“There’s just a mysterious, tacid understanding, and no more.” – Huang Po
So, what is reality anyway?
You might of course say, ‘well, that is a relative affair – what’s real for you, isn’t necessarily real for me’, and so on… And you would be right – relatively speaking. The appearance of reality varies greatly. Yet this is not really what we are talking about here…
We are talking about REALITY as such, that which is REAL in the absolute sense. For something to be absolutely REAL, it has to hold truth for anybody and at any time, all of the time, now and forever, always; irrespective of circumstances, ideas, perceptions, experiences – it is unconditional, absolute; REALTY as such. So this would by definition exclude the whole realm of all that which comes and goes – appearances; phenomena – which in the spiritual traditions have been categorized as ‘Maya’ – illusion; that which is not real in an absolute sense.
The sages of the ages and teachers of the esoteric traditions have always been very clear about where to look for this absolute REALITY: namely ‘within ourselves’ (although of course bringing in concepts such as ‘within’ and ‘self’ can cause considerable confusion by themselves) – meaning something along the lines of: ‘not within the realm of appearances’, ‘not out there’, not in learned ideas or concepts, etc., but in our own direct experience. So, in other words, the question ‘what is reality?’, and the question ‘what is my (true) Self, nature or reality?’, are actually not separate issues – it is one and the same thing.
Another jigsaw in the puzzle is that whatever REALITY or ‘my true nature’ is, it must already be fully present here and now – Reality already IS, and I already AM what I am. So the question itself – the actual ‘search’ for REALITY or ‘My SELF’ – becomes problematic here. It might dawn on us, that the whole issue is not actually someTHING that is to be worked out or understood in the conventional way. This has in fact very little to do with mental abstraction and conceptualizing.
So if we put it all together: real all of the time, everywhere and for everyone; unconditional, non-circumstancial, non-conceptual, not in the realm of appearances, already and forever present for all, totally available here and now, and in fact absolutely necessary for anyThing (else) to exist: doesn´t that really make it very clear and obvious?
Could this possibly be anything other than the simple fact of our PRESENCE – that lucid and wide-open Space-like Intelligence that is undoubtedly here, reading these words (irrespective of what secondary ideas might arise – to that very same lucid intelligence – with respect to the content of this text)?
We cannot really know this Presence, because it os not a thing / object to be known. Yet it is intimately familiar to us – it is Reality itself after all – and we cannot help but BE it. Test this for yourself: Have you ever noticed that your innermost sense of being has never changed? This is why we feel – deep inside – still the same way we felt as a little child. It was always ‘I’. The attributes and ideas about ourselves constantly change, but the felt sense of Being never has, has it? Can you recall a moment or any time in your lived experience, when this core sense of Being-ness, this Presence wasn’t with you? It is impossible, because ‘something’ still would have been present to notice it’s own absence! Presence-Awareness simply cannot be denied – it is the base of EVERYTHING. EVERYTHING is contained within THIS, and everything arises, to, from and as this Space-like Awareness. This is the only REALITY that is, and the only REALITY that I AM.
THIS has always been here, but simply got left unnoticed. Once it is recognized as REALITY and as MY Real Nature, our attitude towards ephemeral phenomena – all that is merely coming and going within this Awareness – changes in a profound way: we are getting real with what is real, and with who we are. Old habits and identifications may temporarily arise, but we can’t ever again ignore REALITY for too long.
From the perspective of reality as such, nothing ever happens. Both of the above points of view are just that: points of view, mental concepts that arise and set with space-like awareness, which is the only reality. From the perspective of the individual body-mind-organism (itself an appearance within space-like awareness) the recognition of space-like awareness as the natural state and true nature of self, might be perceived as either absent, intermittent or permanent and consistent.
Stories and reports about ‘enlightenment’ and other spiritual events or states (and related concepts) vary greatly, and of course there is massive awe shovelling and endless projections (of adopted ideas about perfection and saintly-hood) going on with regards to the stories of enlightenment of the great sages, self-proclaimed masters, or even those who shun and avoid talking about the issue.
