“All that can be seen is nothing but a dream;
And even when we think ourselves awake,
We have only wakened in a dream.”
Many within the alternative communities seem to imagine that “awakening” consists of becoming aware of some conspiratorial international cabal bent on world domination through various nefarious means and mass media manipulation. In response, it is presumed that our purpose here as awakened planetary citizens is to fight these so-called powers that be, toss off the yoke of their oppressive control programs, and make this world safer for nice people.
This crusade is to be accomplished by expelling corporate trolls, bankers, politicians, and the financial elite who are despoiling the planet and making life hell on earth for the ninety-nine percent of us who just want to live in peace and enjoy some modicum of prosperity and fresh air, clean water, solar power, biodiversity, and natural foods.
In any case, none of that is true awakening, regardless of its possible political appeal. Rather, it is just another variation on the duality game, and merely perpetuates more hopeful idealism, which in turn is always being modified by the discursive mind, depending on ever-changing causes and conditions, preferences and conditioning. Although nearly a cliché, it is nevertheless still true that if we want to change the world, we must start with ourselves.
Authentic awakening begins with the direct realization that neither the person we take ourselves to be, nor the phenomenal world that we assume to be an objective and independent place, is actually real, or rather, that it all has as much reality as a video game. Nevertheless, the more attention we invest in “the game”, the more trapped we are by the belief in its reality, and thus perpetuate a vicious cycle of identification, dissatisfaction, and seeking.
True awakening includes the recognition that our fundamental disturbance with the way things appear is based on a case of mistaken identity. In our amnesia, we take our concepts and views personally, forgetting that we are merely inhabiting temporary roles in order to explore the human experience in all of its variety and vividness.
Indeed, this psycho-physical realm is essentially a stage with ever-shifting props that has existed for time immemorial. We have been performing as actors playing various roles in countless productions of the same basic plot, both here and in numerous other realms throughout the multiverse, for incalculable eons. As Shakespeare famously wrote: “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts . . .”
The author of the landmark spiritual text, “Autobiography of a Yogi”, Paramahansa Yogananda, elaborated on that theme when he noted: “It doesn’t matter whether we scrub floors, or whether we are the leaders of great nations; unless we know that we are merely playing a part on the stage of time, we will suffer from the dualities inherent in the consciousness of being identified with these different stations and conditions. Stage actors do not bemoan their particular parts, but enact their roles to the best of their ability, knowing they are temporary portrayals. Do you see? It is only when we take life too seriously that we suffer.”
This whole dimension, and even a few levels above this one, is nothing but a fabricated platform in consciousness for the complementary play of yin and yang, light and dark, good and evil, hope and fear. In the greater scheme of the totality of universal manifestation, this is really just basic stuff. In our multiple costumes, we have witnessed the creation and destruction of civilizations more times than we can count, worn every hat, played every angle, and will likely continue to do so until we finally grow weary enough of these roles, this game, and are ready to move beyond what is essentially, in terms of levels of awareness, elementary school.
Actually, that puts a rather misleading face on it. Really, it can seem more like a prison for many of us, at least compared to what we could be up to, and will be, once we have had enough of endless conflict and chronic dissatisfaction in these small dark rooms that we take to be the universe, and are prepared to truly awaken to the bigger picture. Greed, envy, hatred, pride, and ignorance hold us all back and keep us small. Those of us who get hooked on such poisons have yet to learn how counter-productive they are to real happiness, and what failed and futile strategies they inevitably represent.
The good news is that we don’t have to go anywhere else, or be anything other than what we already are. There is nothing “wrong” with the material plane — all is perfect just as it is. Where we are right now could be the sweetest heaven, though we tend to make it hell, due to our immaturity. All the while, the only problem is and has always been our habit of fixating identity in dream personas, persisting as amnesiacs about our true nature.
We are immortal spiritual beings, wandering in a desert of our own forgetfulness and consequent delusion. The only antidote is to stop granting reality to the unreal. When we are no longer feeding the dream of separation, craving, and fear, the hallucination loses its power to beguile us, and so becomes obsolete. What remains is what has always been, even while we’ve been too blind to see, distracted as we’ve been by our fascination with the game.
That being so, how do we rouse ourselves from our slumber, open our eyes, and break the addiction to the game? We may encounter a lot of remedial solutions, esoteric methods, strategies and schemes suggested by various teachers and texts, and perhaps we might even settle on one answer that seems to make sense. We have all done that before, only to have that answer supplanted by another question later on down the road. Eventually we may come to feel like a dog chasing its tail.
