The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Types Of Enlightenment: Part 1 1/2 – World As Self

In my first post on the type of enlightenment where one experiences the world as self I noted that of the types I will cover, this is one I had no taste of. That changed after I wrote it, albeit for only a few hours, so I thought I’d write a follow-up post.

In many spiritual circles there is a distrust for intellectual inquiry. Words, it is true, cannot adequately describe enlightnment states (or much else, really.)

This distrust is not universal,  however. There is a role for intellectual understanding when one combines it with meditative investigation. In India this is called Jnani Yoga.

The Jnani Yoga for “world as self” is simple enough, and the basis for statement’s like “the world exists because you exist” from “I Am That.”

  1. You experience only sense objects in consciousness. You have never, nor will you every experience anything else. These sense objects may reflect something outside of you, or they may not, but what you experience is a sense object.
  2. A sense object is created out of consciousness.
  3. No matter how long you look you will never find anything but consciousness. When sense objects change or go, you remain.
  4. You are consciousness. You are everything you perceive.
  5. Consciousness can be pretty much anything. If I close my eyes, I still exist. If the objects around me change, I still exist. If my body changes (as it does) I am still me. In dreams, where I may have a different body or no body at all, I am still me.

Since you are, in fact, everything you have ever experienced or ever will experience, dividing the world into outside and inside is insane. It’s delusional. You are as much the sounds, sights, and objects you experience outside the body as you are the body (which you only experience, also, as sense objects.)

When this become “duh” to you: when you believe it implicitly, the mind starts to change how you perceive the world.

Because you have spent your entire life experiencing sense objects one way “I am the body, everything else is outside me and not me” getting here generally requires a lot of meditation, which amounts to re-conditioning yourself.

There are many ways to do this. One is to simply examine each sense object in turn, and ask “is this me? Take your time, don’t force the answer. I usually find the answer is “it’s me” or “I don’t know.” If you think that it’s not you because you can’t control it, remember all the times you can’t control your body, which you think IS you.

Either you’re everything you experience, or you’re none of it. (Which is also a path, and you can meditate on that. “If it went away would I still exist? — Don’t do this on big things, do it on sense objects – feelings in the body, thoughts, sights, sounds, smells, whatever. )

When you do experience the world as yourself it feels really good. It oddly radically reduces the sense of self, and fear, and a sense of well-being and safety arises. Some other realizations occur, almost 180 degrees to how we normally understand the world and the self, but I’ll leave those alone for now until I’ve spent more time in this state and been able to understand its insights better.

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Open Thread


  1. Mark Pontin

    My life seemed like a glass tunnel, through which I was moving faster every year, and at the end of which there was darkness… [However] When I changed my view, the walls of my glass tunnel disappeared. I now live in the open air. There is still a difference between my life and the lives of other people. But the difference is less. Other people are closer. I am less concerned about the rest of my own life, and more concerned about the lives of others.

    — Derek Parfitt,

    Though how one reconciles all this with living in Hell World (as in Ian’s Monday ‘Lords of Hell’ post) is a question. Probably one that each individual must construct an answer in their own way.

  2. Alfred

    If you think of everything in terms of energy, then you, your body, your consciousness are energy impinging and being impinged upon, influenced, by all of the energies around you.

  3. Chicago Clubs

    I am not a philosopher, nor do I play one on TV, but is this not fairly close to Husserl’s phenomenology? Did he reach similar conclusions/methods?

  4. Trinity

    From (one version of) the I Ching:

    “A fundamental fact of consciousness is that we take on the attributes and energy of that upon which we focus our attention.”

  5. different clue

    @Ian Welsh,

    This will seem minor compared to the subject of this thread but, I see that the blog has been visually redesigned.

    I miss the raven. If anyone else decides they miss the raven too, then can we get the raven back?

  6. Ian Welsh

    I like the Raven too, but there’s really no place on this template to put it. I’ve been seeing if I can find a picture of a raven or ravens in the correction proportion/size that’s not copyright restricted, but haven’t found anything yet that I like. (1280 × 444) (or about a 3/1 horizontal/vertical ratio.)

  7. Eric F

    Wow, Ian!
    You’ve been on fire this week.
    Thanks for the enlightenment update.
    I have been pondering the statement “You experience only sense objects in consciousness.”

    I agree with that, but per your intellectual inquiry threshold, I have a feeling that the statement is not provable, but an article of faith.
    I’m fine with that too, but it seems that there are implications.

    You say “A sense object is created out of consciousness.”
    Fine, as far as it goes, but it doesn’t describe the creation process.

