The Real World
Copyright © 1995 A-Hameed Ali ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
The day breaks through me.
I am a window in the universe
For the nameless reality.
The inner process accelerates, bringing forth deeper and subtler manifestations of Being. The creative dynamism of Being unveils its various perfections in an inherent pattern. This pattern discloses an order that satisfies my explorations, at the same time transforming my experience of myself and the world.
I am not only an enchanted captive audience, not only a responsive recipient of Being’s transubstantiating grace, but also a happy participant. My love for the truth quickens Being’s dynamic creativity. This love, sometimes passionate and consuming, sometimes serene and mature, expresses itself as appreciation, openness and surrender to whatever form or formlessness in which Being presences itself. This love deepens my natural curiosity, which manifests as playful but serious exploration, in an inquiry which often takes the form of fundamental questions about existence, but is at the same time passionately personal.
The potential of Being continues to be unveiled in the form of mysteries, disclosed not only as the nature of being but also as dimensions of my nature. Through the revelation of its secrets Being satisfies my heart-felt questions, and also shows me how little I know. Every revelation leads to further questions, in a living unfoldment of my soul. This dynamic process involves both feedback from deeper levels of Being to my inquiry, and a “feedforward” process as I continually ponder the significance of what is being revealed. A poet said it thus: “always a beautiful answer, that asks a more beautiful question.”
The unfoldment of the soul is an adventure full of thrill and terror. It magnifies various life conflicts, as it discloses the essential manifestations that resolve them. This process exposes character deficiencies, ignorance, and wrong beliefs and positions. It involves intense pain, rage, terror and uncertainty. For one who truly pursues truth, however, these difficulties are not obstacles but occasions for further revelations of truth. Inner conflicts and difficulties always turn out to be caused by ignorance.
Being, the ground and source of all that is, has by this time disclosed to me my personal nature. In the realization of the universal witness, it has begun to disclose the nature of the world. This realization has shown me that my experience of the world had not been direct, but had been mediated by my personal view. Understanding this led to intimations of what the real world is, unobscured by mind. This involved answering some fundamental questions, which I was able to formulate only in retrospect:
- How is the universal witness connected to the world?
- What is the real world?
- How is the individual soul related to the real world?
- What connects the individual soul to the silent witness?
Experience has taken my identity to the silent unchanging witness, and shown that both the world and the individual have their being in its vast emptiness. I see that my individual self and the world this individual lives in exist in the silent vastness, similar to how physical objects appear in physical space. The world appears as a dream, a mental content, through a perception of duality of manifestation and space.
I felt ill at ease with this realization, knowing that it could not be the full picture, since it did not fit with other knowledge. For example, I was aware of the individual as the personal essence, a person of presence. This manifestation of Being, living as a personal presence, undefined by and free from mind, demonstrates that what exists in the vastness of the witness cannot all be simply mental fabrication. As a person, I am a real presence. So even though I perceive the manifest world as a dream, I wonder, can there be a real world, a world of presence?
This contemplation of the possibility of a real world arose only in occasional hints and subtle intimations, not with any force or clarity. I was too fascinated with the integration of the various qualities and dimensions of Essence, and most recently by the realization of the universal witness, to fully entertain these questions. Nevertheless, Being opened up with full force, disclosing its boundless dimensions in a pattern that revealed the real world. The dynamism, intensified by my passionate embrace of its revelations, had gathered such a momentum that it divulged the beauty and harmony of the real world, even though I had only a dim awareness of such possibilities. Being was responding to my passion as a lover does when he ascertains that he has attained the heart of his beloved: by giving himself totally and unreservedly.
At the beginning of a year of breathtaking revelations, Being disclosed the underlying nature of the world as love. Love was revealed as the authentic body of the universe. The manifestation of Being went further, unveiling its body as pure and undifferentiated presence, in which the particulars of the world are seen to be simply differentiations of this supreme presence, unfolding in beautiful patterns. It divulged the nature of these differentiations as concepts within its spaciousness. At the same time it became clear this presence is both fullness and emptiness.
