"Before enlightenment chop wood and carry
water. After enlightenment,
chop wood and carry water."
Ancient Chinese Proverb
Sooner or later, if you have not done it already,
you will ask yourself "Who am I?" When man comes out of his slumber,
and becomes aware of himself, he asks this most important question. One
becomes aware of his body, of other people just like him, his environment,
of life itself, the role one plays in it all, and what it is all about.
More important, what is this ‘I’, this ‘me’? We like to give fancy names
to philosophical questions, like existentialism, but this will not take
away the root of the questions. The awareness of being alive and all the
questions that go with it remain the same over space and time, and one will
have to find the answers for himself.
My search for answers started with
a dramatic and profound spiritual experience for which I was not ready.
Life sometimes decides otherwise and makes you undergo what is in the plan.
When I was around ten yours this experience would change my life.
lying in bed not yet asleep when my consciousness shifted and I became aware
of another reality. The sense of being in my bedroom and even of being in
my body disappeared. I expanded in a spherical way and finally found myself
in an unlimited space. Imagine yourself being somewhere in the universe.
You can see the stars all around you. Then take the stars away, that was
the space I was in. Just me and unlimited space. It impossible to describe
it accurately. I have to resort to our mundane language to give you some
idea what it was like. The vastness of that space is beyond description.
My perception was spherical, and there was a strong sense of duality of
me and that infinity. There were no directions, there was nothing else.
Nothing to grab on to. That made me extremely afraid. I desperately wanted
to get back to my body. At least that was something I could grab on to.
I needed limitations, I could not deal with unlimited emptiness. It was
a long and hard struggle, requiring all my will power to get to my body.
This experience repeated itself the next couple of evenings. In the initial
phase I sometimes felt like a big expanding balloon. The more I expanded
the stronger the sense of unlimited infinity. Because of the fear I managed
to break off the experience sooner and sooner. Finally I was able to stop
it from in the beginning. After some evenings it did not happen anymore.
My parents did not know what to think about it. They did not want to deal
with it, and that was that. I guess yogis might have understood what was
happening to me but they were not around.
Although the experience stopped,
it did change my consciousness profoundly. Every time I was back into my
body, I literally felt the walls of my room, the physicality of it and the
enclosure they formed. This was a tremendous, strong feeling. I became aware
that I was locked up in my physical body for the rest of my life. It felt
like a prison term. I was in a physical body and I could not liberate myself
from it whenever I wanted. I had to accept "my time" here on Earth
until the moment of death whenever that might come. From that moment on
I was different. For the first time in my life I became conscious of myself,
an "I" as a single unity, in contrast to the unlimited universe.
It was deeply felt. I could not understand the duality of the two. Furthermore
I could not understand that there were other "I’s" around, other
people who also have a central "I". Why was I "me" and
why was I not somebody else? Questions, but no answers.
From that moment
on there was a new Dirk. He looked at the world with a new consciousness.
He stepped out of the dream of life in which most people live. He began
to watch the people around him, what they were doing and why they were doing
it. He became sensitive to the energies of people, looked behind their masks.
Because of this change in consciousness and the many questions I had
about life, I became religious. When I was sixteen I happened to pass by
the occult section in the public library. Books about parapsychology and
reincarnation drew my attention. This was the start of my exploration of
In search for answers I studied everything that
had to do with life, and who we are: the world religions, esoteric doctrines,
occult teachings, Wicca, nature religions, psychology and so on. I learned
that the essence of all the different religions is the same and that many
people before me had tried to find out who we are. I found the most appealing,
the most instructive, the most clear, and the most comprehensive explanation
in Tibetan Buddhism. I am not a Buddhist, nor a monk, nor am I associated
with any Buddhist monastery and I have not read all the Tibetan scriptures.
However, what I learned from Tibetan Buddhism is far reaching and very comprehensive.
Tibetan Buddhism is the top of the tree of different Buddhist teachings.
Even on the top of that tree there are some differences in how they view
the teaching, but this does not matter, as the ultimate truth can be looked
at from many different angles. I will give you here an overview of what
Tibetan Buddhism has to say about who we are, that is, how I understand
it. What follows is quite different than what we, Westerners, think reality
is and who we are. So, you will have to stretch your mind and extend your
The first concept you need to have a good understanding of is
‘mind’. Forget about the Western concept of mind as being the intellect.
In Buddhism ‘mind’ is like a primal thing out of which everything that exists
came and comes forth. The nature of mind is empty and without foundation
whatsoever. It is unobstructed and therefore there is a continuous arising
of appearances out of itself. Thus it is the source, the origin of the diversity
in the universe. Mind is primordial, self-arisen, spontaneous and transcends
space and time. Mind is the basis of everything in the universe, including
you and me.
So, first we have mind, and then out of mind thoughts arise.
Thoughts is another important concept, because it is thoughts that create
all the forms in the universe. In essence, forms by themselves do not exist,
they are actually composed out of thoughts. When Buddhism say that everything
is ‘maya’ or illusion it does not mean that it is not there. It means that
what we perceive and what we think the world around us is, is not what it
is in reality. Everything in the universe is a thought form. We perceive
objects as being solid and made of matter, but that is because we have been
accustomed to looking at it in this way. Quantum physics will also tell
you that matter does not exist. The so-called quantum particles out of which
all matter is composed of, are actually energy packets, and even with those
energy packets we can not really put our finger on it. For example, a quantum
particle can not be defined in space and time at the same time. They are
kind of elusive. This is what our present state of science is telling us.
