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Substantiality / Insubstantiality

Diamond Approach

Glossary of Spiritual Wisdom

From the teachings of A.H. Almaas

What is Substantiality / Insubstantiality?

Diamond Approach Teachings About: Substantiality / Insubstantiality

Being the Hereness and Fullness of Reality at the Same Time that We are Its Immateriality

Pure presence contains inner space, but the space is undifferentiated from the rest of its perfections. Pure presence thus discloses the inherent synthesis of the fullness of Being and its emptiness. Before experiencing this dimension, the soul has experienced presence as a fullness, a substantiality, almost material, although not physically material. Such fullness or substantiality still appears as the characteristic of pure presence, for it is what gives this dimension its sense of being presence. However, this substantial and full presence is undifferentiated from the emptiness of space. Because of this the experience of full presence on this dimension is indistinguishable from inner spaciousness. Pure presence is at the same time an emptiness, a spaciousness, a nothingness. We feel ourselves, and the whole manifestation, as a fullness of presence at the same time that we feel we are nothing. We simultaneously feel full and empty, substantial and like nothing at all. We are the hereness and fullness of reality at the same time that we are its immateriality, its insubstantiality, its utter lightness.

Fullness of Being and nothingness of space are two inseparable sides of the same presence, of the same perception and sensation. Each side may dominate experience, depending on the particulars of experience. Sometimes we feel ourselves as the boundless truth in its full beingness; at those times, we feel the whole world as the fullness of Being, real and substantial. We are the solid ground of everything, the true existence of all forms and appearances. At other times, we feel light and empty, like a boundless nothingness. Everything is nothing, where the nothing is what truly is. Nothing has any substance or sense of existence; all forms appear as empty appearances, like a mirage reflected in the clarity of nothingness. We feel like nothing, totally light and empty. But it is a wonderful emptiness, for it is a lightness and delight, a freedom and release. There is no heaviness or depression of any kind, not even the weighty fullness of presence. We are lighter than light, emptier than space, a nothing that is the ground of all things. Sensing ourselves, there is nothing to find, just a lightness and an infinite openness. At the same time by remaining with this nothingness we realize it is also fullness, beingness, and presence.

Essence is Experienced as a Kind of Substance but on a Different Order of Existence from Physical Matter

It is the same with essence and the body. Essence is within us just as space is within us. It is on a different dimension from the body. Essence is a different order of existence from the body, and it is in this sense that it is within us. Yet this analogy fails to do justice to the actual relationship between essence and the body. Because we usually think of space as a nonexistence, we find it easy to imagine space and the body coexisting in the same location. However, essence is not a nonexistence. It is not empty the way physical space is. It is, on the contrary, a fullness. It is something much more substantial than space. It has a substantiality similar to the physical body but in a different dimension. In fact, essence is experienced as a kind of a substance but on a different order of existence from physical matter. Idries Shah, the Sufi author, describing the essential aspect of spirit, states: “According to Sufism, what is generally referred to in religious terminology as the Spirit (el ruh) is a substance, with physical characteristics, a subtle body. Essence, when experienced directly, is seen to be some kind of substance, like water or gold, but it is not physical substance like physical water or gold. This is a very difficult point to make. Essence is experienced as a substance, a material. It has characteristics such as density, viscosity, texture, taste, and so on, but at the same time it is not a physical substance. It belongs to a different realm of existence. That is why it is called subtle. Some authors call it subtle matter, to distinguish it from the ordinary physical matter.

Essence or Being is Not a State of Mind but is an Actual and Palpable Ontological Presence

We have asserted the truth of substantiality to impress on the reader that essence or being is not a state of mind but is an actual and palpable ontological presence. The substantiality of essence is a fact that must be taken into consideration for the process of development, but simply realizing this truth is not sufficient. This is because, for instance, the physical body is also a substantial presence. We have stated and asserted the truth of substantiality to impress on the reader that essence or being is not an insight, not a state of mind, but an actual and palpable ontological presence. 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.

Experiencing the Totality of the Universe as Light and Ephemeral, Possessing Neither Substantiality Nor Solidity

Because of this subtle understanding of the process of manifestation it is sometimes preferable to refer to it as “appearing,” where “appearing” is not only a terminological difference, but actually a different and unique way of experiencing universal transformation. Everything seems to appear, to continue to appear, and to keep changing its appearance. Here there is the sense that there is absolutely nothing, and out of this nothing everything simply appears. This implies several things. First, the process does not take time, for appearing is instantaneous. As the forms appear they immediately disappear, and a new phenomenon appears. Both appearing and disappearing take no time; it is all instantaneous. We see a process only in the fact that appearing continues to happen, in conjunction with disappearing. Another interesting implication of this perception is that we experience Reality clearly as appearance. In other words, it is very clear in this perception that the forms are only the appearance of Reality, and not its substance. We experience the totality of the universe, including the rocks and mountains, as light and ephemeral, possessing neither substantiality nor solidity. Everything seems to be of the nature of light, or even of thought. In fact, everything is of the nature of image, insubstantial and totally empty. Everything spontaneously appears, without ever establishing itself as something solid. We feel light, transparent; everything is free of gravity. The nature of everything is unrestricted freedom.

