This is a transcription of a lecture originally given live and unscripted on Gnostic Radio. Download the audio lecture here.
The purpose of the Gnostic science is to awaken our consciousness. The awakening of consciousness is a very exact methodology that has to be performed with precision. In order to do that - to perform that science and acquire the results that we long for - we need to know our tools. Not only to know them and understand them, but how they function and their limitations.
The purpose, ultimately, of awakening consciousness, of learning Gnosis, is to come to the direct realization of the true nature of our self. In this tradition that we call Gnosis, we generally call this "the realization of the Inner Being" - and we make this important distinction. Many schools, particularly Hindu schools, utilize the phrase "self-realization." While this phrase in itself, etymologically, is accurate, it has led to a misconception in the minds of many students, particularly in the West, that the realization or enlightenment is of this self that we believe we know now. This is a misconception. Self-realization is the realization of the real self - the direct perception and experience of what that real self is. That is what we long to know: who we really are, what of us is truly real, reliable, consistent, happy. It is not difficult to discover when one sincerely observes oneself that we are not consistent, reliable, or happy. In fact, we are full of contradictions, full of unhappiness, and very, very unreliable and unpredictable. We say one thing and do another. We believe one thing and perform the opposite. Our inconsistency, unreliability, and unpredictability are very much involved with our experience of existence. The fundamental unhappiness that we have, the suffering that we have, the fear and the doubt, are intimately related to these qualities of our own present condition.
The science of Gnosis begins here by questioning ourselves as we are now and investigating, analyzing: who is this self that I think that I am? Is it a real self? What is it that makes up this self? Where is it? And when questioning and investigating ourselves in this manner, we are confronted with inescapable conclusions that we cannot find a single self. We cannot find a consistent self, a reliable self, a predictable self.
The other thing that we will notice if we sincerely undertake this form of observation, the observation of ourselves, is that we cannot maintain it. Conscious observation of oneself requires a great deal of effort, a great deal of energy. If you do not know what I am talking about, then you will have to make the experiment, even during the course of this talk, to maintain a dispassionate, objective point of view of your own self, right now - and don't stop. Look at your experience of self as though you are observing an actor on stage. Do not judge, do not evaluate, do not praise or blame, but merely watch, merely observe. You will discover that this form of observation is very difficult to keep consistent, to maintain. In other words, what we need to do is to become conscious, to be conscious of our own selves from moment to moment. This is not something that can be achieved quickly or easily. It requires great effort.
Unfortunately, we have the sad state of affairs to believe, to think, that we are conscious. We think we are awake. This is a very, very distressing problem. Because we think we are awake, we do not think we need to awaken. But this is precisely the opposite of what all of our great religions and mystical traditions are telling us: that we are asleep, our consciousness is asleep. Really, we move through life in a dream state, a state of consciousness that is very passive, reactive, and without the ability to perceive the truth, the actual reality.
Our consciousness is very weak and dreaming, and this is symbolized in all of our ancient mythologies. If you look at the story of Psyche from the Greeks, you see this symbol - Psyche represents the soul, who sleeps. If you look at the symbol of Sleeping Beauty or Snow White, all of these mythologies relate this state of consciousness within which we become victims of suffering. We dream and we do not realize that we dream.
In that state of dreaming within which all of us are, we believe that we perceive a self - we have a "sense" of self. This sense of self is supported by our dream state. We have a sense of an "I." The starting point of Gnostic science is to analyze the ‘I,' to really come to know: what is this self that we believe in, that we fight for, that we support and feed and protect? Why is this ‘I' so apparently real, and why do we fight so hard to protect it?
We believe many things about this self. We believe this self was born in a certain city, was given a certain name, had a variety of experiences while growing up (most of the time we like to talk about the bad ones), had a certain kind of education, certain sorts of experiences through life, and all of this we gather to ourselves, we hold onto, in order to define this ‘I' that we call "ourselves."
But in Gnosis we do not call this the ‘I.' This collection of experiences, beliefs, cultural attitudes, ideas, ways of speaking, ways of talking, ways of dressing ourselves - these are all what we call ‘personality.' Personality is a mask - which is what ‘persona' means. Our personality is the mask that we acquire in this body. We grow it and develop it in the particular conditions within which this body was born and grew up. The personality becomes our interface with the outside world. We, having developed this personality, believe it is "ourselves," our identity, and we love it. And we especially admire people who have a very strong personality, a very vocal one, a very rigid one. This is why we admire some of the celebrities, politicians, actors, and musicians that we do - because they cultivate and develop very strong personalities, a sense of ‘I' - and we emulate that, we imitate that.
What we do not realize is that the personality dies. When the physical body dies, so does the personality. We abandon it and we go on to a new existence. But of course, to know about these things we have to awaken the consciousness, this is part of our challenge. When we study more deeply and look into this science of psychology that we study in Gnosis, we understand that the sense of self that we have is really much deeper than the personality, which is just the visible shell, the visible mask that rests in front of something else. The personality is the part that we can see easily in our day-to-day life, but it is not real. You can demonstrate this for yourself, and look in your own history, and see how you yourself have changed or modified your personality according to circumstances. For example, when you were young, in school, you had a certain way of talking, of dressing, certain interests - maybe music or art or movies - and those cultural aspects of your personality formed an aspect of that mask that you utilized to relate to your friends. So you dressed in a certain way, you projected your self-image in a certain way, in order to relate well to your friends, or to reject the authority of your parents, or the authority of school, or the authority of your guardians or older people - whatever forces are present there. The personality becomes a projective device that we use to display the sense of self. Later, let's say you get a job, so you have to change that personality - you have to wear a suit, maybe, or a tie, or a uniform - perhaps you go to the military. There you have to use a totally different personality - you have to use a different kind of language, to speak differently, different mannerisms, different interests. Your politics might change - you may have been a democrat before and then become a republican. Where is your self in all these changes? Some people move from one city to another, and when they get into a new environment, new friends, new people, they may change religion, they may change political parties, they may change their diet. Where is a real self in the midst of these types of changes that we make in relationship to our external conditions? And here we can see how this sense of self is unreliable, inconsistent, and unpredictable. We change all the time. We have to watch for this, but again, in these examples we are only looking at the most superficial level of this sense of self that we have.
