For August 2014 Author of the Month please welcome back Thomas Razzeto. Thomas’s work, research and insights into the meaning of enlightenment and consciousness are truly thought provoking and groundbreaking. Join Thomas for the online discussion during August at the AoM Message Boards
My most passionate plea is for you to wake up to your true self as pure awareness. We have all heard it said that you are not a human being having a spiritual experience, but instead, you are a spiritual being having a human experience. Yet you are not a being of any kind, spiritual or physical. You are pure awareness! And most importantly, your awareness is the One Awareness – the Divine Awareness – and as such, it is the only reality that was not created. This Divine Awareness is the source of all of creation and it is the only witness to it. This is your true fundamental self and this Source-Awareness is looking out of your own eyes right now!
That’s quite a bit to start with so let’s backup a little and ask, “What is personal consciousness?”
What Is Personal Consciousness?
Since I cannot directly sense your physical sensations, feel your feelings, see your thoughts, and so forth, it seems logical to say that we each have our own personal consciousness, separate and distinct, and this is what perceives our world. But this is just an illusion created when the One Divine Awareness looks through the windows of our bodies and souls. In truth, your personal consciousness is blind; it perceives nothing. Yet it provides a point of view, a window into the conditions of each person. Only this Awareness sees anything; only this Awareness experiences anything. The personal self experiences nothing. What we think of as the experiences of the personal self are actually the experiences of the One True Self.
The ancient texts of India refer to the personal consciousness as the “jiva” and my mentor, Timothy Conway, translates this as the soul or “the viewpoint.” It is the most upstream aspect of the personal self. Timothy emphasizes that your personal consciousness is certainly not a limited or smaller version of the Absolute Awareness, with a diminished or restricted power of perception. Again, it has no sentience of its own; it is only a window and a window cannot see anything.
Through the mystery of creation, this One Divine Awareness presents itself in a way that makes it seem as if there are many separate, independent “awarenesses.” This reminds me of the light from the moon. It looks as if the moon is the source of its own light, but in fact, the light from the moon is really light from the sun, bouncing off the surface of the moon. Not only does moonlight originate with the sun, it is always fundamentally sunlight. Its nature and qualities do not change at all when it bounces off the moon. (This analogy is slightly flawed since some of the sunlight is absorbed by the surface of the moon and turned into heat, but you get the idea.)
In this way, the moon presents to us the sunlight that we experience as moonlight. If for some reason the sun were invisible to us, we would never learn that it is the true source of this moonlight and we would incorrectly think that the moon is the source of its own light. And if there were more than one moon, we would think of them all as separate sources of different light. In a similar way, the Source-Awareness, which is indeed invisible to us, creates what appear to be individuated personal consciousnesses, each with what appears to be their own power of sentience. This is the illusion of the personal self; we are tricked into believing the false idea that the personal self is a self-powered sentient being, alive and aware all on its own. This is why I like to say:
You are not the sentient being you have considered yourself to be all your life. You are sentience itself!
Again, the One Awareness looks through a window or viewpoint, which is provided by the combination of your body and soul. When you drop the physical body in death, the One Awareness, the True Self, will still be looking through the viewpoint of your soul into the spiritual realm. Genuine, in-depth study of reincarnation reveals that we are not limited to just one body and that it is the soul that receives the spiritual growth of our personal self. At birth, the pre-existing viewpoint of the soul overlaps with the new viewpoint provided by the body and this combination offers a new window into the physical world.
What was created when you were born was not a new sentient being, but a new viewpoint from which the One True Self perceives the world. This has been happening ever since you were born and it is happening right now. What is commonly thought of as your own personal sentience is really the One Divine Awareness looking out through your own eyes, as I mentioned before.
Imagine you are the One Awareness and that you are in a room with many windows. When you look into the world through one of these windows, you see a certain view. In this way, you have all the experiences of one particular person. You see what they see, feel what they feel, think what they think, remember what they remember, dream what they dream and so forth. When you look through a different window, you have all the experiences of another person. But you are still the same Awareness; this has not changed in any way. If you experienced all of these experiences simultaneously, it would be just a mass of color and noise. This is why it is said that our individuated personal consciousness is what allows the One Awareness to experience the world without it being a jumbled mess.
