Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century

Why doesn't X have Y's experiences?

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(from Alan Watts List, Sept. 1999)

You claim that the “I” is an independently existing entity. At first I thought that you meant by this that there is only one “I” but the following discussion about X not being able to have Y’s experience seems to be arguing against this. You seem to be saying that this proves there is an experiencer within each of us; that this observer is the same throughout all of the different experiences – but that this is a different observer in each of us. You say that this experiencer, which cannot be directly experienced (because it’s what you experience with), is the “I”.

I agree with this except for the one crucial point – Advaita would claim that there are no separate experiencers. [In fact there is no experiencer at all since this would imply that there was something to be experienced and that would lead us back to duality.] But then how is it, you will ask again, that X doesn’t have Y’s experiences?

All ‘my’ thoughts, perceptions, feelings are directly perceived by my body-mind equipment. Only the eyes in this body can perceive objects from the unique perspective of this body. Only this brain will register pain signals when a brick is dropped on this body’s toe. So, basically, as long as I believe myself to be this body-mind entity, I am limited to observing its experiences. As we have already discussed in respect of lila (God playing hide and seek), there would be no point in any of this grand illusion if this were not so. It is my ignorance that brings about this deception and forces me into the belief in separate individuals.

In fact, in a very real sense, I create my own universe. I imagine into existence (from the perspective of this limited individual) objects, other ‘people’, thoughts and emotions. I believe these are all separate things and, moreover, ‘my’ things instead of ‘your’ things. But all this is just the play of lila. An illusion built upon ignorance; a snake created out of the rope. And why should my snake look like yours? Though both are illusions, there is no reason at all why they should be the same illusion; in fact it is extremely unlikely that they would be. Thus it does seem that, for example, my thoughts remain mine and inaccessible to you.

Whenever I predicate my existence in any way – say I am ‘this’ or ‘that’ – I indulge in this illusion. I ignore the reality of my true Self and limit it to some (imaginary) triviality. There is not even an entity such as a ‘thinker’ or a ‘doer’ or a ‘feeler’. This is only the ego claiming something after the event. At the moment of thinking, that is all there is. Only afterwards does the ego come in, access memory, and say ‘I thought that’ – and thus brings into imagined existence a ‘thinker’. There is no thinker even then, for there is no past – there is only the memory entering awareness as a present thought. (c.f. Watts’ story of the bird leaving footprints in the sand.)

The closest that we can perhaps come to recognition of our real Self, in the midst of this ignorance with which we have overlaid it, is at the moment of waking. Occasionally we may experience just a pure feeling of existence. Unfortunately, it is usually superseded almost immediately by thoughts such as ‘where am I?’, ‘what day is it?, as we scrabble desperately to re-establish the ego in its sense of control over our destiny.

It is this ‘I’ which remains the same from day to day, year to year throughout our lives – the simple feeling of existence. It is really the only thing of which we can be sure. If you are asked ‘do you exist?’, you can answer without any shadow of doubt; without reference to any of the illusion you have created.

It is the feeling that Francis Lucille says we should call ‘intimate’ rather than ‘private’. It is intimate because it is an aspect of our true nature. It is not private because we all have access to it and it is the same. ‘Your’ feeling of existence is the same as ‘my’ feeling because there is no you or I ultimately; there is only the one Self.

Why should we expend lots of effort investigating and discussing our various snake illusions? It is rather like a hypothetical situation, which I seem to remember putting to the list a long time ago. Suppose I had a dream in which I came across a serious road accident whilst driving. Just as I was about to telephone for an ambulance, I woke up. After waking, would I still call the ambulance?

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