Asheville Sangha

Supporting the Awakening of Consciousness in Asheville and Beyond


“Who we are is the moment arising in awareness.”

                                            – Eckhart Tolle


I have a very unconventional and life-changing perspective to share with you. 

 We can certainly all agree that we are persons.  I’m a person, you are a person, all who read this are persons.  And, with just a little insight, we can agree that we have awareness.  The reading of this article is happening in awareness.  The intellectual faculty with its capacity for reading and understanding words as representative of ideas is all occurring in awareness as you read, so we could easily agree that we are persons who have awareness.


At this point, I would like you to pause and truly consider what you have just read, and see if you can bring this from an intellectual concept to living reality.  (Take a few nice long and easy breaths)


As you think about being aware of what you are reading, of holding this paper, and of the mind that is comprehending this article, extend that awareness to your body – be aware of your body and its sensations.  Do this for a few moments.  (Continue being aware of your breathing)


Now, look about you ---- see and be aware of what you are seeing – listen and be aware of the sounds of the moment around you.  (Again, for a few lingering moments along with awareness of breathing)


Now, a very profound Zen practice is to ask: “Who is it that is aware?” 


Realize – as you become aware of awareness, this awareness is you.  (Pause………..)  Become aware of this you that is awareness………  Feel and experience this truth.


So now, we are very clear that we are people who have and are awareness, and perhaps, as Buddhism would have us realize, a deeper truth is beginning to dawn………… that, far more fundamentally, we are awareness that has a person. 


Allow me to explain.  A conventional perspective says a person is a body, a mind, circumstances and situations strung together in time.  That makes sense, doesn’t it?  But something very important is being left out here, and it is that which the body, mind, circumstances, situations, and even time happen in. As you hopefully experienced a moment ago, body, mind, circumstances, situations, and time are happening in conscious awareness.  Body, mind, circumstances, situations, and even time are all things, and they are happening in that which is not a thing.  They are all boundaried concepts happening in that which has no boundary.  They are many things happening in that which is only one thing.  They are happening within that which is the essential nature of our existence - awareness. 


“Who we are is awareness.  But we block it with our self-centered thinking.” -          Charlotte Joko Beck, Zen Master


It could be said that all things arise in what is not a thing.  The forms of existence arise in the non-form dimension of existence.  And we experience it, and that experiencing is what awareness is.  We are now at the threshold of this most remarkable realization: that who we are is awareness. Who we are is the forms of existence – body, mind, circumstances, and situations in time - arising in awareness, the many things in the one no-thing.


Very challenging, I know.  And I also know that you do know what I’m talking about, but your thinking is getting in the way of what you know, and there is a particular kind of thought that is getting in the way the most. 


The problem is that thoughts centered around “I” being this body and mental activity in situations in time pull us away from awareness of awareness - and therefore the realization – as Eckhart Tolle teaches, the “felt sense,” that you are awareness.  That’s what the Zen Master Joko Beck is saying.  So I’m attempting to get you past thinking to what you already know.


What we’re talking about here is non-duality, not non-duality as a philosophical concept, but as a living reality. And non-duality is very difficult for modern human-beings to understand because modern human-beings live within a mind that abstracts its experience out of its context in Nature into representations of our experience called thoughts.  This is why Buddhism refers to thoughts as “mental forms,” and in abstracting our experience, we create duality consciousness with most every experience being separated into the thought form of “me” as the experiencer with “that” which I am experiencing being out there separated from me.  This creates what is called “duality.”  Every experience has at least two separate entities, the entity “me” and the entity, “that.”  Hence, the experience is dual, made up of two.


Non-duality is oneness.  It is experienced as connectedness, the wholeness of existence, which is the truth of the way Nature and the Universe are, while duality is experiencing Nature and the Universe as made up of zillions of separate parts, and representing these zillion parts with thoughts, abstractions of reality, an artificial reality of bits of information much like what a computer does, which is a very real experience for us, but it’s just not the way the Universe actually is. 


In our experience of the many things, what is the one thing that holds them all together, that connects them, that makes for one experience, the experience of “Me?”  Awareness.


Non-duality is everything in the great oneness of the Universe, and so, since duality exists, non-duality contains duality, and from the perspective of duality, which is how most humans experience life, it seems impossible to achieve this “felt sense” of the non-dual oneness.  It is, in fact, only very difficult – but not impossible – for a modern person to not only comprehend non-duality, but to experience it, and even live primarily from the perspective of non-duality.  It requires a shift from within what can be described as the human-being paradox.  We are dualistic egocentric humans, and we are beings, sharing universal natural beingness with all Nature.  This perspective and experience of living within the duality of human experience within the greater perspective that is the beingness, the non-duality of deeper Nature, is the heart of Zen. 


The required shift to enter the living reality of non-duality is the realization of the answer to the great Zen question, “Who is it that is aware?”   That answer is: awareness that has a person the world knows as me.  As for this “me” – as the Zen masters say:  “There’s nobody here.”  And there is.

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