From Reality-Maps to Rude Awakening — The fallacy of no-mind and how it blocks spiritual realization
23 Dec 2013
Most of us believe that once we spiritually awaken, the mind stops and we find ourselves infinitely wise, compassionate and peaceful. The truth is a moron that wakes up is still likely a moron, and it is this realization that can actually set us free.
JUST BECAUSE something is on the map is no guarantee that we can find it in real life. And conversely, just because something is missing from the map is also no guarantee that it does not actually exist. This is to be expected as maps can never be one hundred percent congruent with reality. If they were, they would have to be as complex and therefore incomprehensible as reality itself, and they would not fit in our pockets! The whole usefulness of maps is their data-selectivity that reproduces only specific features of the landscape — the minimal features we actually need to get from A to B and cutting out everything else, despite that "everything else" being more than 99% of reality. And in the same way, the whole usefulness of reality-maps — those conceptual maps that we use to make sense of our experience of reality — is that they are enormously selective and abbreviated versions of reality that can be used and understood by our limited minds.
Reality-maps are available for many different worldviews, from scientific to religious worldviews. Traditionally, these maps have been confused with reality because humanity was not conscious enough to be aware of the mind's reality-mapping process. This had the advantage of bringing a shared vision of the world which bound each tribe, race and nation together in one shared destiny, which was vital for both group and individual survival. However, this also meant that individuals, tribes, races and nations with different reality-maps were regarded as extremely dangerous and subversive, and this clash of contradictory reality-maps has been a major cause of the countless wars and persecutions that have raged throughout history. Holding alternative reality-maps was a dangerous pastime, which is why so many secret societies sprung up over the centuries to preserve and promote alternative worldviews in the face of persecution.
Up until the 16th or 17th Centuries, alternative reality-maps lived though these secret societies, with the vast majority of people unaware of alternative ways of mapping reality. But then a reality-map was formulated that was so practically useful that it could not be hidden. That reality-map was the scientific reality-map and it allowed those that used it to control natural forces, opening the way for the development of technology which would enormously raise living standards. So for the first time two different reality-maps were out in the open in the same societies, a long established one based on a patriarchal god controlling and deciding all fates, and an upstart based on blind forces of nature controlling and deciding all fates. (There were instances of multiple out-in-the-open theistic reality-maps in previous times, but they actually had a lot in common.)
Some people object to science being equated to religion as far as the mapping process goes because they feel that the fruits of science — technology — offers solid evidence that somehow science is more real than just a mapping process. Science is held to be more objective than a mere belief system or worldview because it works so well and is supposed to be entirely formulated from the results of systematic investigation or experiment, rather than belief and prejudice. But the success of a reality-map in no way makes it any more real than an accurate road map.
Science is "done" by human beings, and all its systematic "objective" investigation is mediated through consciousness. Therefore despite its success at modeling reality it is still an objective interpretation of subjective experiences. Those experiences might involve "objective" measuring devices like stopwatches and particle accelerators, but the design and use of those devices always involves subjectivity. And that subjectivity naturally creates reality-maps to interpret what the experimental results and the mathematics actually mean. (For a more in-depth discussion on the limitations of science see: How to Defend Yourself Against a Scientist.)
It is also important to realize that the systematic investigation of experience to produce technology is not unique to science. In fact, it is a basic definition of human intelligence, and it forms the basis of cultural evolution. Even meditation masters and yogis, which most would not consider scientific at all because meditation is so subjective, have used systematic investigation of experience to formulate entire systems of knowledge that also seem to work objectively, as many of the investigations into the abilities of yogis to control autonomic functions of the nervous system can attest. (The Tibetan Book Of The Dead is another example of a system of knowledge formulated systematically from deep meditative investigations, although it would be difficult to verify its authenticity today using the intellect alone.)
So science, no matter how successful, is another reality-map such as religion. It may be very successful, but so are the religious reality-maps: they give those who hold to them the comfort of greater meaning to life and death. This makes difficult lives more bearable by giving a wider context to suffering and the brevity of life. These religious maps have therefore provided a vital service for much of humanity, making them difficult to dismiss as useless or dangerous fantasy, as many modern atheists do.