Although your personal consciousness (your soul) does not depend upon your body for its existence or its ability to function, it uses the body to create that razor sharp feeling of being present in our physical world as a human being with a physical body. It feels like your body is an integral part of you because your personal consciousness permeates your body. Imagine a driver not only getting into a car but also infusing himself or herself into every single atom of the car. When you add to this the One Awareness looking through the window of the body and soul, you get the extremely vivid experience that tricks you into falsely thinking that you are a separate sentient being, mortal and certainly not divine.
While many people have heard that the world is an illusion, very few people have heard someone tell them that they themselves are also an illusion. Yes indeed, your personal self is an illusion! But this does not mean that it is not vividly real as an ongoing experience; it only means that you are being tricked into believing a false idea, the idea that you are a separate, mortal, sentient being, rather than this pure Divine Awareness.
Since your personal consciousness does not depend upon your body for its existence or its ability to function, it is said that the personal consciousness transcends the body. This is why it is possible for the connection between the two to be temporarily released during an out-of-body-experience. While the personal consciousness simultaneously permeates and transcends the body, both the personal consciousness and the body depend upon the Source-Awareness for their existence and functionality.
In the past, I have used the metaphor about people being hand puppets through which the True Self expresses and experiences itself. How good is this metaphor? Well, I think it’s pretty good but it might leave you puzzled since you know without a doubt that you don’t feel like you are a hand puppet. You know that when you choose to pick up a pencil, it feels like it is you who evaluates your choices, decides what you want to do, and then initiates and completes the action. Picking up the pencil does not feel like it is out of your control. There is no sensation of your arm being controlled by a different entity, a higher force, or a higher mind. You never feel like shouting out, “Hey, leave me alone and let me do my own thing!”
Well, it feels like you move your arm because your True Self does move it. Your True Self moves everything but your personal self moves nothing. You are the puppet master but you have mistaken the puppet as you, without understanding the true puppet master. Your personal self is the powerless puppet while the One formless Awareness is the puppet master. Just as your personal consciousness provides a unique but limited perspective with which the One unlimited Awareness views the world, your body provides a unique but limited puppet, which the One unlimited Power animates within the world. The puppet is limited but the Power is not.
So your personal self is not really a “self” in the true sense of the word since it is not autonomous. This is why I think that it is so important to clearly point out that you only have one self – this fabulous Divine Source-Awareness – even though I still use the phrase “personal self” in my writing and conversations.
Now let’s quickly consider another similar metaphor, the one of an actor playing the role of a fictional character. In the play, the actor moves the character’s body all around the stage. Of course there’s a difference between the actor and the character since they frequently have vastly different personalities, and so forth, but in the play, they are blended together so closely that the puppet master is looking right through the eyes of the puppet. The character does not have any power of its own so it never does anything; only the actor can make the character seem to do things. The character is fictional. It is only real, valid and meaningful in the context of the play. But the actor exists both within the play and beyond the play. The actor permeates the character and transcends the character.
Now suppose that the actor becomes so totally absorbed in his role that he completely forgets who he really is and instead, he thinks that he is just the character. This is what we have in our world. The One True Self is arising as all apparent selves and playing all the roles. Yet it is hiding in the play by pretending to forget what is really going on. But you cannot really hide yourself from yourself and you will not pretend to forget forever.
The One Awareness is always aware of everything yet the personal self only seems to be aware of it’s own personal world. The One Mind is thinking all thoughts yet the personal self appears to be thinking only its own thoughts. The One Self is sensing all sensations yet the personal self appears to be sensing only its own sensations. But the limited perspective of the personal self only exists as an ongoing experience in the world of form, in this divine dream, this spectacular “play of consciousness.”
This formless Source-Awareness is unchangeable and therefore it cannot become happy or sad in a fundamental way yet it can create happiness and sadness as phenomena and witness them. This Source-Awareness – your True Self – creates the experience of what seems like a separate individual person living his or her own life. This is such a delightful paradox. You are one-hundred percent Divine and simultaneously, you are playing as a person that is one-hundred percent human. Through the mystery of creation, the One seems to come forth as the many. Magnificent!
