Life and the Deathless
Copyright © 1995 A-Hameed Ali ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
The face of the ancient one
Can only love
Another face of his.
One day I become aware of a subtle contraction of the mobius center at the sternum. Being subtle, it does not affect my sense of presence or my capacity to function. Retaining this impression in my awareness in the course of the day’s activities, I realize at some point that it is part of a larger condition. I become aware of a small hole at the location of the solar plexus. My interest is stimulated; I have not experienced a hole in this location for a long time. An easy, spontaneous inquiry into this experience arises.
The light-hearted inquiry intensifies the throbbing at the center of the forehead. The throbbing has a sense of quietness and peace, a radiating stillness. I see the essential nous, the discriminating intelligence or diamond guidance, mostly black. A black presence of stillness glimmers with faceted radiance, as it is activated by the curiosity and questioning.
The contraction at the mobius relaxes and dissolves, and sadness and emptiness arise. The sadness develops into deep black tears. The tears are deep and warm, and seem to drench the totality of my inner conscious field. The sense of teary sadness comes and goes; I realize there is some difficulty in staying with the experience. This intensifies my curiosity, and adds a silvery glimmer to the diamond blackness of the nous, expressing steadfastness in inquiry.
The sadness deepens and becomes more definite. This increases my awareness of the depth and intimacy of blackness. My consciousness is pervaded by the blackness of the absolute, as I relax into its depth, enfolded by intimacy, soft and light, peaceful and exquisite. My center of awareness sinks deeper into the intimate depths, with a visual sense of receding away from the surface awareness of the environment. I am now centered in a depth from which all of existence appears as surface. It is similar to being in the depths of an ocean, perceiving the changing phenomena at its surface. As I recede into this depth, the issues related to the teary sadness are revealed.
Since the discovery of the absolute some years ago, and its eventual realization, I have been dealing with the issue of a certain death, as I contemplate my eventual physical death.
I have been thinking about death for years now, aware of its presence and contemplating its truth. I have wondered, with an innocent mind, what death means, what it might feel like, and how I feel about it. This contemplation and inquiry have intensified recently because of some health problems that have made me more aware of the vulnerability of the physical body. The sadness, in conjunction with the intimate depth of the absolute, makes it clear now that there is something about death I have not come to terms with. It is not fear, not pain, not fear of the unknown. It is not a concern about the death of the self, or about the cessation of consciousness. I have experienced these forms of death, but these experiences have not completely fulfilled my contemplation of death. A question still remains, along with a deep, teary sadness.
The black nous glimmers now with a radiant pearly sheen, as it throbs at the location of the forehead. The realization arises that the sadness is about a certain kind of aloneness, different from the sorts of aloneness I have known. There is a concern, almost a fear, but this fear is not about being totally alone. It is not exactly the state of aloneness that I feel sad about. It is rather the recognition that physical death will mean leaving my life, leaving all that I cherish in this life. Understanding fills the consciousness:
Death is the loss of personal life.
This loss has implications I have never fully come to terms with. Death is no longer living this particular present life. It is my particular, present life that I will leave, and not only life in general. This is not a philosophical question; it is a completely personal concern. The sadness is the grief about recognizing that I cannot remain with what I love. When physical death arrives, I will lose contact with all that I have come to love in this world.
Death will be the end of contact with family, friends, students, places, things, activities, work; everything and everyone I love and cherish. I will no longer experience the everyday simple things of life; sleeping, eating, showering, making love, conversation, the sky, the mountains, the grass, the birds, colors and flavors, and so on. I will no longer converse with Marie at the breakfast table. I will no longer watch and listen to the birds. I will no longer experience physical touch and its warmth. It will not be possible to go for a drive with my friend Karen, or have a discussion with my friend Ron, or go out to dinner with friends and family. All impressions of life will leave me. I feel the grief and the tears, as I acknowledge this inevitable and unavoidable loss, especially the loss of the manifestations I have come to love, those that have become dear to me.
The poignant understanding sinks very deep: the concern is not fear of annihilation. It is not fear of loss of essence or Being. It is the anticipation of loss of the world, estrangement from the world I know and love. I see that in the first half of my life, before the awakening and transformation, I had a schizoid distance, and indifference, towards life and its simple happenings. I did not deeply care about life, and my love was limited. But for some years, the inner transformation has steadily diminished this distance from my world, and my appreciation of this world has become increasingly intimate. I have gradually become more fully involved, more into life and people and happenings. Love and pleasure have deepened and expanded in many ways, and in many areas. I realize that I have not only been more involved in life, but enjoying with increasing passion and fullness the particulars of my life.
The involvement, intimacy and enjoyment have been actually much deeper than I have allowed myself to recognize. I have been mostly preoccupied with the exploration of the beautiful and exquisite manifestations of Being, and have not explicitly discerned the deepening involvement, love and enjoyment of life that this exploration allowed. But as I acknowledge it, and feel it, I am confronted with the possibility of losing it when I physically die.
