Could any human concept be more irritatingly difficult, more cryptic, more non nonsensical than the idea of our own non existence? Surely, the very fact that ‘I’ am reading this blog, or writing this blog in my case, means that ‘I’ must exist. Apparently not.
Unfortunately for those of us still deluded by this mysteriously persuasive ‘I’ concept, every enlightened master since the beginning of time confirms our mistake. ‘What is not present in deep sleep,’ does not exist was Ramana’s take on it. Wei wu Wei said: ‘In reality, nothing is.’ Nisagardatta Maharaj asked his students to: ‘Realize you are a dream you call the world.’ David Carse, who’s recent book ‘Perfect Brilliant Stillness’ I highly recommend, likes to say: “there is no one home, there is nothing happening here.”
This, then, is why no ‘one’ has ever become enlightened. To gain the ultimate understanding, any and all personal ‘self’ must be wiped away. It does not mean that the body/mind vanishes, nor that the world vanishes. It means that concept of an individual reference point against which the world can be measured ceases to exist. UG Krishnamurti points out that ‘maya’ which is consistently translated as meaning: ‘illusion’ has it’s roots in the word to ‘measure.’ This constant measuring of a world against an imaginary yardstick ‘I’ is the problem.
Whether or not you are able to indulge the very possibility that you, as you have imagined yourself, do not exist, it’s easy to realise that if there weren’t a personal ‘I’, life might be a good deal simpler. No one would be around to suffer all my problems! No one would feel cold, hungry, fearful etc. Quite simply, all problems would vanish. How could they not? Suffering can only exist if there is someone to suffer it!
How then can we get a grip on what is meant by ‘no self’? Is there any way to understand it intellectually? To my mind, the indomitable Wei Wu Wei ( the nom de plume of one Terence Gray 1895-1986) has come closest – at least for the Western mind – in explaining this conundrum. His book Open Secret is the kind that makes your head feel like it’s going to explode but it’s worth persevering with.
From Open Secret: Hong Kong University Press, 1965.
OBJECTS ARE only known as the result of reactions
of the senses of sentient beings to a variety of stimuli.
These stimuli appear to derive from sources external
to the reagent apparatus, but there is no evidence of this
apart from the reagent apparatus itself.
Objects, therefore, are only a surmise, for they have
no demonstrable existence apart from the subject that
Since that subject itself is not sensorially cognisable
as an object, subject also is only a surmise.
Since the factual existence of neither subject nor
object can be demonstrated, existence is no more than a
conceptual assumption, which, metaphysically, is inacceptable.
There is, therefore, no valid evidence for the existence
of a world external to the consciousness of sentient beings,
which external world is therefore seen to be nothing but the
cognisers of it, that is—sentient beings themselves.
But there can be no factual evidence for the existence
of sentient beings, either as subject or as object, who therefore
are merely a conceptual assumption on the part of the
consciousness in which they are cognised.
It follows that ‘consciousness’ also can only be a
conceptual assumption without demonstrable existence.
What, then, can this assumption of consciousness
denote? This question can only be answered in metaphysical
terms, according to which consciousness may be regarded
as the manifested aspect of the unmanifested, which is
the nearest it seems possible to go towards expressing in a
concept that which by definition is inconceivable.
If you’ve made it through that lot without spontaneous combustion, I congratulate you. Or I would congratulate you if there were in fact anyone here to write this, or anyone there to read it.