The Final Barrier Is Our Very Thought

by Robert Powell

Robert PowellMOST PEOPLE THINK THAT KNOWLEDGE is the key to everything, or almost everything, and that the reason we have not yet succeeded in realizing our Self, or Consciousness, is that we do not have the necessary knowledge. We must continue our efforts to increase our knowledge of body and mind until all ignorance has been resolved. Then, one day there will not be anything outside our ken and we shall be realized. Such an approach may be induced by either wishful thinking or self-deception, but both are simply symptoms of a fundamental Ignorance, known as Maya.

 The fact of the matter is that realization has nothing to do with scientific knowledge of the physical world nor even with the psychological domain. This explains why realization is such a difficult undertaking: it is not an incremental process but rather a taking away of the little we know and understand of the additive process of cognition. One of the great hindrances is that what we are pointing to is not really knowledge at all but rather a state of sentience, which is prior to all knowledge and is its source. Sentience must be realized by being It.

Such a primeval state cannot be described nor taught, only pointed to. But it comes into being by itself when all ordinary channels of approach, pursued to their very ends, cease to provide further insight. Along such lines, some may say that the realized state is an empty space-time frame of reference because it represents a total Void. As phrased by Nisargadatta: “At the highest level, in reality, nothing is.” But even such a primeval and “empty” space-time coordinate system cannot be brought into being and exist on its own as a separate reality; it has been projected by thought in the first place; it is still in the realm of Maya (illusion).

The only analogues that I can muster in this connection are the state of dreamless sleep and the short interval between two consecutive thoughts, when in terms of the ordinary consciousness, there is absolutely nothing. But even here, we might ask: What is “nothing”? How can we know it when such knowing requires a dualistic state comprised of a “knower” and a “known”? We do not really know what we call “nothing;’ and even more to the point: We cannot know “nothing”! Thus, most ordinary efforts to concretize this state are doomed to fall short of their target because they build on and depart from the ordinary state of consciousness, which is self-enclosed and thereby limited.

The realized state is totally ungraspable by the intellect and requires total surrender of all that we ordinarily hold dear. This is the first and most formidable obstacle. By its very nature, the magnitude and subtlety of the problem cannot even be adequately expressed in ordinary language, which is always the language of the mind, with its various built-in preconceptions.

Realistically, how many of us are prepared to go to the extreme lengths required of this task? Is it not a little like voluntarily accepting death—our own physical and mental demise, the death of everything we stand for and cling to? Yet, this enormous challenge is ever there, leading to the only true fulfillment. To ignore it is surely, in the deepest sense, wasting one’s life.

– – – – – – –

Robert Powell was born in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, in 1918. After obtaining his doctorate in chemistry from London University, he pursued a career first as an industrial chemist and later as a science writer and editor, in Britain and the United States. Robert’s personal exploration of spirituality began in the 1960s, and his quest for self-discovery led him to Zen and a number of spiritual masters including J. Krishnamurti and Ramana Maharshi. His own spiritual awakening coincided with his discovery of the teachings of Nisargadatta Maharaj. He is the editor of a Nisargadatta trilogy, and the author of a number of books on what he describes as “human consciousness transformation.”

From The Real is Unknowable the Knowable is Unreal. Copyright 2005 by Robert Powell. Published by North Atlantic Books, Berkeley, CA.