If you have studied Buddhism, you have heard that the Buddha Shakyamuni taught that any being, any person, any existing entity is considered to be defined by five aggregates, five components, and in Sanskrit these are called skandhas. This word ‘skandhas' was first utilized spiritually by the Buddha. Previous to his presentation of the word, the skandhas were used in the Sanskrit language to mean a heap, or a pile, or a collection of different pieces, different components. So when you see the word skandhas translated, it is translated as ‘aggregate.' And you know that an aggregation is a compilation of varying items, substances, pieces, components, different objects or things that are put together in one collection.
The Buddha said that we have a sense of self because of this collection of five aggregates, five distinct forms or groups. He said that it is only because of a circumstantial relationship between these aggregates that we have what call a sense of self or an ‘I.' More specifically, he taught that there is no real ‘I' in this. We have the sense of an ‘I,' we believe there is an ‘I,' we perceive an ‘I,' but that ‘I' is only there because of the impression that we get in relation to these aggregates.
So let us analyze this in the Gnostic way and understand what it means. All five of the aggregates have levels of meaning. If you have studied Buddhism and a little bit about the skandhas, you know that most of the time the teachings that are given publicly are on the exoteric level. In other words, the skandhas are taught in relation to gross aggregates, or dense aggregates, readily visible ones. Yet, throughout the schools of Buddhism, there is a great variety of ways to interpret the Skandhas. No two schools agree. Yet, through a deep analysis, we can see the real meaning.
1: Rupa: Form
The first of these collections or groups is called ‘rupa' in Sanskrit, which means ‘form.' The first aggregate is the aggregate of form: the body, our physical body. Of course, we are in a physical body, and it is this existence in a physical body that gives us our sense of self. Immediately, this is visible to all of us - we very much identify our sense of an ‘I,' with our sense of our physical body, with this impression of having a physical body. But this is where we need to really analyze what ‘aggregate' means, what ‘skandha' means: have you really become conscious of what it means to be in a physical body? Because remember, this is the whole point of Gnosis: to become cognizant, conscious. We inhabit the physical body, but we inhabit it in a dreaming state. We are not really aware of it, we are not really cognizant of it - we take it for granted. We utilize it, but without cognizance, without consciousness. In fact, we are so much identified with this first aggregate ‘rupa' that we worship it, especially in Western culture, which is infecting the rest of the world; we are so identified with the physical body, and so asleep as a consciousness, we believe this physical body is the only physical body we will ever have. And we worship this body - we want to make it into the best looking, most attractive body that we can get. This is why we become addicted to going to the gym, to working out, to wearing cosmetics, to being slaves of fashion, having surgeries - doing everything we can to project a self-image of desirability, of superiority, as if somehow the physical body were a reflection of our real identity. This is an extremely dense and gross level of identification, but very common. This is why we see commercial after commercial on television about working out, gyms, diet pills, and this and that different fix or fad in order for this body somehow make us happier. And this is really the fundamental point: we believe, in our dreaming state, that through this body we will find happiness, that somehow, through the cultivation or management of our physical body, we will find happiness. We think it is through being a certain weight, having a certain hair color, having a certain appearance. And of course we always find out eventually that this is a lie.
Furthermore, if we really look at what this aggregate is, if we really become conscious of it, we can see that this body is not what we assume it to be. This is why we use the term ‘aggregate' or ‘skandha' - but we have to become conscious of it. Become aware, for a moment, of your hand - you have two of them, but just look at one, become aware of one of them - you use this hand all day, all night, in different ways throughout your lifetime. But have you ever really become cognizant of what a hand is? Have you ever really used one hand in a very conscious way, in a very cognizant way? And what is it? We call it a hand, and we make an assumption about its existence, about its identity. But if you look more closely, you will see that there is no one thing that you can call a hand that exists in and of itself, by itself. What you see as a hand is really an aggregate, a collection of parts. On the gross level, the superficial level, we see skin. The skin of the hand cannot exist by itself; it needs the rest of the body. Inside that skin there are veins, muscles, cartilage, bones, blood - all kinds of materials and components that work in a very intricate fashion far beyond our comprehension, and we have no cognizance of that, no real awareness of it, first of all when we use it, and much less when we do not. If we look deeper into the hand we see that within all of those components are more components: cells, molecules, particles, atoms. Anyone who has studied science knows that an atom is mostly nothing, mostly empty. So by penetrating into what we know physically, in physical science, into this combination of components that we call "a hand," really it is mostly nothing, mostly empty. Not only that, it cannot exist on its own - it is dependent on so many subtle and very, very unreliable circumstances.
The whole body is like that - every part of the body is just like that. This body is a collection of components; that is why we call it an "aggregate." Is there a self in the body? Can we find a self? Can we really find a body? Especially when you know that the body is undergoing continual change. Everything you eat, everything you breathe, everything you perceive comes into the body and changes it. And you are continually releasing elements of the body - it is continually changing, it is never the same, and yet we attach to it a label: body. And we invest into that label "permanence" which is not there. This is a form of dreaming - it is a mental assumption which creates an illusion.
This heap or pile of elements that we call the body, in Kabbalah we call it Malkuth. This is the tenth sphere on the tree of life, the lowest sphere of the ten. Malkuth means ‘the kingdom,' and kingdom relates well to this term ‘aggregate.' A kingdom is a hierarchical organization of many components, many pieces, and the body is just that. It is a collection that is hugely sophisticated, but also extremely vulnerable. This body exists by a thread, and it is very simple to cut that thread.
The body will cease to exist; it will die. What happens to the self, then? Where is that self that we love so much if that thread of life is cut? This is a cause for enormous fear in us. And that fear comes because our consciousness is asleep. We have invested so much consciousness in this identity, this ‘I,' that we have become trapped in our concept of the physical body. We have no idea what is beyond it. We think that our identity is limited to the physical body - this is a fundamental mistake.
Many people think that the ‘I' is in the brain; some cultures think that the ‘I' is in the heart. In Gnosis we recognize that the ‘I,' the sense of an ‘I,' the sense of this self that we have, is dependent upon brain activity. If brain activity ceases, that gross level of consciousness, or gross sense of ‘I,' ceases to be. There are other levels that function, but not that one. But moreover, that sense of ‘I' is also dependent upon the heart, but not in the way we expect. Because in the heart we also have a vital aspect of our sense of existence, but we are very disconnected from that, very distant from that. Some people think that that sense of self is simply limited to the body, but even in materialistic science, in common science, there is just too much evidence that contradicts this idea. There are too many cases of people in surgery who have experienced their sense of self outside of the body, and they can see their physical body having surgery, which means that their physical body is not where their sense of self inhabits - that sense of self came out and experienced something separate from the physical body. Not only from surgeries, but from near-death experiences, or death experiences, from out-of-body experiences, from lucid dreaming. These are different kinds of conscious shocks that we can receive where we experience a sense of self that is separate from the skandha called ‘rupa.'
