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Awareness, The Self PDF Print E-mail

Article by James Swartz

The self, pure awareness, is limitless bliss and unending pleasure. It is beyond the dualities of the mind. It is the isness that sees, the isness that is known through Vedanta’s statement, “You are That.’ It is the one, eternal, pure, unchanging witness of everything. It is beyond experience and the three qualities of nature. I bow to that self, the one that removes ignorance. Is this what your mind is telling you about who you are? Undoubtedly there is a voice inside that has another opinion. It probably says something like this, “I’m a frightened needy little worm, munching my way through the experiential garbage heap of the world, looking for fulfillment. Life is tough and I am lonely, fearful, depressed and driven by my desires most of the time. You say I am fine but I don’t experience myself this way.” We all know this voice. It is one protagonist in the inner war between the truth of who you are and what we think we are. The teachings can’t resolve that war; you have to resolve it by contemplating the meaning of the teachings. Vedanta is your ally. It reveals the non-dual truth of your experience and stands by your side, ever vigilant. It affirms your identity as unborn eternal actionless unconcerned awareness. It shows you that you are the goodness beyond good and bad, that the beauty of this creation...the sun, moon and stars...is just a pale reflection of the beauty of your own self. Vedanta says that because you are awareness/consciousness you are everything that is. Therefore you need to know yourself as everything. And, for those still longing for some kind of experiential enlightenment it unequivocally states that what you seek...the self...is ‘beyond experience.’

Vedanta is concerned with a single topic...identity. You would think the teaching would start with the topic of the self and stick to it exclusively, but there is a lot more to self inquiry than just saying we are awareness, which in itself is not a complex topic. It is a subtle topic, however, one that does not yield to imprecise and clumsy thinking or necessarily lead to a simple solution like asking ‘Who am I?’ It is also not straightforward owing to the fact that experience seems to contradict it, setting up a natural resistance to the assimilation of the teachings. And since the problem is ignorance and ignorance is hard-wired, you cannot just walk in off the street backed by an epiphany, awakened by quick read of a popular book on non-duality or primed by the gushing testimonials of friends and expect to ‘get it’ immediately. If you do, you will unget it as quickly. Many with Einsteinian IQs never crack the code. Self inquiry is a unique pursuit.

A successful teaching like Vedanta needs to patiently set up the context in which self inquiry becomes meaningful. This involves clarity with reference to your goals, getting a precise understanding of the nature of enlightenment, eliminating erroneous notions, appreciating the need for a means of knowledge and seeing to your qualifications...before you even begin to inquire. And you should know that the topic of the self...which in one sense is the only topic...sits roughly in the middle of the whole train of logic that constitutes the vision of non-duality, meaning that although it is the first, last and only word, it isn’t.

The statement ‘it is and it isn’t’ typifies the teaching. For example, there are many obviously contradictory statements in the texts. What does “It is bigger than the biggest and smaller than the smallest” mean? “Sitting still it runs faster than the mind.” “The mind is the self but the self is not the mind.” There is no quick and easy answer until a careful unfolding of the

teachings resolves apparent contradictions and makes explicit what is implicit. Imagine that you are out in nature on a path and you meet a stranger. Before any words are exchanged, what do you experience? You see a body and you see consciousness. If there is no consciousness, the body will not be vertical. It will be rotting away on the ground, food for worms. Consciousness appears as the spark of life that animates the body. You don’t ‘see’ it with your eyes but you know it by inference, which is just as good as direct experience since knowing it is nearly all that is required. We say ‘nearly’ because simply knowing it indirectly as an object is not quite enough. It is only truly known when you know what it means to know it in terms of your experience of duality.

Usually when you walk into a room and someone is in it, you immediately introduce yourself; neither person sits and stares at each other without speaking. In terms of self knowledge this presents a problem because the way we are conditioned to interact...which reveals what we know and what we don’t know...demands that information about our respective identities be exchanged. You can’t really function in the ‘real’ world without knowing who you are dealing with. This information may come indirectly by inference or directly in the form of statements about the self. I seriously doubt that you have ever met a complete stranger who introduced his or her self as non-dual ordinary actionless unconcerned limitless unborn awareness. These are the words that most accurately identify the being sitting in the body in front of you but that is not what that being says.

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