside Consciousness. Can any of you find that place? Can any of you find an edge to the field in which your attention is wandering?
Once it becomes clear to us that attention or the finite mind rises from infinite Consciousness, we may notice that attention or mind rises in the form of thought and perception. Thought and perception are the two forms in which the finite mind appears. And if we explore the substance or reality out which thought and perception are made, we find only infinite Consciousness. That is, Consciousness finds only itself.
Thought cannot know Consciousness, although it is made of it, any more than a character in a movie can see the screen out of which it is made. Likewise, perception cannot see Consciousness, although it is made of it.
When thought tries to find the substance in which it appears, it projects its own single dimension onto Consciousness and, as a result, instead of seeing Consciousness it sees time. Time is what Consciousness looks like from the point of view of thought. Time is Consciousness objectified by thought.
Something similar takes place when we try to find the stuff in which our perceptions appear. If we notice the perception of, say, this screen (pointing to the screen on the right), and then we notice the perception of that screen (pointing to the screen on the left), we can ask ourselves, ‘What is the stuff between these two perceptions?’
We look at the two screens, and then we look at the stuff in between, and we label it ‘space’. In fact, perception takes place in Consciousness, not in space. In this case, perception has simply superimposed its own limitations on Consciousness. Space is what Consciousness looks like from the point of view of perception. Space is Consciousness objectified by perception.
* * *
In order to know something other than itself, Consciousness needs to rise in the form of the finite mind. In order to know itself, it doesn’t need the help of a puny, finite mind. To believe that Consciousness needs the finite mind to know itself is like imagining that the sun needs moonlight to illuminate itself. There is no moonlight. It is only the moon that believes it shines with its own light. In reality, the moon borrows its limited light from the infinite light of the sun. The sun is self-luminous.
Likewise, Consciousness is self-knowing. It is only the arrogance of the finite mind that believes that Consciousness needs it, the finite mind, in order to know itself. It doesn’t. Consciousness knows itself by itself, in itself, as itself. All Consciousness finds in itself is itself. There is no room in itself for anything other than itself. In believing that Consciousness needs the finite mind to know itself, the finite mind is simply trying to validate and perpetuate its own illusory existence.
No object, from the point of view of Consciousness, ever comes into existence. Existence means ‘to come into being’, or ‘to stand out from’, from two Latin words, ex, meaning ‘out of’, and sistere, meaning ‘to stand’. The idea is that when something comes into existence it stands out from the background of infinite Consciousness. As a result, we believe in our culture that objects have existence, and that when an object vanishes, its existence vanishes.
No! Objects do not have existence; existence has objects, from time to time. In fact, there is no real ‘existence’, no real standing out from the background of infinite Consciousness. Infinite Consciousness is not the background of experience, though it is often found there first. It is the sole reality of all experience.
If we are totally absorbed in a movie, the screen at first seems to be in the background of the movie. However, the screen is not in the background of the movie; the screen pervades the movie. Even that is a concession to the existence of something other than the screen, that is, the movie. However, the screen doesn’t pervade the movie; it is the movie.
No thing comes into existence or goes out of existence. As it says in the Bhagavad Gita, ‘That which is never ceases to be; that which is not never comes into existence.’
It is for this reason that Rumi said, ‘Knowledge of the world is a kind of ignorance.’ Knowledge of the world outside of Consciousness, made out of stuff called ‘matter’, is a kind of ignorance.
William Wordsworth said, ‘Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting.’ He didn’t really mean ‘our birth’; he meant the rising of the finite, waking-state mind. The rising of the waking-state mind is ‘but a sleep and a forgetting’, ‘a kind of ignorance’.
The same understanding is expressed in the Bhagavad Gita, ‘What is the waking state from the point of view of ignorance is sleep from the point of view of wisdom. What is waking from the point of view of wisdom is sleep from the point of view of ignorance.’
The poet Shelley said a similar thing: ‘Life, like a dome of many-colored glass, stains the white radiance of eternity.’ In fact, if we look closely in our experience, nothing really stains the white radiance of eternity. Nothing stains the knowing of our own Being, which shines in the mind as the knowledge ‘I’ or ‘I am’ or ‘I am aware’ and is felt in the heart as peace and happiness.
Every experience leaves the white radiance of eternity, our essential Being, pristine, clean, unscathed, unmodified and unhurt. No experience that any of us has ever had or could ever have has ever truly stained our essential Being of infinite Consciousness. So with great respect to Shelley I would slightly change his words: ‘Life, like a dome of many-colored glass, colors the white radiance of eternity.’
All experiences are a coloring of our essential Being of infinite Consciousness, but Consciousness never becomes any of the colors that it assumes. In fact, if we look even more closely at our experience, we can’t even say that our experience colors our essential Being. So again, with respect to Shelley, I would slightly modify his words: ‘Life, like a dome of many-colored glass, shines with the white radiance of eternity.’
* * *
All that is ever known in experience is the knowing of it. Try now to find anything other than the knowing of your experience. Let your attention go wherever it wants. Ask yourself, ‘Do I ever know or come in contact with anything other than the knowing of experience? Could I ever come in contact with anything other than the knowing of experience?’
Could I, Consciousness, ever come in contact with anything other than the Consciousness of experience? Is there any substance present in experience other than pure Knowing? Not the knowing of something — we never find the ‘something’. We presume the something, but we never find it. That is, Consciousness never finds it. Consciousness never finds anything other than itself.
So when we explore our experience, whatever our experience might be — sitting peacefully listening to a talk, a toothache, a deep depression, the taste of tea, a walk in the countryside — wherever we go in experience, we don’t find the knowing ‘of experience’, as if experience were something separate from the knowing of it. We never find the ‘it’; we find only the knowing of Knowing. And what is the ‘we’ that knows Knowing? Knowing! There is no ‘we’, no ‘I’, apart from this Knowing that knows itself. Therefore, we can no longer even say that Consciousness is everything, or all. There are no things for Consciousness to be the ‘all’ of.
To suggest that Consciousness knows itself through the agency of a finite mind or a separate self is the ultimate blasphemy. It is to admit something other than God. It is to shrink God into a finite entity, a finite object.
It doesn’t sit comfortably in our culture to say, ‘I am God’. You used to get crucified for it! But to say ‘I am infinite Consciousness’ is just a confession of our most intimate and fundamental experience. It is to say ‘I am a finite self’ that is the true blasphemy. To say that there is a finite mind that knows a finite world made of matter, that is true blasphemy.
If we want to know the nature of the world, we have to know the nature of that with which the world is known. The ultimate science is not the science of physics; it is the science of Consciousness.
