“If you think, ‘I breathe’, the ‘I’ is extra. There is no you to say ‘I’. What we call ‘I’ is just a swinging door which moves when we inhale and when we exhale. It just moves; that is all. When your mind is pure and calm enough to follow this movement, there is nothing: no ‘I’, no world, no mind nor body; just a swinging door.”
What is Real? This is the same as asking “What am I?” The problem is, when the question is posed, most of us invariably resort to our intellect. However, we are always going to be frustrated by taking that approach, because we cannot use mind to grasp that which is prior to it. Indeed, any kind of knowledge which we believe we can access can only be in consciousness, but consciousness can have no knowledge of that which exists prior to its own appearance.
In fact, any notion that we can employ the intellect to ascertain the Real is false. Whatever happens in consciousness is purely an imaginary figment, a mental fabrication, like a mirage. Nothing that we can see, think, remember, or know is real. It is pure illusion.
What’s left? We are. What is that? Words can’t go there. Imagination can’t go there. Nevertheless, it is closer than our breath. First, we have to shut up and listen. What is granting reality to this moment? What is not changing, even though everything changes? What am I?
There is a famous Zen koan which asks: “What is your original face, before your parents were born?” If we rely on the verbal mind for answers, we will merely be indulging in conceptual speculation. The Zen Master will laugh at our fumbling attempts and summarily dismiss us. We need to go beyond the intellect’s logic, or rather, we need to discover what is prior to the mind’s arrival.
The “I” of the past is merely memory, a fabricated illusion of personal continuity. The “I” of the present is impossible to grasp, though the attempt to do so can be quite illuminating. The “I” that will be is a mental projection, spawned from hope and fear.
There is no “I” but the one right here, but since “right here” happens to be no place in particular, this “I” cannot be said to be particularly anywhere. Truly, there is no “right here” — “right here” being nothing but a transient location in the imaginary geography of interpretive perception.
In this direct recognition, the “I” does indeed “cast off the illusion of I”, yet remains as “I”, all the same. As Ramana Maharshi notes, this apparent paradox is not a contradiction to the Realized, and so seekers strive for the ideal of “Realization”. Ironically, this glorious effort at some special attainment just happens to be the real contradiction — there being no one, no “person”, who is actually realized. What an interesting predicament for all the would-be Buddhas and spiritual super heroes – the no-thing melts into the Nothing!
Indeed, wanting to achieve “Realization” is rather like wanting to be present at one’s own funeral, given that true realization marks the end of the “person” — the true death that sages and mystics throughout the ages refer to in their testimonies of treading the “spiritual path”. Nevertheless, how can something that never had any true existence, die? That is a big part of the humorousness of the whole game – the search — and why we tend to laugh out loud when the obvious becomes . . . well, obvious!
From the very no-beginning, there was nothing that needed to be eliminated. That whole strategy is part of the misdirection that the pseudo-spiritual preachers and religious con men have burdened us with through the ages. The only thing that needs to be transformed is our mental rigidity based on fixed beliefs, and our emotional contraction at the heart.
In point of fact, without the self-sense, we would not even be able to function in this world, much less truly awaken to our original nature and condition. However, we need not take this working concept of “I” as our actual forwarding address. That’s the mistake most everyone makes, and why we are always stumbling around so befuddled, like sleep-walkers reaching out for some satisfaction that is forever eluding us in our restless dreaming.
As Nisargadatta Maharaj notes: “Understand this state of affairs; the concept ‘I Am’ comes spontaneously and goes spontaneously. Amazingly, when it appears, it is accepted as real. All subsequent misconceptions arise from that feeling of reality in the ‘I Amness’. Why am I totally free? Because I have understood the unreality of that ‘I Am’.”
In the movies, for example, there is a something known as “persistence of vision” in which separate, still images flashing at 24 frames per second create the sense of continuous motion. This is a fitting analogy for the experience of a continuous self. We experience the rapid succession of events and then fabricate a continuous “doer” to account for it. However, when we identify with the experience of a continuous doer, such that we take it to be who and what we are, we establish the basis for confusion and subsequent suffering. All suffering we experience can be traced back to this attachment to the experience of a continuous “me”. “I like what is happening to me and I want to hold on to this experience” or “I don’t like what is happening to me and I want to change it” are two sides of the same coin of attachment to the reality of a seemingly enduring person.
We can instead recognize this “I” — the so-called “ego” — more as a nifty navigational tool that enables us to discriminate here in the objective realm in which we live and relate. For example, it helps us to stop on red and go on green, and a whole lot of other good stuff in-between. As long as the personality is recognized as a kind of prop, with no inherent substantiality beyond what we grant it in our playful creativity, then there need be no problem. It’s only when we become fixated on it, misperceiving it to be our true identity, that we suffer its frailty and impermanence, and become trapped in vicious cycles of craving and aversion which only serve to reinforce our sense of separation from life and love.
In reality, all of the sentient beings in the multiverse who take themselves to be separate consciousnesses only believe that to be the case because Source has chosen to have amnesia about those aspects of its own mind. Thus, true awakening is nothing other than the direct recognition that there never was or could be a separate individual. Those mystics who claimed that there is only God were referring to this very fact. To realize that we ourselves are the Supreme is not an affirmation of some transcendental self-identity, but rather the recognition that we are literally characters within Source’s mind that have been pretending to be separate and independent individuals.
Any notion that we as humans might entertain of “I Am” is necessarily limited and bound by the parameters of our temporary incarnation. However, it is precisely as and through these humble vehicles that the Absolute, Source Itself, the Supreme Reality, becomes cognizant of and enjoys the Play of Consciousness in this realm. Why else dream it into existence? Each one of us, as unique dream characters in the “Mind of God”, are here acting as the lens, the angle of vision, for Source. It enjoys all points of view without judgment, but with the same unconditional love that is shone on all the manifest and unmanifest totality, which consists of nothing but the mirroring reflections of Its own inconceivable being.
Just so, there are infinite realms of experience, and hence the sense of “I” will be endlessly modified in its evolution towards complete self-awareness as “That”, of which at last there is no other. By sincerely and thoroughly inquiring into who and what “I” am, the process is set in motion that will eventually take us beyond all of our conditioned beliefs and second-hand concepts and opinions, ultimately revealing our true nature as that of the Supreme Reality Itself.
“That which makes you think you are human is not human. It is but a dimensionless point of consciousness, a conscious nothing; all you can say about yourself is: ‘I am’. You are pure being, awareness, bliss. To realize that is the end of all seeking. You come to it when you see all you think yourself to be as mere imagination and stand aloof in pure awareness of the transient as transient, imaginary as imaginary, unreal as unreal.”
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