“Love says: ‘I am everything’. Wisdom says: ‘I am nothing’ Between the two my life flows.”Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, I Am That
This article is based on quotes from books on nonduality by Rupert Spira – see references at the bottom of the page
Rupert Spira says the spiritual path could be divided into three steps and explains each stage of enlightenment through the ‘inward-facing’ and ‘outward-facing’ definitions, thus helping the spiritual seeker understand the meaning of the process:
The initial enquiry into the nature of experience could be called the Path of Discrimination. It leads to the realisation that ‘I am nothing’. The deeper exploration at the level of the body and the world could be called the Path of Love. It leads to the realisation that ‘I am everything’. It is the transition from ‘I am nothing’ to ‘I am everything’, from the path of discrimination to the path of Love. It is the moment when the emptiness of Consciousness recognises itself as the fullness of experience. It is the moment at which Consciousness recognises that it projects the world within itself, rather than from or out of itself.
Usually it is necessary to embark on the inward-facing path first, for most of us are so lost in the content of experience that we have almost completely overlooked or forgotten our own being.
The question ‘Am I aware?’ or ‘Who am I?’ invites the mind – ‘like a sinking star’ – away from its customary objects of knowledge and experience – ‘the bounds of human thought’ – and draws it inwards towards its subjective source, the transparent, luminous, non-objective experience of being aware or pure awareness itself.
The inward-facing path discriminates between our self and the objects of experience. It is a path of negation, exclusion and elimination: I am not this, not this. In theological terms, it is the Via Negativa; in the Zen tradition, the Great Death. On the Path of Discrimination we discover what we are not. The movement in understanding from ‘I am something’ to ‘I am nothing’ could be called the path of wisdom or discrimination. The turning of the mind away from the objective content of experience towards the source or essence from which it has arisen is the essence of meditation or prayer.
It is the ‘inward-facing path’ – sometimes referred to as self-remembering, self-enquiry, self-abidance or the way of surrender. Meditation is the disentangling of awareness from its own activity. In meditation the simple experience of being aware is extricated from everything that we are aware of. During this directionless journey, the mind sinks or relaxes backwards, inwards or ‘selfwards’. As it does so it is, in most cases gradually, occasionally suddenly, divested of its finite, limited qualities and, at some point, stands revealed as pure mind, original mind or infinite awareness.
The inward-facing path, or Direct Path, in which the mind turns its attention away from objective experience towards its own essence or reality. Consciousness is the fundamental, underlying reality of the apparent duality of mind and matter, and the overlooking, forgetting or ignoring of this reality is the root cause of both the existential unhappiness. Awareness or Consciousness is the open Unknowingness on which every experience is written.
As a perspective, activity or process the ego is neither a mistake nor a problem. However, as an entity it is a problem, for the belief that our essential nature is limited to and located in the body is accompanied by the loss of the happiness, freedom and peace that are innate in the knowing of our own essential, irreducible being. Ego is not an entity. It is an activity. It is an optional activity of identifying itself with a fragment that Consciousness is free to make or not, from moment to moment. However, the ego is a pretence, a pretence that Consciousness chooses to undertake out of its own freedom. Consciousness, or that to which we refer as ‘I’, is that which perceives or experiences. It is that which witnesses the mind, the body and the world. It is that which is seeing and understanding these words right now.
The culmination of the inward-facing path is the recognition of the presence, the primacy and the nature of awareness – or, in religious language, spirit or God’s infinite being – which transcends all knowledge and experience. However, it is not yet the full experiential understanding in which awareness itself, or God’s infinite being, is known and felt to pervade and saturate all knowledge and experience, and indeed to be its sole substance and reality. It is to recognise the transcendent nature of awareness but not its immanence.
The second is an outward-facing path of openness, inclusion and allowing: I am this, am this. It is a path in which the apparent separation between our self and anyone or anything is dissolved. It is a path of unconditional love. It is the Via Positiva. It is the Great Rebirth in the Zen tradition. This path is the means by which we recognise the inherently peaceful and unconditionally fulfilled nature of our being. It is the cure for suffering, the direct path to peace and happiness.
The outward-facing path is the means by which we recognise that our being is shared with everyone and everything. It is the remedy for conflict and the means by which kindness, harmony and justice are restored to humanity. On the Path of Love we discover what we are. The movement in understanding from ‘I am nothing’ through ‘I am everything’ to simply ‘I’ could be called the path of love. This is also the moment at which the traditional spiritual path of renunciation becomes the Tantric path of embrace and inclusion. It is the moment at which the full spectrum of experience is welcomed, explored and celebrated for what it truly is.
In the final stage of this exploration the distinction between consciousness and its objects collapses completely. Experience is not just known by consciousness; it does not just appear in consciousness; consciousness is all there is to experience. To begin with, as we take our stand knowingly as aware Presence, the mind, body and world recede into the background. When the presence and primacy of our self has been established, objects come close again, closer than close. They dissolve into our self and reveal themselves as none other than the shape that our self is taking from moment to moment. Presence is so utterly and intimately one with every appearance, it says ‘Yes’ so unreservedly to every experience, that it is also known as love.
So, to summarise, we move from the formulation, ‘I am something’ to ‘I am nothing’, from ‘I am nothing’ to ‘I am everything’, from ‘I am everything’ to ‘I am’ or ‘Awareness is’, from there to simply ‘I’ and from ‘I’ to…we truly fall silent here. To begin with, we understand objects as appearing to Consciousness. Then we understand that they appear in Consciousness. Then we understand that they appear as Consciousness. Consciousness knows itself in and as the totality of experience. Once the essential, irreducible nature of the mind has been recognised, and its inherent peace and unconditional joy accessed, it is necessary to face ‘outwards’ again towards objective experience, realigning the way we think and feel, and subsequently act, perceive and relate, with our new understanding.
Credit: Rupert Spira
The Nature of Consciousness: Essays on the Unity of Mind and Matter – by Rupert Spira
Being Aware of Being Aware – by Rupert Spira
The Transparency of Things: Contemplating the Nature of Experience – by Rupert Spira
Presence, Volume I: The Art of Peace and Happiness – by Rupert Spira
Being Myself – by Rupert Spira
Presence, Volume II: The Intimacy of All Experience – by Rupert Spira