Sooner or later, if you have not done it
already, you will ask yourself "Who am I?" When man comes out of his
slumber, and becomes aware of himself, he asks this most important question. One
becomes aware of his body, of other people just like him, his environment, of
life itself, the role one plays in it all, and what it is all about. More important,
what is this 'I', this 'me'? We like to give fancy names to philosophical questions,
like existentialism, but this will not take away the root of the questions. The
awareness of being alive and all the questions that go with it remain the same
over space and time, and one will have to find the answers for himself.
search for answers started with a dramatic and profound spiritual experience for
which I was not ready. Life sometimes decides otherwise and makes you undergo
what is in the plan. When I was around ten yours this experience would change
I was lying in bed not yet asleep when my consciousness shifted and
I became aware of another reality. The sense of being in my bedroom and even of
being in my body disappeared. I expanded in a spherical way and finally found
myself in an unlimited space. Imagine yourself being somewhere in the universe.
You can see the stars all around you. Then take the stars away, that was the space
I was in. Just me and unlimited space. It impossible to describe it accurately.
I have to resort to our mundane language to give you some idea what it was like.
The vastness of that space is beyond description. My perception was spherical,
and there was a strong sense of duality of me and that infinity. There were no
directions, there was nothing else. Nothing to grab on to. That made me extremely
afraid. I desperately wanted to get back to my body. At least that was something
I could grab on to. I needed limitations, I could not deal with unlimited emptiness.
It was a long and hard struggle, requiring all my will power to get to my body.
This experience repeated itself the next couple of evenings. In the initial phase
I sometimes felt like a big expanding balloon. The more I expanded the stronger
the sense of unlimited infinity. Because of the fear I managed to break off the
experience sooner and sooner. Finally I was able to stop it from in the beginning.
After some evenings it did not happen anymore. My parents did not know what to
think about it. They did not want to deal with it, and that was that. I guess
yogis might have understood what was happening to me but they were not around.
Although the experience stopped, it did change my consciousness profoundly. Every
time I was back into my body, I literally felt the walls of my room, the physicality
of it and the enclosure they formed. This was a tremendous, strong feeling. I
became aware that I was locked up in my physical body for the rest of my life.
It felt like a prison term. I was in a physical body and I could not liberate
myself from it whenever I wanted. I had to accept "my time" here on
Earth until the moment of death whenever that might come. From that moment on
I was different. For the first time in my life I became conscious of myself, an
"I" as a single unity, in contrast to the unlimited universe. It was
deeply felt. I could not understand the duality of the two. Furthermore I could
not understand that there were other "I's" around, other people who
also have a central "I". Why was I "me" and why was I not
somebody else? Questions, but no answers.
From that moment on there was a
new Dirk. He looked at the world with a new consciousness. He stepped out of the
dream of life in which most people live. He began to watch the people around him,
what they were doing and why they were doing it. He became sensitive to the energies
of people, looked behind their masks.
Because of this change in consciousness
and the many questions I had about life, I became religious. When I was sixteen
I happened to pass by the occult section in the public library. Books about parapsychology
and reincarnation drew my attention. This was the start of my exploration of everything
In search for answers I studied everything that had to do with
life, and who we are: the world religions, esoteric doctrines, occult teachings,
wicca, nature religions, psychology and so on. I learned that the essence of all
the different religions is the same and that many people before me had tried to
find out who we are. I found the most appealing, the most instructive, the most
clear, and the most comprehensive explanation in Tibetan Buddhism. I am not a
Buddhist, nor a monk, nor am I associated with any Buddhist monastery and I have
not read all the Tibetan scriptures. However, what I learned from Tibetan Buddhism
is far reaching and very comprehensive. Tibetan Buddhism is the top of the tree
of different Buddhist teachings. Even on the top of that tree there are some differences
in how they view the teaching, but this does not matter, as the ultimate truth
can be looked at from many different angles. I will give you here an overview
of what Tibetan Buddhism has to say about who we are, that is, how I understand
it. What follows is quite different than what we, Westeners, think reality is
and who we are. So, you will have to stretch your mind and extend your limits.
The first concept you need to have a good understanding of is 'mind'. Forget about
the Western concept of mind as being the intellect. In Buddhism 'mind' is like
a primal thing out of which everything that exists came and comes forth. The nature
of mind is empty and without foundation whatsoever. It is unobstructed and therefore
there is a continuous arising of appearances out of itself. Thus it is the source,
the origin of the diversity in the universe. Mind is primordial, self-arisen,
spontaneous and transcends space and time. Mind is the basis of everything in
the universe, including you and me.
So, first we have mind, and then out of
mind thoughts arise. Thoughts is another important concept, because it is thoughts
that create all the forms in the universe. In essence, forms by themselves do
not exist, they are actually composed out of thoughts. When Buddhism say that
everything is 'maya' or illusion it does not mean that it is not there. It means
that what we perceive and what we think the world around us is, is not what it
is in reality. Everything in the universe is a thought form. We perceive objects
as being solid and made of matter, but that is because we have been accustomed
to looking at it in this way. Quantum physics will also tell you that matter does
not exist. The so-called quantum particles out of which all matter is composed
of, are actually energy packets, and even with those energy packets we can not
really put our finger on it. For example, a quantum particle can not be defined
in space and time at the same time. They are kind of elusive. This is what our
present state of science is telling us. Spiritual masters have always told us
that there are many more subtle particles/energy forms that make up the universe,
but underlying it all is the concept of thought forms. Thoughts are created out
of mind and then take shape by creating subtle and gross particles, which we eventually
perceive as 'matter'. Take the thought away and the form will cease to exist.