That’s just the discursive mind doing its job — finding out about stuff, and then creating a point of view. This point of view is always changing, because new information is constantly being processed via perception and experience. Beliefs are established that seem to indicate some safe and secure ground upon which we can finally settle and make our stand, but then are eventually undermined by the effects of new conditioning and experience, and this goes on and on. Buddhists speak about “The Wheel of Birth and Death”, spinning us haplessly through one experience and then another, driven by our own desires and fears.
Although the Game is all about experience, true awakening reveals that no experience is real. All experience originates in the imagination in the form of a mental projection, and thus is time-bound. Reality, however, is timeless, and beyond any experience. Even the sense we take for granted of a concrete objective universe is actually just an extended illusion.
As Nisargadatta’s Teacher Siddharameshwar noted: “If the game of chess or any other game will be proved true, then the world will be proved true. The world is not true. It is an appearance in Consciousness of illusory things that are going to disappear. The entire apparent world phenomenon is not real.”
Once in a while, a rare person may question the Game to the point where they stop in the middle of the whole production and realize directly that they are not the mind and its kaleidoscope of self-images – that it is all a story which they need no longer invest in.
In that conscious process, they may recognize that the Game (including the body-mind with its experiences and sensations) is arising in a vast space of awareness, and likewise dissolving there, like a pond where the ripples play themselves out until the surface has become still. Awakening is the recognition that we are not the ripples, any more than we are the passing thoughts or emotions with which we habitually identify ourselves, and which become our prison when we do so.
Some call that still and silent aware space “Reality”, “Truth”, “Divine”, “Tao”, or the “Self”. Some don’t call it anything at all, because they no longer identify with the mind of dilemma, and are out of that game. For them, shifting names and forms no longer have any enduring meaning. They have exceeded all limiting self-images, recognizing themselves as unspeakable Source Itself, beyond the intellect’s grasp or any human comprehension.
Fortunately, there is always help available. There are Guides who regularly appear in the midst of our dreaming and offer us an alternative to the chronic forgetfulness of our true nature. The late great Sage Ramana Maharshi is a good example of one who recognized his real and immortal identity to the point where he could never again fall victim to the belief in the “me and mine” story. Out of compassion for all who are still troubled by that restless dream and its ensuing complications, entangled in a repetitive game that yields no true satisfaction, he made a simple recommendation, called “Inquiry”.
True Inquiry begins with the fundamental question: “Who am I?”, but doesn’t stop with the evidence that the intellect has to offer. It is a living exercise that literally deconstructs the architecture of the game by removing the ridgepole which supports the whole house of cards – the fixation on the belief in an independent and enduring person – that bundle of thoughts and memories that constitute the fictional entity which we have taken ourselves to be.
The first step in the process of True Inquiry initially seems like a daring leap across a huge chasm and into the vast Unknown. It involves a challenging investigation of who and what we have heretofore assumed ourselves to be, including our identification with thoughts, beliefs, memories, and preferences. Who or what is that one really?
The discursive mind can be of little help here, since that which perceives cannot itself be perceived by the usual faculties. We are not that which can be an object to our awareness. A more detailed discussion of Inquiry can be found at True Inquiry, Part 1, and at True Inquiry, Part 2.
By persisting in this inquiry with sincerity and disciplined focus of attention and intention, we may come to a certain threshold – the source of mind itself, and all that we have taken ourselves to be. All of our efforts may carry us here, but no further. Effort itself must be surrendered. As Nicholas of Cusa noted, “the unattainable is attained by non-attainment.”
Ultimately, even the one who would surrender must be released, let go. At that point, something else must happen. That “something else” pulls us through the doorway of ourselves – it is our own true nature inviting us back to itself — and what follows is the grateful exhalation that we’ve been holding back for an eternity. The game can continue or not – it no longer matters. In fact, at that moment we may laugh in the realization that whatever is true has been true all along, that what’s real has always been real, and moreover – we are That . . . Who knew!
“The world is but a show, glittering and empty. It is, and yet is not. It is there as long as I want to see it and take part in it. When I cease caring, it dissolves. It has no cause and serves no purpose. It just happens when we are absent¬minded. It appears exactly as it looks, but there is no depth in it, nor meaning. Only the onlooker is real. Call him Self or Atma. To the Self the world is but a colourful show, which he enjoys as long as it lasts and forgets when it is over. Whatever happens on the stage makes him shudder in terror or roll with laughter, yet all the time he is aware that it is but a show. Without desire or fear he enjoys it, as it happens.”