* * *
Our culture, I believe, now finds itself in a similar position to that in which it found itself in the middle of the sixteenth century. When Copernicus presented his ideas about the heliocentric universe, he ushered in a new era of science that replaced the old religious worldview. Society had outgrown the forms it had created to accommodate itself.
We are now at a similar stage. Our society has outgrown the forms that conventional science created to accommodate itself, and the signs of this are to be found everywhere. The new science is the science of Consciousness. Sooner or later we have to have the courage to face that fact. We can no longer afford to ignore it.
Until we know the nature of the Knowing with which our experience is known, nothing true about the known can be known. In fact, it is never possible to know something true about anything objective. Why? Because everything that is known objectively is known by the finite mind, and the finite mind is predicated on the presumption that I, Consciousness, am limited. All relative knowledge, however fine that knowledge may be, is predicated on that assumption.
If that assumption is explored, it is found to be faulty. Even our finest knowledge is only, at best, relatively true. It can never be absolutely true because it is founded on a presumption. The only absolutely true knowledge there is, is a knowledge that doesn’t change, is present throughout all states of waking, dreaming and sleeping, and, above all, is not known by anything other than itself. These are the tests of absolute knowledge.
If something is known by something other than itself, it would have to depend on that ‘something other’ to be known. All objective knowledge is relative to the presence of the finite mind, and the finite mind is only present during the waking and dreaming states. Therefore, no objective knowledge can be absolutely true or certain. For this reason, science, in its current form, will never discover the reality of matter.
The only absolute knowledge there is, is the knowing of our own Being, its knowing of itself in us, which shines in the finite mind as the knowledge ‘I’ or ‘I am’ or ‘I am aware’, shines in our feelings as peace and happiness, and is revealed in our perceptions as the experience of beauty.
Only that knowledge is absolutely true. It never changes under any circumstances, in any conditions, or in any states. If we ever want to find peace in the world and happiness in ourselves, our knowledge individually and collectively has to be founded upon that which is absolutely true. Any politics, scientific knowledge or personal relationships that are based on anything other than the absolute truth of our own Being are doomed to failure.
This failure is felt by everyone as the experience of suffering. Suffering is, in fact, a call from the depths of our Being, a call from happiness itself: ‘Come back to me. You are looking for me in the wrong place. Cease rising in the form of attention, wandering in the realm of objects, looking for peace in situations, happiness in objects, love in relationships. Look for me where I really am. Look for me in the heart. Look for me in the source of attention, not its destiny.’
* * *
Out of compassion, the great spiritual and religious traditions have elaborated various means, various pathways back to the reality of ‘I’, the reality of experience. But all these pathways are compassionate concessions to the belief and feeling of being a separate self. Ramana Maharshi said, and I paraphrase, ‘I only elaborated the paths of self-inquiry and self-surrender because my students and devotees couldn’t understand the absolute truth.’
In reality, there are no paths to God. God knows itself by itself, through itself, in itself, as itself. There are no means to infinite Consciousness other than infinite Consciousness itself, because from infinite Consciousness’s point of view, which is the only real point of view, there is only itself.
What does this mean in terms of everyday practical life? Does it only mean something when we are sitting at a conference talking about reality? No, it means that all experience is only infinite Consciousness. It means that the taste of tea, the pavement that we’re walking on, the cutlery we hold in our hands, the relationships we have, everything is only God’s infinite Being.
Do we live like that? Or do we just agree with each other at conferences like this? That is not enough, although it is a beginning.
Ellen opened a book at random early this morning and read a quote to me. It was a book that one of you gave to me yesterday, and it said, ‘When the path to God ends, the path in God begins.’ The path in God means to be only infinite Consciousness, to know only infinite Consciousness and to love only infinite Consciousness.
An Introduction to the Nature of Perception
The artist and poet William Blake said, “If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things through narrow chinks of his cavern.”
What did he mean by this? How can a finite object, such as a tree, table, chair, person, or house be infinite?
Let us understand to begin with that the word ‘perception’ includes all five senses: seeing, hearing, touching, tasting and smelling.
Conventional thinking tells us that the experience of perception is divided into two essential ingredients: one, a subject that perceives and two, an object that is perceived. This understanding is enshrined in the structure of language with phrases such as, “I see the tree,” “I hear the wind,” “I touch the person,” “I taste the apple” and “I smell the flower.”
In each case, a subject – ‘I,’ the self – is joined to an object – the tree, wind, person, apple or flower – through an act of perceiving, that is, through an act of seeing, hearing, touching, tasting or smelling.
Now, in order to understand the nature of perception, we need to explore both sides of this equation – ‘I’, the subject, and the object or world. Traditionally, mystics have explored the nature of ‘I’, the self, and artists and scientists have explored the nature of the object or world.
In other words, mystics have tended to face inwards, directing their attention to the heart of their being or essential nature, and scientists and artists have tended to face outwards towards the objects of nature and the world.
At first glance it may seem that these two set out in opposite directions. However, if each party explores deeply enough, they inevitably come to the same conclusion. Indeed, it is only because in most cases, each party doesn’t explore deeply enough, that the conclusions of mystics on the one hand, and artists and scientists on the other, tend to differ so radically.
The painter Paul Cézanne said, “A time is coming when a single carrot, freshly observed, will trigger a revolution.” The revolution to which he referred is the coming together of these two perspectives – the convergence of the mystic’s, artist’s and scientist’s deepest understanding – and the implications this has for all aspects of our lives.
So let us explore, briefly, both these perspectives.
The Nature of the Self
Conventional thinking tells us that it is ‘I,’ the body/mind, that is aware of objects and the world. However, one simple, clear look at experience indicates that we are aware of the body and mind in just the same way that we are aware of objects and the world.
In other words, the body/mind is not the subject of experience. The body/mind is an object of experience, that appears and disappears like all other objects. Now what is the perceiving subject that we call ‘I,’ that knows or is aware of all these perceived objects, that is, that body, mind and world?
‘I’ refers to whatever it is that is aware of the objects of the body, mind and world. This ‘I’ cannot be found as any kind of object, that is, as a thought, feeling, sensation or perception. And yet ‘I’ am undeniably present and aware.
Hence, to be present and aware is inherent in ‘I,’ which for this reason is sometimes referred to as ‘Awareness,’ which simply means the presence of that which is aware. This Awareness that is our essential nature is like an aware, empty openness in which all experience takes place, but is not itself an experience.
Awareness is not located in time and is thus eternal or ever-present; it cannot be found in space and is thus infinite, that is, it has no finite or observable qualities.
The Nature of the Object, Other or World – from Matter to Mind
Conventional thinking tells us that an object is made out of inert stuff called ‘matter’. But what does experience say?
