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Both the Depths and the Surface of the Ocean Are Wet

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Q: In your recent blog post, "Playing 3-d Chess with the Absolute" , you have written about "authentic individuality" or soul. I want to know whether by "soul" you mean that which takes rebirth. This is normally not talked about in non-duality, where it is stated that there is no self.

A: Thanks for your very good question. In many teachings of Advaita or non-duality, there is a strong emphasis on the absolute truth. Reality is considered to be that which is unchanging and which never comes or goes. That way of pointing is useful and powerful in pointing awareness beyond appearances and beyond all that does come and go like souls, bodies, objects, thoughts, etc.

I tend to point with a more relative definition of reality. I would suggest that how long something lasts is an indicator of how real or how true it is. So a thought that lasts at most a few seconds is not very real. A body or incarnation is more real. And a soul that lasts through many incarnations is even more real. But all of these are still appearances that come and go within the ultimate reality that cannot be named or described. So they are real, but not as real as the absolute substratum of existence that does not come or go.

A nice metaphor is the ocean. The depths of the ocean are relatively still and unchanging, while up on the surface there are lots of waves that come and go. In my way of seeing, the waves do exist, but only for as long as they are individually happening. However, when you are being tossed to and fro by the waves, there is no question that they do exist, just as when you have taken birth as a body, there is little question whether that body exists for you. And also there is no question that when the waves subside or the body dies, that they no longer exist.

The soul is like the deeper currents that are also moving and changing and yet have a tremendous effect on the appearance of many waves. These currents persist for a much longer time than any individual wave, and can generate many different waves over time. These currents would have much more effect on our journey than any individual wave. And for those who can sense it, there is no question that the soul still exists when the body dies, just as the currents still exist when the waves subside.

Eventually all currents and all waves subside back into the stillness of the deepest water. And surprisingly, the depths are the most intense and powerful level of the ocean of Being that has the most profound effect on our consciousness. Sensing the depths and vastness of the ocean can put the entire journey into perspective and allow us to see that it is all one beautiful play of splashing, flowing water. Since we as souls are also made of that same water, nothing can harm us or do any damage to our eternal nature.

All of these levels or depths exist simultaneously, and they are all one ocean. The biggest truth is that they are all made up of water, but the smaller truths of currents and waves appear within that one vast body of water. The appearance of waves does not contradict the vastness of the ocean, and the existence of the infinite stillness at the depths does not contradict the arising of the currents and waves. These different levels of truth are all true simultaneously, and they are not separate from each other. The currents and waves exist within the eternal ocean of Being.

A good question is what level of truth is functional or useful in this moment. For discriminating how to steer a boat on the surface moment to moment, being extremely aware of each wave is useful and can even keep your boat from capsizing! For navigating across wide stretches of ocean, then understanding and appreciating the deeper currents becomes useful and functional. And for putting it all in perspective and touching the depths of your Being, then it is appropriate to sense beyond appearances and form to the underlying reality of the infinite ocean of water itself. The flexibility to shift awareness between these different levels of reality allows the most appropriate response in each and every moment to the ever-changing and yet also eternally unchanging experience of the ocean of Being. There is no right or wrong level of truth, there are just all of the different experiences of water here for us to explore. Both the depths and the surface are wet, and they both can be refreshing and rich to play in.

I hope this is helpful.

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Playing 3-D Chess with the Absolute

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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.

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Tasting Emptiness

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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.

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Nothing Personal leads you to the experience of your true nature and helps you explore its depth. Through exposition, questions and dialogues, it brings you to a place of realization of the Truth: you are the spacious Awareness in which everything appears.

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