Monday, March 24, 2014

The Cosmology of Reality and the Ego


A reader PM'ed me a series of questions in regard to a recent post, Ego As An Emergent Phenomena.
Nice article.  And surely you're right that simply seeing that the ego is not  there as a simple entity is far from the end of it.  But I do have a question (too long to add as a comment):
Surely infinite consciousness doesn’t all just latch onto this particular body-mind!  At best a tiny fraction of it does. So why in the world would “consciousness’ begin to suffer and feel isolated?  Even if we suppose it latches onto ever body-mind that it is aware off.. surely there is much more to consciousness than that?
The contraction, which is tangible enough, seems to be a contraction of the body-mind-and that part of consciousness identified with it. 
In certain states, certain kensho experiences,  there is still the separate self, but no longer the contraction.  Although it may feel that in these cases what one is, is boundless, nevertheless the perceptual field is that of this particular body-mind, yet without any of the previous feelings of contraction.
It is then may be a further discovery that in some sense this is in fact something universal.
So what felt contracted and isolated previously was that particular viewpoint of consciousness which is still defined by this body-mind, though not necessarily “identified” with it.
These are excellent questions, and I appreciate the dialog. I gave him some quick short answers, but said I'd really need to expand this into a full post to begin to adequately respond.

I think it's necessary here to examine the origins of our assumed cosmology of the ego-phenomena, and not merely address the aftermath of it, in our present relationship to the body-mind. As I tried to describe in the previous post, our personal sense of ego or self is merely an emergent phenomena derived from the "storm" produced by identification with the body-mind. But that wording, as the reader points out, might leave the impression that it is this present self or ego that identifies with the body-mind as it seems to us, a limited and separate phenomena from our own consciousness, which is not actually the case. The process of identification begins long before the self or ego arises as an emergent product of that identification. So while it may seem to be the case that this self or ego of ours identifies with the body-mind, that's not actually how it works. And that is why understanding this process can seem so confusing.

I don't think I can respond to this question without describing my own personal experience of it, because that's how I relate to it. I try to keep a foundation in traditional teachings about this matter, but at bottom, I'm just responding to the things I've seen and experienced, the visions I've had about this process, and what I've made of them. I don't pretend that any of this is authoritative or complete or even true, but it's where I'm coming from, so just take it for whatever it's worth to you. Make use of whatever aspect of it seems recognizably true.


One of the most powerful visions I've had about the cosmology of non-dual reality began from the position, if you could call it that, of the Absolute Reality, in which there is simply and only the single, non-dual living Conscious Being of infinite, formless form, like a gigantic Amoeba, infinite in all directions, formless in nature, but also containing all forms, without the slightest separation whatsoever. These forms within the formless reality appeared like an infinitely thin "skin" on the surface of this Absolute Being, like a beautiful, shiny oil slick on the surface of an infinite ocean, glowing with infinite radiance, and utterly non-separate from that ocean, like infinitely tiny glowing waves moving on its surface. Every form appearing on this "skin" was like a wave of infinite light, and each form was itself infinite as well, and also infinitely conscious of itself. The sight was unimaginably beautiful and complete, one without a second, with no contradictions involved.



On closer examination of these patterns of light on the surface of the Divine Being, I could see that in reality, they were not moving at all. Instead, like a movie projector that flashes still images so fast that the eye cannot see them, these infinite forms were themselves flashing in and out of existence on the surface of the infinite ocean of pure consciousness. They were literally dying and being reborn trillions of times a second, even simultaneously, faster than could be easily noticed, giving the impression of movement and time. But in reality, there was no movement in time, there was merely death and rebirth, an endless and eternal sacrifice, that ensured that nothing remained fixed or solid in time and space. There was a great cosmic power giving rise to this display of radiance and form, which I recognized as the Goddess, and this Goddess-Power created harmony and continuity in the sacrifice, so that each image that was reborn was almost the same as the previous one, but slightly altered, so that each image flowed within the Goddess's inherent laws of consciousness.

However, looking even closer, it was apparent that every form arising within this skin of radiance was also fully conscious, fully aware, and could feel this death process occurring. And here is where identification came in: somehow, each of these forms arising within the skin of radiance reacted to its own constant death and rebirth. Somehow, instead of merely allowing this death process to occur, these forms used their infinite power and consciousness to "hold onto" their own form, in an attempt to keep it from dying. And they were at least partially successful. By holding onto their forms, those forms did not entirely die, or at least, did not appear to die. But they could not stop the next created pattern from being born, and it would be born right "on top" of the old form, which hadn't died as it was supposed to. And then that doubled form would also be held onto, and the next form would land on them, and so on, until these forms of light piled up upon themselves so thickly that they began to seem to be solid "things". From that, whole worlds came into being, seemingly solid and "real", as universes emerged in infinite variation, each thicker and more solid than the last, with many levels and koshas and so on.


