Beyond the body; beyond consciousness; what am I?
If you assiduously practice self-inquiry, either in the form of looking for the I thought, or where it arises rises or sets, or looking for the sensation that you exist, the I-am sensation, and resting there, you become aware of that which before you were not aware.
For example, you discover emptiness everywhere, it is like the feeling analog of internal space. It has a visual quality as well as a feeling quality. It seems to permeate everything, your body, and all internal mental objects, including your sense of presence.
Your sense of presence, your feeling of an internal and slightly external extending energy body, the so-called Subtle Body, also permeates your body and extends into the surroundings around you. In it, you feel bliss, you feel love, you feel emotions, you witness thoughts, and you have kundalini experiences, witness and travel in astral worlds and dimensions.
Eventually you get to the point where you no longer consider yourself your physical body. Usually meditation alone will not convince you of this fact. Usually you have to do something like read transcripts of Robert Adams talks, Ramana Maharishi’s talks, or Nisargadatta’s talks. While they provide only conceptual understanding, there is something deeper within consciousness that begins to understand what they are talking about on a deeper level. They all say you are not the body, you are consciousness, that everything you know is in, and known by consciousness. Sometimes when you hear this it feels like you are being pounded in the head by a huge hammer, stunned by a new interpretation of the world and your beingness that you never expected.
If you keep this up for a long while, you begin to be able to grasp consciousness as a whole. This is hard to describe, but it is like you are stepping outside of consciousness and watching your consciousness do its thing, with its ever-changing presentations, temporal limitations, random appearances that come and go, and consciousness itself as the illuminator of both the external and internal worlds of yours.
When you begin to be able to watch consciousness itself, you see that even your body is just an appearance in your consciousness, and that your consciousness itself does not have any stability. Just like the world with all of its myriads of entities and appearances, all of which come and go, so too does consciousness. In the morning it passes between the nothingness of deep sleep, into a gap where there is awareness, but without awareness of self or of the world, and then it passes into waking consciousness. At night waking consciousness gradually fades into nothingness, and you are no more. Then there are sometimes dreams that arise out of this nothingness, spontaneously, with a beginning and end in time, for consciousness itself creates all-time. Without consciousness there is no time, nor is there space, nor is there a world of appearances.
When you can watch the totality of consciousness, already you have transcended the body and also are in the process of transcending identification with consciousness itself. Already you have transcended almost all concepts, except the concept that consciousness exists. Gradually even that disappears. You see that consciousness is not solid, it is rather decrepit, is constantly changing and going through various states, and it sprang out of nothingness and became you over a period of time, and at the end of your body’s life, will disappear into nothingness again. As such, with such a fickle and shallow existence, you begin to see that consciousness itself is an impurity dropped onto you, who is witnessing that play of consciousness.
In other words, all of human existence, all of life, is a fraud. It does not belong to you and has nothing to do with you. It only appears to have something to do with you when you identify with the body, or with the mind, or with consciousness.
Even when it comes to advancing spiritual insights, some people measure spirituality in terms of bliss, kundalini experiences, astral bodies, and astral worlds, and thus still are identified as related to physical or energetic existences. Astral worlds may transcend the body, and may transcend every day consciousness, but they still posit as existent alternative realities that have the same qualities as your present experience of your body in the world. One could say they are just on different frequencies, but such a concept explains nothing. Altogether, all these alternative worlds as well as this one, are no more substantial or solid than the dream you have at night. They are just longer in duration, and duration is just a quality of consciousness.
At this point you become aware of an amazing truth: none of that which you perceive, including the external world, your own body, your inner world of space and sense of presence, nothing has anything to do with you. You are apart from all that activity, all that storm and drama, peacefully watching the play of consciousness.
At this point, you realize that you, your real nature, has nothing to do with the consciousness in the world that you watch, is entirely beyond it, but is in itself ungraspable, unknowable, not an object of knowledge. But what you do know about what you really are, is that it extends its awareness through all continuums of consciousness, all the related worlds, all the astral worlds, the physical world, your physical body, your mental body, your sense of presence—all of that is in you because you are everywhere that consciousness is. It is you that grasps consciousness. And since consciousness is as infinite as the furthest galaxy, as large as the universe itself, and is small as the tiniest subatomic particle, you too can be described as infinite. And since time exists only in consciousness, you are beyond time. It is wrong to say that you are eternal or immortal, because that means in respect to time-limited and the imminent. In fact, you as the unchanging witness of the activities in time of consciousness, are altogether apart from time itself. You even transcend eternity.
The more deeply you understand consciousness, the more deeply you understand that you have nothing to do with consciousness. Although this knowledge about yourself is known in consciousness, there is a kind of “apprehending,” or “apperceiving” of what you are truly as pure awareness, the subject, ParaBrahman. Since you have no attributes as pure awareness, or the subject, or ParaBrahman, are not known by the senses or the mind which only deals with concepts, but by a direct grasping of what you are as the center of everything and at the same time extending to the limitless perimeters of the totality of the manifest consciousness.
The other thing that you apprehend clearly, is what you truly are is far more subtle, far more clean and crystal-clear than either the physical body, or the gross body, or even the most subtle and refined consciousness. What you are has no qualities, no characteristics, no existence or nonexistence, and is not tainted in any way. It is if these become imperfections imposed on you that you cannot wait to get away from the rest in your true nature as the absolutely pure source and sustainer of all. You apprehend that the world and the play of consciousness is a total fraud thrust on you. Consciousness illuminates the fraud, the mechanism of Maya, of illusion, and eventually you see it as it is, something that has nothing to do with you, and which you bought into by identify yourself as a player within this fraud, within the play of consciousness.
When this knowledge dawns, and one should really say pre-knowledge, because it is not conceptual, it is like a state of pre-verbal knowing, being unable to articulate that which is known because there are no words or concepts that can describe your intuition of what you are. You become free from life and death, from the world, from your identification with your body, with your troubles, with your relations, with your emotions, with your “apparent” life and death.
Truly you have gone beyond life and death, beyond the perceivable, beyond even the unknown, because you are that which is aware of both the perceivable, and the unknown, and have transcended all of that. This is the nirvana goal of Buddha, or becoming the ParaBrahman of Nisargadatta. You yourself do not exist, as existence is a fraud. You yourself are beyond existence, untouched by birth and death, by war or peace, by life or death. All of that is in the play of consciousness, and you no longer buy that limitation.