If we draw a circle and imagine that this circle is our experience in the physical body, we would call it ‘rupa,' and that circle would symbolize this environment within which we feel our sense of self in relation to the physical body. But if we go deeper, we would discover that this form, rupa, is unreliable, it is impermanent, it is unpredictable - it can die at any moment, it can get sick at any moment, it can be killed at any moment. It has different conditions; it has many different unknowns. So where is the self?
2: Vedana: Sensation
When we look into that sense of self, we see that this identification that we have with the body is specifically in relation with sensations.
This cultural idea that we have, that we need to have our body project a certain impression - now, of course, in American culture, it is for women to be skinny, and men to be muscular, and they cannot be bald, and women have to have certain kinds of hair and wear certain kinds of clothes, and men have to look a certain way, masculine or manly or whatever - these cultural ideas are all 100% in the personality. They belong to this time and place. If we go to another part of the world, we find that the identification with the body is totally different. In some cultures, a skinny person is considered to look poor, to look impoverished. No one wants to look skinny in those cultures, they want to look fat, because that is a sign of wealth and accomplishment. In some cultures, to be bald is to be at the pinnacle of their cultural and scientific achievements. And to have certain hair colors or certain eye colors. So there are many varieties of these kinds of identification - but they are all in the personality, they are all unreliable, they all change. But all of them, in their root, are in relation to sensation.
Why is it in Western culture women want to look a certain way, having a certain weight and a certain appearance? Why? For themselves? If they were completely on their own, in isolation from society, would they want to look that way? No, they would not. Why is it that men demand women to look a certain way? They want their women to dress a certain way, to have a certain skin color, hair color, appearance, wear certain kinds of shoes, have certain aspects of the personality - why? If those men were blind, would they demand those things? No, they would not. So we can see how superficial these desires are. These are personality traits.
The longing for these personality traits, the attachment to them, is rooted in sensation. Women want to cultivate a certain appearance, to have a certain weight or dress style, because they want to feel accepted, desired, superior, unusual, exceptional, different, they want to stand out, they want to be praised, they want to be envied. This is perhaps the main thing: most women want to be envied. Most men want to be envied. They want to feel the sensations of being envied by others. They want to feel desired, to be desired, to feel like others want them. So a lot of this is rooted in sexual sensation.
In Sanskrit, ‘sensation' is pronounced ‘vedana,' which is the second aggregate. This is the second skandha within which we find a sense of ‘I,' a sense of self. As you know, sensations are vibrations of energy that process through our senses. The sense fields are in the body (rupa). But when those impressions of energy, those vibrations strike upon the body, they are received and transformed and become what we sense. In the body this is related to our nervous system - the field of senses that transforms all of the incoming data. But we remain completely oblivious to that process; we are completely asleep. Have you ever once in your life been really conscious of looking, of using your eyes? To be conscious of the magic of that, the miracle of that sense? Have you ever been really conscious of the miracle of hearing, of how difficult that is to comprehend, that you can hear? When we pay attention to the senses, they seems magical, but for most of our lives we remain completely oblivious. Not only that, we have the other three senses, these five physical senses that are rooted in the first aggregate, rupa.
When sensations enter the senses, there is a continual stream of energy that does not stop. And that continual stream of sensations hypnotizes us, because we are asleep. The sense of being in a body, of inhabiting a body, of manipulating the body, of utilizing the body, in combination with all the sensations that are continually arriving through that body and into this second aggregate, produces an illusion that we call "time." This is very profound. Do not limit yourself to merely intellectually grasping this - your intellect cannot grasp this. Become cognizant of it. The experience of time is rooted in sensation, and it is this illusion that supports the existing of this so-called identity, or ‘I.' In other words, because we are continually experiencing a variety of sensations, we have the impression that time is in motion, but in reality what is happening is that there is just a variety of sensations arising, sustaining, and then passing away. Time is a concept. This is an important distinction: time is a mental concept. When you awaken the consciousness, you come to perceive that there is no such thing as time. In objective reality, time is relative, and this is what Einstein taught. The special theory of relativity is about the relativity of space-time, the continuum of that appearance, what appears to be time. It is easy to study that intellectually (although it is a challenge to some) but to actually perceive it, to become cognizant, is entirely different.
Sensations come in a variety of forms. Remember, we are talking about the aggregate of sensation, and this aggregate of sensation rests just inside the aggregate of form. So that circle that we imagined, which is the circle of our physical body, inside of that we can draw another circle, and this second, interior circle we can call ‘sensation.' And this is rather easy to see - when we are inhabiting a physical body, sensations of all types strike that body and are translated by the nervous system and pass into the aggregate of sensation. We experience these vibrations as sensation.
There are roughly three mains forms of sensation: pleasant, neutral, and unpleasant. The identification that we have with the physical body is rooted here. We believe, because we only perceive through our five senses, that only what we can perceive with the five senses is real. This is the basis of our modern science, and in fact, sadly, has been the basis of many of our modern forms of mysticism - people want to "see it to believe it," to see it with the five senses, to experience it with the five senses. Of course, rupa, the body, is the first aspect of that. But when those vibrations, which are interactions with material in this third dimension (matter and energy), strike that body, they are transformed, pass into the aggregate of sensation through the sense fields and the nervous system. What happens there? We believe that our experience of sensation is the measure of reality. In other words: if we can see it, it must be real. If we can taste it, it must be real. If we can hear it, feel it, or smell it, it must be real. In the Gnostic tradition, we call this "materialism." And this is because it is the belief that only physical matter is the test of reality. Naturally, we reject this belief, we disagree with it. Buddhism also disagrees with it; Christianity disagrees with it; in fact all the religions disagree with it. Yet even when we call ourselves Christian or Buddhist or Gnostic, we persist with the belief that only through our senses can we measure reality - through sensation. There is a real problem with this.
If we are looking to know what is true, to know the truth, to know the reality, and we are relying on sensation, we need to realize that we are making a fundamental mistake. Just like the aggregate of form (rupa), sensation is unreliable, unpredictable. In some countries, people love to eat hamburgers, while in others, hamburgers are considered vile. Some people love to eat snails, and the impressions, the sensations of eating a snail, are considered the height of their culinary cuisine, their culinary approach. In other cultures that is considered garbage, filth, disgusting - I'd probably be one of them, I don't like snails. So we see then that sensation is also rooted in personality - our relationship to sensation is dependent upon how our personality developed.