Your Divine Awareness is the buried treasure hidden within the personal self; it is the kingdom of heaven within you.
Your personal “self” may be your body, mind, and soul, but your True Self – your fundamental, unconstructed self – is this Divine Awareness that perceives everything that you experience. This is why I like to repeat an old saying:
“Know yourself and you shall know God.”
Mainstream science holds that the material qualities and chemical processes of the body and the brain give rise to our personal consciousness. In other words, the material world is the foundation of reality, and consciousness is a byproduct that comes forth from specially organized matter, and this allows all sentient beings to be alive and aware. But what if it’s the other way around? What if your awareness is fundamental? What if your awareness is unconstructed and everything else is created within this?
Genuine, in-depth scientific research into subjects such as out-of-body experiences, near-death experiences, spirit communication and past lives all point to a nature of reality that is profoundly different from the materialistic view of mainstream science. This research shows us that while there is a relationship between our personal consciousness and our body, the body is not the source of our consciousness. The true nature of the self is beyond the body. Of course we all see that our bodies were born into the world; this is beyond dispute. But is it not also true that both our bodies and the entire world are born into our awareness?
Our amazing awareness itself is not even visible to us and yet we know it exists because we experience the world through it. Our awareness holds everything that we experience. Our awareness hosts our entire personal reality. Everything that you experience, physical or spiritual, arises out of your awareness and is witnessed by your unchanging awareness.
And a sage carries this even further. They understand that the awareness that looks out of your eyes is the same awareness that looks out of their eyes. What is seen is different but the awareness is the same. There is only One Awareness, that of the eternal divine essence, and this formless, unseen, Divine Awareness is what animates all of life. What a miracle! What a mystery!
So finally, let’s get to this intriguing question of enlightenment.
What is Enlightenment?
I remember hearing someone adamantly proclaim in front of a large group, “The mind is the enemy!” But enlightened people do not battle with their mind or try to keep it in a perpetual state of minimum thought. Instead, they use it wisely. While it is true that the full understanding of these deep spiritual teachings goes beyond the mind, there is indeed a cognitive component that can be well articulated and held by the mind. These true ideas will fill your mind and then overflow into your entire being as a profound intuitive understanding, or perhaps it will happen the other way around. In any case, this is why we say that this Truth goes beyond the mind, yet the mind is still fully engaged with it. So let’s not lose our minds for you cannot function in the world without one. And, by the way, the clearer the mind, the more loving the heart.
A similar thing can be said about the ego. There is no need to destroy the ego, as some people seem to think. Many books and teachers go on and on about how the ego is the source of all of humankind’s problems but this is just a misunderstanding. First of all, very quickly, what is the ego? Well, your ego is simply your sense of your personal self – your understanding of who you are as a person and how you fit into the world – and an ego is surely required for you to function in society, just like your mind.
But there is a common misunderstanding that the ego is selfish in its very nature. Now, when it comes to selfishness, let’s be clear. There is a big difference between self-love and selfishness. Getting a massage is certainly not a selfish thing; it is a beautiful expression of self-love, just like eating good food and thinking positive thoughts. Likewise, being happy is not selfish; in fact, it’s easier for a happy person to be a loving person. Selfishness comes forth in both attitude and action with a lack of concern for the well-being of others, outright disrespect, and even abuse and hatred. While we of course want to purify ourselves by removing our selfish tendencies, our healthy ego will not be diminished in the process.
So we see that the false ideas that are held by the mind (not the mind itself) along with the selfish tendencies that are integrated into the personal self (not the ego itself) are what lead to so much suffering. I can assure you that God did not create you with a built-in enemy or an intrinsic, unsolvable problem.
I have heard some people say that in order to awaken spiritually, you need to have your heart win its battle with your mind. But please consider this. Your mind holds ideas, and your heart holds emotions. Your mind can hold true ideas or false ideas, and your heart can hold hatred and fear, or love and peace. There is no battle where your heart must triumph over your mind. Instead of a battle, think of it as the pursuit of truth, love and peace. Work towards tuning your mind into the truth and your heart into love and peace. Each of these is like a hand, and one hand washes the other. Together, they develop the two most important components of enlightenment:
1) the correct understanding of your True Self as pure Awareness, the Divine Self, which arises as all selves, and
2) the resultant open-hearted selflessness that flows forth as loving kindness for everyone since everyone is seen as a precious manifestation of this One Source-Awareness.
