What appears to be a curse may actually turn out to be a blessing. Of course, it can sometimes also be the other way around. Really, things are neither blessings nor curses. It is only our conditioned imagination which makes anything seem to be this or that. Phenomena (things) arise in dependence on causes and conditions, and hence possess no more than a relative reality. Some philosophies may even go so far as to question the actual existence of things, but the real issue is not whether anything truly exists, but rather, how it comes to exist in the first place.
Just so, if we want to get to the root of things, we must first discover for ourselves the fundamental basis, or essence of mind. Why? Because whatever appears is not other than mind itself. Without directly recognizing mind’s essence, we can know everything yet understand nothing. However, if we are able to understand that one thing, then everything else becomes clear and obvious.
The human intellect has a limited capacity, and yet we tend to rely on it in order to comprehend things. As long as we attempt to make life and phenomena fit within the confines of that intellect, our understanding will consequently be quite limited, and we will never be able to go beyond an extremely partial view of our nature and experience. We will always be confused, like looking in a mirror but only seeing a stranger.
In our examination, we eventually come to the realization that the essence of mind itself is not graspable by the intellect, regardless of how brilliant that intellect may seem in terms of solving logical problems and manipulating complex concepts. Thus, a totally different approach is required, if our aim is to get to the root of this mind.
One thing we can do to get started is to pay attention to our thoughts. That might seem redundant, but we’d be surprised at how often we just go around on a kind of automatic pilot, with a constantly vibrating stream of thoughts about anything and everything noisily parading down the neural boulevards. When we step back from immediate participation in the parade and start paying attention, however, we can notice how we are ruled by various thoughts that seem to arise out of nowhere, linger for a moment, and then disappear, followed immediately by more.
We can notice for example how we tend to identify with the current thought, and how we typically let it push us around. We are kind of like Igor being ordered around by Victor Frankenstein. “Igor, clean the laboratory; Igor, light the lamps and throw the switches; Igor, go out and fetch some dead bodies.” We usually comply, rarely questioning who this Dr. Frankenstein really is. However, if we investigate a little, we discover that there is no actual Herr Doktor. There is just a series of commands, directions, memories, impulses, notions, and sensations that apparently come from nowhere in particular, but seem to have cumulatively amount to a solid and enduring person, a self, or “me”. Indeed, we take it for granted that is the way things really are and always have been.
Now though, upon inspection, we are not so sure anymore. The fact that there is no real or lasting continuity to this assemblage should provide us with a clue as to its transient nature. Consciousness works its magic, and a virtual world, along with a virtual self and its destiny, have somehow appeared. Momentarily, it all dissolves. Amazing!
Nevertheless, if we stay right with this mind and keep paying attention, we will discover that the person we were imagining ourselves to be in the morning is not the same as the one in the afternoon, nor is that one the same at night, while we sleep and dream. Indeed, just as each thought flickers by from moment to moment, so too does our sense of self. The whole body-mind-self mechanism is perpetually morphing, like a bubbling stream, and there is no place or time where we can freeze it and say: “This is it!”
On the other hand, now that we have been paying attention to this complex production for a while, we can recognize that something has been present the whole time. Actually, it is not a thing, not an object that can be pinned down or held in one’s hand, nor is it another projection of mind. Perhaps we now realize that it has always been here in the background, regardless of whatever the thought machine has been up to, regardless of the body’s big adventures, and regardless of whomever or whatever we might momentarily take ourselves to be.
It is empty of any conceptual designation, such as an inherent self-nature, so in that sense it is transparent, but it also has this pristine quality of knowingness about it, and so in that sense it is also “cognizant”. It is not qualified by any form of identification, so it is sometimes called “nameless”. What is that essence of mind? It is just this present awareness. Everything that has ever materialized has done so within the space of that, just as everything that vanishes does so within that same aware spaciousness. One can regard all appearances simply as superimpositions on this primordial awareness. Some compare this present wakefulness to the sky, in which clouds come and go, but which remains essentially the same in its vast emptiness.
It is prior to the arising of the intellect, prior to any sense of name or form, any fixed identity or storyline, any sound or vision. It is prior to the engaging play of self and other, prior to dualistic notions such as bondage and liberation, prior to consciousness itself. Obviously, it could never be something to become, attain, or manipulate, but if we really pay attention, we might recognize that it is the natural essence of who and what we truly are. Unborn and undying, without beginning or end, motionless and ever serene, indivisible, already always perfect – these are mere verbal designations for a reality beyond the intellect’s capacity to apprehend.
