You Are a Mixture


Q:
I saw the nice forward you wrote to one of John Wheeler's books. On a whim I thought to send you a note. I agree, as John mentions, the unfolding of the entire world is nothing more than thought objects appearing and disappearing in presence awareness; nothing is ever really born or dies. Yes, good, I get it, and it lends much ease to daily life. But the real test of understanding is when disease and death will inevitably take down everything that I imagine. When this is contemplated, I must admit that nothingness is not without a measure of fear. I was wondering what your response might be.

A: I'm glad you wrote me with this question! Yes, it really is the "next step" in this understanding, isn't it? What John points to must be understood to the point that disease and death, or even the mere thought of them, no longer cause us distress or fear. This understanding, when fully assimilated, frees us completely from all worries and fears, including those of death, annihilation, and nothingness.

So how do we get to this next step in understanding? I can tell that you have an intellectual understanding of the reality of your nature as presence-awareness. That's a huge part of the battle, so you should be very happy to have come to this point. Give yourself a pat on the back for that. But I understand that there is fear that comes with the idea of some vague future "nothingness" which seems to lurk. So why should there be fear? What is causing the fear?

There is fear because the
experience is not understood. We experience a body, and we see that it is decaying and is going to die and cease to be, and we experience ourselves as that person. So we worry that it is "me" that is going to cease to be. But that doesn't comport with what we know intellectually, which is that "I am not the body; I am awareness." How can this be? How can there be two such wildly disparate notions we hold of ourselves, one that "I know I am awareness," and the other, "I experience myself as the body/mind person"?

It's because we experience a
mixture of real and unreal within ourselves. The real you and the apparent you are tightly intertwined in your mind, just by nature of how duality functions. You can’t tell where one ends and the other begins. While you can say easily that "I know I am presence awareness," at the same time, you experience a limited being. It is this experience of the limited being that needs further investigation. Is there actually a limited being? No, there is not. And yet you experience one. How in the heck is that possible? How does that work?

Luckily for us, this was all explained in the sacred writings such as the Upanishads that have been passed down and expanded upon for thousands of years. It's not a simple task to learn how I am fooled by my experience, and I think the real disservice done by much of the contemporary teaching is leading people to believe that it is simple. "Just abide" or "I am this" is all you need, according to the shortcut-type teachings. But simple "direct pointing" will leave untouched your experience of being a limited, mortal entity. Even while you say "I know I am unlimited presence-awareness," you
feel there is a limit – you feel the knowledge might go away, you feel that you will die, there will be nothingness, etc. All those experienced limits are very much intact.

Feeling limited is very painful. But we can't help but feel that way until we understand how intricately the "real me" and the "apparent me" are woven, in the experience I am having right now. Somehow you have to learn this, this has to be taught to you. It's just like learning Physics or some other science. There is a science of reality, and it includes all the information about how the real you mixes itself up with an apparent you to create a human experience full of suffering. When you have all the information – and yes, it's a discipline and rather time-consuming, just as if you were learning Physics – the whole picture will be clear to you. You will see with complete clarity that you are not the one having the human experience. You are the unbroken, boundless awareness. And with that knowledge gained and assimilated over time, total freedom results.

I broke with John in about 2010 because of his insistence to me that there was no human experience. I was having one, and a painful one at that, and I was frustrated that the teaching he was offering did not address it at all. That's when I found Vedanta. There are many schools that teach the knowledge of non-dual reality, but I have found Advaita Vedanta to be the most exhaustive and unassailable of the bunch.

I don't think this is the answer you wanted to hear. Unfortunately, there's no easy answer and no quick way. One can "abide" and find relative peace of mind, but that seems to me a fragile state of affairs until the whole experience piece is fully understood. If what you want is to pull the ignorance up by the roots, I'd try Vedanta.

I started with
James Swartz, but if you're feeling adventurous, you could try Swami Sarvapriyananda. Both are excellent Vedanta teachers and suitable for beginners.

Vedanta is such a beautiful gift that was given to us by the rishis who passed it down to us. It is truly the science of reality, the knowledge of who we really are, all explained. It requires no belief or leaps of faith, because it is all totally logical. You won't believe it – you will actually know it for yourself. Vedanta has no other purpose but to free humans from their imagined bondage. And I'm talking every last shred of fear, every last shred of pain. I hope you will check it out.