Subjective, Subtractive, Immanent, and Immediate

Subjective, Subtractive, Immanent, and Immediate

From Solid Ground of Being: A Personal Story of the Impersonal

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Richard Rose gave a public talk on the theme "Zen is Action." And he laid out a Zen-like dharma in his personal teaching, public talks and writing. In one of his unpublished communications he described the path as "subjective, subtractive, immanent, and designed for immediate changing and becoming."

I came across a story[1] relating how Socrates was sitting near the gates of Athens and was interrupted in his thinking by two travelers. Each said he was considering a move to Athens and wanted to know what kind of city it was. The first man gave a negative description of the city he was coming from, and Socrates told him he would find the same in Athens. The second man gave a glowing review of his hometown, and Socrates likewise told him he would find the same in Athens.

Experience is subjective, isn't it. In fact, all experience takes the form of objects in our consciousness. We are the viewer, not the view (or you could say that the viewer is closer to what we really are than the view). We are the unknown subject in the subject-object equation. If self-discovery were an objective process, we could find the truth in a book, or in our thoughts or our dreams. Neurologists search for the self by studying the brains of "other subjects" (i.e., objects). The Dana Foundation's January '09 "Brain in the News" newsletter contained an article from In Search of the God Neuron by Steven Rose (no relation to Richard Rose as far as I know) printed in the December 27, 2008 London Guardian. He cited that, of the 100 billion nerve cells (neurons) in the human cortex and 100 trillion connections between them (synapses), brain researchers could find no general command center. Instead, multiple, bidirectional pathways connect all regions of the brain.

Jonah Lehrer, in Proust Was a Neuroscientist, cited a study by Nobel laureate Richard Axel, whose lab "engineered a fruit fly with a glowing brain, each of its neurons like a little neon light" in order to study how the fruit fly was able to distinguish odors. Axel's conclusion: "No matter how high we get in the fly brain when we map this sensory circuit, the question remains: who in the fly brain is looking down? Who reads the olfactory map? This is our profound and basic problem."

The scientists are trying to study a subjective field (the mind) by an objective process (brain activity as sensory data). It's not going to work. The Great Undertaking is going within by looking within for that subject. We don't learn the truth about what we are but become consciously aware of It.


You have two apples … take away one, and there's one remaining. That's subtraction, right? Now what if you take away the last one? There's a void of apples remaining – which is bad if you're hungry. But if you have a headache and it's taken away, you're left with a void of headaches, which is good.

When you look back at what you're looking out from, you may glimpse (intuit, sense, feel, etc.) a void … a void of things, which scares you. But all things are ultimately headaches, if for no other reason than their transience.

The path to absolute truth or self-realization proceeds by a process of elimination. Unlike objective science, mind science begins with an assumption (to state it facetiously) that, "I'm all that and a bag of chips." As we go within, our assumption progresses to, "well, I'm all that, anyway (excluding the bag of chips)" then to, "maybe I'm not all that after all," and so on. More specifically, we start with a set of beliefs like: "I'm a body with a great, if under appreciated, personality and limitless abilities."

We can tentatively conclude we're not the observable body … the fingers and toes, and so on. But we have to concede that our consciousness may depend on body parts that we don't observe (i.e., the brain and its supporting equipment). We can come to see that we're not our thoughts, not our feelings, not the mental processes such as decision-making … which are all observable objects or operations. But we're still left with the conviction of being a separate being, an aware something; still stuck with a split between what we are and what we know. Are you satisfied to live and die that way?


Looking back on your path to self-realization you may see certain milestones you couldn't see at the time. I'd describe those markers in terms of three stages and three gates of becoming.

Gate #1 is an intuitive recognition: "Aha … the answers are within." This could be labeled the disciples' gate. Of the hundreds and hundreds of people whom Jesus or Gautama talked to, maybe one in a hundred or thousand picked up on their message. Jesus apparently had 72 disciples, Gautama 80.

Gate #2 is the intuitive realization: "I'm still connected to my source." It could be called the apostles' gate. Maybe one in 6 or 7 of the disciples can act in the Zen sense. Gautama had 11 bhikkhus, Jesus 12 apostles.

When we reach the determination that we can no longer rely on second-hand beliefs, "I won't run away or procrastinate any longer … I have to see/know for myself – now – what I am," we've passed through Gate #3. I'd call it the millionaires' gate. Maybe 1 in a million seekers persist to that point.

In the first stage of becoming, we identify with a personality: "I'm a person who…." Personality is a mask that, as the years add on, reflects more and more clearly our character traits and dispositions. In the second stage, we progress to where we identify with the individuality sense behind the mask: "I am a separate awareness." At some point during this stage our search becomes an egoless vector aimed at the truth. The third and final stage is that of Being, of self-realization. Our illusory self-definitions have vanished.

