WHAT IS ADVAITA?
Advaita is a wholly subjective view . . .
But first here is the typically objective view on life . . .
Advaita is a refreshingly different take from this, which ends up revealing consciousness to be the only constant and permanent presence in your life. It swaps the usual objective viewpoint on life, where you presume you are a physical human being, to an alternate view where matter doesn’t even exist without the presence of consciousness.
Now before you think this must be total madness, try on this alternate, subjective view yourself.
For instance . . . . subjectively speaking you cannot see, hear, smell, taste or feel anything outside your awareness. You might intellectually gather there is more outside your awareness but we are not talking about what you mentally or conceptually take to be true, we are only talking about what you can verify subjectively at any given time.
If we’re honest, we only ever experience a bubble of awareness.
Pictorially, I’ll turn the awareness-bubble above into what looks like a bubble of consciousness below because, after all, if consciousness isn’t present we wouldn’t see or hear or know anything at all. When we look at consciousness as the medium upon which we know anything we realise that while appearances, sounds, feelings, thoughts and even our physical bodies are constantly appearing, disappearing and changing, consciousness is always here and is always the same day or night.
When we are asleep we have no subjective experience of our identity as a physical human. Which basically means consciousness turns out to be more consistent than the identity we think we are. Who we objectively think we are, dies nightly, while what we are subjectively, remains a constant. So have we been mis-identifying ourselves all along? We certainly do it when we’re dreaming. We fully believe the dream world to be physical matter, our character to be real and our dream dilemma to be a life situation we have to deal with from our character’s point of view. Then we wake up and immediately know it was only an illusion appearing in consciousness. We thought our dream character had ears that were hearing sounds, we thought we were seeing sights through our eyes, we thought our skin was touching physical objects, we even thought our thoughts were coming from our character’s brain. Then upon waking we again presume our ears are hearing, our eyes are seeing, our skin is touching objects and our brains are thinking. Are they?
Why do we identify ourselves as someone who isn’t constant and who may not even be perceiving reality? From the subjective viewpoint we can’t really rely on our sensory organs. They can’t be relied upon when life and dreaming are subjectively experienced in the same way.
Advaita suggests that the act of perceiving creates the illusion of a perceiver and the perceived objects. That certainly happens during our dreams. Consciousness is perceiving itself and in that act there seems to be a perceiver and objects it is perceiving. Is that is what is happening in life too? If consciousness is the background medium upon which everything happens, then our real identity is consciousness and not our body and mind. If we investigate the subjective experience of our bodies and minds, once again, we find a completely different result to an objective one.
Firstly, we don’t ever really experience a mind. It isn’t even an object we can produce and say here it is! What we do experience though is a thought that says we have a mind. So then, what is the subjective experience of a thought?
We only ever experience thought as a subtle sound, a picture, a feeling, sometimes a smell or a taste. Mostly there is an experience of a subtle picture or sound, maybe a feeling as well but that is all. Which means we never actually do have a thought. There is only sight and sound appearing and disappearing in consciousness in the same way we hear the sound of a truck driving past and with about as much control or input from ourselves.
So then, what makes us think we are a body? It certainly feels like we have a body with a self who is residing somewhere inside. But we experience the exact same thing when we are dreaming and that’s shown to be only an illusion. Could it be the same in waking life? Is the feeling of having a body really just a feeling that is occurring in consciousness? This would mean you are the awareness bubble (consciousness) and everything is appearing in you.
While at first this idea might seem a step into madness it turns out to be a rather undeniable experience of peace and becomes more real and permament than the comings and goings of pictures, sounds and feelings.
Spirituality, many teachers and certainly religions, point to themselves and their teachings as divine and look to you to behave in a certain way or to do something to be ‘an awake human being’. Often we are told it is a matter of grace. But even the very mention of grace, something that you have to wait for to mysteriously descend is a false notion. For it makes out that there is such a thing as grace and a you who needs to ‘get out of the way‘ for “IT‘ to happen. Much simpler to simply take a look at consciousness as your real identity rather than a body and a mind as to who you are. Much easier to see that sight and sound and feelings cannot even be here unless consciousness is present. Sight, sound and feelings will continue to appear and disappear in consciousness. So there will of course still be the ongoing soap opera of life but nothing needs to change. Do you need to change what amounts to a dream identity? It is a pity so many teachers mix notions of spirituality, god and types of behaviour to get rid of an ego with enlightenment, when they have nothing to do with one another. Exploring one’s nature as consciousness has zilch to do with even being a human being, which subjectively appears in consciousness in the same manner as a dream character. Does a dream character need to appear enlightened or remain passive when there is pain or difficulties? Does a dream character need to be present to the moment? Does it need to surrender to anything or attempt to accept all situations, no matter how ghastly the situation might be? Does it need to be in perfect health or be loving and wise all the time? Or take on any preconceived spiritual idea of how one should live?
Identifying oneself as consciousness and not as a human being ends all those futile attempts to be spiritual, be perfect, change the world, go on a mission, find a cause, find a god, worship a teacher, a symbol, or anything else, set up a community, pay to be in the company of someone who calls themselves holy, believe there are enlightened and unenlightened people or believe any other spiritual concept. One is simply left as an alive sense of beingness and even that is merely a feeling appearing in consciousness. Notice the complete difference between the following drawings. Which would you rather? Do you want a spiritual identity that will only ever be a false notion or realize you are already alive being-ness?
While it might sound cold and clinical to reduce everything to sight and sound and the other three senses, it actually highlights the undeniable presence of consciousness. One of the best pointers, said by probably one of the best teachers, Nisargadatta, was that he threw out all spirituality. An idea of a god, an idea of a spiritual life, requires an ‘I’. When the ‘I’ is discovered to be made up of sight, sound and feeling, the structure of the ‘I’ is seen to be illusory along with whatever the ‘I’ thinks it perceives. So Advaita is not a religion, or a belief system, or taking on any particular way to be.
The aim of this blog is to point in the same way Advaita does, which begins by pointing you in the direction of your own consciousness. There can be no other place to look.
Notice more and more that anything you think you know, see, hear or feel requires consciousness first and foremost.
It will become clear that consciousness is the ever-present background to everything.
I’ve written this quote before on this site but I’ll say it again
Stephen Jourdain – “A chap is in direct contact with infinity and he has a realization, he is the realization. What is he going to do? Try to speak of what he lives and write a lot of books and convince people? Be a missionary? Not at all. He will go out and smoke a cigarette, perhaps at a cafe, and order a good coffee and drink it.“