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Essence

Glossary of Spiritual Wisdom

Excerpts about Essence

Essence and Existence are the Same Thing

So what differentiates essential substance from the other categories of experience? In Chapter One we discussed essence from the perspective of presence and from the deeper perspective of existence. Essence and existence are the same thing. The essential substance is experienced in its deepest nature as existence. This level of experience is so deep and profound, so full and packed with a live significance, so moving and so powerful that it is not possible to communicate it through words. Words can describe some aspects of experience, but they fail actually to deliver the whole impact. Words can communicate the experience to somebody who already has had it or is right on the verge of it, but not to somebody who does not know. The usual contention in spiritual literature, that being cannot be talked about or described, is not quite accurate. Essence can be described, just like anything else, with words and images. This does not mean that someone who hasn't had the experience will understand the description. However, one who has had the experience will easily understand what the description is referring to. But this is true for anything, not just essence.

Essence has Many Aspects Not Just One Quality

One important concept that we have been using without clarification is that of essential aspects—that essence has many aspects, not just one quality. As we have seen, essential substance has precise and definite physical characteristics. In fact, it can be described in terms of color, taste, texture, transparency, density, luminosity, viscosity, and so on. Variations in these give rise to different aspects of essence, which have different psychological significance. So although essence is one, the same substance, it has many varieties, many qualities. These are aspects of essence. This is true for both the baby and the adult. The aspect of truth is not the same as the aspect of love, and this is not the same as the aspect of will, and so on. They are all essence, and clearly so for the one who knows, but they are experienced differently and affect us differently.

Essence Has the Capacity to Know Itself Completely and Directly

Our essence has the capacity to know itself completely and directly, independent of what we have known in the past. The knowingness is inherent in the essence itself, in such a way that it not only is aware of itself as existing, but is also aware of the quality and characteristics of this existence. This is an expression of the discriminating awareness, one of the five major characteristics of true nature.

Essence is a Presence that is Spacious

Before the realization of true nature, when you experience Essence as a presence inside you, you experience the spaciousness as an inner quality separate from Essence. Space feels empty of substance—it is a lightness and openness—whereas Essence is presence that has a substantial quality. You experience Essence arising in space. In the awareness of objective reality, Essence and space are recognized as the same thing; they are coemergent. So Essence is a presence that is spacious, that is aware, and that is continually transforming and creative.

Essence is a Subtle Substance that has Physical Characteristics

Essence, as we have seen, is a subtle substance that has physical characteristics. This means that in order to experience essence the physical organism has to become sensitive enough to perceive these physical characteristics, which are usually coexistent with the ordinary physical sensations. The physical characteristics of essential substance are very subtle, in the sense that they are quiet and silent compared to the sensations of the body and its feelings. Usually, they are drowned by the grosser sensations. They might be present, but because the person is attuned only to the grosser, more familiar physical sensations, he might not be aware of their presence. So his awareness will have to become refined enough to be sensitive to the subtler and finer sensations of essence. The capacity to sense oneself must become so refined that the individual can discriminate between physical sensation and the sensation of essential substance. It is not enough that the mind be quiet. It is also necessary for the body to be sensitive. The mind can be quiet while the body is deadened. The body has to be awakened so that the center of sensing, the belly center, can be activated. The belly center, or what Gurdjieff called the physical center, is the center of sensing for all parts of the body. Its deepest function is the subtle sensing, the sensing of essential presence, that the Sufis call the organ for touch.

Essence is Gradually Lost as the Personality Develops

Essence is gradually lost or covered up (veiled from our perception) as the personality develops. We tend to identify more and more with the personality that develops in response to our environment. By the end we forget that we even had essence. We end with the experience that there is only our personality, and that we are that personality, as if it always had been thus. This gives us the hint that in order to allow our essence to emerge again, we need to learn to disidentify from the personality and the sense of ego identity. This, in fact, is the main method that most systems of inner development employ. This disidentification, which can culminate in the experience technically termed ego death, is the main requirement necessary for the discovery of essence.

