Are We The “Functioner” In Life, Or The “Functioning?”
Buddha told his students, “When I look, there is no seer and nothing seen, there is only seeing. When I touch, there is no toucher or thing touched, there is only touching.” What did he mean?
Ultimately, all that exists is Awareness. Awareness seems to ‘project’ a material Universe, full of space, planets, beings, rocks, trees, animals and humans. At the ‘relative’ level of our ‘human experience,’ all these things seem quite real & solid. To a mind not merged with the One in the Awakened experience, the phenomenal Universe, which must have time & space in order to exist, seems like the main “thing,” the true focus, of Life. To those fully Awake, the silent, still “Container” that all those things “sit in,” the nothingness from which all those things seem to emanate, is the only ‘real’ thing.
But whatever your perspective – including all religious scientific, spiritual and non-spiritual perspectives – all tend to agree that the entire “solid, permanent” Universe is actually mostly empty space, not solid at all, and not permanent either, but rather something that will eventually re-merge with the Void it came from.
The movie seems so real – it’s story, characters, arc and emotions; you get sucked right in, and for a while you think you are actually living that story. Then the projector stops, the lights come on, and you blink your eyes in a state of disorientation for a few moments before realizing, “Oh yeah, that was just a movie.”
This blank white screen of Pure Awareness is what is Absolutely real; everything else, including the illusions of solidity, space & time, are transitory. Realizing this conceptually, pondering & inquiring about it until some part of you feels, “I get it!” can be the beginning of Awakening. Losing your sense of ‘you-ness,’ your false sense that you are a separate entity or identity, and “falling into” this Awareness until That’s what you Are,and ‘you’ fully experience your Self as That, no longer separate from anything, is Awakening.
Buddha’s name means “I am Awake,” and that Awake, enlightened perspective is what he was occupying when he said, there is no seer and nothing seen, there is only seeing. What he meant was, even when there seems to be movement or experience taking place in the Void, there is no ‘thing’ that’s being experienced, by no experiencer; there is only movement, functioning. There is no subject and no object. From our relative human perspective, when we see a tree, we conclude that the tree is an ‘object,’ outside of ‘us,’ and we are the ‘subject’ that is experiencing it, that is seeing it. Awake, we are the tree, the body-mind seeing it, all the space & ‘objects’ around it, everything else in the entire universe…and nothing at all. There is just functioning taking place, but there is no “owner” of that functioning. Kind of like your heart beating. It’s just beating, whether or not you think about it, see it or even are aware of it.
As newborns, we still experience our consciousness as One with All Consciousness. Look at any infant, wide-eyed, checking out everything outside of it and every feeling rolling through it…yet with absolutely no personally-identified sense of “I’m seeing these things, I’m having these feelings.” It’s just one big, bemused functioning of seeing & feeling.
As we grow, and hear our name and separate identity repeated and reinforced over & over, by our parents and everyone around us, we shift into thinking there’s a very concrete, separate ‘seer’ and ‘feeler’ over here, experiencing all these sensations. We start to hold ourselves as a an independent separate vantage point that privately ‘owns’ these experiences. If ‘I’ (subject) stub my toe (object) against the bedpost (another object,) I feel pain in my foot, but you (another object) don’t feel that pain…so this is my subjective experience of the objective world, not yours.
And so the mistaken identity builds and continues throughout a lifetime, with all the ‘personal’ joy & sorrow that subjective identity experiences. That is the real, unawakened, human experience, and there’s nothing wrong with it…it is wonderful, perfect and just as sacred as the Awakened one. Buddha (and myself) never told his students not to live their lives and be fully human. He simply pointed to the sacred availability of the Awakened perspective, wherein one not only has these human experiences, but also observes himself having them…and then notices that the Observer isn’t caught up in the experiences, It’s just watching dispassionately. To that Observer, things are just happening, no judgment. There is functioning going on in the Universe, but no solid, separate vantage point, no ‘me,’ experiencing the functioning. The sense of a separate me is false.