When we look closely, we discover that what we call “my human body” and what we call “my human mind” are simply ever-transforming appearances within Awareness. Because these appearances include patterns that repeat themselves, over time, with a certain degree of consistency, it can be tempting to attribute permanence to them – or to use them as a basis upon which to superimpose a notion of a permanent “me” – a separate “self” that is identified with the body and/or the mind – or with a consciousness that is believed to be a epiphenomena of the body and/or mind.
Not-Finding The Separate Self
But with careful investigation, we can dissolve this erroneous belief in an independent, autonomous, limited and separate self. We can see the body and mind clearly for what they are (viz. patterns of thoughts, sensations and perceptions) — and understand that consciousness as such is never personal or limited. In the language of Advaita Vedanta: atman = Brahman, i.e. the supposedly limited consciousness is, essentially, none other than Pure Awareness.
The Question That Remains
Even when we’ve seen this clearly, and understood it deeply, a human body and a human mind continue to appear. And a question that may remain is: To what extent do the human body and the human mind partake of the “knowing” of our true nature as Awareness?
Awareness self-reflexively (i.e. non-dualistically) knows itself – because at the level of Pure Awareness being=knowing.
And Awareness knows/perceives the human body and (the contents of) the human mind – since what we call “human body” and “human mind” are none other than appearances within the “space” of Awareness.
But to what extent, if any, is the converse true? To what extent does the human body know Awareness? To what extent does the human mind – its contents and/or its “nature” (essence) – know Awareness?
In other words, to what extent is it fair to say that the human body knows that, in essence, it is none other than Pure Awareness? And to what extent is it fair to say that the human mind knows that, in essence, it is none other than Pure Awareness?
Does the attribute of “knowing” belong only to Pure Awareness in its un-manifest, non-phenomenal form – or does this quality of “knowing” also permeate the human body and/or the human mind?
In order to explore these questions, let’s consider the following scenarios.
The Actor & The Character
Say an actor is playing the role of Julius Caesar. So clearly the actor knows that the character “Julius Caesar” is simply a fabrication: a construction of his (and Shakespeare’s) imagination enacted via his human body.
But can we also say that the character “Julius Caesar” knows that, essentially, he is none other than the actor? Does Julius Caesar know his true identity as the actor?
On first thought, it would seem absurd to make such a claim. Of course Julius Caesar doesn’t know that who he is essentially is the actor, because Julius Caesar, as such, doesn’t “know” anything. The apparent “beingness” as well as the apparent “knowingness” of the character “Julius Caesar” both are borrowed from the actor. Only the actor truly “is” and truly “knows.” The character “Julius Caesar” is only a dream-like projection, an artistic creation, an appearance on a theatrical stage. Because Julius Caesar has no real/permanent existence, he can have no real/permanent attributes – much less the essential qualities of “being” and “knowing.”
But on the other hand: We can grant that the “knowing” quality belongs only to the actor – yet point out that since the character “Julius Caesar” is (essentially) nothing other than the actor, how can Julius Caesar not share in all the attributes/qualities of the actor — and hence how can Julius Caesar not also be imbued with the actor’s knowing quality?
Is the wave any less wet than the ocean?
The River & The Vortex
Imagine a swirling vortex within a flowing river. Though the vortex can be identified as a unique phenomena – on the basis of its more-or-less continuously repeating patterns of swirling water – clearly it is not separate from the river. The substance/essence of the vortex is the water of the river. Without the river-water, the vortex could not appear.
Does the vortex “know” that, in essence, it is nothing other than the river? Or is it so identified with the shapes of its repetitively swirling patterns that it has lost sight of its true nature? Is a vortex afraid of dying?
The quality of wetness belongs essentially to the water – but does it belong any less so to the vortex? Though the repeating shape may have a hypnotic tendency to conceal the wetness, does it have the power to conceal it completely?
Since we don’t tend to attribute sentience to vortices in a river, we don’t tend to think of them as having the capacity to be deluded about their true nature, and hence suffer – or to self-reflexively understand their true nature, and hence become sages. But who knows?
The Human Body & Its Cells
In the aftermath of some good champagne and steamy tango, a sperm and ovum come into union. After the two become one, the one becomes two, then four, then eight, etc. – a magical multiplication and differentiation that ends, some nine months hence, with the first cry of a newborn: a new human body/mind/being.
Do each of the 37 trillion cells in the adult human body “know” that, essentially, they are not-separate from the entire body? Or do they lose themselves within the (apparent) boundaries of their own differentiated function – forgetting how this seemingly separate function is actually nested within nests within nests of overlapping and interpenetrating patterns/functions whose entirely is their essential nature?
The Mathematician & The Calculator
A mathematician uses her calculator to find the value of 12-squared. On the key-pad she types 12 x 12 – and the computer replies by displaying on its screen the number “144.”
While it’s fair to say that the calculator possesses computational and algorithmic dexterity, does the calculator actually “know” – in the same way that the mathematician does — that 12 x 12 = 144?
Is a human body-mind basically the equivalent of a calculator vis-à-vis the “knowing” quality of Pure Awareness? Is it no more than a recording device (via its sensory organs) with some fancy algorithmic capacities (via the mind’s functions) – that remains inert until activated and “known” by the “mathematician” of Pure Awareness?
Or is it possible for the human body-mind – whose substance/essence is none other than Pure Awareness to partake — in partial or full potency — of the “knowing” quality of this Awareness? Does transparency of the body-mind to our true nature as Pure Awareness not include its permeation by the knowing quality of Pure Awareness?
(oh well, I guess we’ve ended with the same question that we began this essay with … feel free to offer answers via a comment here ☺ )