A dialogue with author and journalist Theresa Bauerlein
T: So when I ask, “Who am I?” – in that sense, it is the universe asking and not some person?
S: This is precisely what I am saying. This is what you start to discover when you begin to look into the nature of consciousness in the third mode. And this is the starting point of total revolution; a revolution that is equal to any total shock that takes place in science or philosophy, similar to a total paradigm shift in Physics or Biology. This is something that changes our whole understanding of ourselves and our human role in the cosmos. Now, this means of course that mysticism is just another scientific field, you see?
T: Mysticism in what sense?
S: Mysticism as the act of investigating into consciousness. It is not an act of believing, and at the same time, it is not an act of philosophizing. It is an act of entering, with all the powers one’s mind has, to explore something that seems unknowable.
T: I think this is the important point, because it does seem unknowable. What you’re saying is that it is not.
S: It is unknowable in terms of the two modes of the mind, the personal and the philosophical. Yet there is another faculty of the mind to which this can be known, though not through subject-object relationship.
T: But this is not an immediate understanding, right? In the scientific mode, you ask yourself impersonal questions like, “What is the nature of light?” or, “What is the driving force behind people’s actions?” and it takes quite a process of contemplation to get to an answer, if at all. How does it work on this third level?
S: Well, first of all, I guess the mind needs to rid itself of the habit of objectification, because to activate the third mode, it needs to be free from the two other types of activity, and what the two other types of activity share is a subject-object relationship.
In the first mode, you treat your personal self as a subject, but in the third mode, this subject is realized as just another object. The person, including one’s worries and concerns, is something that is clearly watchable, so this person cannot be considered the perceiver. The perceiver needs to be stripped of all elements of observation, because you want to understand who the perceiver is, not the perceived.
T: That is why one of the classical practices of inquiry recommended by enlightened teachers is, “Who am I?” Then what happens when you ask this question is that you first drop everything that you apparently are not, like thoughts, relationships and so on.
S: Yes, exactly. It is the mind turning back and trying to understand its own activity, where it springs from, and what its real nature is in relation to the perceived cosmos. In the first mode this relationship is personal and self-centered: what this whole story of the universe has to say about me. In the second, philosophical mode, it is impersonal, but it makes one’s mind more like an investigator who tries to be as objective as possible in order to explore the real objectivity of the universe. In the third mode, it tries to understand whether the mind is truly separate from the seen.
Is it really separate from the universe, or is that a misunderstanding? Here we need to return to the statement that scientists, philosophers and consciousness-investigators seem to agree on – that we are the universe becoming aware of itself.
T: But if the third mode is the way the mind observes the nature of consciousness, then you still have an object, don’t you?
S: We need to understand that whenever we talk, we use thought, and whenever we use thought, we objectify. So when we speak of consciousness, it is an objectification of this field from which the mind emerged. And thank god we can do this objectification, because then we can speak of it, you see?
The mind still has the two lower actions that can then bring down the investigation of the third mode. But this is not what happens when we really enter consciousness – then it is more like the melting away of the mind.
T: Then also the melting away of words. That is why it is said that this cannot be spoken.
S: True, this cannot be objectified; this is what they try to say. And at the same time, it can be objectified, as we are doing right now. It just cannot be directly conveyed because of the limitation of thought, which is obviously object-related.
T: You cannot express what it really is completely as long as you use limited concepts.
S: Though if you come to a Physicist who investigates the cosmos his entire life and ask him to convey to you the entire cosmos, could he do that? He will say: “Well, the cosmos consists of a few hundred billion galaxies…” – but could he convey the cosmos to you, and not just describe what it consists of? He would be at a loss if you asked such a thing. To him, the cosmos is the totality of things; the totality of the material universe.
T: So he could only describe aspects or qualities of it…
S: Yes, since both the physical cosmos and consciousness share the same problem: how can you convey something that you cannot compare to anything else? If the cosmos is all there is, could you convey it? In the same way, thought cannot convey consciousness.
T: When you go to a scientist and ask him or her to explain the theory of general relativity, they can describe a formula, but this is not really a formula, right? What relativity is, is something that I guess you also understand eventually in an experiential way.
