(this is an abridged version of the original article that was published in the Word Magazine, Published by The Word Foundation, Inc. – Autumn issue 2015)
by Leatrice Evanne Asher
If we have not experienced our true nature then most likely we consider our personal identity—that which we refer to as “I”— to be the inherent basis of our being. That entity, that is nurtured and perpetuated through thinking and desiring, is our persona, the false I. It is a veneer that obscures reality.
Does this false I exist? It would be more accurate to say that it operates, but through a mistaken notion that it has objective existence. This makes it more difficult to even call our attention to the truth or falseness of that existence. If we don’t think that this I that we operate from day to day is a distortion of reality then of course it cannot be known. Once known, it is a chimera. Not known, it is what we think we are. To state this differently: the human being is a concrete objective existence of the false I even though it is merely a relative reality.
An excerpt from the Buddhist Maha Prajna Paramita Hridaya Sutra says this about our true nature: “No eyes, no ears, no nose, no tongue, no body, no mind; no color, no sound, no smell, no taste, no touch, no object of mind . . .” This cannot be apprehended intellectually. Again, it must be known . . . through direct experience. This spiritual rebirthing doesn’t mean that we then lead our lives without the use of our sense receptors. But when misperception ceases our relationship to the senses will also change because what is perceived is no longer being filtered through a fabrication of the truth.
As the senses perceive outwardly, we also have the ability to engage what is innermost, thereby deepening into the knowing of reality and the truth about our present concept of self. With this realization, we’re still the same person that we’ve always been. We will still have feelings of anger, sadness, joy because these are valid expressions of feelings and sensations in our particular I world, but now they are seen as the materialized form of I having experiences.
The more anchored we are in our stance (what we present to the world, and ourself, as Sue Jones, John Brown) the farther we recede from freedom of these creations, and fathoming reality. To even entertain the notion that these illusory beings do not exist, except in our own mind, may not only seem inconceivable, but frightening—that that which we believe to be our very existence is nonexistent. That most humans are unaware they are living with this deception makes it all the more difficult to dispel. We further mislead ourselves, albeit unconsciously, by what we might call “over-existing”—adding layers of complexities and means of identification to our person to further brand and particularize ourselves. We do this so that we will be seen the way we want to be seen. This is similar to the way animal hides are branded to denote ownership. In our case, there’s nothing there to own; there never has been, except that which we have created and continue to create.
Conscious Knowledge is awareness beyond our intellectual grasp. But even the word awareness in this context can be problematic if we think that some one person is present beingaware. In a state of presence, conscious reality, there is no subject and object. Without our thoughts, feelings and desires holding our desired image of self in place there is only reality—Consciousness—Being, not the Tom or Mary idea that we so tenaciously hold onto.
We don’t have to be spiritual, well-read, monkish or virtuous to experience reality. These often dearly held notions about how a “spiritual” person is supposed to look and be in the world only add more layers to already mistaken ideas that we attribute to the concept of “I”. Yes, it’s likely that an awakened person has already experienced deeper regions of his or her existence, but reality is such that anyone can wake up regardless of their station in life, their moral compass. Seeing rightly; that is, accurate insighting, is not contingent on being virtuous.
We spend so much time following gurus, seeking programs that promise us liberation, reading endless books. We look to these things to lead us out of our confusion and they may rightly inspire us to further our inquiry, go deeper. But waking up, ultimately, is to finally lean inward. If we are always looking outward for nourishment of our spirit there is the danger that we may be dismissing our very being as not worthy enough, capable enough, to access wisdom. Certainly, there are times in life when information offered from another person or group can be helpful, but it would be a travesty if we were to then stand down from our own inner operating field. How can we look inward with confidence if we are always looking outward for assurance? Although we may be motivated and find sustenance from other sources to expand our understanding, understanding is all that can be conferred by another. Awaking is a solo affair. No one can hold our hand or take us there. We wake ourselves up. This may or may not be a one-stop occurrence. More may be required of us to deepen into that awareness. But this initial “seeing rightly” can certainly liberate us from the grave and mistaken notion of I that we subscribe to . . . from youth to death. This is not an undertaking destined only for a chosen few. Every human being surely needs to know the truth of his or her self. The problem is that most everyone is convinced that these contrived beings that we have attached ourselves to are the only reality. Maybe this should be of even more concern to us!
