An Old Background For A New Unity

When we begin to discern the background of all things, the foreground becomes more clear.

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A Common Starting Point

On our journey to make sense of life we need a common starting point. A meeting ground. A baseline of experience that all other empirical and subjective experiences reflect against. While the utility of such an understanding spans multitudes of uses, ultimately, it moves us closer to a harmony of being. And we need more harmony. Now more than ever. We need to arrive at a felt sense of unity and connection. Humanity is as unique as a tree with 8-billion branches. We compromise myriad systems of bifurcation and distinction. If we don’t sink into the recognition of a common source, we’re floating heads bound to conflict with each other.

The Tibet term ‘Alaya’ roughly translates as the ‘abode of consciousness’. That which embodies all things. The eternal resting ground. The wellspring of all creativity, connection, perception, and illuminating ideas. It is this that holds us, assures us, and exists as an utterly inescapable fact of being.

There are many ways to approach this, and by no means is this term meant to exclusive. And yet, at the same time it is. Exclusive in the sense that nothing else captures it. The word itself points to the roots of all existence and excludes everything else because it is the source of all duality. Nevertheless, it behooves us to recognise that it is just a word. It comes from a certain tradition famous for precise explanation of states of consciousness. Rather than nitpick though, let’s recognise what it means as a feeling in our heart.

The Tibetan Buddhist, in their clarity of mapping the states of human consciousness, decalre Alaya consciousness as the 8th level of consciousness. The ground consciousness existing before the mental, emotional, or intellectual mind. The ground consciousness, from which all other, rough, differentiated, vibrational coarser, and distorted levels arise out of. All our levels of conscious experience with their variegated flavors, arise out of this ground consciousness like the lotus out of the pond.

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The Start Includes the End

The name is not about creating something new, but to elucidate what’s always there, and reframe our thinking towards our relationship to LIFE and the pursuit of spiritual freedom. When we begin with the end, there is automatically a recognition of the truth of things. No matter how shallow, or how intellectual, or how far distant from an intuitive, palpable feeling, there is a recognition of an end goal woven into the starting line. And this is huge.

When I would go to spiritual lectures, referred to as ‘Satsang’ in Sanskrit, sometimes the teachings would be simple and straightforward, at other times complex and abstract. The teacher always said though, it DOESN’T MATTER if you don’t understand. When we are in the field of spirituality, of higher and sublime teachings, even if we don’t understand every word or concept, something within us is stirring awake. The fact you are reading these words means there is some connection already there. A seed is latent deep in your being and even if not everything is grasped, there is an awakening inside.

And so, it’s important to begin with the end. Because if we don’t, we start from a place of spiritual poverty. It sounds something like this :

“Poor me. The spiritual path is so long and hard and I’m not ready for it. I’m suffering now and maybe, just maybe, if I practice for years and years and meditate for thousands of hours and learn Sanskrit and can do a headstand for 10 minutes then…. Then, I’ll finally get it. But until then I’m an ignorant fool steeped in suffering so, at any rate, not now.”

But if the teacher is good their rejoinder is :

“Yeah yeah, that’s fine and all. You can think you’re an idiot, and on some relative plane you are in suffering and the path is indeed long and hard, but…. But! Right now, no matter where you are, you are held by the ground of being. You are already, at the deepest level of YOUR OWN consciousness already free and happy; bliss-filled and expanding into an undefinable infinity. So, yeah, maybe it will take a while for you to fully awaken to this truth, but in the meantime, you’re also already there, so don’t fret or think you’re such a stupid beginner yada yada yada…”

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We Access Diffenerent States Through Recognition

The recognition is that we are already held, already cradled in the bosom of the Alaya. Chogyam Trungpa, the famous Tibetan Lama and meditaiton master, says we need to rest our consciousness in ALAYA. And this is the main practice. That space is already there; soft, warm, safe, like a fluffy white down comforter on a grey winter afternoon, it is there to hold us, and is holding us. No matter what. And because it is beyond duality, it is beyond cause and effect. It means it is beyond karma. So, the longer we identify and place our consciousness in this luminous ground we are abstaining from the game of cause and effect.

