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You Are No Thing, but Not Nothing
Benjamin: Dear Tan, I trust this finds you well.
Thanks again for our previous correspondence, which I found very useful.
There is one part of my inquiry that wasn’t covered, however, and this has increased no end since our last conversation.
I found it impossible to find a suitable description of it until very recently. The Buddhists call it “falling into the pit of the void.” Does Vedanta have a term for it?
Though I can see that I am not Benjamin and that all this happens within the awareness that I am, there is still a feeling of separation and no knowing of non-dualism.
I exist as if being in a disconnected dream, which creates much suffering and is now a permanent experience.
Interest in everything has fallen away, including my spiritual seeking.
I just am… nothing more.
Tan: Dear Benjamin, I apologize for the very late answer.
There are two steps to this inquiry. The first is to discriminate between the objects and your self so that you see that you are not the objects. This first step is to free your self from the objects and often in this phase the seeker establishes a “witness,” so to speak. This is done so that you are no longer dependent on the objects and your mind is calm to be able to further inquire since it is no longer seeking happiness in the objects and is no longer attached to objects. In this phase (this is where many Buddhists get stuck), the world can seem empty or as a nothingness, since you have seen the impermanence of objects and the world. It can feel empty and depressing. In this phase there is also a dualism since it is a world with a witness and objects (objects are Benjamin, body, trees, other people, thoughts, feelings, etc.). You have seen that the world is “mithya” (false/unreal).
In the next step, you can inquire if the separation between the witness and the objects is real.
Are you separated from the objects that you seem to witness?
The objects that you witness actually seem only unreal because their existence depends on you, awareness.
They are mithya (dependent reality) and depend on satya (absolute reality).
If I show you a ring of gold and I ask you what it is, you say ring and I say gold. Who is right?
We are both right.
But which truth is “more right,” so to speak, which truth is deeper?
Gold. Because if I melt the ring, the ring is gone, but the gold stays.
That is the definition of mithya (unreal/dependent reality) in Vedanta. It is existent, but the reality of the ring depends on the more fundamental reality of the gold (satya, independent reality, or truth).
What is also relevant in order to tear down the feeling of separation between you and the objects is the fact that there can be only dependent reality when the absolute reality is already there. Only if the gold is already there can there be a ring of gold. So the ring is never separate from the gold. Gold is there already and then the ring can exist. In mithya you can always find satya.
So in each object that you witness, you, consciousness, are already there. Without you no object would exist.
You are consciousness, which seems to take the shape of a tree, a dog, another person.
You are already there wherever you look.
Now, when you see this, when you see that wherever you look there is consciousness, how can you feel separated when there is only you?
In each smile of a baby, in each cloud, in each tree, in each face, there is you, consciousness, looking back at your self.
Benjamin: Medical people call this disassociation or depersonalization, the few references I can find to it spiritually are calling it “enlightenment’s evil twin” and claim the only answer is through a strict teacher-pupil program.
Benjamin carries on and I am the witness of him, but there seems no control of him and his grabbing mind makes it impossible to empty out completely.
I know that freedom is not a perspective or experience.
What can be done? To spend much more of this life like this seems an unbearable prognosis.
Tan: Inquire into the great truths. Tat tvam asi. That is you. All there is is you. All objects are you. You are free of the objects. This is the truth behind mithya (dependent reality) and independent reality/truth (satya).
The ring (of gold), the necklace, the chain, the fork are all made of gold. They are gold and dependent on gold. The gold is, however, free of them, free of the forms. The objects, the world, is you and is dependent on you. But you are free of the objects. The objects are all you.
You love your self. All that you do is for your self. If all that you see is your self, how can you not love the cloud, the person that you see, the grumpy neighbour, the dog, the tree – there is only your self, only you here.
Freedom for the jiva actually is a perspective. It is the perspective of the mind when looking at life from the perspective of the self, limitless consciousness. Consciousness is already free, so the mind “becomes free” by understanding that it is already free and starts interpreting experience from the perspective of consciousness, the self.
Benjamin: I practice acceptance and knowing that this is not truth, but trying to function in the world is becoming harder and harder, although others seem to think I am making great spiritual strides. Hmmm? If only they knew…
I feel so close to truth, and yet so far.
Tan: You do not need to practise acceptance if you know that all there is is you.
You are not close to the truth, you are the truth. You can never get close to the truth and you can never get far away from the truth. You, non-dual, limitless, unconcerned, ordinary, ever-present consciousness are the truth. You are sat.
Benjamin: I know this is quite rare, but there are others like “me” out there, as I can see from surfing forums, etc. Not many solutions though, it seems.
Tan: It is not rare. To conclude that the world is empty and there is nothing is common among Buddhists.
Yes, you are no thing, but not nothing. You are not a body, you are not a mind, you are not feelings, you are not thoughts, you are no thing that you see. But you are the ultimate seer, knower. You are limitless, ordinary, ever-full, ever-present consciousness.
All these things, body, mind, feelings, thoughts, all things that you witness are – you.
How can you not love the things that are you?
Benjamin: How can Vedanta solve this issue for us, please? Any thoughts or advice are most welcome when you have the time.
~ Love, Benjamin
Tan: I hope this first answer helps. The Vedic texts, such as the Bhagavad Gita, Upanishads and Panchadasi solve this issue. To solve the issue you need to inquire into the the ultimate subject, you, and once understood, claim your identity as the ultimate subject, limitless, ever-full, non-dual, ordinary, unconcerned, ever-present consciousness, in which light all objects can be seen.
Let me know how things work out.
~ Love, Tan