From the Perspective of the Absolute all Manifest Forms Possess Insubstantiality and Lightness

From the perspective of the absolute, all manifest forms possess this insubstantiality and lightness, and all in the same degree. It is not as if rocks are insubstantial but more substantial than water. When it comes to the absolute perception they are all equal in their insubstantiality; this insubstantiality is simply our perception of their ontological ground, which is the same absolute everywhere. They are all totally insubstantial, for their ultimate status is nonbeing. More accurately, all forms are a coemergence of two things: appearance and nonbeing. Their appearance is their being, but their ground is nonbeing. Their appearance-presence is always accompanied with their nonbeing. They cannot be without nonbeing, for the nonbeing of the absolute is the ground of their being. Such understanding is totally paradoxical for our thematizing ordinary mind; but it is actually how things are, and how we will perceive them when we are free from all cognitive filters.

In Our True Nature We Have No Heaviness, No Thickness, No Weight

If we experience ourselves in our true self-existing condition, we will see what we actually are: We are beings of light. Remember the example in chapter 11 of the spoon, which, when seen without any mental operation of reification, is perceived to be a form of light. We, too, are forms or beings of light when we experience ourselves with total immediacy. We are beings of light in the fluid state—completely frictionless, completely luminous, totally radiant and free. Now, everybody knows that because light has no mass and no weight, gravity does not affect it. So, in our True Nature, we have no heaviness, no thickness, no weight. We are substantial only in the sense that fluid light has a fullness, a sense of body to it. But that fullness, that substantiality, is completely light and smooth. That is the nature of awareness. And because it is light, it doesn’t help us see—it is what sees, it is what perceives. Thus light, awareness, consciousness, perception, sensitivity are all the same thing. However, even if we recognize the truth that we are beings of light, we tend to reify that perception and identify with it, concretizing ourselves and experiencing ourselves as heavy and opaque. Even as beings of light, we see ourselves as a physical body, with its parts and activities, having mass and operating under the influence of gravity. We think that we are entities in space and time, and that our existence began in the past and will end in the future.

Knowledge of Substantiality Can Work as an Orienting Force

On the other hand, the knowledge of substantiality can work as an orienting force, a confirming insight, a safeguard against not recognizing or ignoring essence when it might be present, and a protection against taking something else to be our true nature and essence. We believe it is time to make this truth as clear, as precise, and as available as possible. It can save many people much hardship and waste of time and effort. There is no need for this knowledge to continue to be secret and esoteric, especially now that there is a tremendous need and thirst for it. We can use understanding and clarity to safeguard against misusing it. The old idea that the personality must be loosened almost completely before essence is realized has to be modified in light of the latest findings. The old idea is that the personality is the barrier and must be removed before there can be a recognition of our essential beingness. Our findings indicate that essence can be realized in steps or in degrees, simultaneously with work on the personality. Each essential aspect or facet has a psychological constellation associated with it. This association is universal to all people. Understanding and resolving the relevant psychological constellation (which is only a sector of the personality) will allow the associated aspect of essence to emerge in consciousness. It is not necessary to resolve the personality as a whole.

Personality Beginning to Lose Its Supports and Substantiality

We are so involved in that process of thinking and conceptualization that we never stop to question it. You are sitting there in a chair, and you think that you are there, sitting in the chair. Many times that is not what I experience. I do not experience that there is a chair, and I do not experience someone sitting in a chair. The chair, me, and everything else are the same thing, and the whole thing does not have a name, and I cannot say what it is. I can look, and see that there is my body, there is the chair. But it is very clear to me that that’s how things appear, not how things are. When we believe so completely in what appears, we do not see that we are somewhat responsible for the way we see things. We think that everything is thrust upon us, everything is given. But reality is not like that. You are the one who is projecting the whole universe outside of you. You are saying, “This is the universe.” When you begin to see this, it is possible to let go, to go beyond mind and the conceptual way of looking at things. Then it is possible to see the true reality of what is here. Only when that happens does the support for, the ground of, the world of the personality, begin to crumble. The personality begins to lose its supports and its substantiality. You realize that how you think of things is incomplete and erroneous. Things do not exist in the way you think of them, but in a different way.

