The consciousness in you and the consciousness in me, apparently two, really one, seek unity and that is love.
- Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj
When are cut all the knots of the heart here on earth, then the mortal becomes immortal.
- Katha Upanishad 6.15
Our Mental life is woven through everything we see, everything we feel, everything we sense in the world around us, even as we peer at the incomprehensible vastness of astrophysical space and the sparse movement of its bodies, or the ineffably small world of the quantum that vanishes as quickly as it appears. Even as we secretly Witness, and outwardly register our everyday life; from the personal filled with our concerns and hopes, successes and failures, to the scale of humanity, its history known and forgotten, and the countless threads in between that intricately weave our Story. It is the constant, and salient factor.
We are, in a very real way looking directly at the life of our mind when we gaze upon the world we have created and built around us. The story we seem to be living out right now is one in which we are driven and compelled to become Personal, and to confirm that to ourselves in every aspect of our lives, inside and out. This story of personal awakening is mirrored and written everywhere around us. Written into our laws, told in our stories, depicted in our art and music, written in our texts, living in our dreams, and tossed out into the mix of the world through our individual and collective actions. It is the stuff of our highest ideals, our longings and desires, and our most craven and furtive impulses. It has manifested as a kind of reaching for self-determination, self-autonomy, in all the many noble and ignoble ways.
When the ancients gazed at the sky and stars, the world around them and its movements they saw themselves in extension, their very being reaching out into the cosmos, and reflected back. Lacking as they were, the same hard-line to distinguish inner-life from outer-world we now take to believe in and hold onto tightly as real. Some, an Awakened few, comprehended the vast tapestry, felt it living inside and through them, a seamless and Infinite continuum of Existence and the Beyond. They contemplated its vast magnificence and awed at the living Presence of its innumerable forms and appearances, right in the midst of their world and life. The Seers, chanting its glory and celebrating its movement. Some, a Personal few, were world shapers and conquerors setting larger destinies in motion, though even then their sense of personal agency was augmented by a wider conception that extended to their group, their tribe and the gods. Most however, were dimly aware and passively immersed in the continuum, and experienced their gains, their losses, their struggles uncomplicated by the ages and cycles, an accumulation of internal and external structure and complexity that we share today as the fruits of our thinking.
Despite the more open intimacy with which they lived to the light of a deeper Consciousness, ordering the shape of their lives from ‘outside’ through offering and ritual, they did so without the Person as we experience and take for granted now. Their self-consciousness, having an inner-life as distinctly apart and independent from these external cycles was vague and nebulous at best. The notion of self-reflection, looking inward, that there was something inside to discover that was not already Present and received from outside. To them, the possibility for Realisation was equally vague and nebulous. They were in a sense proto-mental. Yet, they were us. No less humanity than humanity today. And while so much open to a wider Consciousness and its manifestations yet so much asleep to it, they too found themselves ‘here’, in existence, a being among beings. A naked rawness, experiencing over long cycles of time the clash of forms and the shock of limits inevitably stamping its rude marks upon their being and mind. The condition of their mental life and relationship to the ‘outer world’ could not remain untouched. The ‘reality’ of their separation from themselves, from their own original Primordial Being, dawning ever more like the most intimate wound struck in the core of the Heart.
The clarity of the Buddha‘s first Noble Truth: Life is suffering, had its extremely profound and far-reaching effect when the life of the mind, its reactions, its responses mental and emotional, had largely come of age. The Person had come to the forefront of our motivations and activity, still simple for the most part, pre-personal in many ways compared to us today. But nevertheless in the fading out of this ancient state of consciousness, in which the deeper nature of Being was openly apparent all around us, the sense of objectivity had sunk in, and along with the emergence of the Person the world too, had come into sharper focus. It was ‘out there’, and made of independent objects. Indeed, by this time there were already schools of materialism amidst the ascetics practicing their austerities and Tapas, yogis developing their contemplations, and Brahmins still performing their rituals and invoking the presence of the gods. The Person sought outwardly, perhaps the most deeply ingrained habit of our ancient past, half-consciously for that most intimate, ancient, mostly forgotten, and missing completeness. Of course, no one likes to suffer. Their impulse as much as ours was to avoid, bury and forget. To attempt at making a refuge within the island of the ordinary mind, its sensory life, world and objects, as if floating on top of our Being and any reminder of the pain of its apparent absence.