Essence is Incapable of Self-Reflective Awareness or Knowledge

Essence is also incapable of self-reflective awareness or knowledge. It knows itself only in the mode of basic knowledge, specifically in the mode of identity. It can only know itself by being itself. However, this is also the freedom of essence. Because it is incapable of self-reflection it cannot be dual. It is always free from intermediacy, and hence from contamination by alienated constructs. It is the promise of freedom for the soul, because when the soul realizes essence as her ground she attains a center incapable of being contaminated. The conscious ground of the soul is then eternally immaculate and free. The soul, on the other hand, is capable of basic knowledge in all possible permutations. She can experience any form within basic knowledge, including any and all of the aspects of essence. She is capable of reflection and self-reflection. Her knowledge is always changing and developing. She can change, and as we have seen it is inherent in her nature that she is in continual change.

Essence is Not a Thought

Essence is not a thought or an idea a person has about himself. It is not self-image. In fact, the self-image, the collection of concepts one has of oneself, is one of the main barriers to the recognition and development of essence. The self-image usually does not include essence, so essence becomes habitually excluded from one's experience. Even a person in whom essence is flowing may not experience essence if the self-image excludes it, just as a person might manifest anger only unconsciously if the self-image excludes angry behavior. A concept, a thought, or an idea might arise out of the experience of essence, might be generated under the influence of essence. This sometimes happens in expansive ideas of discovery and revelation. But the thought is not essence. The influence of essence on mind is most obvious in certain kinds of poetry written when the poet gets a taste of essence—when the words, thoughts, ideas, and images are generated by essence and attempt to reflect and communicate the essential experience. Very often the poet is not directly aware of essence but is aware only of the idea, the image, and perhaps the emotion produced by the contact with essence. The poet may become so enamored of his words and images that he never moves to the actual direct experience of essence. The words can be beautiful and the images enchanting, but all this beauty and enchantment fall short of the beauty and enchantment of the essence itself.

Essence is Pure Consciousness but Soul is an Organism of Pure Consciousness

The soul grows as she unfolds, actualizing her emerging potential. The soul does not stay the same. She is not primordially complete and mature, and hence she can have phases and stages of development. She can be primitive or advanced, simply organized or highly integrated, immature or adult and seasoned. She can be infantile, young, old, or ancient. She can be arrested in her development, underdeveloped, undeveloped, quite developed, or complete. All these are characteristics that apply to soul, but not to essence. For the presence of pure consciousness, these qualities do not make sense. Pure consciousness, pure presence, or pure awareness is the primordial ground, totally complete and spontaneously perfect. Essence is eternally itself; it does not grow, and growth makes no sense to it. This is a very important distinction between soul and essence, regardless of the fact that both are consciousness. Essence is pure consciousness, but soul is an organism of pure consciousness. Essence is always complete and perfect, but soul grows and develops; completeness and perfection is her deepest potential, but she needs to grow for this to be her permanent conscious condition.

Essence Will Give You Knowledge and Understanding that no one Else Can

This is where essence is valuable; it will give you the knowledge and understanding that no one else can. If you deeply investigate the issue of self-image, you’ll come to the essential aspect that corresponds to self-image. When this happens, you will experience essence in a way that has no self-image; instead there will be space, openness, inner spaciousness. This is the essential aspect that was lost when you developed a self-image and believed that the self-image was who you truly are. The self-image always has a boundary—physical, emotional or conceptual. When you experience space, you experience yourself as being without boundaries, without definition, just openness. This essential aspect is itself the knowledge, is itself the understanding that your self-image is not really you. But until you experience yourself without self-image, there is no way for you to know that such a possibility exists, and you will continue to think of yourself in terms of your self-image.