The revelations continued, with increasing subtlety. What was revealed next was the nature of the world as beyond the mind. Being unveiled nonconceptual clarity as the truth of the world, in which the world is nothing but the nonmental concepts as and through which Being manifests. The particulars of how the world appears turn out to be nonmental forms, luminous designs inseparable from the total freshness and clarity of Being. To the ordinary state of mind these forms veil the nature of Being, because we experience them as objects. In this realization the forms become infinite beautiful windows revealing the clear luminous nature of Being.
Here it is sufficient to describe one representative experience, to indicate the quality of this unfoldment. We only need a glimpse of this segment of the unfoldment—the clear day’s journey—for us to appreciate its characteristic flavor.
It has been about a year since the realization of the universal witness. A new impression has occasionally been arising, a perception of the world that leaves me feeling I am confronting a profound mystery. There is a sense of wonder, of awe and of a profound ignorance.
I feel that in some basic way I do not know anything. I see, I hear, I sense, but I do not know what I behold. Everything familiar in my life, everything in the world that I have known, all seems so unfamiliar, so unknown, so new, so unfathomable. Nothing has changed externally; the world is the same. But everything seems new and unknown—the houses, the streets, the cars, the people, the sky, the earth, the birds, my family and friends. Even though they have not changed, and I can name them and interact with them as usual, I perceive that I have not truly known any of these phenomena, not fundamentally.
I am struck by how deeply I have been asleep, in a kind of hypnosis, believing that I know what I perceive. But what I know is not what I perceive. I look around me, at the walls, the furniture, the rugs, and I behold a mystery peering at me through everything. I realize I do not know the wall, I do not know the carpet. What I know about them are only bits and pieces, surface qualities: colors, shapes, textures, functions. But does this mean I know them, know intimately and directly what they are?
I realize that I usually assume that when I perceive something, a chair for example, I know it. But now it is as if that assumption is a kind of veil. I look at a chair at the corner of the room. Do I know it? How do I know it? What do I know about it?
What I know is merely a description, is nothing but words and concepts put together by mind.
What do I know about this chair when I say it is big? Do I really then know this chair, or is it that I am aware of some comparison, which takes place only in my mind? When I know it is an iron chair, what am I really knowing? This is merely knowing a word, iron. This word puts together in my mind various characteristics, like hardness, texture, coldness perhaps. But do I know what iron is? I know it is a metal, of a certain atomic weight. I know it is made out of atoms, protons and electrons, and so on. Does this make me know it any more truly? I know concepts in my mind, and that is it. I have never experienced protons or neutrons, and I am not experiencing the iron now. I see only the painted shape, and think that there is iron underneath the paint. I am not even touching the iron of the chair, but I usually assume that I know it.
It is clear that there are different types of knowledge of the chair. There is the knowledge that comes from hearing and reading. There is the knowledge resulting from previous experiences with this chair and other chairs. There is the knowledge of seeing the chair. And there is the knowledge of actually sitting on the chair and examining it. Nevertheless, even this last kind of knowledge, what we call experiential knowledge, is composed mostly of concepts, associated memories and ideas connected with a few physical impressions in the moment. These impressions do not, taken alone, constitute what we think of as knowledge of the chair. It is clear to me that when I feel I know it I know only a word, at most the concept chair. Free from such words and concepts, free from memories and information, a chair is a mystery, profound and unfathomable. When I confront the chair directly, without the mediation of my concepts, I realize that I do not know it. This is true about everything in the world, everything that surrounds me.
But where do they stand?
