The What of Spirituality
We all have two selves, the Real-Self and the Ego-Self. We will go into the detail of what are exactly these, but firstly remember that attention can be focused on either of them. Normally, in our regular experience of life, we only experience of focusing our attention on the Ego-Self. So, all our life we only experience the right part of the above picture, and there is nothing wrong in it. But, from a possibility or feasibility point of view, you can also focus your attention away from your Ego-Self and focus completely on your Real-Self too. That is an absolute possibility, whether you will be able to do it or not and you want to do it or not is a different matter.
If you observe yourself, your focus or attention is always on some thought or imagination or some external entity. Even when you close your eyes, you’re always in constant pursuit of thinking or seeking or knowing and imagining something. This is because we don’t know anything else to put our attention on. But, if you stop giving attention to your thoughts, imagination or outside stuff, and put attention only on your Consciousness or Self or Real-Self, then something miraculous happens. Your Ego-self (your idea of “I am this”) will slowly give away and it will merge in its source, the consciousness. Currently, your Ego-self exists only because you created it and you constantly give attention to it. This is the main point of the logic of all spirituality. And what really happens as a result of this is you’ll not be happy or unhappy but you’ll just be in peace as all happiness and unhappiness is only to the Ego-Self. Time and Space too is only to the Ego-Self, and hence you exist as pure Awareness or Consciousness. From a physicality point of view, you will be looking the same, living the same way as others, doing your duties and eating your food, but at mind level you’re totally different. Spirituality says this is nothing but God itself or eternity itself. All creation is a derivative of this consciousness including stones and trees. Your Real-Self is the unchanging witness of the ever-changing Ego-Self.
But, how do you focus on the Self or Real-Self or Consciousness? What does it even mean to focus on your Real-Self?
Your Real-Self or Consciousness is what that remains when your Ego-Self falls off. But, we cannot drop our Ego-Self or we will not drop our Ego-Self unless and until we firmly know that it is not the real truth. It is logical for us to not jump out of a boat without knowing firmly that we will not drown and die. So, in order for us to drop the Ego-self, we must first experience the Real-Self atleast briefly. And that is when we will get the confidence to spend our attention more inwards in our Real-Self. As you do this more, you will realize the false-self you’ve built and you’ll drop it. Dropping Ego-self means you don’t identify with “I am this” anymore. You don’t identify with your thoughts anymore. You’ll think but you won’t identify with it anymore. As I said earlier, it can only happen when you experience the Real-Self that your attention will realize it is the ultimate truth and will shred away the false-self (ego-self).
Our minds are in a constant pursuit of thinking and knowing. But, there is nothing called Mind in reality. What you think as the Mind is just a process of thoughts, thoughts, and thoughts. It is with these thoughts that you really built an “I am this and I am that”, the Ego-self. It is your Ego-self to which all the other thoughts are identified with. And your Ego-self is itself a thought. Meditation is about focusing on the Real-Self or some might call it Self (with a capital S – small s used for ego-self) or some might call it God or some might call it Spirit or Soul or Consciousness. This is actually who we truly are. It takes some time and some continuous exposure to this literature to understand this at a physical and experiential level. But, understanding and seeing it is only the start. Experiencing it is the real deal.
In our real lives, we are so used to thinking that we are the mind, that we often don’t stop thinking and truly see who we are. This is the difficult part – to even feel all this makes some sense, you need to first try to slow your thoughts and observe your thoughts. When you observe your thoughts, they tend to become slow. You don’t get many thoughts. Slowly, you will experience what I call as “thinking that you’re not thinking” phenomenon. Slowly, you’ll end up sleeping. Yes, this does happen. But, you wake up and keep practising to not have thoughts. Then, you’ll slowly get into the trap of imagining a Real-self and thinking about it and saying I am not thinking about anything else. But then if you’re determined to understand this knowledge – you’ll briefly realize the physical experience of the true Self when there is no thought. Let’s call is X, and in your meditations you have to just be that X and hold on to that X. Slowly, it becomes such a second nature that even in your sleep, you’ll be able to be that X – and that X is the awareness of your true Self. Therefore, the realized say that I am aware that I am sleeping even when I am in the dreamless sleep.
Your true Self just exists (it just be-s) , whereas your Ego-self is always seeking and knowing experiences. Your Ego-self is always restless. It switches off and on everyday. When you sleep without dreams, the ego-self has actually switched off and hence your thoughts also switch off and hence your dreams have switched off.
In your dreamless sleep -> ego-self switches off -> therefore thoughts switch off -> therefore you don’t have dreams.
You are what that remains when your thoughts stop, the Real-Self. But, this doesn’t mean exactly that your thoughts will stop when you achieve Self-Realization. You will continue to get thoughts and operate normally. The only difference is you’ll not identify “I” with those thoughts because your Ego-self “I” is dropped. So, you don’t heed to your thoughts anymore or take life personally anymore.
Summary of learnings so far:
- Your attention can focus on either your Ego-Self or the Real-Self.
