All Inclusive, Without Other

There is a rather famous story about ten friends who went on a trip. As they traveled, they came to a river. Although it was the season of rains and the river was quite turbulent, they decided to cross it. With great effort they managed to ford the stream, and once on the other shore, they decided to check whether no one of them was missing.

To make the story short, each of them made the mistake of counting only their nine friends in front of them. So, they came to collective conclusion that one friend is missing and must have drowned. While they mourned their loss, another man walked by and asked why the group is mourning. The sad men explained the situation, but the passerby just smiled and demonstrated that each of them simply failed to count himself.

You may laugh and object that no one could be that ignorant, hence the story is rather far-fetched. But, surprisingly, there were people in recent history who literally found themselves by joining rescue groups that were searching for them. However, that is just a funny side note.

Although teachers of non-duality apparently used this story to explain various facets of their teachings for as long as the story existed, I will focus only on one particular aspect, perhaps the most in-your-face part, that which highlights the one crucial mistake we all tend to make while perceiving the world.

As you may have guessed, it’s the main point of the story, that is to say, the unfortunate fact that we tend to exclude ourselves from the act of observation.

In its traditional meaning, usually pointed at by commentaries on the story, it’s the fact that we fail to recognize the presence of our sense of “I-ness”. We fail to see ourselves and subsequently come to a mistaken conclusion that there is no absolute, only permanent impermanence, as I elaborated elsewhere. However, in a more subtle way, it also points at the fact that we fail to see the non-dual nature of All-That-Is irrespective of our views and understanding of individuality or personhood as well as concepts of Self, God, consciousness, or whatever name you use to point at the Absolute.

Simply speaking, at the most naive level, we look at the Universe and we don’t see ourselves in it. Paradoxically, even if we manage to separate the pure unmoved, seemingly transcendent observer from all objects (aka phenomena), we still operate in a dual mode of an observer and that which is observed. As you can imagine, this leads to all kinds of feelings of alienation — whatever we consider ourselves to be, we either feel like we don’t fit in the cosmos or that cosmos is an alien entity in opposition to ourselves.

The only variation you may find at this stage is whether a person decides to treat as alien the cosmos or themselves. Either in part (see e.g. ideas of material world as fallen, disdain for body, identification with concept of personal soul or mind, but also notions of life as “cosmic error” or anomaly), or as a whole (see e.g. the mantra of neo-advaita, “There is no one there.”). Suffice to say, more often than not it’s the so-called material, natural, or physical world that draws the short straw.

Quite undeservingly.

When you say “Universe,” it automatically means “all bodies,” and when you say “all bodies,” it automatically means “all minds.” Subsequently, when you say “all minds,” it automatically means “all concepts.” As can be seen, concepts are forms of minds, minds are forms of bodies, bodies are forms of Universe. Hence, even concepts are just forms of Universe. Funnily enough, “Universe” is already a concept pointing at a particular form. Anyway.

If you (correctly) observe that there is no permanent self in that world of phenomena we also call Universe, you may still conclude that there is either no self as such, or that your true self is outside of Universe, transcending it. However, both of those conclusions are still incorrect. After all, what is outside of universe? Into what it expands?

The answer is pretty straightforward, but also outside of the realm of concepts. So, it’s impossible to adequately describe it. However, it can be known.

To help you with the conundrum, look at it this way — if you have two, you already must have space and/or time. Yet, that which seems to transcend time and space cannot have another because there is no spatial or temporal difference that could separate the two. (Hence, you cannot speak about that which is without another as a thing either.) It follows, that the world of phenomena, including time and space, is in essence exactly that which appears to transcend them all. Even if all talk about essence of the seemingly transcendent is moot.

Well, to quote Ramana Maharshi, “The world is illusory, Only Brahman is real, Brahman is the world.

Don’t exclude yourself from it.

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