Rigpa and Anatta
Imagine being asleep in bed while dreaming. Except in this dream “you” have no dream body, no dream identity, and no sense of being a “me” as an observer of the dream landscapes and dream events.
There is simply a vivid clarity of perceptions without any subjective sense of being an entity in or out of the dream as a witnessing observer.
This would be like an impersonal video camera “taking it all in” but without any sense of “it” doing so. There is no sense of a subjective self even possible for a video camera.
Likewise, in this dream, there is “no one” present who could subjectively experience any suffering, reactivity or resistance to the dream appearances. A video camera never reacts emotionally to or resists the content of the video.
But now, later in the dream, the subconscious starts adding a subjective sense to the “pure selfless observing”, of a conceptualized “me” to whom these dream perceptions are occurring. But the personal self-identity as an “observer” is nothing more than more dream landscape, but this time on the subjective side.
The dream is now one of a “you”, felt as a personal “me”, with a dream body “who” is experiencing the exterior landscapes and events of the dream. The dreamed self as an experiencer is no more real than the dreamed tigers and dreamed trees. All is a projection of the subconscious mind. It’s a subconscious mind, because there is no consciousness of its own projecting.
The next step in this exercise is to suddenly see that what I described regarding a dream state, is also what’s occurring in the ordinary, daytime, waking state. The mechanisms of selfing are identical.
A good example would be a newborn baby. We assume its first moments are not very subjective and personal. There is just a vivid kaleidoscope of colors, sounds and sensations. As months go by, slowly a centralized “me” becomes an ever more present feature of cognitive life. After a couple of years, the self as a subjective sense of “me” begins to become a rather permanent feature of daily life. As an adult, this sense of “me” can become such a solid and ever-present feature of consciousness, that it is never even questioned regarding its authenticity and validity.
It’s this artificial “me” that resists, grasps and suffers. It’s just a story line narrative, that arises from the subconscious due to conditioning. It’s “subconscious” because the “me” doesn’t see or know any of this.
However, and it’s a big however, the subconscious can suddenly cease projecting this dream-like “me” identity. Then what remains is the exact same landscapes and perceptual events, but without any sense of anyone observing them. The “middle man” dropped out. There are just vivid perceptions without a personal perceiver.
In Dzogchen we call the resulting awareness, “naked rigpa”. It’s crisply aware, but without it being a “personally” present subject as an experiencing participant.
If the body is sitting in the kitchen for example, there is just the vivid perceptions of the kitchen itself occurring from the perspective of the body’s eyes; but without any “I am observing the kitchen”.
This is nirvana; where a non-subjective aware presence (naked rigpa) exists, but with no “personal” self there having perceptual experiences to savor, resist or contemplate.
The conceptualizing mind only functions or “thinks” when the personal self is being subconsciously projected. Naked awareness or rigpa has nothing to think about because there is no self to be concerned about something to think about.
Notice after reading this, how the “me” (as selfing processes) will try to sense how the experience of “being without a me” would feel like. The self wants to sample the experience of its own absence, but without actually being absent to the experience. It wants to have that new experience without actually losing itself.
That which notices the “me”, trying to sense the feeling of being without a “me”, is not the “me”. It’s naked rigpa; where the “me” has dropped away from being the “receiving center” of perception (I am perceiving), to being demoted to the status of just being more impersonal scenery, like the kitchen sink.
This is either suddenly seen in crystal clarity (naked rigpa) or it isn’t. There is no gradual middle-ground. The middle-ground understanding, would just be more conceptual understanding to benefit the “me” in its quest to “get this”.
This is very subtle and tricky stuff... The “me” illusion has been around in humans for maybe a million Earth years. It seems to be a distinguishing feature of the species. But in “real time”, it has never been anything more than just entertaining scenery for the one who has never been identified with the one, seeming to be a “me”.