The negative and the positive way

Volume 15, No. 11

Text Satsang

From an Advaita talk with Douwe Tiemersma in Gouda on November 3, 1999

The negative and the positive way

Most of the people who are here know that the inquiry into what you are and what you are not is important in the advaita approach. On the one hand this inquiry is aimed at recognizing ‘not this, not that’ such as you also find in the Upanishads: neti, neti. On the other hand, there is the return to your self that you already are and is infinite. There is confusion in many people about the relationship between these two methods of approach. They stick with one of the two or have no idea how to they should now approach it. It is important to see that these two currents completely belong to one another. It depends on your situation, on what seems the most obvious to emphasize. But you always have to deal with both, although you may initially start to work on the one or the other.

For many people the unlimited self-being is not clearly apparent. Frequently there is an identity that is very limited and distorted by many things from the past and by one’s own thinking. If you begin then with the method of “not this, not that” the problem often arises that a distance is created in an artificial way, and in which there is a certain tension. Then it is uncertain how things can proceed. Therefore for most people, it is important to get more in contact with the positive feeling of self-being first. That is already there in everyday life when you say: I do this, I do that. Everyone has a sense of themselves. That is something different than the notion of an ego. The ego is a particular psychic functioning that mediates between yourself and the world: to reconcile all the things at play internally with the world; to use all kinds of things from this world; to further sustain itself; to be more important, stronger, more beautiful and so on. The self-feeling goes beyond the functioning of the ego-self, because the self-feeling is already a reflection of the total pure self without boundaries. You can go to it by going within. If you would seek out the self-feeling somewhere in your body, it is usually strongest in the heart region. Internally you can withdraw to the heart area and enter in. There is a certain physical sense of self-being which is very clearly present there. Then you shouldn’t stay in your head, but actually go down to and enter into your heart region. When you really do this, you’ll experience that you are yourself there and – as already mentioned – that it is something different than the ego function. There is no defensiveness in that self-being, no tendency to polish up an ‘I’, to strengthen, and so forth. In that heart of self-being there is rest and relaxation. So you have to deal with the two sides mentioned: it is a positive self-being, even though it is still limited and localized, but immediately it also entails what it is not: it is not an ego tension.

When you go further with the inquiry into your true nature then this movement with these two aspects continues. So you get the sense: the body – what do I have to do with it? But on the other hand, if I am not the body, then I am myself as observer of the body. So too with the functions of thinking and feeling: I am not my thoughts and feelings but surely I am their observer. On the level of the observer, it is another form of self-being. There, I am my feeling-self-being, also as observer. It is important to not stay focused on the negative side because then you keep looking at the old structures of your body and your identity. If you remain strongly engaged there, you can have the tendency to tense up, because new things are constantly arising. You stay focused on something limited that you are not, but that you still hold on to in your consciousness. That can be the limitation of vipassana meditation and mindfulness.

In contrast, by letting your consciousness expand further into the core of yourself, you can acknowledge that there is a new situation that is much freer than the old one. Again, that is then a positive affirmation in which you are more yourself. Commencing from that self-feeling, an ever further purification can occur on all levels. Again that is the negative aspect because this purification means: this doesn’t belong here and that is going overboard. At the same time you remain within this positive sphere of self-being. That positive aspect will need to stay there.

If you obscure even just one aspect, you get problems. You see examples of that in the tradition. If you stick with just the positive, everything is very beautiful and nice, but when the distinctive insight ‘I am not that’ is absent, it remains just a beautiful feeling. Nothing really changes, because this nice sphere gets mixed with all kinds of personal aspects. You are stuck there because you find everything so beautiful. So you will need to look further: not this, not that. When it is only about the distinctive insight (‘I am not that’) it easily creates a cold situation. It creates a sphere of non-being, only in the negative sense.

In Advaita there is no duality, precisely on this point of positive being and non-being. This is one of the last (apparent) dualities. Both will need to remain continuously present: the distinctive insight (not this) and the positive affirmation (this is it). This “negative” and “positive” affirmation is there from the beginning to the end. In advaita, non-duality, the positive and the negative coincide in an unproblematic way, because ultimately, they are not separate. You can accept both and you experience their coalescence in a nondualistic situation. It’s clear that you can’t really talk about it, because when you speak about the negative, you should immediately speak about the positive. Both belong together and are inseparable. Otherwise you are back in duality.

So let your situation develop itself in this way. When you keep everything open, both as regards to the expansion of self-being as well as to the return to the Absolute, everything will develop further in a good way. Stay lucid and you see how it works at every level, including at the level of feeling. If there is a certain feeling, then you recognize that as your feeling, it is a positive affirmation. But at once there is also the recognition: it certainly is my feeling, but am I completely that? That comes back at every level. I have this identity in the world. Now, am I that or not? Partially yes, but in another sense not at all. Ultimately you are everything. You are the self of everything because there is no limit to the self-being. But here too: are you really that now? No, because there is no person who has anything to do with it. These two aspects always go together. That is the miracle. I, myself, am everything, there is no limit to my self-being, it is infinite. And yet, I am not that: everything that appears is finite and limited; it rises and disappears again. The ultimate is inexpressibly open.

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