This is not limited to taste, but also with touch. In some cultures, physical forms of affection, particularly in public, are considered offensive and vile, and can even be criminal offenses. In other cultures, physical affection in public is considered pleasant. So, for example, if you grew up in India, and you have affection for your spouse and you try to hold their hand in public, your spouse could feel revulsion, even though they love you. In countires such as India, the sensation of the hands touching in public would be a revolting sensation, because of the cultural interpretation of the personality.
In other words: sensation is not objective. Sensation is interpretive; it is in the personality. The sense of self that we have, that we find in sensation, has too much variability. But unfortunately, we are slaves of sensation. We are slaves of our tongue. We will only eat what our taste buds demand, and we are incapable of eating anything else. This is actually a cause of enormous suffering for us, because we demand certain types of food and will not eat unless we get those types of food. And let me tell you, if things turn for the worse in your area of the world, you will encounter incredible suffering in yourself when you can only find things to eat that you would consider vile. It is a distinct possibility for any of us to experience that. We need to train our tongue consciously, to eat to survive, rather than to eat for pleasure.
We are also slaves of our eyes, of sight. We are enslaved by our craving to perceive certain kinds of images. This is especially true in relationship with lust. Both men and women are enslaved through their visual sense by their own lust. This is why pornography is so prevalent, and one of the biggest businesses in the world. The single most powerful driving factor in media and technology is pornography, and that is because we are hypnotized by sensation - visual, auditory, tactile, every form.
We are so addicted to sensations, to this aggregate of sensation, that we have even developed technologies where we can experience sensation without bringing the stimulus through the physical body. Are you aware of this, did you know that? But you are all doing it, every one of us is doing it. We are addicted to television, to movies - and what else are movies and TV but a way of experiencing sensations psychologically without experiencing them physically? This is because of our addiction to sensation, our desire for sensation. When you sit down to watch television, why do you choose the programs that you choose? Why do you choose the movies that you choose? Why do certain people watch pornography? It is because they have an addiction, psychologically, to experiencing the sensations of those images and sounds. That is all - it is an illusion, an addiction, a desire.
With each sense and the sensations we are addicted to, we have a sense of self. We love to attach to this sense of ‘I' our favorite TV shows, our favorite music, our favorite bands, our favorite movies, our favorite foods. We may love Thai food or Mexican food, hamburgers, Polish food. And these become part of the ‘I' that we have as a sense of self, but all of it is related to personality, and all of it is rooted in the fundamental mistaken perception of what a sensation is.
We are very much addicted to sensation, and want to repeat them and make them last - but sensations are impermanent, sensations are unreliable. Furthermore, ultimately, they do not exist. They only exist in the conventional level. But they produce an illusion, and we are getting more and more clever about producing illusions through all of our technologies - this illusion to keep us asleep.
We can find a philosophical basis for this hypnotic state we live in if we look back at the Greek culture. There was a Greek philosopher who was named Epicurus, and his philosophy was, to summarize it in one quote: "Sense is never deceived, and therefore every perception of an appearance is true." This is what he taught. What he taught was that if you sense something, if your sensation of it is good, then it must be good. And if your sensation of it is bad, it must be bad. And this is how we all live now - we are all epicureans in practice. We may not call ourselves that, but in practice, in action, we are followers of Epicurus. This is because we believe that if it tastes good, if it feels good, if it sounds good, if it smells good, it must be good, so give me more! This is the very definition of the ego: "give me more." Addiction to sensation.
Unfortunately, this perspective is false. To believe that sensation is a measure of truth is to believe in illusion. Sensation is unpredictable, unreliable, and impermanent. There is no sensation that you can sustain. We try - we want to repeat sensations, we want to intensify sensations - especially sexual ones, but also with food. We love shopping because we are addicted to the sensations of buying things, because it makes us feel good. We are addicted to sports because we love the sensations of that sport, because it makes us feel good. So we repeat and repeat and repeat to re-experience those sensations. But we do not realize the cost of these things.
To be a slave of sensation is to be an animal. That is all an animal is: a slave of sensation: instinctive, mechanical, without any will.
In fact, it is very easy to manipulate us through sensation. This is why those leaders and kings and presidents who want to keep their population under control give them alcohol and drugs. Because when given alcohol, pornography and drugs, the population because hypnotized, addicted, asleep. They put all of their ‘I,' their will, as a slave to those sensations. They cannot control themselves anymore, they become addicts. To be an addict is to be a slave. In other words, to not perceive consciously, to not have conscious will, to be unconscious. And all of us are slaves of sensation.
There are several reasons why sensations are not a reliable measure of truth. The first is that we think that the sensations we experience are a measure of form, of the physical world, of physical reality. We think that through sensation we can measure the physical world - through our eyes, through taste, through touch. We believe we can qualify or quantify whether something is true or good, or bad, through our senses. This is fundamentally false, because of the personality. A very rich person will look at a city bus with disgust, will see a city bus as a symbol of poverty and will not ride it, because his own sense of self is too proud. So through his senses he is measuring that bus, whereas a poor person will see that city bus and will feel gratitude, because that is their lifeline to get to and from work, and they are dependent on that. So neither one can measure the objective reality or truth or value of that bus, because they are not seeing it objectively, dispassionately, without an ‘I.'
Further proof of sensation as unreliable and not dependent on form can be found in someone who has a limb amputated - they will still have the sensations of that limb. Someone who has an arm or a leg removed will still feel their hand or foot, and will feel pain or pleasure there. Why is that? We are going to come to that in the second part of this lecture.
Secondly, sensation is not dependable or reliable as a measure of truth because it is rooted in the personality and our cultural relationships. We believe certain things are good for us that are harmful for us. We like the taste of certain things which are actually bad for us. Easy examples are alcohol, sugar, junk-food (which is actually most of the food that is made nowadays, because there is no real food in it. Chemicals are not food). These things taste good, and when we take them in they produce sensations that we enjoy, but the consequences of those substances are very harmful. Alcohol especially is 100% poisonous - it is one hundred percent poison to ingest alcohol; there is zero benefit. And yet it is one of the most popular things on this planet - why? If it is so destructive and harmful, why are we addicted to it? We will also come to that, shortly.
The third reason sensation is not reliable is that our relationship to it can change. Sensations are not objective; they are not consistent. When we are young, children, we may love candy - sweets, chocolates, those things that look like strange creatures. But when we get a little older, we cannot stand them anymore, they are offensive to us, we cannot eat them anymore. Likewise, when we move from one environment to another, or one set of circumstances to another, our tastes change. Especially when you become married, and you become merged with the psychology, with the aggregates of your spouse, you absorb the tastes of your spouse and your tastes change. So, sensation is unreliable.