Pure Presence Discloses the Inherent Synthesis of the Fullness of Being and Its Emptiness

Pure presence contains inner space, but the space is undifferentiated from the rest of its perfections. Pure presence thus discloses the inherent synthesis of the fullness of Being and its emptiness. Before experiencing this dimension, the soul has experienced presence as a fullness, a substantiality, almost material, although not physically material. Such fullness or substantiality still appears as the characteristic of pure presence, for it is what gives this dimension its sense of being presence. However, this substantial and full presence is undifferentiated from the emptiness of space. Because of this the experience of full presence on this dimension is indistinguishable from inner spaciousness. Pure presence is at the same time an emptiness, a spaciousness, a nothingness. We feel ourselves, and the whole manifestation, as a fullness of presence at the same time that we feel we are nothing. We simultaneously feel full and empty, substantial and like nothing at all. We are the hereness and fullness of reality at the same time that we are its immateriality, its insubstantiality, its utter lightness.

Recognizing the Absolute as the Ultimate Ground of All Objects and Phenomena

To recognize the absolute as the ultimate ground of all objects and phenomena is to perceive their transparency, insubstantiality, and lack of ultimate being. Instead of opaqueness we experience a transparent expanse, spacious and open. Instead of substantiality we experience a lightness, a freedom, a total absence of heaviness. Joy is released, and contentment fills the heart.

Seeing that the Ground of All Manifestation is Nonbeing

In the true experience of emptiness, the subjective feeling and belief in the substantiality and solidity of things is exposed for what it is, a subjective feeling based on a belief. Emptiness reveals to us that things do not possess such substantiality or solidity. Their mode of being is not what we have called existence. More accurately, their ultimate nature is not existence, but nonexistence. They appear, but are characterized by nonbeing. Experientially, phenomena appear and we perceive them along with their usual qualities, but we do not feel that they exist. They are felt to be empty of the solidity and reality that we believed they possessed. In other words, the true nature of things is that they manifest, or appear, but that is all. In appearing they do not give us the feeling and belief that they are real or that they exist in the way we have assumed. We are accustomed to believing that things exist in the way we normally experience matter, solid and opaque. In reality, things are insubstantial, transparent, and light, similar to thoughts or mental images. But they are also luminous, so they are more like light. However, even light as we ordinarily know it does not express the absolute lightness and emptiness of things. Things are actually diaphanous forms, holograms floating in nothing, glimmerings of this nothing. The nothing is not exactly something substantial, something that exists. The nothing is simply the perception of the nonbeingness of things. In other words, emptiness is the term used here and in many mystical writings to refer to the fact that things do not exist the way we ordinarily think, but that they are luminous forms whose mode of being is nonbeing. When we investigate their existence, we end up in complete nonbeing, total absence. We do not find phenomena to possess ultimate existence. Thus, we see that the ground of all manifestation is nonbeing.

Seeing the Fullness of Your Own Being

Do you remember what I’ve said about love? Love is our being. It is who we are. It is not a reaction or anything we give to someone. You can believe very deeply that you cannot feel this passion until the right kind of body appears, but that right kind of body might never appear. When you experience this passion, however, what you’re really seeing is not the other person’s body, but the fullness of your own being, the physicality of your being, the substantiality of your being. You passionately love these qualities in yourself, but you think that you see them outside yourself. Essentially, that desirable body you have in your mind, in the memory of that very early experience, is you. You are the deliciousness, the voluptuous presence. When you see this, then you are passionately in love, completely and passionately in love and consumed by your passion. When this feeling is available to you, you can feel it toward everyone and everything. It no longer needs to be specific or fit any requirements in your mind based on early experience. It is unrestricted, unbounded. All our previous ideas about what love should be were the barriers. When you direct that passionate kind of love, that part of your beingness, toward what you perceive as a voluptuous body, you limit yourself to those ideas you had toward your mother or father when you were a very small child. But the voluptuousness is actually a reflection of who we are, an aspect of our essence.

