Prior to any manifestation, awareness remains motionless and alone, knowing only its own eternal, infinite being. Awareness does not know itself as an object in the way the mind seems to know objects, and thus awareness’s knowing of its own eternal, infinite being is said to be ‘empty’ or ‘void’.
However, that is only true from the point of view of the mind, which believes objects to be real things in their own right, made out of stuff called ‘matter’. From such a point of view awareness is empty, void, not-a-thing or nothing. From its own point of view – which is the only real point of view, and is itself not a ‘point’ of view – awareness is not nothing, nor is it something. ‘Nothing’ and ‘something’ both belong to mind, for both derive their meaning from the assumption of independently existing ‘things’.
The finite mind can only know a limited object – something with limited, objective qualities, such as a thought, feeling, sensation or perception – even though it is itself made out of unlimited awareness. The mind cannot even think of awareness, for awareness has no objective qualities and the mind can only think of something objective. If the mind tries to think of awareness, it will either imagine a blank, empty object or state or, faced with the impossibility of the task, come to an end.
In fact, the mind doesn’t come to an end, for the mind is not an entity in its own right that begins and ends. When it is said that the mind comes to an end, it is meant that awareness ceases vibrating within itself and returns to its original, objectless, ‘motionless’ condition. All that comes to an end when the mind supposedly comes to an end is the activity of awareness, which awareness itself freely assumes in order to take the form of the finite mind and, as such, appear to itself as the world.
We cannot even legitimately say that awareness ‘returns’ to its original condition, any more than we can say that the screen returns to its original condition when the movie ends. Awareness is always in its original condition. It is only from the point of view of the finite mind – the activity that awareness assumes in order to manifest its infinite potential in the form of objective experience – that awareness seems to cease being in its original condition and to become an object, other or world. From its own point of view, it never becomes anything other than itself or ceases to be itself alone.
In relation to the materialist belief that the body and world are made out of something solid, material and ‘full’, it is legitimate to say that awareness is not material, that it is ‘empty’ of the solid substance out of which objects are supposedly made. However, that statement starts with the idea of matter and works its way up to awareness, instead of starting with awareness and staying with awareness alone. Awareness is the only legitimate place to start, because awareness is the primary and, in fact, the only element present in experience.
In reality, awareness is neither full nor empty. The idea that awareness is empty is a thorn that is used to remove another thorn: the idea that it is a by-product and shares the limits and destiny of matter. Awareness is beyond or prior to both fullness and emptiness, and cannot be conceptualised by the mind. We are, however, using language that has been designed to describe dualistic experience – that is, the apparent subject-object relationship in which an inside self made of mind supposedly knows an outside object, other or world made of matter – and so we have to make a concession and use such language as skilfully as possible to point towards an experience that ultimately cannot be described.
The irony is that the mind that tries to describe reality is presently creating the very duality from which it is simultaneously trying to emerge. The mind can never find, let alone describe, the reality that it seeks, for it is itself the very activity that seems to divide that reality into a multiplicity and diversity of objects and selves, each with its own name and form that can be described in language.
One might then question the legitimacy of a book such as this, or indeed any attempt to approach and describe the reality of experience, and from an absolute point of view such an objection is reasonable. In fact, all the skilful means prescribed by the religious and spiritual traditions are compassionate concessions to the mind that seeks its own reality, whether that search is felt as the desire for knowledge and understanding, the longing for peace, happiness or love, or devotion to God’s infinite being.
The mind that explores these matters is like a moth that seeks a flame. The moth is attracted by the light of the flame, just as the mind is attracted by the gravitational pull of its source and essence. However, as the moth approaches, the flame becomes hotter and hotter and the moth begins to dance around it, at once attracted and repulsed by the heat, in which it intuits it will simultaneously die and discover its heart’s desire.
Such is the play of love and resistance with which the separate self seeks and resists its true nature, intuiting that everything for which it truly longs is to be found there and knowing at the same time that in order to experience it, it must die into it. As the Sufi mystic and poet Rumi said, ‘In the existence of your love, I become non-existent.’
Likewise is the value of all spiritual discourse and practice that draws the mind inexorably inwards towards its source and reality, until at some point the mind loses its limitations and stands revealed as the very reality for which it was in search.
Rupert Spira, The Nature of Consciousness: Essays on the Unity of Mind and Matter.