The familiar word of the sacred mountain range, Himalaya, is suffixed with the root word, ALAYA. Dwelling place. Home of the Auspicious. In the above case, ‘dwelling place of the snow’, and when we take the word Alaya alone, simply ‘dwelling place’.

That is where we come from, and if we refocus our minds, our efforts, our attention, then we can begin to lucidly see and feel that it is right here. Just beneath our feet and right behind our hearts. Compassionately and lovingly holding up the world-ground. The earth and the moon and all the celestial bodies are effortlessly poised against this backgorund. Gracefully held in a floating state of perfect harmony and equanimity in the palm of the ALAYA consciousness.

Names are just names, in the end. And there is no need for confusion or overthinking. The Tibetans just have a background of deep research. Experiential research through hundreds of years of meditation and retreats and direct application. Studying the ancient Buddhist texts and teachings more with more acumen than most traditions.

But, wether it’s Sanskrit, or Pali, or Tibetan, or Japanese, the importnace for the English speaking audience is to arrive at the essence of the word. How can we drop into our hearts to awaken something real inside? For most of us car driving, soda drinking, football watching, Facebook cruising, Instragram Addicted, shopaholic, material-minded Westerners, the difference between Alaya and the Sanskrit term Purusha matters little.

In this sense Alaya could be substituded for God Consciousness, for Christ Consciousness, the eternal Shiva, the formless state of being before manifestation or the undending presence of the simple and thought free NOW.. It could be substituted for Buddha consciousness, for Samadhi, for ultimate Nirodha, for seedless union with the mystical core of all life and have the same impact on our lives. Again, here and now, there is a light. It is still, pure, stable, and beyond cause and effect. Recognise it. Awaken to it. Dwell in it. And see that it transforms the inner experience from one of confusion towards one of clarity. At least it starts to.

A Meeting Ground To Rest In

I happen to like the name Alaya. It’s got a nice ring to it and reminds me of the unshakable mountains. And I love the idea of being held by consciousness. There is an effortlessness to it. And when we bring it all down to consciousness, science and spirituality can once again hold hands.

More and more, science is recognizing both the importance of consciousness and its pervasive existence. Consciousness is becoming a new universal term that is trans- disciplinary. It has the saving hope to reconcile religion and science. Hippy and Harvard. Rational and intuitive mind. Yoga and Quantum Physics. And hopefully, Christian and Muslim and Hindu and Buddhist and all the athiests and agnostics that lie in the middle. The implications are huge. And we need to arrive at a unified understanding of just how we come from the exact same place. An understanding that this unifying oneness courses through us. And is the inescapable reality of our human experience.

As stubborn as Science can be at times, and liable to usurpation by big corporations and governments and wielded like religion to mold minds by Empires, the revelations themselves are irrefutable. Consciousness has been a ‘hard topic’ for decades now, but more and more Consciousness as the ground of empirical reality, as the source underlying the tiniest quarks and atoms, is revealing itself. The invisible, playful substratum that holds every single electron in our vast universe is the same substratum that holds our thoughts and emotions. Holds these very words and any false and superficial sense of separation we may ‘feel’ on the surface of this vast ocean.

And we need, more than ever, a background of being that is irrefutable. So pervasive and stable that fighting for or against it becomes futile because it simply is. From this new ground of recognition our lives and institutions can reorganise around a common substratum. For it is the indivisible standard of reality. Or as Nisagradatta Maharaj, author of the modern spiritual classic ‘I AM THAT’ coins it, ”the irreducible datum of experience”. The nameless phenomena that OBSERVES reality. The more we begin to give attention to THAT, and see THAT consciousness as the source of so much unexplained phenomena and the very source of all matter and HAPPINESS itself, the more clear it will be that we all come from the same place.

Your Job Is Simply To Feel It

So take a minute to feel it. Deep in your heart. Allow it to subsume your thoughts and sense of identity and separation. The Alaya. The resting place of your soul. The ground of your being. The abode of your truest heart. And know, that right now, no matter what is going on in your life and no matter what mindset you came from, in this moment, you are HOME. Held in the infinite loving embrace of your own fullness.

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John Vincent Shrader

John is a yogi, visionary and author residing in India. He has dedicated his life to the eternal search for truth .