Jul 282006
 

by Ken Wilber

The witnessing of awareness can persist through waking, dreaming and deep sleep. The Witness is fully available in any state, including your own present state of awareness right now. So I’m going to talk you into this state, or try to, using what are known in Buddhism as “pointing out instructions.” I am not going to try to get you into a different state of consciousness, or an altered state of consciousness, or a non-ordinary state. I am going to simply point out something that is already occurring in your own present, ordinary, natural state. So let’s start by just being aware of the world around us. Look out there at the sky, and just relax your mind; let your mind and the sky mingle. Notice the clouds floating by. Notice that this takes no effort on your part. Your present awareness, in which these clouds are floating, is very simple, very easy, effortless, spontaneous. You simply notice that there is an effortless awareness of the clouds. The same is true of those trees, and those birds, and those rocks. You simply and effortlessly witness them. Look now at the sensations in your own body. You can be aware of whatever bodily feelings are present-perhaps pressure where you are sitting, perhaps warmth in your tummy, maybe tightness in your neck. But even if these feelings are tight and tense, you can easily be aware of them. These feelings arise in your present awareness, and that awareness is very simple, easy, effortless, spontaneous. You simply and effortlessly witness them. Look at the thoughts arising in your mind. You might notice various images, symbols, concepts, desires, hopes and fears, all spontaneously arising in your awareness. They arise, stay a bit, and pass. These thoughts and feelings arise in your present awareness, and that awareness is very simple, effortless, spontaneous. You simply and effortlessly witness them. So notice: you can see the clouds float by because you are not those clouds-you are the witness of those clouds. You can feel bodily feelings because you are not those feelings-you are the witness of those feelings. You can see thoughts float by because you are not those thoughts-you are the witness of those thoughts. Spontaneously and naturally, these things all arise, on their own, in your present, effortless awareness. So who are you? You are not objects out there, you are not feelings, you are not thoughts-you are effortlessly aware of all those, so you are not those. Who or what are you? Say it this way to yourself: I have feelings, but I am not those feelings. Who am I? I have thoughts, but I am not those thoughts. Who am I? I have desires, but I am not those desires. Who am I? So you push back into the source of your own awareness. You push back into the Witness, and you rest in the Witness. I am not objects, not feelings, not desires, not thoughts. But then people usually make a big mistake. They think that if they rest in the Witness, they are going to see something or feel something-something really neat and special. But you won’t see anything. If you see something, that is just another object-another feeling, another thought, another sensation, another image. But those are all objects; those are what you are not. No, as you rest in the Witness-realizing, I am not objects, I am not feelings, I am not thoughts-all you will notice is a sense of freedom, a sense of liberation, a sense of release-release from the terrible constriction of identifying with these puny little finite objects, your little body and little mind and little ego, all of which are objects that can be seen, and thus are not the true Seer, the real Self, the pure Witness, which is what you really are. So you won’t see anything in particular. Whatever is arising is fine. Clouds float by in the sky, feelings float by in the body, thoughts float by in the mind-and you can effortlessly witness all of them. They all spontaneously arise in your own present, easy, effortless awareness. And this witnessing awareness is not itself anything specific you can see. It is just a vast, background sense of freedom-or pure emptiness-and in that pure emptiness, which you are, the entire manifest world arises. You are that freedom, openness, emptiness-and not any itty bitty thing that arises in it. Resting in that empty, free, easy, effortless witnessing, notice that the clouds are arising in the vast space of your awareness. The clouds are arising within you-so much so, you can taste the clouds, you are one with the clouds. It is as if they are on this side of your skin, they are so close. The sky and your awareness have become one, and all things in the sky are floating effortlessly through your own awareness. You can kiss the sun, swallow the mountain, they are that close. Zen says “Swallow the Pacific Ocean in a single gulp,” and that’s the easiest thing in the world, when inside and outside are no longer two, when subject and object are nondual, when the looker and looked at are One Taste. You see?

– Ken Wilber

Jul 262006
 

This post is a general ramble inspired by a comment I read by a Christian in a discussion of Buddhism, to the effect that Buddhism and Christianity had diametrically opposite views on the nature of the Divine Reality behind all existence. Christianity, contended this writer (with support from Exodus) regards the Supreme Reality as Absolute Being, whereas Buddhism regards it as Absolute Non-Being or nothingness.