When the established religious reality-maps and the new scientific reality-maps appeared at the same time in the same society, neither of them were going to just go away because both were indispensable to society: the religious one for keeping social order, morality and cohesiveness; and the scientific one for allowing technological development. At first, individuals were either in one camp or the other: generally the uneducated masses kept hold of the religious reality-map whilst the intelligentsia (apart from those indoctrinated into the Church) quickly adopted the new scientific reality-map. But over the generations, most started drifting into the scientific worldview due to the amazing technologies it bestowed, and this has caused the massive secularizing that has taken place in Western society over the last few hundred years.
Because both maps were so successful in their own ways, many individuals also learned to become comfortable holding two contradictory reality-maps whose usefulness in different areas and contexts overshadowed worries about their mutual exclusivity. In this way, many came to the understanding that reality-maps were just maps of reality, and not reality itself, and that these maps were equally valid (and invalid), but in different contexts and situations. This marked the birth of Post-modernism, where the reality-mapping process became conscious.
In these modern times, alternative reality-maps no longer need the safety of secret societies, and in conjunction with vastly increased levels of information distribution via the Internet, these reality-maps are venturing out from their hiding places, making many secret societies redundant (outside of ego boost they provide to their members). We live in an age of disclosure.
Those who think their maps are the world are often labeled as fundamentalists, and as a consequence of their literalism, they tend to vigorously defend their reality-maps and define any part of reality that cannot be found on their maps as illusory. So for example, consciousness is dismissed by most orthodox scientists as an illusion of complex information networks, just as the fossil record as evidence for life before 4004 BC is dismissed by strongly fundamentalist Christians. But as different aspects of contradictory maps became harder to dismiss, especially as communication opened up with the printing press and later with television and the Internet, many people have preferred to patched together reality-maps into super-reality-maps to try to cope with the ontological headache of multiple useful but contradictory reality-maps. This allows maps to continue to be confused with reality because they seem less contradictory when patched together.
So some physicists, for example, are adding consciousness to the physics reality-map by bolting it on at the quantum theory edge, despite the fact that the physics reality-map is ultimately mathematical, and that the condition for map additions is that they are mathematically consistent with the rest of science. As only the most rudimentary aspects of consciousness can even be quantified, consciousness is not something that can be adequately described mathematically and therefore such a "bolt-on" is more an act of faith and philosophy than physical science. (It is important to remember that the philosophy of science is not science — it is the interpretation of science: a translation from mathematics to ordinary human language. So just because our pet theory is congruent with scientific philosophy does not make that theory science.)
Another example might be a Rabbi who extends his own religious reality-map by patching on the scientific reality-map in the "works of God" section of his map. In this way, science becomes a subset of a larger reality-map which can then give science a theistic context. In fact, this sort of bolt-on is very common for those operating out of religious reality-maps: science is bolted on despite there being no precedence for doing so in the religious scriptures that delineate those religions. Fundamentalists who hold up holy scriptures as the Word of God will mostly reject this sort of hybridisation, but there is an increasing number of people who are becoming comfortable with it.
Reality-map hybridisation with the scientific reality-map is the most popular because science is most easily confused with reality as it works so well at producing technology. An iphone is a tangible testament to the validity of physics! But the scientific reality-map is only useful to those looking for questions with quantifiable answers, which is exactly what is needed when developing technologies. But those who do not understand science are quite happy to mistake the philosophy of science with actual science. The mathematical aspect is actually the primary reality-map, and the philosophy is a further interpretation of this reality-map — a map of a map.
Today, in the New Age or New Consciousness movement, there is a tendency to patch together the conspiratorial reality-map with spiritual reality-maps, despite the two have very different roots and assumptions. In the conspiratorial reality-map we are victims of larger conspiracies perpetrated by a powerful elite, whereas in the spiritual reality-maps we are masters of our fate and create our own reality. This can cause a somewhat confusing and contradictory message, but one that can be somewhat allayed by having the conspiratorial reality-map as a subset of a much grander spiritual reality-map, so that the victim-hood of conspiracy becomes a chosen incarnation from a spiritual perspective.
Another notable hybridisation is that between the ecological reality-map and the spiritual reality-map. The two systems are actually mutually exclusive as one is an open system and one is a closed system. But few are aware of the exclusivity, and the two are often put together in a hybrid called spiritual ecology. (For a more detailed examination of the contradictions in these two reality-maps, see Spirituality vs Ecology.)
