Chapter 20. Understanding by direct seeing

20.1. The role of concepts in Advaita

Understanding starts with a concept, such as the concept that the manifestation is purely conceptual, and proceeds to seeing directly that no object is real.

In the meditation for January 4 in A Net of Jewels (1996), Ramesh says,

"The only true understanding is that nothing is, not even he who understands."

In the meditation for June 21, he says, 

"Although it can be seen, the universe is nonetheless purely conceptual and has no actual substance or reality of its own.  All phenomena are nonexistent by nature.  Other than the primal Absolute subjectivity in which all exists, nothing in fact does exist!"

Objects can never be real because all objects change, and Reality never changes. However, although they are never real, concepts can be true, meaning that they can negate concepts that are untrue. Untrue concepts are those that assert and maintain the reality of objects, such as the world, the individual, and the body, either explicitly or implicitly. A primary purpose of this course is to see the unreality of all objects. In this way, Reality is uncovered and becomes Self-evident.

Advaita teaches that Consciousness (God) is all there is (see Sections 10.1, 11.1, 14.3). However, that is a pointer to  Reality, not a description of It.

The unreality of all concepts is powerfully stated in the often-quoted words of Ramana Maharshi:

"There is neither creation nor destruction,
Neither destiny nor free will,
Neither path nor achievement;
This is the final truth."

There is a parallel statement in the Buddhist text, Visuddhimagga XVI (see

"Mere suffering exists, no sufferer is found.
The deeds are, but no doer of the deeds is there.
Nibbana [Nirvana] is, but not the man that enters it.
The path is, but no traveller on it is seen,"

and further (see

         "No doer of the deeds is found,
         No one who ever reaps their fruits; 
         Empty phenomena roll on [unfold]:
         This only is the correct view.
         And while the deeds and their results
         Roll on and on, conditioned all,
         There is no first beginning found,
         Just as it is with seed and tree. ... 
         No god, no Brahma, can be called
         The maker of this wheel of life:
         Empty phenomena roll on,
         Dependent on conditions all."
Chapter III, Verse 27 of the Classical Hindu text, the Bhagavad Gita, says,
"Actions are wrought in all cases by the energies of Nature. He whose mind is deluded by egoism thinks ‘I am the doer’."

On p. 22 of The Relationship Between 'I' and 'Me"  (2006), Ramesh paraphrases these as follows:

         "Events happen, deeds get done, consequences happen, but there is no one doing any deed."

We remind the reader that, as we said in Section 14.1, concepts in spiritual teachings are used as pointers to Reality rather than as concepts to be believed. In practical terms, this means that the function of a concept is to facilitate disidentification. This results in a sense of freedom and peace, and in release from suffering. This is its only function. If it fails to do that, the concept is useless at best, and at worst, it strengthens identification. An analogy often used by spiritual teachers to illustrate this point is that a concept is like a finger pointing to the moon (Reality). When one sees the moon (when awakening occurs), the finger is forgotten. 

However, a common mistake among spiritual seekers is to regard the concept itself as truth, and thus to cling to it. This is like worshipping the finger rather than looking at what it is pointing to.  In doing so, the ego averts a threat to its existence. For example, if a religion regards its concepts as truth, it is worshipping the finger (see Chapter 14). Another mistake is to look at a spiritual concept and to disregard what it is pointing to because of resistance to the concept itself. Again, the ego averts a threat to its existence. Most materialists and many scientists make this mistake when they refuse to question the reality of "objective reality".

Question: Have you ever observed or experienced an example of worshipping the finger rather than the moon?

Different spiritual teachers use different concepts, but always for the same purpose. A seeker is usually drawn to a teacher who uses a conceptual system that is acceptable to him/her in some way. Acceptability usually means that the concepts are consistent with the seeker’s intuition and experience. However, as a seeker matures, the concepts used by a teacher may be less and less useful for disidentification. Indeed, they can even begin to generate more suffering than they relieve because they can begin to produce more and more conflicts with the seeker’s intuition and experience. In such cases, the seeker scarcely needs to be told to find another teacher. However, this can be easier said than done if the seeker has developed a strong personal relationship with the teacher, or if the seeker is deluded by the teacher into thinking that staying with him or her is the only way to salvation. This kind of delusion is responsible for the many stories of seekers having clung to a teacher long after the teacher’s usefulness has faded. Probably the best attitude to take towards spiritual teachers is to use them as resources, without regarding any one of them as one’s only avenue to salvation. The spiritual marketplace is no different from the commercial marketplace in this respect, so, even here, the guiding rule is caveat emptor.

Question: Have you ever outgrown a religious or spiritual teacher or have found him/her no longer helpful?

