Few topics get such a range of reactions as this one, true nature.
The term ‘true nature’ can be turned into a concept of some ideal state that we can never achieve. And this puts it outside of ourselves, where it can be easily ignored in the pursuits of life. Or it becomes something to aim for, a worldly pursuit of its own.
Some describe true nature as who they are as a human being. Or as a soul. Which leads to a bit of a muddle, because ‘human being’ is simply a term for a body and mind, and a soul is defined as part of a human being.
So, is true nature a concept pointing to an external ideal, a target to aim for, a property of a body, or something else entirely?
This is where self-exploration comes in. Not personal development, or how to make life better—self-exploration points in a singular direction: Who is the “I” that experiences?
If we start with the “I” of any sentence, and drop the rest, we’re looking in the right direction:
* “I am angry”—Who is this I? Where is this I located? What is the nature of this I?
* “I see a tree”—Who is this I? Where is this I located? What is the nature of this I?
* “I am writing”—Who is this I? Where is this I located? What is the nature of this I?
Self-exploration is a holding still. An act of rebellion when ego suggests there is effort to be made. And “do nothing” frequently becomes the biggest effort of all, as we try to contain the natural activity of a body and mind. Holding still harnesses this activity and employs it. Holding still means rigorously investigating the “I” of experience.
Does “I”, without reference to concepts, have an age, a gender, a sexuality, a height, a weight, a race, a religion?
The deeper we look into the nature of “I”, we find we can’t locate ourselves in the body. This may sound contrary to what you’d expect, but don’t confuse the content of experience with the nature of experience. This very confusion explains why self-exploration, self-enquiry, is so important.
Don’t take my word for it. Explore direct experience. With a teacher or guide, with a friend, alone. Question the assumption that the eyes see, and the ears hear. Question every assumption beyond the activities of seeing, hearing, tasting, touching, smelling, sensing and feeling.
Mind, a word for mental activity, does not persist outside of thought. Yet, I am the knower of thought, and I see thought appear and disappear. I am here when thought is not. How, then, could “I” be found in thought? Question the assumption that there is a mind that thinks. Question every assumption beyond the activity of thinking.
Indeed, question even the thinking, feeling, sensing and perceiving.
We allow attention to gently probe the sensation of “I”, to look for edges, to look for boundaries. And, as with the known universe, we find none. Again, don’t take my word for it—explore, and keep exploring.
By exploring, we find that “I” is simply “I”. As there are no borders or limits, we realise there cannot be two of us. There cannot be me and another. We are the same being.
True nature means “who we truly are”, the essence of us, the most normal, unpretentious, intimate knowing of our ourselves.