It’s cliche these days for a nonduality teacher to tell you that awakening is not how it’s portrayed in the myths and legends; far from being the fulfilment of everything one has ever wanted, the real truth no one wants to hear is that awakening is ‘the end of your world’, a white-knuckled encounter with annihilation from which no-one returns.
But wait: who is there to report this vanishing?
At this point, these nonduality teachers have no recourse but to try to convince us to doubt the obvious fact that they are a person telling us this, in favour of the indemonstrable belief that they've been annihilated. Isn't this presenting confusion as wisdom, which is the opposite of what awakening promises?
This is because a classic error is at play: to believe experiencing something is the same thing as knowing it.
‘Classic’, first because it is a universal tendency, and second because this tendency is well articulated in our archaic literature.
We commit this classic error when we lack a corrective to our natural tendency to fall for appearances; to really know something, we require a genuine way of knowing that exposes our false beliefs, despite ourselves. Dialectic contemplation is an example of this, and it's a practice you can learn here by becoming a student.
We should celebrate the fact that honest reports of awakening experiences are becoming common thanks to these teachers; but we should see this as a requisite first step in preparing to understand awakening, as opposed to the terminus of knowing awakening for what it is.
Reality is not terrifying
Although it is well recognised that awakening is a process of liberation from mistaking appearances for reality, it speaks to our natural tendency to commit this error that as soon as we achieve freedom from one case of mistaking an appearance for reality (such as the appearance of existence), we immediately fall for the next, much larger image our liberation has created for us (such as the annihilation of the self).
The good news then is that no matter how sweaty our palms may get - and they will should we make any progress - our impending disappearance is one more appearance of reality that, once explored with a way of knowing such as the dialectic, is seen to be what it really is: in reality, an appearance.
The reality of appearance is that appearance is not anything.
Well if reality is not really hell-bent on my personal destruction, what is it about?
Our tendency to fall in love with an appearance of reality by mistaking it for reality itself is inescapable, because - due to its very structure - the psyche loves reality.
The psyche loves reality so much it will obsess over its false image even when that image is the opposite of what the psyche wants and how reality actually is.
(Just think about it: a reality whose sole purpose is the never-once-observed annihilation of a self that is apparently not there anyway. These are the ravings of delusion.)
The psyche will pursue a false image of reality through sheer naivety (this is a process of growth in wisdom after all), usually stopping the psyche’s progress in its tracks or, given enough time, will eventually lead to a disappointment with the image so great it becomes critical.
However, with dialectic contemplation, we have an alternative: a conversation with reality that leads to moving beyond the image in favour of the real thing.
And each time we behold reality through this process, the resulting mutual participation generates a new, larger false image of reality that the psyche can fall in love with all over again.
It seems that awakening is the opposite of what the terrifying visions of annihilation promise: a process of participating in creation, not a vain struggle with escaping destruction.
Yes, the liberation of awakening is well recognised; but no one pursues awakening for freedom from appearances. On the contrary, the psyche pursues awakening because it is bound to reality as a lover to a beloved, and no other substitute will do.
Consider: the problem for the student is precisely freedom from awakening, and the all consuming task is how to bind oneself to reality and nothing else.
This process of binding oneself to reality - expressed analogically in esoteric contemplation, another practice you can learn here - is the process of awakening, and this love produces children in the form of greater and more profound appearances that share the nature of both lover and beloved.
(Here we have used two of the three classical analogies for understanding the psyche and it’s relationship to reality: Parent and Child, and Lover and Beloved. Furthermore, understanding the growth of the psyche as described above must then be synonymous with describing the structure of reality, or what was classically known as a cosmology, something covered in-depth in the Master Class video series available to students.)
Liberation from particular false conclusions and appearances is the work of dialectic contemplation; but esoteric contemplation, or awakening to the universal structure of reality, is to bind oneself to the reality of appearance and recreate that structure in the psyche itself.
