Pointing out mistakes

The following is an excerpt from: Who cares about Freedom?

We can go a little further too: we can also point out mistakes in our thinking. If we think Father Christmas is real, we can notice and point out there is no conclusive evidence to support that, despite appearances to the contrary (eg. presents appearing beneath the tree on Christmas Day). Any happiness or pleasure we derive from believing in Father Christmas is similarly based on our wrong notions/illusion.

Similarly, if someone takes themselves to be a doer, an entity that is free to choose and take credit and blame for its actions, then we can point out that there is no evidence to support this position, despite appearance to the contrary. All suffering that results from belief in doership is similarly based on illusion.

The subject (the Witness/ Awareness/ Pure Consciousness) is an inference

All we know are objects. The existence of a subject (eg. the witness or consciousness/awareness) is an inference, a belief.

Some versed in advaita-speak then counter by asking ‘Who/what is it that knows this?’. The problem is that the very question ‘who knows’ is based on the belief that there must be a subject, a knower.

It’s similar to an arguement for the existence of God in which people say look at all this marvelous creation, who is the creator? Of course, the assumptionis there must be a creator, a subject who creates, and this is a false assumption (ie. it is based on false logic).

Inference does not always work as a way of understanding and knowing things, as it is only as good as the logic that underpins it. We could go on with other examples of this fautly logic in which the notions of a subject is unecessarily believed in: Who blows the wind? Who quakes the earth? Who grows the trees?

Now strictly speaking, we are not saying there is no subject, just as we are not saying there is no God. We are just saying there is no evidence for either of these, and therefore no need to believe one way or the other in a subject.

What we are left with is ‘what is’ or ‘life’ or ‘experience’. It all just happens. It’s already happening. Everything is a part of IT.

So simple, direct, and already fully known (seen), but in essence it is mysterious and uncapturable by words.

There is a great freedom in seeing this.

Integrating knowledge, spontaneous action

Do you go around repeatedly saying your name so that you remember it? Do you have to walk around saying “I am Tom, I am Tom, I am Tom?” (obviously substitute in your name).

Or do you spend most of your life not even thinking about your name, but when someone calls out your name, the understanding ‘My name is Tom’ automatically acts: you turn your head and respond?

It’s the same with understanding there is no doer: initially you may need to think about it, go through the reasoning, and realise there is no evidence for a doer. It is a conscious process. Because we have been conditioned to think of ourselves as being a doer, there is often a process of deconditioning.

It may also take time for all the suffering based on the ‘I am the doer’ notion to fall away. Other notions such as ‘I am to blame’ or ‘I could/should have done it differently’ or ‘I am not worthy’ may still all be at play. All these depend on the root belief ‘I am a separate doer-entity’. Again, there may be a conscious process of applying this understanding in order to deal with suffering as it arises and uprooting the associated beliefs upon which suffering depends.

But once this has been done, then we don’t need to think about it. The knowledge of ‘there is no doer’ has been ingrained into us. We do not need to think about it, we no longer need to repeat the process of understanding.

But just as when someone asks your name, you can spontaneously respond ‘My name is ____’, when someone asks you ‘Are you a doer?’, you can instantly reply ‘there is no doer’.

Discarding knowledge as ignorance

This post is continued from my previous post: Practicing knowledge

Discarding knowledge as ignorance

Once the purpose of the tool has been fulfilled, then the tool can be dispensed with. There are two main problems with this. Firstly, you can dispense with the tool too quickly, before it has done its work of rooting out ignorance. Secondly, you can cling onto the tool for too long, which essentially means that you have started to believe in it.

I see both of these errors happening all the time. People often dismiss the need for practice completely. While there are different paths to follow (including no-path ‘paths’), that does not mean that for some a path or teaching cannot be of benefit. All teachings are provisional which means that they produce limited results. This is true of all teachings and all actions/practices – they are all limited and produce limited results. But these limited results can still be of use to us in recognising what is already (and always was) present , ie. Freedom. 

Other people believe the conceptual tool. They have merely substituted one concept for another, one ignorance for another.

Hence the traditional advice is to liken these conceptual tools as being thorns, to remind you not to hold onto the second thorn, useful as it was:

Then, like the thorn used to remove a thorn, throw them both away.

Problems with utilising conceptual tools

Continued from 2 previous posts:

  1. Why seeing/understanding alone may not be enough
  2. Integrating the understanding of no-doer

Problems with utilising conceptual tools

Generally speaking, the more you believe in the concept, the better it works, but conversely the harder it is to throw it away once the task at hand (rooting out the ego/’I am the body’ notion) has been completed.

