Knowing can be known
Wolter A. Keers
If we look over everything that was covered during our get-togethers of the last year of work, we can summarize it in one sentence: it has been shown to us in many ways that being in bondage is an illusion.
We very seldom ask ourselves who is actually going on the search when we go looking for love, freedom, happiness or whatever we choose to call it. We question all kinds of thoughts and feelings that arise in us, but a few fundamental things seem so self-evident to us, and are such common property in our western culture, that it never, or hardly ever, occurs to us to question them.
Whatever we are, we readily admit that we don't know ourselves through and through, we never doubt that we were once born, that we have a certain role in the society, and that someday we will have to disappear from this earth. Almost everyone who begins on the quest, begins with the conviction that they are a body, plus a mind, plus maybe a 'soul', whatever that last one might be. We base our lives on this conviction on this deep feeling that: 'I am a body, plus this and that.'
At the same time, we are discontented; we are seldom happy, and when we are it is usually only for a short time. We do know moments for example when we are in love (which literally means disappearing into love) of something like a cosmic grandeur. But much more frequent are the hours and days when we feel a vague nostalgia for a whole-unlimited-being-myself called love or happiness.
We seldom make a connection between our fundamental conviction that we are a body plus, and the longing for a 'lost paradise'. During our search into advaita yoga, all the legs under our chairs have been slowly but surely sawed off. It has been made abundantly clear to us that we are not a certain body; neither the body of the waking state nor the body in the sleep state. Neither are we a personality, that being nothing else than a presentation that we make of ourselves at certain moments. It has been shown that we are not beings that are bound or limited by time, space or origins; all of which are only ways of thinking. We see also for example, that time is a way we have of looking, rather than that we are some phenomenon in time.
And finally, after having verified a number of arguments, we can only come to the conclusion that everything that we know or can know, appears in the consciousness that we are (not have). Sense impressions (that we call 'the world'), including the body, exist for each of us only when they appear in consciousness, and that is all that we, no matter where, no matter when, can know. The same is true for our thoughts and feelings, and for the waking and dream states. Everything that we know is only what is perceived when it appears in our consciousness. We could say that we only know movements in the consciousness. We are thus confronted with the simple fact that we have to be present first as consciousness, as clarity, before a movement can take place in us. By examining this fact it becomes steadily clearer that we are the conscious element in every movement, the ray of light in every thought, in every feeling, in every sense perception in short, the meaning of the expression "I am the light of the world" becomes suddenly clear. That is true for every being, not only for the one giving words to this truth. As soon as it penetrates us that we are thus the basic material out of which all 'movements' are made, then the insight that what we call the world is also dependent on our Clear Presence for its appearance dawns in us, just as waves can only be when there is a sea, and the wind can only blow if there is air.
But, if it is really true that all things are dependent on us for their existence it follows that: Nothing can bind us. If there is nothing in the 'outside', the side where things are perceived, that can bind me, can there then possibly be in the 'inner', the side of the perceiver a bound 'I' that tyrannizes me? It is after all just for such an 'I' that we search for happiness, or love, or freedom! Our investigation makes it progressively clearer that everything that we have taken to be 'I' is nothing more or less than an ever changing show. If we speak of a tyrannical, a bound or a scared 'I' they are only different shows, but repeatedly we jump into the show with both feet and live it as if it were what we are. But critical looking lets us see clearly that we cannot be a show that only appears once in a while, and that we cannot be a reflex that happens occasionally, such as happens after a thought or a body movement when we automatically assert that there is an 'I' who thought that thought or made the movement. Whoever sees that 'I' is itself a sort of thought, has no trouble in understanding that thought number two could not have thought thought number one; and that in fact thought number one can only happen when thought number two is nowhere to be seen.
So, it becomes steadily clearer that all appearances, shows, or reflexes, that we have called 'I', are in fact, just like chairs and tables, things that are perceived by us. Such 'I's' are nothing else than fantasized shows a continuous embroidering upon what our parents told us long ago when they said that we were a little boy or a little girl, sweet or bad, smart or dumb and so forth. But, an embroidery is a thing, a movement in consciousness, and a thing is neither free nor bound; freedom and bondage are not applicable to things but to circumstances. A chair is neither free when it is out in the woods, nor in bondage when it is in the closet.
This show that we call 'I' at certain moments is also neither free nor in bondage, it appears for a few beats and then disappears. Just a tinkle of the telephone and every 'I' show disappears. What remains then of bondage? Only the show of an 'I' in certain circumstances. Only if we imagine for ourselves an 'I' in handcuffs is there bondage, but only in the imagination. Because in reality we are not a show, and every 'I in bondage' is a show. In other words: our only problem is our belief in the show of an 'I' in bondage. 'Verily, a person is what he thinks.' said the old guru Ashtavakra. 'If he thinks he is in bondage he experiences himself as in bondage; if he thinks that he is free he experiences himself as free.' Whoever sees that everything on the 'outside and the inside' (to quote Lin Tsi) depends on our conscious awareness can not avoid the revelation that illuminates everything like a lightning bolt, that nowhere except in fantasy is there a place for bondage; that we are freedom itself, even if we believe in a fantasized bondage. We are freedom whether we know it or not, whether we want it or not, there is nothing to change.
Therefore there is nothing to find and nothing to reach. At the end of the path we discover that no path was necessary or could even be traveled. The glasses we were looking were on the bridge of our nose from the very beginning. The string of beads that we imagined was lost hung around our necks the entire time.
(taken from 'Yoga Advaita' June 1978, by permission of the publisher De Driehoek.)