The Absolute Enigma

Chapter 1 from Living Nonduality

More than twenty years ago, my (second) wife and I divorced, after ten years of marriage. We both had, originally, looked forward to our years ahead with each other, and had planned for a comfortable retirement. I was in my early forties when we married, and I focused my attention on a career (as an insurance agent) so that we might further our goals. In so doing, I put aside what had been a primary interest prior to my marriage and this career: the “spiritual pursuit”, for enlightenment.

After we divorced, I recognized that I had some unfinished business: it revolved around “the meaning of life”, which is at the bottom of the spiritual pursuit—to which I returned.

As soon as our house was sold, I took my share of the equity and bought a fully-equipped camper van. I parked it on the property of an absentee friend in the redwood forest, near where I had been living in Northern California. I lived there in virtual solitude: reading, contemplating, taking walks for hours in the forest. At the end of three years, something suddenly fell into place. The spiritual quest resolutely came to an end. I discovered the actuality which is inescapable.

The inseparability of all things, which has been referred to persistently by mystic sages for 3,500 years of our written history, is commonly spoken of as “oneness” (or Oneness). There is an aspect of this oneness which is rather apparent to most any attentive mind. But the aspect which seems to give many of us some difficulty has to do with our personal, individual relationship to this oneness. This latter aspect is the matter which had now become clarified for me.

It was not that something was added to my fund of knowledge; it was that I saw the truth in what was already actually present but which had been overlooked or ignored. The situation is similar to one of those “optical illusions,” which you have probably encountered: what appears to be, say, a black candlestick and its holder is displayed against a white background. But in addition to this apparent picture is a picture which is not so apparent; if the white portion is viewed as the foreground and the black, candlestick portion seen to be its background, an entirely different picture emerges: the outline of two matching profiles whose noses nearly touch.

My relationship to the whole of existence was now revealed in a radically different light. If you were to view a fish in an aquarium, for instance, directly head on, what you would perceive would be remarkably different from what you would perceive if you were to shift your perspective so as to observe it broadsided. It would not be a different fish than it had been—and nothing would have been added to it—but your perception of it would now be thoroughly different.

This radical, and sudden, shift in perspective was received like good news by me. Where before there had been confusion and perplexity concerning the relationship of the individual to the whole of existence, now there was a calming clarity. There was a profound resolution of the uneasy questing which had punctuated my prior years, a resolution which was not transitory because it has not since been apart from my general awareness.

I hoped to share the good news, particularly with those whom I knew to have quested concurrently with myself. I knew, from my own experience, that a certain element of this unitive understanding is communicable from one mind to another; the analogy is sometimes given of a flame leaping from one torch to another torch. Probably a more apt analogy is that of a center-fielder making a throw to home plate: if the catcher is not fully attentive, there is nothing within the center-fielder's power which will complete the transmission. But the fact that the transmission may rarely be received is not a reason for inaction.

There is a certain reasonableness, or even “logic”, to the unitive understanding—up to a point. However, in the case of this uncommon understanding, there is a point beyond which logical progression will not take you. At that point, only an intuitive connection can be made. However, once the tumblers have fallen into place, it matters not that a hairpin replaced a key.
For the past fifteen years, I have conducted a considerable number of discussions (both individually and in groups) with persons who indicated their interest in resolving—and in recognizing that they had resolved—what has been called the perennial question. I have carefully observed the junctures at which their confusion compounded. I have also observed that for a few individuals there was no point at which their confusion was not surmounted, to their satisfaction.

The essence of the unitive understanding is that it is liberating; the marvel of the unitive understanding is that it is basically effortless. Its liberation is a consequence of the non-attachment it engenders. This is not a detaching of piece from piece, item by item. It is an across-the-board release of attachment, which even includes non-attachment to the continuity of one's life. This dispelling of attachment is, in the same moment, the dispelling of correlated fear—and that is dynamic liberation.

And, so, it is not that one first removes fear; removes attachments; and then the unitive revelation falls into place: it is that the latter is coincident with the former. This is the true marvel of the unitive realization, the effortlessness of the deconstruction.

Based on my observation, up to this moment, there is a cistern of confusion which bedevils nearly every discussion concerning the unitive realization. I will say what that is, and then I will explain the meaning: mis-identifying the relative as the absolute. Until this matter of relationship is clear to you, I predict that any further consideration will be fruitless. Conversely, when this matter is clear to you, it may be unnecessary to ponder further.

