I really enjoy your site and it’s organized format explaining vedanta in a no nonsense format devoid of all the spiritual mumble jumble pervading the spiritual world. I’ve listened and read Mr. Swartz audio and also his book “How to Attain Enlightenment”. I’ve also read the entire Tattva Bodha and the FAQ section on your site currently and I have a few questions to ask.
Ted: It sounds like you’ve definitely got mumukshutva, a burning desire for liberation. That’s great. Everything else should fall into place as long as the desire to be free is your top priority.
Bob: Though awareness is absolutely formless it resides in every object of perception as the three gunas in maya…
Ted: Yes, awareness is formless. Because it is all-pervasive and, thus, the only “thing” that is, it has no definitive limits or boundaries. The traditional metaphor that is used to convey this idea is that of the wave and the ocean. The water itself is formless. It appears in the form of discrete waves, but those waves do not in any way change the essential quality of the water. Nor can the waves be said to be distinct entities unto themselves, for they are nothing but formless water. The analogy breaks down at this point because within its context we are able to view the ocean and the waves from a perspective that is outside both. In non-dual reality, however, we—and, in fact, the entire collective of all apparent objects, both subtle and gross—cannot step outside of awareness, for awareness is all there is. There is no “inside” or “outside” of awareness; there is not perspective from which to view awareness. Thus, we cannot see awareness. We can only be awareness.
What we do see is what you rightly identify as the play of the three gunas, the three constituents that in various combinations and permutations constitute every object, both subtle and gross. Though nothing exists other than awareness, maya is the deluding power inherent in awareness (weird, I know, but if limitless and all-powerful awareness did not have the ability to apparently delude itself, it would not be limitless and all-powerful) that “creates” the three gunas and by means of these three qualities projects the holographic movie “within” the “field” or “screen” of awareness that makes awareness appear to be the innumerable forms that comprise the apparent reality. The best analogy is that of a dream. Though the fabric of a dream is nothing other than the consciousness of the dreamer, that consciousness appears to be all these discrete and identifiable objects, entities, and events.
Bob: …does it mean that I should view myself as a substance or as a movie screen of perception which I am seeing/experiencing these objects in front of me? Or maybe this perceiver in me that’s looking at my bodily sensations/thoughts/emotions similar to buddhist meditation practices.
Ted: Both of these “perspectives” are valid. The essential idea is that you, awareness, are the unattached witness of all objective phenomena. This means that anything perceivable (i.e., sensations that appeal to any of the five senses), conceivable (i.e., thoughts, emotions, memories, fantasies, dreams, beliefs, opinions, ideas, etc.), or experienceable in any way whatsoever is nothing more than an apparent object that has arisen out of the unmanifest state (i.e., causal body), abides for a longer or shorter period of time in a manifest state or form, and inevitably subsides back into the unmanifest state. You, awareness, are none of these objects. You are simply their witness. You remain ever un-touched, un-sullied, un-affected in any way by these objects.
Now, yes, from the ultimate non-dual perspective, it is true that these objects are you, awareness, since there is nothing other than you, awareness. But while the objects are you, awareness, you, awareness, are not the objects. Simply put, while the objects are you, you are not the objects. Paradoxical as it sounds, what this means is that while the objects are made of the “substanceless substance” that is you (what else could they be made of?), none of these objects can comprehensively define, describe, or constitute you, limitless awareness. Just as your hand is you (i.e., Bob, the apparent person) but all that constitutes Bob as a person cannot be reduced to one hand, so each and every object is awareness but no one or even the collective whole of all of them constitute limitless. Here, too, we must go beyond the limits of the analogy because even if all the objects in the manifest universe (and by “manifest” I mean even subtle objective phenomena, such as thoughts and emotions) are not appearing (i.e., in the deep sleep state or nirvikalpa samadhi, the thought-free meditative state), awareness still is. The intellect doesn’t register a conscious thought concerning the absence of objective phenomena because the intellect itself is simply an object that is not appearing, but awareness does continue to obtain despite the absence of objects. We know this because we can recall upon awakening that we slept soundly. Having returned as a component of the waking entity, the intellect infers its own absence based on memory. It is only able to do this because awareness was there all along “experiencing” or “illumining” the absence of objects. We know this because not only did we not cease to exist while we slept (if we had, we couldn’t have woken up), but also because we can only remember something we have experienced. So some “thing,” some part of us, which can only be pure awareness, must have been “there” “experiencing” the absence of objects.
All the objective phenomena, including the subtle body or mind itself, is only reflected awareness (i.e., like the dream images in the dreamer’s mind). You are pure awareness, the “substanceless substance” of which all these objects are made as well as the “formless field” in which they all appear (i.e., the consciousness in which appear all the dream images that essentially constitute the dreamer’s mind).
