Levels of reality

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Are there levels of reality?

I have often seen people talk and write about various levels of reality. Typically, they talk of the level of the absolute and the level of the relative. On the level of the absolute, everything is one, so they say. Whereas on the relative level, the level of being a person different rules apply. On the relative level differentiation exists, we talk to each other, we love one another, we get annoyed and irritated, we buy fast-food from time to time, and yet ultimately, at the highest and truest level we are told this is all oneness.

Well let me start off by saying that I reject the notion of levels of reality. I think reality has various aspects, but not levels per se. Now this may seem like a minor difference, a play of semantics if you will, but let me explain the difference.

Talking about the same thing in different ways

When I say reality has various aspects, all I really mean is that there are various ways you can talk about reality – actually there are various ways you can talk about anything. That doesn’t mean there are different levels of reality.

Lets take a simple example: lets take a human body. You can talk about a human body  in different ways. You can talk about it in terms of its size: you can say it is big, small, medium. You can talk about its age: is it a young or older body. You can talk about it in terms of organ systems such as the cardiovascular system or digestive system and how they function and describe the body that way, or you can talk about its anatomy and how various parts of it fit together. You can talk about the body’s name and culture – eg. maybe it is called John and it comes from the United Kingdom, you can talk about its occupation. You could talk about its fashion sense, its muscularity…

…ok ok, hopefully you get the idea: there are different ways you can talk about things. There are different conceptual frameworks from where we can view the body. And this is true for anything. We can talk about a pebble in terms of its age, size, geology or how good it would be to skim on a lake’s surface. We can talk about a lake in terms of its scenic beauty, how choppy its water are, its phosphorus content, or remark how it is all made up (mainly) of water.

Now, how many levels does a body or a pebble have? It doesn’t actually have any levels at all – there is only one body or stone (in the above examples) – it’s just that we can talk about them in various ways. In the same way there are no levels in reality, just different ways of talking about it.

No particular conceptual framework is intrinsically higher than another

Also note that no particular way of talking about the body or a pebble is intrinsically better that any other way. It just depends on what you want the conceptual framework to achieve. For example, if you want to skim a stone on the surface of a lake, then it’s less useful to talk about the geology of the stone, and more useful to look at it in terms of its shape and size with respect to achieving your goal (skimming it across the lake). You can’t legitimately claim that one way of viewing something is intrinsically higher and another way is lower, which is something you often hear when talking about ‘ultimate reality’ or the ‘highest level’. It just depends on how well the way you are conceptualising and viewing the object(s) in question fits in with your goal.

It depends on what you want to achieve

Similarly, it is not necessarily better to talk about the body in terms on physiology or organ systems compared to it’s occupation or fashion sense. As previously stated, it just depends on what you want to achieve. If the body has a disease, then understanding the physiology and how to correct any imbalance or defect in this is useful. Conversely if you are going out on a first date, then perhaps a degree of fashion sense would be useful.

No paradoxes, no contradictions

Also there in no contradiction in talking about a single object in different ways depending on the context. There is no paradox that a stone has both an age and a shape, or that a river is a single system made up of a variety of different things, all of which are in motion. There is a consistent underlying reality that underpins the various ways we talk about it. No contradiction or paradox at all.

Different ways of talking about the same experience

Remember, what we are talking about here is our experience of reality. Our reality is our experience – that’s all we know. We can talk about how everything we perceive is non-different to our consciousness, and we can also talk of how things interact within this consciousness, and the rules and consequences thereof. These are just different ways of talking about our experience and our experiences. No particular way is higher or lower, and there are no actual ‘levels’ that exist apart from our conceptualisations.

The description is not the described

We can chose how to conceptually carve up and talk about our experiential reality in order to achieve certain specific aims. To that end these conceptual maps are useful and often necessary. However we must not mistake any particular conceptual map of (our experience of) reality for reality, just as no particular way of describing the body is the body itself.

 

 

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Spiritual knowledge cannot be learnt

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“There will come a time when one will have to forget all that one has learned.” 
from ‘Who am I’ by Ramana Maharshi

Ultimate truth is simply that which never changes. It is here, now, everywhere and always already in its full glory. It is not separate from whatever is happening or from what is currently being experienced. Ultimate truth does not require you to believe in it or even do anything for it. Just drop all wrong thoughts and whatever remains is It. It cannot be caught in concepts.

The main role of the spiritual path is not to learn about ultimate truth, as it cannot be accumulated, but to discard falsehood. Seeing through false assumptions is what is called ‘spiritual knowledge’. It is not knowledge in the conventional sense at all really.

Conventionally speaking, learning is about accumulation of knowledge, but spiritual learning is more like pruning a hedge or chipping away at a block of stone to reveal a beautiful sculpture beneath. Put simply, spiritual learning is unlearning. Spiritual knowledge is seeing through false ideas.

“The state of Self-realisation, as we call it, is not attaining something new or reaching some goal which is far away, but simply being that which you always are and which you always have been. All that is needed is that you give up your realisation of the not-true as true.”
Ramana Maharshi

Anything that is learnt as being true is in the realm of relative knowledge. Anything that is learnt can also be forgotten whereas the Ultimate neither comes nor goes. Any statement posited as being true can be questioned and doubted leaving with it the bitter taste of uncertainty.

The Ultimate cannot be conceptualised. Conceptualisation itself relies on the Ultimate for its existence. All statements of truth rely on supporting structures and logic, eg. underpinning scientific or philosophical reasoning. The Ultimate truth stands by itself without needing outside support. It is none other than what you truly are. Look and you shall see.