Awakened in such recognition, we are more and more released from the habitual fearful clinging, craving, and aversion which have previously characterized our existence in this realm. We begin to learn intuitively how to act in life and relationship, rather than persisting robotically as programed sleepwalkers. When stable recognition is embodied in compassionate action, genuine appreciation of our fundamental nature arises spontaneously as a living current of heart nectar. Such appreciation is another name for joy, joy which transcends both hope and fear, joy which freely expands to infinity!
An old and weary world begins at last to shed its skin, while a shining new one emerges from a chrysalis composed of vibrant strands of living solar light. Those who are present now have the rare opportunity to make a choice which will determine their collective direction for a very long time to come. May all choose wisely!
For aeons we have been cautious caterpillars dreaming of the freedom of the skies, to spiral high and higher, to whirl with the singing wind, to wing and flash free of the anchor of gravity, of any earthly limitation. Now the defining moment has arrived — regardless of our state of preparation, it can no longer be postponed. All eyes are turned our way.
The momentous transition from a paradigm based on calculated self-interest to one illuminated by the sun of compassion has been a long time coming, and there are still powerful regressive forces that are resisting its successful installation in the global consciousness mainframe. They will do anything they can to stave off the shift for as long as possible, since they perceive it as a supreme threat to their rule (as indeed it is).
A world which has been dominated for centuries by the contracted fear energies of corrosive greed, blind intolerance, violent conquest, dogmatic fundamentalism, and compounded ignorance will not easily yield to the movement of the heart. Alas, a population which has been indoctrinated for centuries by the now counter-productive strategies of competitive survival, herd (slave) behavior, and the primacy of material acquisition and sanctioned exploitation at the expense of the greater community and environment will overwhelmingly prefer to slumber on with blinders firmly in place.
Rather than awakening to face the looming unknown which now confronts us, even as the old world crumbles before our eyes, a large proportion of us will inevitably fall back on denial, consume our attention with trivial distractions, and even seek out accomplished criminal alpha leaders to suavely sooth our mounting insecurities with vague promises of some nebulous future glory for the chosen. Walls will be built, divisions reinforced, enemies identified and persecuted, and wars pursued on every front, both domestic and international.
Even if such strategies may have worked before, however, they will no longer be successful. The transition will be difficult, made more so by fear and ignorance, but it will not be denied any longer. Really, the only question is: how difficult are we as a collective going to allow it to be? How much will we need to endure before we rise up and in one clear united voice say “YES!” to the new, to the heart, to guileless loving kindness and devoted selfless service?
How long will we resist taking the next step in our evolution towards that divine destiny which awaits us? Only by releasing our fearful fixations on the obsolete structures of the old world can the necessary space be opened for the new to emerge. The greater the delay, the greater the suffering which will surely ensue — both personally and collectively. Even though our souls thrive on it, it is still within our human animal nature to resist change. Now that the great impending change is upon us, we must wake up, stand up, and make our choice heard.
There is no safe hiding place — not in temples, ashrams, churches or caves, not in skyscrapers or internet forums, nor in pharmaceuticals or philosophies, not in nationalism and patriotism, not in slick gurus, spa treatments, and pleasant affirmations. Despite our reluctance, we are being stripped naked of our former affectations and comforting fantasies. What we cling to will always be an anchor weighing us down. The old world longs to crumble into ashes, even now it is burning itself up. It has exhausted itself, and now wants to taste the euphoria of restful oblivion. The right thing to do is to let it die in peace.
It is now long past the time to look back nostalgically at what has gone before, to seek answers or solutions from a dying system of predatory economics, heartless patriarchy, and manipulative social control mechanisms. Many civilizations have been in this very position before us. Some have managed to unite, put aside their differences, and prosper. Others have self-destructed. To co-create a new world, we must first empty ourselves of our former beliefs, expectations, religious superstitions, and above all, our chronic selfishness.
This is not about some exceptional virtue or saintliness. This is about growing up and out of the sandbox, about becoming the species we were meant to be, maturing into the adult version of humanity that can span the solar system and flower out into the awaiting starry cosmos. A fantastic adventure of self-awareness is beckoning us, inviting us to set aside the primitive provincialism of our youth and expand on into infinity. The whole universe is waiting to see how we shall respond.
We might wonder what it would be like if everything we have and own were to somehow be taken away from us. A huge part of human life is devoted to acquiring and then protecting “stuff”, stuff we fear we could lose in one way or another. Indeed, there is an immense business dedicated to providing us with insurance against any potential losses we might incur in the process of day-to-day life. However, though we may currently seem to possess something, if only temporarily, we never actually do. Even our thoughts about any of it are not truly ours. Even our memories. In the midst of everything, we literally have nothing.