S: Oh yes, this is a beautiful point. When Einstein glimpsed into general relativity, this certainly wasn’t a mental process as we know it. It was more like an insight into something that was inherently so total… After all, if you manage to directly look into the objective nature of the universe, this is, in a way, also subjective, since such a look requires the mind to be able to merge itself with the observed; then there is some total insight emerging.
In the kabbala system, its central model, the “tree of life,” shows two spheres (or domains) of mind (or consciousness). One is called “wisdom” and the other is called “understanding,” and they exist next to each other. Wisdom is equal to our total perception, when we have something that cannot be perceived by thought and cannot really be spoken, since it is a pure and total action of the mind. This could be imagined as using the whole brain as a unified whole. Then, there is understanding, which is the cognitive part that takes this total flash of insight and tries to translate it and to prove it.
T: Which is exactly the difference between “mysticism” and “philosophy,” as I understand.
S: Yes. There was a genius Indian mathematician, Ramanujan, who came up with around 5,000 equations, which he never proved or reached through a process of proving. He reached them all through pure perceptions. He even claimed that he was given them by a deity, that all of these equations were merely dictated to him. Then he sent it to Cambridge University and English mathematician, G.H. Hardy, recognized his genius and invited Ramanujan to work with him. He then asked Ramanujan: “Please, prove all this, because I want to help you publish.” Ramanujan said in response that he didn’t know how to prove them; “I know it is true and that’s it.” This started a very interesting dialogue between them. He had to prove the equations to be recognized, and he finally managed to prove some through the realm of understanding.
T: Interesting. So you are talking about the level where people do not arrive at insights by logic or by thinking about a subject, but rather they get an insight and only form the logic afterwards. Even when you are not a Ramanujan, I think people know this level of thinking, this flash of almost unconscious insight.
S: We could think of it as the moment in which the mind seems to submerge itself into the thing observed. It does not look at something from a distance but rather falls into something. I believe that it is very natural for our mind, since in reality this is not our mind but the cosmos’ mind – that is why this can happen more and more if we don’t treat it as “our mind.”
I believe this knowing that this is not our mind is shared by both the second and third modes. Einstein certainly didn’t think that it was the mind of Einstein, you see? Perhaps you could say that the mind had an Einstein… so this type of thinking wasn’t activated through Einstein the person.
T: This means that, when you take away the personal thinking, you arrive at a universal kind of thinking in which universal insights come up.
S: Exactly, and again, it is only natural because the mind belongs to the universe. I believe that, in a way, the universe developed a mind to understand itself, and so the mind is equipped with the capability of understanding the universe. It is not two foreign objects, and it is not really a relationship.
This means that the mind only needs to fall into place in the scheme of things and to start functioning in its true, original role. I think, when we waste the mind in a personal way, we stray from something which is much more natural to it. What is so natural in endlessly calculating our personal considerations and happiness? And I also think there is a certain side effect to the mind falling into place, and that is when the mind has absolutely no more questions such as “What is the meaning of life?” or, “What is happiness?” When the mind becomes the universe’s mind, it is in an endless state of bliss and in an endless sense of meaning. It immediately gets the feeling of doing what it is meant to do.
T: That is why this is a blissful state, as you call it?
S: Yes, and I think it is suffering when we think the mind is our own.
T: It is very interesting the way you are describing it now, because I know that normally when you say things like, “There is only one mind,” many people in our culture find it esoteric in the popular and shallow sense of the word, like a “new-age” kind of statement that has no proof – more a wishful thinking than an actual reality.
S: Well, does the personal existence have a proof?
T: What a question! Do you mean beyond the fact that I experience myself like that?
S: And I can experience myself as the universe – so it is also a subjective experience. The way we experience ourselves is completely unproven. We can describe our experience to others, but then in what way is this description different from the completely subjective description of a psychotic, telling us his or her experience and perception? Of course, except for the fact that the first is considered normal, because it is shared by many, and the other is exceptional.
