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#3870 - Tuesday, April 20, 2010 - Editor: Jerry Katz

The Nonduality Highlights

      The following is from A Course in Consciousness, by Stanley Sobottka:  

Chapter 18. Practices and teachers

18.1. Why practice?

On p. 8-9 of Mindfulness in Plain English (1994), Buddhist teacher Bante Henepola Gunaratana says,

"Go to a party. Listen to the laughter, that brittle-tongued voice that says fun on the surface and fear underneath. Feel the tension, feel the pressure. Nobody really relaxes. They are faking it. Go to a ball game. Watch the fans in the stands. Watch the irrational fit of anger. Watch the uncontrolled frustration bubbling forth that masquerades under the guise of enthusiasm or team spirit. Booing, catcalls and unbridled egotism in the name of team loyalty. Drunkenness, fights in the stands. These are people trying desperately to release tension from within. These are not people who are at peace with themselves. Watch the news on TV. Listen to the lyrics in popular songs. You find the same theme repeated over and over in variations. Jealousy, suffering, discontent, and stress. Life seems to be a perpetual struggle, some enormous effort against staggering odds."

Question: Does this paragraph remind you of anyone you know?

What is described in the above paragraph is not living--it is surviving. But spiritual practice can transform a life of survival into a life of peace.

Suffering is intrinsic to the dream because of the perception of pervasive conflict and potential war between the split pairs. From the point of view of the individual, the purpose of all spiritual practice is to awaken from the dream of suffering. Since the basis of all splits is the ego, or illusory "me", awakening means to see that there is no "me". However, expecting the ego to see this is like asking something that does not exist to see that it does not exist. Spiritual practice does not get rid of the ego because there is no ego to get rid of.

Awakening can only happen by seeing from outside the split that there is no split. Since the essence of the ego is the false sense of personal doership, awakening means to see that there is no doer and there is no choice. Paradoxically, awakening is usually preceded by considerable effort but it is never that of a doer. For practice to happen, intense earnestness and intention are usually necessary. (Of course, if they are supposed to happen, they will. If not, they won’t.) An immediate and lasting benefit of practice is that, even before awakening, our understanding of suffering deepens, and this greater understanding is inspiration for further practice and progress.

One misconception that is common among beginners on the spiritual path is that suffering and sacrifice in themselves are useful spiritual practices. (This is undoubtedly reinforced by the biblical story of Jesus suffering for our sins, and the suffering of the Christian martyrs.) However, since separation is the basis of suffering, seeking to suffer in the hopes of finding spiritual truth in it can only increase the sense of separation, and thereby increase suffering. Only the individual can suffer. The one good thing about suffering is that its presence tells us that we are still identified, and a keen examination of it will tell us with what we are identified. In this way suffering is actually our guide to freedom from suffering. Every instance of suffering is another opportunity to understand it. The path towards understanding is the path towards liberation.

Question: Have you ever known anyone who thought that suffering and sacrifice in themselves were useful spiritual practices?

 18.2. The importance of being aware

We are not individuals; we are pure Awareness/Presence (see Sections 9.3, 11.10, 14.3). It is because we transcend the ego that we can see that it does not exist, and we can be aware that the effort to see that it does not exist is not our effort.  

Bondage and suffering are due to identification of Consciousness with the "I"-concept and all of its trappings, resulting in the illusory "I" and all of its problems. To be effective, any practice depends on the increasing awareness of these identifications. For this reason, spiritual practice is better termed awareness practice. When the seeker understands that suffering is the direct result of identification, there is a strong incentive to become aware of it. Thus, becoming aware of the connection between a specific suffering and the identification from which it springs is a valuable, even necessary, awareness practice and is the first step to becoming disidentified and free.

We saw in Chapter 11 that we can distinguish between three levels of identification. The first is identification with the body-mind organism, but without entityfication, i.e., without any sense of personal identity. This identification is necessary for the organism to function and survive, and causes no suffering because there is no entity to suffer. We are not concerned with this identification in this course--in fact, it is the state of being awakened. The second level is identification with the "I"-concept, which produces the illusory entity with a sense of personal doership. The third level is identification with various thoughts, images, and emotions, resulting in the sense of ownership of them, so they become "my" thoughts, "my" self-images, "my" emotions, and "my" suffering.

Disidentification at the third level means becoming aware of all of our thoughts, images, feelings, emotions, and sensations, and accepting them rather than resisting them. This is the key to the beginning of the end of suffering. This can happen while still retaining the image of the self as doer. Thus, at this level, it is unimportant whether the seeker still thinks of him/her self as the doer.

The first step in disidentification at the third level is to use a specific experience of suffering as the impetus to become aware of the real source of that suffering. For example, if "I" feel angry because "I" think "I" have been victimized by somebody, my first step is to become acutely aware of the anger and the associated thoughts, images, and body sensations. As was discussed in Section 11.7, anger at being victimized always comes from seeing an image of myself as being helpless, and another image of the victimizer as having some kind of power over me. Neither side of the polar pair can exist without the other. Both are nothing but mental images.

Exercise: Close your eyes and watch your thoughts come, change, and go. Look for the owner of the thoughts. Can you find one?
Now watch your feelings and emotions come, change, and go. Look for the owner of the feelings and emotions. Can you find one?
Now watch your body sensations come, change, and go. Look for the owner of the body sensations. Can you find one?

Now, where does a feeling of helplessness, which is the essence of victimhood, come from? It may come from the thought that there is something "wrong" with "me" for being so helpless. Thus, we see that this experience of suffering may have as its roots identification with a self-image of defectiveness. Clearly, defectiveness implies a doer that is defective. Without the concept of doership, there could be no victim and no suffering, not to mention no victimizer. But imagined doership is the problem in identification at the second level.

Exercise: Close your eyes and look for the thinker of your thoughts. Can you find one?
Now look for the feeler of your feelings. Can you find one?
Now look for the experiencer of your body sensations. Can you find one?

There are two important lessons to be learned from these exercises. The first is that the image I see of myself as victim means that I cannot be the victim!  I am what is aware of the image, so I cannot be the image! This is the most fundamental step that anybody can take in disidentification. Whatever I am aware of cannot be me because I am what is aware!  This one realization is enough to produce a gigantic crack in the bonds of identification.

The second important lesson is just a generalization of the first. Since nothing that I see can be me, there is no object, thing, or entity that can be me. I am not a person, not a mind, not a body, not a being, not a thought, not a feeling, not an emotion, not an image, not an observer, not anything. And most importantly, I am not a doer, not a thinker, not a decider, and not a chooser. Now we have progressed to disidentification at the second level.

If I am not anything, then what am I? The answer is simple: I am pure Awareness/Presence that is aware of all things and is present in all things.  What could be more simple, and yet so profound and so liberating?

Exercise: This exercise is the essence of all spiritual practice. It helps us to identify with our true nature, which is Awareness, rather than with the mind, which consists of thoughts, feelings, emotions, sensations, and perceptions. When we identify with Awareness, we are immune from all changes because Awareness never changes. When we identify with the mind, we are subject to its constant changing whims.

First, become aware of anything in the mind that is changing, like a thought, emotion, or body sensation. Can you realize that, if it is something that you are aware of, then you cannot be it because you are what is aware of it?

Second, if you are what is aware of it, what are you really? Look and see!

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