What is the goal of the path of Self Discovery? Self Realization. The realization of our true nature, who and what we truly are, in reality. And just what is that? Well uh um ah…….I don’t know. Which is why we have to explore this for ourselves personally if we are so inclined to do so. Whatever is said about our true nature or written about it or thought about it is not It. Simply because its beyond concepts which is what all this is. Yet concepts can point to it, some more effectively than others. Some (actually very few in my experience) spiritual teachers are quite effective in using minimal concepts to point to the truth.
One such teacher was Robert Adams (1928-1997). Adams had an experience of awakening early in life and subsequently spent time with the renowned Indian saint, Sri Ramana Maharshi. Adams very beautifully reflects the simple subtle and yet profoundly powerful approach of Advaita or Non-duality and the path of self inquiry. Though he rarely gave any teachings in the usual sense as he considered silence the best teaching, in one of his Satsangs from the early 90s he expressed four principles of self realization which are very simple and clear.
The first principle is the realization that everything you experience is a manifestation of your mind. That includes all the objects of your external world as well as all the thoughts, feelings, beliefs and ideas of your inner world. Everything one experiences (all phenomena) are a projection of the mind. The mind is not something in your head, its your entire world, you live in your mind. The mind is the only means through which we can experience phenomena which includes all objects of perception. Everything we perceive depends on mind or the ego, what we call “I”. Without “I” nothing can be experienced and if nothing is experienced there is no world. The only way we know ‘world’ is through experience. Further, whatever we experience comes through the filter of our unique version of “I”. No two people experience the same object exactly the same way. Whatever we perceive is colored by the layers and textures of our mental conditioning, what we think about it, whether we like or dislike it, what memories it triggers etc. A self realized person knows that what he experiences as the outside world and his inner world is not real, just a mental projection. Knowing this is like realizing you are in a dream world. This knowing allows one to not take experiences so seriously and not to attach to them as being the cause of happiness because they aren’t real.
The second principle is the realization that you are unborn. That is you were never born, you don’t have a life now and you can never die. This principle involves realizing that we are not the body or mind, we are nothing that is temporary or comes and goes. We are the eternal presence of “I am”. When “I” is not mixed with anything else like I am John, I am a lawyer, I am a mother, I am rich, I am poor, I am lazy, I am depressed – then we are left with only the feeling sense of being or existence which is often simply called presence. We can also call it awareness. Awareness is always here now no matter what our mental or physical state. It is the stable constant underneath the sea of constant change. Birth, the living of a life and death are all part of the realm of change. The body was born and it will die. The mind was born and it will die. However we are what is aware of both the body and the mind and that awareness was never born and can never die because it is not subject to change. When we see that we are this awareness and not the body/mind we realize that we are unborn and free of death.
The third principle is the realization of the egolessness of all things. That is you see clearly that neither you nor anything else in the universe has any inherent essence of its own. In seeing our underlying nature of awareness or consciousness and that what we take to be the world is nothing more than a mental projection it becomes clear that objects or things have no real identity. Instead everything is a manifestation from the same source, consciousness. A car is consciousness that has taken a particular form and has had the mental pattern – car – projected onto it. There is no separately existing car even though thats the way it appears. The car can only exist when perceived by the mind and is limited by the mental pattern being projected onto it. However the perceiving mind, the act of perceiving the car and the object of the car are all nothing but consciousness. This is where the concept of oneness comes from, under the surface everything in the universe consists of the same substance and so everything is that and only appears to be separate objects due to perception and perspective.
A hologram makes a very good analogy to this and there is even a holographic theory of the universe which is laid out nicely in a book by Michael Talbot. A hologram is created using a laser and projecting it on an object and spliting the beam so that it is reflected on holographic film. The hologram that is produced on the film is called an interference pattern and it looks like nothing but a big mess of ripples, nothing like the object that produced it. However when you shine light through it and perceive it you see a three dimentional version of the object projected into space. The hologram is just a pattern but when perceived it becomes an object. Unless its perceived there is no object. Similarly we could consider the universe a field of consciousness consisting of infinite patterns or creations that when perceived become the objects we experience, while we ourselves are one of those perceived objects.
The fourth principle is having a deep understanding of the true nature of wisdom. You know essentially what is not wisdom. You know what is not the true nature of the Self and the true nature of reality. Basically you know that you do not know and that I don’t know is wisdom. This is a realization that true wisdom is beyond the mind and ungraspable by the mind and so to abide in wisdom all concepts must be dropped so there can be no knowing of wisdom in the usual sense. This is sometimes called emptiness although this word is problematic because what we consider emptiness is a concept and is not it. The minds idea of empty is not what this refers to. Its reality without mind but without mind there is no one to perceive reality so its called emptiness, of both subject and object. This can only be realized directly, no discussion can approach it.
Adams elaborated on these principles further by offering three methods which help one to realize them personally through direct experience which is all that makes any difference. The first method is Self Surrender. In seeing that both what we take ourselves to be and what we take the world to be are not real but really a single unitary awareness we surrender our idea of who we are to That. We realize there is One Will, Divine Will if you will and we are simply an expression of That. We surrender the illusion in favor of the reality and so walk through life in a state of inner peace no longer at odds with ourselves and the world. The second method is mindfulness. This is focusing on awareness or the source of consciousness within us that sees and witness everything that happens. We learn to BE that awareness at all times, always aware of what is happening as the observer. When we witness what happens we are reminded that its not ultimately real and that we are the dreamer that is creating it. This shift in perspective from being heavily identified with and invested in everything that happens to us to being the witness or observer of it brings great freedom and space and the ability to truly enjoy experience. Real enjoyment is only possible when there is no attachment. The third method is Self Inquiry. This is the practice of questioning our reality and who we take ourselves to be. Questioning without answering. Who is angry right now? Who is afraid? Who is happy? Who is suffering? Who am I? Asking these questions serves to direct attention back into itself to the source. There is no attempt to answer these questions with the mind. Instead the questions are simply asked and then we keep quiet and aware. This tends to dissolve false appearances and brings us closer to reality.
You can find more of Robert’s profound pointing here where you can download transcripts of his Satsangs as well as listen to recordings of some of them. This post is based on transcript 4 from August 19th 1990. I hope you find it of benefit. What is so incredible about this approach is that it is not trying to convince you of anything. In Advaita there is simply an invitation to inquire into yourself and find out the truth for yourself. Its up to you to decide if you wish to accept that invitation or if you find any value in this pointing.