Take the apparent world that we now see. Our only experience of such a world is the current perception. In fact, we cannot legitimately say that we know or perceive an independently existing world, that is, a world that exists in its own right, independent of our perception. All we can legitimately say, based on actual experience, is that we know our perception of the world.
In fact, we cannot legitimately say that we know our perception ‘of the world’, because, as we have seen, we never come in contact with any such world. We only know its perception. So, rather than saying we know our perception ‘of the world’, we can only legitimately say that we know perception.
So, having discovered that we never actually know, perceive or come in contact with an object or world, as such, we can now explore our experience more deeply.
Do we actually find an object called ‘a perception’, or do we rather find the experience of perceiving? See clearly that we never actually find the seen object; we just find the experience of seeing. We never find the heard sound; we just find the experience of hearing. We never experienced an object called ‘a taste’; we just know the experience of tasting.
In this way, see clearly that experience does not consist of a collection of objects or nouns, known by a separate, independent subject. Rather, it is more like a flow of experiencing in which the apparent subject and object are contained as one. In fact, in the new language of non-duality we could say that there are only verbs, no nouns! Not, “I see the tree,” but rather, “There is seeing;” not, “I hear the wind,” but rather, “There is hearing.”
As such, the apparently perceived object is beginning to lose its solidity, separateness, otherness, objectness. In other words, the seen or heard object seems to exist at a distance from oneself, but the experience of seeing or hearing always takes place close, intimately one with oneself.
Thus, we have discovered that we never really know, perceive or come in contact with inert stuff called ‘matter’, but that all we know is ‘mind’. That is, all we know or experience of the apparent object or world is ‘perceiving’ – that is, seeing, hearing, touching, tasting and smelling. Now what is the nature of perceiving?
The Nature of the Perceiving – from Mind to Pure Knowing
Who or what is it that knows or is aware of the experience of perceiving?
Ask yourself, “What is the relationship between the experience of perceiving and the knowing of it?”
See if you can find these two elements in your experience: one, perceiving and two, the knowing of it. Or, are ‘perceiving’ and ‘the knowing of it’ one and the same experience?
In this way, discover that experience is not actually divided into two essential ingredients. Experience does not comprise one part that knows and another that is known. It is not inherently divided into a subject and an object.
We do not find a perception and the knower of that perception. We find that a perception is made out of the experience of perceiving, and that perceiving and the knowing of it are one and the same.
In other words, perceiving is made out of pure Knowing. Reach out an imaginary hand in your experience and try to touch the stuff that perceiving is made of. Try to touch the stuff that seeing, hearing, touching, tasting and smelling is made of.
All we find, know or experience there is the knowing of it. In fact, we don’t find the knowing of it, just as previously we never found our perception of the world. We just find pure Knowing.
The Light of Pure Knowing
And what is it that finds, knows or is aware of this pure Knowing? Is Knowing known by something other than itself? No! This Knowing knows itself. This pure Knowing, or Awareness, never knows, is aware of or comes in contact with anything other than itself.
For this reason I call it pure Knowing. It is a Knowing that is not tainted with the slightest trace of subjectivity or objectivity. It never knows anything other than itself. And the name that is commonly given to the absence of an object or other, to the absence of separation or duality, is beauty or love.
Not to know an apparent object as ‘an object’ is the experience of beauty: not to know an apparent other as ‘an other’ is the experience of love.
Beauty and love are not special kinds of experience that are limited to one or two objects or people; they are the nature of all experience. From the point of view of Awareness or pure Knowing – which is the only real point of view – all experience is made only of beauty and love. That is, from the point of view of Awareness or pure Knowing, there is only itself, being, knowing and loving itself alone.
Thus, from the point of view of Awareness or pure Knowing, there are no finite objects or selves. It is only from the illusory point of view of an imaginary finite self that finite objects or selves are experienced. From the point of view of Awareness or pure Knowing, there is only its own eternal, infinite self, and all apparently finite objects or selves are that alone.
“If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things through narrow chinks of his cavern.” When experience is no longer imagined or felt to be divided into two essential ingredients – a subject called ‘I,’ inside the body/mind, and an object, other or world, at a distance from and made out of something other than our self – it will be known and felt as it truly is, infinite and eternal.
Everything, all seeming things, shine with the light of pure Knowing. As the Sufis say, “Wherever the eye falls, there is the face of God.”
Rupert Spira January 2013
It is often said that the perceiver cannot be the perceived. So, if I can be aware of my mind, by definition, I cannot be the mind. But I wonder whether this is really the case. Could it be that the mind is so quick, powerful and versatile that one of its functions is also the ability to perceive itself? Much like a multi-cored computer can set its processing to make calculations and also at the same time set aside time to watch the processing and analyse the results of that processing.
For the sake of clarity, let me define the way I use the terms ‘Awareness’ and ‘mind’. By ‘Awareness’ I mean whatever it is that is aware of our experience. By ‘mind’ I mean thoughts and images (although in a wider context I sometimes use the term to include feelings, sensations and perceptions as well.)
The relationship of Awareness to the mind (thoughts) is very similar to the relationship of the screen (a self-aware screen) to an image that appears on it: the image is made of the screen but the screen is not made of the image. All thoughts are made out of Awareness (that is, they are made of the ‘knowing’ – awareness – of them) but Awareness is not made out of thought.
Awareness is ever-present; thoughts are intermittent. Something that is ever-present cannot be made of or indeed be known by something that is intermittent. This is, of course, said from the point of view of Enlightened Duality in which we provisionally concede a distinction between Awareness and its objects, in this case, thoughts.
If we go more deeply into the nature of experience, we do not find this distinction. In this case, the thought is understood to be nothing other than Awareness itself (if we can still legitimately call it ‘Awareness’). As such, a thought is the shape that Awareness is taking at that particular moment – a temporary name and form of its ever-present, nameless, formless substance – and it is Awareness that knows it as such. In other words, it is Awareness that knows itself modulating itself in the form of an apparent thought.
So it is Awareness, not the mind (using my definitions of the words) that has the ability to perceive – either to perceive an apparent object (Enlightened Duality) or to know itself alone (Embodied Enlightenment).
The belief that the mind perceives or is aware, doesn’t make sense. Mind is perceived; it does not perceive. Only Awareness is aware.
With kind regards,
I recently had an activation done on my crown chakra. Later, I had very vivid dreams and seemed to be in an expanded state of some sort. But this doesn’t feel like the “I am” I was experiencing before and have come back to. I asked my spiritual teacher Anadi about this and he said, “Crown chakra is an area that you do not want to have opened. It is a door to universal subconsciousness, mystical realms and various dangerous places. Try to bring your consciousness to the lower part of your head space.”
