The purpose of the spiritual life (it ain't what ya think). Part One.

Nondual spiritual traditions suggest that the goal of the path of awakening is the nirvikalpa state -- the mode of being in which one has become completely free of the mind, meaning that one no longer sees present-moment reality through the lens of any memory or thought-construct or interpretation (vikalpa) whatsoever. This teaching is universal to nondual yogic traditions because this is the only way we can truly share a single common reality -- since, however close our mental interpretations may occasionally come to each other, they will never, ever, be exactly the same. Our interpretations of reality are what separate us from others. Notice — we like sharing so much that we seek out the company of others who think similarly to us, and are delighted when we find someone with almost exactly the same views, because we enjoy sharing, which is sweet and innocent, but also because we imagine that consensus and corroboration makes it very likely that we are "right" — which is not so innocent.  But if we love sharing so much, just imagine the incredible joy of sharing the whole world with the whole world!  This is impossible without becoming free of the mind, but it's the natural state of being for anyone who is nirvikalpa, which again doesn't mean being free of thoughts but rather no longer seeing things through the mind.

There are two goals within the spiritual life (explicitly so within the Tantra), and confusing them is the cause of much, well, confusion, but also suffering. One is bhoga, which means having a happy life, a good life (i.e., not waking up but having a good dream instead of a nightmare), and the other is waking up out of the mind-determined, conditioned state entirely. This is called mokṣa (liberation) or bodhi (awakening), and it means going far beyond the "normal" human experience into another domain entirely (though the person who's done it might appear normal enough . . . or not). As the Buddhist chant says, "Gone, gone, gone beyond; utterly gone beyond: Awake." (gate gate parigate parisaṅgate bodhi svāhā) This "other domain" is of course right here, right now, all the time, though unrecognized. It is realization of the extraordinariness of the ordinary and vice versa. It is true intimacy with what is. It cannot even remotely conceptualized by the mind; indeed, it is the total falling away of the mind's compulsive comparison of what is to what could be. It's the direct experience of reality that other animals have, but with full human awareness. It is exceedingly rare.

Some teachers say, if you desire the first of these two, a happy life (bhoga), then for god's sake go for that. They say no one in their right mind would wish for the second goal, since it involves complete and total dissolution of the "you" you think you are, and with it the effective loss of all that you have ever known (note the word choice). The price of truth is everything. But some of us can't want anything else but Truth, either because we are so constituted that only the unconstructed, unmediated direct experience of reality will satisfy the inner longing, and/or because we realize that only with this second goal is there a complete cessation of all separation and all suffering.

 

Why should the ultimate goal awakening/liberation necessarily entail becoming nirvikalpa (as defined above)? This becomes clearer if we consider a central question in philosophy—the answer to which has the greatest possible implications for our real lives, as you'll see—which is "Does anything happen independently of our perception of it?" or "Is there an observer-independent reality?" The nondual Tantrik answer to this question is emphatically NO. Below and in the next post I'll outline the reasoning behind that "no," in the quick 'n' dirty model (though reasoning is not the basis for this view, but rather direct experience).

Everything exists within consciousness. All that can be said to exist exists within some being's specific consciousness, or several beings' shared consciousness. This is self-evidently true. If you posit that something exists outside of (or separate from) consciousness, that imagined possible entity exists as a mental construct within consciousness. All experience, observation, inference, deduction, speculation takes place within consciousness. We can't get outside of consciousness. Anything not within consciousness is unknown and unknowable and thus cannot be said to to exist. So the whole universe exists within consciousness, and there is no way to know whether there is a universe apart from consciousness. This is NOT meant to be interpreted mystically or spiritually — it is literally true. Just release conditioned thought (what you've been told to believe) and examine your own direct experience.

So, to cut to the chase, there is no objective reality existing independent of conscious beings and no one can ever prove otherwise. The idea that there is a big vast indifferent universe that would exist even without us self-aware beings to perceive it is just that — an idea. A mental construct. The only thing that can be said to exist is the specific content of the moment-to-moment experiences of conscious beings. QED.

Obviously, there are "individual" experiences (e.g. dreams and thoughts) and "collective" experiences (e.g., any of the infinite co-created experiences that human beings have with each other), and another class of experience which is somewhere in between, but these varieties don't alter the previous italicized statement in the slightest. They are only differences of scale. According to Śaiva Tantra, there is actually only one consciousness, one field of awareness that all apparently individual conscious beings access and partake of, but this is not a necessary to establish here.

Beingawake, then, is experiential direct knowing of the fundamental nature of consciousness, without the distorting filters of the abstract mental constructs we call beliefs.

Having established that reality consists entirely of the moment-to-moment experiences of conscious beings,* the filters on those experiences merit a good long look. That's what we'll do in the next post.

*(To answer a potential objection: the moment-to-moment experiences of conscious beings includes what we call the subconscious, since that is constantly informing and shaping conscious experience. It's a part of conscious experience, it's just the part we can't directly see. Even though we can't see what's under the bark of a tree, it's necessarily part of our total experience of "tree", if you'll forgive a clumsy analogy. And the subconscious is of course the store-house of all our vikalpas.  If it weren't for the subconscious, everyone reading this essay would immediately be awake the moment the current vikalpa dissolved.)

Part Two of this post ties it all together, please read it!