De-Mystifying the PointersPosted: April 15, 2012
In the next few paragraphs I’ll try something almost impossible. I will attempt to make some of the most common non-dual pointers from the Advaita Vedanta and Mahayana Buddhist traditions more obvious to contemporary readers. No matter how much they are rephrased and explained here, though, they will still remain what they are: pointers. They are but tools to bring about an insight but they are not truths in and of themselves. If these pointers are mistaken as such, that is, if they are used to create a new belief system about reality, they can make people more ignorant and delusional than ever before. I think of them as magic words or mantras or secret poems that have no purpose other than to spark an insight. Once the insight is gained, better to stay with the insight not with the pointer. There is a Zen saying that encapsulates this beautifully: “even gold dust can cause blindness”.
For the sake of orientation (our minds like that!), the pointers are grouped in four categories in the order of sequence of how they are sometimes presented to spiritual seekers along the path of unravelling. In no way, though, is this grouping suggesting that the pointers are only valuable at certain specific times. Some could easily be put in more than one category.
Pointing away from form (things)
– All is impermanent
– This is this, because that is that
– The world is an illusion
– It’s all Maya
What these rather straight-forward pointers have in common is a conveying of the notion that the world is not composed of independent forms or things as it seems to be, but that actually all is ever-changing and intimately interconnected. A big living organism, so to speak, into which we are interwoven. What is experienced is always only a snapshot of what the world looks, smells, feels, sounds and tastes like now in this very moment.
The interconnection is such that if one aspect of the world is changed all else changes with it, just as creating a wave minusculely affects the level of the whole lake. While everything is completely interconnected and ever-changing, things cannot exist in and of themselves as we tend to think they do. Whatever is dependent on other things to arise, is not inherently real. All is as it is, because all else is exactly as it is.
Pointing towards emptiness (or oneness)
– Only Brahman is real
– Form is emptiness
– No time or space
– No self or doer
– No birth or death
As we are moving away from “seeing” the world as composed of solid, independent forms and things we usually become more receptive to pointers to emptiness or oneness. What they are trying to convey is the notion that not only is the world a sensory illusion but what is ultimately real is beyond knowing, because all is one single infinite and endless thing (oneness). And since there is only one thing, no “other” exists that would help define it in conceptual terms like larger than, higher than, better than, etc. Having no reference point, it, whatever it is, is beyond concept. It is empty of such (emptiness). If all is one/ empty, we ultimately don’t exist either as independent, beings in time and space. We must be the infinite (non-)being with a local perspective.
The realization of emptiness/ oneness pulls the mind from a world of some-things to its opposite, a world of no-thing. Given, however, that we are still operating in dualistic pairs of opposites (form vs. emptiness/ oneness) we are not “done” yet. There is an acute danger to hang out in emptiness/ oneness and get stuck there (the so-called “Lucknow-disease”, or “stink of enlightenment”). After all, emptiness or oneness, the concept of no concept, is still a concept and, hence, not more “advanced” than the concept of forms and things. The time has thus come for the great unravelling.
Pointing away from emptiness (or oneness)
Most common pointers:
– The world is Brahman
– Emptiness is form
– Neither it is, nor is it not
– In this world, but not of it
These pointers are intended to transcend the opposites of form and emptiness/ oneness by conveying that paradoxically both, form and emptiness (or oneness) are equally invalid (or valid) at the same time. Metaphorically speaking we removed the thorn of form with the thorn of emptiness/ oneness and now we are instructed to drop that thorn. Being put in a position of having no opposite to grab on to, the mind “vanishes”. Cut off from its lifeline of dualistic concepts it can’t exist. That’s why paradoxes are mind-blowers. What’s important is that what reveals itself when the mind is “blown”, is the nature of who we really are.
Pointing to what you really are
Most common pointers:
– You are that
– You are what you seek
– You are never not there
– You are pure awareness/ consciousness/ knowing
– This is it
– I am that I am
Once the mind is transcended, what remains is just pure, direct experiencing. Since the mind is creating the illusion of an experiencer experiencing an experience, when it is gone, the experiencer collapses with the experience and just experiencing remains. This “just experiencing” is the bare bones of our existence. It is what can never be left or lost. It’s always there, closer than close. It unconditionally allows any experience in. Suffering is created when the (illusory) experiencer tries to do the impossible, to manage and control the experience that has already been allowed in. All pointers, therefore, ultimately point to a surrendering to the immediacy of the experience in whatever form it may come, pain or bliss. Which, by the way, is what all spiritual traditions point to.
“Resist, and the tide will sweep you off your feet.
Allow, and grace will carry you to higher ground.”