Being emotionally accepting of everything in your life is what moves you smoothly down the road. This means that you do not have a strong negative emotional charge about what you don’t prefer. The more okay you are with yourself, the world and how you fit into it, the farther down the road you move. Eventual you will have an awakening about who you truly are. This cannot be avoided and will come to you at the “proper” time, although it may not come in this lifetime.
Being emotionally accepting of everything that flows into your life does not mean you should just sit back and accept everything that happens without doing anything to make things better, especially with regards to injustice. If you come upon someone being robbed or hurt, you should try to stop the perpetrator from doing more harm, if possible. They may even have to be put in jail yet this should be done without anger or hatred. The point is that you can “glow with the flow” of life while being open to opportunities to make the world a better place. You do this in your own unique way by following your own wholesome inspirations.
Now, let’s get to the key paradox of enlightenment. The One Self polishes up the personal consciousness and creates an enlightened person, but that person is just a character (not an actor) in the play of form. It is not a self; it is not really you in any fundamental way. So you do not become enlightened but it becomes enlightened. If you think of yourself as a person who has awakened, then the personal consciousness is still holding a false idea. You are not a person. There is a person, but the person is not a self; it is not you.
You might say that enlightenment is set of conditions that bring forth divine virtues. It is the highest and purest condition available for the soul, but it is not a quality of the formless Awareness. This fundamental, unconstructed Awareness is “unimprovable, cannot regress, need not be purified, cannot be liberated, and need not be awakened,” as Timothy often reminds us. This is what enlightens the soul, but it itself cannot be enlightened. So the True Self has never moved down any road; it is the personal consciousness – the “jiva” – that moves down the road.
Even after the personal consciousness awakens to the True Self, there will still be more polishing of the personal consciousness. Awakening is not full enlightenment. And even after the personal consciousness becomes perfectly polished – free from binding likes and dislikes, as the Buddhists say – you will still be active in the world, with a healthy, unselfish ego, sharing the divine virtues of loving kindness and compassion with everyone you encounter. You will not push an agenda with a heavy hand.
How enlightened someone might be is not really that important of a question since everyone is where the hand of God places them in each and every moment. Yet if I were to ask myself how enlightened a particular spiritual teacher is, I would look at how much compassion and kindness they have for everyone, not how many people they can draw into a lecture hall. But I would also look at what they teach.
For example, some teachers emphasize the common misunderstanding that “there is no one here,” which is just a distortion of the true idea that the personal self is not a real, autonomous self. There most certainly is “someOne” here! The One Self of all selves is arising as you and me and “everyOne.” This is why Timothy so often tells us that this Source-Awareness is “SupraPersonal,” rather than impersonal, which is another common misunderstanding. Timothy uses this word to emphasize that God lives as every person by simultaneously permeating and transcending each and every person. Remember, God is Alive; the person is inert yet animated. That which never moves, moves everything.
This question of who is best qualified to teach deep spiritual principles reminds me of the Bible verses found in 1 Corinthians 13, which I have reworded for us here as follows:
If I can give a captivating spiritual lecture and guide people into a wonderful, heavenly state, yet do not have love, I would be but a shallow man who missed the point of every spiritual tradition.
So it is no surprise that these divine virtues are the guiding light for every genuine teacher and these virtues will spontaneously express themselves through you as this spiritual understanding unfolds within you.
Well, I have given you much to ponder. If you are inspired, please take some time to really sit with these ideas. Yes, the core of this goes beyond the mind, yet as I mentioned earlier, immersing your mind in these ideas can help deliver that which is beyond the mind. Perhaps your earnest curiosity in this matter will bring you some wonderfully marvelous surprises. Perhaps sooner rather than later, you – the One playing as the person – will delight in living the paradox of enlightenment.
Thanks for reading my essay!
All my best, Thomas Razzeto, author of Living the Paradox of Enlightenment.
Thomas’s website is infinitelymystical.com
Thomas’s mentor is Timothy Conway. His website is www.enlightened-spirituality.org