3: Samjna: Perception
When the senses of the physical body receive impressions, and those impressions are passed into the aggregate of sensation (vedana), that impression, that sensation which is just the raw vibration passing through that sense field, is further modified and transmitted into the third aggregate. This one is called ‘samjna.' Samjna can be translated in different ways, but the easiest way to think about it is ‘perception.' This is the recognition of what is sensed. So, while in the second aggregate (vedana) we have just the energy of sensation itself, next comes our perception of it. We actually receive the impression, the sensation and can recognize it as such. In this level, we react to it; where in vedana that sensation could be somewhere in that scale between pleasant and unpleasant, in samjna we experience whether it is pleasant or unpleasant - we react, we respond to that, we feel like, dislike, or neutrality.
For example, when we go outside in winter, it is cold. It takes a process for the sensation of cold to strike the body, to pass through the nervous system, to be received by the ethers of the vital body (which we will talk about shortly) which transform those sensations, and then we react, we respond. Again, this is without cognition, without thought - it is cognitive in the sense that there is a process that occurs, but not thought. That is why samjna can also be translated as "cognition," but it is not intellectual thought. It is related to mind, but not thinking. That sensation, then, is felt as pleasant, neutral, or unpleasant. We respond to it with like, dislike, or neutrality.
This evaluation of sensation is also in the personality - our response, our reaction, our experience of sensation, our perception of sensation is completely rooted in personality. People who come from a temperate climate or a tropical clime experience the temperature of that climate and they have a reaction and response to that climate, but if you take them out of that climate and put them into an arctic one, they will suffer terribly. There are physiological causes for that, yes, because the body is not accustomed; but there are also psychological reactions, because of the personality that was formed in that tropical zone. So they will complain and cry about those sensations.
This perception that we have is rooted in personality, and we can see how this also changes in the course of our life. When you are a child, you see things that adults cannot. You notice things that an adult would not notice. Likewise, when you are an adult, you notice things that a child will not notice, will not see. If you are an adult from North America, you will see things that an adult from China will not see. And this goes back to the example of the bus - the rich man who sees that bus has a reaction to that bus, emotionally, which is the opposite of the reaction of the poor person who sees the bus. This is the reaction that is produced - like, neutral, or dislike - but it is based in personality, how that personality was grown, how it experiences things.
Likewise, this perception that we have is extremely limited. Firstly, because we limit our perception to the five physical senses - and even in that case, we do not really use them to their full capacity, because our consciousness is asleep. We have tunnel-vision. Oftentimes we do not even see what is in front of us - how else do you explain that you lost your keys and could not find them for hours, when they were right there on the table? Or, you did not see the milk in the fridge when you were looking to see what groceries you need - the milk is right in front, but you go to the store to buy more milk, and come back, and there is milk already there. I am sure you can find examples like this in your own life - you take the shirt out of the closet and put it on the bed, you go shower and come back and cannot find your shirt. We are asleep; we do not pay attention. Our consciousness is asleep, and because of that, we do not see even the reality that is in front of us, the merely physical reality, much less beyond that. When the consciousness is awakened, it begins to penetrate not only what is there physically, but what is beyond physically. The senses can perceive more - not only the five physical senses, but the other seven senses that we have.
This sense of self that we have, this ever-changing sense of ‘I,' produces this continuity that we experience as a self, but it actually is, in relation with perception, part of why we dream. We are always listening to that self, daydreaming. We are in a fantasyland, with this sense of ‘I' that only perceives very hazily what is around the body. And we never question what we see, we never question how we see, or hear, or taste, or touch. Instead we just want more good sensations, we do not want the bad sensations, and we do not care about the neutral ones. We just want to keep as many good sensations coming as possible, and stay there. This is impossible; there is no possibility for that in the universe, because it is against all the laws of physics, both physical physics and metaphysics.
So our perceptions are completely unreliable because of this, and if you talk to any lawyer, any prosecutor, any policeman, they will tell you that. In court, eyewitness testimony is practically worthless - because of this, because we are unreliable. Not only do we contradict each other, we contradict ourselves in how we perceive and how we remember.
Perception is very subjective in us. It is subjective because our consciousness is asleep, our personalities are different, and we have different mental formations.
4: Samskara: Mental Formations
When we were talking about the rich person seeing the bus, what we were talking about was how the rich person in their physical body, in rupa (1), was receiving sensations through vedana (2), through their perception, which is samjna (3), but that perception was being interpreted in samskara - the fourth aggregate. When that rich person saw the bus, they saw it with their ‘I' of pride, of feeling superior, of feeling better than all the people on the bus, of feeling like they deserve more. This rich person believes they are better than that - "I do not have to ride on the bus because I have money, I come from a cultured background, I am above it." This is pride; pride is a ‘samskara.'
This is what in Gnosis we classically define as an ‘ego,' and in general usage, when we talk about the psychological aggregates, this is what we refer to: samskaras, egos, mental formations. These are aggregates or heaps of psychological material in the mind. There are an infinite variety of them: pride, envy, lust, anger, gluttony, resentment, jealousy, laziness. Each one feels itself to be an individual; each one has its desire. The pride that we have desires to feel different, superior, better. Or perhaps it is another variety of pride that we call shame, which wants to feel worse than others, lower than others, ashamed of itself, bad, self-punishing. This is also pride, it is just the opposite polarity. We also have the ‘I' of envy, which wants what others have.
When we go back to rupa, we want this body to appear a certain way, to fit into our culture, to be a superlative example of what our culture appreciates. So, for a woman, perhaps it is to be blonde and skinny and whatever, but that desire to have that body in that way comes from the mental formation, the samskara, of envy. And that samskara of envy that wants to be like another person is connected to a samskara of shame. So there are a lot of relationships between samskaras and how those samskaras relate to perception, to sensation, and to form. The woman who wants to have a particular body type, or particular weight, usually wants that because of envy, but also because they want to be wanted - they want others to want them. This is called lust, one of the varieties of lust that wants sexual power or sexual satisfaction. Sexual satisfaction is not always simply the orgasm; lust also comes in the form of wanting to be wanted, of feeling like you are a desirable person, like others want you sexually - this is lust, it is lust for that energy, craving. And that lustful samskara can become gluttony, it can become greed, it can become anger, it can become pride. Many women who have this so-called "desirable appearance" are extremely arrogant - pride, but it is a pride that is closely related to lust. And that woman, with her pride and lust, may realize that she is going to age, and she may be aging, so she has fear - the ‘I' of fear. So then she starts to have surgeries, to alter her appearance to try to stay youthful. She takes pills, she takes all kinds of chemicals and substances, but she does not even know what they are - because of fear, because of lust, because of pride, because of envy. Every one of us has this chain of very complicated relationships within all of the parts of the aggregate of samskara. And this whole collection of mental formations is what we call ‘I.' In reality, it is many ‘I's, not one.
