The realist philosopher and the scientist hold the view that when we see a tree, there really is something out there several yards from us composed of atoms, electrons, quarks, or strings, which emit photons when electrons change orbits, which travel to our eyes—which I can feel—which generates chemicals that set off a string of nerve impulses that travel to our brain, which has learned over time to turn that into a subjective reality that allows us to pick fruit from the tree and take shelter from the sun’s rays.
An ant will perceive the tree differently because of differently structured receptors, as will a cat, gorilla, or realist philosopher. We never can really know how that tree—if it really exists separate from us—is perceived by a butterfly or a stork.
According to a realist, the thing in itself can never be known. We can only know percepts of the tree. We can never be the tree and know it from the inside, as the tree as subject.
But we can know our own bodies from the inside, as tactile feelings, skin sensations, stomach ache, strained ligaments, sore muscles, hunger, thirst, sexual arousal and satisfaction, which means we perceive our bodies differently than we perceive a tree with the external senses. We perceive our bodies with different senses, inner senses, and in many ways, seemingly closer to our sense of self than we would consider our experience of a tree as sight, sound, touch, smell, and hearing of it. There is something about our experiences of our bodies that feel more intimate to whatever we call our sense of self than most external experiences.
Yet, in every conceivable way, our experience of our body directly through our inner receptors is no different than perceiving a tree with external receptors: our experience of our body is still an experience, as is our experience of a tree: it is still an experience.
Ramana calls the totality of what we experience ‘Consciousness’, a major component of which is the act of being aware of or knowing, whether of a tree or of our hunger. They are things in Consciousness.
But there are other classes of experiences other than of our body or of the external world, classes of experiences that some have and some do not, but which can be experienced upon practice.
There is the experience of emptiness or the of the Void that many Buddhists and many Advaitins speak of. Robert Adams spoke of emptiness all the time as the ultimate, but many others deny that such an experience can be had because things exist within it; experiences exist within the emptiness, sometimes also called Nothingness.
Unless you have experienced emptiness, you’ll find any description to miss the point of conveying the experience.
The best I can describe it, it is like the experience one has in a planetarium or on a flat plain anywhere in the desert, and when you look up you see an utterly black sky with thousands of stars and galaxies spread across the sky, including the Milky Wa, vast, empty, yet well lit.
The experience can be of a vast awe, or of air being sucked out of your lungs, but this is what the constant experience of emptiness, the Void, Nothingness can be like. It permeates all of space and all objects and experiences in space such that we “see,” “feel,” “intuit” that experience and space are two sides of phenomenal existence. Form and emptiness are the same. Forms arise and disappear within the background and container of emptiness. They are inseparable.
It is in the Void that the advanced meditators can rest in the midst of an apocalypse and not be moved.
Then there is the experience of the light of Consciousness. When your eyes are closed, looking all around and even inside the “space” or emptiness that pervades your body experience, you will find it lighted with a white background of light. This is the light of Consciousness.
You can also become aware of your energy body or sense of Presence that pervades your personal emptiness and your body, and appears to extend outwards from the body and interacts with the world.
From here we can go on to investigate shamanism, energy healing, astral projection, ghostly energies, and manipulating the world with your mind and intentionality. This is the level of Siddhis or powers.
Then and lastly, there is the experience of the Manifest Self, the sense of the divine within, what Ramana called immortal or deathless spirit, and which I call sentience or awareness of that divine, as well as the life force itself, called by some Shakti. This is an experience of God as me, as life itself as me, as the awareness principle itself as me, and this me has tremendous energy, tremendous turning, whirling, changing, and self-love, self fascination, self-preoccupation, happiness, and bliss. Most of all, from within one feels a silent voice crying out, “I Am; I exist!”
Buried within that sense of I Am is a place I like to call my “Heart of Hearts,” a subjective place of the most exquisite intimacy, vulnerability, kindness, and love, and resting there is resting at the feet of God, a place of utter holiness, grace, and acceptance/surrender.
But you see, in the largest sense, all these experiences share a common element: they are all experiences; they are all aspects of Consciousness, from the I Am to a tree, or the emptiness container and background..
All that there is is Consciousness. I may dislike that particular tree, but it is still me in the sense that it is part of my Consciousness. I may dislike some emotions, but they still are me and dwell within my Consciousness. The same is my experience of my body, my eating food, my urinating, of experiencing another sexually; it is all Consciousness and therefore it is all me whether I identify with that experience or not.
Truly, for me, my primary identification is with my Heart of Hearts, the place of grace, surrender, and love; but all of Consciousness is me in the sense it is my experience, even my experience of you. You may not exist apart from my experience of you, so in that sense, you are me, my experience, even though you stubbornly fail to recognize your existence is due to me. (joke)
The feeling comes that all things are Consciousness including the Void, the light, energies, Presence, God, etc. There is only me; there is only Consciousness which is the same as Self.
Of course this is only waking consciousness. There is also sleep and dreaming Consciousness. But all the magnificence of the world, of God, of the Manifest Self resides in waking consciousness which rapidly slips away as we fall asleep.
There is the mystery of dream, dream interpretation, dream astral projections, the ever-changing imaging, sounds, drama, of the coming and going of the dream state, like colored clouds taking away the external world and our bodies because the unique chemistry of our bodies requires various stages of a complex vegetative state called sleep with its several stages including dream, from which the waking state can arise again and again, in endless flowing succession.
Yet deep sleep and dreams are also Consciousness: experience. For example, I am always aware of sleep as a state being held at arms length just outside my waking world, and in sleep I am aware of the absence of the world and the strong sense of I Am felt in the waking state. Yet there is still a weak sense of I Am, of identity with a witness, and an awareness of an absence of the world and a different sort of Nothingness than the Void. The Void is emptiness permeating experience, while deep sleep is awareness of no experience, an absence of experience.
These states come to me in endless succession and part of me is aware of them but not of them. Even the Manifest Self is apart from this part of me; God in the form of waking Consciousness comes to me and gives me my body and the world. Simultaneously I am aware of me, the world and God in the same instant. Without me, Consciousness itself would have no witness, no purpose, a play without an audience. I am either Nothing or Everything, yet I know the Self, which is both..
This is the Truth of Ramana, Nisragadatta, Robert Adams, and myself. We just use different words to describe the mystery variously, promote different methods, different emphasis on self-inquiry and self-abidance, and different emphasis on various aspects of Self.
The power of this understanding is that you are the creator and sole experiencer of the entire world from far flung galaxies to your cat, to your Heart of Hearts. They all depend on you. Kings and presidents are merely bit actors within one state of your Consciousness, even if one of them kills your body, they die with you when the waking world disappears.