I was wondering if you could say anything about this. I could stop at what Anadi says but I was looking for a second opinion.
Whether your consciousness is focused at the crown chakra at the top of your head, in ‘the lower part of your head space’, on the taste of tea, on the sight of a bird in the sky, on your thoughts and feelings, on these words, etc etc. it is always directed towards an object – more for less subtle – and, as such, turned away from itself.
As a halfway stage, you may direct your consciousness towards the space in which all these objects appear. This space is the subtlest of all objects. It is not a physical space; it is a knowing space.
Having done so, gently remove the space-like quality from this knowing space, leaving only pure Knowing or Consciousness.
Consciousness attending to Consciousness is the pure ‘I am’. However, Consciousness doesn’t attend to itself as an object. It attends to itself just by being itself.
Hence, simply abide knowingly as pure Consciousness. You will find everything you have ever truly longed for there.
You may then turn towards the objects again, and infuse them with this understanding.
Is there such a thing as a “thoughtless state” or is this term just a pointer to Awareness?
In the light of Awareness, thought is “seen” as a distant phenomenon, however it remains as continuous as sound coming to my ears or all bodily sensations. All I do is to withdraw attention from going to it. Other than this, how can a true thoughtless-state ever be experienced?
Absence of thought would be so timeless and spaceless that mentioning it as a possible experience seems completely absurd. Even trying to put this hypothesis into words sounds absurd. The only form of a “thoughtless-state” I’ve experienced is the lack of mental chatter (the so called monkey-mind), that disappears instantly in the light of Awareness, but distant clouds of formless thought remain through all processes of self-enquiry.
I can assume that if I ever experienced moments of no-thought I would have nothing to report, not even the continuity of such experience.
So how can some people say “I’ve been in Samadhi for several hours” or even days?
Thanks a lot for all the work you do.
All states come and go and, as such, appear in time. Time is imagined with thought. Therefore, states are dependent upon thought and, as such, there is and can be no such thing as a ‘thoughtless state’.
However, we cannot legitimately deny the continuity of experience. In fact, experience is not continuous in time; it is ever-present Now. However, let us make a concession to thought and call it ‘continuity’ for our present purposes. The continuity of experience is not a presumption; it is an experience. All thoughts, feelings, sensations and perceptions are intermittent. Where, then, does the undeniable continuity of experience come from?
It can only come from Awareness. Thought tells us that Awareness comes and goes, but Awareness itself has no experience of its own coming and going; in its own experience of itself – and it is the only one that is aware of itself – it is eternal.
If we claim the experience of being in samadhi for several hours, that samadhi must have been a subtle, expanded state of mind. As such, there is little to choose between it and the taste of tea. However, that in which the samadhi and the taste of tea appear, with which they are known and, ultimately, out of which they are made, is not in time or space.
If we believe in the real and independent existence of objects and states, Awareness will seem, from that point of view, to be non-existent or, at best, intermittent.
However, if we start with Awareness – which is a good place to start as it is our primary experience – and never move from that point of view to the point of view of an imaginary separate self, we have to admit that all Awareness ever knows or comes in contact with is itself.
We can therefore refine the question, “Is there such a thing as a ‘thoughtless state’ ” and replace it with, “Are there any real objects or states?” If we explore experience deeply enough, the answer we will inevitably arrive at is, “No, there is only Awareness, and it is Awareness alone that is aware that there is only itself.”
You comment that awareness is observing appearances as though there are two things, one, awareness and two, appearances. Does not this admit an element of duality albeit one that is subtler than is conventionally the case?
The suggestion that there are two apparent things, one, awareness and two, appearances or objects is said to one who believes him or herself to be a separate self, located in and as the body, looking out at a world of objects that are considered to be separate from and independent of themselves, awareness.
In this case, the terms in which the question is expressed (that is, the belief in a separate entity, object or world that have independent existence) are granted provisional credibility in order that we may proceed from what seem to be the facts of experience. In this way an attempt is made to really connect with questioner’s felt experience rather than take refuge in what may seem to some like an ivory tower of non-dual perfectionism.
So, we start with the conventional formulation that I, inside the body, am looking out at an objective and independent world of objects. This is a position of dualism, that is, I, the body (the subject), am experiencing the world and others (the object). From here our attention is drawn to the fact that the body (sensations and perceptions) and the mind (thoughts and images) are, in fact, experienced in exactly the same way as the world (perceptions). In other words, it is seen clearly that the body/mind is not the subject of experience and the world the object, but rather the body, mind and world are all objects of experience.
We then ask what it is that knows or experiences the body/mind/world. Whatever it is, is what we call ‘I.’ And what is this ‘I?’ It is obviously not the body/mind because at this stage the body/mind is understood to be experienced rather than the experiencer.
What then can we say about this knowing or experiencing ‘I?’ It cannot have any objective qualities because any such qualities would, by definition, be appearances or objects and therefore known or experienced. However, this ‘I’ is undeniably present and aware. For this reason it is sometimes referred to as aware presence, awareness or simply presence.
At this stage the awareness that I am is said to be ‘nothing,’ ‘empty’ or ‘void’ because it has no observable qualities. I am transparent, colourless presence. I am nothing conceivable or perceivable. I am present and aware but am not-a-thing, nothing.
From this point of view awareness is sometimes described as the witness of the appearances of the mind, body and world. I, awareness, know all appearances but am not made out of anything that appears. This position is still dualistic for there is still a subject (my self, awareness) and an object (the body/mind/world). It is, as it were, a halfway stage. It is one step closer to a truer formulation of the nature of experience than was the previous one in which the body/mind was considered to be the subject of experience and the world was considered the object. However, upon closer exploration, this idea of the witness is also seen to be a limitation, superimposed on awareness by a mind that still believes in the separate existence of objects.
It is valuable to make this distinction between awareness (the knowing or experiencing subject) and the appearances of the mind, body and world for two reasons:
One, is that it establishes that there is something in our experience that is not an object and yet is undeniably present and aware. In other words, it establishes the presence of awareness and that this is what we are. And two, it establishes not just the presence but the primacy of awareness. That is, it establishes that for any object of the body, mind or world to come into apparent existence, our self, awareness, must be present first, so to speak, as its background.
It establishes that first and foremost we stand as objectless, transparent presence or awareness that illumines and knows all appearances of the body, mind and world. That is our ever-present experience whether it is recognised or not.
* * *
Now we can go further than this. If we explore this awareness that we intimately know ourselves to be, that is, that knows itself to be, we discover that there is nothing in our experience to suggest that it is limited, located, personal, time or space-bound, caused by or dependent upon anything other than itself.
