It all began at the end of 2009. I was going through a lot at the time, but the worst was watching my father’s failing struggle against lung cancer. Each day being worse than the day before, he slowly withered away. And towards the end I just wanted him to die. I just wanted his suffering to stop; all the worrying made everything bleek and gray and nothing seemed fun anymore. It took all the joy out of life.
Although I knew that worrying was pointless, I couldn’t seem to help myself. No matter what I tried there was no controlling it. But somewhere, I found that curious. Why couldn’t I just stop? There was obviously no point to it – whatever’s going to happen will inevitably happen regardless of how I feel about it, I figured.
So I decided to learn how to stop the worrying.
And so it happened, that one day when I was discussing this plight with some friends, one of them said something that I believe set in motion something truly remarkable.
“You should try being more in the present moment,” he said, in effect, kick-starting the thing.
I don’t remember how I responded, but I immediately knew that he had said something important. Once I got home that night I went online and looked for more information on “being in the moment.” I soon discovered some guy on YouTube, an Australian buddhist monk whose dharma talks had been filmed and put up online, and I watched almost all of them.
This gave me a glimpse of what Buddhism was about, and although this guy had talked briefly—and somewhat vaguely—about this thing called enlightenment, I soon found others who openly discussed it. I learned that enlightenment wasn’t something mythical, it was something real, something that ordinary people like myself could attain. It was something that could be achieved by pretty much anyone who just put his or her mind to it.
But what was enlightenment, I kept asking. All they really told me was that it was the end of suffering. But I didn’t mind their vagueness – the end of suffering was exactly what I was looking for. And I started to believe that it was really possible – it seemed that a lot of people had already found this thing. I read all of their stories, and the more I read, the more I was convinced that this was the pinnacle of human experience; the ultimate destination – there was simply no greater accomplishment known to man.
I soon decided that I have to become enlightened. Whatever it took, I would do it. But it wasn’t because it was such a great achievement; it was because there was a deep urge inside telling me that this is what I’m supposed to do. And I knew that I would never be truly content unless I knew for myself.
And I was in desperate need of relief.
But then my father died. And while it was painful at first, my suffering subsided quickly after that. His suffering had ended – and with it, did mine. There was no need to worry for him anymore.
After that, things started to line up for me. Yet, although everything was mostly fine now, the pull towards enlightenment still remained. In fact, that drive inside of me was getting stronger by the day.
I had found an online community of people that shared my aspirations, and there were some enlightened people there too. At least they said they were.
“You become enlightened by practicing meditation,” I was told.
They gave me some pretty simple instructions, and said that if I just followed them, enlightenment would be assured. Though the instructions were simple, executing them was not. I don’t know if you’ve tried it, but sitting in meditation is just plain boring. You were supposed to “investigate phenomena” which I figured was about as boring as it gets. And when one of the enlightened guys finally said that I would have to sit for years before I could expect any significant progress, I knew that I would never pull this meditation thing off. I couldn’t sit for five minutes, let alone five years.
So I went off looking for something different. I immediately found others who promised that enlightenment could be attained in no time at all, which I really liked. Instant enlightenment.
They taught something called Advaita Vedanta, and their core idea was basically that everybody is already enlightened – we just have to recognize it. And that, they told me, only takes an instant (although I later learned that sometimes you have to wait a very long time for that instant to come.)
These guys were saying that our true nature is Consciousness itself – and the recognition of this truth is what enlightenment is. More specifically, you were supposed to have an experience of Pure Consciousness, whatever that meant, at which point you had ‘awoken’ and would thereby be considered enlightened.
After reading a few books the picture became clearer.
Supposedly, the world as we know it is just an illusion. All of our ordinary everyday life is nothing but an appearance in consciousness – not some special magical consciousness, but simply our ordinary everyday field of experience – and as such, it’s not only the substratum of that experience, but the ultimate reality of everything.
In other words, there is no material objective universe. There is no time and space out there. There is only experience; only sense perceptions – just like in a dream. But unlike a dream, there’s no real reality outside. There’s nothing outside of these perceptions – there is no outside.
Since I knew that we could never verify what’s beyond our own experience, it seemed to me that this new alternative model was at least logically viable. One of the infinitely many possibilities, I thought, was that there’s absolutely nothing out there – but that would also be infinitely unlikely.
But according to that same logic, our ordinary consensus model of reality—the universe-model—would then also be infinitely unlikely; it would just be another one of infinitely many possibilities.
I had no reason to believe what the Advaita people were saying, but I had no reason to believe the ordinary universe-model either. There was simply no way of telling which one was correct.
But I couldn’t stop wondering either. My curiosity had awoken and now I wanted the truth. I wanted proof. None of the books I read could offer any more than empty claims. I wanted some real arguments, not dogma. Was reality an independently existing universe of time, space, matter and forces like modern science thinks it is? Or was reality simply my own field of experience like the proponents of Advaita Vedanta claims? I desperately wanted to know. Either of these two models was acceptable – I just wanted the truth. But no matter where I looked I couldn’t find any proof, evidence or reason to suppose one over the other.
