Typical teaching by the enlightenment gurus goes something like this:
The self is an illusion, and to see the illusory nature of a self is the key to awakening from the dream of a separate self.
Here is a quote by Sam Harris from his book ‘Waking Up.’
The practice of Dzogchen requires that one be able to experience the intrinsic selflessness of awareness in every moment.
What are the gurus and Sam trying to teach us?
In my last post, I talked about headlessness and shared one of Douglas Harding’s experiments. I would recommend you try it for yourself and many other experiments you can find in his books, on his website, in group settings, or using their app.
I’d like to suggest that language and concepts can be barriers to awakening unless we experience what the language and concepts are pointing to. An experience of headlessness is one of those experiences.
As an example, what is meant by an illusory self is confusing, and Sam’s use of the word ‘selflessness’ can be misleading. Selflessness is usually when someone does something and doesn’t put themself first. That isn’t what Sam is referring to. Sam is talking about awareness as and from a no-self, an absence of a self. Are you still confused? You should be. What Sam and I are pointing to can’t be understood by thinking but only known through direct experience.
The gurus tell you that to experience the no-self condition, you have to inquire within “What or who am I?” Try it. What do you find? Many, after years of inquiry, are right where you are, still puzzled.
This is where the headless way experiments can really help. When you perform the headless way experiments, the intent is for you to experience what you are at zero. Go ahead and try the pointing experiment with me. When I look back to where I am looking from, there is nothing between where I am looking and what I see out there. If I look closely at where I am looking from, I find nothing here at zero. It is a great mystery how there is awareness from emptiness, but rest assured there is no objective subject at zero. Look for yourself.
This is what Sam means by selflessness, and the gurus are alluding to when they talk about an illusory self. There is nothing here even though everything is observed from here. There isn’t a head in which all this is happening or an invisible person to which it is happening. There is only this empty spaciousness that isn’t hiding, is ever-present, is full of all the world, and can’t be located. To see what you are as aware emptiness is a dramatic shift in consciousness, an awakening experience. An emptiness that can’t be seen but is vividly aware is mysterious, magical, and miraculous. If I’m willing to look, try the experiment, what I observe I am (contrary to what I think I am) takes on a whole new dimension.
If you haven’t experienced what I am describing, you may be afraid to try the experiment. You may be afraid to look. Your fear of total annihilation keeps you at a distance. The great paradox is when you see what you really are, fear evaporates. The dream is seen for what it is, insubstantial and illusory but beautiful and miraculous. The answer to “what am I?” is unanswerable for the mind, but a direct experience of spacious awareness, is freedom. Go ahead and take a look. Try an experiment and discover the selflessness of awareness and the illusory self. Let the egoic fear of a no-self evaporate in the experience of your true self.