The realm of spirituality is speculative to most people. It’s almost entirely conjecture and hearsay. Maybe one person has an authentic spiritual experience and reports it to others. But others repeat what they’ve heard and rarely verify its truth. The idea that one even could or should try to verify spiritual truth through personal experience is foreign to most. The authentic spiritual experiences of most people are random – rarely are they the product of purposeful investigation.
Meditation is my opportunity to authentically investigate spiritual truth. Truth exists – so others report. But can I say with certainty that it exists? Have I experienced this truth personally?
As I sit on my cushion, I take seriously the investigation of spiritual truth. I make it real. I approach it as a scientist, probing and observing, testing and reporting. To be scientific about my spiritual investigation, I have to let go of all preconceptions, let go of all hearsay, let go of all the things I imagine spiritual truth to be, and look closely at what is really here.
The best and only place to start the investigation is here and now. The present moment has reality to it. I cannot escape it – it’s always now. It is never not now. If spiritual truth exists at all, it exists here and now, not as imagination in my mind, not as speculation in potential, but immanently in this present situation. It is as real as anything in the room. It should be more real than anything else in the room, which should make it fairly easy to find.
This is the crux of today’s investigation: what within my experience is the most real thing? Right now, here before me, what is it? What is it that’s really here?
I could start from Renee Descartes’ famous dictum: I think, therefore I am*. Out of all the things I can experience, I can say with the most possible certainty that I exist, for who does experience arise to other than me? I experience the world every day. I don’t know if the world is real, but I do know there is someone here experiencing it. So I, like Descartes, think this is a perfect place to start.
I am real. But who am I? Now I have to locate me.
I will assume that everything that appears before me is not ultimately me. I want to know, who is me at the base of my being? All thoughts and sensations are data that run through inputs to what central entity? To whom do all sensations and experience arise? I have a body but I am not my body. I have thoughts but I am not my thoughts. Feelings arise and die away. Who is the me who has all these things?
I decide to focus on the mind and see where it leads. I watch my thoughts. Here I am watching my thoughts. I say the words in my mind slowly and distinctly: “Who – is – saying – this? Who – is – saying – this?” I say it fifty times. I watch the words appear out of the void, ring momentarily and return to nothing. I listen intently to the voice saying it. “Who is hearing this? Who is hearing this?” I watch the thoughts arise out of nothing and fade into nothing. Who is saying and hearing it?? There’s no one in here!!
There is no one in here. The thoughts arise by themselves and die by themselves. They come from nowhere and return to nothing. I am that which exists prior to mind, after mind, within mind and beyond mind. I am the fabric in which mind appears. With full lucidity I comprehend the old Zen koan: I became a Zen master the day I went looking for myself and found I wasn’t there.
Suddenly my thoughts seem harmless. The idea that thoughts once terrorized my mind seems so silly now that I have lost the illusion that they are me. I let them be, like a few fish jumping in and out of an infinite pond. I let them swim and jump as they may; it makes no difference to the pond. In this moment I experience pure liberation. Like so many days before I let it be.
I recognize in an instant how long I have identified as my mind, and how hard I have fought to protect that identity. I recall a quotation Ken Wilbur used in No Boundary: “Why do you think you are unhappy? Because 99% of what you do and say is for yourself, and there isn’t one.”
These things are suddenly making so much more sense.
Today I experienced as spiritual truth that I am not my mind nor anything in it. My true being is beyond the mind.
*Several writers informed by the Buddhist tradition have attempted to correct Descartes’ famous line by inverting it: I am, therefore I think.