Essence, Soul and Presence

When we are aware of our presence by being present, there is a new knowledge, and we call this knowledge Essence. At that point, we have the opportunity to begin expanding our inquiry into the nature of all of our experience. We recognize that not only is self-knowing intrinsic to essential presence, but this way of knowing is fundamental to our soul, the consciousness that is the ground of all our experience. We recognize that the soul herself has presence. And how does the soul know herself? How does she experience herself? She experiences herself the same way that Essence experiences itself – through the direct awareness and direct contact with her very presence. In this presence, various things manifest. Sometimes an essential quality manifests, sometimes a feeling or a sensation, an image, or a thought.

Exploring through Presence and Essence We become Open to New Modes of Perception

When I say “consciousness,” I don’t mean anything strange or unusual. Everything you experience is in consciousness. Ordinarily, our consciousness is full of objects: my body, the table, people, all that I see and hear, and all of our inner experiences. As we explore our experience, we discover finer and deeper states of consciousness until we know more specifically what pure consciousness is. As we become open to new modes of perception, through exploring presence and essence, we come to realize that Being itself is pure consciousness. And it goes further. As we become more established in pure consciousness, we see that the things we have left behind are also consciousness. We are amazed to discover that our body is made of consciousness; our sensations are consciousness. We see that what our anger and love have in common is that they appear in the ground of consciousness. Once we learn that our being is pure consciousness, it becomes possible for all discriminations to disappear. We abide in pure consciousness so fully that we do not differentiate between essence and ego, between physical and not physical. Consciousness is simply consciousness, independent of all objects, essential or otherwise. In the beginning of the work, our discriminations are so opaque that we need to refine our perception to penetrate that opacity. When we have our attention on the ground of the mind, and at the same time become aware of it without completely identifying with the content of the mind, the objects in the mind become more transparent, until there is only transparency. This transparency reveals to us the state of pure consciousness in which all objects that we have deemed coarse or impure, all that we have felt we had to leave behind, we perceive to be of the nature of consciousness itself.

Knowing Oneself

When I talk about “knowing oneself,” I don’t mean knowing that tag, that self-image. I don’t mean knowing how you feel about your body or how you look, or if you’re short or tall or angry or sad. Not these. I mean knowing your inner nature, your true nature. There is such a thing. It’s what we call essence. When you recognize your true nature, your being, your essence, you will see it is Being, because it is. It is in the sense that it is an existence. It is not a reaction; it is not an emotion. An emotion is not an is-ness. An emotion is an activity, a charge and discharge pattern. Essence is there regardless of the charge or discharge. There is an existence, a beingness that can be experienced, and that is you. If you don’t know this beingness, you can’t know what love is because love has to do with your being, your essence. It has nothing to do with your personality, your emotions or your ideas, your self-concept, your self-image, your accomplishments, your preferences, your likes and dislikes, your relationships. These things have nothing to do with your beingness. Your beingness is pure; it is not contaminated by any of those things. Your beingness is always pure, always present, always perfect. Its main quality is an is-ness, an existence, a beingness. The personality is an activity, a movement, always going one place or the other, always feeling something, thinking something, wanting something, desiring something. Essence is not like that Essence is just Being. You are. What you are has nothing to do with what you want, what you don’t want, what you do or don’t do. It is just there. You could be doing anything, and the Being is there, and that is you.

Method of Essence

What a teacher Essence is! It exposes the issues, makes us look at them as dystonic, makes us feel the lack of the essential aspect, makes us long for the aspect. Now the teaching about desire becomes our personal concern. It is no more only Buddha's concern, it is now our own personal concern; and it is such a burning issue for us, such a burning question that it makes us ache and long for an answer, a solution. We cannot rest. The nearness of Essence does not let us rest until we find the answer, until we come to the solution. Essence is even more magical and more beautiful than that. It does much more than expose and burn the personality. As it approaches consciousness, we start getting intuitive understanding about the situation, about our dilemma. As our consciousness is touched by the emerging aspect, Essence infuses it with its quality, with its knowledge, with its teaching, with its understanding. Slowly, we start getting the teaching regarding desire, by ourselves, from our own Essence. The understanding we get is completely relevant to our situation. It speaks to us; it resolves our personal conflicts. The understanding is lived, is alive.

