When we speak of the self, we refer to the instinctual sense of “I” as the doer and as self-being: “I-do-ness” and “I-am-ness.” Meditative stillness and inquiry can deconstruct both the doer-self and being-self into a seemingly selfless flow of ephemeral events. What remains is simply unconfined aware being relatively free of any reified sense of self. Or so it seems.
One’s being or “am-ness” is often mistaken as final freedom, the ultimate pure selfless awareness that one is. Yet probing deeper beyond this am-ness reveals its subtle reified and self-making nature. To reify is to make solid or concrete or inherent what is actually not any of these things. A layperson’s way of saying “reify” is “thingify.” Am-ness is a diffused non-focal yet self-making quality of awareness that distorts its essentially empty nature.
Hidden underneath this am-ness is something else that is the source of this subtle self-making. It is the “reifying view of the perishing aggregates” or simply the thingify-ing of awareness itself into an entity albeit impersonal. This is what is called the “is-ness” of awareness itself. Is-ness of awareness is subtler than and precedes am-ness, which accounts for its hidden-ness and the difficulty in spotting it. This “is-ness” of awareness, while similar to, is not the same as, the “is-ness” of the objects of awareness. The “is-ness” of awareness persists even in the absence of awareness’s objects.
Without seeing through and dissolving this “is-ness” of awareness, there is no true freedom of that awareness. This sharp insight comes from the Buddha and his intellectual and meditative successors in the form of the Madhyamika (Middle-Way) masters. Bear in mind that the Upanisadic sages of nonduality (as are the modern teachers of the same) have not been able to penetrate this deeper truth. Rather they have remained stuck with frolicking in am-ness and speculating about its union or identity with God.
Let’s reflect for a moment: what is the experiential proof of this? How does one really know that one’s awareness or am-ness is the infinite ocean within which multiple pools of body-mind-world are constructed, emerge, and dissolve? Nothing short of directly seeing and knowing this happen in one’s immediate experience. No one has had this experience, ever. For this would entail that one knows exactly what every single mind and body of the 8 billion people on this planet and many billions more sentient creatures and perhaps even more hitherto unknown life forms in the universe is thinking, feeling, desiring, sensing, perceiving at any given moment in time! This is tantamount to claiming omniscience! Only God by definition is omniscient. Not you, not me. But if any teacher or guru or self-proclaimed buddha or god-man claims to have such omniscience, I’d like to see some hard evidence please. Otherwise, even the most erudite statement about awareness as such is merely speculative inference. When the Buddha was asked if he was omniscient, he categorically denied that he was. Advaita teachers, beware!
Now, after all that inquiry and having awakened to the non-self-making, non-reified nature of awareness in timeless freedom, one is nonetheless entrapped in sin—the primordial divorce from God that is rebellion against and resistance to the absolute reality of God who stands totally outside our created consciousness. We are not able to know the reality of our sinfulness and God’s supremacy save through the inbreaking revelatory grace of God in the person-event-work of Christ. The Spirit of Christ shines His knowledge of Himself into our hearts so that we can be enlightened to who He is and convicted of what He has done for us. Anything short of this fails in finally freeing us beyond corruptibility into incorruptibility, from bondage of sin into freedom of salvation which is eternal reconciliation with God.
New-age teachers with various faith backgrounds like Ken Wilber and Richard Rohr, for example, seem to equate God of the Bible with eastern concepts of ultimate reality like cosmic consciousness or Buddha mind in a feat of pantheistic/panentheistic conflation. This is erroneous. There is no textual and experiential evidence of this at all. Also, excising the redemptive substitutionary atonement of the cross of Christ from any scheme of spiritual works program throws out the gospel altogether. The gospel of Christ and its salvific power get excised and exiled as well. This is most tragic.
There is no compromise here: the gospel of incarnate Christ crucified and resurrected is the only truth that truly saves. Biblical attestation of this truth is without doubt. Without Christ, without the atoning cross, there is simply no genuine freedom and restoration, not just for ourselves but for the whole creation. Let’s not contort and compromise the truth in order to fit into the intellectual trends of the day, to make the offence of the gospel into a palatable dish that titillates many but saves none. Hence, I say: by grace alone; through faith alone; in Christ alone; according to Scripture alone; for the glory of God alone.