Spiritual masters have always told us that there are many more subtle particles/energy
forms that make up the universe, but underlying it all is the concept of
thought forms. Thoughts are created out of mind and then take shape by creating
subtle and gross particles, which we eventually perceive as ‘matter’. Take
the thought away and the form will cease to exist. We presently live in
a physical world, and our consciousness has to adapt to the experiences
within this world. So it ‘forgets’ about the thought forms and looks at
the world as being ‘solid’. It is just a matter of perception, and we have
become accustomed to it.
Where does this all tie in with who we are?
Well, in essence we are all thought forms. This thought form comes out of
(our) mind and takes shape into a physical body. Buddhism teaches that everything
does not exist by itself. Everything is a manifestation of that all-encompassing
universal mind. When mind is compared with an ocean, then everything and
everyone is a wave on the surface of that ocean. A wave arises up out of
the ocean, travels along the surface for a while and dissolves again in
the ocean. The wave seems to be a separate unity, seems to have a separate
individuality and seems to move independently, but it actually is part of
the ocean and defined by the ocean. It is a temporary manifestation. So
it is with a human being. What you call ‘you’, the totality of your body,
emotions, thoughts and so on, and the name which you are given so we can
identify you by a personal name, is actually a temporary thought form that
came into being, lives here for a while, and will cease in the future. Here
we refer to the being of this incarnation, because Buddhism teaches reincarnation.
So, if the wave dissolves into the ocean and then rises up again in another
form (another incarnation), what is it that has remained the same and caused
another wave to rise up again? This is called the Dharmakaya, the body of
realty, the essence, the absolute. This is the essence of our being, it
is always there, it will always be.
Dharmakaya cannot be expressed in
words as it transcends everything. Nevertheless Buddhists have described
it in many words, but one has to take into account that these are only approximations.
Dharmakaya is not an abstract concept, it can be experienced here and now
at any time because it is always here. They reason why people do not experience
their true essence is because they are habituated to the thought forms that
make up this world. People are preoccupied by their bodily needs, are swept
away by their emotions and constantly following their thoughts. All this
has become such a strong habit that it takes a lot of time to change this
habit and start experiencing the true essence again. So how do Buddhist
describe Dharmakaya? It is beyond mind, and it is void. It is often called
empty, but this does not mean that there is nothing there, on the contrary
it is the totality of all knowledge. It is all-encompassing, and lucidly
clear. It is without any conceptions or conceptual limitations. One might
think it is clear consciousness, but even consciousness is a temporary thing.
Dharmakaya is clear, unceasing awareness. It is self-originated and spontaneously
present. It always has been clear and luminous, from the very beginning,
and is unceasing.
Is Dharmakaya, the true essence, the clear awareness,
or is it the ego, the self, or the higher self? Well, it is none of them,
and this is hard to grasp for most people. We identify so much with our
ego, and the stronger the ego the better, we think. The ego or self, Buddhists
say, is nothing but a construct of the mind, to give us a sense of a unity,
of a self, of being different from others, something that makes us feel
separate from others. It does not even exist, it is an idea, a concept,
a label in which we believe. The most we can say about an ego is that it
is the sum of all your personal characteristics. The ego by itself does
not exist, nor does the idea of a self. This is one of those paradoxes that
have to be experienced because the intellect by itself might not be able
to grasp or understand it. The fact that we see ourselves as separate from
others makes us believe we must have a self, a self that is unique and different.
But when you look for this self, it cannot be found. Buddhism is strongly
based on meditation and experience, and this has revealed, and everyone
can experience that for himself, that there is no ego, no self to be found
in oneself. It is just not there. Not even a higher self.
So, when one
meditates and tries to figure out what one is made of, what the true essence
of one is, what does one find? Meditation is a gradual process of stilling
the bodily energies, the emotional ebb and flow, and especially the continuous
flow of thoughts. Now, there are many ways to approach meditation and we
are not going to go into this here. The biggest obstacles are the thoughts.
They come and go and distract us continuously. When we break through the
habit of following the thoughts we experience mind directly. The mind is
the basis of our manifestation, or our incarnation, here. Can we say it
is ‘my’ mind. Yes and no, you could say it is as you are experiencing it,
but it is not ’your’ mind as the ego or self does not exists and thus cannot
even be experienced. So what you experience within yourself is not ‘your’
mind but just mind. We already gave a description of what mind is in its
universal aspect, but the same applies here. You could also say we all share
the same mind. When thoughts no longer hinder us, then we experience empty
mind. Like we said before empty does not mean that there is nothing there,
it is an experience of emptiness, it is unlike anything we experience in
our daily world.
When we have attained this state of consciousness in
which we experience the emptiness of mind, and when we are able to continuously
dwell in it while continuing our daily life, one is called enlightened,
an often misunderstood word. An enlightened being does not float around
on clouds, but is still an ordinary being living an ordinary life, however,
he has found the inner peace and tranquility that goes with the attainment
of the inner emptiness of mind. The experience of emptiness goes together
with clarity of awareness and the feeling of unlimited inner space. At this
point one is free from the karmic cycle of birth and death. But there is
one more step to take, and that is liberation. Most Westeners think that
enlightenment is it, the ultimate, but it is not. Liberation is the final
step. As long as the enlightened person holds on to the idea of emptiness
or clarity, he is holding on to a thought form, and thought forms belong
to the manifested universe. It is a question of dropping any conceived ideas
and then transcending them to experience directly the Dharmakya. Then one
is completely liberated. There is not much we can say about liberation because
it transcends everything we know.
If you have not given up reading this
article by now, you have shown great courage. The nature of being is not
easy to explain or to understand. What I wanted to give you here is a little
compass that you can use on your life path to steer you in the right direction.
It takes a whole lot more than this article to understand what it is all
about, and then you need to experience it yourself, otherwise it is just
dry intellectual material. If you feel attracted to concepts explained in
this article I recommend you read more about it. There are many good Buddhist
books that explain the subject in great depth.