Samskara, interestingly, can also be translated in a different way. You can call it ‘mental formation;' you can also translate samskara as ‘volition.' The word ‘volition' means ‘will.' The word samskara is very appropriate because these are mental formations that have their own will. Our pride wants to feel superior, or it wants to feel inferior. Or, we may have a sense of pride that wants to feel the same as everyone else - some people have a sense of pride that wants to be perfectly average, that does not want to stand out. We give extreme examples just to give examples, but we have to realize that every samskara, every ego, happens within a scale of possibilities. There are two extremes, which would be, you could say, positive and negative. There is also a whole range in the middle. For example, with laziness - we all have aggregates, egos, of laziness - but when we think of the word laziness, we think that means sitting on the couch, watching TV, not doing the dishes, not working, not being engaged with our vocation, not cleaning up after ourselves, etc. That is one form, but really laziness refers to the laziness of the consciousness. So then we might think: well, my laziness would be more like, I do not want to meditate, so I keep myself busy with a lot of other things to produce the illusion that I am too busy to meditate - that is one possibility. But being hyperactive, being very busy is a form of laziness when it is laziness of the consciousness. When our consciousness is asleep, it is because we are lazy as a consciousness. People who are extremely busy, who are always rushing and never have time to do things are extremely lazy people. Physically, they can look very busy, but psychologically, consciously, they are the laziest people on the planet. And where are most of them now? Right here, in the United States. Because this culture loves that - this culture loves for us to be super, hyper-busy, always running from here to there, and we seek that. If we have a moment's rest, we feel fear, we feel agitated - we are not getting things done! So we fill up our lives with a lot of other activities, things that are completely unnecessary - but we do it to feel ‘successful.'
So there are a lot of examples of samskaras. Within the stream of our experience, these samskaras arise, sustain briefly, and pass away, just like every other aggregate. The body is born, grows, develops, sustains, gets sick, gets old and dies. Sensations strike the nervous system, they arise, they feel good or bad, then they pass away. Our perceptions come and go. Likewise, psychologically, in our mind-stream, samskaras appear to come and go. In one moment, our ‘I' of pride is ruling our psychological house; in the next moment, our ‘I' of fear steps in, and after that, our ‘I' of envy - each one with its own will, its own desire, its own intentions. All the while, our consciousness is asleep - we are not exercising any conscious control over our mind-stream, over our perceptions, over sensations or over the body. That is why we suffer. We are not conscious.
To give you an example: we see a person wearing the latest fashion, and they look great. What happens in us? The ‘I' that we have, that mental formation, the samskara, feels envy. We feel envious - we want to look great, too. What happens there? That ‘I' is perceiving through the aggregate of perception, the sensations of that form, because it is using the power of the consciousness.
5: Vijnana: Consciousness
Consciousness is the fifth aggregate - ‘vijnana' in Sanskrit. Every mental formation, every ego, every ‘I,' every samskara derives its power from the consciousness. The consciousness is trapped inside the ego. Have you ever heard of Aladdin and the lamp? The lamp is the samskara - inside the lamp is the power of the genii, and we have to free it. The power of the consciousness is inside. Each of those lamps or bottles trap our true inheritance, our true identity. Thus our consciousness is dispersed, divided, and is lacking psychological integration. Our consciousness is an aggregate because it is divided up and trapped in innumerable desires.
Consciousness itself, if we are continuing with our circles - we now have something that looks like a target for archery, that has five circles - the very center is consciousness. But our consciousness, 1) is asleep and 2) is trapped, 97%. The vast majority of our available consciousness is trapped in samskaras, in egos. The consciousness itself, when it is free, is the ability to perceive, it is the ability to sense, it is the ability to exist, but it is not those things. Consciousness is a means of perception, but it is not perception. Consciousness provides an impression of self, but it is not the self. Consciousness is a form of energy which is beyond any sense of ‘I.'
If you remember in the beginning I told you that, when we talk about these aggregates, we have to remember that there are exoteric and esoteric levels. We have pretty much been talking about the exoteric level - if we have time, we will talk about the esoteric level. The exoteric level, the superficial level of consciousness in us, is asleep. From our day-to-day experience, we are not awake, consciously. We go through life mechanically, and our samskaras rule our psychological house, controlling this entire mechanism of the interaction with matter and energy. So as sensations flow in and out from our mind-stream, the free, unmodified consciousness exercises zero influence. What is exercising influence are the samskaras (powered by the consciousness trapped within them) that are giving and taking energy through the personality, the sense of ‘I' that we build in this body. The personality cannot see objective truth:
- 1. the body is not objective truth
- 2. sensation is not objective truth
- 3. perception is not objective truth
- 4. mental formations are not objective truth
- 5. modified consciousness is not objective truth
These are all subjective, egotistical, ruled by desire, craving, aversion, and ignorance. This is the cause of suffering.
Gnosis is the science of learning how to comprehend this situation and change it, and Gnosis begins by first learning how to activate the consciousness. This means we have to become cognizant of ourselves: conscious. To liberate ourselves from suffering, we have to free the consciousness from this entire mechanism - and only we can do it.
To be free from suffering means to have freedom from the suffering of the physical body, freedom from the limitations of form, rupa; to have freedom from the hypnotic states in relation to sensation, vedana, to have the consciousness free of that; to have the consciousness free of the limitations of subjective perception; and to have the consciousness free of the limitations of the mental formations, or egos.
When we perform that, extracting the consciousness from those four aggregates, we experience what is called ‘samadhi,' what is called ‘ecstasy' - freedom. This is what liberation means. But there are two kinds: temporary and permanent. The temporary experience of liberation can occur in any moment of life - even a strong shock in a physical life can produce this experience.
We can also produce it by will, by awakening our consciousness right now, by becoming so incredibly aware that we see through these four veils and perceive the truth. But we find when we attempt it that we do not have the strength, because our consciousness has been so asleep for so long.