What is important to see here is that this sort of reality-map hybridisation is being done by those who are uncomfortable with reality-mapping and would prefer the comfort of the maps being the territory. Reality-map hybridisation is actually the return of fundamentalism (or a way to stay in fundamentalism). As this process of hybridisation makes maps more inclusive, they are easier to confuse with reality as they cover more facets of experience — there is less exclusion. But this is fundamentalism all the same. Try arguing with a staunch New Ager (the New Age reality-map is a classic hybridisation between spiritual, ecological and scientific reality-maps) that maybe we do not create our reality, and you will get just as strong a reaction as arguing with a Christian Fundamentalist about biblical accuracy or an orthodox scientist about the primacy of consciousness. The definitions and vocabulary have changed, but its business as usual for bind faith in belief systems.
Now I am not saying that having a broad conceptual view of reality does not have its uses, but we must remember that we cannot conceptualize reality without getting intimately involved with an intersessionary mapping process. That is just the nature of conceptualization: concepts separate us from reality because they are providing symbols for experience, and symbols by definition are not what we are experiencing but represent what we are experiencing. (Although, at the same time, they have their uses, such as in the development of the computer which allows you to read this article.)
So we are actually better off using multiple reality-maps than trying to patch them together into a single hybrid reality-map, because moving between reality-maps makes us more conscious of the mapping process. This serves as a constant reminder not to be too sure of our conceptual truths. But if we are tempted to use hybrid reality-maps that give the illusion of covering everything, we are more likely to fall into the "map is the territory" fallacy.
This problem is further compounded when spiritual teachers (including orthodox religious teachers) and New Age psychologists insist on including direct spiritual/consciousness experience on their reality-maps, when such experiences bypass the reality-mapping process altogether and so cannot actually be mapped by definition. This creates a conceptual illusion of spiritual experience or direct consciousness, which serves only to block those using such maps from actually having direct experiences of consciousness without the overlay of conceptualisation. The map user becomes lost in conceptual spirituality, and the true taste of the freedom beyond reality-maps is forfeited. Once we have maps in our heads, they can be difficult to let go because they become security blankets for the ego. As Krishnamurti said: "The day you teach the child the name of the bird, the child will never see that bird again." Nobody wants to give up reality-maps when they give us so much security and self-validation.
But there is also a strong inner thirst in many people to look past reality-maps to direct experience or awareness. This thirst is called the spiritual fire or the urge to awaken and it drives us on the spiritual quest, but it is all too easy for that quest to become a quest for a more profound or deeper reality-map. And that will take seekers to this teacher and that teacher — the vast majority of them offering the fool's gold of another spiritual reality-map. And even when the seeker finds an authentic teacher offering the real gold of direct experience, it is all too easy for the seeker's mind to try to map the experience, so that the teacher becomes the inspiration for a reality-map that he or she is not even promoting! We are so addicted to the reality-mapping process that even when we are shown how to stop, we just draw up the "how to stop" reality-map and think that that is enough. It is like going to a restaurant and settling for the menu rather than the food.
Many teachers tolerate their students' endless reality-mapping of direct experience or awareness because it keeps them in business. Outside traditional monastic settings, awakened students tend to go off and either disappear into life or become teachers themselves. So, as the pharmaceutical industry learned a long time ago: why cure people and lose their business when you can keep them as long-term customers? And that is what unfortunately happens in spiritual circles with endless talks about awakening, which keeps students as students, or seekers as seekers. This is further bolstered by continual validation, by both the teacher and his or her students, of the teacher-student social structure, so that the whole spiritual drive is hijacked to support the teacher-student reality-map. Krishnamurti once said: "Authority of any kind, especially in the field of understanding, is the most destructive thing. Leaders destroy the followers and the followers destroy the leaders." It is sad to see and it is mostly unconscious, even on the part of the teacher.
Whilst we might understand a teacher who is not awake playing these sorts of games, can this really be possible with authentically awake teachers who are conscious of the reality-mapping process? Surely an awakened master would not fall for unconscious desire?
There is a dirty little secret at the heart of non-dual spirituality: when we awake to Truth, we do not necessarily become all-wise and all-loving. In fact, most of the reality-maps that we had before are dragged along with us into our new awakened life. Hopefully we are conscious enough to modify them over time to cope with our new non-identity, but this does not always happen. And even when the use of these reality-maps no longer validates ego, reality-maps have other uses that keep them in commission.