Candle FlameDescribing the Absolute has always been an almost insurmountable difficulty. Many mystics simply put it down as “ineffable” and leave it at that. Assuming we press on and try to come up with some kind of definite description, here are some of the stages and difficulties we are likely to go through…

Once we move beyond the idea of a bearded Zeus-like figure on a throne, we are likely to come up with some idea of God similar to what St. Anselm provided – “That Being, than whom, no greater can be conceived”. Absolute Being. The Great “I AM”. The Nature of all natures, the Essence of all essences. The problem comes when we try to describe the existence of such a Being. Naturally, we would like to think of absolute being as having some kind of real existence. But what kind?

Typically (in fact universally) things EXIST by having concrete reality at a particular place and during a particular time. They come into existence at a particular place and time, for particular causes. They change, due to particular circumstances, and they finally cease to exist – usually leaving other things behind them. But in the case of God, these things are not true.

God’s existence is not confined to a particular place. If it were, he would not be “That Being, than whom no greater can be conceived”. Why? Because we can conceive of a GREATER being – one who is NOT confined to a particular place. We might try to say that God is in ALL places. But what if the universe is FINITE? Does God cease to exist beyond the boundaries of the cosmos? Before there WERE “places” did God not exist? It seems clear that it is more precise to think of God – NOT as existing “everywhere” – but of not being bound by location at all – of being confined to NO location.

Similarly, God could be said to exist at ALL times – but it would be more effective to say that he is not bound by time at all. He did not begin to exist with the beginning of time, nor will he end with the end of time (assuming there even are beginnings and ends of time). God is confined to NO particular time.

Going further, and by similar lines of thought, we would have to say that God, being the greatest being who can be conceived, is not limited by contingent causes. A bit harder, but of the same line of reasoning – we would have to say that God cannot change. Why? Because change involves giving up one state of being, and acquiring another one. If God is absolute Being, then he cannot give up any “being”, nor is there any additional “being” he can acquire.

At this point, we may begin to notice something. All the things we can say about the “being” of God are basically NEGATIVE. He exists at NO time and NO place. He lacks causes and he demonstrates no change. Describing absolute being ends up sounding very much like describing absolute NON-being. What, in fact, is the difference in the descriptions? Is it in the effects? Is the positive nature of God found in what he causes? But who is to say that absolute non-being cannot be conceived as a profoundly creative concept? Who is to say that the Void doesn’t give birth to all being?

Small wonder, then, that mystics have often described God not only in positive terms, as absolute being, but in negative terms, as absolute nothingness. These only appear contradictory because we are using finite concepts to describe the absolute.

When positive mystics describe God as absolute being, they are simply emphasizing his creative power – the fact that he is the foundation of all reality.

When negative mystics describe God as absolute nothingness, they are simply emphasizing the lack of the FINITE attributes that characterize all being.

Both are describing the same thing.

The highest expression, in my opinion, is to arrive at the point of seeing that God is beyond existence AND non-existence. He is the ineffable source of both sets of dualistic opposites.

Some examples:

Christian:

“Or if I say that “God exists”, this is also not true. He is being beyond being: he is a nothingness beyond being. Therefore St. Augustine says: “The finest thing that we can say of God is to be silent concerning him from the wisdom of inner riches.” Be silent therefore, and do not chatter about God, for by chattering about him, you tell lies and commit a sin. If you wish to be perfect and without sin, then do not prattle about God. Also you should not wish to understand anything about God, for God is beyond all understanding.”

– Meister Eckhart

Jewish (Kabbalistic)

“The major problem that Mystics of all eras have come up against in trying to express their transcendental experiences to others is that these experiences lie beyond the bounds of the rational (and even intuitional) mind on which human written and verbal communication is based. Many methods have been tried, including allegory, antinomy, poetry and mundane approximation; but all founder on the fact that transcendental experience cannot be adequately conveyed through sub-transcendental means of communication.” In Kabbalism, this problem occurs especially in discussions of the higher sefirot on the Tree of Life, and becomes insurmountable in discussing that which lies beyond or above the Tree. The manifest Tree expressed through the sefirot in the four worlds is as much as can usefully be conveyed to the human mind through language; and beyond this, beyond Kether of Atziluth, are drawn the Three Veils of Negative Existence: en (Nothing), en sof (Limitless Nothing), and en sof or (Limitless Light). (Atziluth itself, and even Briah, are really beyond human conception, their “structure” being hinted at through the tangible expressions of the sefirot in the lower worlds.)”

– Discussion of the Kabbalah

Islamic:

“Allah is non-being and being, existence and non-existence. He is the relative and the Absolute. All these concepts return to Allah, for there is nothing we can comprehend or write or speak about that is not Allah”

– Abd Al Kader

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