Before everything that was and before everything that is, I already am. This revelation is the ground of everything — the groundless ground of reality itself and the foundation of both traditional enlightenment and the new evolutionary enlightenment.
Mystical insight into this mystery of mysteries often occurs as a result of a deep and sincere practice of meditation, but it can also spontaneously erupt within an unsuspecting soul. When the mind or the filter of your cognitive apparatus quiets down, or temporarily becomes transparent, the whisper of intuition can reveal to you the liberating presence of that empty, infinite ground that exists beyond time. The immediacy of enlightened awareness emerges the moment you let go of the time process and all that it represents to the mind, ego, and personality. When there is no time you are free, right now.
Pay attention to your own experience when you take that journey back to before the beginning: In the depths of your own self, is there any awareness of the passing of time? If you go deep enough, to that place where you feel that you could remain forever, you will recognize time to be the ultimate mirage. And it will become apparent to you that your attachment to time has been preventing you from discovering your own inherent freedom. No-time has no past and no future—only the liberating immediacy of the eternal present, which has no beginning and no end.
When you awaken in a dramatic way, you see the entire world of form and time, the whole universe, including your own personal history, from the perspective of that deepest part of yourself that already IS—the part of you that never entered into the stream of time in the first place.
I have never been born, you realize, and therefore I can never die. The entire world, indeed the entire universe, is happening out there and I am always free from it. The Self alone is real because that is the only part of me that never changes.
From this place of unconditional freedom and glorious detachment, you witness the entire unfolding of the creative process, and it all becomes transparent. Dare to let yourself see through the illusion of time. Dare to embrace that perspective that allows you to see that everything is part of a transitory, and therefore illusory, progression of birth and death. If you want to discover enlightenment, you need to go so deep that it becomes apparent to you, at least in that moment, that the Self alone is real. All else is a temporary illusion. Trust in this alone and be free, the sages tell us. Remain detached and disengaged from all except that which is real, and you will be enlightened in this very life. The mind is an illusion. Time is an illusion. The world is an illusion. Only the Self is real.
This is the peace you see in the eyes of the mystic, the smile on the face of the Buddha. It is the liberating knowledge that in that deepest part of your own self, none of this ever happened. When this becomes obvious to you, you will laugh that unmistakable laugh of one who knows the secret of secrets.
IT IS LITERALLY ENLIGHTENING TO FIND when thought, time, world, and even your own body disappears, you haven’t gone anywhere!
That’s the miracle of miracles and the mystery of mysteries. How is it that when everything disappears, including mind and memory, the most intimately felt essence of your own self remains? And how is it possible that the self that remains when time and form disappear is eternal and unchanging? That self has never been born and will never die.
From the perspective of the rational mind, a human life is a linear, limited event, circumscribed by the inescapable march of time from birth to death. But when you penetrate beyond the mind, you directly see, know, and feel that instead of merely being an individual body, mind, and personality that was born and is going to die, you are that empty ground of Being that has never become anything.
That primordial ground is who you always are, no matter how things may appear at any given moment in time; it is the very essence of your own self at its most fundamental level. How can you know that? Because, as we have discovered, when every attribute that you habitually identify as being you falls away, your deepest sense of self is still there. But that self has no name, no history, no gender, no personal identity. It is not really your self—it is the Self, the absolute subject. It is singular. Consciousness in this primordial state is the “I” of the entire cosmos—the subjectivity or interiority of everything that exists.
Consciousness has no boundaries, no beginning and no end. The cognitive faculties of the human mind cannot grasp its infinite nature, because we habitually relate to our own self as a fixed, finite entity, and to every object that we give our attention to as being fixed and finite also. Pay attention, and you will see that you are constantly locating and relocating yourself in time and space, in relationship to others and to your environment. You are the observer, living on the finite island of your individual self, looking out at a world of people and objects and places that is separate from and external to you.
But when you let go of time and mind and world, and fall into the depths of consciousness itself, suddenly that observer who appeared to be finite stumbles upon that which is infinite. It’s like stepping off a cliff into empty space. You lose all reference points, because your attention is on something that is not an object and that ultimately, in the shocking clarity of enlightened awareness, is revealed to be not separate from the one who is observing it. The separate self dissolves, the world dissolves, time and space seem to collapse. The observer and the observed are one and the same.
