Buddha said he looked inside himself to find ‘who am I’ and found nothing. He reported that there was no individual soul inside, no atma. What does this mean?
An interesting question is, if Buddha says he looked and found he was nothing, who is the one who looked? Who found nothing? The one who claims this experience still says "I" found no soul. The answer is that there is still a ‘me’, but not the ego ‘me’, not the separate identity we have been identifying with. We see "me" as a field fo energy, the consciousness that is everything. Buddha's "me" who saw ‘I am nothing’ also saw ‘I am everything’.
Think of consciousness as an ocean. This ocean is the only thing that exists in the universe. This ocean is intelligent and sentient - conscious of itself. Suppose that tiny ice crystals form in this ocean. These ice crystals are made of only ocean water, as nothing but ocean water exists. Because the ocean is sentient, these tiny crystals are also sentient, but when they form as crystals, the self-awareness in this form gets restricted to the form, forgetting it’s the ocean and believing it is only the crystal. The form sees other crystals and believes they must also be individual souls.
One day the crystal melts and unrestricted awareness returns. One again identifies as the infinite field of consciousness. This awakening can happen in stages. One may drop the ego and recognize themselves as consciousness but only after some time does the perception of the entirety of reality as ONE become clear.
“O Rama, when I think I am the body, you are the Master and I am the servant;
"When I think I am the jivatman, you are the whole and I am a part;
"But when I have the knowledge of reality, I see that you are me and I am you.”
RAMAYANA EPIC ca. 700 BCE
What are the qualities of consciousness? Consciousness is made of love. As Saint Francis of Assisi said, “What we are looking for, is what is looking”. What we are looking for is love. What we are, what we are made of, is love. One may not know the true nature of consciousness but everyone has had a glimpse of love. Love is not part of the mind but when love is experienced with an ego-mind, the experience gets mixed with emotions, fears, desires and lust.
When we are asleep we are not aware of anything, the senses withdraw and dullness covers the mind. When we are awake but focused outward we forget our own existence and get absorbed in the scenery; the activities, images, sounds and sensations.
In deep meditation, awareness effortlessly shifts from the scenery to the body and breath, to the thoughts and feelings, and then if the mind settles enough, to an awareness of “I am”. No longer aware of who I am, or what I am, just the knowing-ness of “I am-ness”.
To experience the consciousness fully, all of the samskaras, the mental impressions, need to be dissolved. With the breath and practice of deep meditation you can dissolve the impressions.
The purpose of human life is to become aware of who we really are, to know our true nature, to attain Self-realization. The recognition of one’s infinite nature, and the incredible qualities that we are at our core, just need an opportunity to blossom in our awareness. We already are that which we want. We don’t gain anything in Self-realization, we simply lose the nonsense in the mind that has been blocking our experience of our true Self. We become aware of what we already are.
There are many ways to describe the essence of life and none will be complete. Many paths have been designed and followed to help one uncover their true nature. All paths have the ultimate goal of revealing Consciousness and the falseness of the ego identity. The first thing one must do is clean-out all the accumulated mental impressions by regularly using the breath to cleanse the system and transcend in deep meditation. The reality cannot be known when impressions are flooding the mind with emotions, cravings and aversions.
The curiosity of the mind wants to understand the truth, but attempting to understand consciousness creates only concepts, not the reality. If someone never experienced the emotion of fear, could they know what it was by a explanation? If you had never tasted a mango, could you truly know by someone's description? Language cannot convey reality, but we must use language to give attention to the topic and discussion inspires us to seek reality. Contemplating truth can bring insights that turn our attention inward but thinking will not bring the final awakening.
Grace will provide the final lifting of the veil, but we must use our own efforts to first clean the mirror before we can see the reflection.
We could use the word ‘God’ instead of Consciousness, but people conceptualize God in their own image, as if God was a separate person, like other people are separate from us, God just being more powerful and with a white beard. This concept of God makes he/she or it very small and carries with it attributes of human personality that do not belong.
God is not a creator of something outside or separate from itself; God is the creation itself. God is the un-manifest and the manifest, the Seer and the Seen. Scriptures describe God as omnipresent. To be absolutely everywhere at the same time you would have to 'BE' everything at the same time, there could not be separation because that would create a space that is not God, not omnipresent.