Recently, on my Instagram page, I have participated in several conversations that address ‘personhood’, the concept of the ‘observer’, and the nature of ‘awareness.’ These are very critical distinctions in Advaita Zen…and the great masters (such as my own teacher, Mooji) provide profound pointings to illustrate the difference. (Taoism also describes awareness, and refers to it as the tao. “The tao that can be named is not the eternal tao,” is one such reference in the Tao Te Ching.) As a response to some of the discussions, I have, in fact, encouraged persons to search for Mooji’s discussion of this concept, through the analogy of the two birds, for further illumination.
As always, I found Mooji’s description to be incredible. Therefore, there is nothing within me that feels that I could improve upon his explanation…but as I considered the concept, a different visual came to me. I will share this idea here for additional consideration, only because I do not think that a different perspective can hurt the concept ;) It is not a perfect example, but here we go:
First, please imagine a beautiful pregnant woman swimming peacefully in the ocean, gazing lovingly at her large belly. As she floats in the water, her full attention is on the baby that she feels growing within her, and the movements of this baby are sometimes revealed in a small foot kicking outwardly. However, just that morning she received a full three-dimensional x-ray which is seared into her brain, and she imagines every part of her baby, a part of herself, that lies within.
Inside her stomach, the baby eats, sleeps, and moves, completely unaware of anything else. The baby’s entire world seems very clear, real, and immediate. Oblivious to anything else, it functions as it must to get the nutrition and rest it needs for the purpose of survival. The baby doesn’t know that there is anything beyond its world in the belly, and it is unaware of any kind of mother or father figure that created it.
Separately, the waves of the ocean move around the pregnant mother, uncaring and dispassionate. (Even if the ocean swallowed the mother whole, the ocean itself wouldn’t care.) An entire world of plants, fish, and sea creatures live within the sea, but the water does not carry any emotion about it. Though the water provides nourishment to all, and thus functions as the source of all life, it is unfeeling and unthinking. The ocean simply is.
The mother is the observer. She witnesses the motions and activities of the baby in her belly, and though the child is a part of her, it exists separately from her. The mother can watch the child, but the baby in the stomach cannot watch its mother. Indeed, the baby does not even know that the mother exists, though it might feel some energy it can’t explain from beyond itself.
The baby is observed, but is unaware that it is being observed. Similar to the concept of what it means to be a person, the baby is primarily focused on survival, and its primary activities are centered around that. When the baby is not eating or sleeping, perhaps it plays and kicks, but each day, this (yet unborn) child must be sure to get the nutrients and rest it needs to survive.
The ocean is a representation of awareness. It is a creative force that exists beyond the mother and the baby, but the child and the mother are within it. Without any consideration, both the baby and the mother rely on the things that emanate from the ocean to survive, and those very things were actually necessary for the mother and child to even exist (food, water) themselves. Still, the ocean does not have feeling, and both creation (hatching eggs) and destruction (drowned sailor) exist within its depths. The swirl of good and bad are present in the tides and waves, but the ocean itself does not care. It simply is.
In our own experience of personhood, we focus intensely on survival. Once our basic needs are met, we may shift outwardly for fun or work…but it is all a variation of some type of activity. (It should be noted that an inward shift for liberation is experienced in stillness.)
Beyond our state of personhood is the concept of consciousness that is capable of observing this activity without any interference. If we elevate the level of our consciousness beyond our minds, we can actually watch our minds and the play of activity that exists in our body forms. Consciousness is the observer and witness of our personhood. Sometimes, through yoga or meditation, we might experience this consciousness as a light-body, or the spirit within our bodies. Because it exists beyond the mind, the mind cannot comprehend it, and will seek to explain it away. It is only through direct experience (through the experience of “no-mind” that removes any thinking) that we know this consciousness to be real.
In the same way, the experience of awareness requires the dropping of the mind and a profound recognition of what is even seeing the light (or spirit). (In my first experience, I saw myself as a light-body…but then asked myself, “What is seeing the light?”) Another question to consider is: “What does the light exist within?”
The truth is this: trying to explain awareness makes no sense. That is why the great masters don’t even try…they simply point the way to assist others with experiencing it themselves. On a personal note, The Invitation from Mooji was the key for me to have this kind of direct experience. (In under 15 minutes, Mooji presents the Invitation here, and I encourage you to give it a try! Your experience could result in the end of your seeking.)
In my example, please consider the concept that the mother, the baby, and the ocean are all one, even though the baby and the mother might perceive themselves as being separate (the ocean they are in simply doesn’t care). In this same way, the person, the observer, and awareness are all one. Mentally, this might not make any sense, but I hope that you will be open to watching the video links I’ve embedded above and see if you can open yourself to have experiences of these concepts.
Once awareness is experienced, through grace, it is the beginning of transcendence. What remains from there, in the words of Mooji, is to simply be the awareness. Infinite space, and freedom exists in awareness because it is true emptiness, therefore it is also profound peace.
Thank you for your kind reading of this intense example! I know that it is a lot to consider, but hopefully it might have shed some light on concepts that seemed incomprehensible. I’m happy to hear your thoughts, so please feel free to add your comments/thoughts/questions below!
Photo source: From my walk today in Paúl, here in Santo Antão :)