20.2. What is direct seeing?

For a few seekers, merely hearing the right words from the right teacher is enough to catalyze deep understanding and awakening. However, those seekers are rare, and for most people, active inquiry is necessary to see what the words mean. This inquiry can take the form of questioning the teacher, which is what happens in satsang, or it can take the form of inner examination and observation. Inquiry is a scientific investigation into what is true and what is not. It is scientific because it is based on observation, and both the method and the results can be communicated to others who can then verify them for themselves (see Section 1.1). More accurately, only what changes and therefore what is unreal can be observed and communicated, while what is Real does not change and therefore cannot be observed or communicated. Nevertheless, through inquiry It can be known to be true. Inquiry is discussed in detail in Chapter 23.

The practice of inquiry (see Chapter 23) allows us to see directly that there is no "I". Direct seeing is also the technique of Buddhist mindfulness meditation (see Sections 14.6, 24.2). In these practices, we see directly that there is no mind, there is only a mental process; there is no body, there is only a sensory process. (Quantum theory shows this conceptually, see Section 9.1). Direct seeing reveals that what seems to be real is not, so realization of What-Is can arise. Direct seeing is also the main thrust of Wei Wu Wei’s books, which tend to point out what is not true rather than vainly attempting to say what is true.

Exercise: Close your eyes. After a few moments of resting quietly, sink inward and downward out of the head and into the body and rest there. Can you sense pure Presence? Can you see that all thoughts, feelings, emotions, and sensations arise from this background of pure Presence?

Now open your eyes. Can you see that all visual objects arise from the background of pure Presence? (This is more difficult than the previous exercise because of our strongly conditioned visual perception.)

Direct seeing shows us that God is everything, and everything is God (see Section 14.3). The mantra practice described in Section 19.1 is a powerful aid in seeing this.

20.3. The use of direct seeing to disidentify from the "I"-doer

On p.7 of Ask the Awakened (2002), Wei Wu Wei says,

"Why are you unhappy? Because 99.9 per cent of everything you think, and of everything you do, is for yourself—and there isn't one."

In the meditation for November 27 in A Net of Jewels (1996), Ramesh says,

"Breathing goes on by itself while the deluded individual thinks it is he who is breathing. Thoughts come from outside, arising spontaneously through intervals of mental vacuum, and he thinks it is he who is thinking. The thoughts get transformed involuntarily into action, and he thinks it is he who is acting. All the while, he is doing nothing but to misconstrue the actions of the Totality as his own action."

In any present moment, we can see that there is no doer (see Section 23.2). Why do we then think we can do something? We think so because of identification at the second level, which is identification with doership (see Section 11.4). Identification with doership is identification with the past and future, because it means that "I" have done something in the past, and that "I" can do something in the future. Thus, "I" feel regret, guilt, or shame, or pride for what "I" have or have not done; and "I" feel worry, anxiety, or fear about what "I" can or should do. Consequently, "I" suffer.

Exercise: Close your eyes. Can you see directly that there is no thinker in the present moment?

20.4. The use of direct seeing to disidentify from "mine"

Identification at the third level (see Section 11.5), the level of "mine", produces suffering from myriad unpleasant emotions. All suffering comes from claiming thoughts, feelings, or emotions as our own. However, direct seeing shows that none of them belong to us (see Chapters 23, 24). They all arise spontaneously and they all fall away spontaneously.

Exercise: Close your eyes. Can you see that all thoughts, feelings, and emotions arise and fall spontaneously?

Direct seeing also shows that we are limitless (see Sections 23.3, 24.3). Thinking that we are limited is suffering (bondage=boundedness) so we will suffer until we see that we are not limited. If we think we are limited, the dream (Section 13.1) is a nightmare. If we know we are not, the dream is only what it is. In the metaphor of Section 13.6, the thorn will hurt until we realize that there is no thorn by investigating it (by probing the thorn with other thorns and seeing what happens).

Eventually, as identification weakens, suffering will fade away. Even initially, there may be a sense of freedom, if only dimly felt. This is an early result of disidentification, and the less the identification, the greater is our peace.

20.5.  Because there is no "I"-object, there is no other

In the meditation for May 10 in A Net of Jewels (1996), Ramesh says,

"In one's natural, immediate attention or awareness there are no boundaries, no separate items of manifestation, unless and until thought intrudes and directs specific concentration on a particular thing. And this is what creates separation along with the whole chain of other thoughts and reactions that lead to every kind of conflict and unhappiness, which we then interpret as bondage. But the realization that boundaries are a product of thought is at once the realization that the separation caused by these boundaries and the conflicts that ensue are all an illusion."