For example, when a teacher communicates to a student, he or she has to speak using language, and language is a reality-map. The teacher still has to use the structures of language such as 'I' and 'you' and the subject-object dualistic reality-map to verbally communicate with the student (although of course there are other levels of silent communication). So a complete idiot can have a direct experience of reality (many have) — can wake up — and then start expressing idiotic ideas and instruction to his or her students because the idiot teacher is still functioning from his or her idiotic reality-maps that still lurk somewhere in the mind. So awakening is no inoculation against idiocy. Some people do radically change during the awakening process, but most personality and body traits carry through.
Before awakening idiocy; after awakening idiocy.
Before awakening sexual predation; after awakening sexual predation.
Before awakening poor communication; after awakening poor communication.
Before awakening ill health; after awakening ill health.
Before awakening short temper; after awakening short temper.
Before awakening boring personality; after awakening boring personality.
Before awakening money-grabbing; after awakening money-grabbing.
And in much the same way:
Before awakening compassion; after awakening compassion.
Before awakening loving-kindness; after awakening loving-kindness.
Before awakening excellent teaching; after awakening excellent teaching.
Before awakening good health; after awakening good health.
Before awakening moral conduct; after awakening moral conduct.
Before awakening calm; after awakening calm.
Before awakening generous spirit; after awakening generous spirit.
Even fear does not necessarily disappear when we wake up, but rather continues as an impersonal body/mind sensation. Fear is predicated on duality and separation, so over time with our non-dual perspective it will dissipate, but do not be surprised if fear still raises its head now and then. Nothing personal! Fear has been described as excitement without the breath, so excitement is also something that survives awakening… thank God. We remain warm-blooded human beings rather than becoming empty androids!
This works the other way around too: just because someone behaves very unethically or unlovingly does not mean that he or she is not awake. Years ago I wrote an article called The False Guru Test which was always popular with readers. I assumed then that you could tell somebody's spiritual state (for want of a better term) from the fruits of their words and actions. As Jesus said: "You will know them by their fruits." But now, I realize that awakening is on an entirely different level and a teacher can behave appallingly but still be genuinely awake. And in some cases, this behaviour might actually be helpful for students in that it shows them that awakening is nothing to do with being good, kind or loving. (These qualities are often found in those who are awake, but they are not necessarily manifestations of realization.) So "badly behaved" teachers can sometimes be useful for bursting people's expectation bubbles and bringing them down to reality.
Now all this will be a big disappointment for many readers. O my God… if my teacher could be a moron despite being awake… should I really be putting him or her on a pedestal as The Awakened All Knowing One? Should I be asking him or her for his or her advice? Should I even be asking him or her for advice on how to wake up? In this new realization of awakening, we find ourselves looking deeper than our projection of 'master' or 'guru', deciding with our god given intuition whether this or that person can really be trusted to guide us. They might look the part, they might say the right things… but they may not be teacher material. Of course, we see this anyway, but we are so disillusioned by our ideas of awakening, that we reject our screaming intuition. What do I know? Probably a hell of a lot more than that moronic teacher over there on which we foolishly project Buddhahood!
And even if your teacher is truly the Buddha incarnate, you should still not be putting him or her on a pedestal anyway. To do so is a total dismissal of the Buddha in yourself, and that is a dismissal of awakening itself. Even a veritable Buddha is not necessarily a competent teacher. All that can actually be said for someone who is awake — someone who can directly see the reality-mapping process — is that in this moment they are awake and can see the reality-mapping process. That is all, period. The rest is cartographic nonsense.
So choose your teacher or teaching sources wisely and keep your wits about you. He or she may be awake to the universe, but still have no clue on how to communicate that to others. Or maybe he or she can communicate it to others at the cost of money, sex, teacher-validation or membership to the group. These sorts of paybacks can hinder genuine awakening, but students that do not awake are, as was stated earlier, always a customer. Most teachers blindly recycle teachings that they themselves have heard… it is all just variations on the same theme. Some invent new systems of healing and crystal technologies, but these are nothing to do with the awakened state but the relative mind. Some will adopt grand titles — even using grand titles like Maitreya or Avatar — really getting into their roles as planetary saviours with new grand philosophies and systems of healing. But none of this actually has anything to do with the experience of awakening, it is the activity of the human element that is still present after awakening. (And this certainly does not mean that these philosophies or systems of healing do not have value.)
