There was a naked sage in India who, by even Indian standards, was quite bizarre and very direct with those who would seek his consul. The word was that even just being around this guy would elicit an almost overwhelming blissful and loving state of consciousness. I recall this same guy would even poop in his own hand and throw it at the hoards of people that wouldn’t leave him alone. This may be a good best practice we could all benefit from adopting, as it seems likely it could be quite effective.
One of the visitors approached this crazy naked sage and said, “What do I need to do to become enlightened?” To which the sage responded, “You want to become enlightened? YOU do not exist!”
This is kind of a bad-ass cool thing to say to someone but what does it really mean?
This could be interpreted in a myriad of ways. Probably most would infer the master meant that this physical world is purely allusion or a dream so we don’t really have any substantial existence. However, I think this isn’t exactly what he meant. If you study Jed McKenna, Adyashanti, Ram Das, Eckhart Tolle, Fred Davis, Alan Watts or Mooji (and the list of awakened teachers goes on), you hear a remarkably similar message; however with a bit more clarification than our naked sage provided.
Related: Nondualistic Badass In Black
My hope is to expand on this concept of “you do not exist” in a distilled and easy to digest manner to provide some serious material for self-inquiry.
Awareness, Consciousness and the Thinking Mind
Pure awareness, consciousness, and being is the base of all existence. The pregnant stillness through which all is born and comes into existence, and in which all eventually decays and is absorbed back into. Thought is a product of the brain and thinking mind and is a contraction of this pure awareness, existing within this pure essence of quiet awareness.
Taking it a step further, this consciousness is the same background awareness shared by everything. It’s not a thinking, judging, entity but the pure never-changing awareness of being behind all our thoughts. It’s what observes our thoughts, the input from our senses, and is out of time. It’s the ever-changing present is-ness that we seldom identify with as “Us”, “Me”, or “I”. However, it’s ever-present and always there behind our own ideas of the “me” or “I” we refer to as our personality or individual self.
Why we don’t identify with it or feel it as our base nature is because we have been taught and conditioned since early childhood to identify our sense of individual identity with the thoughts we have about who we are. This “individual” idea of “us” is in fact, the same “YOU” that the sage in the opening story told the seeker did not in fact exist. Sure there is this body and sense of being a person but this YOU is a purely a fictional construct that your thinking mind has created and you’ve become convinced is the unique and separate individual that is “you”. Most of us become quite addicted to being this individual.
The bummer here is every aspect of the individual is purely a construct of our imagination. This isn’t purely my take but also maps to much of the non-dualist or Advaita map of the territory of consciousness vs. ego identity. So if this is too far out to consider now, put it on a shelf and you will surely cross paths with this philosophy again as you explore other non-dual teachings. Let the gist of it marinate.
On Roles and Personas
Let’s get even more specific as we are still dealing with quite a challenge to our identity here. I’m saying that you as the individual you know yourself to be is imaginary and basically a collection of memories, assumed roles, beliefs, opinions, and hopes, none of which exist in the here and now and which are constantly changing and impermanent.
Our minds spin stories around constructs and memories and goes to great lengths to preserve this identity and we get a bit freaked out if the foundations of our identity are challenged or discounted by others. Through these stories, beliefs, and memories we consciously or unconsciously create the roles that make up the identities or personas we play out. Many of these thought patterns repeat themselves, creating a sense of permanence that we confuse with being “US”.
What do we mean by “roles” here? These are patterns that our thinking supports, validates, and confirms that are fundamental to our story of who we are. Some examples are the victim, the smart person, the hero, the spiritually advanced one, the successful one, the rich person, the crook, the loyal friend or partner, the misunderstood, the attractive or sexy person, the underdog, the comedian, the philanthropist and the list goes on. Some of these roles are key aspects we take pride in while others we struggle to reject, deny and/or change.
We create stories around our memories that support these roles and adopt beliefs that foster opinions we use as filters to take in the reality around us, again reinforcing and validating these chosen personas. But the long and the short of it is that in the here and now, if we opened up our brain and looked around for the victim, the savior, the genius, the loyal friend, we’ll find nothing but gray matter. There may be memories, which science tells us are more often completely inaccurate than true. But those memories are of a historical present that no longer exists in the reality of now. There is nothing lasting and enduring about these concepts as they change frequently even with the same historical memories. When you die they will be gone forever. They don’t endure and are ever changing.
