Nondual Realization and the Personal Self

by Judith Blackstone

Human beings have the innate potential for an advanced phase of spiritual maturity, in which we discover a more subtle, unified dimension of our being.  In the Eastern spiritual literature, this discovery is called nondual realization, or enlightenment. It is a distinct shift in the way we experience ourselves and the world around us.

Nondual realization is the lived experience of oneself as made of very subtle, unified consciousness.  By “made of”, I mean that every bit of one’s body--all the way through the internal space of oneself--is experienced as subtle, unified consciousness.  At the same time, everything outside of oneself is also experienced as made of this same one consciousness.  As this all-pervasive, unified consciousness, there is no barrier between oneself and the environment, no boundary between one’s internal and external experience.  This does not mean that there is no internal experience, and it does not mean that there is no external experience.  It means that internal and external events register in the one unified space of subtle consciousness. 

This primary dimension of consciousness has many different names in the Eastern spiritual literature.  Among these names are pure consciousness, or Self, in the Hindu system, and self-recognizing, primordial awareness or rigpa in the Tibetan Buddhist system.  In this paper I will call it fundamental consciousness.

Fundamental consciousness is experienced as luminous stillness, or emptiness.  For example, if we have realized this dimension and we look at a table, we will see the table with all of its weight, color and texture, and at the same time, we will be aware that the table is “transparent.”  It appears to be pervaded by--or made of--luminous space.

Within this luminous, all-pervasive stillness moves the constantly changing dance of our thoughts, emotions, sensations and perceptions.  The more fully we come to know ourselves as the stillness, the more effortlessly, deeply and vividly the movement of life occurs and flows.

It is important to understand that fundamental consciousness, as the primary level of our being, is not something separate from the “content” of experience flowing through it.  It is not a detached transcendence, not merely an impersonal witness, for it is right in our experience.  As this subtle consciousness, we are both the witness and the experiencer at the same time.  We are disentangled from the content of our experience only in the sense that we do not grab onto it, we do not clamp down on it, we do not deny or distort it.  We allow it to flow.  For this reason, as fundamental consciousness, we gain both more ability to witness and more capacity to experience, at the same time.  We become both more disentangled from life and more directly, potently immersed in life.

Nondual realization is openness to experience.  As fundamental consciousness, we become transparent.  We become clear-through.  What is this transparency?  It is contact.  Emptiness and contact are synonymous.  They both mean that there is no separation between oneself and one’s experience.  Subtle, unified consciousness is the dimension of direct, complete contact--with both our individual form and the world around us.  The more deeply inward we can contact our own form, the more open we are, and the more responsive we are to our environment. 

The reader can try this out: Sit comfortably with a straight back.  Breathe calmly and evenly.  Feel that you inhabit the internal space of your chest (not that you are aware of your chest, but that you reside within your chest).  If you can feel that you are inside your chest, you may automatically feel the presence of love there.  You may also feel other emotions, such as sadness, and you may feel some constriction.  This is normal; we hold tension, and undischarged emotional energy within the body.  Just becoming aware of these holding patterns helps release them.  The more deeply you can inhabit your chest, the more love you will feel, and the more deeply and easily you will be moved in response to the world around you.

When we can inhabit ourselves all the way through our internal depth, the barrier between internal and external automatically dissolves.  Another way of saying this same thing is that when we experience ourselves as empty space/consciousness we automatically experience everything around us as also made of clear-through empty space/consciousness.

Emptiness is also presence, the tangible radiant quality of existence itself.  It is one of life’s greatest mysteries that we experience this sense of existing, this sense of being here, even more palpably as we experience ourselves as made of empty space. 

At the very center of one’s body there is a subtle vertical channel, running from the base of the torso to the top of the head.  This channel (called the central channel in Tibetan Buddhism and sushumna in Hinduism) is our entranceway into fundamental consciousness.  This means that we can realize nonduality through deep inward contact with our own individual form. 

The central channel is also the source of the essential qualities or functions, of our being.  These qualities, such as love, understanding, power, and sexuality, are the basis of our personal, human experience.  When we inhabit the internal space of our whole body, including the central channel, we are able to experience love, understanding, power and sexuality more fully.  We also gain a sense of internal cohesion, or unity.  We are able, for example, to think, feel and sense at the same time.  This is an interesting paradox of nondual realization.  We come alive within our own body, within our individual human being, at the same time as we transcend our individual body.  We come to know our individual self at the same time as we discover that there is no separation between self and other. 

Therefore, the realization of nonduality is not a negation, or a “falling away” of our personal self.  It is a fruition of our personal self, an inward ripening.  The Eastern teachings sometimes speak of a state of selflessness, or “no-self” as enlightenment.  I believe these teachings are meant to help people let go of the static organizations of self-experience—the habitual attitudes, self-images, bound emotion, and psychological protections--that keep us from entering fully into subtle consciousness.  But the concept of no-self is sometimes misunderstood, at least by Western students, as an instruction to try to eradicate our sense of existing.  This creates fragmentation between ourselves and our experience, rather than the oneness of nonduality.  Nonduality is realized in the innermost depths of the personal self.  It is the maturity, rather than the eradication, of the personal self.

As fundamental consciousness, we become truly ourselves, we become authentic human beings. There is great pleasure in this authenticity.  We can receive the free flow of our own thoughts, our own responses.  We are alone with ourselves and at one with our environment at the same time.  The psychological rigidities that have limited our experience begin to dissolve, and we are able to truly touch and see the world around us.  If we do not clamp down on our desires, we are also able to witness the mysterious correlation between our desires and our circumstances, and life becomes a stream of blessings.

Judith Blackstone is author of The Empathic Ground; The Enlightenment Process; The Subtle Self; and Living Intimately.  For more information, visit

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