This human element also explains how teachers from different cultures can seem so backward. Zen masters from Japan, for example, who came over to the West decades ago had a reputation for being dictatorial, violent, sexist and stoic. Indian gurus were known for their love of opulence and getting caught up in the free-availability of sex in the West. And Western gurus were renowned for faking lineages, adopt ridiculous titles and declare themselves awake after having only the briefest glimpse of awakening. Some masters spout absolute nonsense such as "Walmart is the way to God," and "The only right you have is to be what you know."
What is important to realize here is that many of these masters and teachers are genuinely awake… but they brought with them their reality-maps, reality-maps that remain little modified by awakening. After all, why should a direct experience of what is, which bypasses what most of us would define as mind, change the reality-maps habitually used by the mind? Stopping identification with a reality-map does not change it, although it certainly weakens its intensity… unless another factor promotes its use… like the fluttering eyelids of a young semi-clad student who is wanting to experience "divine" love, or the calling of a new "spiritual" center that has to be built for the good of humankind. These may not touch the "I am", and desire may not be personally experienced, but the habitual mind will move to fulfill it all the same.
After awakening happens, the mind continues like a waterfall in awareness. And that is why the reality-maps we use should continue to be "lived in" or modified after awakening; we should continue to learn and grow, despite our deep realization of All-That-Is, a realization that is in itself complete and final. Otherwise, if we awaken as a Neanderthal, we just remain an awake Neanderthal. Just because we wake up to the ultimate and realize that all is one, a process in which we realize that the identity associated with the body, mind and emotions is a delusion, does not mean that the body, mind and emotions cease to exist or become suddenly transformed. The game continues… all that changes is that we do not care about the outcome because we are no longer identified with the game. It is like finding ourselves so engrossed in a game of tennis, so at one with it — the feel of the racket, the spin on the ball, the movement around court and the strike through the ball — that we stop caring about winning or losing. The awakened life has a hole in it: there is no 'I' at the center of things any more. This releases a lot of energy that was formally used to maintain identity — egos need a lot of energy to prop them up — energy which some label kundalini. This freed energy illuminates or enlightens us, keeping all our former systems running smoothly. So everything does not just collapse because identity has finished. The relative world is much more resilient than that!
People wake up to ultimate existence, and then try to convince others that nothing is real. This is because our world before awakening was underpinned by the assumption of our own existence: our identity held up the world and gave it objectivity; our reality-maps were there to take 'us' from A to B. But when we find that identity is an illusion, the whole world seems to collapse. There is a temptation at this stage to say that nothing exists — that the game stops — that the waterfall becomes still. And it can seem that way, at least for a while whilst we are in the novelty of emptiness. But existence and non-existence are just two sides of the same coin, and we are better off using less dualistic vocabulary.
This fallacy that nothing exists actually makes it more difficult for people to find ultimate truth because it focuses them on trying to stop the game… trying to stop the mind. You cannot stop a waterfall… it flows naturally. You have no choice but let it flow. And in the same way, we have no choice but to let our minds and bodies do what minds and bodies do. We cannot escape from the rhythms and flow of life. If mind really did stop, do you really think we could make it from the bed to the bathroom in the morning… or buy food from your local shop? We would be helpless babies. Rather, reality-maps are still used; the mind still functions; the body still functions. If we have a propensity to a particular diseases… we still have that propensity after awakening. There are many people who are awake who are not healthy, in body and/or mind. Awakening does not solves all our problems, it merely makes them impersonal.
So the change in awakening is profound on one level, but on another, it is business as usual. As the Zen proverb goes: "Before enlightenment; chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment; chop wood, carry water." This can be disappointing for many seekers as the whole point of enlightenment or awakening for them is liberation from chopping wood and carrying water, liberation to a wondrous new life of light and ease. However, the closest you can actually get to awakening and stopping "chopping wood and carrying water" is to become a teacher and have your devotees do it for you with hard work (called "service") and large donations (called "giving back"). (I know that is harsh… but it happens… and so it has to be said.)
