Wednesday, October 23, 2013

What are We, Really? - Nisargadatta

What are We, Really?
By Ramesh S. Balsekar
The normal practice at the sessions of Maharaj's talks is to wait patiently for him to start the discussion. Sometimes he would begin by talking on a definite subject; at other times he would sit silently with his eyes closed for a while and then begin to mumble softly, perhaps thinking aloud. Then again, he might at the very beginning ask the visitors if any of them had any questions. Sometimes, not too often, it happens that there is a visitor who is extremely keen to ask a particular question concerning a specific problem. Maharaj seems to sense the eagerness of such a visitor, looks directly at him even if he happens to be sitting in the last row, and asks him if he has any questions.

One morning, when Maharaj asked if there were any questions, one visitor put his hand up and started speaking. He said: Maharaj, I have a question which has baffled me so much that I am at the end of my tether. I have done a fair amount of reading on the philosophy of Advaita, and its basic tenets have impressed me deeply indeed. I have been told repeatedly by different masters that unless
I give up the concept of my separate entity liberation cannot be attained. I do wholeheartedly accept that one who believes in the concept of duality—self and the other—is the one who is in 'bondage'.
But I am also told that there can not be 'bondage' for anybody, because everyone has always been free! This contradictory position is difficult for me to understand. I cannot 'do' anything because no 'entity' is supposed to exist. How do I then carry on in this world? Please, Maharaj, this is not an idle, academic question. I am deeply concerned, and the problem is driving me mad. What are we, really?

Maharaj fixed his luminous gaze on the visitor's eyes, which, by then, were brimming with tears. He took a deep breath, sat for a while with his eyes closed, a posture which must have induced a sense of peace within the heart of the questioner. When Maharaj opened his eyes he found the visitor sitting still, his eyes closed. After a few moments, when he opened his eyes he found Maharaj smiling at him.

Well, said Maharaj, what were you thinking about during the last few moments? The answer was: Nothing. That, said Maharaj, is the answer— 'nothing'. When you said 'nothing' what exactly did you mean? Did you not mean that conceptualization, which goes on in consciousness all the time, had ceased temporarily, as it does when you are in deep sleep? Does it not strike you that the culprint is consciousness, the source of all conceptualization? Does it not strike you that the problem has been created in consciousness and cognized in consciousness, and that it is this consciousness itself which is trying to understand its own nature? Does it not strike you, therefore, that it would be virtually impossible for you to understand conceptually what you really are?

Now then, let us proceed. You used the would 'really'; what are we 'really'? The average person would use the word 'real' to mean something that is perceptible to the senses. The body is perceptible to the senses but would the body be 'really' you? We must use the words correctly, in spite of all their limitations. We consider as 'real' anything that is perceptible to the senses, and yet every imaginable 'thing' that is sensorially perceptible must pass through an interpretation by the mind before it is cognized. And anything that is thus cognized is obviously only an appearance in the consciousness of the cognizer. If whatever is sensorially perceptible is only an appearance, where then is the reality of the physical form which seems so very 'real' and tangible?

Should we not then go further back—at least conceptually — to the state that prevailed prior to the appearance of this physical form, this psychosomatic apparatus; prior even to the conception of this form? If I were to ask you to tell me something about your state before you were conceived in your mother's womb, your answer must necessarily be "I don't know." This 'I' who does not know that state (in fact the 'I' who knew nothing until consciousness appeared), is what we really are — the Absolute, the noumenon, spaceless, timeless, imperceptible being; whereas, relatively, phenomenally, finite, time-bound, perceptible to the senses, is what we appear to be as separate objects.

The state of non-manifestation, the noumenon, is one where we (strictly, the word should be not 'we' but 'I') do not even know of our being-ness. When we become conscious of our beingness, the state of unicity no longer prevails, because duality is the very essence of consciousness. The manifestation of that-which-we-are as phenomena entails a process of objectivization, which is
necessarily based on a division into a subject which is the perceiver or the cognizer, and an object which is the perceived or the cognized.
The interesting point about this process of objectivization is that it does necessarily take place in consciousness, which is the source of all conceptualizing, and, therefore, in effect, the so-termed cognizer-subject and cognized-object are both objects phenomenalized in consciousness like dreamfigures. But, that cognizer-object (which cognizes the cognized-object) assumes the identity of the subject as a separate entity — a 'self' — and gives the cognized object an identity as the 'other'.
Thus is born the concept of the 'individual' through illusion, the power of the Maya, or whatever.
Once this identification with a supposed separate entity takes place, the concept of duality gets broadened and the conditioning becomes stronger. The separate subject-entity then sets itself up as an arbiter to analyze and criticize various objects, and the entire scheme of inter-related opposites
comes into existence — good and bad, big and small, far and near— providing scope for condemnation and approbation.

The sub-stratum of the entire creation of this phenomenal universe is, of course, the concept of space-time. Space is needed for objectivization and time to measure the duration of this extension in space. Without space how could objects have been given forms to become visible, and without time
(duration for the appearance) how could they have been perceived?

Now, Maharaj asked the visitor, have you got the answer to your question?

The visitor, who was listening with rapt attention, as if mesmerized, suddenly realized that Maharaj had asked him a question. He was so overwhelmed by what had been imparted to him, that, for quite some time he could not utter a word, for he seemed to be enveloped in pure listening which eludes words. He was en rapport with Maharaj.

Maharaj continued: If you have apperceived what I have said, you should be able to say exactly how and where the so-called bondage arises, and whom it hurts. Understand this very clearly.
Manifestation of phenomena is nothing but the process of the functioning of consciousness, where there is no question of an individual entity. All are objects, dream-figures functioning in their respective roles. Our miseries arise solely through accepting responsibility by 'taking delivery' of our respective dream-roles as ourselves, by identifying what-we-are with the subject-cognizer
element in the process of objectification. It is this illusory and totally unnecessary identification which causes the 'bondage' and all the resulting misery to the illusory individual.

Once again now: What-we-are-not is only a concept, and this concept is seeking what-we-are. The conditioning—the misunderstanding — can only be got rid of by a proper understanding of what-we-are and what-we-are-not. It will then be clear that the 'bondage', and the 'individual' who suffers thereby, are both mere concepts, and that what-we-are, the noumenon, can manifest itself only as total phenomena. You will find peace — or, rather, peace will find itself — when there is apperception(
realization) that what we are searching for cannot be found for the very simple reason that that which is searching and that which is sought are not different!
The visitor continued to sit with hands folded, eyes closed, tears flowing down his cheeks. He was in a state of a rapturous silence more eloquent than words.