Relative, of course, means that which depends upon another for its identity or pertinence. Martha is your aunt because she is your mother's sister, and you are related to her because you are her nephew. The condition we call warm depends upon not being hot nor cold. You are you because, by definition, you are not I. The degree of light visible is relative to the degree of dark which might otherwise be visible.

So, the fact that Martha is your aunt is relative to the condition of you being her sister's son. Warm is relative—in unequal proportions—to hot and cold. You are you because you stand in relationships to what is defined as I. Light is merely a reference of relationship to dark. And so forth.

To view a particular thing in relationship to some other things—the price of steak today is high, compared to the price of hog maws—is our “normal”, or at least typical, way in which we view everything. This is a mode, or framework, of perception which we have traditionally so taken for granted that it does not usually even occur to us to question it. But is relative perception the only perception that's available to us? Is there a perception available to us which does not depend upon a relative perspective? This might lead to another question: Is there anything which is not relative—which does not depend upon anything else for its identity or pertinence?

Apparently, we humans suspect that there is at least one thing which is not relative, because we universally have a word for it, which in English would be rendered as absolute. The very meaning of the word absolute is “not relative; not dependent upon anything else."

The importance of this preceding statement somehow seems to slip past our attention. The absolute is not the opposite of the relative. If the absolute were the opposite of anything, it would have to stand in a relationship to that thing. The absolute is not relative to anything, not dependent upon any thing for its identity or pertinence. If this were not so, it would—by definition—not be absolute, it would be relative.

To put it another way, the absolute is “beyond”—not confined to—any thing which is relative. (And since it is, by definition, non-relativity itself, all that is not “it” is, by definition, relative.)
And so, if it were possible to perceive in a non-relative way—to return to our previous question—we could (for lack of alternatives) say that it would be to perceive in an absolute way.

However, we are trained to, and habitually accustomed to, perceive in a relative way. The very activity of thought is to interpret that which the senses apprehend by dividing the sense impressions into relative elements (the better to leverage one against the other, for physical survival or continuity). A non-relative viewing is entirely foreign to our customary thought process: in fact, to the relative thought of our personal individuality, it is fatal. Therefore, the thought-processing mechanism (which we collectively call the mind) guards assiduously against such an “unnatural” perception.

You will recall that earlier in this discussion it was asserted that, at one point in the unitive revelation, “only an intuitive connection can be made.” This intuitive connection, revealing the full dynamic of the absolute, is recognized by the reflective ego as the death knell for the presumption of individual personhood.

And the thought process is not entirely in error in arriving at such a conclusion. True unitive awareness—profound understanding of relationship regarding the absolute—cannot help but impact upon every idea of individuality or separability.

For, that which is not confined to the relative (and all that is not absolute is, by definition, relative) is not confined to relative limitation. Put another way, an explanatory meaning which man has given to the word absolute is “without limitation.” This is usually defined (in more positive terms) as infinite, in reference to space or time: not finite, not an entity, therefore not in relationship to things. Specifically, the dictionary renders the word thus: “without limit or boundary, beyond measure or comprehension, without beginning or end.” In short, beyond—or transcending—anything which could be considered relative. Not surprisingly, the Infinite is another name for God. Organized religions hasten to tell us that we are not that. So does our mind. Both have a vested interest in that conclusion.

We all have a choice at any given moment. We can continue to (as we each have been conditioned to do) perceive our self—and each and every thing which is “outside” of, or “around,” our self—as a separate entity, standing in relation to all those things we define as not our self.

Or, we can recognize that our relative perspective obfuscates the possibility of a perspective which is “without limit or boundary”, the perspective or perception of absolute inseparability. We are free, in other words, to remove the self-imposed limitation or boundary between our “self” and the “infinite”, at any and every moment.

In fact, the removal of this boundary is what has traditionally come to be known as enlightenment. And the effortless removal of this boundary is effected in the sudden, certain realization that such a boundary has never actually existed.

You (and only you) can see for yourself that this is so. To do so, you need to be willing to—at least temporarily, while exploring the dynamic—suspend your relative habit of thinking. At some point, you need to discern where linear thinking has reached its limit, and free the psyche to move from what it knows to what it does not know.

This is one of the reasons why it is so important to understand what is relative, regarding the absolute. Anything which would be truly absolute (and, for the time being, we will assume that there is such a thing) could not be envisioned in comparative terms (“It's like …”; “It's not like…”). Therefore, obviously, there is no means of describing the absolute. All that can be accomplished, in discussing it, is to recognize the ways in which the relative (which we “know”) is not the absolute (which we cannot, logically, know). As sages have said: to recognize the false as the false is to see the truth.

