The end of the path, this brief dream of humanity, is marked by a shift or transformation of consciousness. At this point and thereafter, the sense of personal self – that which is the cause of our perceived separation and the root of suffering, dissolves away.
Of course in one sense it’s not the end of the capability to function outwardly as before, otherwise this and countless other narratives on the subject wouldn’t be written. But it is the end of the point at which there is perceived to be an observer and an observed. It is however, beyond my capacity to write this without pronouns, as you will have noted, but please understand these to be restrictions of language, used to help facilitate the structure of the writing and not a default admission of a sense of self or I.
The realisation of no-self can be described as stepping outside the ‘structure’ or rather collection of parts that seems to have served as a structure through which consciousness arose. It’s called by some a realisation because it is apparent that what is left is what has always been. Not always been through the course of our live but always been – always. Unchanging, unborn, unconditioned, unending – that which has never arose and therefore is not subject to change or dissolution. For this reason it is also called the deathless.
For some who have described this, they experience that which remains as a state of joy or love, but this is not my experience. From the moment at which this realisation occurred there have been no emotions as experienced before. There is a sense of at-onement. The day to day, moment by moment experience is that all is one.
For one with a sense of personal self they feel themselves as separate and perceive separate forms around them, all distinct and unique. When no-self has been realised the experience is of just one, that which is, arising in many apparently distinctive and separate forms. The realisation of all being one dwarfs the apparent separateness of forms. The appearance of separateness is seen as simply apparent and not real.
There is no separation of the observer from the observed. There is no observer and observed although there is observing.
For those who might say: ‘If there is experience there must an experiencer’, not so. Between the cells of a body gases transfer by a process of osmosis. This process takes place without an experiencer, it’s simply a process. In the same way clouds form, rain falls, rivers flow. The observing is just the observing, the experiencing is just the experiencing, it’s another process. There is no distinction between that which is experienced and the experience. There is no gap. It’s all one thing. (Perhaps it might be argued in this case that when no-self has been realised, the term ‘experience’, implying as it does an experiencer is incorrect and the point is conceded however a more appropriate term does not present itself at this time.)
As for consciousness – this is inherent in the manifested universe, it is latent or more or less realised in all that is – a characteristic of manifestation. In obviously unconscious forms it is present as the inherent potential for consciousness, in more developed forms it is more fully realised, but as a characteristic of manifestation, in the non-manifest, consciousness as recognised in the manifest cannot be said to exist. Even in the more subtle forms of manifestation it is transformed, depending as it does upon form to arise, with characteristics dependent upon the nature of the form in question – more subtle or more coarse.
The state of no-self cannot be described as good or bad for to do so implies a point of reference, such descriptors require a centre to relate, or do the relating, and a base level against which to relate. Neither is present, so what is simply is.
It is true to say this marks the end of suffering for there is none to suffer. No centre to receive the experience and relate to other experiences in a way that categorises it as suffering.
What remains for a time is a form and consciousness arising through that form for the reason that the form has senses to interact with and receive stimuli from other forms. These are a legacy of what was before. Once the form ceases to function as such there is no momentum to give rise to another subsequent form or rebirth as has happened before. It therefore marks the end of the cycle of birth, death, rebirth, called samsara in the Buddhist tradition.
For those seeking an end to suffering this can be realised through the realisation of no-self.
No matter what steps one takes in life, what courses one attends, books one reads, processes one engages with, as long as the sense of personal self exists there will be the potential for suffering. You simply cannot be happy all of the time because, amongst other things, ‘happy’ is a relative term which implies an elevation of mood against a norm. If experienced all of the time this would be the de facto norm and therefore not ‘happy’.
However, to conclude and to paraphrase the Buddha, because there is the unborn, uncreated, unformed, unconditioned, there is an escape from the born, the created, the formed, the conditioned. In other words, when it is time for this dream of humanity to end, we awake to once again realise the one – that which always was, is, and will be.