Difference between ‘I am THIS’ & ‘I am’ per Buddha’s path
Dear Ekta di:
It would be of great benefit if you could please help with the following: Book: Samyutta Nikaya sutta number 22.89 (7) Khemaka- Pg 944 (middle paragraph):
“Friends, although [the notion] ‘I am’ has not vanished in me in relation to these five aggregates subject to clinging, still I do not regard [anything among them] as ‘This I am’.
This describes somewhat I am going through. It is like a dilemma, which I cannot explain or talk about, but experience that it is very strong, and has not been uprooted. Could you please help explain, refer me to more suttas to read, or change in meditation practice that I should bring about?
Metta Samadhi will work just fine. It will help you go from ‘Just ME’ to sending loving-kindness to others. But if you are feeling that there is a lack of the softness within to be able to send it out, then:
– First, start with ‘forgiving yourself’
– Feel the softness that arises after forgiving yourself,
– Then let the softness fill you up totally,
– Then forgive others whoever come up in the mind, let the softness fill you up,
– Then let it radiate out of you in all directions.
The Sense of ‘I am’ will remain until you are doing the mental activity of sending out the vibrations of Metta, Karuna, Mudita, Upekkha.
After Upekkha [equanimity] you will notice that the flow stops. There is no more radiation happening. The mind has silenced down. The ‘I’ has disappeared even if it is for a few seconds only. There you will notice just a field of no-thingness or complete cessation. In that field, there is no ‘I’.
Reminder – The ‘I’ remains until there is an interest to notice the field. It says ‘I am nothingness’. Once it notices the field of zeroness and completes its dance of being ‘no-thing’, now let the ‘I’ sink into the no-thingness, IT WILL DISSOLVE.
There are stages in the disappearance of the ‘I’ too:
1] The first stage is where you were radiating Metta/Karuna/Mudita/Upekkha in all directions. It helps you recognize that your awareness is all there is. All beings are within the same awareness/expansion. The expansion gives the sense of ‘I AM EVERYTHING’. In other words, it also helps you recognize that you create your own reality. [This is called the immeasurable deliverance of the mind – MN43].
2] Then, you come to the ending of this radiation where all is still, no thoughts, no feelings. This is the stage of ‘I AM NOTHING’ where the ‘I’ is still there. You have come from being everybody to nobody/ everything to nothing. [This is called the deliverance of the mind through nothingness- MN43].
3] Next stage is when the ‘this’ or ‘that’ drops but the ‘I AM’ remains. There is still an ‘I’ there. Even if one calls it a ‘Universal I’ [Brahman] as is addressed in Advaita Vedanta, the sense of ‘Amness’ still remains, which is just like the void. [This is called the deliverance of the mind through voidness- MN43].
4] The Last stage is where the ‘I’ totally dissolves and there is ‘NO I, NO YOU, NO OTHERS’. Pure Cessation! Indescribable stage. This is what Ramana and Nisarga Datta talk about in simple language. This is the stage of cessation. [This is called the signless deliverance of the mind- MN43].
There is no sense of ‘I’ at all in Stage 4. That is what the Buddha calls the field of Shunyata as there is a cessation of all mental activities. You can get there experientially through Metta when you completely LET GO. Stage 4 is NOT experienced by the mind so when you come out of the state, the mind feels that it was asleep. It is signless. The void is the signless element. Signless simply means object-less; no mental object like perception, no verbal object like thoughts, no physical object like the observation of breath – OBJECTLESS-NESS. One who keeps his attention on this signless element can easily slip into cessation. [Signless deliverance of the mind- MN43].
The cessation attained in Samadhi brings 100% confirmation of the non-existence of the ‘I’. That is why Buddha said there was no sign of any atman [I-ness] neither an individual ‘I’ nor a universal ‘I’, there was complete cessation, there was just shunyata. It is not like ‘I am Shunyata’, it is a clear ’seeing’ of the absence of the sense of ‘I am’, totally & completely.
The meaning of the following line from the Sutta is that he is at stage 3 and not reached stage 4.
With regard to these five clinging-aggregates, “I am” has not been overcome, although I don’t assume that “I am this.”
Side note – You must have experienced stage 4 in meditation at the retreat but the signless element of the void needs to be repeatedly approached in meditation to make Stage 4 your open-eyed realization dear.
The ‘field of pure witness’ on the Advaita Vedanta path can be said to be at Stage 3 of the Buddhas path. Ramakrishna Paramhansa [Advaitin] always gave the warning to prevent Advaita from becoming merely an intellectual understanding rather than an experiential one – ’Shamadhi na hole, thik thik hoye na’ – The cessation attained in Samadhi brings the 100% confirmation without which ‘I am’ is not fully overcome.
Nisargadatta explained this even more clearly. I am attaching a screenshot of page 4 of the book ‘I am that’. On another note, it is the same zero-ness that is experienced on the direct path of Ramana Maharshi, he calls it the source where the ‘I’ disappears. Only if you feel that reading Ramana or Nisargadatta might help you understand more, then you can read them too. If you don’t feel like reading them and strongly feel that you want to stick to Buddha’s path only, that is fine too. We can climb the same mountain peak from any and every side 🙂
Keep exploring yourself. We will dive more into Shunyata [senior batch only] in the next Buddha retreat.
FYI – The language of Buddha’s Suttas might be difficult for newbies but you will start understanding it as you study more. Keep chugging!
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