Now what is it that could know that awareness is not limited, located etc? Only that which knows or is aware and is at the same time present, could know this or indeed anything else. In other words, only that which is aware and present could know awareness. Therefore, it is awareness alone that knows itself to be unlimited, un-located, independent, uncaused. This recognition of our own impersonal, unlimited, ever-present being is sometimes called awakening or enlightenment. It is the most simple, obvious and intimate fact of experience but usually overlooked as a result of imagining our self to be something other than awareness, such as a thought, feeling or sensation.
Now we can look again at the relationship between awareness and the apparent objects of the body/mind/world that appear to it. How close are the body, mind and world to this witnessing presence of awareness? How close is the world to the knowing or experiencing of it? If we look simply and directly at our experience we find that, whenever an object appears, there is no distance between our self, awareness, and that apparent object. They are, so to speak, touching one another.
Now we can go further again. What is our experience of the border between them, the interface where they meet or touch? If there was such an interface, it would be a place where our self ended and the object began. However, we find no such interface in experience. There is no place where we end and our experience of the world begins. There is no border there. Therefore, we can now reformulate our experience in a way that is closer to our actual experience. We can say that objects do not just appear to this awareness but rather that they appear within it.
At this stage awareness is conceived more like a vast space in which all the objects of the body, mind and world appear and disappear. Previously we considered our self to witness all appearances from a distance but now this distance has collapsed and everything is experienced as being intimate. It is no longer just our thoughts and feelings are experienced inside our self but also sensations and perceptions. However, this is still a position of dualism, a position in which this vast knowing space is the subject and the body, mind and world are objects that appear within it, rather like objects appear in a room, relatively speaking.
So, we again go deeply into the experience of the objects of the body, mind and world and see if we can find in them a substance that is other than the awareness that knows them or in which they appear. It is an exploration in which we come to see clearly that the body, mind and world are made of thoughts, sensations and perceptions; thoughts, sensations and perceptions are understood to be made of thinking, sensing and perceiving and the only substance present in thinking, sensing and perceiving is understood to be our self, awareness.
In other words, there is nothing present in our experience of an object, other or world, other than the knowing of it and knowing is only made of awareness, our self. In fact, we don’t know our knowing of an object; we just know knowing.
However, even in this formulation there is still a reference to a body, mind and world albeit one known by and simultaneously made out of awareness. It is still a position in which the body, mind and world don’t just appear within awareness but as awareness. That is, they are known to be made out of that which knows them. They are experienced as being made out of our self, awareness.
However, in this formulation we are still starting with objects, even if we concede that they are made out of awareness. But if we look closely we find that awareness, rather than objects, is our primary experience. So now, if we start from actual experience, that is from awareness, we find that it is awareness that takes the shape, as it were, of the mind, body and world. Awareness takes the shape of thinking and appears as the mind. It takes the shape of sensing and appears as the body. It takes the shape of perceiving and appears as the world, but never for a moment does it actually become anything other than itself.
At this stage we not only know but feel that presence or awareness is all there is. That is, it knows itself as the totality of experience. This could be formulated as, ‘I, awareness, am everything,’ or simply ‘Awareness is everything.’ At the same time, we recognise that this has, in fact, always been the case although it seemed previously not to be known.
So, we have moved from a position in which we thought and felt that I am something (a mind and body) to a position in which we recognised our true nature as aware presence and which we expressed as ‘I am nothing, not-a-thing.’ Then we come to the experiential understanding that I am not just the witness, the knower or experiencer of all things, but am also simultaneously their substance. In other words we come to feel that I am everything.
However, even this is not quite right, although it may be a truer formulation of our actual experience than the ones we previously suggested, for what is this ‘everything’ that is being referred to? We have, by this stage, already realised that there are no objects, others, selves, entities or world that are ever actually experienced, as such. So it does not now make sense to say that awareness is the totality of all non-existent things. There simply are no things for awareness to be the witness, substance or totality of.
How could we express this? We cannot! Language collapses here because understanding has literally burst out of the conceptual framework that it is designed to contain. However it is still legitimate to try! Instead of saying that awareness is everything, we could say just that awareness is. But even then, what is this awareness that is being conceptualised as being present? To conceptualise awareness as such is to make implicit reference to something else that is not awareness. It is to ascribe to awareness a name or form in contrast to other names and forms and, as such, to suggest a limitation. So, we could just say, ‘is ‘ or ‘am.’ However, such a word on its own is meaningless. Words can go no further. We fall silent.
If we were at a meeting now rather than writing and reading, there would probably be a long period of silence. In fact, as the meeting went on we may notice a subtle shift from experiencing periods of silence that punctuate the conversation, to experiencing periods of conversation that punctuate the silence. And in time it may be seen clearly that the words, whether spoken or written, do not, in fact, punctuate or interrupt silence but rather that this silence is ever-present and the words are simply a modulation of it.
In other words, we may discover that true silence is not simply an absence of sound and thought but rather the presence of awareness that pervades and yet is prior to both sound or thought and their absence. Even that is not quite right because in experience there is nothing prior. ‘Prior’ requires time and time is only in thought. Experience is eternally now.
However, such are the limitations of language and if we are to speak about these matters we have to be willing to accommodate them. So we find ourselves again using the same terms that have evolved to describe the abstract and conceptual conventions of dualistic thought. We find ourselves again speaking or writing about that which cannot be truly spoken about and which, at the same time, is the one thing that truly deserves our words because it is all that truly is.
So, to summarise, we move from the formulation, ‘I am something’ to ‘I am nothing,’ from ‘I am nothing’ to ‘I am everything,’ from ‘I am everything’ to ‘I am’ or ‘Awareness is,’ from there to simply ‘I’ and from ‘I’ to…..we truly fall silent here.
* * *
What has just been described above could be seen as series of stages in the progressive unfolding of understanding from the belief that experience consists of a succession of objects – the body, mind and world – to the understanding that experience is only awareness eternally knowing and being itself alone. However, it would be a mistake to think that an entity passes through these apparent stages or even that experience itself undergoes a series of transformations. Such a position would only be the case if our initial assumption in the separate and independent reality of entities, objects, others and the world were true.
Rather, having arrived at the understanding that there is only awareness or presence, it becomes simultaneously clear that this has, in fact, always been the case, even if it was not noticed. So, looking now from this new perspective of presence, we see that what was an apparent unfolding of understanding from the point of view the separate self was, in fact, an apparent dissolution of ignorance from the point of view of the mind.