We can also experience that by developing our practice of meditation. This is why we emphasize meditation in every lecture. The practice of meditation provides you with some essential parameters: it provides you with an environment and a condition within which you rest or still the aggregate of form, the physical body; you still the aggregate of sensation; you still the aggregate of perception; and you still the aggregate of mental formations. When all of those levels are silent, the consciousness is free, brilliant, perceptive, clear, luminous, bright, happy.
The problem is that we do not want that. We are attached to our sense of ‘I' in mental formations, our sense of ‘I' in how we perceive, our sense of ‘I' in relation to sensation, and our sense of ‘I' in the body.
We cannot even abandon the physical body during meditation - when we attempt to meditate, we stubbornly sit in the physical body, and refuse to abandon it, and instead remain within it, sitting there and suffering. There are people who have been practicing meditation for ten, fifteen, or twenty years, and are very stubborn on this point - they will not abandon the body, thus they never experience samadhi.
There are others who will not abandon sensation, whether pleasant or unpleasant; they believe meditation is a form of sensation, thus they remain trapped in the aggregate of sensation, seeking pleasant sensations that they call "meditation" but which in fact are mere illusion.
There are others who will not abandon perception, who insist that meditation is a form of perception.
And there are others who will not abandon an ‘I' or sense of self, and who try to meditate while graping their sense of self.
Thus, in each of these examples, the one who longs to meditate will never experience samadhi. To experience samadhi is not a question of time - remember, time is illusory. To experience samadhi simply requires strong activation of consciousness and removal from all of the aggregates. When you experience the state of samadhi, of the freedom of the consciousness, what happens then is that the consciousness - which is really where our true self begins, our doorway to finding true self - we find that we have no limitations from the body, we have no limitations from sensation, none from perception and none from ego. This is why we say that ecstasy is a state of absolute freedom of movement, complete freedom of movement, consciously. The consciousness then is free to go anywhere, in all the dimensions of nature. This is why we state that samadhi can correspond to any level of the tree of life, because the consciousness then is completely free.
We will stop here, because to go further will require that we enter into the esoteric level of understanding how these skandhas or aggregates relate to the tree of life. So, we will go deeper into these aggregates later.
Questions and Answers
Q: Modern medicine... that supposedly combat addiction, such as cigarettes, etc., by sending signals to your brain to stop the addiction. How effective are these so-called medicines as opposed to meditating on the death of the ego, the egos of addiction?
A: Okay, that is a great question. The question is about how effective are medicines to stop addictions to things like cigarettes. Well, look at this crude chart that I have made here, which has these five concentric rings. Our consciousness is in the midst of these aggregates. When we have an addiction to a sensation like nicotine, we experience it physically in the body, and it feels like a physical addiction, because that addiction is rooted in sensations. But that addiction is actually rooted in how we perceive those sensations, and that perception is rooted in an ego. In other words, if we remain hypnotized by the addiction of that ego, you can take all the pills you want and they will not do any good. However, if you become convinced, consciously, that the addiction is harmful to you, then you do not need any medicines; you will quit. Now, a medicine can help. Medicines like that can be helpful, because they can subdue or suppress the intensity of the sensations - so I am not saying they are worthless. And many medicines are like that, many kinds of treatments, including Gnostic medicines. You have to find your own way of treating your illnesses, but ultimately the root of any such experience can be found when you really study how these aggregates work together.
Q: I still do not understand the difference between conscious control of the mind and the ego controlling the mind through suppression of another ego. Is there something we should know that would make this distinction clearer?
A: First of all, in order to really comprehend what the aggregates are, what the skandhas are, your intellect is a limited tool. It can grasp the structure to some degree and the names to some degree, but you have to activate the consciousness in order to see them, to experience them. This means that we have to become conscious of our physical body, constantly, always. To be fully present here and now, in the body. That alone is very difficult to make consistent, because the mind-stream that we have is always pulling us into fantasies and theories, and sensations are always pulling us, and perceptions are always pulling us, and many distractions of the body.
We know that we are not conscious of the physical body because we have all kinds of physical actions that we do mechanically. For example, we may be having a conversation with someone and twitching our feet, tapping our fingers. We may have a lot of tension in our back, or our legs, or our face, and not have any cognizance of it. So we need to become fully conscious of the body, relax the physical body 100% and become conscious of everything we do with it at all times.
But we have to go further and become conscious of the sensations that arrive. We know that we are not conscious of those sensations because we will feel an itch and start scratching it without any conscious awareness of doing so. We will feel the impulse to eat and we will start eating before we are even aware that we have gone and gotten chocolate cake out of the refrigerator. There are many examples, and we will each have our own.
We have to become conscious of sensation and our relationship to sensation, which is rooted in perception. This is why we have to become deeply conscious of how we perceive: how we see, how we hear, how we taste, how we smell, how we touch; how we interpret and receive these sensations. But not only how they are received and interpreted in terms of how they feel to us, but why, which is rooted in ‘I,' ego, desires of the mind. Why is it that we will refuse to eat one food, but we want instead that one over there? We have to examine these things and become conscious of them.
Q: There are students that, when meditating, they lose the sense of the physical body and they think it is wrong, and that is why they are becoming identified [...]
A: That is what I was going to come to in the next lecture. But to continue this example: firstly we have to establish this kind of conscious dominion over ourselves. We have to work for that. This requires incredible effort, and not just later, but continually, from moment to moment. And it feels exhausting. Little by little we develop the capacity to do it.
What marks conscious awareness of these things is the ability to discriminate. When we are without cognizance, we do not discriminate. We might label something, like a sensation, as good or bad, but we do not discriminate it and consciously choose what to do. We rarely do that. Most of the time we sort of see what we can get away with. We think we can fool everybody, especially God. And we forget the karma; we forget our conscience. The ability to discriminate between one sensation and another, one perception and another, one desire and another is precisely there: conscience. And conscience is part of the consciousness. That is how you will know. That is how you can tell how to act, how to behave, how to do things.
An ego or a desire of the mind will arise and will have many reasons to act upon its will: "oh, it's okay, you can eat that chocolate cake because you exercised today"; or, "oh, it's okay, you can talk bad about this person because they talked bad about you. That is karma, you are just going to pay their karma, you are just going to give them their karma back." These are called justifications; they are lies. The consciousness knows what is right and does it, period, no explanation needed.
Joan of Arc said a very beautiful thing which perfectly illustrates this. She said: "I would rather die than do what is wrong." We do not have that attitude - we would rather try to get away with it.