Lovers becoming parents. Participating in the creation of reality. That’s a pretty big truth contrary to nondual beliefs.
(But it ain’t new; before the axial age, this was always understood as the point of wisdom, before it became about ‘salvation’ and escaping existence. How do we know which view is correct? Through a way of knowing that demonstrates our ignorance. Yes, dialectic contemplation, and ultimately cosmological contemplation.)
Some people will prefer their religious or spiritual beliefs to participating in creation, but this truth isn’t the truth about awakening no one wants to hear.
We must first consider how ideal the situation is before we get to that.
Serving up nothing
The fact that any appearance of reality - a misleading falsehood that costs us the very thing it promises - must always give way to the reality of appearance - a truth that benefits us with effortless success - means that reality is in fact ideal. (Yes, despite appearances. Which speaks to my point.)
Because reality always wins over any appearance, it is providential in action, inescapably leading us to what we by nature find most good: liberation from the limiting and false (and a false image is always detrimental), and fulfilment through participation in what is both complete - and therefore generative or creative - and true.
To love the reality of appearance and participate in its nature, to the extent we are capable, is to share in its providential action. Inescapably, we recapitulate this beneficial or providential action to the same degree for any and all who wish to participate in their love for reality too.
Not by choice, but by structure (meaning ‘how the psyche actually is’) and purpose (meaning ‘what the psyche actually does’). Reality is reality regardless of our preferences and beliefs.
The idea that one can participate in awakening and then choose whether or not to benefit others through its sharing is a delusion that in turn costs the believer further participation in the nature of reality.
Ironically, those that indulge the appearance of the ‘annihilation of the self’ are happier with the drama of ‘nothingness’ (mistaking reality to be more than it is, or something else than it is, or less than it is, when it is in fact not anything) than with this uncomfortable truth of service, because at least the red-herring of ‘no-self’ is still about them.
The question then is not ‘should I serve the awakening of others?’, but ‘how am I serving the awakening of others?’
To heal, not to teach; to create, not escape
Often, the idea of serving the awakening of others is confused with playing the role of the knower, which is when we put on a show of knowing something for an audience, irrespective of the audience actually sharing in any understanding we might offer. We are playing this role of the knower whenever we struggle with the apparent dilemma of whether we should become a teacher or not, even when we decide not to.
Classically, it was understood that those whose awakening is deep enough to become a vocation had come ‘to heal, not to teach’. In other words, to serve their community, not play the role of being the knower.
We can complete the sentiment by adding we are here ‘to create, not escape’. To build something together in reality, not ignore our participation in what is going on - which is often heartbreaking - by hiding behind lazy and ludicrous beliefs about not being here.
The service of sharing a growth beyond appearances to benefit others has nothing to do with giving the appearance of knowing (or equally, not knowing).
If one is already giving a good show of knowing all the answers (including the stupidity that there is no truth in the end or nothing to be known), of which the audience may be wholly impressed by, how is it possible to share in a growth that by its very nature starts with a mutual ignorance that leads to knowing?
We must begin by realising we are already sharing in reality together, meaning we are already sharing in its providential action, and so the question is one of degree and excellence in shared appreciation of this reality - which means starting with and honouring how things actually are - not the absence or acquisition of relevant opinions or guesses about its nature.
Attempting to escape reality by pretending to know (or not know) is the same thing as ignoring it.
To honour the shared reality of participation with excellence in human relationship, organisation and practice is the yardstick of culture. To describe the structure and purpose of awakening as a wisdom service, to name its maturation as a vocation in the wisdom counsellor, is to both heighten and deepen our relationship with this reality, thereby facilitating a more refined and profound participation we would otherwise find impossible.
The real truth about awakening no one wants to hear is that service is not a choice for the awakened to consider, but a name for the structure and purpose of awakening itself; and if you think you have a choice to serve, you are already serving, but you couldn’t be doing it worse.