In other words, instead of starting with the apparent reality of entities, objects, selves, others and the world, and looking towards awareness, we now take our stand knowingly as awareness and see how the mind, arising within awareness, has built up a series of abstract and conceptual beliefs that confer apparent reality, solidity and independence on objects, others, the world etc.
As we abide knowingly as awareness, that is, as it stands knowingly as itself, un-seemingly-veiled by the abstract concepts of the dualising mind, we discover that it is not a void, an emptiness. It is not ‘nothing.’ It is only referred to as ‘nothing’ at times, in contrast to the belief in the reality of ‘things.’ From that point of view it is nothing, not-a-thing, in contrast to ‘something.’
However, from the point of view of experience, it is fullness itself – full of itself alone. This fullness is known as love for there is no room there for any other. In other words, we could say that love is the substance of all seeming things and, once it has become clear that there are no real things, as such, we could simply say that love is.
The movement in understanding from ‘I am something’ to ‘I am nothing’ could be called the path of wisdom or discrimination. The movement in understanding from ‘I am nothing’ through ‘I am everything’ to simply ‘I,’ could be called the path of love.
It has always struck me as a little strange that the man in the street, who has never heard of non-duality, talks in terms of “I am my body and I am my mind” (he talks with with a sense of oneness) whereas the man who is well versed in non-duality talks in terms of “I am not my body and I am not my mind” (and talks with a sense of separation or duality). Why is it that speakers of non-duality use arguments which employ duality to make their point?
When the man in the street, who has never heard of non-duality, talks in terms of “I am my body and I am my mind,” he does not talk with a sense of oneness. This is a position that I sometimes call Conventional Duality – sometimes referred to as ‘ignorance’ – in which experience is considered to be divided into two essential ingredients: one, ‘I’, the body/mind – the subject – and two, things, others and the world – the object.
As a first step towards the true nature of experience, the teaching points out that the mind and body are not the subject of experience but are rather objects of our attention. As such, the teaching reformulates experience in this way: it is not ‘I’ the body/mind that is aware of the world, it is ‘I’, Awareness, that is aware of the body/mind/world. In this halfway stage there is still duality: a subject and an object. Hence, I sometimes call it Enlightened Duality.
This step is a pedagogical step – I am not this, not this, not this – which relieves us of our exclusive identification with the body and mind. It is a path of exclusion.
In the next step, which is a path of inclusion – I am this, I am this, I am this – the apparent distinction between Awareness and the objects of the body, mind and world is collapsed or, more accurately, seen never to have existed. I sometimes call this Embodied Enlightenment – in which there is no longer an apparent subject or object of experience – to distinguish it from Enlightened Duality in which the apparent subject and object has not yet been seen through.
In other words, in the Path of Exclusion we move from the belief ‘I am something’ to the understanding ‘I am nothing’; in the Path of Inclusion we move from the understanding ‘I am nothing’, to the feeling-understanding ‘I am everything’.
We find these stages in most spiritual traditions: in the Buddhist tradition first there is Samsara, then Nirvana, then the distinction between the two is realised to be non-existent. First form, then emptiness, and then no distinction.
From ignorance to understanding; from understanding to love.
And essay from my book, Presence, which deals with this subject in more detail, can be found here.
With Kind regards,
Well over a hundred years ago the painter Paul Cézanne said, “A time is coming when a carrot, freshly observed, will trigger a revolution.”
Has this revolution taken place, is it slowly taking place or is it about to take place? And what is the revolution to which Cézanne referred? How could something as insignificant, inconsequential and ordinary as observing a carrot trigger a revolution?
Cézanne meant that if we could see even a simple everyday object such as a carrot, as it truly is, our experience would be revolutionized. But what does it mean to see an object as it truly is? The key is in the phrase ‘freshly observed,’ which means to see clearly, unobstructed by the concepts that thought superimposes on our experience. In fact, most of us are completely unaware that our experience is filtered through a fine mesh of conceptual thinking that makes it appear very different from how it actually is.
As the Chinese sage Huang Po said, some 1200 years ago, “People neglect the reality of the illusory world.” The illusory world? Now that’s even more radical than Cezanne! It’s one thing to look freshly at a carrot, spade, house or world, but quite another to consider it an illusion. What did he mean?
We often hear phrases in the non-dual teaching such as, ‘The world is an illusion.’ But such phrases may create a rebellion in us, for we know that our experience is very real. So how to reconcile these two positions – one, ‘the illusory world’ and two, the undeniable reality of our experience?
Anything that appears must appear in or on something. For instance, an image appears on a screen; a chair appears in the space of a room; the words of a novel appear on a page; a cloud appears in the sky.
What about the mind, body and world? Our only experience of them is what currently appears to us as thoughts, images, feelings, sensations, sights, sounds, textures, tastes and smells. In other words, all we know of a mind, body or world are appearances, and all these are continually appearing and disappearing. We may have a concept of a continuously existing mind, body or world, but we never actually experience such an object.
As Cezanne also said, “Everything vanishes, falls apart.” All we know of the world are perceptions that continuously appear and disappear. However, anything that appears and disappears must do so in or on something. What is that something?
Start with thoughts: wherever our thoughts appear is obviously what we refer to as our ‘self,’ ‘I.’ Our thoughts don’t appear outside of our self! However, we cannot see or find that ‘something’ in which thoughts appear because it has no observable qualities. As such, it is open, empty, transparent. But that doesn’t mean it is not known. It cannot be known as an object and yet it is not unknown.
If we are reading these words we are, by definition, seeing the screen on which they are written, although we may not be aware that we are seeing it. If we are reading a novel we are, likewise, seeing the paper. If we are watching a movie we are, whether we realize it or not, seeing or experiencing the screen. If we are seeing clouds, we are experiencing the sky. It is not possible to see the words, novel, movie or clouds without, at the same time, experiencing whatever it is they appear in or on.
So, if we are experiencing thoughts we are necessarily experiencing whatever they appear in. Likewise, if we are experiencing a sensation or a perception – and the only experience we have of a body or world are sensations and perceptions – then we are also knowing or experiencing whatever these appear in or on.
In what does our perception of the world appear? In what do bodily sensations appear? Perceptions of the world don’t appear in the world; sensations of the body don’t appear in a body. Perceptions and sensations appear in exactly the same ‘place’ as thoughts, that is, they appear in the open, emptiness of our self.
However, they do not just appear in our self; they are simultaneously known by our self, for our self is not just present but also aware; not just being but also knowing. Hence it is sometimes known as Awareness – the presence of that which is aware – or the light of pure Knowing.
Now, having discovered that all we know of a mind, body or world are thoughts, sensations and perceptions, and having seen that all these arise within our self, we may ask where they come from and of what they are made. What is their substance, their reality?