What became apparent after a while was that this process of identification, fear, and holding on to form became the central force governing the whole of this "created" cosmos, at every level. And yet, it didn't entirely work either. Forms still changed and died, just more slowly, and in ignorance of the whole infinite ocean in which they had arisen. These persistent patterns created "karma", the persistence of the past into the present, since it had not been sacrificed as it should have been. And that created samskaras, or patterns of persistent identification with these ever more solid and fixed forms. Even though this enfolding and thickening skin was still infinitely thin, it expanded from within to include a whole universe of limited space and time, separate from its own nature. The infinite thinness that had once kept the skin utterly non-separate from the ocean of infinite consciousness upon which it rested, now became inverted as its primary limitation, not its freedom. Everything within its awareness became limited and small, reduced to tininess, and unaware of its real nature as infinite and formless forms of conscious light.

From that perspective, there seemed no escape or help, no sign of the infinite Divine Being, except for one. That was the Goddess Power, which had given rise to the whole infinite radiance in the first place, the Great Mother birthing all forms. She entered into this realm as a Great Force, the Guru-Force, and it was She who moved through every form and being to help re-awaken their awareness of the Infinite Divine Being. Her influence was subtle, but by turning the attention of these seemingly limited conscious forms to Her, she helped them to see the error of their ways. And that is where all the true spiritual teachings and revelations come from, and what their purpose is.


As the vision ended, I "fell" so to speak, down through all the planes of the manifest cosmos, like light falling through a series of darkening and thickening mirrors, until I was back in our little world, and my little body, but now with at least some direct intuition of what our real condition is.


What does this have to do with identification with the body-mind? I think quite a lot, to me at least. First, it makes it clear that neither the body-mind nor the world is, in reality, a limited, finite form arising in separation, something our ego "identifies" with. Instead, the body-mind and the world is, in reality, infinite in all respects, and utterly non-separate from the infinite, non-dual Being of Conscious Reality. What makes the body-mind seem separate is our primal fear of its death, which leads us to grab onto it, which creates the "optical illusion" that is is actually separate and sold and limited. When that illusion is in place, the infinite consciousness of the body-mind is also reduced and made to feel itself to be separate even from its own form, and fearful of its own change and demise. That is how the ego comes into being, and how it persists, emerging from this pattern of fear and holding on at the root of the body-mind's own conviction of separateness.

Therefore, what needs to occur is not dissociation from the body, or the destruction of this separate ego-sense, but a return to the primal understanding and acceptance of the sacrificial nature of the Divine process by which forms come into being and die, endlessly and inherently free of all limitation. That means no longer identifying with our own form, or any form at all, even the world and the manifest cosmos, no longer holding onto it in fear, but letting it go, letting it die as it must, and trusting that we will be reborn endlessly. That will undo the separate self sense all on its own, by undoing the error of identification, which isn't some mental thing we do inside the body, but is a primal holding onto our form, and all forms.


We can feel that holding on sensation virtually all the time, whenever anything at all changes or seems to threaten our grip. But, for the most part, it is done unconsciously, because the very act of identification and holding on creates an unconsciousness in us by blocking out the infinite. It's not just the infinite that is exiled into the unconscious, so is most of our own body's life and nature, which is far more complex than we might think. That unconsciousness pervades our world, so that most of what we do, and what we have done to get here, is something we are not aware of, leaving us perplexed as to how we got here, and what our purpose is in a place like this.

We can't see this grand cosmic vision all the time, at least I can't, but we can investigate ourselves more thoroughly than we do, and feel the literal grip we have on our own form, because that is present at every level of our experience, including our ordinary consciousness. In that respect, however, we cannot  simply say that our ego is grasping onto objects, and that if it stops grasping, we will be liberated. The ego is not actually doing that grasping, though it may seem to be the case. The ego is itself merely the emergent form that consciousness takes in the midst of this grand cosmic reduction to forms that thereby seem alone and separate from our own infinite nature. We need to find out who we were before we began to identify and grasp onto our own form. It wasn't a really big ego. We were (and still are) infinite in every respect, even in our form. The ego can't see that, because the ego is the result of that optical illusion, not the one creating the illusion. Only our true Self can see that, because it is the only one in a position to see it all.

Getting back to the reader's specific questions:
Surely infinite consciousness doesn’t all just latch onto this particular body-mind!  At best a tiny fraction of it does. So why in the world would “consciousness’ begin to suffer and feel isolated? Even if we suppose it latches onto ever body-mind that it is aware off.. surely there is much more to consciousness than that?
Correct. Infinite consciousness doesn't latch onto a particular limited body-mind. Instead, it latches onto its own infinite form, and in so doing, reduces both to a particular limited body-mind in a particular limited world with a limited conscious awareness, even of itself. This error creates the very world we seem to be in, and the very body-mind we seem to be identified with, and the egoic consciousness we are all too familiar with. And that is how our own consciousness begins to suffer and feel isolated. Identification with form, holding onto form, and fear of our form's death is at the root of it all. All the while, there is infinitely more to our consciousness than this, but we do not notice it, because of our identification with form. All of that creates the impression that consciousness is separate from its own form, rather than inherently non-separate.


