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What Connects Us to the Self?
Sandra: If Self is not in our bodies, what connects us to it?
Rory: You can’t be connected to the self any more than the wave or the ocean can be connected to water. They ARE water. You ARE yourself. ☺
The assumption in your question is that you are your body-mind, and that the self is somehow an object that can be known to the body-mind.
The self, however, is the subject, and never an object. It’s the changeless substratum in which all experiences and all objects come and go. It’s the canvas in which all the bits of paint combine to form pictures. It’s the substratum, the very ground of existence for the painting, that which allows the entire painting to be.
The self is the awareness in which everything appears to you. If you analyse your own direct experience, you’ll find that you don’t actually experience awareness as some part or product of your body.
In fact WHERE do you experience your body?
You’re aware OF your body. You experience your body IN awareness – along with all the other bodies, forms and objects of experience. Your body appears in awareness, in the self, as an object that you are aware of.
This awareness is always present, whereas in direct experience your body isn’t. You experience this body only during the waking state. In the dream state, you could find yourself inhabiting completely different bodies, be they human or animal, inanimate or divine! And during deep sleep, you experience no body or form at all. Yet throughout each state awareness pervades.
Vedanta offers a fivefold understanding of the self/awareness/consciousness:
1. The self is not a part, product or property of the body. The body and mind are themselves inert matter (the body is gross matter; the mind is subtle matter). Matter is granted sentience by the animating “light” of the self, pure awareness. In the same way, a mechanical device like a fan is composed of inert material and only functions by the presence of electricity. This electricity is not a “part” of the fan, yet its presence brings the otherwise inert assemblage of parts to life.
2. The self is all-pervading, like space. Space is often used as a metaphor for the self, for there’s nowhere that it’s not. Indeed, in your own direct experience – everything you experience is experienced in awareness. You can never find any part of your experience that’s divorced from this awareness. Awareness is the very carrier of your reality, which is why it’s all-pervading.
3. Through maya, the self becomes associated with particular forms, but awareness is not limited by the body or its boundaries. In your dreams, you may inhabit a body, but this body and all the other forms are simply appearances in your consciousness. Your consciousness is not limited by these forms at all, even although it appears to be.
4. The self continues to exist, even when the body dies – just as consciousness continues to exist when your dream ends, and as electricity continues to exist when you switch off the fan.
5. A particular medium for its reflection/expression may be terminated, but the self continues to exist. At the level of maya, the self can only be recognised if it has the appropriate reflecting medium (i.e. a body-mind). But as a radio station continues broadcasting whether or not the radio apparatus is working, so does the self continue existing eternally.
Sandra: Is the self or awareness a big mass of something out of which all individual bodies are created?
Rory: You’re getting close. The self isn’t a “mass” of anything, however, because if you say it’s an object of some kind, then it will be limited by the boundaries of that object. All forms are known to us as phenomena; they are experienceable, time-bound and finite. The self is the noumenon, the formless substratum of existence in which the phenomenal world appears.
Sandra: But why? What is the purpose of having so many individuals, all with different bodies and personalities? Why does Maya exist? Maya is “needed” to obscure the light of the self and create duality? But if reality is non-dual, why should there be a darkness to the light?
Rory: Ah, that’s the million-dollar question. When you’re in a dream you can’t understand the “why” of the dream. It’s not even a legitimate question, because what the “dream you” is trying to understand is of a different order of reality to it. Can a dream person really hope to understand the waking world? Perhaps the highest understanding you can attain in the dream is the knowledge that it is a dream.
Why does maya appear in the self and create this universe of form and differentiation? The only answer we can really offer is – because just as it’s the nature of consciousness to dream at night, it’s perhaps the nature of the self to dream this phenomenal world we call “reality.”
Maya is a shakti, a power, in awareness, which makes the impossible possible. From the one, indivisible, all-pervading consciousness appears an entire universe of duality and apparent differentiation. Everything functions according to its nature, so therefore the ability of the self to dream up worlds of form must be inherent to its nature.
But again, any answer we can come up with is mere speculation – it’s like trying to explain the dream from within the dream.