Given that, there is no need to aspire towards poverty in any idealistic way, as if there were some virtue to be gained in the process. The real poverty cannot be achieved by gestures of religious renunciation. When one has nothing to begin with, what can they actually surrender? All such conceptual intention is more like a kind of subtle arrogance. When we examine our basic condition, we can recognize that we are totally innocent of any ownership whatsoever, regardless of appearances. We can test ourselves to see if this is true by self-inquiring, “Who are you?”
Being rich or poor in the material sense has nothing at all to do with the inherent poverty of our fundamental nature. We own nothing, not even this body we call “mine”. From the moment we enter this world we are busy fashioning an identity, but a thorough inspection of identity’s essential emptiness will clarify that it is not who or what we truly are. It is not ours to own. Indeed, it is only the sense of some kind of ownership that has made us blind to our true state of perfect poverty. It has made us selfish, left us feeling separated, restless, and alone.
Just as we may amass a great fortune, or alternatively, lose everything in a dream at night, when we awaken in the morning, we have gained nothing, nor have we lost anything. So it is with this life we imagine is ours, along with any accumulations which we believe we have garnered on the way. We may have had many dream-like adventures, many experiences which might have impressed us, but where have they gone? They are part of the bundle of thoughts, memories, sensations, and perceptions which we have assumed amounted to a separate, concrete, and enduring self, but we are not that self. None of it is who we are, nor was any of it ever ours.
Yes, there is awareness, but it too is not ours. The one who imagines that they are the witness of experience also disappears with the scene. Likewise, all concepts of free will and choice miss the point, if one does not first understand to whom they would apply. The main character in the movie undergoes all sorts of experiences. Maybe they were the hero, maybe the villain, maybe the winner, maybe the loser. When the movie comes to an end, where do they go?
They do not return to the light, nor do we. There is no actual reunion, no merger, no entering into the inexhaustible luminosity. Light is never other than itself. When we directly realize our inherent poverty, we are still only ourselves, what we have always been. In human terms (totally inadequate) there was an experiment. The light evolves. It grows more expansive, richer and more radiant through struggle. It divided itself from itself to create a sense of distance, as well as the sense of time it takes to realize itself anew. Why does it do this? Why do we?
This life on earth is a struggle, no matter who we are. Some claim it was created this way, to provide its visitors with an opportunity for rapid growth of character. If so, we have been given a great tool with which to meet the challenge: our essential poverty. Since we come with nothing, possess nothing, own nothing, how can we be harmed? Fear is what makes life difficult. It spawns the poisons of greed, hatred, and ignorance. This realm is infested with fear, but the realization of our essential poverty can neutralize all fear. We begin to recognize that everything which ever was or will be is contained within this exquisite poverty. There is truly nothing to lose. Thus, we become fearless. When we become fearless, we also become humble. We become generous and compassionate in the all-inclusive awareness that every being matters. Thus, we also become willing to sacrifice ourselves for love. In that way, we evolve.
Imagine if, due to some incredible miracle, all of the conflicts around the globe were to cease. Imagine if peace were to break out, and all the sources of antagonism and friction among people were resolved equitably, with everyone getting what they believed they were voting, fighting, or dying for. Additionally, imagine if all the forms of inequality, poverty, and despair were eradicated across all classes, genders, and races, so that utopian-type conditions came to prevail.
Even if all that were to happen, we would still be faced with the inescapable specter of an underlying stress, a contraction or knot in the being from which we have only been temporarily distracted by the apparently external events and circumstances which heretofore have dominated our attention.
The whole search for freedom and happiness which has defined our existence and driven us even to the point of slaughtering each other has a basis, or source, that is the same in each one of us, regardless of our nominal affiliations and predilections.
Indeed, if we were to stop right now and inspect our own being, if we were to turn the light around which we have been casting into the outer world and take a close look at what is happening within us, at the core of our thoughts and feelings, we would notice that this chronic contraction is what has been propelling us like a leaf in the wind.
That is, everything we think and do is essentially an attempt to pacify, loosen, or be liberated from this essential stress. All of our religious conflicts, all of our political conflicts, all of our financial conflicts, all of our social conflicts, and even down to the cellular level — all is spinning around in the cyclical orbit of this core contraction.
And what is it? It is consciousness itself. We have become so fixated in identification with this transient consciousness that we have come to believe it represents who and what we are. Hence, we suffer. We suffer because we cling to the impermanent – consciousness — and ignore our true nature, which is prior to consciousness.