Sensations can be considered to be real (e.g., pain hurts) but all objects are mental images. Thus, I can sense the pressures on my finger tips as I type but the keys and keyboard are only mental images. If I kick a rock, the sensation of pain is real but the rock is only a mental image. The keyboard and the rock do not exist as objects separate from "me". As we saw in Section 11.4, when the "I" is seen as being separate from the not-"I", the not-"I" is seen as separate from the "I". Repeated conceptualization of the not-"I" and belief in its existence then creates the illusion of massive fragmentation and myriad separate objects, with the "I" being separate from each.

As we saw in Section 11.7, we suffer from helplessness and hopelessness when we believe we are victims, and we suffer from hatred and outrage when we believe others are victimizers. To be free from this suffering, it is necessary to see that, not only are we not victims (there is no "I"-object) but also that there are no victimizers (there is no other). "Victims" and "victimizers" morph and change because they are nothing but mental images. This is true because, as we have seen, there is no objective reality (see Chapter 9). This life is nothing but a dream (Section 13.1).

We can see this by seeing the true nature of any object, not just the "I"-object. One way is to follow the reasoning of Section 9.2 and see that separation and naming are purely conceptual operations by experiencing the sensations themselves without conceptualizing them into objects. When the body and the world are looked at in this way, it gradually becomes apparent that, whereas the sensations are real, all objects are nothing but mental images. Their transparency reveals their unreality at the same time that it reveals the reality of the background of pure Presence from which they arise (inquiry also reveals this--see Section 23.5).  

Particularly helpful in seeing that all objects are unreal is to realize that, for all of our efforts to get lasting satisfaction, contentment, happiness, or peace from the world, we have found precious little there. The more we have tried to get from the world, the more disappointed we have become because our aversions/attachments have prevented us from seeing the world truly. We will never be satisfied by mere concepts, and the world that we see is nothing but a concept.

Question: Have you ever gotten lasting peace from anything in the world?

Anything that changes cannot be said to be real. The ever-changing world cannot bring us the changelessness that we want. What disappears the instant we close our eyes or turn away can hardly be real. If we think it is, we will suffer. In the metaphor of Section 13.5, the world is nothing but surface froth, devoid of all meaning, significance, or purpose. In the metaphor of Section 13.2, the world is nothing but flat, two-dimensional reflections from a screen. In the metaphor of Section 13.12, whenever we have tried to drink from a mirage, all we have gotten is a mouthful of dry sand. Until we see the true nature of the world, it will be a desert to us.

Exercise: What is it that does not change but is more real than anything that changes? Look and see!

The three-dimensional appearance of the world strongly reinforces the illusion that it and the body exist (see Section 12.1). A one- or two-dimensional world would not seem nearly as real. Yet, three-dimensional illusions that we know to be unreal are very familiar to us. For example, there are three-dimensional slide viewers, three-dimensional movies, and three-dimensional computer-generated virtual realities. Furthermore, when we close our eyes, three-dimensionality disappears (see Section 12.1), the apparent separation between the body and the not-body disappears, and what we then see does not seem nearly as real as what we see with our eyes open. However, Reality is the same whether our eyes are open or closed, whether we are dreaming or awake, and whether we do or do not appear to have a body.

Exercise: Close your eyes and see if the body then has boundaries. What does this tell you about their reality? (Note: We may feel the sensations of touch, pressure, and sound but these are just body sensations. They do not require the concept of boundaries.)
Exercise: Close your eyes and become aware of the Background of pure Presence. Does it have boundaries?
Now open your eyes and see if the Background then has boundaries. What does that tell you about the reality of separate objects?

The unreality of the ego is the ego's best-kept secret. The unreality of the world is the world's best-kept secret. To see the truth of these secrets is to render unnecessary and irrelevant all spiritual teachers and all spiritual teachings.  

In the November 20 meditation in A Net of Jewels (1996), Ramesh says,

"The ordinary, ignorant person can only see things as objects seen by a subject. Then, with a certain shift of understanding away from separate personal identity, it dawns on him that only the impersonal subject is real while the objects themselves are illusory. Finally, with total enlightenment, the sage sees objects as objects once again but within an essential unity where there is no separation of subject from object, or in fact any separation of any kind."

While this course is in disagreement with much of A Course in Miracles (see Chapter 15), the last three sentences in the introduction to ACIM succinctly summarize the message of this chapter:

"Nothing real can be threatened.
Nothing unreal exists.
Herein lies the peace of God."

Disidentification works first at the intellectual level, then finally at the intuitive level (see Chapters 23 and 24). Since Awareness is not conceptual, we must see directly that we are not objects. We are not separate and we cannot be perceived.

By now you will realize that, even though practices have been suggested in this chapter and others will be suggested in later chapters, "we" cannot do these practices because "we" never do anything. Therefore, if they happen, they happen; if not, they don't (see Section 18.4).

This page last updated December 2, 2009
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