“The ultimate point of view is that there is nothing to understand, so when we try to understand, we are only indulging in acrobatics of the mind. Whatever you have understood, you are not. Why are you getting lost in concepts? You are not what you know, you are the knower. “
Nisargadatta Maharaj. From “Prior to Consciousness: Talks with Nisargadatta Maharaj.”
Let’s review the basics.
1. We can’t deny that we on occasion we experience discontent, anxiety, fear, and a host of other afflictions including sickness, old age and death. Let’s call this part of our experience “suffering” (as that is the word most translators use for the Buddhist term dukkha).
2. We suffer because we forget who we really are. Who we really are, also known as our true nature, is peace, untouched by sorrow. Suffering happens within our true nature, but our true nature is unaffected. If we identify with the self our thoughts spin, we suffer. If we identify with our true nature, we are always free and happy.
3. Spiritual practice is about discovering our true nature. Here are some further points for contemplation: The resolution of the problems of life—suffering—comes with the clear seeing of our true nature. It is not an understanding in the mind, as these are merely concepts. It’s a direct, intuitive relaxing into the openness of our being.
For something to be our true nature, it must be here already, otherwise it would be some future fantasy, it would not merit the term our true nature. Our true nature is our being, and it is not something distant or somehow separate from who we are. We are not obtaining something new. We are simply clarifying something which is already present, which perhaps has gone not fully appreciated all our lives. We are not waiting for some future experience. We are not waiting to finally achieve some special state of mind or “enlightenment.”
We are simply clarifying our already-present ordinary, day to day experience of being alive. How to do this clarification? A first step could be to simply think about our lives. Our true nature is present in our ordinary life of going to work, raising kids, taking out the garbage, doing the dishes, paying taxes, shopping for groceries, making love and driving on the freeway. Our true nature is unchanging and ever-present; otherwise it would be just another passing phenomena.
Let’s assume this is so (you might have to simply allow yourself to stretch a little here; for some, this does not involve any stretching.) If we wish to look for validation of this, we can simply read the wealth of writings from the world’s mystical traditions, which offer surprising agreement on this point.
If our true nature is unchanging and ever-present in our ordinary life, then the following categories of contenders could not be our true nature, as they undergo decay over time:
Sensations Mental states
If we set these aside, we simply ask what remains? If we feel that there is nothing beside these, then we would have to assume that our true nature does not exist, it is just a fantasy. Consider this alternative: Despite the changing parade of thoughts, feelings, sensations, sounds and mental states, don’t we somehow know that we remain present through out this passing show?
If we didn’t remain present and aware through the passing show, how would we know the existence and duration of passing experiences? Shall we simply call this capacity—presence? Ask yourself: is this presence aware? Could it be that the sense of being present and aware is what we truly are, as it is the only possible remainder when the passing aspects are subtracted? We not talking about two different things here: presence and awareness of aspects of our silent being-ness. Our true nature.
Once we settle into this insight, we can begin to harvest the rewards. We suffer because we forget who we are by focusing on what we are not—thoughts, emotions, sensations, etc. Suffering is relieved by settling into an experience of being. Right here, right now.
There is no actual defective person, only thoughts that construct one. The implications of this inquiry are revolutionary. We can talk about it until the cows come home. Better to have a silent, sweet experience of our true nature right here and right now.
As Nisargaddata said in the opening lines: “Whatever you have understood, you are not. Why are you getting lost in concepts? You are not what you know, you are the knower. ”
Let’s not get lost in concepts about our true nature. Rather, let’s experience it now and live our lives infused with the ease and dignity of this ongoing experience.