So where, if anywhere, is the consistent “I”? We find our self-image with thought and only in thought. Without thought, the “us” that we know immediately ceases to be. Kind of like when we go to sleep at night. Then we wake up and it takes a few minutes for thought to rev up and remind us of who we are, what we should be worried about, what we must get done and the individual construct comes back into the illusory thought induced being.
Our constant anxiety around the future, how we project it will or should unfold, how we can control it, etc are also purely thoughts no more real than memories and are totally imagined potential futures. However, we identify with these potential futures, both feared or desired, and fold them into our thought constructs of who we are. This reaffirms our roles, beliefs, and opinions as well as our future progression of who we will be.
Again, we assume this constant mental chatter is a real thing that is the true essence defining “US”. These constantly changing, erratic, thought patterns, for better or worse, convince us of who we think we are even though none of it exists in the here and now outside of these fleeting random thoughts. In order to perpetuate our sense of individuality, we must constantly spin these thoughts in familiar patterns to feel “we” are still there. We are deathly afraid of losing “ourselves” and it can be quite scary when this mental pattern is impacted and either starts to break down or falls apart entirely. An identity crisis then develops and we frantically try to create new stories, re-spin memories, create new hopes in an attempt to construct a new and possibly better thought based identity.
An identity crisis is a fantastic spiritual window as it really puts a microscope on this entire process. However, most of us try to close the window as fast as we possibly can vs. looking at what’s left watching all this as our constructs evaporate.
However, there is an awareness that stands behind all this noise and observes the mind doing it’s thing and simply and quietly and completely without thought or judgment. This is the same sense of being-ness that’s always been behind all these constructs from our childhood identity, adolescence, professional, adult, and old age perceptions of our individual selves and experiences.
Often in meditation, in the rare moments where the mind actually slows down and stops for a few seconds, we become one with that witness that’s always there in the background. There is direct perception devoid of any thought. At that moment, you do not exist. However, in those few seconds when thought stops and the individual disappears (since it’s only a product of thought and can’t exist outside of thought), we however briefly, touch the essence of our true nature. This can be exhilarating or frightening if unfamiliar.
So if liberation is abiding in this true and ever-present thought-less awareness, what keeps us from residing there permanently? It’s all this other thought-based creation and fear and clinging to aspects of our identity that makes so much mental noise that it masks this pure awareness of being.
So the first step is in just seeing this process of the mind and how it creates our individual identity and perpetually tries to maintain and support it. By seeing it for what it is, we come to identify with what’s watching it all vs. believing ourselves to be these thoughts.
By now it’s becoming more clear that the thinking mind can’t attain enlightenment, although our sense of self would surely like to put that into our identity bag and feel special as a result. But that very sense of ourselves as the individual is what must be deconstructed and left behind if our awareness is to shift to abide in the unchanging consciousness that is literally everything.
The Destructive Nature of Enlightenment
Becoming enlightened or liberated isn’t an additive process but a destructive one. So the “You” that is seeking must be shed like a snake’s skin to become that which is truth. Our true nature is liberated from the prison of our thought created illusory identity. The ego can’t pass through the gateless gate. This shedding without replacing can be a pretty scary process to go through and does involve some faith. One’s sense of self literally becomes less and less, shrinking into nothingness. You are literally dismantling everything you’ve known yourself to be and standing on more unstable ground every step of the way. Usually it becomes too uncomfortable and people favor the known, however limiting, over going into the unknown.
This dismantling of the illusion of what we are is not for the timid. It’s getting on the biggest ride in this amusement park we call life. It’s scary, uncomfortable, novel, and requires faith but can lead to an entirely different experience of being.
So, as the sage said, YOU do not exist. And until we are willing to shed the many layers of our thought constructed imaginary sense of self, we won’t know the timeless truth of who and/or what we really are. Until the muddy film on the window is rubbed clean, that truth can’t shine through the mental clutter and noise.
That’s the inconvenient truth.
If the deconstruction process becomes too scary, you can always think up a bunch of roles, build a new identity to become attached to, try to control your future with endless anxiety filled cycles of how things might or “should” unfold and double down your individual identity.
However, deep down, you’ll know, regardless of how all consuming it becomes, that it’s really just adding more dirt to the window so you don’t have to engage in the unknown on the other side.
So maybe we are all really window washers vs. spiritual seekers. Seeking is trying to find something we don’t have. Becoming awakened is losing the illusions we do have so we can become one with the timeless truth that has quietly been there the whole time.
Peace out my brothers and sisters,
The Big Toe
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