- If you focus only on the Real-Self, then your Ego-Self will drop off and you’ll remain as your Real-Self.
- But, in order to focus on the Real-Self, you need to know what is it first.
- Hence, you need to meditate – which is to stop your Ego-Self briefly or stop your thoughts briefly and see the Real-Self. An example here would be – Real-Self is the bottom of the lake, you cannot see it if the water is always muddied with thoughts.
- Once you experience the Real-Self, now you meditate more on it to recognize it well enough to be always be able to hold on to it, in all of your states – in your awake state, dream sleep state, and dreamless sleep state.
A little bit more detail into the “how”
If you observe to whom your thoughts really come to, it is to your ego-self. As described in part 1, there is nothing wrong in having an Ego. It will give you happiness and unhappiness, but never peace. True peace can only be provided if you shred your ego-self and this is what the monks call as moksh or self-realization. It is because you move beyond identifying with your ego-self and recognize your true Self (consciousness).
Let’s start with the concept of Knower and Known.
The Mind is constantly trying to know something or the other, it is its nature. Tell your mind to try to not know anything for a while. Do not focus on any thoughts, object, experiences or imagination . Zero your mind and try not to ‘know’ anything for a while. This is what meditation is all about. It is to allow your mind to not know anything. Let the mind be calm and not ‘try to know’ anything – do not know your surroundings, do not know your thoughts, do not know the temperature around you, do not know your body. Immerse yourself in not knowing anything – then you will just “be” – that is your true Self – your true beingness. This is what people call as Consciousness or Beingness or God or Spirit or Soul.
Knower is the Subject and Known is the object being known. For example, let’s say I have never seen an areca palm plant in my life before, and I am seeing it for the first time. I come to understand and know about how an areca palm plant looks. I now know about the areca palm plant and the areca palm plant is a known object to me.
Who is the Knower? Intuitively, it feels I – the body and the mind – am the knower of the known (areca palm plant). But, that’s where the trick is: the knower is the Ego thought. Your existence is an idea in your mind. Your ego exists as an idea in your mind.
What you think is the knower is also nothing but a known “I” in your mind. If so, then who is the subject of this known “I”? It is the Consciousness/Awareness (the Real-Self).
Let’s look at this: your mind is filled up with many knowns like cars, things, people, plants, buildings, wishes, desires, memories, thoughts, etc. And, just like these items your mind is also filled up with another item called “I”. You form an idea of who you are in the mind and you call it “I”. And then this “I” has likes, dislikes, etc. All these including your “I” known exist in your mind. The “I” known is nothing but your ego.
But, just before in this post, we said there is nothing called mind and mind is nothing but thoughts, thoughts and thoughts. So, why are we then saying in the previous paragraph that all these exist in the mind, when we said that there is nothing called mind. The process of giving attention to all these thoughts through the thought “I am this” is what we currently call as a Mind. In essence, it is nothing but your attention to a particular thought, nothing else. If you observe keenly, you can never attend to more than one thought.
Some cultures tell you “Abide in the Spirit”, and some cultures tell you to be in one with the God, and some cultures tell you to meditate and stop your thoughts – all these are the same and this is the essence of all spirituality.
You might think – how ridiculous is this! I do have a body, I see it every day and when I pinch myself I feel the pain. So, how much more real can it get. Saying I don’t have a body is plain stupid!
Don’t jump the gun! Let’s evaluate what the monks are saying step by step.
What the realized are saying is not that you shouldn’t feel the pain when you pinch yourself or that the body you’re seeing is not your body and you have to become ether. What they’re saying is this: the pain you feel when you pinch yourself on your skin is what you feel in your mind. What it means is that: the experience of the pain actually happens in your mind. And similarly all knowns including the “I, the body” known happens in the mind. So, who you think yourself to be “the I” is actually a thought in your mind.
The closest analogy I could make is this: When there is light, the stuff around can be known in that light. It is easy to describe what is being known. But, it is difficult to describe the enabler of the knowing, the light itself.
Realized people say that the “Ego/I” thought is one thought in your mind that acts as the subject of your experience of the world. But, it need not necessarily be that way. They say that the day when you truly (not logically) experience that the “I/Ego” thought is nothing but one known entity just like the areca palm in your mind, then that day you’ll truly realize who you are – which is the ability to know (you’re the ability to know, you’re what that enables anything to be known, you’re not what is known).
This “raw ability to know” when it opens its eyes, and sees itself and the world around simultaneously, knows itself as the body and has a subjective first person experience that it is the enabler of its experience.
The point of spirituality is to transcend Karma, it is not about performing good actions for good Karma. Ego is a creation of your thgouhts and it is the Ego that has the Karma. Karma is not for the Real-Self that lives for eternity. Karma is only for the Ego-Self. They say, at the time of death if you still hold on to the Ego-Self, then you’ll crave to be born again to get another Ego-Self, and you’ll be born again basis your karma. But, if you’ve experienced this self-realization in this life, then you will not crave for another Ego-Self and hence you will not be born again.
Hope this is useful, thank you.