Devoid of any quality, untainted and beyond duality.
▵ NIRGUN – Awareness Is Freedom
One thing I often see when people believe they are on a spiritual path is they throw around terminology to describe aspects that are not in their experience, and consequently have misconceptions about them. “Awareness” and its related terms are some such examples. Awareness is often mixed up with alertness, though they are not the same. Alertness is a quality of the mind and the body. Awareness is not of the mind or the body – it is the nature of life. Most people do not make this distinction.Awareness is not of the mind or the body – it is the nature of life.
The root of everything is one, but it is the basis of all complexity. No mind can ever fathom the sophistication of what we call awareness or the being. These two are not different things. You could also call it atman or self, paramatman or the supreme self, anda and pinda or a piece of life, brahmanda or cosmos – but these are all just words. Essentially, we try to refer to that which defies definition. No word can describe this limitless phenomenon.
Definition needs a form, a shape, and a quality. Awareness has no quality of its own. That is why we describe it in negative terms. We call it nirgun, which means “that which has no quality.” This is as close as you can get to a definition. The logical mind cannot grasp that which has no quality. And since it is everywhere, you cannot battle with it either. There is a beautiful incident in the life of the great sage Allama Prabhu, who lived in northern Karnataka and is revered as one of the pillars of the Veera Shaiva community.
One day, a yogi named Goraksha came seeking Allama because he had heard great things about Allama and wanted to compete with him. They say Goraksha was a little over two hundred and eighty years at that time. With very rigorous yoga, mastering the elements within the system, he had hardened his body in such a way he defied age. Everybody he knew had fallen dead, but he was still alive and strong like a youth. That was his pride.When the mind becomes absolutely still, you become free.
Goraksha met Allama on a river bank and told him, “I’m the real yogi. If you want to test me, take your sword, hit me on the head, and see what happens.” Allama agreed, took his sword, and smashed it on the yogi’s head. It bounced back as if it hit a rock. Goraksha said, “This is my strength. No sword can slice me. I am practically immortal. What can you do?” Allama laughed and said, “Well, you can also use your sword.” The yogi hesitated at first because Allama did not look strong or rock-like, but Allama encouraged him to go ahead. Goraksha took the sword and hit Allama’s head with full force. The sword went straight through Allama’s body, as if through air. Goraksha lost his balance and fell. He asked, “What is this?” Allama said, “This is not this or that. This is Shiva.”
When something is neither this nor that, it has no qualities. This is Shiva – “that which is not.” This is the nature of awareness – it has no quality of its own, no resistance, nothing. This is also the nature of life and that which is the source of life. But if at all people have any experience of awareness, it is mostly through the filters of their minds. There is no mind without quality. At the most, you can calm the mind in such a way that it becomes mirror-like, without attributes, for a period of time. The mind cannot function without attributes and information. If you bring the mind to a certain level of calmness, you touch the dimension that we call awareness. We can also call it life, the source of life, the Divine, nirgun, or atman – it is all the same.
For most people, awareness is heavily blurred by the mind, because awareness reflects through the mind. If the mind is still for some time, awareness will be clear. But a bit of activity, thoughts, and emotions, and immediately, awareness will be tainted. The very fact that you are awake and you read this now means you are aware. Trying to understand the language, the importance, and the meaning behind it – all this comes from the mind. The mind cannot exist without outside input and support.If you bring the mind to a certain level of calmness, you touch the dimension that we call awareness.
If you go by the nature of your mind, whose content is largely based on social input, you will automatically seek bondage. You want to bond with people and hold on to things you come in contact with. By contrast, the nature of awareness is freedom. When the mind becomes absolutely still, you become free. Right now, awareness or the source of life is stuck to your body because of karmic glue. If you dissolve the karmic glue, which could happen if your meditation becomes very deep, you could leave the body. That is why I make sure no one gets enlightened right here. Not because I am avoiding competition. The problem is you may rise in awareness, but you cannot rise in knowing and wisdom that easily.
If you do not create any obstructions, you can easily rise in awareness, beyond the limitations of your psychological and physiological framework, because that is its nature. Right now, you are holding it down with so many obstructions. For awareness to rise and at the same time to keep your physiological structure and the psychological framework intact, you need to understand the nuts and bolts of how it is all made. This is a learning process that will take time.
Awareness never has a quality of its own. Only because you perceive everything through the tinted glass of your mind, it looks like there are different kinds of awareness, while it actually is one. The air around you, the life within you, and what is spreading across the cosmos are essentially of the same quality, or rather, beyond quality – nirgun.