You are no longer a finite entity located at a fixed point in space and time, related to other objects that exist independently of you. You no longer experience yourself as existing at any particular point in space, because you have become one with the space itself. When the barriers between self and world dissolve in this way, you experience transparency. You won’t feel that you are standing in any place, observing any thing. You won’t know where you begin and where you end, where the back is or where the front is. This is what is traditionally called nonduality.
NONDUALITY means“not two” or, there is only One. Why do we use the term “nonduality”? Because it’s the most precise description of that mysterious singularity that is almost impossible to put into words. The term “One” leaves room for the possibility of another. But in the singularity of consciousness there is no other. It is “One without a second.” Consciousness is that One which is never two.
So what does nonduality actually mean? It means that your experience of your deepest self and my experience of my deepest self and any other human being’s experience of his or her deepest sense of self is One. It’s one and the same self. The journey back to before the beginning is a journey from the many to the One. This is the mystical paradox: that there seem to be many, but there is, in fact, only One. You and I may appear to be at two different points in space.
But my deepest self and your deepest self are the same self. At that ground of deepest subjectivity, or interiority, we are not separate. The interior of all things is One. The inside of the cosmos is One. You may seem to be sitting there. I may seem to be far away. But when you follow these words back to before the beginning of time, to the innermost dimension of all things, what you experience as your deepest self is exactly the same self that I experience. We end up in the very same place. In that interior dimension, there is no here and no there, no you and no me. There is only the Self.
As you contemplate the nature of consciousness and you awaken to this pure subjectivity in your own awareness, ask yourself: Could there be anyone else here? Is there another? Could there ever be anything separate from this One Self? If you really go into it, you will find the answer. If you go all the way back to before the beginning—before thought, before feeling, before your body or your mind, before the world and the whole universe was created—what is there? There is only you, and you are everything.
That is the freedom you taste in the ground of Being: the nature of consciousness before there was even the notion of an other. Before otherness, before there were two, there could be no relatedness, or any of the complexity that relatedness creates. And so there was only freedom—the inherent liberation of consciousness before it located itself in time and in space, as you or as me.
You see, the instant consciousness locates itself in a particular time and place, as a particular entity, it loses awareness of its inherent freedom. This is why we so often feel trapped. When the self is not enlightened, it is fundamentally identified with the notion of difference, unaware of its primordial unity. Why do some of us mysteriously begin to yearn for spiritual liberation or enlightenment? Why do we seek? Why do we pray? Why do we mediate?
Because consciousness longs to be free.
The liberating experience of self-discovery that you feel when you awaken to the ground of Being is consciousness reawakening to the perennial truth that it is only One, that it is not two. The question "Who Am I?" dissolves in the recognition that I AM. This is the essence of the discovery of enlightenment—when you find what you are seeking for, you discover that it is always already the case. IT simply is…and I AM THAT.
THE SECRET OF ENLIGHTENMENT IS THE ABSOLUTE, unequivocal conviction that it exists. You have discovered an unshakeable confidence in the fact of nonduality—in the perennial mystical revelation that IT IS… and I AM THAT. A confidence in that which can never be seen or known is the very ground of the enlightened state. Being is ungraspable, it’s unknowable, it’s ever elusive, and yet it is the only place you can find true confidence. Why? Because it is the very Source of life itself.
The conscious experience of Being, which is what enlightenment is, has always been the ultimate answer to the most fundamental spiritual questions: "Who am I?" and "Why am I here?". Those who have tasted enlightened awareness find that in that experience, existential doubt and the questions that go along with it instantaneously disappear. They lose their meaning. When you locate the nonrelative, or absolute, nature of consciousness in the depths of your own self, it is experienced as a clarity that is empty of content; a weightiness that is full of nothing in particular; a profound knowing that dissolves all questions. In that questionless state, you find yourself profoundly rooted and radically free, supported by an absolute confidence in the knowing of no-thing that changes everything. The experience of that empty ground is the answer that always liberates each and every one of us. You simply know, unequivocally, before thought, that I am. That’s the only answer: I AM. There is no why.
This article is excerpted with permission from Evolutionary Enlightenment by Andrew Cohen. Published by Jaico Publishing House — INR 250
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