Having said all that, we need to address a confusion that is reflected in the language with which you describe these perspectives from which you might view the apparent reality. You speak of viewing yourself as a “substance” or “movie screen” on which you are seeing/experiencing objects in front of yourself, and next you refer to “this perceiver that’s looking at my bodily sensations/thought/emotions.” Who is the “you” to whom you are referring. It seems to jump from reflected awareness (i.e., the subtle body or “substance” or “movie screen,” which is basically the apparent person) to pure awareness (i.e., the “me” in which the “perceiver” or apparent person abides, looking at “my”—whose?—sensations, thoughts, and emotions). So my question is, “Which one are you?” Are you the apparent person? Or are you pure awareness? Are you the one who comes and goes? Or are you the one who witnesses the coming and going of the one who comes and goes?
Bob: I find it hard to objectify awareness though it’s “me.”
Ted: You find it hard to objectify awareness because it is impossible to do so. YOU CANNOT OBJECTIFY AWARENESS. If you can “see” (i.e., understand) that you are the one who is the ever-present witness of all comings and goings, then you will “see” (i.e., know) how you, awareness, are non-objectifiable. Limitless awareness is by definition unobjectifiable. It has no attributes, characteristics, qualities, or boundaries by which it could be identified, delineated, defined, or described as separate or different from anything else…most fundamentally because there isn’t anything else other than it that it could be distinguished from. Just as the images on a movie screen seem to be different objects but are in fact nothing other than light, so it looks like there are different objects constituting an apparent reality but they are all nothing but projections of ignorance made of and appearing within the scope of awareness. So whether or not you seem to be separate objects, in reality you are only limitless, non-dual awareness. And you, awareness, always are whether objects appear within the scope of your being or not.
Bob: I am running around in circles thinking about this though it has been explained hundreds of time that awareness can only be revealed as knowledge in the intellect.
Ted: The fact that awareness is revealed as knowledge in the intellect does not mean that the self, you, awareness, are a bit of information to be known as an object. It means that the limitless awareness that is your true nature, as has been explained, cannot be comprehensively defined or described by any particular experience or state of being. You are awareness not matter what is appearing or seems to be happening within the scope of your being. You are not the apparent person who seems to be observing, doing, and enjoying all these objects and experiences, for that apparent person is only another object appearing within you.
However, it is through the intellect of the apparent person that the cognition (i.e., thought and understanding) of your true identity occurs. You, awareness, don’t need the intellect to know who you are, for you “know” who you are by virtue of being who you are. But the way the game of life, to speak in analogical terms, is set up is that the mechanism of the intellect is required in order for the experience of the apparent limited individual recognizing its true identity as pure limitless awareness to take place within the scope of limitless awareness (i.e., you).
The bottom line is that you will never be able to point to any particular object or even the collective of all objective phenomena as say that it as such defines you. You are always and ever the observer “behind” all observations. Thus, you can—and, in fact, do—know yourself. But just not as an object.
Bob: If so, am I suppose to simply repeat it as a mantra “I am whole complete limitless actionless awareness?”
Ted: Parroting a mantra is pointless unless you understand what it means. What you are “supposed” to do is make inquiry. Contemplate the meaning of the teachings and continuously discriminating yourself as awareness from the objects appearing within the scope of your being. Keep doing this until one day the penny finally drops and you “see” (i.e., understand) the truth of the mantra.
Bob: It’s been written that I have absolutely no way to experience this in samsara (unless through subtle body reflection) or even imagine it in my mind???? Because it’s beyond everything that is! Help!
Ted: Awareness is “beyond” even the mind, so there is no way to directly experience awareness other than by knowing that you are awareness. The reflection of awareness in a purified (i.e., predominately sattvic) mind is as close as the apparent person comes to “seeing” his true identity. When the mind is quiet enough (i.e., sufficiently free of binding vasanas, or compelling desires and fears that disturb the mind and extrovert one’s attention toward objective pursuits), there comes a moment when the akhandakara vritti, the “thought without limit,” appears in the mind either as a thought or what we might call an intuitive insight that reflects the understanding that one is whole, complete, limitless, all-pervasive, ever-present, non-dual awareness. Once this truth is “seen,” it becomes known.
Keep investigating yourself. Look into your experience. Has there ever been a time when you were not there (we’ve already discussed your apparent absence of deep sleep, so don’t fall back on that idea)? And have any of the experiences you’ve ever had ever changed you, the witnessing awareness? Certainly, Bob has changed, but have you? Isn’t the same “you” looking out through Bob’s eyes now as was looking through them when Bob was seven? Has that awareness ever changed? This is a subtle contemplation, so take your time. But this discrimination between you, awareness, and all the objects, including the identity of the perceiver of those objects, is the key to moksha, freedom from limitation.
Bob: Also, since the role of a teacher is to simply clarify the scriptures for the students. I assume you are the teacher who can help me out? Not that I have to meet you face to face in real life so I can hear your voice to receive the teachings or some sort of mental transmission but rather a logical explanation through email am I correct?
Ted: Yes, you are correct. We don’t need to be in each other’s physical presence. We can interact through email. The teaching is what’s important. Addressing your doubts and laying them to rest. That is what sets you free, not me (i.e., the physical entity called Ted).
Ted: My pleasure.
All the best,