For over 3500 years, Sages maintain that everything is an unbroken wholeness and that the sense of separation is an illusion. Therefore, the individual who believes himself (or herself) to be an autonomous unit – a separate entity with a name and form in manifestation with a sense of personal volition – is an appearance that conforms only to the relative reality.
There is no individual doer of any actions. There is no central agency in charge of anything that is apparently happening. However, the form seems real, along with the separation. The flow of life with emotional rollercoasters makes it difficult to accept that there is no one here experiencing things. The central agency or the localization “me” is an inference born of time. In other words, it is a thought – a phantom – an image that has no concrete independent existence.
The Sage does not deny separation in appearances. They recognize that the separation exists in duality, but the consciousness that is the source and substance of everything that “appears” to be separate is one indivisible wholeness, which is our fundamental nature. That there is no fundamental cause to anything, and everything that happens in phenomenality is brought about by everything else.
If you trace the ultimate cause of any phenomenon, you’ll find yourself beyond the origins of the universe into nothingness. Nothing is apparently happening. We can say a cause produces an effect. We can also say that the effect is the cause revealed. In essence, they are one and the same. Only the mind produces the appearance of a split cause and effect.
The cause of form is the formless, and the formless can only be seen in the form and not outside of it. The stillness of unicity, therefore, can only be seen in the objective world and not apart from it. Nisargadatta Maharaj, in his book I am that, says that reality lies in objectivity. The recognition of unbroken wholeness will not happen outside of the phenomenal world. It is spontaneous knowing that an organism and its environment are the same.
However, the conceptual thought “me” that takes ownership of the organism (mind-body complex), claiming to be in separation, is an illusion. The strengthening of this illusion creates suffering. How? The more we identify ourselves as separate individuals living separate lives with a sense of personal volition, the more we hold ourselves and others responsible for our pain and misery. We adopt ideologies and beliefs that perpetuate this separation as suffering in horizontal time, and we find ourselves in constant conflict with ourselves and others.
The separation gives rise to the greatest bane of our existence, which is the thinking mind. It is not the creative and problem-solving mind but the one that believes itself to be the doer and remains attached to a preferred outcome. When the outcome is in accordance with personal preferences, the thinking mind, or “me,” creates pride and arrogance; otherwise, it creates shame and guilt. Both conditions bring suffering.
When the recognition happens that everything is interconnected and there is no fixed cause to anything, there comes a clarity that brings relief from suffering. Unicity is consciousness at rest that is the essence of being or Isness behind the multiplicity. It is not the breakdown of the dualistic structure but the understanding that nothing is composed of parts that have an independent existence.
The mind imagines unicity as being composed of parts. It cannot do without creating the subject-object split. So, everything that the mind conjures has an assumption of an underlying subject experiencing an object. Wholeness, however, is not composed of parts. It’s impossible for the mind to objectify this reality. The only way to know it is to be silent, as the great Sages say. In silence, everything impermanent dissolves, and “one” reality shines through and through. In that, there is no knower but only the known. It is the dissolution of the subject-object split.
Any attempt to know reality objectively produces the pseudo-subject (“me”), which being an illusion, cannot see reality. For example, the character in the dream cannot know what waking up is like. It cannot accept that it is the same mind that is projecting the entire dream world. For it, the dream world is the only reality.
Similarly, the pseudo-subject in the waking dream cannot contemplate reality using a tool that is an appearance in consciousness, just like other objects. Yet, the ultimate reality shines in everything. It is there in your everyday experience of aliveness as your being – the unchanging witness of all phenomenality. It cannot be directly perceived, but it makes all perception possible.
The undivided wholeness veils and projects itself as the world of names and forms. How? And why? I don’t know. A three-dimensional object cannot know the basis on which the universe functions. It is only a biological instrument that facilities the channeling of energy. It cannot know why the universe behaves the way it does.
