The Burning Question

December 2, 2014

00:00Audience

What I’m not grasping or not understanding—and perhaps the problem is that I’m coming from my mind; or it is the problem that I’m coming from my mind—but my mind wants to know that this sense of awareness not being limited. My experience is that I don’t know or I don’t experience, am not aware of, what’s happening outside of this room. And I’ve been told there’s seven [billion] people on the planet. I don’t understand or I’m not aware of what’s going on in their experience. So to me awareness feels limited. I don’t know if there’s a dinosaur on the outside of this building. I feel restricted by my senses. So I understand the dimensionlessness, the lack of reality of time and space, but the limitedness I don’t understand.

01:15Spira

Visualize your kitchen at home. Can you see what’s going on in it? Does that imply that the space in your kitchen is separate from the space in this room?

Audience

Yes.

Spira

Does it? How many spaces are there in the universe?

Audience

An infinite number of spaces.

Spira

Just think about that again.

Audience

This is why I didn’t want to ask a question! Sorry, I just thought of all the mouse holes in the world.

02:04Spira

Yeah, okay. Think of all the little rooms and the cavities. Are they all self-contained, sealed units of space, separate from one another?

Audience

No.

Spira

Imagine the space of this room, yeah? Before this building was built—imagine just this little portion of space before the building was put up. When the building was put up—before the building was put up, the space was completely one with all the rest of the space in the universe. When the building was put up, what happened to the space in this room?

Audience

Nothing.

Spira

And when the building is taken down, what will happen to it?

Audience

Nothing.

Spira

Exactly. So consciousness is like the space in this room. It seems to be contained in the body-mind. It seems to share the limits of the body-mind just like the space seems to share the space of the walls. When the walls of this building are taken down the space inside it won’t suddenly reunite with the space in the rest of the universe. There’s only ever been one space in the universe. And the fact that you, now, can’t see what is taking place in your kitchen doesn’t imply that the space in your kitchen is a separate space from this space here. They have always been and will always be the same space. Why couldn’t it be like that with consciousness? Why couldn’t the consciousness in which your thoughts appear and the consciousness in which my thoughts appear be the same consciousness? And just like the space in which your kitchen table appears and the space in which this table appears, relatively speaking, is the same space.

Audience

So then, what I’m trying to wrap my understanding around is that just because I don’t know the contents or I’m not aware of the contents of someone else’s experience, that doesn’t mean there’s a limit to awareness? It’s a limit of my senses, my mind?

04:47Spira

Everything you know with your mind—whether it’s your own knowledge or somebody else’s knowledge, which you don’t know—but whatever you know with your mind is limited. Even the knowledge that you do know. Let alone the knowledge that you don’t know. Yes? Whatever you know is limited. What does that tell us about the knowing with which that knowledge is known? Everything you know is illuminated or lit up by awareness. It’s known by awareness, yes? And everything that you know is limited. But what about that which knows it? Why do you think that that which knows our experience shares the limits of the known? What is there in your experience to suggest that that which knows your experience shares the limits of that which you know of the known object or thought or perception?

Audience

I think it’s just habit.

06:05Spira

It’s habit. The only reason we think like that is because we’ve been taught by our culture to think like that. That’s what all our teachers and parents (and most of them; our culture) think. We’ve just been taught to think that and we’ve never stopped to check it out for ourselves. We very rarely—of course everybody here has now stopped to check it out for themselves. That’s why we’re here—but most people never even notice: wow, there is something that is aware of my experience! I have thoughts, sensations, and perceptions. But something is aware of that. Wow! What is that? Most people never even have that thought! Our experience is illuminated by consciousness, is known by consciousness, appears in consciousness. And yet our culture systematically ignores the presence of consciousness. Once it has become obvious to us—as it has to all of us here—that there is something which knows our experience, it’s almost impossible to understand how it could have been overlooked.

