All sentient beings must always appear as beings, objectively extended in space/time, but what they are non-phenomenally can never be perceived or conceived because they are what is perceiving. Knowing this is not Enlightenment but understanding this might be the basis of the spontaneous intuition that can result in Awakening. Understanding what-we-must-be is unlikely to shift our conditioning which firmly anchors us in a belief in what-we-are-not. But understanding that we don’t exist as anything objective or factual may, by creating a negative ‘void’ in our minds, achieve a balance of negative and positive or Yin and Yang, allowing space for the intuition of what-we-really-are – which is what the Chinese Masters taught.
Can religion help us to understand? Some choose to say that Mind or Consciousness is God but at the same time make the fundamental but primitive error of turning God into an object that has to be propitiated, worshipped and feared. The histories of all the major religions show how this error has been exploited in pursuit of power and money. The insights of the originators (not necessarily and in fact rarely the founders) of all these religions, that we are God, that there is no God but ‘I’, was distorted almost (but not completely) beyond recognition. The original truths only survive in the West in the esoteric branches of the major religions such as Sufism, Kaballah and Christian Mysticism.
While ‘truth’ (put into inverted commas because truth is the absolute absence of any kind of truth) is hidden in the religious; religions as such cannot go back and correct their distortions without ceasing to exist as institutions. One cannot have a religion in which everyone believes they are God! So established religion is never likely to lead to understanding. But then neither can Science, which objectifies everything and even tries to objectify the non-objective. Scientists, with a limited grasp of what-is, seem determined to perpetuate the myth that Science contains all truth and it is only a matter of a short time before we all understand what that is. This situation is unlikely to change although some of the great, such as Einstein, Böhm and Schrödinger, admitted to being at the limits of the objective and there seem nowadays to be more and more, mostly physicists, who are waking up to the fact that you cannot have the observed without the observer. However, some of them make the mistake of assuming that a combination of Religion and Science will somehow get us to complete understanding.
With Religion and Science unable to bring us understanding, what is left? The answer must be Philosophy and in particular the branch of philosophy that deals with Being and Knowing which is Metaphysics. Western philosophy seems to have exhausted itself; it is little more nowadays than comparative study of past thought and seems unable to foster understanding from within its own traditions (though many of the Greek Masters and modern philosophers such as Bishop Berkeley and Immanuel Kant were pointing in the right direction). What is lacking are the insights of Eastern Philosophy and the Chinese and Indian Masters that still make stunning reading today in the simplicity and directness of just a few recorded statements.
Are we ready for it? Certainly, the expression of this understanding seems to be becoming more evident in modern, assimilable form. In books, on the web and in discussion groups, more and more attempts are being made to put into words what cannot adequately be expressed in language and these attempts can trigger the intuition in us that is understanding itself. Then the search is over with the understanding that what is sought is the seeker and the seeker is the sought.
And that’s all there is to it. What? What do we do about it? Why, nothing, of course! How can anything we do have the slightest effect on the matter? We are not the doer – how can the dreamed do anything? All we can do is understand. That’s all we need to do. All the answers to questions about how we should live our lives are enshrined in the profound understanding of the answers to WHO AM I? and WHAT ARE WE?
FURTHER THOUGHTS [added May 2013]
After all the preceding, the understanding should be that we don't exist except as phenomena, i.e. appearances. But that, somehow, is not entirely satisfactory. It may be ultimate truth but daily living with 'ourselves' and 'others' must be on the basis that the world exists and is our reality, however illusory. We are not likely get on well with our friends, relatives and neighbours by telling them they don't exist! So our living with the understanding is likely to be on two levels – the 'let's pretend' in the life game we play with those who don't understand and the lucid, essentially private, living that comes with understanding. One option might be to try to get those around us to understand but that can seem an impossible task unless one is driven by evangelical fervour. The loss of or reduction in the sense of self that comes with understanding seems more likely to lead to a 'who cares?" attitude.
Maybe we have to accept what Wei Wu Wei touches on in one of his books that the vast majority of people (at least in the West) are perfectly correct in their undestanding of reality: ".....as long as they think they exist, they do exist – for existence, which can only be apparent, being entirely phenomenal and objective, is conceptual only, and such is their concept....there is no other reality in the cosmos." In other words, they are being consistent and are not wrong in their assumptions. Identifying with a self is what we are brought up to do and those who fail to achieve the socially accepted degree of identification are psycho-analysed or therapised until they do. Would it be right to assume that we are doing it all wrong and should awaken to the truth? I'm personally glad that the inventor of my washing machine was driven to do it. If we were all 'awakened' we might live in peace with each other but with no self to have ambitions or express ourselves, life, though joyous, would surely be the poorer. After all, most art is the expression of the anxiety of not knowing. It is significant that the 'awakened' don't produce art. Why? Because there is nothing left in them to express.
Is the apparent evolving of self-awareness in human beings how it has to be in spite of the mess we so often seem to make of it? Is 'enlightenment' and the accompanying loss of the sense of self just a return to the condition of the rest of the animal kingdom – an abberation in the unfolding of evolution? I'm sure the 'awakened' wouldn't think so. Without exception they seem to have arrived at a place that is 'right'. I don't know; I only understand. But then I am perfectly happy with myself and wouldn't want to lose it now after all the work I've put into it. I've lived with and nurtured it for 80 years to the extent that it is unlikely now to simply disappear. With understanding and self, I can have my cake and eat it.
But, while what I have been describing in these pages leaves few loose ends in the 'how' of life, the 'why' remains open and ungraspable. Perhaps that is how it must always be because, although we are the whole, we cannot see the whole and can never hope to insight the meaning behind it all.