Separation is an Illusion
“The notion of a separate organism is clearly an abstraction, as is also its boundary. Underlying all this is unbroken wholeness even though our civilization has developed in such a way as to strongly emphasize the separation into parts.”David Bohm, The Undivided Universe: An Ontological Interpretation of Quantum Theory
It has been shown by science that even the physical reality that we perceive is not what it seems. Every time we search for the fundamental particle, it becomes smaller. Earlier, we thought that atom is the fundamental particle, but recent scientific advancement tells us that quarks are the fundamental particles. This can go on indefinitely. It seems consciousness keeps producing something till there’s someone looking for something. We find because we look, and what we find is not separate from us.
The atomic structure itself is 99.99999% space. The boundaries between me and you present in the same room are visible only on a relative scale. If, hypothetically, we shrunk ourselves to the size of an atom, there’s no way to know where I end and you begin.
Experiments in quantum mechanics have shown that the laws of classical Newtonian physics do not hold in the quantum world of subatomic particles. For example, classical physics assumes locality – nothing travels faster than the speed of light. However, quantum objects do not observe this principle.
If two quantum particles in spatial proximity get entangled, they maintain instantaneous communication between them, even at large distances. This bizarre phenomenon is called quantum entanglement. The two entangled particles can correlate their behavior simultaneously across the entire universe. It is mind-baffling that the two particles can share such an intimate relationship even if separated by billions of light-years in space. Say, if a positive spin is detected in one, the other instantaneously shows a negative spin. Einstein called this phenomenon “Spooky action at a distance.”
The Bohemian or the “guiding wave” (ref.) interpretation says that all particles in the universe are entangled with each other. The behavior of one particle influences all other particles in the universe simultaneously. I don’t know, but it’s possible that as I’m pressing each and every key on my keyboard to type this article, this action may be influencing the subatomic particles simultaneously within the apparent you. This concept says that the particles in the universe share one universal wave function.
However, the scientific community to this day remains divided on the concepts of quantum mechanics. Every thought, by nature, is divisive. So scientific thoughts are no exception. Moreover, theories keep changing with time.
New theories come up to “debunk” the old ones. I feel that science, in its present ways, cannot know the nature of reality because it assumes the subject or observer to be real. You can know everything that constitutes a subatomic particle, and you can verify all of its attributes experimentally, but you cannot know what it “Is”; and why is it?
I’m not suggesting that we are fundamentally empty space. Space, just like time, is an inference. The only way you know space is because the universe is populated with physical objects. If the space were all there was, you wouldn’t know it objectively.
Similarly, thoughts produce a notion of psychological space, or what we call the mind. The only way you know the mind is because you imagine a container for thoughts. But no such container exists. In deep sleep, there are no thoughts; and hence, no container. As the Sages say – consciousness is all there is. All discoveries have been and will be made in consciousness. Divisions, physical or psychological, are appearances in consciousness.
Why Do We Experience Separation in Phenomenality?
A natural question arises if our fundamental nature is unicity, why do we experience the appearance of multiplicity? I don’t have a scientific answer. Non-duality teacher Ramesh Balsekar said that phenomenality is a happening, happening to no one. It happens so that life, as we know it, can happen. The sense of separation comes from the source or pure consciousness to enable interactions, but behind appearances, it is the same consciousness that powers everything.
Who is this “me” that believes itself to be separate from the rest? This is fundamentally the basis of all spiritual inquiry. This inquiry is troublesome because it challenges all the traditional concepts of self-improvement, the eternal debate of free will, or the idea of worshipping a personal God that is an all-powerful separate entity in manifestation eagerly sitting up in the high heavens to pass judgment on its creations.
Recognition of wholeness is not a denial of the phenomenal world. Even the Sage sees separation in appearances. The difference is that the Sage, recognizing the one essence or unbroken wholeness (the unconditional love) that is the source and substance of everything engages but never gets involved.
The common man, due to ignorance, believes himself to be the doer of actions and gets emotionally involved. While the engagement is spontaneous (intelligent) action based on the present situation, involvement is an emotionally charged reaction that strengthens the sense of personal identification, perpetuating suffering.
If seen from the personal or limited perspective, the concept that there is no individual with a sense of personal volition appears to be a nihilistic void that propagates a fatalistic attitude to life. But if seen impersonally as the choiceless awareness – the one omnipresent and omniscient reality that is free from all limitations and causality, it is complete liberation. Recognition of that is the unconditional acceptance of What-Is. It is the end of suffering.