We hold on to the comforting dream that enlightenment will fill our whole life with light and take away all our problems. But the problems continue… physical pain continues… mental pain continues… emotional pain continues… the only difference is that we care less about their resolution because they are no longer personal issues. Although we continue to rawly feel physical and emotional pains, we no longer suffer from them because we accept them as sensations rather than a chronic affront to the fictitious 'I' that we believe should not be in pain or should not have problems. As Ramana Maharshi, the Indian saint who died from very painful bone cancer, said when asked if he was in pain:
"Yes there is great pain, but it is not happening to me. I am aware that there is great pain happening to the body; I know that there is great pain happening. I am seeing it, but it is not happening to me."
This brings up the issue of responsibility. You can imagine a court case in which a man pleads not guilty to murdering his wife by saying to the judge: "Your Honour, there is and never has been an 'I' to have killed my wife. Murder just arose spontaneously in awareness as the drama unfolded by itself, all with no personal involvement." Is he innocent or guilty when there is no identity involved?
Of course, that is an illustrative case and no judge would be stupid enough to fall for it, but you would be surprised at the number of genuinely awakened individuals who use their awakening to justify unethical behaviour. Often they will claim, quite genuinely, that they were just following the flow of the psyche, and that actions and thoughts arose without their personal involvement. This brings to mind what was discussed earlier: before awakening idiocy; after awakening idiocy. And that idiocy extends to those who put an awakened idiot on a pedestal.
We mistakenly believe that awakened individuals act ethically, maybe believing that somehow they are trying to minimizing karma. But we forget that concepts such as responsibility, ethics and karma are the stuff of reality-maps and have no absolute existence. In the greater scheme of things, they are meaningless. But human existence happens on levels where reality-maps do operate and ethics is a consideration. So someone who is awake is still at the mercy of their reality-maps, even if through denial of this fact they are followed them blindly.
And the greatest misconception arises with the concept of love. The love associated with awakening is very different from normal love: it is love that has been stripped down to pure and universal acceptance and mutual resonance. All the desire, concern, kindness and care associated with normal love has been recognized as reality-map illusion — they are from the world of duality. Total acceptance is actually what we love about love so much, and these other factors such as kindness and care are consequences of that acceptance in the relative world. (What is kind and caring from one perspective can be cruel and uncaring from another because these qualities are relative and not absolute.)
There is so much talk of love in relation to awakening that we naturally colour awakening with the all the same qualities of the love that we know, so that awakening is seen as an explosion of kindness and care for all beings. But the truth is that it is more of an explosion of acceptance for all things — kind and cruel. It just so happens that the closest emotional translation of pure and universal acceptance is love. But unfortunately it is not a good translation. This means that the seeker will think that being more loving will somehow accelerate awakening, or that awakening is a form of super-love, but these misconceptions just fuel another reality-map that blocks realization. Awakening is nothing to do with love (as most understand it), goodness or kindness. Nasty and unloving people wake up too, much to our chagrin. Indeed, the awakening of many individuals is often dismissed if it seems just too cold and clinical because of the fallacy of equating awakening with love.
So if awakening has so little to offer, if 'only' our center is blown away and all the rest remains, what is the point of pursing it? Why are we so ardently seeking it? What is this fascination with waking up?
We are driven to wake up because living as an ego is a lie, and we all get tired of living in lies, year after year, and perhaps lifetime after lifetime. It wears us down. We each have a natural propensity for truth… for freedom… for letting go to what is… and this propensity brings us real happiness. My grandmother once told me about a conversation she had on a boat with a man who had survived the torpedoing of his ship during World War II. As he sat on the edge of the boat looking out to sea, he said to her, "Everything I owned went down with that ship. All I now have in this world is the shirt on my back." And when she asked him how he felt about that, he said, "I feel wonderful!" Losing everything, he had never been happier.
What we own ends up defining us, and so loss can be a huge liberation. As the Sufi saying goes: "When the heart grieves over what it has lost, the spirit rejoices over what it has left." We are naturally driven to wake up from the ego's dream because the dream is so suffocating. When we are young, that dream is not yet formed and so generally feels exciting and expansive — it is the time for building a healthy ego — but as we get older and the dream consolidates, we naturally seek liberation from its prison. It is just unfortunate that we are so used to using maps to find places, that we automatically look to other reality-maps to awaken from the dream, and so most settle for a semblance of awakening without tasting the real experience. (There closest we can to representing it on a map might be to simply use the label, "Here be dragons.")
