This is a question that often comes up, and many teachers often state that reality is impersonal. I myself have written a piece stating just this (complete with an impersonal looking image). However, like so many things we can write and say about reality, it is often correct in one way but false in another. As I’ve stated many times before, reality cannot be captured in words.
We could say that reality is impersonal or both personal and impersonal, or we could say that it is neither personal or impersonal. All these statements would be correct in the correct context.
But are these statements helpful? To say that reality is either personal or impersonal is ultimately besides the point. The essential point is to see things as they are, or rather to stop believing in all our concepts about reality – then reality shines, as it always has done. Who cares if it’s personal or impersonal?
Having said that, words are there for the purposes of communication, and I try to be as clear as possible in my communications.
In what way is reality impersonal?
Reality could be said to be impersonal as the sense that we are the author of our lives and that we control our thoughts, feelings and actions is actually an illusion. This controller-entity, this doer, this thinker/feeler/actor is non-existent. In this sense, and in this sense only, there is no person, therefore reality is impersonal.
In what way is reality personal?
However I cannot really say that reality is impersonal. It certainly doesn’t feel impersonal, even (ironically) when the person-doer described above is seen through and seen to not exist. How so? Well everything is just as it has always been. I’m still me. There’s just nobody here. I know this sounds contradictory but what I mean by this is that I still feel, think, act, just like I always have done, there is still a body here, there are still sensations and a variety of emotions. I love my friends and family and cherish my relationships with loved ones. Only that there is no sense that I am doing any of it. It sounds strange but it doesn’t necessarily feel any different than before, and life just goes on as before, as it always has done. It is just noticed that there is no doer, no ‘person’.
My personality is still very much here: I still have my quirks, my preferences, my sense of humour, my pet peeves, just as in the same way I have the same hair colour, the same accent and same way of speaking.
In many ways life feels very intimate, with no barriers. It is a very ‘human experience’, meaning that it does not feel removed, withdrawn, bleak or impersonal in that sense. There is a sense of freedom, intimacy, love, beauty and aliveness – it’s hard to call these things impersonal.
In what way is reality neither personal or impersonal?
Reality cannot be put into a box. You cannot say what it is, only that it is and what it is not. You cannot fit reality into neat compartments and categories. We are all people, so reality, which does include people, must therefore be personal. However the individuality that we attribute to ourself is imaginary, so all there really is is life, all there really is the seamless partless what is.
Basically reality is what it is. It defies concepts. It’s like asking is the ocean blue or green? It both, neither, either and other colours too…but more importantly why spend so much time trying to fit the ocean or reality into concepts as if it could be perfectly described? Much better to see it for oneself, and while descriptions are useful for certain situations, preoccupation with them becomes a distraction into intellectualisation.
So where does this leave us?
So, again, these are all just words but I hope this clarifies what personal or impersonal can mean in the context of these teachings. Remember, the key is not to get hung up on words, but to discover what is true for yourself. These words are guides. Don’t try to be more ‘intimate with life’, or see things ‘impersonally’. This would just be a projection of what you think reality should be, not what it actually is. Similarly don’t try not to do these things, which would be to fall into the same ‘trap’.
Just notice things as they already are.
Notice when the the ego is functioning and what its motivations are.
Notice how greed functions at the most subtle levels.
Notice that there is no experiential evidence for a doer.
Notice that all of this is happening by itself.
Notice that none of this necessarily needs an explanation,
Although seeking explanations is also fine,
And notice that having an explanation does not bring lasting satisfaction,
(As all explanations can be doubted,
And all doubts lead to uncertainty
And this leads to fear).
Notice that whatever is being noticed is being noticed,
There is no choice in being alive,
Or in being aware of what you are (or are not) aware of.
This is the same as realising that this is being noticed by ‘no-one’.
Personal, impersonal, it’s all the same really.
Love and blessings to you all