One major reason the mind has for holding on to the concept of a personal ‘I’ is that it believes that it cannot function without it: that this ‘I’ is needed to remember the past and plan the future. But is this an actual fact? Is there really an ‘I’ that plans the future? Is there an actual future that lends itself to being planned? Or is this an illusion – simply a product of imagination, prediction, anticipation, illusory desires and false emotion?
Science tells me that ‘I’ reside within a consciousness that resides within a brain, but is this what I actually experience – or is this just what I imagine I experience? Whenever I look for the exact location of this ‘I’ nothing substantial can be found. I cannot even find the mind within which it is said to exist; which, quite illogically, this ‘I’ is said to give rise to.
Science would have me believe that its an ‘insider job’, that this insider ‘I’ gives rise to that which it is inside of. There seems to be something not quite right about this line of reasoning, but it usually goes unremarked or unnoticed. Is this because to notice it might lead to another possibility that would bring into question the very ability of science to provide me with unchallengeable accounts of the nature of my reality? Do ‘I’ in fact have any reality? Indeed, is there such a thing as ‘Reality’?
This may seem like a very strange question to ask in light of what you and ‘I’ seem to be experiencing in this moment.But it may not be quite as absurd as it sounds. I am certainly not the first to question what to all appearance seems to be the unquestionable. There is a long lineage of distinguished and highly respected others who have felt the need to raise this same question and whom have arrived at some rather startling conclusions.
From Plato to Kant in one way or another many western philosophers have denied the external reality of space and time, cause and effect, some describing them instead as ‘intuitions’ of the mind leading to the experience of the appearance of external objects and events. Space and time, cause and effect, along with what appears to be objects around us are all products of our minds. For certain of these philosophers nothing is past, present or future, neither earlier nor later, nor simultaneous – nothing really changes. Nothing is in time. This can only lead to the conclusion that the mind itself does not exist in time and never really changes. Yet this is not our experience – or is it? Why would these philosophers deny what we seem to obviously experience?
Possibly the most profound examination of the nature of reality came from the Buddhist philosopher Nagarjuna who concluded that the world is empty of inherent existence – even emptiness is empty. Yet,this emptiness is intelligible. The less literate Hui-neng simply saw and said – ‘From the first not a thing is.’ The french post-modernist Baudrillard stated that we never construct reality based on reality itself – but on how we imagine it should be. We live in an imaginary reality he called hyperreality. But there is no waking from this hyperreality into that which can be considered more real – there is no reality.
Whenever ‘I’ search for reality I find nothing that ‘I’ can truly claim to be direct experience – ‘I’ is seen to exist as and in a conceptual world; and no concept has existence outside of imagination. Space, time, cause and effect turn out to be the product of thought: conceptual projections arising within that which is unknown and unknowable. I can never find an actual me let alone an actual you, let alone anything that has an actual existence outside of an actual you or me.I cannot find an actual moment that does not depend on the idea of other moments, therefore I never really experience change – only the idea of change. I never actually experience an actual me within an actual consciousness within an actual brain within an actual body within an actual world. There is only ever the idea of such, and all ideas are the product of imagination. Shakespeare got it right. All our theories are the stuff of imagination – as is the very world we appear to live in.
Paradoxically, the seeing of THIS is the seeing that there is no understanding apart from THIS. And THIS seeing ITSELF is LOVE/COMPASSION for ALL that IS and yet ISN’T. As the poet John Astin wrote in his poem:
The Groundless Ground
Can you feel the
ground beneath you –
the groundless ground,
All that’s here
is solid awake – space,
the freedom of having
nothing to hold on to
and nowhere to land,
of knowing nothing
and being no one.
All is safe here
for there is nothing
Where is this ground?
It is everywhere
It is the silence that asks for nothing,
and the deepest longing of the heart.
This ground you will
never stand upon
but always are.