If we leave a jar of water outside on a freezing cold night, ice will start to form in it. The opaque ice is made only of the transparent water. However, the ice appears to be something separate from and other than the water. It seems to have its own independent existence or reality.
Likewise, the ice has a form and yet it is made of something that has no form. The ice gives form to something that is itself essentially formless. How is it possible for something that has no form of its own to appear as form, without anything being added to or taken away from it? The formlessness of the water has the capacity within itself to assume all possible forms. In fact, it is precisely because the water has no form of its own, that it is possible for it to appear as this multiplicity and diversity of forms.
Our experience is very much like this. The multiplicity and diversity of experience – thoughts, feelings, sensations and perceptions – appears in and is made out of our self. This ‘self’, pure Awareness, in which all experience appears, with which it is known and out of which it is made, is itself empty, transparent; it cannot be named and has no form, and yet it is the substance or reality of all names and forms.
All experience arises within our self, this transparent emptiness. And the only ‘stuff’ present in our self, out of which all experience can be made, is our self itself. It is our direct, intimate experience that all we know of a mind, body or world is made out of and is identical to the transparency of our own Being, the light of pure Knowing.
And what is present in our own self, prior to the experience of a thought, feeling, sensation or perception? Just itself, pure Awareness! All experience – that is, all thoughts, feelings, sensations and perceptions – is a modulation of the presence our own Being, the light of pure Knowing. The entire multiplicity and diversity of names and forms is made out of one transparent, empty, indivisible substance.
Just as the screen on which an image appears is usually overlooked due to our exclusive focus on the image itself, so this open, empty, transparent presence of our own Being is usually overlooked due to our exclusive focus on the objects of the mind, body and world – that is, on thoughts, feelings, sensations and perceptions.
However, just as it is not possible to see an image without seeing the screen so, although this Presence is usually overlooked, it is never truly unknown. Just as all we really see when we are seeing an image is the screen, so all we ever truly experience is the transparent, open, empty presence of our own Being, the light of pure Knowing. All It ever knows or experiences is Itself.
Love is the common name we give to experience when the ‘other’ is no longer experienced as ‘other;’ when the subject/object relationship collapses. It is to see the appearance of an image but to know it only as screen. It is to attribute the reality of the image to the screen. It is to know everyone and everything as one’s own self.
It is this transparent, empty Presence that, refracted through the mind, appears as a multiplicity and diversity of names and forms. However, the mind is itself a modulation of that very Presence. In other words, it is pure Awareness itself which, vibrating within itself, takes the shape of mind and, from the illusory point of view of one of the selves contained within that mind, seems to see a multiplicity and diversity of separate objects and selves, each with their own independently existing reality. In other words, the separate self is only a separate self from the illusory point of view of a separate self.
From the true and only real point of view of pure Awareness there is only its infinite self, refracted into an apparent multiplicity and diversity of finite forms, but never ceasing to be itself. This is what William Blake meant when he said, “If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.” This is what the Sufis mean when they say, “Wherever the eye falls, there is the face of God.” This is what Huang Po meant when he said, “People forget the reality of the illusory world.” This is what Jesus meant when he said, “The kingdom of the Father is spread out upon the earth, and men do not see it.” This is what Parmenides meant, echoing the words of the Bhagavad Gita, when he said, “That which is, never ceases to be; that which is not, never comes into existence.” This is what Cézanne meant when he said that art must “give us a taste of nature’s eternity.”
All the great sages and artists from all times and all places have said or expressed this in one way or another. This is the one true revolution. At the root of all desire for change is this ultimate desire: to know only the reality of all experience; to know only love.
Unless and until the problems facing humanity are traced back to their ultimate source – the ignoring of this reality – they may be temporarily alleviated but will never be truly solved.
Our Essential Nature of Being, Knowing and Happiness
Let us start with our self. What can we say for certain about ‘I,’ our self, the subject, the one that knows experience? The first thing is that I am obviously present – I am. If I were not present I wouldn’t be aware of these words. And the second self-evident fact about our self is that I am aware or knowing. If this were not true I would not be aware of thoughts, sensations or perceptions.
In other words, I am and the ‘I’ that I am, is aware that I am. This knowing of our own being – its knowing of itself – is the most familiar, intimate and obvious fact of experience and is shared by all.
This present and aware ‘I’ is sometimes referred to as ‘Awareness’, which means the ‘presence of that which is aware’. It is a word in which the two fundamental qualities of our self – being and knowing – are recognized as one.
What else can we know for certain from experience about our self? ‘I’ am aware of thoughts, sensations and perceptions but am not made out of a thought, sensation or perception. ‘I’ am made out of pure being and knowing.
As such ‘I’ could be likened to an open, empty space to which or in which the objects of the mind, body and world (thoughts, sensations and perceptions) appear. And just as empty space, relatively speaking, cannot resist or be agitated by the appearance or activity of any object within it, so the open, empty space of Awareness cannot resist or be disturbed by any appearance of the mind, body or world, irrespective of their particular quality or condition. This inherent absence of resistance is the experience of happiness; this imperturbability is peace. This happiness and peace are not dependent upon the condition of the mind, body or world and are present in and as the essential nature of Awareness under all conditions and in all circumstances.
Thus happiness and peace, as well as being and knowing, are essential to our true nature.
The Birth and Death of the Separate Self
With this apparent veiling of the true and only self of Awareness, a separate, limited self seems to come into existence, just as a real landscape seems to come into existence when the screen is overlooked.
And with the apparent veiling of our true nature, the peace and happiness that are the natural condition of all experience seem also to be veiled. It is for this reason that there is always a deep pain in the heart of the separate self – the pain of separate existence. Most people’s lives are spent trying to ease or numb the pain of this separation through substances, objects, activities and relationships.
In short, the imaginary separate self is always seeking peace, happiness and love in an outside object, other or world. However, the separate self cannot find peace, happiness and love because its apparent existence is the veiling of it. At the same time peace, happiness and love is all the separate self seeks.
The longing of the separate self is like a moth that seeks a flame. The flame is all that the moth desires and the one thing it cannot have. As the moth touches the flame it dies. That is the moth’s way of experiencing the flame – by dying in it. And that is the separate self’s way of experiencing peace, happiness and love – by dissolving or dying.
All separate selves seek only the end of seeking; all separate selves long only for the end of longing; all separate selves desire only to dissolve or die. That death – the death of the separate self – is the experience of peace, happiness and love, the unveiling of our essential nature, its ‘remembering’ of itself.
However, as we have seen, the separate self is only a real self from its own illusory point of view. How can an illusion die if it is not real to begin with? It cannot! It can only be seen to be utterly non-existent.
