“… Truth or reality opens the Heart and quiets the mind …” ~ Nirmala
In That Is That, Essays About True Nature, Nirmala provides “… a collection of articles and answers to questions posed by spiritual seekers. It captures the essence of spiritual inquiry and provides the reader with a real transmission of Presence on every page. It is much more than an exposition about our true nature as infinite consciousness, it offers an experiential exploration of who we really are, not only through the transmission in the words, but through the many thoughtful questions it raises.”
Nirmala’s last post explored “… the gem in this moment …” … and today’s post considers the issue of objective (vs subjective) reality: by answering a question posed by a spiritual seeker.
All text below is from Nirmala’s book and is published here with his permission.
Question: It is true that our beliefs change over time. Sometimes even in one day we may think two different things about reality and how everything functions. But then is there anything objective? Is there any final truth, or is everything subjective? What is reality like outside our minds and beliefs? Do we create our worlds with our beliefs and mind?
Nirmala’s Answer: There are several perspectives on the question of what is objectively real, and they all have some truth to them. One perspective is that the only thing that is truly real is what doesn’t come and go or what is eternal. According to this definition, nothing with a form or name is real. The only thing that is real is the mystery beyond name and form, which is the source of everything. This is a very absolute perspective, and it can be very powerful in dissolving worldly attachments. It cuts through all appearances to the infinite, empty Presence at the core of all existence.
Another perspective suggests that everything is real, that there is ultimately just one thing here, and it is very real. Everything is a part of this reality, so everything is real and everything is connected. This is a more heart-centered perception, and it can be very powerful in opening up the qualities of love, compassion, and acceptance inherent in our true nature.
A third possibility is a kind of combination of the first two: realizing that there is just one thing, and so everything is real, and at the same time, being able to discriminate how much reality there is in any experience. Some things have a lot of reality, and some things have very little. For instance, a thought or belief has some reality but not very much. All of your thoughts fit between your ears, so how big can they actually be? This third perspective is a more practical and functional approach that evokes our capacity for discrimination and effective action.
These three perspectives are summed up in the famous quote by Nisargadatta: “When I see I am nothing, that is wisdom. When I see I am everything, that is love. My life is a movement between these two.”
All three perspectives are true, and they all have a place in a complete understanding of reality. Yet none of them contain the whole truth, which is an inherent limitation of words and ideas.
To answer your question, I would suggest that there is objective reality and also subjective reality, and life is a dance between these two. Reality outside of the mind and beliefs is pure, empty, limitless potential. That is the biggest truth, and yet it isn’t a final truth, since life apparently doesn’t stay as pure potential, but loves to move through mind and beliefs into form. Life is purely objective in its resting state as eternal, infinite space; and it can become purely subjective when it moves into the realm of thoughts that have no correspondence to outer reality, like when we are daydreaming about a perfect lover. Most of the time reality or experience is a mixture of objective reality and subjective reality.
The more objective our experience is, the more substantial, lasting, and profound it is; and the more subjective our experience is, the more temporary and unsubstantial it becomes. Neither one is better or worse, but they are definitely different experiences, and we can discriminate how real or true each experience is. Since our minds are the source of subjective reality, the mind isn’t very useful in discriminating how real something is. To the mind, everything looks equally real, so the mind isn’t very helpful in distinguishing between objective and subjective reality. Fortunately, we also have a Heart, which is naturally able to distinguish how real or true an experience is. Truth or reality opens the Heart and quiets the mind. In contrast, something that isn’t very true or real contracts the Heart and makes the mind busier.
This dance between objective reality and subjective beliefs is very alive and dynamic. Our experience can change dramatically in even a single day or moment, with every thought or idea that pops into our head, and even more dramatically, when there is little or no thought, and an aspect of objective reality shines through. So experientially, there would appear to be no final experience of truth, but instead an endless unfolding play of truth with itself. What an amazing dance life creates!
As to whether we create our reality with our subjective thoughts and beliefs, I would suggest we co-create our subjective reality along with all of the other consciousnesses here. Our thoughts and beliefs have an effect on how reality appears, which is how this dance of life works: Everything affects everything else. So even our thoughts in their limited subjective existence have an effect on everything else that happens. However, there’s still the question of how much effect they have. Do our thoughts create the entire reality we experience? Or is reality also affected by other people’s thoughts? And is human thought the only player in this game? What if there are many levels of Being that all have a part in this dance? What about our collective thoughts or beliefs? What about the thoughts or beliefs arising in the mind of God? What if there are an infinite number of conscious forces at work shaping objective reality into subjective experience.
So the answer may be that our beliefs affect reality along with everything else that affects reality. It could be that ultimately the creation of our reality is the sum total of everything that affects the unfolding of life, which includes our personal thoughts and beliefs. This can put in perspective how important what we think and believe is—it may not matter that much in the creation of reality. You can play with the effect that your beliefs have without taking them too seriously. It turns out that most of what happens is the result of much bigger forces that we might call destiny or grace.
Nirmala’s Stillness Speaks Teacher Page will be coming soon... a brief excerpt from his website bio is offered here: After a lifetime of spiritual seeking, Nirmala met his teacher, Neelam, a devotee of H.W.L. Poonja (Papaji). She convinced him that seeking wasn’t necessary; and after experiencing a profound spiritual awakening in India, he began offering satsang and Nondual Spiritual Mentoring with Neelam’s blessing. This tradition of spiritual wisdom has been most profoundly disseminated by Ramana Maharshi, a revered Indian saint, who was Papaji’s teacher.
“Nirmala offers satsang in gratitude for the love and grace that flow through his teachers, Neelam and Adyashanti, and for the Truth brought to this world by Ramana Maharshi and H.W.L. Poonja. Advaita satsang is offered as a celebration of the possibility, in every moment, of recognizing the truth of who we are. Nirmala offers a unique vision and a gentle, compassionate approach, which adds to this rich tradition of inquiry into the truth of Being.”~ excerpt from Nirmala’s website.
Here’s Adyashanti on Nirmala: “What is appealing about Nirmala is his humility and lack of pretense, which welcomes whatever arises within the field of experience. In the midst of this welcoming is always an invitation to inquire deeply within, to the core of who and what you are. Again and again, Nirmala points the questions back to the questioner and beyond to the very source of existence itself-to the faceless awareness that holds both the question and the questioner in a timeless embrace.” ~ excerpt from Nirmala’s website.