Do you think the different stages of spiritual development overlap?
Yes, definitely, there is no marked point of moving over. There is an overlapping which takes place which you can only become aware of when you are past the point of change. You can sometimes trace a change back to where it actually happened, but that’s very difficult. This is spiritual rather than physical, so the lines of demarcation are very vague. But you reach a point where things of a beneficial nature take place within you, and similar things arise in that total conscious area of the spirit.
Gradually you find that a greater transparency develops, which indicates moving off into another dimension, until the transparency fades away altogether and it’s just a total unity. And that, of course, is another area altogether, moving from the heavenly into the celestial realms. These are very difficult to talk about at all, except for one factor: all the while through the physical realms, through hell and heaven states, there is a degree of duality. However, in the celestial realms the transparency becomes so clear that duality disappears into a total unity. It still retains its conscious identity — rather than self-identity — but with the realization that it has never been born.
Now, that is a strange thing to say, isn’t it? You and I are here with a physical aspect, assuming that we were born. But consciousness was never born into this body; it became attached to it. It was never born as the body, which is why it can eventually leave it.
When did it enter the body?
It didn’t enter the body, it became attached to the body. So it is both in and out of the physical, but not a part of it at all. That’s why you can sense or feel physical things, even within the physical body. Of course, this is a construct, not a reality. The feeling is one thing, but we grasp at it, create a conceptual world out of it, a delusory world, and deceive ourselves that we are something we’re not. The truth is we were always and always will be pure consciousness, which was there before the world began and will be there when it’s gone. That is very hard to take in, of course. But at some point you will find it to be true yourself.
You’ll reach a place which is beyond words. That’s the problem: if you were a fish and were able to talk, would you be able to make yourself understood here? You wouldn’t, because all the concepts and ideas wouldn’t make sense. The same thing applies to us in the spiritual element. Our meanings come from our conditions, but in the spiritual element there are no conditions whatsoever, so how do you explain it? We only know what the conditioned means until duality ceases and we break away and see the reality.
Generally speaking, therefore, what we talk about in words is not wholly true. Truth lies in experience, not in any thoughts or ideas about experience. It’s like hitting your thumb with a hammer when you’re putting a nail in a wall — then you know what pain is. But you couldn’t explain that pain to somebody else, unless they have the same experience. You have to experience it to know it.
Practices such as meditation and chanting can take you away from the conditioned world temporarily, which gives you a chance to appreciate the difference between the conditioned and the unconditioned. And what you find, in deep meditation for instance, is a void which is beyond measure and beyond dimensions. Consciousness expands way beyond the body — in fact, it isn’t even conscious of the body, only this vast, boundless emptiness.
Keep going there — don’t try to see anything, but keep the mind’s eye open. Sooner or later things will arise and show themselves to you. And in that showing you will experience unity, because what arises is absorbed into the consciousness. Perhaps there will be a time when you’re quietly doing something in a state of absorption, and suddenly you know; suddenly it takes your breath away. But not in meditation — meditation only prepares the ground.
You can only deal with these things by looking at your own experience. Don’t look to my experience as a given truth — your truth is what matters, not mine. And when you begin to see things you’ll find they’re not so different anyway — but at least you know for sure, through experience rather than through a belief system. Belief prevents you from seeing the actual.
When you see the true nature of things, you realize that it is both your own and that of the whole universe. It is one nature, and this is where the metta aspect comes in again: being total, complete, without separateness — this means love. And when we are able to access that, and to live in the world with it, there is nothing we can give to the world but loving-kindness — because that is all we are.
There are various ways of showing it, of course. The body and the mind pick up many habit patterns over a lifetime, and a lot of these will continue, as conditions which have nothing to do with you. You used to think the conditions were you, because you were closely attached to them. They aren’t you anymore, but they still continue. I still wear a tie. Why? Because I’ve been doing it all my life (laughs). No other reason — it’s just a habit pattern. But conditions give us an apparent identity.