There is a sense that all my apparent knowledge of the world, primarily ideas and stories in the mind, is peeling away, leaving something unknown underneath. There is mystery all around me. I feel a profound sense of ignorance. I wonder about life and death, about the life of the body, about everything that I have thought naively and arrogantly that I know. I realize that all life, and all objects and processes in life, are full of mystery. I do not really know anything
The not knowing is not threatening. I accept it with a sense of wonder and bafflement. The center of the operation of the nous, at the forehead, feels like an open window, transparent and clear. In this openness the activity of the nous is so intense that it feels like a continuous series of explosions. The contemplation, which is bursting with insights, acts on the mind like dynamite, shattering its long-held complacency about its knowledge of the world.
At such moments it seems that the perception sets aside the knowledge of the mind and apprehends things nakedly. The chair now looks like the usual chair I have known, except that this is only the external appearance, which I am now acutely aware of as merely appearance. Everything else, the walls and the doors, the floor and the carpets, the lamps and books, all seem to be appearances, surfaces of something much more fundamental, external facades of a more basic reality. I perceive the chair and everything else around me becoming transparent, as if the shapes and colors have become so luminous that they have lost all opaqueness. And through this transparency, naked reality peers through.
It is clear to my understanding that the ordinary knowledge of the world, the knowledge put together by memory and thought, veils the luminosity of appearances, and makes the various forms appear opaque. This opaqueness obstructs the perception of the underlying reality of the forms, by eliminating their inherent transparency. Thus the world is solidified into something inert and dismembered.
And when the opaqueness is dispersed, through understanding its sources, perception beholds shapes and colors that reveal a reality so pure, so fresh, so new and undefiled that consciousness is totally transported, as if seared from within by a cool Arctic wind.
I see through everything, through the surfaces of the various forms, and behold what underlies everything, what fundamentally constitutes all. I penetrate to the center of the universe, to the real nature of existence. What I behold baffles the mind, shatters it and enchants it beyond all knowing: The universe is one infinite perfect crystal, totally transparent, and absolutely clear. A density and immensity beyond comprehension, a solidity infinitely more fundamental than physical matter. The reality of the world is a solid transparency, a compact emptiness so clear it feels like the total absence of any sensation. This sheer clarity, this solid void, is so empty of mind and concept that it feels exhiliratingly fresh, so uncorrupted that it strikes me as the very essence of innocence. It is the virgin reality, before mind arises, before thought knows, before memory is born.
No mind is a freshness,
A sun of ice,
Radiating brilliant clarity.
The experience is not only visual or perceptual. It includes a feeling of delicious transport, of delight and release, of openness and lightness. It is a freedom beyond freedom, a place where no mind ever treads, where concepts are incinerated instantly with the ice coolness of an arctic wind. This coolness, that seems to pervade all of consciousness, is identical to the feeling of freshness, of newness, of virginity, of purity, of innocence. It is the total ecstasy of clarity.
It is like a bare bottom
I see that this infinite colorless crystalline presence appears carved everywhere into intricate shapes and designs, luminously colorful and enchantingly beautiful. I perceive this carving to be the forms that constitute the universe, many forms but one appearance. Everything that I can see, everything I have known, is nothing but the external topology of the totally void crystalline presence. The world is not a veil, it is only the appearance of reality. Being, which reveals itself now as simultaneously both absence and clarity, manifests itself through the world, and as the world.
The body has also become a transparent form, part of the luminous surface I have known for years as the world. Inside the body, as well as outside it, shines the virgin reality, the nonconceptual truth. Even as I get up, go to the kitchen and begin to cook, I realize it is the immensity and clarity of the crystal presence which is cooking. The wall, the stove and the pots, all seem to be transparent forms, all outside me, and I am their inner core, a sheer clarity, translucent to the point of nothingness. I am delight itself, moving and cooking. I am ecstatic freshness, cutting the vegetables, and tasting the sauce.
The understanding is undeniable: to content myself with the familiar knowledge of the mind is to be asleep. The knowledge of memory, of word and concept, is obscuration. To unquestioningly accept the familiar world is to kill the real world.