    Let’s back away from that for a minute and ask a question. If all is consciousness and sense objects made from consciousness, what happens if I stop breathing?
    For a short time, there will be sense objects impinging on my consciousness. Then what? When the sense objects associated with what I identify as my body cease, what happens to the consciousness?

    I recognize that there is only one way to know for sure, and nobody has been able to convincingly report back from there, but my personal prejudice is that at the time of death, then the fragment of consciousness that is supported by “my body” also extinguishes.

    Even if that fragment is absorbed by some other pool of consciousness, still we have the phenomenon of the metabolism of oxygen having a direct effect upon consciousness.

    I can think of no better demonstration that the world outside of “us” exists. Or maybe better said, that consciousness is lumpy. Or resonant lumps of conscious energy bumping into each other.

    I confess to complete ignorance in these matters – my spiritual practice, such as it is, is Tango.
    This is just my idle musing, but I’m really happy that you got me started.


  8. Ven

    Hi Ian

    Just to clarify. Jnana yoga (= path of knowledge) is found in the philosophy of Advaita (=not two) Vedanta (= culmination of knowledge). As an aside, Schopenhauer said of it “They [the upanishads] have been the solace of my life; and will be the solace at my death”.

    What is Jnana? It is the insight, as you partly say, that:
    1. The idea of the world out there and me in here is illusory. No separation. Not two.
    2. All there is, is Consciousness, in which the illusion of the world is playing. Like the screen in a cinema show.
    3. There is, in reality no ‘I’; no ego. It is an illusion in the sense that the ‘I’-thought arises because we seem to experience the world from the perspective of this body-mind; and hence we need to protect it, and seek pleasure and avoid suffering. But in reality, all there is, is consciousness on which experiences play out.

    Consequently the approach is to reflect on experience, and see that all that we experience is not ‘me’. Because if we experience some object, then it is experienced BY something, ie Consciousness. So in this approach one progressively examines internally, am I the body, an I the sense organs, am I the thoughts . . . to realise that each is an experience arising in Consciousness.

    This can be done in meditation, but it can also be done in daily life. Whenever you get angry, or greedy, or lustful or afraid, you turn inwardly to ask ‘who is it that is angry / greedy / lustful’. Ultimately it is said that the ‘I’-thought dies – ie there is no longer any sense of me and mine, of body-mind identification. So such a sage, lives out the rest of his / her life peacefully, austerely, without conflict, without grabbing.

    So the meditation in this path is really about dwelling on / applying / deepening this understanding that there is no ‘I’.

    If we all realised this, even partially, it would be hard to see how we would have the type of society that we live in today.

  9. Ché Pasa

    An issue that sometimes comes up with this type of enlightenment is that the focus on “self” is itself a form of ego-stroking that obscures enlightenment rather than enabling and fostering it.

    In other words, the “self” becomes or is a barrier to enlightenment.

    In Zen, Dogen tells us:

    “To study the Buddha Way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be actualized by myriad things. When actualized by myriad things, your body and mind as well as the bodies and minds of others drop away. No trace of enlightenment remains, and this no-trace continues endlessly.”

    “No trace of enlightenment remains…” and that “no-trace” continues endlessly…

    Yet another paradox of enlightenment I guess.

  10. Ven

    Che Pasa,

    The insights of Ch’an / Zen Buddhism (see Hsin Hsin Ming for example), Lao Tse / Chuang Tse, and Dzogchen are very similar to Advaita. Though I find Advaita provides a more philosophical approach to understanding; whereas something like Zen seeks to stun the mind into silence with Ko-ans etc.

  11. Barry Fay

    ““You experience only sense objects in consciousness.” This is a simple tautology and therefore uninteresting except as a way to befuddle people so as to asseverate some kind of mysticism. A “sense object” is an object perceived by the senses. This is the same as saying “an object is perceived by the senses” . It is the those very “senses” that are the referent of “sense” in “sense object.” This is all just warmed over Berkeley idealism – an issue that has long since been put to bed. By basically destroying “objectivity” one is left with nothing except navel gazing – which is the perfect metaphor for “the path to enlightenment”.

  12. Che Pasa

    I’ve always seen Zen as Buddhism for warriors… and rebels. Not so much Ch’an. But Dogen shall we say adapted what he found to the needs of medieval Japan. In my view it’s something quite else now. More like… Well I’ll leave that for another time.

    As for satori I hope Ian gets into it as one of his types of enlightenment. Koans can be means to stun the student into sudden enlightenment but what then?

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