Most people would probably agree that the biggest human questions are why are we here and where do we come from. We generally do not believe anyone who claims to have received a phone call from God. And even if such a claim turned out to be true, that would take all the fun out of the inquiry, wouldn’t it? Plenty of people have plenty to say about this, but no one has the ultimate credibility.
Anyone may glimpse the truth–if only for a fleeting moment, a flash, a single dramatic image, or a rare case of true spontaneous awakening. To articulate the detail and nuance of what is revealed is something else.
For example, I’m not so sure I believe in reincarnation, the cyclic return to this realm of cause and effect under circumstances determined by karma. Karma is regarded as an individual thing. “My” karma is specifically mine, unique to “my” mind stream—as if something about “me” is substantial, ongoing — apart from this identity I have spent a life creating as if it truly is “mine.”
Each of us is unique and temporary. Whatever is unique about us is itself part of a much larger and far more complex murmuration of inconceivable magnitude. We are but a single bird in a vast flock of numberless creatures. Each of us a part of the journey of the whole, a fine thread of a vast dynamic finding its way back and forth in and out of time, woven with threads of fellow beings and with the whole itself.
But there is nothing eternal about this version of “me” I have adopted. It is all a temporary suit allowing me to present the idea (of me) as if it has enduring reality. I would grant that it does, in a way, within our limited system of rules, if the universe of physics were the only universe. I am created by someone…or something. I am the author. But ultimately, I am a flawed and insubstantial interpretation of ultimate truth precisely because of my inescapable conditioned nature. At the conclusion of my allotted period of expression, I will dissolve into the reservoir of images that await their own evolutionary moment of greater expression.
I’m not sure there’s much choice involved. It’s nice to tell ourselves that we “chose” this body or this identity for this life to learn something. It is temporarily satisfying. And it may even be close to the truth. But I do not fully subscribe to this idea. A non-dual view suggests there is no such thing as a separate consciousness that drives that choice. Again, we seem to be temporary expressions of a consciousness that is in constant flux, moving into and out of these brief material manifestations and weaving ourselves into networks of similarly transitional expressions, aka other beings.
From the non-dual view, how can we define karma as strictly individual? So much is spoken about relative and absolute truth. The same distinction might be made about karma—as if there is a relative karma of our everyday transactions, the everyday activity of mind, the unconscious habits of attention that we adopt to manipulate the outer or inner world, including our interpretations of the world and the actions we take in regard to all those related events.
We understand the meaning of karma to be “action”—which initiates and sustains the cycle of cause and effect, what we know as samsara. All of samsara, every bit of it, is karmically generated. Karma is the seed within every action of every being, including our attachment to our mental delusions, in the sense that they initiate the harvest of effects that arise in our lives.
Given the vast field in which we act, including the familial, tribal, the collective social context, the political and the global, to focus on individual karma is to overlook the true nature of our presence. To fully appreciate the nature of our predicament, we have to place ourselves within a multi-layered reality that is itself only a relative version of the journey we are all on, which is itself a relative version of the timeless condition of no condition, the ceaseless condition of arising and non-arising.
We operate not only in helplessness and confusion. There is also bewilderment, a primal search for our eternal nature beyond the laws of physics, mixed with an awareness of our physical nature hopelessly anchored in the laws of physics. Sure, there is a karmic component of all our transactions; there is also a karmic component to our interpretations of events. This is the karma of our karma, predisposing the interpretation of the activity we are observing. We can never have an objective view. There is no such thing.
Adopting tools of interpretation can either facilitate awakening or inhibit it. We are boxed in by our own box. Our habits of mind operate regardless of our intent or our self-reinforcing assurances. Our view is always inescapably relative. No doubt we do have karmic encounters for some mutual purpose. If we differentiated karma, we might say relative karma applies to the individual, while absolute karma is a aggregate condition of the whole, the entire fabric of samsara we share.
Our lives–what we experience as the separate nature of our journey–are brief holographic representations of the whole truth, the entire timeless web of existence, the knowing that fuels us and which so frequently stumps and confuses us. At that moment of entering the realm of physics, the universe of sensation, we lose awareness of the whole. We enter the realm of forgetting, helplessness and bewilderment. There is no going back. There is no recovery. There is no absolute solace. Whatever true perspective, equanimity or peace we may achieve comes only with great diligence…and is itself impermanent.
Our ultimate nature, the timeless and absolute view, always present, is pure, fearless, compassionate awareness. These words alone, being frail derivatives of non-conceptual reality, fall hopelessly short of conveying unconditioned nature. They convey what appears to have distinct attributes such as purity or compassion or fearlessness. But these terms are redundant. They describe a single facet of a condition having no attributes, that is indivisible and cannot be described in terms appearing to differentiate one quality from another.
There is no purity without awareness. There is no awareness without compassion. Compassion does not exist apart from fearlessness. Anything detracting from the purity of open awareness is obscuration. Fear is a characteristic of our embodied condition, the dualism of confusion and bewilderment inherent to the universe of sensation.
If this is the truth of our ultimate nature, then every moment we are ensnared in the mental universe, conceptualizing and imagining these qualities to be separate attributes of truth, we are failing to notice the dynamic nature, the unity, the immeasurable spontaneous, ever-renewing beauty of moment-to-moment presence.