Life is a mystery. That much seems certain. No matter how you look at it, eventually you come up against a wall of “I don’t know.” That’s what the mystics through the ages have told us. Still, we keep looking, hoping to find some great answer to the question life presents.
The funny thing about questions, and answers, is they can be very different depending on how you ask them, who you ask, where the asking is coming from (it’s underlying motivations, concepts and context), and where it is going to. The same question asked from different places has a very different feel, and possibly different answers.
I propose the following as a model of determining the answers that could be given to the great question of life. It is based off of the types of bodies used in Advaita Vedanta exploration and inquiry. Note that in Vedanta, “body” does not necessarily mean the flesh and bone. It means the energetic/physical/emotional/spiritual structure of a certain level of consciousness.
First up we have the Gross Body. The gross body is the body of flesh and bone that immediately comes to mind when we say “body.” It includes the brain, the physical component of what we call the “mind.” It is typified by the waking state of consciousness, and is our work-a-day interface with the world. The concerns of this “body” are the concerns of the animal, namely: Security, Food, Reproduction and Shelter. When one of these concerns is in question, the instinct driven gross body is concerned with fulfilling that need. When they are all fulfilled, and not in immediate danger, the gross body can relax. It’s questions are answered, and in a word the answer is – Comfort. When one is not hungry, not in immediate threat, not exposed to dangerous environmental conditions, and when the continuation of the species is not in imminent question, the gross body is comfortable and at peace.
Next up, the Subtle Body. This is the body of the intellect, dreams, and planning. It is typified by the dreaming state, but note that day dreams and imagination is also covered under the umbrella of the subtle body. The typical term applied here is mind, but the full support for the functioning of this body extends beyond the physical organ of the brain. In order for this body to exist the energetic support of the whole organism is needed, and research is showing that the energetic presence of this body extends beyond the limits of the skin. The concerns of this body are ones of planning, dreaming, goal setting, and analyzing of input. Thinking and inquiring. The interesting, and unique factor about this body is that its answers to its concerns are: more questions. Almost as soon as we learn to speak, the bane of parents the world over is on our lips from waking to sleep, “Why?” We want to explore the realm of thoughts and concepts with a passion, always digging deeper. “But, why? But, why? But, why?” The font of questions is never exhausted. As we grow the questions become more sophisticated, but they don’t go away. Every “answer” always seems to lead to more questions in the realm of the subtle body. As we become indoctrinated adults, conforming to the accepted social/cultural norms of our time and place we may bury some of these questions, but the dirt covering them is always thin and rarely well compacted. The questions crouch ready to burst free at a moments notice.
Socrates is the paragon of this mind, never deadened by “growing up.” He was an absolute devotee of the question. His end is a wonderful illustration of the power of questions, and the possibility of upsetting apple carts with them.
Now we come to the Causal Body. This is the body of raw being. Pure suchness. The very fact that you are. It is typified by the state of deep sleep. The common experience is that we experience nothing in this state, since there are no object here (unlike the toe stubbing rocks of the gross body/waking realm, and the neon glowing rocks of the subtle body/dreaming realm) there is nothing to form memory with. However, when seekers would bring their doubts of the validity of this realm to the sage Ramana Maharshi, he would respond with, “If you have no perception in the deep sleep state, how is it that when you wake you can say you slept well?” Something continues through this state, some thread of knowing, the subtlest expression of, “I am”, “I exist.” It is that continuity which makes up the experience of these individual unique lives. Long term meditators (those with 10-20 thousand hours of accumulated practice) and/or enlightened humans sometimes report a phenomenon of a continuing awareness that penetrates even into this realm. What most of us must be satisfied with is a vague pleasantness of a night spent sleeping safely.
Here the question is one of pure existence. Continuity of the individual self as a unique expression of reality. The answer is presence. That fundamental knowing that “I am”, the raw feeling of being you without reference to any memory, circumstance, or context. As long as that is so, the question is answered.
Now we start getting spooky. The next “body” on the Advaita Vedanta scale of things is called Turiya. Literally it means, “the fourth”, often referred to as the witness. It is the body which witnesses all the other states. This is the capacity to know that I am comfortable, I have questions, and I am. The unique facet of this body is that anything which appears within it cannot be it. If it is seen, it is not you as the witness.
The only question here is, is something occurring? The answer is silence. The witness has nothing with which to speak, or formulate an answer because anything which could speak, or formulate is something which can be seen and therefore is not the witness. Silence; vast, simple, embracing, complete is the expression of Turiya. It is the void and silence which allows everything else to be.
Thirty spokes converge upon a single hub; It is on the hole in the center that the use of the cart hinges. We make a bowl or cup from a lump of clay; It is the empty space within the vessel that makes it useful. We make doors and windows for a room; It is the empty spaces that make the room livable. Thus, take advantage of what is visible, by making use of what is not visible. ~ Lao Tzu in the Tao Te Ching
Last we come to the most tenuous, and most absolute. Even talking about this body is actually impossible. We have to be happy with approximations. This is the “body” of Turiya-tita, the non-dual. The stark reality of not-two. This is the truth of all of reality, swallowed in one gulp. Nothing left out, nothing excluded, no boundaries. All of what is, no parts, only portions. The witness and what is witnessed felt through as inseparable. Just this. It. What is. Here there is no answer, because there are no questions. There is nothing outside of, or in addition to what is so how could a question even arise. Just suchness, the paper upon which all words are written.
So, there you have it in a nutshell. The great answers to the great questions of each facet of this wonderful reality from the totality all the way through to a unique individual self manifesting as a human being.
If you are relatively comfortable, know that you are, are aware of the space between objects and the silence between sounds, exist as a portion of what is, and still have questions then all your questions are answered.
I have tons of questions, and love them. I’d love to hear yours, or your comments, or whatever. Until we meet again, cheers!