You may also appreciate the difficulty of discussing the non-relative within the confines of a language which is purely relative; our linear, rational thinking process is entirely dependent upon that very same language. Nevertheless, this has—some times—been the apparent means by which unitive awakening has been transmitted from one to another.
For the sake of continuing our discussion, we will assume that there is that which can be defined (which is, of course, a limitation) as the absolute: its nature, according to those who claim to have perceived that, is infinite, eternal, free of causation, and—given that it exists—actual.

For shorthand, let me refer to this as Q (since many other appellations—Tao, for example—are already “loaded” with inferences), in some of the monographs that follow.

If Q were infinite, it is not that it would be too vastly “long” to measure (conversationally, we might speak of the cosmos, say, as “infinitely wide”; that is a misuse of the word); it would be too ubiquitous to measure. That which is entirely unlimited and unbounded is uncontainable, thus unlocatable. Not restricted by anything, there could be no point at which it was not; permeating everything that was material or immaterial, no such thing as “space” would remain. There being no location at which it was not already fully present, “distance” would be irrelevant: here is there, without interface. Knowing no capability of isolation within itself, at any and every point of its occurrence it would all be entirely, 100% present. And having absolutely no borders, margins or perimeters, it could in no manner be regarded a separate entity. It is not an “infinite being,” it is superlative to being. Not being any “thing”, it is never present in “part”—it has no parts. Nor can anything possibly have been apart from it: it is absolute, which means whole, complete and entire—unfragmentable, and unavoidable.
Similarly, if Q were eternal, this does not mean “lasting forever in time”; it means time-less, utterly beyond relationship to time, either linear or comparative. Neither existence nor nonexistence are relevant to Q. Being omnipresent, there is no moment when it is not present; nor is it any more nor less present at any particular instant. In fact, with no capability of not being present, it is pointless to say that it is present: it was no more present in the “past”, and will be no more present in the “future”, than it is “now”; to it, past, future and now are meaningless. Being wholly free of temporal limitation, the entirety of eternity is in no way apart from this very moment. Anything which is, ever has been, or will be actual is not in the least removed from this actual instant.

Unlimited through space and time, having no center, no point of origin, no spatial or temporal continuum for “cause and effect”, Q is spontaneously self-actualizing, without “internal” or “external” referencing. With no “other” in relationship to it, not anything is comparable to it. It is immanently present while, simultaneously, it transcends existence. Being in every place at all times, it has no separate or special identity. Having not even an opposite, there is no way in which it is incomplete.

This is the wholly non-relative, the absolute. Carefully consider it, for your own sake. If there were a possibility of anything which could be described as infinite, eternal, uncaused, and actual, what could possibly stand apart from—or in relation to—it? Except you, perhaps?
All of the things which man thinks of as relative to each other (such as “you” and “I”) are simultaneously inseparable from this non-relative actuality. This presence (or anything which we would call absolute) could not be apart from anything, however relative it may appear to, or be thought to, be. We may, consciously or unconsciously, choose to perceive from a relative viewpoint. But that is not the sole perception that we are capable of.
From the so-called “cosmic”, or non-dual, viewpoint, our chronic perception of things as relative to, and separate from, each other is false. To recognize that it is false is to open the mind to the potentiality of truth.

Where there is any possibility that the essential condition in this cosmos is the condition of an all-pervasive presence, please inform me how you could be apart from that. This is not to say that, from the relative viewpoint, some thing cannot be argued to exist apart from its “creator”, or some such. But one must recognize, as I trust you do, that the nature of the absolute does not lend itself to finite distinctions. When you refer to “me” on one hand, and “God” on the other, you are not in a discussion of the non-relative. This, again, is one of the reasons why it is important to understand the indivisible essence of the absolute.

And it is this understanding—when it is so clear as to be startling—that is the substance of unitive realization. When it is indubitably recognized that your nature and the nature of the absolute are fundamentally the same, indivisible nature, this is the “recognition of one's true identity": the realization that any and all identity is eclipsed by an actuality which renders separative distinctions ultimately meaningless.

Such a realization, or non-dual perspective or awareness, cannot help but have a profound effect on one's consideration of “personal individuality”. One cannot recognize that truth, of all-pervasive indivisibility, and continue to maintain the fiction of separate personification—of the “me” that was born and the “I” which dies.

This fruit of the realization—that the absolute essence of all being does not “come” from some place nor “go” anywhere—quenches our deepest, final fear, the fear of extinction. Then the liberated may, indeed, “take no thought for the morrow.”