I'm reminded of something Nisargadatta said (don't know the exact quote or source), to the effect that when we identify with the body-mind, we project outwards as the universe all that we do not identify with. In reality, however, the whole universe is just as much "us" as our bodily self is, but because we reject it, we don't see it as ourselves.
The contraction, which is tangible enough, seems to be a contraction of the body-mind-and that part of consciousness identified with it. 
Yes, that is indeed what seems to be going on, at the surface levels of awareness. We definitely feel a contraction in our particular fleshy or subtle body-mind. But that feeling is just reflection of the primal contraction that occurs when infinite consciousness identifies with its own infinite form, and the two seem to become separate from one another and reduced to a fraction of the whole. The contraction we feel is just a tiny smidgen of that original disturbance, and it fractions us into a tiny part of our original consciousness. So we feel our own self-identification and contraction only partially, through a partial awareness that blocks out the rest. A kind of amnesia sets in, that shuffles all of this off into the unconscious. And that makes it very difficult to address directly, since it isn't seen or felt directly. That's why we remain confused even when trying to feel and observe this contraction of self at only the obvious levels of awareness.


But, there's hope. Because all forms of contraction are in reality actually the same contraction, just stepped-down mirror reflections of the original, we can actually "see" that pattern of the original in them, and correct the error, even if only partially at first. We can also experience the infinite directly, even if that is also stepped down through these mirrors of the body-mind, when we have these insights. To any small degree that we actually see through this illusion, we will experience our original, direct, and infinite nature to an even greater degree. And that intuition and insight then has the capability to grow of its own accord through a positive feedback mechanism.

In reality, that is a sign of the Goddess breaking through to us, using whatever means She can to re-awaken consciousness of our real nature. And once a conscious relationship to Her is established, it become possible to grow and gradually awaken to our real nature in a progressive manner. But that process also involves becoming more and more aware, on more and more levels, of our own unconscious identification and contraction from the infinite. So it comes at a price.

In certain states, certain kensho experiences,  there is still the separate self, but no longer the contraction.  Although it may feel that in these cases what one is, is boundless, nevertheless the perceptual field is that of this particular body-mind, yet without any of the previous feelings of contraction.
This is an excellent observation and point. Genuine insight, or kensho in the Zen tradition, breaks suddenly through the contraction in our body and mind, even if not entirely, leaving the basic formation of the emergent ego still in place, while yet experiencing something genuinely beyond the separate self-consciousness. This is because kensho only penetrates so far, past the levels of the body-mind contraction that we are acutely aware of, but not through those that we are not so much aware of. Kensho sees through these reflections of both the the contraction and our original nature, as refracted through the stepped down layers of our consciousness, and experiences at least some depth of freedom from separation in the process. This is still highly liberating, but it is a vision of reality still modified by the body-mind itself.


In satori, on the other hand, there is a temporary breakthrough or respite from the entire separate self and its contraction at all levels. Those insights are like completely stepping out of the universe we normally live in, and instead knowing the Absolute directly, with no intermediary through the body-mind or world. The vision I described above, for example, would I think be considered a satori, not merely a kensho.
It is then may be a further discovery that in some sense this is in fact something universal.
Yes, precisely. Kensho, or insight within the realm of the body-mind, quickens us and goads us to practice more deeply, but it is not yet universal or fully transcendent of the body-mind. The truth seen in kensho is universal, but its universality is only seen in satori. If that makes any sense.
So what felt contracted and isolated previously was that particular viewpoint of consciousness which is still defined by this body-mind, though not necessarily “identified” with it.
Yes, in kensho, the ordinary contracted consciousness that we experience is given much relief, and we are set on a course of further inspection, relaxation, and surrender.  But identification with the body-mind is still in place even though identification with some aspects of it may be released, at least temporarily. That's why it involves a gradual process - because we have so much identification to unravel. In satori, we glimpse the unblemished condition in its entirety, with nothing to be done. This also shows us something important - that doing nothing is an essential part of the process, because not identifying with what arises is, essentially, a not-doing, not a doing of anything.


The ego-sense that arises in separation wants to do things all the time, and have objects to entertain itself with. That ego-sense has to endure a frustration of its urges, because those urges arise within the matrix of the separative, contracted body-mind. One of those urges creates the whole category of remedial "spiritual practice", which is most often the suffering ego's attempt to undo a problem inherent to its own perspective, and is therefore fruitless and self-reinforcing of its own illusions. So "doing nothing" becomes a much more effective approach, once satori has broken through universally. But kensho will still have its place in daily life, as will addressing the particulars of our life that kensho has insight into, because kensho breaks through the self-illusion also. So practice becomes a natural blending of the two, making practice both based in a transcendent perspective, and yet also grounded in the realities of the body-mind and its world of attachments and forms of identification.




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