T: That is true. I am sitting here on this chair, and I could also say that it is the universe that is sitting here on this chair. Most people would agree with the first version, of course. But what you say is that there is no proof for either beyond a subjective perception.
S: Again, my worry is that wanting to shake off this kind of investigation, by claiming that this is nothing more than “new-age” stuff, is not driven by some profound reasoning. In reality, what hides behind this immediate rejection is just the superficial tendency of the mind; its wish to remain in the first mode. This very same superficial mind would, by the way, criticize the second mode too, you see? Saying things like, “Why philosophize so much? Why can’t you just sit back and enjoy, live your life simply? Are you escaping your personal problems?” And so on. Even Einstein was blamed by friends and family for “escaping” his personal problems through his science.
T: Which is funny, in a way, to call it escaping, since this presupposes that the personal is more important or real.
S: Yes. Also, the animalistic seems more real than the mental; the sexual drive feels more “real” than a philosophical drive or intangible thoughts, because it is felt instinctively and physically. But does the fact that it is more immediate and automatic to the mind make it more real? The biological tendencies to gather family and give birth would seem more real to the lower activity of the mind, because it is simply more immediate, you see? It is instinctual, physical and impulsive, and so seems undeniable.
The big trouble is that most people really live their life without knowing who they are, which is, to me, pretty amazing. We say: “Be simple; just live your life,” yet we don’t know who lives their life. Whose life is this? This is not a new-age indulgence. This is actually a burning question that should stun us: the fact that we have never looked into this. You see?
T: Normally when people go on a journey in which they want to find out who they are, this takes a very different direction. It is more like, “What do I like?” or, “What are my talents?”
S: Yes, of course. This questioning is interesting in the first mode, and sometimes necessary. But, again, that is why I am calling it the “realm of genius.” Because I don’t think a person whose mind cannot be naturally occupied by impersonal questions, could even understand this drive.
T: It is interesting that you call it a drive.
T: I find it beautiful to say that there is also this drive, not only all the other drives; that this is also a human drive, perhaps an ultimate one.
S: Of course, our problem is when the third mode seems to support or to cover up a certain first mode activity. Then it is not really a higher mind activity. This is when we get what we call a “new-age” type of thinking.
T: What do you mean by that?
S: Not all spiritual people are really driven by the higher drive to understand oneself. Often they are driven by the personal wish to be happy, or free from suffering, or liberated from some disturbing patterns. Then, what the lower mode does is take the higher-mode conclusions and translate them into a bunch of flat and dull statements about life, and this is where we already get into the lower activity of spirituality – where it is no longer profound and meaningful, because it is not really impersonal. After all, the drive we are talking about, the drive of the third mode, is purely impersonal.
T: Right. So in what you call a “lower spirituality,” one could say, “I am one with the universe,” but still from a very personal place – perhaps even in order to get from it some emotional gratification.
S: Yes, in order to feel personally better: “I am one with the universe, so the universe will be there for me to provide my needs and hopes.” This has nothing to do with the outrageous revolutionary shift that takes place when the mind looks at itself.
T: I see. So, in the beginning I asked you to explain, “What is enlightenment?” Would it be correct to say, from what you have explained now, that enlightenment is knowing that you are the universe, or that the universe knows itself through you?
S: Exactly. You can say that enlightenment is the totality of the universe awakening to itself through the cognitive activity that we call the human mind. Basically, we realized that cognition is not a personal matter, so it is the giant, which we call the universe, that rises to its feet and says, “I am.” It declares its own existence, its own relationship with itself.
T: But by “universe” you don’t mean just those galaxies out there do you? But more like the whole of existence?
S: If we think of it in an evolutionary way, we should see it as the universe bringing forth its own mind. If we try to look even more deeply, then it is all that is, yes; all that imaginably exists. In both cases, it is the understanding that the mind holds within it the very consciousness of the universe itself. It doesn’t contain all the galaxies technically, but it does contain the consciousness of the self-aware presence of this massive existence. Of course, to realize that, in our miniature, almost caricature-like form, is an immense shift. This shift and what it implies is, to me, spiritual enlightenment.