Imagine a single snowflake, with its delicate crystalline structure—utterly unique from any other snowflake.
As it drifts through the air, this single snowflake displays its uniqueness—drifting this way and that: serenely, beautifully, playfully.
Now imagine this snowflake landing on the surface of a river, lake or ocean. The moment it touches the water, it melts. Its crystalline structure dissolves, and becomes indistinguishable from the river, lake or ocean as a whole.
The Self-Liberation Of Phenomena
This is an image sometimes used—by teachers in nondual spiritual traditions—to describe the self-liberation of phenomena into the ground of Pure Awareness.
Like a snowflake melting on the surface of a lake, phenomenal appearances (sights, sounds, tactile sensations, thoughts, images) dissolve instantaneously into their essential nature, which is Awareness.
While each snowflake—in its crystalline form—is utterly unique in its shape and size, and hence distinguishable from one another; in their essence they share a common substance: water (H2O).
Only in its melting does the snowflake directly reveal its essence. At other times, this essence is playfully hidden within a diversity of crystallized forms.
Similarly, while each sense perception, sensation, thought or internal image is unique in terms of its size, shape, color, weight, sound, taste, texture or smell—in their essence these experiences share a common substance: Awareness.
Only in their dissolution do sensory experiences directly reveal their essence. At other times, their essence is playfully hidden within a diversity of shapes, colors, sounds, etc.
Ocean & Waves
And so it is, also, with waves and the lake or ocean from which they emerge.
Waves themselves come in all variety of sizes, shapes and colors. They vary also by speed—some moving slowly, others more quickly—and by taste—some salty, others not-salty. They vary by sound—some crash loudly, others mostly silent.
Photographer Ray Collins has made it his life-work to capture some of the magnificent diversity of waves. It’s quite remarkable!
Comparing & Contrasting
We perceive, conceptualize and discuss these differences by comparing one wave to another wave. Phenomenal characteristics have meaning only by virtue of such comparing and contrasting of (apparently) separate entities.
But discussing the different sizes, shapes and colors of various waves tells us nothing about what all waves have in common: It tells us nothing about the essential nature of all waves, which is water (H2O).
Using waves to learn about their essential nature (as water) requires that we approach our investigation from another angle. Instead of being interested in differentiating characteristics, we become interested in what all waves have in common—which is that their substance, their essence, is water.
Essence & Differentiation
Like ocean waves, sensory perceptions, thoughts and internal images arise and dissolve, moment by moment—displaying all variety of colors, shapes, sounds, textures, etc. And when we’re focused on their differentiating characteristics (i.e. comparing and contrasting them to one another), they tell us nothing about their true “substance,” their essential nature as Pure Awareness.
When viewed in terms of superficial characteristics, phenomena playfully veil their true nature. But when viewed in terms of what they have in common, phenomena perpetually reveal and celebrate their true nature as Pure Awareness.
Because waves are made of none other than water, any single wave—when properly perceived—can tell us all we need to know about the entire ocean: namely, its true nature as water.
Because phenomenal experiences are made of none other than Awareness, any single experience—properly apperceived—can reveal to us its (and our own) true nature as Pure Awareness. And then all experience knowingly arises within the “taste” of its true nature.