Other problems with believing in the concepts is that it sets you against other traditions and teachings that either utilise other concepts, thus breeding division and sectarianism, and also it can lead to some unintended consequences, some of which can be quite unpleasant.

These include spiritual bypassing, which is where emotional and psychological issues are not dealt with properly as ‘I am not the body-mind so I have no issues’ or where the body is neglected and not properly respected as it is deemed to be ‘insentient, inert and not me’.

Another problem with utilising concepts is that the ego is perpetuated and can even be strengthened during this part of the teaching. Eventually it can be seen that all teachings are also subtle ways of continuing/perpetuating the egoic process which is itself based on the illusion of being a separate doer-entity. Until then, these conceptual teachings and practices based upon these concepts may be useful, but eventually we see that all teachings are potential obstacles. Why? Because Freedom is already fully present, and on a subtle level all teachings assume that Freedom is not already here and reinforce the notion that this moment is deficient in some way.

You can probably think of other negatives of this approach yourself, and perhaps have seen spiritual seekers on this journey fall into one of these traps.

To be continued in a future post: Practicing knowledge

Q: Who sees there is no doer? (Self-Enquiry, Ramana, Who am I?)

Q: You say there is no doer, and that this is a key point in your teaching, but who or what sees there is no doer? 

Tom: Why do you ask? What do you hope to gain from that question? Do you think that knowing the answer to this question will set you free? Do you think the answer to this question can be found in words? Contemplate on these questions.

It’s easy to say that ‘I see’, or that ‘awareness sees’, but does this really get us anywhere? What is the concept of awareness but another way of verbalising that something is being perceived. When we say ‘awareness sees’ or ‘I am aware’, all we are really saying is that ‘something is seen’. It’s tautology, just a different way of saying the same thing.

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Q: So why do so many non-dual teachers prescribe self-inquiry as a method?

Tom: The real point of asking ‘who or what sees’ (ie. self enquiry) is to notice that what we commonly take ourselves to be is actually something that is seen, and is not the seer/doer at all.  What we, in ignorance or misapprehension, commonly take to be the subject is actually experienced as an object(s). This is also the point of the awareness teachings, to see through the doer – not to get caught up and identified with a concept of awareness.

We commonly take ourself to be the body-mind apparatus, but it can be seen that the body and mind are both objects that are perceived. The body and mind, as far as our direct experience goes, are parts of our experience, they are parts of ‘the perceived’. There is no evidence that they are perceivers of the experience. (That is not to say that they are not representations of the subject/perceiver within our consciousness, but just that there is no evidence either way).

Q: OK… (pause)

Tom: So, back to your question: what is it that sees?

Here’s the shorter answer: that which sees is that which sees. Why name it? Does naming it mean we know it any better? Are we any the wiser for naming it or calling it ‘awareness’ or ‘consciousness’ or ‘me’ or ‘I’?

Why settle for verbal explanations or spiritual-sounding slogans? Instead question these statements. Don’t get rid of one dogma and replace it with another. Be true to yourself, be true to what you know and your own experience:

Things are seen – that much I know. What sees? – I do not know…

wp-1474790287732.pngQ: But don’t we need to know exactly what it is that sees?

Tom: No. Not only do we not need to know what sees, we cannot know what sees (as an object). We only know that we see, and not what sees. That is enough. And that’s our actual experience, right? We don’t need to take on a new belief such as the belief that we are awareness. Sure, we are aware. or you could say awareness is here, but we don’t have to go further and say ‘I am awareness’. Let’s just stick to our experience and not pretend to know something that we don’t. As Ramana Maharshi says:

‘The state we call realization is simply being one’s self, not knowing anything or becoming anything.’

There are a few other aspects to the teachings too, which I’ll quickly summarise for you. I go into more detail on the group meetings, but briefly:

1. We need to stop mistaking certain objects (ie. the appearance of the body-mind organism) for being the subject. That is a key purpose of what I call the ‘awareness teachings’ that are found in Shankara’s Advaita Vedanta and in many schools of Mahayana Buddhism.

2. We need to notice and understand deeply that all objects are transient – they all come and go, and that no object brings lasting satisfaction. As this realisation deepens and takes root, this leads us to naturally turn away from depending on objects as a source of happiness. This leads to our addictive and suffering-causing desires (vasanas) to naturally fall away. Suffering dissolves away and joy naturally rises in its place, rearing its head from time to time as it pleases.