We are drawn by images of everlasting light, love and peace, radiating from a Buddha-like image in our minds, only to find something so simple, basic, immediate and obvious, that it can seem disappointing at first. What… no fireworks show? No welcoming angelic choir? No eternal and automatic stillness of mind? No final end to problems? No everlasting happiness? Afraid not… Adyashanti is right when he describes awakening as a shell game. We chase the dream of awakening only to wake up from dreaming altogether. As Trungpa Rinpoche bluntly said: "Enlightenment is the great and final disappointment, the dissolution of all our egoic fantasies and grand hopes."
But as we have seen above, this is not the end of reality-maps but just a different relationship with them. We can continue to use them and, if we are wise, we can still continue to modify and change them. Evolution of the relative does not stop just because we have realized the absolute. Many who have awakened are under the false impression that reality-maps are no longer needed as the destination has been reached. And if we are a teacher, this denial of continued reality-mapping will actually make it more difficult for our students to awaken because they too will become dismissive of reality-maps altogether and so the focus will be on clearing the mind, rather than allowing it to flow free and do what it naturally does. This will present major problems. No wonder so few people wake up… the whole deck is stacked against them and even most teachers are misleading their students. (Always remember, as repeatedly stated above, that awakening does not necessarily imply wisdom.)
Most Buddhists, on the other hand, would see "awakening" as just one facet of spiritual development. Other facets would include adopting reality-maps to allow us to express compassion and kindness to all beings. We exist in the relative world as well as the absolute world, and compassion and kindness in the relative world is essential because that is where the suffering is. Otherwise, awakening, when stripped of a human context that includes the relative, can be quite cold and intellectual. Just have a look at some of the high-profile non-dual internet forums that aim to teach visitors how to wake up. Many of the teachings are okay, but by presenting awakening away from its human context, many of the members of those forums can appear somewhat self-absorbed and cold.
We need reality-maps to function in this world, so even though in awakening we stop identifying with them, we understand that life goes on and our maps naturally evolve so that we become kinder and more compassionate in everyday life. If we are conscious of the reality-mapping process, rather than denying it, then we start to naturally move towards more impersonal but caring reality-maps that encourage respect and loving-kindness to all beings. Perhaps we adopt a vegan diet and care for the vulnerable. Karma is a useful concept in all this because it encourages us not to hurt other beings, and that loving-kindness can extend with the Bodhisattva perspective.
May all beings be happy;
May all beings be safe;
May all beings be free.
Just because the absolute contains and accepts all possibilities, making it irrelevant for example whether or not we eat animals, does not necessarily green light any and all behaviour. But many assume it does (even those who are awake), which is why many continue with outdated and cruel dietary habits when they do not need to, or have sex with their students despite the consequences for those students. This is the danger of being a non-dual or advaita fundamentalist — any behaviour becomes acceptable because judgment regarding the appropriateness of behaviour belongs to the world of the relative, to the world of reality-maps, and we think we have left these behind. So it is our contrived reality-maps that give us a yardstick by which to live our lives. Without that yardstick, we can be like kids in a candy store, and many awakened masters have certainly acted with impunity, passing on unfavourable traits to their students. This is why it is so important that awakening is balanced with loving and caring reality-maps.
So just because we continue giving credence to spiritual reality-maps, such as one that holds all beings sacred, in no way dismisses our awakening. Awakened beings can adopt and modify reality-maps just like unawakened beings, and these reality-maps are picked up by their students, who, by hanging around the teacher often for many years, will usually adopt the teacher's reality-map. And then, when the student eventually becomes a teacher, he or she will again pass on the reality-map of the lineage. And with each generation, this reality-map evolves… with each teacher adding wisdom and refining the awakening techniques.
If awakening is the core of the spiritual teaching, the package this core comes in is the reality-map of the teacher or lineage. The reality-map gives the teaching context and make it comprehensible to ordinary map-using people, provided that the reality-map is not mistaken for awakening itself. And this is why teachers traditionally select their own successors, which are usually those that have not only woken up, but who best carry the lineage's reality-map. This way the methods to awakening and the lineage's particular take on awakening continues being passed down along with an evolving spiritual reality-map.
Interestingly, the few who spontaneously wake up completely outside the spiritual world, without doing their time with spiritual teachers, are often themselves poor teachers. This is because they have not learned to present their awakening in a way which makes sense to the student, who of course is likely to be using some kind of spiritual reality-map. So for a teacher to be successful, he or she has to have some familiarity with the spiritual reality-map so that he or she can communicate with his or her students on true awakening and how it fits into their lives.