Teachers Can Only Point to Essence

... Essence is a category of experience not accessible to the logical, "mental" mind. It cannot be communicated by the mind to somebody else. Most teachers, in fact, stress that Essence is found inside, that the teacher can only point to it, or at best can ignite the inner flame with his own. But the flame is one's own and can be known only directly, within oneself, by oneself.

Ultimate Profoundity of Essence

Essence is not an object we find within ourselves; it is the true nature of who we are when we are relaxed and authentic, when we are not pretending to be one way or another, consciously or unconsciously. Essence is the truth of our very presence, the purity of our consciousness and awareness. It is what we are in our original and undefiled beingness, the ultimate core reality of our soul. Essence is the authentic presence of our Being; it is, in fact, Being in its thatness. Different spiritual traditions have given it different names: Christianity, Judaism, and Islam called it Spirit; Buddhism calls it Buddha nature; Taoism calls it the Tao; Hinduism calls it Atman or Brahman. The various traditions differ in how they conceptualize Essence and how much they emphasize it in their teaching, but essence is always considered to be the most authentic, innate, and fundamental nature of who we are. And the experience and realization of Essence is the central task of spiritual work and development in all traditions.

Unfolding of Essence

The unfolding of Essence becomes the process of living. Life is no longer a string of disconnected experiences of pleasure and pain but a flow, a stream of aliveness. One aspect manifests after another, one dimension after another, one capacity after another. There is a constant flow of understanding, insight, knowledge, and states of being. As this unfolding proceeds it affects the mind, the personality, and the external life. When conflicts arise, inner or outer, it is the expression of the lack of understanding of incoming essential aspects and dimensions. It is part of the creative process of living. Every new insight or knowledge is preceded by its absence... However, the center of all this understanding, insight, knowledge, discovery, creativity, conflict, and tension is the unfolding of essential Presence. This flow of essential Presence becomes the true experience of time instead of the linear memory time of the personality.

What Does it Mean that Essence is the Essence of Everything?

What does it mean that essence is the essence of everything? To be the essence of something means it is its ultimate substance, its final nature, its most absolute level of existence. To use a physical metaphor, we can see that the essence of the body is protoplasm, but this is not its ultimate substance. To find the most fundamental level of existence of the body we have to go to the most elementary particles composing it, where these building blocks are the final and ultimate ones. Essence also means the simplest level of existence of something. Essence is the essence of the soul in this sense, and it reveals itself at this point to be the essence of everything. But “true nature” has another significant meaning: the true nature of something, as we are using the term, is the most absolute and objective truth about what it is. When we have penetrated all that obscures our direct knowledge of anything, including the essence of the soul, when we have seen through all our inaccurate ideas, beliefs, positions, projections, and distortions, everything that obscures our awareness and knowing of it, we find anything we contemplate to be characterized by this true nature.

What Essence Is

It is true that essence is a substance, but it is not an inert substance. It is a substance that in itself is life, awareness, existence. Take clear water, for example. Imagine that this water is self-aware, that each molecule is aware of itself and of its own energy and excitation. Imagine now that
you are this aware substance, the water. This is close to an experience of essential substance. Of course, this is hard to imagine for someone who does not know essence. And the essential experience is much more than this. Essence is not alive; it is aliveness. It is not aware; it is awareness. It does not have the quality of existence; it is existence. It is not loving; it is love. It is not joyful; it is joy. It is not true; it is truth. The quality of aliveness of essence is of a different order from that of the body. The body is alive, but essence is life itself. Essence is like packed, condensed, concentrated, completely pure life. It is 100 percent life. It is like a substance in which each atom is packed with live existence. Here, life and existence are not concepts, not ideas or abstract descriptions; rather, they are the most alive, most intimate, richest, deepest, most moving, and most touching stirrings within us. The experience of essential substance can have such a depth, such a richness, such a realness, such a meaningfulness, and such an impact on our minds that some people actually get dizzy, unable to take the impact directly.

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