07:33

I remember when it first dawned on me: something is aware of my experience. I remember this feeling of outrage that I wasn’t told this when I was five years old. Why did they teach me about maths and English and all those kings and queens, and all the battles? Why did they fill my mind full of these objects? Never once—I was educated in the best schools in England—never once did anybody say to me, “Have you ever noticed that something is aware of your experience?” I live in Oxford now, and I hold meetings once a month there. To my knowledge, only one person has ever walked out of my meetings. I’m sure other people have, but they do it… slip out. When I’m talking to someone over here, when I turn ’round I notice a few empty seats over there. But most people very politely leave. But to my knowledge only one person has ever stood up and walked out of a meeting. It was a philosophy student from Oxford University. Oxford University—that’s like Harvard or Yale. It’s one of the top educational institutions in the world. And this was a philosophy student. In other words, this was someone interested in the nature of reality. He was so outraged by what was being suggested—and I was going quite gently!—he couldn’t even wait until the end of the meeting. He just go up with this mild look. I didn’t know he was a philosophy student at the time. One of the people at the end of the meeting told me. But he just got up with this kind of barely concealed look of disdain and walked out. What are they teaching him in the philosophy department at Oxford? What do you think he’s learning?

09:46

Yeah, you’re right. It’s just a habit. It’s just because we’ve been taught: focus on objects, focus on objects, focus on objects. And if you’re not focusing on objects there’s something wrong with you; you’re boring, you’re stupid. You’re not normal, you’re dreamy. Et cetera, et cetera. I have a fourteen, nearly fifteen, year-old son who’s going through the conventional educational system in England. And he comes back and he’s not remotely interested in his work. He’s interested in his friends and football and girls are just beginning to appear on the horizon. And he couldn’t care less about history and all that. But he comes home and he has to do his prep and everything. And I find myself encouraging him to do his prep, saying, “Sorry, no, no, no. You can’t watch the European semifinals until you’re prep’s done. You’ve got to finish your history first. You’ve got to do your essay,” or whatever it is. I find myself encouraging him to do it because he’s in that system. But half of me is feeling… ugh! My heart’s not in this.

11:09

Just have the courage to stick to your experience. Don’t stick to what I’m saying. I recommend you don’t believe anything I say any more than you believe your previous teachers in school. Really, I’m not just saying that. I mean that. All I’m trying to do is to provoke in you this interest in the nature of your experience. How come my experience is known? I mean, isn’t that amazing: our experience is known! I mean, forget walking on water, or raising the dead, or anything. Experience is known! That’s incredible! There is experience! How come? What knows it? What knows our thoughts? What is it that is hearing these sounds? It’s all lit up by a light—not a physical light, but a knowing light. And that knowing light has remained present throughout our lives. The little infant, when it’s born, the bright lights that it sees, the physical sensations—they’re all known. This awareness is pristine, fully formed at birth. It doesn’t develop, it doesn’t grow. It’s just fully there, present in all experience. It hasn’t evolved. It’s just always fully formed, pristine, on. It’s always on. It doesn’t have an off button or a dimmer switch. Isn’t that amazing? What could be more interesting? What could be more interesting than to know the nature of that which knows our experience? What could trump that? What could capture our interest more than to know the nature of that which knows our entire experience?

13:36

When that interest gets awakened in us and we begin to notice this knowing, to notice this consciousness that illuminates our experience, this interest grows and it deepens. And it grows into this love to know the nature of this knowing. This is where the path of jhāna and the path of bhakti are really the same path. We’re not just casually interested. It becomes this passionate love affair. We love to know the nature of what it is that illuminates, what makes real, our experience. And people sometimes talk about their spiritual practice and their discipline as if it was the most terrible chore that they have to do. It should be the most interesting, enjoyable, fun, exciting adventure you could possibly imagine. And if it’s not the most interesting thing you could imagine doing then I would recommend that—I’m not talking to you personally now, I’m speaking in general—that you go and do whatever else is more interesting. In other words, we should just be here simply because, of all the places on Earth and of all the things we could be doing, this is what we want to be doing more than anything else because it’s so interesting and enjoyable.



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