Q: I don't want to talk about time as a concept, but to awareness, can we use physical time to our benefit to initiate certain parts of the day? There is a great statement that I came across a saying: ‘The problem with you is that you think you have time.' And the second one is about the wanting mind, the two greatest disappointments of life: not getting what you want, and getting what you want. With either one the mind continues. So it seems like with the wanting mind, you are just chasing time from existence to existence. Now, to offset in your physical daily life, physical time, can you use it to your advantage, with awareness? Arrange it or organize it in a way for yourself.
A: My point of view about that question is that time is an obstacle. We say it is a mental concept and a mental construction because it is an obstacle. As long as you are conceiving time, you are setting a subjective definition on something that is not defined in that way. So, for example, you said: we think we have time. Who here knows that? None of us know that, none of us know how long we have. None of us know how long until the great catastrophe. None of us know how long until death. But we build this concept of: "well, I am only such and such an age, I have plenty of time. I will do this Gnosis stuff later. It sounds great, but I'm too busy, I need to make some money first." This is a lie. The same is true of practice: "oh, I don't understand meditation yet, I'll start when I have understood it intellectually." This is also a lie.
My recommendation to you: when the concept of time comes up in your mind, become extremely aware of yourself. My own experience is that when my mind brings to me the concept of time, it is an ego trying to manipulate me. For example, if you see the thought: "I am such and such an age, I should have so much money in the bank, I should be so successful, I should have this or that." Or, "I've been in Gnosis for so many years, so I should be at this or that level." This is all ego. So, that is why we say that time is an illusion - the mind uses it to keep us enslaved. Forget time. There is really no such thing. Where is the past? Where is the future? All you really have is this instant, which is continually changing, so use it. Forget the past, forget the future. Be. That is our approach; that is transformative. When you start playing games with concepts of time, you are fooling yourself, that is self-deception.
Q: [Previously] you said that for a president to control a population, give them drugs, alcohol and pornography. But some people say: "I'll just drink socially, I'll just have one drink." But then, Master Samael said when drinking alcohol, only have three sips, no more. So, is this just another excuse for the ego to use in order to consume alcohol?
A: Naturally, naturally. Samael Aun Weor stated very clearly: alcohol is the grease of the wheel of samsara. It is that which lubricates the very rotation of suffering. And we have a lot of excuses to drink: "oh, it's just social; oh, it's okay to have a little bit." There is not a single benefit from alcohol. The ego sees a lot of benefits; the personality sees a lot of benefits. "Oh, I have to drink in my job because everybody drinks, and then I won't fit in and people will think I'm weird, they'll think I'm a prude." This is a lie.
Q: And also, people use this excuse: oh, the doctors say that a glass of wine every day is beneficial.
A: Yes, that is one of my favorites.
Q: What's funny is, the thing in the wine, the supplement that is actually beneficial to the body, you can take as an herbal supplement. So you don't even have to have the actual alcohol, but people just want the excuse to drink alcohol of, oh, my doctor says it's good. If they really want the benefit of that wine, they can take - the name of the supplement eludes me at the moment, but you can take it in that form.
A: Well, in relation to alcohol we have many excuses. For example, at some point in our history, the Church began to use alcoholic wine. It did not originally, but suddenly they introduced it and now everybody thinks you have to use alcoholic wine in Catholic or Christian rituals, and it is not true. The same is true in the Buddhist tradition - they have certain kinds of rituals where they use alcohol. It is harmful. And scientists say, yes, you should have a glass of wine every day, it is good for your heart, and then tomorrow they are going to say not to, and then the day after that they will say to do it, and then the day after that not to do it. They are constantly contradicting themselves. One quote from Samael that I love especially is: "What science rejects today, it accepts tomorrow." You cannot rely on this materialistic science, because they are only trusting in these aggregates to tell them the truth, and they do not see the truth.
Q: I was interested in what you said about time, marking time [...]. Creating a continued stream of [sensual?] energy that helps us to mark time.
A: Do you have a question about that particularly, or do you want to hear more about that?
Q: Yes, I want you to elaborate a little bit more, I thought that was very interesting.
A: Well, look at this: probably most of us have had the experience of lying down for a short nap, for ten or fifteen minutes, but we dream and it seems like hours go by. And then you awake from the nap and think, "[gasp], I slept all day, and it was only ten minutes." Time is subjective. The relativity of time is a really important factor in these studies. Time is relative in the third dimension. When you enter into another dimension, there is also something that we could say we call time, but it is not time, it is something else. It is very subjective. And this will probably become a little clearer in the second part of this lecture, where we talk about the esoteric aspect, because that is when we get into more of the dimensionality of things.
But you can experience this in your daily life, and I will give you one example to close the lecture. Many years ago, I was driving a very small Volkswagen Bug, an old one. The car in front of me stopped to make a turn, so I stopped. The car behind me did not. It was a big SUV going 45 miles per hour, and he hit me at full speed. Before he hit me - this was years ago, years and years - I became aware of a pressure from behind me, and I started to turn to look. Now, you know how fast an impact like this happens, right? Like that [snap]- and it's over. I saw so many things in that instant, it could take me probably half an hour to describe everything I saw. I will give you a quick summary: I felt a pressure coming from behind me, and I started to turn my head to look; I saw the shadow of the car hitting my car; I saw the back end of my car starting to crumple; I saw the back seat come up, I saw it open, I saw the engine coming into the back seat; I saw all the dirt and dust and particles rising from the seat and the floorboards into the air; I saw pieces of glass flying past me; I saw the passenger seat moving upwards; I saw a lady across the street turning her head to look; I saw a couple a hundred yards behind her turning to look and starting to shout; I saw myself in the mirror; I saw my knee hit the dash; I saw my hand hit the steering wheel; I felt myself move forward; I saw a lady on the left side of the car; I saw a couple on the back-left of the car, who turned around to see it; I felt the car slide; I saw it hit the car in front of me; I saw the car in front of me crumple; I saw the person in the car in front of me slide forward and hit the dash; I saw that car slide and hit the sidewalk and the pole. All of that, like this [snap]. It was as if minutes had gone by, because it was in slow-motion, the whole thing. I was sitting there watching and looking from one thing to the other and seeing them in perfect clarity, and I remember it in perfect detail, as if it happened today. And that is because my consciousness received such a shock from that impact that it awakened, and I saw all of that, and then it was gone - the experience was over. And then I was back in my normal self and began to feel all of the normal sensations and ways of perceiving things. That taught me an incredible thing about the nature of consciousness - that time is illusion, and that we have the capacity to see time at a different rate of speed, we just do not use it.