The insight illuminates the mind, as the nous radiates bright yellow and orange: I have not completely and explicitly acknowledged the fullness of the life I have been living, the depth of love and completeness of enjoyment, because of the fear of losing it. Fully enjoying living, I have come face to face with the reality of death. And I see that to consciously enjoy this fullness of life I must fully and consciously accept death.
I still feel that I do not want to leave the people and the things that I love. This refusal becomes a contraction of the soul, a tightening at the mobius. The hole at the solar plexus indicates the loss of will and choice as I recognize the impossibility of holding on to my present life. I cannot deny the certain eventuality of death. As the contraction lets go slowly, and in spite of me, due to the inexorable pressure of truth, I see myself as the blackness of the absolute receding from the individual soul. I start experiencing myself as the intimacy of the absolute, and the soul as only a surface manifestation. The totality of the life of the soul appears now as a luminous, colorful ripple arising in the vastness of the mystery.
I realize that this is the place from which to confront death. As the absolute I recognize myself as the deathless. And from this place there is serenity about death, and about the separation from loved ones. In contrast, from the vantage point of the contracted soul death is very undesirable and threatening.
Understanding now focuses on the last half of my life. It seems that as I enjoy life and become more fully involved in it, certain deep and hitherto unknown tendencies begin to manifest. The intimate involvement with life and its particulars subtly focuses my attention on this dimension of experience, and my awareness of the depth of ipseity begins to recede. Life can become all-consuming, the only reality. In subtle, unconscious ways I lose balance, and love becomes attachment. This tends to separate the soul from the absolute, and create a dichotomy between life and death.
Clearly, in this process I am dealing with the separation of soul from absolute, and their reintegration. I still somehow go from one to the other, even though I have had numerous, powerful experiences of integration, have developed a deep experiential understanding of their nonduality, and have actualized a steadily deepening coemergence.
The integration of soul and absolute is becoming necessary as I confront death. It seems that besides the overriding love of truth, love of life has motivated me to seek truth. Now I have life, and it is good. This motivation is not as strong now. However, not being able to forget or deny death is challenging me at a new depth, making it necessary for me to seek further truth. Love of life is still present, and it is one important reason why I am concerned about death. In the past, life has impelled me to inquire; now death is doing the impelling.
A few days later…
I am in a meeting, teaching a small group the experience and perspective of the universal witness. As usual, the witness space arises in the room, but I notice that my experience of it is now different from what I remember from a few years before. I experience myself as both the depth of the absolute and the witnessing space simultaneously. In fact, I realize here that the universal witness is nothing but a limited way of experiencing the absolute as identity. Now I am the luminous black depth, but as a silent witness. The sheer awareness and silence fill the room, as many of the students begin to share in the experience of pure witnessing.
The meeting is over and I leave the room with my close friend, Karen. We walk from the meeting hall towards my room, which is in a nearby building. It is night, darkness all around us, and brilliant stars fill the heavens. It is somewhat cool on this spring night, and I can smell the earth and the trees on both sides of us. Silence pervades everything, even though we are talking. It is as if the earth is in deep sleep.
As we are leisurely walking and talking, the sense is that I am walking, but I am also watching myself walking. I am a personal presence, a fullness that is an extension of the black absolute mystery, walking on the road with Karen. At the same time, I am the absolute vastness, as the background of all appearance, witnessing my personal presence walking. Karen is experiencing herself the same way. We are personal presences, both coemergent with, and inseparable extensions from, the mysterious vastness of the absolute. At the same time, we are each this black vastness witnessing the two of us walking.
There is the perception of appearance as surface. But this surface, which is all that perception beholds, is three dimensional and dynamic. The darkness of the night and the luminous blackness of the absolute are almost indistinguishable. This mysterious blackness projects itself dynamically as the various forms, hills and trees, buildings and cars, stars and lights. My personal presence, inseparable from the body, and that of Karen, are parts of this dynamic appearance, but inseparable from it. We are both in oneness with all of existence. At the same time, our personal presences are clearly inseparable extensions of the black absolute into this oneness of appearance. We recognize that each of us is a projection of the absolute mystery as a personal presence walking into the appearance, an appearance that the absolute is also projecting. As we talk it is really the absolute talking to himself, while he walks as two people.
I am both a dynamic embodied presence and a transcendent witnessing background, simultaneously. These manifestations are completely coemergent. The experience is very mysterious, and totally confounding to the mind.
The insight arises that this condition is the resolution of the issue I have been working on for several years, the issue of the dichotomy between life and death, soul and absolute. I am both the soul as an embodied dynamic presence, and the vastness of the witnessing absolute. I am the soul as an expression and extension of the absolute, while remaining the transcendent absolute. I am fully the personal soul, and I am completely the absolute vastness. Fullness, absence and mystery are all present.
Karen bids me good night as we reach my room. Entering, I am aware of bringing the luminous darkness into the room, along with my personal presence. The whole room, the furniture, the lights, all constitute a graceful, exquisite manifestation of my vastness, as my personal presence inhabits and moves within it.