It was quite a shock to realize that we basically knew nothing. We could never seem to rise above the level of speculation. What’s the point of investigating the universe, I thought, when we don’t even know if it exists? Should we just take it on faith? How’s that any better than what religion does? Science guys always criticize religious people for believing a bunch of arbitrary stuff, but it seemed to me that that was exactly what they were doing themselves. They were stuck in the same trap that they were ridiculing others for falling into.
Having no luck looking at eastern philosophy, I turned to western. I soon discovered Kant – and holy shit was I excited. At last, I had found someone who was thinking outside the box. I could instantly see that he was onto something. I plowed back and forth through those old texts with a newfound energy, determined to figure out what it all meant.
Eventually I got it. It suddenly became clear. I could derive from his philosophy my own irrefutable proof that would at last end all questions.
I had through Kant discovered the truth about the world.
It was exactly as the Advaita people believed it to be – all of material existence is merely apparent. Objectivity isn’t factual, but conceptual. My own subjectivity—this field of alive awareness—is exactly ultimate reality itself.
All. Is. Consciousness.
I began to write. I wanted to express my insights clearly, both to myself and to others – so I wrote and rewrote until my thoughts had crystallized into something very refined and profound. The result eventually found its way onto this website – at first in the form of my articles, and later, in a much more in-depth, detailed and thorough form – my book.
I had also realized that not only was our consensus model of reality—the one in which we exist as space-time entities in a physical universe of particles and forces—a complete and utter fabrication, but it practically impedes any chance of awakening. This model inevitably forces us to see ourselves as subjects (entities with perceptual capabilities) perceiving objects (piles of atoms) in effect maintaining the very division we seek to overcome. So, unless this model is abandoned as a means of experiencing, there’s no hope of ever healing the split.
That’s what I later found out experientially; that awakening to enlightenment means the moment-to-moment division of experiencing into subject and object finally ceases. No longer does it feel like I’m a subject in here, behind the eyes, watching an object out there in the world – instead, there’s only seeing, hearing, touching, tasting and thinking – and nowhere are there any objects to be found nor any subject watching them.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
When my writing frenzy had somewhat subsided, I could conclude the following things: My insights into the nature of reality had a profound effect on my everyday experience. It was a hollowing out of the solidness and the physicalness of perceived reality. It felt less and less like a solid material world and more and more like wisps of dream stuff. And I felt less and less like a body, and more and more like a free floating cluster of sensations.
I understood that I didn’t exist, that nothing did – that it was all merely a flow of phenomenality. It was the notion of ‘no-self’ in its most radical form. But I still felt very much like a distinct player in the game. I still felt like a subject, and it still felt like there were objects.
I still wasn’t enlightened.
And then I discovered another author to whom I owe everything. He wrote under the name Wei Wu Wei and had published 8 books in the 60s and 70s.
I read those books like I have never read anything before.
The books detailed exactly how the illusion of objectivity was maintained; how the mechanism of separation operates – and more importantly, how to dismantle it.
We experience by means of dividing what is nothing but pure experiencing into the subject I take myself to be and into the objects that make up the world. In other words, when I conceptualize a percept, that is, when I imagine it into existence as an ‘object’ by means of regarding it as such (which demonstrates the importance with which the universe-model plays into how we perceive reality,) I thereby imagine myself into existence as its subject. I do so because that’s the only way I can account for the seeming presence of that object. I mean, how would I otherwise explain its presence in my view? How can I see it unless I exist as its subject? That’s simply how perceiving works in the universe-model – subjects perceive objects.
I understood that in order to awaken, we must suspend this incessant turning of percepts into objective concepts. But that can’t happen if we still believe that subjects and objects are real. If you still think that the universe-model is an accurate depiction of what’s actually going on, you’ll simply never stop seeing things in terms of subjects and objects. But you can’t stop believing stuff purely by will. You must have a deep and thorough understanding of exactly how and why those beliefs are false.
But I had already gone through that. And the world became less solid by the day.
And so it happened that one day the hollowing out had finally reached a point where I no longer perceived reality in terms of the old model. The persistent conceptualizing ceased and experiencing was no longer divided.
The separation vanished.
Objects disappeared, and so did I as their subject. What remained was simply pure experiencing – seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling, tasting and thinking – pure undivided consciousness.
Phenomenally, it’s not a blank, as one might think judging from the description of it – there being no observer and nothing perceived and all. It’s rather that the conceptual model that’s superimposed over experiencing—the model wherein there’s a subject perceiving an object, both existing independently of one another, in a universe that also exist independently of them—completely disintegrates—that is, vanishing entirely as a means of experiencing—which in a sudden moment of awakening reveals the transcendent non-dual nature that was hidden underneath.
That’s what happened.
And I sat down, exhaled, and took it all in.
I was finally there.
And it was fucking awesome.