3. We need to see that all objects comes and go spontaneously, including thoughts and actions, and so realise that there is no doer-entity controlling it all. What we call the mind is just a spontaneous succession of thoughts, with no evidence of any entity controlling it. This is the real point of self-enquiry.

As Ramana Maharshi said when a questioner asked him about self-enquiry:

‘Reality is simply the loss of ego. Destroy the ego by seeking its identity.  Because the ego is no entity it will automatically vanish and reality will shine forth by itself.
This is the direct method. All other methods retain the ego. In those paths so many doubts arise, and the eternal question remains to be tackled. But in this method the final question is the only one and is raised from the very beginning.’

When we see the false to be false, meaning when we see the doer (ego) is an illusion, whatever remains is reality. It just is whatever is. It doesn’t have to be named, known or understood – it’s just what is.

Is everything really consciousness?

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Lots of spiritual teachers and teachings seem to be saying all there is is consciousness. But is this really true? And even if it was true, would we be able to know this as being true?

From the point of view of experience

Firstly, from the point of view of our experience, yes, everything is consciousness. Whatever you look at, smell, see, touch, feel, think or imagine, etc, appears within your consciousness or awareness. And all these things appear as modulations of that consciousness, so in effect, our entire experience is nothing but consciousness.

Also we cannot directly know or experience anything or go anywhere that is not within our consciousness. If we did then we would, by definition, be conscious of it, and so our experience of it would be consciousness.

Everywhere we go, no matter what we experience, consciousness is, it is always present, effortlessly shining.

So, there we have it. Everything is consciousness. Right? Well…

From the point of view of reality

Just because everything you experience is consciousness, doesn’t mean that everything is consciousness. You see, in one way this is just a play on words. In the way we are using the words, experience and consciousness are synonyms. You cannot have experience without consciousness. If you are conscious you are experiencing. Think about it. Can you have one without the other? So of course, in terms of experience everything is consciousness. But it’s a bit like saying in terms of vision everything is seeing.

You don’t have to be a genius to realise there may be things going on that we are not conscious of, and perhaps we will never be conscious of. From what we know of the universe (via our consciousness!) we know it is vast and complex. Of course all this vastness could be just all happening within our consciousness only, but we don’t know that for sure. It is easily foreseeable that there may exist something beyond our consciousness, something we can never sense (be conscious of) or understand.

From the point of reality, we do not know if all there is is consciousness, and to say that everything is consciousness is going too far. We can only say everything is consciousness in terms of our own experience, but not in terms of reality. If you think that everything is consciousness (and by implication that nothing exists outside of consciouness), I would say that is a belief. Ask yourself, do you know that for sure? How can you know that for sure?

Why is this important?

Does this actually matter? If all we experience is consciousness, then does it matter? If there is something beyond consciousness but we are not aware of it, who cares, right? Well, to me at least, it does matter. If you are interested in what’s true it does matter. If you are a spiritual seeker trying to figure this all out and it doesn’t make any sense, then it does matter. If you are interested in seeing through all false beliefs and discovering a genuine freedom, then yes, it does matter. And if you are interested in science and reducing human suffering through technology based on scientific discoveries, then yes, it does matter.

False beliefs breed suffering as they inevitability conflict with what is true, and false beliefs impede genuine philosophical, ethical and scientific inquiry. Beliefs like this affect how we approach and respond to life and how we treat each other. It affects the philosophical basis upon which scientific progress is made, and so it can affect the technologies we develop and how we develop them. The overall result of clinging to false beliefs is to the detriment of us as individuals and our society at large.

Does that mean that not everything is consciousness?

So, back to consciousness. Does that mean that not everything is consciousness? No! Perhaps everything is consciousness! Perhaps it isn’t. The point is that we do not know. Everything may or may not be consciousness. We don’t know. It’s actually a scientific question and we don’t have the evidence either way. It may be impossible to know, as how would you know that there is nothing beyond consciousness?

The point is we should be honest, with ourselves and each other, and not cling to beliefs unnecessarily and unknowingly. Whilst beliefs can be used to make us feel better and give us strength during hard times, clinging to them and thinking they are definately true and that we are definately right causes more suffering in the long term, both for us and often for those around us.

What about Freedom?

So if we don’t know whether or not everything is consciousness, what do we do now? A part of Freedom, which is already here, is that everything is allowed. It’s ok to not know. That’s ok. There are lots of things we do not know, many things we will never know, and probably many things that are impossible for us to know. Freedom doesn’t mind. It’s just the way things are.