Awakening is the shift from a personal infatuation with the fictitious 'I' to an impersonal intimacy with All-That-Is. The ego sees it as impending annihilation — which it is for the ego — but it is an annihilation that leads to the realization that the real presence that we are was never born and will never die, because it is not an object but all-pervading consciousness. Once we deeply realize this, we are forever changed. Even if the ego re-establishes itself, as it usually does (at least at first), we are more conscious of its contrived nature. The man behind the curtain has been glimpsed, and we never completely fall for the illusion of a wizard again, although it is fun to do so when we watch the movie again.
In non-dual spiritual circles, there is a tendency to deride this re-establishment of ego by dismissing the awakening as "partial awakening" or "non-abiding awakening". But seeing is seeing, and awakening is awakening, whether it lasts or not. This derision comes from an idealized view of awakening that sees it out of context with the rest of our lives. But awakening is an ongoing process for most of those who wake up. We experience awakening… we realize our true nature… and then we shine that raw awareness onto the reality-maps that we use, which over time modifies them. As there is no such thing as a complete or perfect reality-map, that part of integrating awakening with our mind structures is always an ongoing process. It is only when we dismiss reality-maps as "just part of the illusion" that we believe once we awaken that we are in some kind of final state. This is actually a denial of what is… of the reality of mind which continues. And by denying reality-maps we drive their influence on our conditional self underground.
If we do deny reality-maps, and believe that we have 'finished' or 'completed' the awakening process and so no longer need them, all we will do is slip into the illusion of 'no-mind', an illusion that leads to non-dual fundamentalism. And like all fundamentalist philosophies, we end up being very critical of anything remotely to do with mind, and our perception becomes conditional. This can create another form of subtle identity — "I am pure awareness but I am not mind which is an illusion." In truth we are all of it. That is why it is important, once we are awake, to not only acknowledge the continuing function of our reality-maps, but also to allow them to naturally modify or evolve. This is the process of gaining wisdom and it continues to happen after awakening.
How we modify and evolve our reality-maps — how we grow in wisdom — will depend on our personality which, surprise surprise, does not just disappear when we wake up from the ego's dream. (Awakened people are paradoxically very individual and often have big personalities!) Some will easily modify and evolve their reality-maps, bringing wisdom into everyday life, and becoming fully aware of any residual identity that the reality-maps evoke. Others will be much slower, especially if they have driven their reality-maps underground, categorizing them as illusion. In these cases, wisdom is much slower in developing.
So an understanding of identity, reality-maps, and the whole reality-mapping process is essential if we are to establish awakening in everyday life in a context of loving-kindness and compassion. Without that understanding, awakening ends up serving nobody (no pun intended). That why it is so inspirational when awakening is present in conjunction with life-affirming reality-maps such as some of those described in Buddhism, Hinduism, Gnosticism, Sufism and Taoism. (Many of the original advaita teachers were steeped in Hinduism and so the awakening was balanced with long-evolving religious wisdom reality-maps, maps not emphasised because they were taken for granted.)
As for the awakening process itself, for some realization is more easy to reach by focusing on becoming conscious of the reality-mapping process itself rather than trying to awake to the bigger reality that contains that process. This way, we are less prone to dismissing part of our experience, and we naturally become conscious of the pure being in which the reality-mapping is taking place, being that we were never conscious of before because we were lost in reality-maps — mesmerized by the "story of I".
In the end, however, it all comes back to living a simple life — chopping wood and carrying water — rather than sitting in eternal bliss on some golden throne. Throne-sitting is only good if you want to captivate seekers and use them for your own ends.
Chopping wood and carrying water is where it begins and ends, and somewhere along the way is rude awakening to the minds incessant reality-mapping and the background hum of naked awareness that pervades all experience. Enjoy returning home.
Following on from the above, it is obvious that we do not need to have a healthy ego in order to wake up. But if our ego is unhealthy, when we wake up, the pathology of our psychological structures will continue. Not only that, we are less likely to correct this pathology as there is no identification with it. In time, psychological pathologies in those that are awake can and do self-heal, but equally they can continue if they are supported by aspects of our lives other than identification. This is important to be conscious of as such pathologies are toxic whether we are awake or not, especially for those we come in contact with. There are many example of awakened beings who are toxic to be around.