When he was near death in 1981, the Sage Nisargadatta Maharaj told his followers: “Eknath, a country sage who has written wonderful poems, said, ‘I am stung by a scorpion!’ It is the consciousness. This knowingness is the scorpion, which is giving me all the pain in the form of various experiences and concepts. I am telling you with the authority of a jnani, everything is unreal. This is all the play due to your consciousness . . .”
That is, mind projects a world and we subsequently take it to be real. Why? Because we habitually look outward, at the effects, and so fail to recognize the source of that projected world. This is why the wise suggest we delve into the essence of mind, because only by coming to directly and intimately understand how we create our own suffering can we free ourselves of it. We want the world to be at peace, we want all inequality to end, we want happiness to prevail, but we too often imagine that process involves manipulating the changing props on the world stage, rather than going straight to the screenwriter and addressing him or her in our own mirror.
The apparent randomness of phenomena is a reflection of our ignorance about the thing being observed, rather than something that is inherent to it. Just so, we can’t really describe the universe in terms of certain things being in definite places. It may not exactly be chaos, but some degree of uncertainty about the nature of existence is a fundamental part of our comprehension. Resonances of indeterminate size somehow party together to form the world which we experience, leaving in their wake a great conceptual void inhabited by unanswerable questions.
Likewise, when we begin to question what we assume to be our own values, something interesting begins to reveal itself. In a way, it is like peering closely into our basic atomic structure, which consists of 99% empty space, though from the conventional vantage point, there appears to be an undeniably solid person.
That being said, if we are willing and able to thoroughly investigate how we arrived at the particular value systems to which we currently adhere, we might find a kind of programming code at the root. However, that code itself, when deconstructed, turns out to be nothing more than bits and parts of other bits and parts, ad infinitum.
There is really nothing there but a play of various ephemeral energies, rotating around a phantom nucleus called “I”, and amounting to nothing in particular, except whatever reality we might tend to momentarily grant it, based upon our own unique accumulated filters and the relatively plastic menagerie of possibilities and probabilities.
Then there is the appearance of “the other”. Soon after we make our appearance in this psycho-physical realm, or density, we gradually begin to notice other ghostly figures arising and then disappearing from our view. For some reason, we generally come to assume that they all share our essential value system, perhaps because they all seem to be composed of the same or similar component parts.
At a certain point, we are surprised and perhaps dismayed to discover that we do not all share the same value systems, and hence we project from the storehouse of magical thinking a morality based on the duality of what we come to regard as “right and wrong”, or “good and evil”.
Of course, from our filtered fantasy of interpretation on perception, our personal position is desirable, righteous, and goodly, while the competing value system is characterized by the undesirable, the wrong-headed, the bad. Clearly, we cannot live and let live together, something must be done about the glaring discrepancies. We are not sure why, and such uncertainty renders us reluctant to inspect the matter, except to assume that conflict is necessary and inevitable, and hence we learn to make war.
Before long, we are living in a perpetual state of war — war with our fellow ghosts, war with our make-believe environment, and mostly war with those elements within our own atomically spacious and empty structure that we nevertheless find to be in any way disagreeable.
We might be surprised to learn that even those who claim to be affiliated with a particular value system actually adhere to their own unique system, their own variation on some religion or political position. Everyone is a member of the cult of one — the “one” being that accumulated bundle of thoughts and feelings which seem to imply a distinct and enduring individual, even if there is no such person in reality.
Nobody like that has ever existed, whether randomly or deterministically. There has never been an actual value system, only endless conceptual superimpositions upon a passing notion, a fleeting idea which mind then employs to fabricate that phantom nucleus, around which numerous filmy energies rotate for the span of a flickering lifetime, only to at last dissolve playfully back to the indescribability from whence they once had come.
We tend to think that each of us is a substantial and enduring individual being, because we remember moments from the past, and so imagine there is some continuity of a personal self. However, in the same way we awake and quickly forget the various adventures we participated in while dreaming, so too does the same fate befall much of what transpired in the past. Where is that wonderful Pinot Noir I drank last week? Where is the one who drank it? There is a memory, but it is fading even now (not to mention the character who was driven around in a baby carriage, who saw a flying bird for the first time, who fell in love with clouds while reclining on the backyard lawn).
Yes, some things seem to stick with us, and even serve to define who we take ourselves to be today. We dwell on these past events and experiences, and in doing so, we give them some power to confirm our sense of self. In this way, we come to believe in an orderly principle of cause and effect, otherwise known as “karma” in spiritual terminology. It gives us a hedge on what otherwise might seem to be a very disturbing chaos. Yes, I have all this karma, which explains my appearance in the midst of the confusing situation I find myself, by virtue of simply being born.
