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Playing 3-D Chess with the Absolute

Written by Nirmala on .

Q: I was hoping you could answer this, as no one seems to address it:  In the statement, "I am identified as ego," -who is the "I" mentioned here.  It could be the ego identifying as itself but then what is the True self doing?  Is the True Self asleep?    Also when someone says, "I am identifying as the True Self", or "Awareness","Nothingness" etc., who is the "I" here, it can't be the ego (not in genuine awakening anyway).  It could be the True Self identifying as itself but really the True Self seems to not identify with being anything. I hope this makes sense.  In a related area-it seems the ego must exist, it can't just be an illusion as it seems to need healing, even after we wake up.

A: These are really good questions. It is easier to start to understand them if you hold the possibility that there are several different levels of truth that are all true at the same time, similar to how on a cloudy day it is simultaneously both cloudy on one level, and sunny if you fly above the clouds.

So there is an ultimate "True Self" or true nature that is not really identified with anything. And there is also an ego that has all kinds of thoughts that at least try to identify itself somehow. The ego can identify with your looks, your car, your favorite sports team and all kinds of equally superficial stuff. And in between these two levels there is also an authentic individuality that is more translucent and permeable than the ego, but not as empty and vast as the true Self. They all operate at their respective levels and to some extent they can also affect other levels.

I think that most of the time when someone says they are identified as the ego, it is the authentic individuality that is conscious in the moment of the excessive activity of the ego. In some traditions, this is the called the soul or "the pearl without price". This soul can also identify as the true self in a moment of awakening or more expanded awareness, in which case there would still be a sense of individuality along with a profound sense of a larger reality.

There is not a lot you can say about the experience of your ultimate true self in the absence of any identity or identification. There is not even a self at that level to experience anything, so it is an "experience" that is empty of all experience!

And yes, the ego does "exist" at the relative level at which our body and mind and thoughts exist. Strangely, at the same time that the ego does exist, it also does not exist at the "higher" or more complete levels of truth. At the level of absolute reality, the ego does not exist and has never existed! And in between these two levels, at the level of the authentic individuality or soul, the ego is still present, but its existence is seen to be pretty flimsy and insubstantial. Ramana was asked once if he still had an ego, and he said yes, but that it was like a burnt rope. It could no longer bind or restrict him because it was so flimsy and insubstantial.

But the level of the body and mind where the "ego" operates does not disappear even when someone has a full opening into a more absolute realization, or when there is a fuller realization of the soul. Your body and mind do not literally dissolve or melt away. In a big realization, the ego is seen to not be real or not very real, and then as life continues to unfold, the ego "reappears" when the circumstances of life trigger the remaining conditioning in the body/mind and bring you back into a more relative perspective. This happens less for someone who has healed a lot of their conditioning and happens a lot more for someone who has not done much healing work, but it seems to pretty much happen at least sometimes for anyone who still has a body/mind.

This all unfolds like some really wild and illusory 3-dimensional chess game ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three-dimensional_chess ) where you can not even see all of the levels that are affecting the game moment to moment. And our little ego is playing against an infinite and grand master of illusion. No wonder it is so hard for the poor ego to ever finally and completely win!

I hope this helps.

Eagle ray into the sun

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Tasting Emptiness

Written by Nirmala on .

Q: In your book, Nothing Personal, you wrote this about Awareness:  "This mysterious something is like a flashlight. I call it that because there is a quality of brightness to it. Whatever you bring your attention to becomes lit up by this Awareness".  What happens if I shine the flashlight on Awareness itself?

A: That is a very good question! The nature of awareness itself cannot really be captured in words, but the actual practice of turning awareness back on itself is a powerful doorway into directly experiencing the mystery of awareness more fully, even if you still cannot describe or even conceptualize it.

Since awareness is not a thing and does not have a fixed location, often the initial experience when we direct attention to awareness itself is a sense of emptiness and/or disorientation. It is like trying to grasp a beam of light with your hands. The opportunity is to just stay with the experience of "no-thing-ness" or the sense of indefinable and ungraspable vagueness and see what happens. I often use the metaphor that it can be like walking from a brightly lit room into a completely dark room. At first, you cannot see anything! But if you stay there with your eyes wide open, then gradually your eyes adjust and you can start to just make out the furniture.

Similarly, when we stay with the actual experience of noticing awareness, no matter how vague or undefined it is at first, there can be a filling in of a more subtle sensing of simple presence or Being. Even then it can remain elusive, but the invitation is to continue to just stay with the ebb and flow of sensations, and also of more subtle sensations. You can be especially curious if you encounter any sense of emptiness or blankness or even a sense of lack or like something is missing. Our instincts when we experience emptiness or nothingness is to turn away and look somewhere else. But on these subtle levels, the direct sensations of emptiness and lack are surprisingly the most direct openings into deeper reality. It takes a while to get the knack of looking at nothing and fully tasting emptiness, but with time you can become a connoisseur of emptiness and discover all of the myriad subtle qualities of your own essence as awareness. Here is an article about this kind of exploration: http://endless-satsang.com/emptiness.htm

I hope this helps.

sea cucumber

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Don't Brush Your Teeth with a Hammer

Written by Nirmala on .

Q: Could you please help me get clear on the question of waking up and having an opinion or judgment? It seems to me that all opinions would also be no-self, they appear and at the same time can be a judgment. Just because someone awakes to their no-self nature doesn't mean that they immediately become a nice guy lacking opinions...would you agree?

A: Good question! The human aspect of our nature continues after any big spiritual realization and so yes, the apparent person still has opinions and judgments galore :)

The difference in my experience is that there is a much greater degree of flexibility to hold the opinions lightly. They are seen to be relative and not that important, so when they are not needed or are even getting in the way, they can be dropped more easily. This is also relative and some deeper layers of conditioning might be stickier and so would tend to arise more often and interfere more often.

All there is...is truth. So every opinion and judgment has some truth in it (although some have very, very little), so they all can also be useful in certain circumstances. That is part of why they do not go away...because they are still useful sometimes.

Narrow opinions and judgments are not bad or wrong, they are just of very limited usefulness. Like a tool that does only one job well. The problem is when we use that same "tool" to try and do lots of things. Imagine if you used a hammer to open a jar of pickles or to brush your teeth! It would not work out so well. An extremely narrow or limited viewpoint can even be more dangerous than a hammer if it is applied indiscriminately.

The flexibility of awareness that tends to come with spiritual awakening means you can move in and out of different perspectives and viewpoints and over time, this tends to make someone more adept at moving into the perspective or viewpoint that is most appropriate and functional in the moment. But no one is perfect and even the most enlightened person can still pick up the wrong "tool" now and then :)

I hope this helps.

Note: Nirmala invites questions for this blog. You can contact him using the form here.

Juvenile Emperor Angelfish

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