The Investigation Of Reality (Sat) Via An Inquiry Into The Body

I. I Am The Body Idea

Perhaps the most basic teaching in Advaita Vedanta is that I am the body idea is ignorance (avidya) and, being ignorance, is suffering. One can hardly underestimate how essential this point is.

If I believe and feel that I am the body, then I take immediately on board the beliefs about having been born, about aging, about getting ill, and about dying. In short, identification with the body is the source of misery.

II. Two Basic Questions

Two basic questions naturally arise in experience. One is: “Where am I?” The other is: “What is?” The first is question of space, the second of reality.

Our investigation, the one sketched in what follows, can reveal that the answers converge on sat: Beingness or Reality.

III. A Teaching Tool: “A Swap”

My view is that some versions of the nondual teaching work by offering temporary, “higher” reidentifications that enable “lower” disidentifications. Just as the witness involves swapping awareness for the mind, so space (as we’ll see) involves swapping empty space for the body. How so?

Begin by investigating what the body is. It is (a) concept as well as (b) sensations. For the purposes of our investigation, let’s set aside conceptions, or thoughts, and focus solely on sensations.

Then we can ask, “Where are sensations taking place?” Our immediate reply may be: “In the body or on the surface of the body.” However, both are only concepts, so, again, for our present purposes they are ruled out. (I’ll discuss conceptions of the body in a separate post.)

Take a closer look: “Where are sensations?” Allow any sensation to arise. The sensation is an experience, yes, but where is it unfolding?

It can be seen that the sensation is unfolding in empty space. To say that the space is “empty” is to say that it is devoid of any thing. And to say that it is space is to indicate that it is “airy” and perhaps also infinite.

We might challenge the latter part by asking: “Is the space in which this sensation is occurring infinite?” Well, if it’s finite, then we should be able to find a boundary between, say, space 1 (“inside the body”) and space 2 (“outside the body”). But do we find any such distinction in direct experience? Go ahead and look: can you experience a distinction between one space and another?

You cannot. Any (mental) attempt at demarcation fails. What is revealed is that there is only one empty space.

IV. From Empty Space to Pure Awareness-Being

The question, “Where am I?,” is starting to firm up. Perhaps you are not in the body; perhaps you are “in the vicinity of” empty space. And perhaps “what there is” is not matter; perhaps it is energy. Or perhaps it is beyond energy.

But is this the end of the inquiry? It is not. Undeniably, there is one who is aware of this empty space, this field of energy. Undeniably, I am the one so aware.

But if I am aware of empty space, then it must be that I am not identical with empty space (on the Vedantic principle that the perceiver is not the perceived).

What, then, is the nature of Reality? I am. Which is to say: none other than Pure Awareness. Where is the nature of Reality? Wherever there is Awareness.

In a word, Awareness is.

So, I am not the body, and though the “swap” with empty space helps to free me from identification with the body, I’m not even space. I am that I am; I am Pure Awareness-Being.

V. Conclusion

The body identification is not an impediment to Understanding what we really are. Identification with the body naturally raises two questions: “Where am I?” and “What truly is?”

The misunderstanding is that I am in the body, which is in a spatiotemporally confined world. The Understanding is that empty space–a metaphor or symbol–arises in Me and is dependent upon Me and thus that the body idea arises in empty space, which arises in Me. And so, before Abraham was, I am.