We believe we are the result of what has gone before, even though what has proceeded us no longer exists. Indeed, there was never a quantifiable moment when it did. We cannot go back and grasp any of it, in the very same way we cannot grasp the entity we might assume ourselves to be at this moment. Is there even a “moment”, a discrete piece of time, separate from other pieces, such as past and future? Of course, all such grasping and mirror-gazing is self-reinforcing, and the complex destiny of an enduring person is projected on the basis of mind stringing together certain memory associations and physical sensations, which are assembled by the brain into the “reality” we take for granted.
On the other hand, perhaps we have heard various sage-like people talk about “emptiness”. Now we imagine all sorts of implications to that concept, as if we could somehow solidify enough to stand apart from something else and label it “empty”. In whatever way mind attempts to configure experience, it is still just emptiness chasing its own tail like a dog. On further inspection, the whole totality of universal manifestation is just one thing, so to speak, wanting to have the experience of subject and object. Hence, there is this dreaming which we take to be the self, the world, reality, God. There is dreaming, but the source of this dreaming is none other than dreaming itself. Dreaming is dreaming.
Just so, who or what is this “we” that is projecting a self, a world, a God, the dream, but emptiness itself projecting a separate entity, a separate reality which it can stand apart from and observe, critique, define, explain, or manipulate? See, when we try and pin this supposed entity down, we end up grasping at air. There is no answer to “Who am I?” There couldn’t be, because we would have to separate out from the essential emptiness to observe such a character, and we can’t, any more than water can separate itself from wetness, or a dream from dreaming.
Where is our past? It only exists as an arbitrary and fleeting mental formulation, just as our supposed present does. Never mind about the future. None of it can be stopped for a moment and considered actually existent. There is no solidity to any of it, even down to the sub-atomic level. Our thoughts, which we take to be “ours”, have no endurance. That is easy enough to recognize. But outside of thoughts, what is there? There is an apparent physical body, but we know that it is always changing, always replacing cells, for example, so that the body of yesterday is no longer, and the body of today will be different tomorrow. Which one am “I”? There is actually no body, but simply the appearance of a body. If we examine the body we will find atoms separated by vast distances of empty space.
Within this vast empty body, certain physiological processes swoosh together like fluids and electrons, producing the sensation of existence, and from there all sorts of phenomena seem to be implied, like an objective world, for example. Certainly, if a big rock lands on my toe, it will create the feeling of pain, but when I fall asleep later, where is the rock, the pain, the toe? When this body returns to the elements, where is any such experience of rock, toe, pain, self, world? Literally, we are already the “walking dead” — dead to whatever previously transpired, which is now more like a movie which we once watched, but are now in the process of forgetting (along with the one who watched it). It is all so elusive, we are barely able to take a breath!
In the midst of this whirl of sensation, experience, perception, and perpetually modifying consciousness, there does appear to be one constant, one unchanging element, but it is not ours, not personal, not graspable, not even perceivable. It is not an object to itself, and it is empty of even emptiness. “Awareness” has been designated as who and what we really are, but there is no identity to it, no standing apart from it and claiming “This is it!”
Although it is simple and obvious — Awareness — such a term really means nothing. All terms have no objective meaning, except what mind grants to them in its illusion of knowing. If we were to be totally honest, however, we must admit that we know nothing. We have many ideas about things, but do not know a single thing. All this presumption of knowing only prolongs the magic act which we take to be “our life”. We may have the feeling that there is some essence waiting deep in the innermost layers of heart and mind that “knows”, but that too is just a play of consciousness, a trick, not real.
We are never going to arrive at some exalted destination where we suddenly “know”. If there is such a destination, it only manifests when all knowing drops away, along with the presumption of a knower. That is our actual “state”, even now, which is only obscured by our presumptions that things are otherwise, that we are other than the pure awareness in which all knowing, all presumption, all appearance arises and dissolves, and that we are in the deplorable condition of having to jump through all sorts of hoops to arrive at the place which we have truly never left. What a horror!
The entire apparent universe is composed of mental formations, illusory objects that appear and disappear based on mechanisms which surpass the human persona’s capacity to comprehend, much less control. The human persona itself is one of those illusory formations, flashing in and out of time like bits of lightning during a sudden summer storm that sweeps through the sky and then is gone. Did it even happen? In that sense, nothing actually happens. Nothing has ever happened, except a breath-taking play of imagination, a compelling tryst of mind, memory, and magic. Isn’t it all so amazing?