In the end, I am afraid, the whole issue is the ultimate anti-climax (or just another great disappointment). Who cares, really? What is all this need to work it all out mentally; to measure and define ‘spiritual progress’ and put ourselves (or others) on a scale of spiritual achievement. So we can delineate e ourselves, again? To compare our (assumed) ‘self’ – enlightened, deficient, defiant, or what not – to (perceived) others?
One thing is for sure: as long as we strive to know where we are on this scale, and care about where others are, we are still living a self-centred life revolving around an ongoing self-improvement project. And this is certainly not what the great sages have been pointing to in their (permanent or intermittent) wisdom.
This is actually not particularly difficult. There is no time or practice needed at all – to be what we already are. It is simply about recognizing your positive nature as that which is already present, before any concept or appearance arises. You are not an appearance – you are the ONE to whom the appearances appear and disappear!
See through ‘your’ conceptual notions – above all the core concept of there being an independent and separate ‘me’. Can you find any evidence of ‘I’, ‘me’, ‘mine’ – other than in form of a thought? Have a look!
Verify this against your own present evidence: Go only by what is present and evident here and now. Undeniably, you exist. And undeniably, this existence/ presence/ being is aware. Within this awareness, all appearances arise and disappear (including the habitual ‘I-thought’). Without the AWARENESS that YOU are, nothing can appear or disappear.
So where does the separation come into this? Where does the separate ‘me in here – the world out there’ come in? Well, it doesn’t ! It is a complete myth; a conceptual fabrication. You ARE – but not as a separate ‘person’ or an ‘I’. You ARE – full stop! This is it! And that´s all. Nothing fancy; nothing new; nothing that wasn’t here all along…
Now at this point – out of sheer habit – the mind might kick in with a whole barrage of ideas: expectations of a certain type of experience, feeling, sensation, understanding or what not. Experiences, insights and other phenomena may or may not arise: it makes no difference at all – all of these are again just appearances arising to – and within – the PRESENCE that is aware of them.
“This cannot be it! There must be more! I am not getting it! I am not awakened yet!” – more of the same: doubtful thoughts and questions (nothing but concepts!) arising to AWARENESS. Discard the content of these thoughts and see them for what there are: unsubstantial appearances arising and fading away.
In truth, there really isn’t anything to said about this PRESENCE; there isn’t really anything to be understood or known about THIS. It is pure KNOWINGNESS. It simply IS. And thou art that.
The universe, the world, the ‘person’ (‘me’) – all these are appearances. Ever-changing phenomena; life ever-becoming. Arising within you and from you. And in that, these aren’t separate from you, either. YOU, the ONE. The ONE that IS. Is there a beginning or an end to THIS? Or isn’t THIS indeed the ETERNAL ONE – beyond time and space; beyond form and shape; beyond substance and energy (all of which are mental concepts!)? At this point all dualisms fall back into themselves.
But let us not forget: we are simply talking about OUR Nature here. Naked, non-conceptual Presence – Awareness. Just this and nothing else.
तत् त्वम् असि Tat Tvam Asi – Thou art THAT
Do we have to go beyond the mind?
The problem with ‘going beyond the mind’ (‘having to’ or not) is that this gives credence to the conceptual notions of there being something to be done, and (maybe more to the point) that there is somebody (a separate ‘me’) to be doing it. A third and implicit concept here is that of ‘becoming’ – i.e. a future time when this ‘going beyond’ might be happening and thus give rise to the exalted ‘awakening’ (another concept).
In my experience it works better to be clear about our positive, real and NON-conceptual nature as Presence-Awareness – as that which is the necessary and undeniable principle for any appearance (incl. a ‘me’, the mind, time, etc.) to arise. Before the next thought arises, we are already present as THAT (to which the appearance arises). We ARE beyond the mind! As THAT, no ‘going beyond’ or awakening is needed – and in THAT, the mind and the ‘me’ are taken care of by themselves. It is concepts such as ‘going beyond the mind’ that keep us from recognizing our BEING beyond the mind.
Tat Tvam Asi. Thou art that!