Those who are able to penetrate the maze of this dream world and awaken from untruth to reality will often feel compelled to communicate the attendant understanding of that experience to others. But how then to convey this in the language of a world that has largely forgotten.
Fra Giovani (1513 A.D. excerpt from letter to a friend)
I salute you.
There is nothing I can give you
which you have not got:
but there is much, very much
that while I cannot give it,
you can take.
No heaven can come to us
unless our hearts find rest
No peace lies in the future
which is not hidden
in this present little instant.
The gloom of the world is but a shadow.
Behind it, yet within reach, is joy.
There is radiance and glory
in the darkness, could we but see,
and to see we have only to look.
I beseech you to look!
And so, at this time, I greet you,
not quite as the world sends greetings,
but with profound esteem
and with the prayer that for you
now and forever, the day breaks,
and the shadows flee away.
if we wish freedom from this universal distortion of reality then in-sighting must continue; otherwise, we will remain shackled to this mistaken notion of personal identity, a creation that we continue to unwittingly shore up. Meditation is a way to become acquainted with that creation. Although initially it may be helpful to be part of a formal meditation practice, once we learn how to quiet into our inner operating field we can do so anywhere, at any time. Silence is profound. It is where truth lies. The usual condition of our mind is that of constant activity with no real focus. Stillness is a sanctum that offers respite from the myriad daily distractions and stimuli, such as food, drugs, television. There is joy in knowing that this wellspring exists—a place from where we can drink and be nourished at the most fundamental level of being. Here, we can also access real knowledge about ourselves, not just sensory information.
Reality is the ever-flowing river of life. It is consciousness that we can become conscious of as ultimate truth.The points that follow may provide further guidanceto begin to free the mind from those distortions we hold about the nature of our being.
1) Diligently watch the process of thinking, also those thoughts that bolster the idea of “I”, but don’t obsess. We can’t control thoughts. We can only watch them. When we observe, they become ephemeral.
2) Watch passively, like the fleeting scenes on a movie screen. This doesn’t need to only happen in absolute stillness. We can make effort even in the midst of life activities.
3) Don’t judge what you observe. Judgments create accretions. Change comes from seeing and acknowledging what we are creating. Seeing will be hampered if we are denying, bad-mouthing or glorifying those perceptions. We don’t need to add or subtract to our human. Be neutral. Life just is!
4) Stay with your own process, which may be different from these words or even the words of someone you consider a superior moral and intellectual being. Don’t try to replicate what someone else has said or experienced. Leave unfilled space to authenticate for yourself.
5) View pleasure and pain with the same detachment. Overly delighting and sorrowing disturbs our equanimity. Sensations may arise but we don’t have to becomethem.
6) We are already that which we seek. We just don’t Know it. Look! As Fra Giovanni says, “I beseech you to look!”
Fearlessness is needed to set aside all of our dearly held assumptions. If we are filled up with ideas, even, especially, grand and lofty ones, they will stand in the way of our ability to know the truth of who and what we are. Nothing should be accepted carte blanche. These words as well should be examined carefully, tested and retested against your own field of functioning.
We cannot know reality while holding onto thoughts of it that we haven’t yet experienced. Are we willing to give up all those cherished, accumulated ideas about what we are, how the world works? This may seem like a death of sorts, and that it is, but a death we will revive from better for our knowing. Waking to reality may well allow for more ease and spontaneity in our lives where before there was the cumbersome bulk of misperception. This doesn’t mean that we no longer have emotions or don’t have to face trying events, but our response to them will have the added factor of our greater understanding. We will still be the same person we have always been. We will still have tests before us. What will be different is that life events will now have the benefit of our seeing rightly.