To recognize Truth or Self, we need to look for it – first noticing what we're looking at, and then determining if it's what we're looking for. If not, we move on (subtraction). Triangulation over a set of opposites is the process by which we back into Truth. The path to Truth is a voyage of disillusionment. Living life and pursuing Truth are not mutually exclusive endeavors. We live a life aimed at finding the truth about that life.


There are three words that sound much alike but have different meanings. Eminent means prominent, distinguished. Eminent is what you want to be. Imminent means pending, about to happen. Imminent is what you want to avoid or to happen, depending on whether you think it's something bad or good. Immanent means inherent, or within. In philosophy, the transcendentalist might say that God is above or beyond the material universe, whereas the immanentalist might say that God is within. Immanent is what you are, where you are.

Ramana Maharshi told his listeners that there are two paths to liberation: self-inquiry and submission. He advised self-inquirers to ask the question "Who am I?" once and then to let the mind remain quiet so that a true reply can emerge. He said the reply would come "as a current of awareness in the heart, fitful at first and only achieved by intense effort, but gradually increasing in power and constancy … until finally the ego disappears and the certitude of pure Consciousness remains."[2] I believe that Douglas Harding shared the same philosophy, although he developed specific exercises to help the Western mind do the work.

Ramana said that those who are less competent meditate on their identity with the Self. Wasn't that Nisargadatta's technique?

"My guru, before he died, told me: Believe me, you are the Supreme Reality. Don't doubt my words, don't disbelieve me. I am telling you the truth – act on it. I could not forget his words and by not forgetting – I have realized."[3]
Ramana also said, to those who didn't fancy self-inquiry: "Submit to me and I will strike down the mind." I think most of his disciples followed that devotional path.


Existence is holographic. The world you experience, both outside and inside, is like a holographic projection … a flickering picture show that you find so fascinating you've (almost) completely forgotten what you are. An interesting characteristic of holograms is that any piece of them contains the entire picture, although when projected it won't have all the detail (i.e., it won't have enough pixels per inch to be sharp and clear).

What you're looking for is always right behind you. If you were a hologram, where would behind you be?

The Self is closer than your breath or heartbeat, closer than your thoughts or your feelings, closer than your sense of I-amness. What could possibly separate you from what you are? The Self always IS itself. "Seeing that" (i.e., intuitively realizing it) is knowing by becoming.

The Truth is always in plain view, but the mind has an immense resistance to admitting the implications of what it sees. Another way of saying it is that the mind is in love with faulty self-beliefs.

Huang Po referred to the treasure house within as the place of precious things: "That which is called the Place of Precious Things is the real Mind, the original Buddha-Essence, the treasure of our own real Nature." When asked where it is, he said: "It is a place to which no directions can be given.... All we can say is that it is close by."[4]


Becoming consciously aware of what we are results from a discontinuity. There is no separate self that becomes aware of itself. We recognize what we always have been. Ramana's "gradual awakening" took around 45 minutes (if Osborne got the story straight) and Harding's took 44 years (in my judgment) … but they both experienced ego death as the culmination.

If you were on your deathbed (which probably seems remote, but do you know how many people have died in the past hour? The CIA website gives a worldwide death rate of 8.23 per thousand per year, which works out to 6,400 per hour, or about 2 every second) and conscious, non-demented, and non-dopey (unlikely) … and if you felt you had some unfinished business with yourself, you'd probably want your family and friends to give you some private time to be with yourself, by yourself, right?

Seneca, the Roman philosopher-statesman, advised that: "Every day … should be regulated as if it were the one that brings up the rear, the one that rounds out and completes our lives."

Do you feel as if you have unfinished business with yourself? If so, does it make sense to wait for an optimal deathbed scenario? Meditation in a way is like clearing the room of attendees so that you can get down to business with yourself, by yourself, for and about yourself.

If you go to the root of any problem, that's where the solution is. The problem of life is death … the sting of the scorpion, as Nisargadatta called it: we believe we are something that was born and is going to die. (It's not true, by the way. Why do you believe it?)

We're distracted by endless sub-problems, but they all go back to a common root. Conscious dying is the moment of truth, and, as Douglas Harding wrote: "The art of living is to anticipate that moment, to die before one dies, to cease postponing one's death." One of the chapter headings in his Little Book of Life and Death quotes the following exchange between a Zen master and a student:

Master Tung-shan: I show the Truth to living beings.
Monk: What are they like then?
Tung-shan: No longer living beings.
That's immediate becoming.

[1] In The Myth of Alzheimer's by Peter J. Whitehouse MD and Daniel George M.Sc.

[2] Preface to The Collected Works of Ramana Maharshi, Arthur Osborne, editor. (My italics in the quote.)

[3] I Am That: Dialogues of Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj

[4] The Zen Teaching of Huang Po, translated by John Blofeld

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