Beyond Subject and Object
Context of Reality (according to the author’s experience, corroborated by both science and non-duality: quantum mechanics and advanced neuroscience, as well as non-dual common ground of all valid wisdom traditions and central truths of the esoteric heart of religions, gnostic teachings, and mysticism):
One invisible, infinite, non-local field of potential. “One” meaning: no division, no time or space. Meaning, it’s not separate from oneself, and has no separation in it. Meaning, it is you, it is I, it is everything, and everything that appears is appearing in and of and from it – including appearing as this (and that) human, separate and temporary – and is sort of like a dream in that it’s changing and taking shape despite not really changing or having a shape (a paradox to the mind but no contradiction or conflict in reality). Call it Love, call it Beauty, call it Truth, call it God, call it Consciousness, call it Self, call it Light, Universal Intelligence, call it Swiss cheese, call it whatever you want, they are all just names for the sacred unity of life, and none of those terms have an opposite; e.g., Love has no opposite in reality.
This is another one in a series of “Plainly obvious yet difficult to explain facts.”
When I was a child, I remember lying in bed and trying to imagine the end of the universe: how far it goes in space, where the edge of it is... and seeing that if there were some kind of edge, like a big grey wall way way out at the end of the universe in space, then there must be something beyond that wall, some other side to it ... and then more space, and then another wall farther on? And so on ... where does it end!!? There had to be the same situation no matter how far one went! – another edge, on and on, infinitely. It boggles one's little mind.
An infinite regress, or an infinite progress, that shows there can be no limit or boundary, in reality (only in the mind)…
Later in school, one finds a similar concept in mathematics: what they call “infinity”, as in a series, or in an infinite set, or numbers. There were various symbols and concepts that point to an infinity of measure. But somehow, these symbols and abstractions didn't have the same impact as imagining the ends of the universe, as in space as a child.
The Final Frontier: Consciousness. Where No Man Has Gone Before (or ever will…)
Later, at university, obsessed with trying to discover the nature of the mind, or of intelligence (what later I found is called "consciousness"), I encountered another mind-boggling infinity, of the same boundless character, but within: Where is the subject of all experience?
Whether looking for the location of the subject in this object (conceived as, say, as a body and brain), or in some externally seen object perceived, such as another person (also conceived as being, or having a body and brain) – the situation is the same: where would the subject be located? Where is the center of subjectivity? If one can conceive (really, an image in the mind) of such a subject as a location, or as a thing, an object, then you would have to go back in it to tell me where the seeing- hearing (that includes thinking, which is internal images and sounds)-touching-tasting-smelling, or any experience at all, is happening. Where is it all coming together exactly? Deeper within it yet, to find the subject? Where the heck are you, really: the totally subjective you?
Put another way, as pointed out by Western philosophy of mind and neuroscience: if we try to put the center of subjectivity, the receiver of all the input, within you, in the brain, perceiving, represented as a little man (or woman) – what they call a "homunculus" – then there must be a subject within it, for which or for who one needs to find the perceiving subject within, and so on… where does the buck stop?
Put another way (what they call "qualia" in philosophy of mind): there has to be a "what is it like to be a X," where X is a bat, a human, or the perception of a color that is totally subjective to oneself: no one will ever or could ever know, even in principle, what it is like for me to perceive the color green for instance. That X, or those X's, is irreducibly subjective.
So this is another infinite regress, or an infinite progress, that shows there can be no limit or boundary, in reality (only in the mind)… in this case, showing there is no center or self in the brain, no location of consciousness or awareness in an object, as it makes no logical sense. Despite how counter-intuitive it seems to the mind trained in materialism, we are left with only two choices: awareness (consciousness) either logically does not exist, or it would seem to be somehow non-local. But, I, whatever that "I" is, am conscious, and I exist, however you construe "exist" – even if it's an illusion, it Is – so we can safely eliminate the "consciousness does not exist" option.
This is corroborated by the Eastern tradition of Advaita, from many directions. To wit, here is a quote from one of the clearest "sages" of the 20th century, Atmananda Krishna Menon (who was no cave-sitting guru, but a police chief and lawyer):
2. Quest regarding the course of the world – meaningless
No question can be there regarding the time, place and cause of the origin of this world, for these themselves are part of the world, for these themselves form parts of the world.
The question seeks to have an explanation of the whole in terms of its part. This can never be a logical question.
… for which Western philosophy (and science) had no answer, just more theories based on models and images of an objective nature – models and theories and arguments within the finite mind, of how things function or what they are, objectively considered. In other words, either imagined or based on some perceptual measurement. They would not even begin to even try and tackle the subject of it all, let alone that it existed. The best and brightest and most brave in academia might dare to use the word “consciousness” (David Chalmers, Francis Crick…), then ask the “hard problem” of how it arises from brains, effectively putting the cart in front of the horse.
