FIVE CHARACTERISTICS OF REALITY
Our true nature is a sense of presence, the quality of immediacy, of beingness. That is why I frequently call true nature "Being"‑it only exists in the direct present‑time experience of being here now. I use the term "Being" in a general way, to refer to the whole range of subtlety in how presence manifests. The purest experience of that presence is true nature. True nature is the absolute purity of Being.
When we recognize that true nature is presence, we also see that this presence has many properties that let us approach our beingness in various ways. Each spiritual method can be seen as reflecting certain of those properties. The practice of being present is a method that comes from the recognition of presence as the fundamental nature of reality. The practice of inquiry, which incorporates the practice of presence, reflects other properties of true nature as well.
As a context for beginning this in‑depth exploration of the method of inquiry, I will discuss five facets or characteristics of true nature, the formless ground of everything. I will first present these characteristics from the perspective of the realized state, where reality is inseparable from true nature. Then I will discuss how they manifest in normal perception‑that is, how their reflections appear in conventional experience when they are seen through veils. As a starting point, I will be correlating my discussion of reality with the Buddhist notion of the five wisdoms or awarenesses of the Buddha, the five Dhyani Buddhas.
The first quality of true nature is that it is inseparable
from awareness. Our true nature is inherently aware. This is the fact
of luminosity, the fact of light, the fact of consciousness. We know
this because when we experience any of the essential manifestations,
we recognize that Being is inseparable from some kind of awareness, sensitivity,
in‑touchness, or consciousness. Awareness is not something in addition
to true nature; it is an inherent and inseparable characteristic of true
nature, the way heat is inherent in and inseparable from fire. This fact
is reflected in our normal experience in the recognition that we possess
awareness; we are innately able to be conscious and aware. This 'understanding
of awareness is similar to the Buddhist notion of the "mirror‑like
Awareness is coextensive with, coemergent with, completely pervades true nature. Awareness in this sense is not aware of presence, it is the presence. Presence is a self‑aware medium. In contrast, aware‑ in normal experience is patterned by the dichotomy of subject and object. There is always an awareness that is aware of something, where the awareness is the subject and the something is the object. Furthermore, awareness is commonly held to be a by‑product of our brain and the physical senses. We tend to consider it to be a capacity inherent in certain sentient life‑forms, directed and controlled by them, and limited in various ways by physical reality. The fact of awareness is, however, still present. The fact of consciousness is preserved; it is basic to experience.
The second characteristic of true reality is that this field of awareness, this field of presence, is pervasive and infinite, and includes everything within it. In fact, it is a oneness, an indivisible unity. This is similar to the Buddhist notion of the "wisdom of equality or evenness." The fact that there are patterns within the field does not mean there are discrete objects. So in our experience, the fact that there is sadness and pressure and temperature and softness and hardness does not mean that different objects are there. The field is all one consciousness with different patterns in difference places. So the entire soul is unitary as well. When we recognize true nature and we lose the sense of boundaries, we recognize that oneness pervades the whole universe. God has one mind. The primary affect in the unitary consciousness is an appreciation of the interconnectedness of everything. The quality of love is implicit and pervasive in the oneness of true nature; it is the inherent goodness and positivity of reality. When we are no longer conscious of the fact that true nature is a unitary field, the feeling of connectednessor at least the possibility of connection‑is all that remains. In our normal consciousness, we experience this as the feelings we have for other people and objects in our world‑including the feelings of disconnection, such as longing, sadness, envy, and hatred. The fact that we can feel, that we are sensitive to what we interact with, is the way the underlying unity appears in our experience. The capacity to feel is ultimately based on the capacity to love; and love unifies‑it is an expression of oneness. The basis of the heart is love and love is the expression of the unity of Being.
The third characteristic is that true nature is dynamic. Reality is moving and changing all the time. This is obvious when you notice that your perception of your inner experience‑or of the whole world‑is not a snapshot; it is a movie. It is inherently in a constant state of change and transformation. It is not a static presence. This is related to the Buddhist notion of the " all‑ accomplishing wisdom." Reality is a dynamic presence that is always changing through shifts in the manifest patterns. In fact, the presence of change is implicit in the fact of awareness; without it, there is no awareness. If there is only a snapshot and the observer is part of the snapshot, the observer will have no awareness of anything. Change is necessary for awareness. If you are aware of the Absolute, only the Absolute, and nothing but the Absolute, then you have no awareness of anything. That is why this experience of the Absolute is called cessation. But usually when you are aware of the Absolute, you are also aware of the manifestation, the dynamism, or the flow that is obvious in your own experience.