The message of the Buddha then, at its most imperative, was one of personal Freedom, the Hinayana. Awareness of our separation, our suffering. The emergence of the Person had made Realisation possible. There were others who had made similar leaps and discoveries, and had come to similar realisations and experiences, but it was the Buddha’s clarity of statement, his formulation stripped clean of the confused mass of the past, that resounds so loudly through history and carries in itself the secrets of further profound realisations in the Mahayana, that have unfolded over time in various ways, and still continues to now. Of course, a little later there was also Christ, marking a turning point in the maturity of this Personal stage, one that emphasised the passing of a bygone era, and the personal responsibility for finding the Highest within.
We are, indeed, far more widely and comprehensively Personal, our sense of me, and our entitlement to it has become more deeply ingrained over time. To the extent that the life of the individual and our right to it has become the overriding province of our attention. Few of us can deny that we would prefer to keep these hard-won gains, than regress back to a life without our chance at individual worth as we conceive it now.
As much as the Person can be equated with what most spiritual discourse terms the ego, the ‘me’, public enemy number one, and rightful target of our deconstruction, it remains that without it, we could hardly awaken, lacking the capacity to realise anything at all. As the Person emerged in mental life and its domain, so too did the human dimension of meaning in our lives. All of our human endeavours, triumphant and tragic, all of our arts, culture in all its forms, civilisation, all of our science and its deep investigation of the world. The incomprehensible web of our relationships across humanity and over all of history. In this painful clash of limits that is existence here, in this world of our embodied life, it is this personal awakening by which we are able to Awaken. By penetrating and unraveling it we begin to understand, and to know. Beneath the limited and surface presentation of the little ego and its little life that we are so entranced by and embroiled in, is the mystery of this deeper ‘I’. That through Its conscious self-awareness in each of us it brings, or perhaps more accurately, reveals, the deepest knowing and Presence of our true nature ‘here’, in and as this phenomenal, manifest existence, from within depths of us as Its conscious agents. The spiritualised, Universal ‘I’ in Non-Duality.
Quite apart from the simple and mechanical reactions of the emotional mind in defence of personal territory, penetrating it with a conscious awareness develops the capacity to feel, to be genuinely and spontaneously moved in witnessing the events of life, independently of any mental judgement as being good or bad, taking us deeper into our heart and to the possibility of discovering, revealing our deepest most Real nature, whatever the right label for it happens to be. Feeling then, is an active faculty and power of Insight to develop and refine.
The more things change, the more they stay the same as the saying goes. In the progression and growth of the Person, we have retained in ourselves the relics of previous ages. Change does not come easily to most, tending to remain passive and unquestioningly adopt an accepted identity particular to their epoch. As if clinging to the ancient ghost of our more innocent proto-mental beginnings, deep in our most sonambulent mind.
Even as sleep is the default option for most, the results of this personal awakening are quickly accelerating around humanity. There is a limit to which this can continue, this outward movement of our seeking. A point at which the Person itself becomes transposed completely ‘out there’ like a phantom in a virtual reality, having almost no contact at all with the inner-life that gave it its painful birth. It is one of the curious and paradoxical effects of the materialist view of ourselves. The range of our being, our recourse to meaning rests on sensory stimulation and its thrills alone, and we are now starting to see the fragmented, confused, exhausted and empty consequences of this assumption appearing in our lives today. Like we observe in the individual ego, the resistence and stubborness when it comes to looking inwards and coming to the truths of itself, the Person acting as if through us is becoming equally beligerent in its self-assertion. Time is limited upon which sleep can be claimed as a defence.
It may be that in the final act of the Personal story, humanity liberates it from the grip of this solely material view of itself, and perhaps by doing so, in the process, changes its very inner-nature, workings and mode of existence. It may be, in this possibility of transcending the Personal stage that we come full-circle, a world again enriched by the Immanent presence of Being obvious to most, or even all. The hard barrier between inner and outer softened, and not just to an Awakened few. Or not.