Why is the cart in front of the horse? Because the cart is already seen, formed, created, perceived – the cart being the brain, which is the substitute, the straw man, for real philosophical thinking, "pimping off science" (as one philosopher I knew in school said – can't remember his name) as it were, an easy way out in this case. But they have not considered where brains are being conceived, perceived, thought about, modeled, and imagined in the first place, and the where all the mental tools are happening: analysis, problem solving, creativity. In other words, where is the subject and the origin of all this "in here"?
The “in here” is obvious where it’s all happening. So why can’t we look at the obvious? The emperor has no clothes apparently! “Just move along folks, nothing to see here…” say the thought police in your mind and in the culture. It is amazing to see the dogma and egos, and their defense and offense positions, protecting imaginary turf!
For I assume – and this is a necessary one – that you are the same in this absolute basis: that when I look for the absolute center where this all happens, where it all comes together, where all experience is happening in here, there is no bottom, no center, no “here”. Transparent. Invisible. I cannot reach back and grab “I.” Empty. Pure seeing. Nothing.
Opening the book Posthumous Pieces by Wei Wu Wei (a humorous and philosophically wonderful title) at "random" we see:
“THERE HAS never been anything objective whatsoever.
There has never been anything sensorially perceptible; there is not and there never will be.
There has never been a "space" within which any perceptible object could be extended so that it could be perceived.
There has never been a "time" during which any perceptible object could have the sequential duration necessary for its
For there has never been an entity – without which no object whatever could be created, perceived, or cognised as an
... a little later in the same chapter (bold emphasis mine):
There has never been anything objective – and yet there is no subject either? It is because there has never been anything objective that there cannot be a subject. "A subject" would necessarily be an object of another subject, and so on in a perpetual regression.
So there has never been a subject, and therefore there has never been an object – except conceptually in mind, whereby every apparent object has a subject which thereby is the object of another subject; and the perpetual regression of this process is conceptualised by each of us as “I.” (p237)
This is all clear enough, but it seems easier, at least to the author, to conceive, or perceive, that there is a limitless property of space, as in how this current article started, with the author imagining the ends of space. It's little less obvious how there is no duration, no temporal aspect to anything, no time-based basis to any thing. So let's look into that...
Consider that what is aware of events in time could not itself be in time.
This quote from the Advaita philosopher Atmananda Krishna Menon (Shri Atmananda) may serve to stoke your intuition:
6. Witness of Jiva*
Only what has been perceived before can come up in memory. The embodied “I” who perceived, did or enjoyed anything, also comes up in memory at times. From this it follows that the embodied “I” was witnessed by another “I” principle at the time of this perception, action or enjoyment.
It is this witnessing “I” that is the real “I.” Fixing attention there, and establishing oneself in it, one becomes freed from bondage.
Rather than using the word "I" in this context, which tends to suggest to readers some kind of personal principal or an entity that recognizes, the author prefers to point to emptiness, or no-thing. That is, subjectivity, raw and bare.
"Be what you are.
That which is, is ever present. Even now you are It, and not apart from it."
– Ramana Maharshi, from The Essential Teachings of Ramana Maharshi: A Visual Journe, (p. 104)
Any kind of object is dependent on time – that is, the perception of an object requires a cognizing, a separating out of supposed events in time according to a mental operation. Remember what it was like to be a child, before you learned about time and ever thought of time? It was only the adults that were concerned about what time it was or what was going to happen in the future, or talked all the time about the past. You simply played.
Of course, time considerations are useful, for the avatar, the character, the story teller, and the functioning thereof. If we want to coordinate when and where to meet a friend or have a business lunch, or engineer a computer circuit, or investigate patterns of how things act in nature, we need to use a concept of time to help us. It's a fantastic invention by Consciousness. But that doesn't make it real, it just is what appears in experience for time-functioning characters appearing in This, whatever This is.
How does this relate to or equate with the infinite regression that is so clear and obvious in the case of space? Does Zeno's Paradox help us, where as we apprach some finish line, we see smaller and smaller increments as we divide the distance in half, and keep going, never reaching the end? No, because all you will conclude is that there's an infinitesimal bit of time you can't grasp (like in calculus). It's still in time, on a time line, even if very, very small.
What we need to see is that time and timelessness are two sides of the same coin, existing in each other, as neither concept makes any sense without the other. So let's explore this further.
In regards to time, if you look within, what is seen or known with respect to infinity, since that is the theme and the love this essay started with?
To speak or think or imagine infinite time is not what we are after, since it makes a heavy object so to speak, a seemingly huge thing in the mind, like a universe of time. So is what is being pointed in the other direction so to speak – the infinitesimal moment? Are we after the smallest moment of time, so small as to be no moment at all, merely a point on a line? No, we've already see that what we are pointing to has no point. It is pointless... but in a good way, a free way (pun intended)!
Where are we going? The mind wants to leap ahead, anticipate. It thinks it knows, or wants to know, or wants to control.