If the separate self were real it would be impossible to get rid of it because that which is real cannot disappear. And fortunately, that which is unreal, such as a separate self, object, other or world, never truly comes into existence.
Therefore, no activity or cessation of the mind’s activity can bring about this understanding. All that is required is to have the courage, honesty and love to look, to see clearly, and to live the implications of what we discover.
The true and only self of Awareness has no knowledge of any limit or destiny within itself. It knows that it is infinite and eternal. It is only thoughts and feelings that say otherwise. A deep exploration of these thoughts and feelings will reveal that they do not reflect the true nature of our experience.
When our self is relieved of the beliefs and feelings of lack and limitation with which it has been apparently veiled, it stands revealed as the true and only self of ever-present and unlimited Awareness.
Let us explore the other side of the fundamental presumption of our culture – the independently existing outside object, other or world.
Our only experiential knowledge of the world is perception – sights, sounds, tastes, textures and smells. In fact, nobody has ever found an independently existing object or world; all that is ever found are perceptions. We cannot therefore even say we have perceptions of the world because that world has never been found. We can only say for sure that we know perceptions. And perceptions are never known independently of Awareness.
This is the startling but simple fact of experience that our culture has not yet faced: matter, the dead inert stuff out of which the independently existing universe is supposed to be made, has never been found. Matter is a concept, a valuable concept that is useful as a working model in some situations, but nevertheless a concept. It has never been found. Nor will it ever be found for whatever is found is, by definition, never known independently of Awareness.
In fact, even the model of thoughts, sensations and perceptions appearing in Awareness does not stand up to the scrutiny of experience. It is a half way stage that dissolves the belief in the independent reality of matter and mind and establishes the presence and the primacy of Awareness. But once this has been established, not philosophically but in our actual experience, this model too has to be abandoned in favor of one that more accurately reflects the reality of experience.
All we know of a thought is the experience of thinking, all we know of a sensation is the experience of sensing, all we know of a sight is the experiencing of seeing, all we know of a sound is the experience of hearing etc.
And all that is known of thinking, sensing, seeing, hearing, touching, tasting and smelling is the knowing of them. And what is it that knows this knowing? Only something that itself has the capacity to know could know anything. So it is knowing that knows knowing.
All that is ever known is pure knowing, knowing and being itself. And that knowing is your self. All that is known is Awareness knowing itself, the self knowing the self.
There is only your self – not a self that belongs to any object or person because there are no objects or people as such to which it could belong. This knowing belongs to itself alone. It is itself and knows itself alone. There are no others or objects there, no inside self or outside world.
And what is the name we commonly give to this absence of otherness, distance, separation and objectness? It is beauty or love.
Beauty is the discovery that objects are not objects; love is the discovery that others are not others.
The revelation of our true nature as it is puts an end to one chapter of our life, the chapter in which we believe ourselves to be separate selves born into a world, moving, changing, growing old and destined for death. But it is only the beginning of another chapter.
The next chapter is the realization of this understanding in all realms of our life, not just the way we think, but the way we feel, sense, perceive, act and relate. It is a never-ending process in which every aspect of experience is gradually permeated by the peace of our true nature.
In ignorance – when the true nature of our experience is ignored – our self, Awareness, seems to take on the intermittent, limited qualities of the mind, body and world. It seems to become something.
In understanding our self, Awareness, is realized to be the open, empty field of experience, not made of a thing but knowing all seeming things. As such it is nothing – not a thing.
In love, the mind, body and world gradually take on the qualities of Awareness – they become open, empty, transparent, pervaded and saturated by the peace and happiness that are our true nature. As such our self, the open, empty no-thingness of Awareness is realized in our experience as the reality or substance of everything.
The path from ‘I am something’ to ‘I am nothing’ is a path of discrimination or exclusion – I am not this, not this, not this. The path from ‘I am something’ to ‘I am everything’ is a path of inclusion or love – I am this and this and this.
Postscript – Knowledge and Love
True knowledge is the experiential understanding that there is only ever-present, unlimited Awareness or Knowing. Nothing other than this is ever known even when it seems that a mind, body and world are known. This ever-present, unlimited Awareness, which is simply the intimacy of our own being, is the fundamental nature of the apparently inside self and its corollary, the apparently outside object, other or world.
All religions are founded upon this understanding. In Christianity it is expressed as, “I and my Father are one.” That is, I, Awareness, and the ultimate reality of the universe are one and the same reality. In Buddhism, “Nirvana and Samsara are identical.” That is, the transparent, open, empty light of Awareness which is not made out of any kind of a thing – nothing – is the substance of all appearances – everything. Nothing taking the shape of everything. In Hinduism, “Atman and Param-Atman are one.” That is, the individual self, when divested of superimposed beliefs and feelings of limitation, stands revealed as the true and only self of eternal, infinite Awareness. And in Sufism, “Wherever the eye falls, there is the face of God.” All that is seen is God’s face and it is God that sees it.
All these phrases are conditioned by the culture in which they appeared but they all point towards the same unconditional truth – the reality of all experience.
The realization of this truth dissolves the beliefs in distance, separation and otherness. The common name we give to this absence of distance, separation and otherness is love and beauty. It is that for which everyone longs – not just those of us that are interested in non-duality but all seven billion of us.
In this realization true knowledge and love are revealed to be one and the same – the experiential realization that the true nature of the apparently inside self and the apparently outside world are one single reality made out of the transparent light of Awareness, that is, made out of the intimacy of our own being.
This revelation of understanding and love strikes at the heart of the fundamental presumption upon which our world culture is founded, the presumption of duality – I, the separate inside self, and you or it, the separate outside object, other or world. All conflicts within ourselves and between individuals, communities and nations are based upon this presumption alone and all psychological suffering proceeds from it.
Any approach to these conflicts that does not go to the heart of the matter will postpone but not solve the problem of conflict and suffering. Sooner or later as individuals and as a culture we have to have the courage, the humility, the honesty and the love to face this fact.
The highest purpose of all art, philosophy, religion and science is to reveal this truth in an experiential manner although all these disciplines have temporarily forgotten this in our culture. However, it may not be long. As the painter Paul Cezanne said, “A time is coming when a single carrot, freshly observed, will trigger a revolution”.
This is the only true revolution, the revolution in which our view of reality is turned upside down. Awareness – pure Knowing – is not just the witness of experience. It is its substance, its very nature. Everything changes when we begin to live from this point of view. We realize that what we have always longed for in life was present all along in the depths of our own being. It is always available, never truly veiled. To begin with it is often felt as peace in the background of experience but it cannot be contained and before long it begins to flow out into the world as joy, freedom, love and creativity.
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