We presently live in a physical world, and our consciousness has to adapt to the
experiences within this world. So it 'forgets' about the thought forms and looks
at the world as being 'solid'. It is just a matter of perception, and we have
become accustomed to it.
Where does this all tie in with who we are? Well,
in essence we are all thought forms. This thought form comes out of (our) mind
and takes shape into a physical body. Buddhism teaches that everything does not
exist by itself. Everything is a manifestation of that all-encompassing universal
mind. When mind is compared with an ocean, then everything and everyone is a wave
on the surface of that ocean. A wave arises up out of the ocean, travels along
the surface for a while and dissolves again in the ocean. The wave seems to be
a separate unity, seems to have a separate individuality and seems to move independently,
but it actually is part of the ocean and defined by the ocean. It is a temporary
manifestation. So it is with a human being. What you call 'you', the totality
of your body, emotions, thoughts and so on, and the name which you are given so
we can identify you by a personal name, is actually a temporary thought form that
came into being, lives here for a while, and will cease in the future. Here we
refer to the being of this incarnation, because Buddhism teaches reincarnation.
So, if the wave dissolves into the ocean and then rises up again in another form
(another incarnation), what is it that has remained the same and caused another
wave to rise up again? This is called the Dharmakaya, the body of realty, the
essence, the absolute. This is the essence of our being, it is always there, it
will always be.
Dharmakaya cannot be expressed in words as it transcends
everything. Nevertheless Buddhists have described it in many words, but one has
to take into account that these are only approximations. Dharmakaya is not an
abstract concept, it can be experienced here and now at any time because it is
always here. They reason why people do not experience their true essence is because
they are habituated to the thought forms that make up this world. People are preoccupied
by their bodily needs, are swept away by their emotions and constantly following
their thoughts. All this has become such a strong habit that it takes a lot of
time to change this habit and start experiencing the true essence again. So how
do Buddhist describe Dharmakaya? It is beyond mind, and it is void. It is often
called empty, but this does not mean that there is nothing there, on the contrary
it is the totality of all knowledge. It is all-encompassing, and lucidly clear.
It is without any conceptions or conceptual limitations. One might think it is
clear consciousness, but even consciousness is a temporary thing. Dharmakaya is
clear, unceasing awareness. It is self-originated and spontaneously present. It
always has been clear and luminous, from the very beginning, and is unceasing.
Is Dharmakaya, the true essence, the clear awareness, or is it the ego, the self,
or the higher self? Well, it is none of them, and this is hard to grasp for most
people. We identify so much with our ego, and the stronger the ego the better,
we think. The ego or self, Buddhists say, is nothing but a construct of the mind,
to give us a sense of a unity, of a self, of being different from others, something
that makes us feel separate from others. It does not even exist, it is an idea,
a concept, a label in which we believe. The most we can say about an ego is that
it is the sum of all your personal characteristics. The ego by itself does not
exist, nor does the idea of a self. This is one of those paradoxes that have to
be experienced because the intellect by itself might not be able to grasp or understand
it. The fact that we see ourselves as separate from others makes us believe we
must have a self, a self that is unique and different. But when you look for this
self, it cannot be found. Buddhism is strongly based on meditation and experience,
and this has revealed, and everyone can experience that for himself, that there
is no ego, no self to be found in oneself. It is just not there. Not even a higher
So, when one meditates and tries to figure out what one is made of,
what the true essence of one is, what does one find? Meditation is a gradual process
of stilling the bodily energies, the emotional ebb and flow, and especially the
continuous flow of thoughts. Now, there are many ways to approach meditation and
we are not going to go into this here. The biggest obstacles are the thoughts.
They come and go and distract us continuously. When we break through the habit
of following the thoughts we experience mind directly. The mind is the basis of
our manifestation, or our incarnation, here. Can we say it is 'my' mind. Yes and
no, you could say it is as you are experiencing it, but it is not 'your' mind
as the ego or self does not exists and thus cannot even be experienced. So what
you experience within yourself is not 'your' mind but just mind. We already gave
a description of what mind is in its universal aspect, but the same applies here.
You could also say we all share the same mind. When thoughts no longer hinder
us, then we experience empty mind. Like we said before empty does not mean that
there is nothing there, it is an experience of emptiness, it is unlike anything
we experience in our daily world.
When we have attained this state of consciousness
in which we experience the emptiness of mind, and when we are able to continuously
dwell in it while continuing our daily life, one is called enlightened, an often
misunderstood word. An enlightened being does not float around on clouds, but
is still an ordinary being living an ordinary life, however, he has found the
inner peace and tranquillity that goes with the attainment of the inner emptiness
of mind. The experience of emptiness goes together with clarity of awareness and
the feeling of unlimited inner space. At this point one is free from the karmic
cycle of birth and death. But there is one more step to take, and that is liberation.
Most Westeners think that enlightenment is it, the ultimate, but it is not. Liberation
is the final step. As long as the enlightened person holds on to the idea of emptiness
or clarity, he is holding on to a thought form, and thought forms belong to the
manifested universe. It is a question of dropping any conceived ideas and then
transcending them to experience directly the Dharmakya. Then one is completely
liberated. There is not much we can say about liberation because it transcends
everything we know.
If you have not given up reading this article by now,
you have shown great courage. The nature of being is not easy to explain or to
understand. What I wanted to give you here is a little compass that you can use
on your life path to steer you in the right direction. It takes a whole lot more
than this article to understand what it is all about, and then you need to experience
it yourself, otherwise it is just dry intellectual material. If you feel attracted
to concepts explained in this article I recommend you read more about it. There
are many good Buddhist books that explain the subject in great depth.
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