Awareness: It’s More Than What Meets the Eye

It is commonplace in the neo-Advaita community to come upon the belief that what is seen is what is not real and that which sees is all that is real.

It’s a catchy phrase because it reverses in a perfect 180 degrees everyday common sense. But is it true? Is it more than a belief?

If our exclusive identity is awareness, then what happens in deep sleep? Where is that all-encompassing awareness prior to our birth or what happens to it after our physical deaths?

Enlightened one’s have claimed that they have seen into the heart of the issue and have said that we are neither born and nor do we die. Unfortunately, the only way we can explore their claims is to have exactly the same experience as they have claimed to have had and we know that such cathartic experiences happen to few.

It’s also possible that such experiences are just relatively brief mind-states that, over time, pass. One thing we do know as fact is that none of these people have provided the smallest shred of evidence to substantiate their claims, except that we poor unenlightened ones are expected to trust them and place them on the unique pedestal that their special status has earned them. They haven’t demanded our respect. It’s just a happenstance of their good fortune, work ethic, or innate spiritual superiority. Take your pick.

Are we just that which is aware?

If we are aware without any information, then we would be unable to identity differences between objects. On seeing a rock, we could only say that we are aware of ‘something’. We would not be able to say that it is a rock.

It is what we have learned that enables us to label this object as a rock. If we are trained in geology, there is probably much we could say about this object. From this simple example, we can see that we depend on our awake, physical mind to make it possible for us to see the rock as a rock. In deep, dreamless sleep, we cannot identify the rock as a rock and if we do depend on what we have learned about our world, I suspect that we cannot identify this rock prior to our birth or following our death.

Thus we are not just awareness. Those that make that claim are ignoring so much that contradicts their position, that, with a cool head, we can see that the claim is based on religious grounds and not reality.

Know this: the frequently desperate drive to transcend the pains and challenges of everyday living can create any dream and make it credible to the dreamer.

Now let’s take a look at the negation of the whole universe as unreal. Is this true? Has anyone lived this truth that is has not been institutionalized? If nothing is real, then we must be in a state of persistent hallucination. We would also be free to do as we might with everything we encounter. We could never realistically expect to experience guilt when we shove people out of our way to get to the front of a line. We could allow our dog to excrete non-existent shit all over the unreal house or we could just slit the dog’s non-existent throat with an unreal knife to break the monotony of a universe utterly empty of everything.


Life and the self are much more subtle, complicated, and mysterious to be able to placed in any experiential category by anyone. Objects are both real and unreal simultaneously. The self cannot be clearly identified. The meaning and purpose of life cannot be known by any human being.

The various pathways that are described in any approach to life are, at best, just metaphors … our best shot at understanding from a vantage point that is constantly shifting and, ultimately, unknown. We can neither embrace what is or negate it. The next moment has qualities that are, to some extent predictable, but to some other extent, unknown.

And this is why I have consistently said that to live our lives in as fulfilled way as possible are must acknowledge that life invites us to do two things that most of us would prefer to avoid; to embrace paradox and to know at the very core of our beings that life is fundamentally mysterious. Everything reflects its opposite and nothing can be known by the mind.

The esoteric claims made by the religious can be easily be seen as convenient to their most powerful, innermost desire to transcend the complexity of the real. They are, in a word, cop-outs.

Our understanding of our self is a consequence of our genes, conditioning, and culture. To the extent we are open and able to connect with what apparently is, to that same extent we will tend to resonate with changing circumstances and to the extent we are closed and encased in belief and authority, to that same extent, we will encounter conflict and division. But there are no guarantees for any life or any outcome. Life does not come packaged with any rule that works all the time. If anything, we can see that it is the way of life to contradict the beliefs that we would like to be real. We want ways to control our feelings and thoughts and neo-Advaita comes charging in with their claims. They appeal because they offer us a way out of the messiness of life, of raising kids, of dealing with bills, of needing to see the dentist and all the rest.

This is how I understand the perceived world – it is integral to itself. This means that it cannot be known through awareness or the mind. That it will always possess qualities of mystery, as well as, qualities and attributes that can be known and addressed through perception and the mind. When I say that something is integral to itself, I mean that it has a life and existence exclusive to itself that we can never fathom. We cannot know what that crow is calling about. We can never access the thoughts and feelings of our cats and dogs. They are integral to themselves and they are connected to us directly. That is the paradox.

How we know and how we navigate through life is up to us and the unknowable universe. It is always a work in progress. There are times when openness would appear to work (although we can never know for sure) and there are times when resistance, or taking a stand against what is perceived would appear to be reasonable and right.

We do our best knowing that we will always need to address the consequences of our actions in whatever form they take.

There is a great beauty to all of this (as well as a compelling ugliness – for everything casts a shadow no matter how much we would prefer that it not). We are equal in our awkwardness and unknowingness. We share much in common, yet each of us is unique. Nature doesn’t make duplicates. Thus each is an expression of the whole as one and you are that one.

The message of Liberation from the Lie has always been to wake up to your uniqueness – to discover your connections with everything that is – to discover what makes you you – and to learn to love who you are. It is to carry on as who you truly are. To find your own truth amid the din of endless claims and talk. This is the invitation to the dance of Being. Your life is your invitation. It was made by the cosmos only for you!

If you enjoyed this post – then spread it around. Thank you.

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