by Michael Maciel
When ancient teachers spoke of abstractions such as “pure consciousness,” it was in much the same way that Jesus taught in parables. Jesus told his disciples that he taught the multitude in parables but that he taught them, his disciples, what the parables meant.
Throughout the history of the Ancient Wisdom Teachings, the inner truths were only taught by word of mouth. They were never written. This is called the “Oral Tradition.” It is generally practiced one-on-one or in very small groups. The only way they could be written was in a form that alluded to the truth without spelling it out.
One such teaching is that of “oneness.” Often you will hear it expressed as the “non-dual state” or “pure consciousness.” These words describe concepts that are strictly theoretical; there is no way that the reality they name can be expressed in words. It just can’t be done.
This begs the question: why utter these words at all? It’s pretty much understood that concepts get in the way of “pure consciousness,” so why introduce more of them? Why give the mind one more bone to chew on?
True master teachers (and gurus) are not usually prone to theorize. Nor do they expound philosophy for its own sake. True spiritual teachers know that too much thinking is antithetical to realization, so they emphasize meditation and other spiritual exercises. They know that the truth cannot be written in books, nor can one get to it by reading. The truth only comes as a result of going within to find the God Self.
While realization cannot be expressed in words, the instructions on how to get to realization can. The teaching of “oneness” isn’t meant to be taken as a concept but as an instruction. You can be wowed by the concept for as long as you want to be, but in the end, the teaching of oneness is not much more than hyperbole – a noble and lofty ideal towards which to strive. It’s the “mountaintop experience,” the “pure consciousness of God,” and the “non-dual state.” But these words are all concepts. And they do NOTHING to get you there.
They do nothing, that is, unless you know how to read these teachings as instructions and not as philosophical ideas. For instance, the term “pure consciousness” really means “consciousness without content.” The instruction is implied, not spelled out, and it’s saying, “Empty your mind; stop thinking; be present to what is.”
But even these words are fraught with conceptualizations. Being present to what is can be taken as noticing the flowers in the garden or the wind on your cheek – natural phenomena unburdened by the interpretations of the mind. But consciousness without content excludes these phenomena as well. Consciousness without content means being conscious of consciousness. It means awareness turned inward upon itself, like shining a flashlight into a mirror.
So the term “pure consciousness” means much more than the cessation of thought. It means awareness aware of itself and nothing more – it’s not stopping to notice the sunset. No one can teach you how to do this; you have to work at it on your own. But they CAN tell it to you in just this way: go within, turn your awareness inward upon itself, and continue doing that until you realize the Self.
There are other instances of veiled instructions. When Jesus said “Judge not,” he was describing the method by which we can achieve equanimity or oneness. He was telling us to look upon all things (not just people) and view them all the same; all things have the same value; we are not to ascribe more value to one thing over another, no matter how much we need or want it. “Judge not” is a method, not a moral imperative. It can be taken as one, but its real purpose is to lead you within your own consciousness and to work with it.
The teaching of “oneness” alludes to this same instruction. Who will cause the mountains to be made low and the valleys to be exalted? Will the landscape literally invert itself? Will God come down from heaven and do it? No. It is WE who are to do the leveling. We are the ones who will make the first last and the last first. We will strip these things of the artificial values we have ascribed to them, and in so doing, we will see the world, perhaps for the first time, as it is and not as what we think it is.
There is some utility in creating concepts such as oneness and pure consciousness. Like the parables Jesus told to his casual listeners, they are memorable and will someday remind the more inquisitive among the audience to delve deeper into the mystery behind them. But if you’re reading this article, and you’ve made it this far, it’s unlikely that you will be satisfied with mysteries or, for that matter, concepts.
“Oneness” is not a mantra. Repeating it will not get you any closer to it. You have to do what the concept implies. But in order to do that, you have to hear it as an instruction, not as a concept. You have to take notice when you find yourself valuing one thing over another, and you have to make the effort to correct that. You have to work at it, because the mind – your mind – will fight you tooth and nail.
The principal teachers of the world, people like Jesus, Buddha, Lao Tzu, Hypatia of Alexandria, and Mary Magdalene, never spoke about the teachings directly. They always hid their true meaning from the eyes of the profane. They did this partly because it’s impossible to verbalize the truth and partly because it’s against the rules of the Ancient Wisdom Tradition. Instead, they presented them as concepts, usually pictorialized in stories. Later, they would take their disciples aside and tell them what the stories meant, not to explain them but to put them into their proper context, which was one of instruction, not ideas.
If we can avoid hyperbole for hyperbole’s sake, the Ancient Wisdom Teachings will make a lot more sense. It does no good to say that God is pure consciousness unless we know how to read that. Otherwise, it’s just another philosophical dead-end, unattainable, and entirely useless.