The human experience, or the experience of the soul, is in constant flow and change and transformation. When we see this characteristic on the level of true reality, we recognize it to be a creative, dynamic force, always creating the forms that we see. Ibn Arabi, the primary mystic thinker of Sufism, called it "new creation" or "continual creation." That is how God creates‑by transforming reality. In our normal life, we see the dynamism as the changes and movements we go through, the flow of thoughts, of emotions and actions. Then the experience of change is not characterized by creativity and transformation, but more determined by cause and effect. We see this dynamism as more linear, and experience it as change in time.
The dynamism of Being is creative; it is what underlies all change and movement in the universe. At the same time, since Being is essentially true nature, free and open, this dynamism possesses an inherent tendency to reveal true nature, with all its purity, beauty, and subtlety. This revelation appears as an inherent direction of the dynamism in the human soul. In other words, when the dynamism functions freely and spontaneously, without the cramping and distorting influence of our conventional minds, it tends to transform our experience and perception toward greater clarity, knowledge, openness, truth, and freedom. We call this evolutionary tendency the optimizing force of the dynamism of Being.
We experience the dynamism of Being in the fact that our personal experience is constantly changing. One state follows another, one feeling replaces another, thoughts and images come and go in a never ending stream. But when the optimizing force is operating in us, our experience begins to deepen and expand, revealing new states, dimensions, and capacities. We refer to this changing, evolutionary flow of our experience as unfoldment. Our soul is then revealing its inherent potentialities. From this we see that the unfoldment of the soul is a direct expression of the optimizing creative force of Being's dynamism.
The openness of true nature is its fourth characteristic. Openness means an infinite number of possibilities‑open to be anything, open to manifest as anything, unlimited in its potential. This is the indeterminacy and inexhaustibility that we discussed in the last chapter. Reality is always changing because its true nature is completely open. This is the space dimension of our Being: When you recognize true nature, YOU find it to be spacious. In other words, spaciousness is inherent in the presence that is true nature.
The whole universe is a deep mysterious nothingness, openness, lightness, and complete absence of any heaviness. And this very mysterious delicate spaciousness has a luminosity inherent in it, a glimmer, a radiance that gives it awareness of itself. This radiance appears in the various colors and forms we see as the many objects of discrimination. But it's a unified radiance‑one field of light that is in dynamic flow and constant change. This fourth characteristic is related to the Buddhist notion of the "wisdom of the reality field," also called dharma, one of the awarenesses of the Buddha.
Before the realization of true nature, when you experience Essence as a presence inside you, you experience the spaciousness as an inner quality separate from Essence. Space feels empty of substance‑it is a lightness and openness‑whereas Essence is presence that has a substantial quality. You experience Essence arising in space. In the awareness of objective reality, Essence and space are recognized as the same thing; they are coemergent. So Essence is a presence that is spacious, that is aware, and that is continually transforming and creative.
We get the sense of time from the perception of change, so time reflects the dynamism of Being. Similarly, spatial extension reflects its openness. The openness and spaciousness of true nature, which is also the sense of depth, mystery, and infinity inherent in it, appears in our normal experience as the sense of physical space between, around, and within manifestation. Our experience has spatial extension; we cannot have perception without spatial extension, just as we cannot have it without change. Shape and size, distance and extension, all reflect the inherent characteristic of openness. True nature has no boundaries in terms of size, shape, or distance. In fact, true nature is beyond extension. When we fully experience true nature, the concept of space disappears. When that occurs, we recognize that there is no such thing as either distance or no‑distance. The concept of extension disappears; we then ‑experience it only as openness, as possibility. And because of this possibility, everything manifests, all the colors and shapes.