What we are pointing to, the infinite, is not an amount. It is not large, and it is not small. It cannot be held in the hand or in the mind.
Remember how I started this essay, talking about the limitless boundaries – how there must be an other side, if there is a wall at the end of the universe, and therefore an infinite regress (or progress) of walls?
We can start to see that the important thing is not that it’s pointing to something large, infinitely large (how greedy are you anyway?!) but that that measure makes no sense at all… such that a wall or boundedness or finiteness dissolve, and we have to throw up our hands.
Consider this paragraph encountered in Wei Wu Wei:
Also, since we are “duration”, we cannot have been "born" and we cannot "die," because duration as such, or other than as a concept in mind, cannot begin or cease to endure, since duration cannot start or stop enduring, for otherwise it could not be duration at all. A conceptual object in mind may be supposed to start and to stop objectively experiencing "duration, " but non-objective duration as such cannot be "duration" unless it endures. (p41)
Phew! That is admittedly a bit dense to read, but if you listen to what it was saying carefully, it is not unlike my wall-at-the-end-of-the-universe wonderment: not only do the walls disappear, but so do measure – how does one measure something where not only does it make no sense to conceive of it starting or stopping in time, but has no lines dividing it, and every part is not just connected to every other part, but literally is every part, since there are no parts! Even to say it is “one” is saying too much, since this "One" is an object in mind! It’s not one out there, it’s you. You are That. I am That.
Is This Ungraspable Enough For You?
If you are starting to feel like what being pointed to is juuust out of your grasp, that’s good... because it is! What you are is not only ungraspable, but what is out there is ungraspable, and they are the same: the ungraspable in there within you and the ungraspable out there for you are the same. And, the ungraspable in here and the ungraspable out there are the same. Subject and object are not separate as they never existed separately in the first place. Clear enough?
If the whole thing is driving you a bit mad, then good, for it is indeed mad to consider yourself in time, as an object, subject to the vagaries and fears of a time-bound entity, with no future except to drop off the end of time, so to speak. It's madness … and it's the madness of the world.
Ramana Maharshi suggested that the “I” thought – the imagination thereof – and time, are the same thing, the same thought. You can’t really separate out the “me” from mind, or mind from time**.
The Inconcludable Conclusion
In conclusion, the subject-object division is simply not real, as can be verified in immediate experience (don't believe me, or anything you've heard or read, look into it in yourself). It was fabricated. It was learned as a child, via socialization, reinforced in school and by the culture in general. So we are hopefully un-doing that (a little bit), or at least placing a doubt, a thorn, a crack in the cosmic egg. The fake certainty can't survive forever.
Wei Wu Wei goes on:
There has never been an object because there has never been a subject, and there has never been a subject because there has never been an object. Phenomena are conceptual because they result from this illusory process which is a perpetual regression.
Therefore this perpetual regression is the mechanism of phenomenality, and regression and phenomenality are inseparable and cannot be differentiated.
This inexistence of phenomenality, consequent upon the absence of a subjective factor which could be such without thereby becoming an object, constitutes relativity. By this relativity we reason, and nothing we can know can be known otherwise, for the result of this relative reasoning is what we know as "knowledge.” (p. 238)
At the end of the day (really, right now), even “consciousness” is a conceptualization, in that the word, the sound, evokes an image, or a sense of something – some thing – and while maybe it’s a good marker or signpost, or way of communicating, it too must be discarded.
Well we are all just figments of our mutual imagination. Or imaginary imagination.
In the marvelous book Open Secret, Wei Wu Wei pierces through even the vanity of supposing there is some kind of ultimate subject, or Super Sujectivity (our spiritual fantasies as it were):
That subject is itself in turn an object, and as an object it too has no being.
But there must be an ultimate – let us call it "subjectivity”?
That is according to the logic of dualistic thinking. That "subjectivity," so-named, thereby becomes itself an object – an object of thought. As "non-objectivity" you can go a step nearer to indicating what can only be intuitively apperceived. But the nearest is "absence of both objectivity and non-objectivity” – which is not any kind of "thing.”
* Jiva: "A jiva [personal ego] comes into being as a result of the false identification of the Atma [Self] with body, senses and mind; or as a result of the superimpositions of doership or enjoyership upon the Atma (Atma + doership = jiva)." – Notes on Spiritual Discourses of Shri Atmananda (p.46)
** “Note: What is termed "an I-concept" is a symbol of the splitting of whole-mind into relative duality, which consists in conceiving "other-than-self" as a space-time entity, whereby its interdependent counterpart "self" becomes another. This dual, or divided, functioning of mind (just termed "mind" by the Maharshi) appears as the conceiver or functioning “I”, temporally extended as “duration.” Therefore the Maharshi states "The mind is only the thought ‘I.’ ” " – Posthumous Pieces, Wei Wu Wei (Terrence Grey), (p. 40)
Links to explore: