“Holy sir, what is that by which all else is known?” (Mundaka Upanishad)
This interesting question, which occupied the lives of ancient mystics and still enraptures the eminent thinkers of today, is as confounding in the 21st century after Christ as it was as many centuries before his birth. Scientists are hunkered in their laboratories and lecture halls in a strenuous attempt to come up with a theory of everything, a scientific principle that promises to explain the whole of the cosmos at both the level of quantum physics and the level of general relativity.
But in their endeavor to fathom the universe by the objects in it, in their preoccupation with knowing and with things known, we often lose sight of what is most important: the knower. Without the one who thinks and understands, who questions and experiences, who witnesses the phenomena that science attempts to “know,” nothing can be known. Imagine trying to study the movement of ants pitch dark. It is in the light of Awareness that all else shines. And when you dive into the this Awareness, into the Self, you find that everything - knower, knowing and known - merge into One.
Recently a deep sea diver attempting to break the record for longest open saltwater scuba dive by remaining 30 feet underwater for more than 100 hours, was interviewed. The question the interviewer posed was, why the dive? Of course there was the ego-gratification of seeing his name in the record books while satisfying a bucket-list wish he had nurtured for decades, and yes there would be the requisite money raised for charity.
But what about the act itself? Was there any inherent worth in remaining underwater all alone for such a stretch of time? The primal calm, perhaps? The imperturbable silence? The otherworldly ambience? Maybe the exotic creatures? The diver’s answer: Apart from the physical challenges and technical hurdles, the thing he feared most was simple boredom. To combat which he planned to stream videos, play magnetic chess, and check email and Facebook in the hopes of eventually landing a film deal. In short, the solitude such an experience affords, far from being a benefit, is regarded as something to be suffered through.
Another adventure seeker, mountaineer George Mallory, said when asked why he attempted to climb Mt. Everest: “Because it’s there.” He was one of the privileged few who had the wherewithal to scale such lofty heights, and the reckless abandon to even try. His words epitomize the current emphasis society places on doing and achieving, and he lived nearly 100 years ago. Now more than ever, in this wheel of becoming, we have forgotten how to simply be.
One of astronomy’s most profound discoveries is that we are made from the ashes of stars that burned out long ago, and when we through our telescopes peer into the misty heavens at the twinkling bodies of the firmament, we glimpse our ancestral homes. As philosopher Alan Watts wrote: “You are that vast thing that you see far, far off with great telescopes.”
Yes, your body is quite literally composed of particles formed during the Big Bang nearly 14 billion years ago. So much for this capsule of flesh and bone. What of the spirit, the consciousness seated in its heart? It stands outside of time, unborn, undying, eternal. And it is most acutely experienced in silence, stillness, solitude. Why isn’t this the focus of anybody’s attention?
By turning inward you are supremely Self-sufficient. You carry instant bliss with you wherever you go. Nothing else, nothing external, no Internet or magnetic chess is required, no sponsors, no “others,” because there is no other. The Self is all that is. And thou art that.
There is only one renunciation in life. It is renunciation of identification with the body. There is only one choice, to act from the lower self or to remain fixed in the fullness of the Supreme. You make this choice every minute of every day, whether in some coral reef or on some mountain peak or any place in between.
Though he made several expeditions, Mallory never made it to the top of Everest. On his third and final try, he was last seen 800 feet beneath the summit before disappearing in a snow storm - his body, and all the stardust in it, never to be found.
But you can be a deep sea diver of the soul, a mountain climber of the spirit. By turning within you can plunge into the deep sea of pure consciousness and reach its sublime peak, simultaneously. Because the Self is all around you, in you, is you. When asked why meditate on the Self, you can say, “Because It is everywhere.”
There is nothing but the Self. Sink into it. The lower self, like our climber’s remains, may disappear, but you will not die; it is the beginning of life, for who you truly are is immortal. No craggy peak or rock-strewn sea is needed; you can do it from the comfort of your living room couch. Or if you prefer, the bedroom floor. Realize the timeless Self. It’s a great way to pass one’s days.