I had one of the best days “I” have had in a while today. I didn’t smoke, it’s been a week. I had only one beer, my “after dinner beer”, not six. I exercised patience…all day with my children, never once raising my voice. I cooked dinner for my wife by creating a new recipe, I worked kitchen magic. I held my wife because she felt ill, and it made her happy. I’m still awake remembering this amazing day “I” had.
Why? Last night I couldn’t sleep, just like tonight. Yet unlike this oh so sweet inability to drift into slumber, the previous night was on fire with a question. I wasn’t anxious, or upset, or anything like that. I simply couldn’t fall asleep so I was using this free time to investigate awareness.
I was doing self inquiry, or what I like to refer to as recognizing awareness. That is, I use the mind to investigate whether the thoughts arising in it have any reality. Further, do the objects of these thoughts, what their about have any solidity? Are they real? And so I question my minds beliefs, opinions, claims, etc. The result, if inquiry is carried to its only conclusion, is the recognition of the only object that has any reality. This object is of course in truth the Subject, the only object which is non-negatable, Awareness. It’s neither a subject or object in the usual sense, it’s all there is, One without a second. What can Awareness be subject to? Who’s object could it possibly be?
At any rate this night was different from others. This time I inquired deeply enough to come to the place where I questioned the questioner. I was able to ask “Who’s asking the questions? Who’s inquiring?” This line of questioning set my mind on fire, the whole rational process that governed my normal thinking seemed to vaporize in the heat of this blaze. The minds trust in its ability to interpret reality fell apart. This was one of those moments you could call a “moment of clarity” but I call it simply the recognition of Awareness. It’s what self inquiry is all about, re-membering who or what you really are.
When you come to the question of “who’s questioning?” there is only one answer, nobody. You may know this intellectually but if it’s not a firm conviction in the mind it has no power. This is the roadblock most people have with nondual reality: they understand or believe it’s true but they can’t seem to feel it or really digest the truth, it’s not real for them. But the conviction comes through repeated, disciplined, investigation of the mind and one’s sense of self. Once enough layers of unreality or ignorance have been pealed back only one question remains. If there is no lasting reality in the objective world, and “I” am a part of that unreality, that illusion, then who’s hanging around asking these questions? I’m not the body, not the mind, not the “I”…who or what knows this?!
Who’s the questioner? It’s not a question that’s to be answered necessarily, it’s a door that opens onto the Infinite, limitless, ever pure, awareness that we are by nature. Nothing I can put into words here will give you any real idea of what your true nature is. Only your own investigation will reveal the core of who you are. You have to recognize you are Awareness. That recognition will bring a conviction more solid and lasting than any thing ever has. Recognizing your true nature can’t be forgotten, once you know it you can’t deny it.
What I learned last night was that I didn’t do anything to walk through this door onto or into Awareness. I understood what grace meant. From the other side, where it’s all One, this person I usually identify with couldn’t do anything, he doesn’t exist. But for some reason, or no reason, “I” asked the right question at the right time, and the kingdom of heaven was opened.
This was certainly not enlightenment, but it was a glimpse, a taste of my true nature. It was an “experience” and I usually don’t put much stock in experiences but this one served its purpose. It allowed me to recognize what was true before any experience, it’s what makes experience possible. It caused me to spend this whole day afterwards in constant awareness of Awareness! I haven’t had to do any sort of inquiry to bring the mind back to awareness, it’s abiding in Awareness, the mind is Awareness. Everywhere I look, there it is. And so every activity I’ve engaged in today has been colored by this recognition. Everything that surfaces in the external world is grace, every object is Awareness saying hello. Every thought, feeling, sensation, memory is an object alive in Awareness, worshiping Awareness.
Now, it’s obvious that I’m a bit excited about the whole deal. Actually I have these little epiphanies every now and then, and always come out of them this way. The buzz seems to last several days and I’m always honored to have had the experience. But the real gift is not in having these nondual, spiritual, enlightenment “experiences”. Nor is it in the way that life seems to be transformed. The gift is in the vision of your true nature. Long after the buzz wears off and you’re caught in the game of “I” again there will always be that recognition. You’ll remember it even when you’re caught in the illusion of separateness. This is what will eventually get you across the ocean of samsara. Not experiences, they aren’t liberation, but the continual recognition of who you are.
Liberation is the result of coming to know who you are, not as a benefit of any experience. Confusing the experience of nonduality with enlightenment is a common obstacle to real realization, one I’ve fallen pray to over the years all to often. The experiences cultivate the desire to investigate Awareness. True liberation is the final understanding that you are not any thing, every thing is you. You’re not Greg or Kaley, that’s limitation, you’re the reality that makes them possible. You can believe you are Awareness, think you are Awareness but you have to know it as a fact of reality, there must be a firm conviction. This comes only through repeated inquiry.
A cat might grow up with dogs and think it’s a dog. If it never comes across another cat it may be content to think it’s a dog. But if by chance it meets another cat one day and that cat says “Hey buddy, can’t you see…you’re a cat!” can it be denied? If you were that cat you could see that you look just like this cat you just met. Upon further examination you would also find you really don’t resemble all the dogs you’ve grown up with. The knowledge dawns that you are a cat. Even when you thought you were a dog, you were always a cat. The dogs may have even told you “you’re a cat!” but you had no frame of reference to understand catness in contrast to dogness. You couldn’t help but think or believe you were a dog. But when you meet another cat the knowledge dawns, you meet the nature of catness. It’s no longer a matter of belief, or identity, or what you think you are. You’re a cat and this is a fact of reality. You can’t be other than a cat. The conviction can’t be avoided.
Through inquiry you recognize who you are. Through knowledge of your true nature you meet your true self, you meet Awareness. There can no longer be “me” who I think I am, I can’t avoid the reality of the true Self. As a consequence this illusory “me” must conform to reality. This naturally affects your whole life as an individual, even though the illusion of separateness no longer causes suffering. You see “me” simply as an expression of Awareness, Awareness enjoying itself.