Substantiality that Eclipses the Physical Substantiality of the Body

That night, during dinner, the leaden heaviness appears again, scattering the attention and presence for about an hour. The leaden heaviness becomes so dense that it disintegrates most of my capacity for attention and presence. Strong resistances arise, feelings of rubbery thickness, wooden dryness, amorphous states of consciousness, and many other confused and chaotic sensations. I feel the leaden rounded heaviness pushing from inside, scattering whatever consciousness it meets in its way. At this point I realize that the power of this heaviness arises from the transformation of the leaden consciousness into something much more substantial and powerful. The lead pearl has transformed into the shiny gray existence pearl, like a large pearl of hematite. I feel personal but immense, a person of Being so dense that my substantiality eclipses the physical substantiality of the body. The most definite feeling is a sense of personal existence. I feel intensely real, existing so fundamentally that the mind cannot conceive of this reality. I experience myself as a person, and this person is composed of pure existence. Existence of Being, essential and fundamental, and independent of the mind, forms the very atoms of what I am. I am existence, beyond all thought of existence. The sense of truth and reality is immensely profound; it feels deeper than the universe itself. And this unimaginably real sense of existence has a very subtle sense of being a person—a person not defined by history or mind, not confined by character traits or relationships, but a person who exists, and that is all. The sense of existence has an unquestionable sense of certainty, independent of any content of mind or experience. I recognize at this point that there is no basis for the concern that there will be no personal life if I am not enmeshed in it. By the time dinner is over, the density and substantiality suddenly evaporate, revealing a vastness beyond comprehension. I do not perceive this vastness, but I recognize it as my very identity. I experience myself as the vast silent dark emptiness. As I experience this new identity, I learn a great deal of what I truly am when I am not trapped in the particulars of personal life and history. I can be present as personal existence, or I can transcend all personal experience. I am then the unchanging background witnessing, which has been revealing itself in the midst of personal experience, in glimpses and intimations, flashes and intuitions. Now this awareness reveals itself fully, as the universal witness.

When We Perceive the Insubstantiality of the Rock We are Looking to Its Underlying Ontological Ground

The more important observation is that as the rock becomes transparent to its true nature our experience of it also changes in terms of substance. The rock not only looks transparent, it feels insubstantial. We lose our normal sense of it being a solid object, substantial and real. In other words, the sense of physical solidity, substantiality, and rock-like reality are also the result of cognitive filters. When we reify this particular form of appearance, separate it from the rest of manifestation, and think of it as an independently self-existing object, such cognitive conclusion imbues our perception of the rock with the feeling of substantial solidity. Without these cognitive positions, with total openness to the reality of the rock, our perception continues to be of the same rock, with the same shape and color, but we see it as transparent and we do not feel the customary feel or sense of solidity and substantiality. We perceive it to be of the nature of light, or of thought, light and insubstantial. This perception does not mean that the rock is only a surface with a hollowed-out interior. We can test this conclusion easily, especially with our modern devices. Or we can break it into two parts. We then have two rocks, but then we see both parts as empty and insubstantial. Precisely put, when we perceive the insubstantiality of the rock we are seeing not through one layer of atoms to the next layer; rather, we are looking through any layer in the line of vision to its underlying ontological ground. We are looking vertically, not horizontally, so to speak. We are seeing through the ontological dimensions and not through layers of the same dimension, such as the physical one. But we are so conditioned to think of things only physically that when we see through the physical surface our mind tends to think of penetration from one physical layer to another. In other words, the rock is actually solid and substantial when we consider it physically. This is the particle view of the rock, using our metaphor of particle-wave duality. The wave view is that the rock is insubstantial, a phantasmagoric form. This view is the perception of the rock when we are able to also perceive its final ontological status, the absolute.

When We Recognize the Ultimate Insubstantiality of Things, they Lose their Sense of Realness

The absolute demonstrates that there is no ultimate substance, for whatever substance we find will have to possess nonbeing as its final nature and constituency. The other concept we lose in our experience of manifest forms, besides that of substance, is that of realness. We normally have a subjective sense of reality in our perception of objects and people. We tend to believe that this feeling of reality is objective, and not simply our inner and subjective feeling. However, when we finally realize the insubstantial nature of things, we wake up to the fact that we do not possess this old feeling of realness in relation to these things. It is not that we realize these things are not real in the sense that they are not actually there or that we are mentally hallucinating them. No, it is clear to us that they actually and truly appear in perception, that they are not just the content of our personal minds. What we realize is that the customary sense of realness to which we are habituated is concomitant to the sense of substantiality and solidity we tend to perceive in these objects. When we recognize their ultimate insubstantiality they lose their sense of realness, for this sense is caused by the belief and perception of substance. Without ultimate substance they lose their sense of realness. This realization helps us understand insubstantiality in subtler ways. We see that substantiality is actually not physical solidity, but the belief in the ultimate self-existence of the objects. In other words, we normally give substance to air, space, thoughts, images, light, and so on, objects that are not physically solid. Giving them substance means we give them a final ontological status of truly existing. This simply means that we do not apprehend that nonbeing is their final ontological mode. We do not perceive the absolute as their ultimate ground of existence. This subtle ignorance appears in our perception of physical objects as the sense of solidity, which psychologically makes us feel they are real and substantial. But the sense of realness appears in our perception of all objects, whether physical, psychological or spiritual; for we attribute to all these forms of manifestation an ultimate status of existence: that is, we do not recognize that their ultimate ontological status is nonbeing.

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