The fifth major characteristic of true nature is that it is not only awareness, oneness, dynamism, and openness, but also knowingness. This is similar to the Buddhist notion of the "wisdom of discrimination," or the discriminating awareness of the Buddha. It is inherent to essential presence that it is not only awareness of presence but simultaneously
the discrimination of the particular quality of presence, such as Compassion or Peace. This knowingness is inherent to presence, inherent to the awareness of presence. It is not that presence arises and a separate awareness knows it as Compassion. In fact, sometimes a quality arises that you are not familiar with, but the presence itself tells you what it is. Many people, for instance, do not know there is such a thing as the presence of Value. But if they pay attention when it arises, they recognize, "Oh yeah, this feels like value. I feel worthy, I have worth." So presence has in it‑intrinsic to it‑knowingness.
At the beginning of the inner journey, we usually experience Essence in one of three ways: as a presence that arises inside us, or that appears outside us, or that comes into us from the outside. These forms of experience, though‑ real, are due to limitations in our perception, and can become veils if taken to be final. These experiences can be seen as an intermediate stage between normal experience and the objective experience of reality. When we experience true nature objectively, without veils, we recognize that it is neither inside nor outside. It's everywhere‑outside, inside, and in between. The field of awareness has no boundaries. This presence is an infinite field of awareness, which means that true nature is not the true nature of the human soul only, but the true nature of everything. True nature is nothing but presence, which is at the same time awareness, oneness, and knowingness.
The moment you recognize that true nature is not bounded by your skin, that it is pervasive not only in the body but in everything else, you recognize that intrinsic knowingness is not the experience of one part of reality recognizing another part. The intrinsic knowingness is the fact that the inherent mirror‑like awareness, which is everywhere and everything, has a discriminating quality. It can discriminate the variations that exist within itself.
Objective reality is like an energy field with patterns and colors and forms, and this field has its own inherent capacity to know what these elements are. It can distinguish the red from the blue, the blue from the green, the rough from the soft, the soft from the hard. It can distinguish the fluid from the solid and the solid from the gaseous. This capacity is what we are calling discriminating awareness.
Discrimination means not only the differentiation of patterns, shapes, and forms, but also the inherent knowingness of what these forms are. Seen from this perspective, the whole universe is nothing but the discrimination inherent in true nature.
The ability to discriminate is inherent in our consciousness; that is why you can distinguish the pressure in your knee from the tension in your back. That is why you can differentiate the warmth in your heart from the heat in your pelvis, the emptiness in your belly from the thoughts in your mind. You can also differentiate the sounds you make from the ones you hear. But what are these things? They are knowledge, knowingness. The thoughts you are experiencing are nothing but the knowingness of the thoughts. The pressure that you experience in your knee is a recognition of what that awareness is. It is an awareness of an impression and the recognition that it is a tension or a pressure. That is knowledge, basic knowingness.
You can say, "But there is actually a knee with pressure in it." Isn't that just a story you learned? If you forget all your knowledge from the past about human physiology and just pay attention to that area, what you find is a knowingness. This knowingness, what we call basic knowledge, is there all the time, and exists prior to commentary. You can say, "Well, there is me and I'm feeling this warmth in my heart." But in fact, saying, "There's me, who is knowing the warmth in my heart," is nothing but the knowingness that there is something there that is aware of warmth and something there we call the heart. Even the commentary is part of the knowingness; its existence is knowingness of the commentary itself.
So the whole field of experience is pervaded by knowingness, constituted of knowingness. If you look at a mountain, you say, "I'm seeing the mountain." Are you seeing the mountain or is there an awareness of a knowingness of seeing the mountain? All you can be aware of is your knowingness that there is a mountain. The knowingness is the object and subject of awareness, for the experience itself is nondual. You are in touch with knowingness in a nondual way. To say that there is a mountain is entirely another step. I am not saying that there is no mountain, but to assert that there is a mountain is a whole other step in addition to the fact of knowingness, which is immediate and direct.
You are aware of me talking to you; this is your knowingness. Apart from that knowingness, I cannot exist, as far as you are concerned. That does not mean that I do not exist; that is not what I am saying.
What I am saying is that as far as your experience is concerned, I do not exist apart from your knowingness. Reality inherently possesses not only awareness, but a discrimination, a faculty that discerns what is encompassed in this awareness.