The following nine points are ideas that lie at the basis of the world’s great wisdom traditions (of which Advaita is a principle example).
1. Ultimately the individual, separate "I"—what we typically understand as the self—has no actual existence as an absolutely separate, defined entity. It is essentially a collection of thoughts and memories and conditioned mental patterns, acting in concert with the physical body and its environment, to produce the appearance of a specific separate "me" with an apparent movement through time and space. The "I" or "self" is an appearance, a constructed image. It does not exist as an isolated, discreet entity disconnected from everything else. This does not mean that we "do not exist". It rather means that our true nature is not as we typically assume it to be.
2. Enlightenment, in one sense, does not exist either, because it implies the existence of an individual, separate entity (the person, or "I") becoming something ("enlightened"). This would clearly be impossible if point #1 holds true, simply because there is no truly separate self to become anything. In another sense, enlightenment does exist in that it can be defined simply as the mind clear of all delusions originating in thought, reflecting the pure, pristine nature of Reality—simply consciousness itself, without object. But this condition is not a state of becoming. It is rather a realization of what is already the case, outside of the passage of time as we normally understand it to be. Put another way, our real nature can be defined as unconditioned awareness. Therefore, enlightenment means to be as we truly are.
3. There is a great deal of confusion that stems from the above ideas. Some see the notion of “who I truly am is already perfect” as implying that we literally need do nothing—no practice, no techniques, no seeking. While this is technically arguable, it actually does not apply to the vast majority of seekers, simply because the vast majority are not living their day-to-day experience in the realization of who they truly are. Most are caught up in the mind to some extent, and most believe that they are in fact separate entities with clearly defined personalities and clearly defined boundaries. Consciously we may indeed aspire to recognize our true nature, but unconsciously the ego is tenacious in maintaining its hold via the attachment to being a separate somebody.
4. The confusion around this issue is resolved when it is understood that there are two levels of truth we are actually dealing with—absolute (or ultimate) truth, and relative truth. Absolute truth is unconditioned, and unconditional. Relative truth is conditioned, and conditional. Absolute truth is non-dual—all is simply One, and all apparent separation is understood to be illusion. Relative truth is the universe of dimension, space, time, bodies, separation, boundaries, and the ego. The realization of absolute reality is to be integrated, or embodied, within the everyday life of relative reality. To ignore relative reality is to deny the world. To ignore absolute reality is to deny one's true nature. Both absolute and relative truths must be understood and embraced in order to live an awakened life.
5. When "I" or "me" is understood to be simply a conceptual construct, then awareness of what is becomes tacitly apparent and clear. What is is simply pure awareness, always and only here and now. This pure, unconditioned awareness is the Ground of Being, our actual identity. It reflects the intrinsic vastness and emptiness of Reality.
6. Discursive reasoning is not the enemy; it is rather the operative means of understanding. But this kind of reasoning does not enter self-realization. It takes us to the doorway. Entering reality is via silence, pure awareness, and is the nature of seeing/being, not deduction. That does not mean, however, that intellect is not necessary for self-realization. Clear intellectual understanding is actually essential, because without it "enlightenment" gets reduced to an experience, which it is not. Enlightenment is rather the fabric of our very nature, not some experenience that arises and falls away again, like the weather.
7. The ego is chiefly a tool for ensuring the survival of the body, and for the consolidation of boundaries. Within the domain of relative reality ego is both very old and very instinctual, and thus is not easily overcome by any who aspire to awakening. The ego manifests via fears and insecurities related to survival and the drive to affirm one’s individuality, specialness, and separate identity. This growth of individuality is in itself a normal developmental process in the average person’s life and thus is not inherently problematic. But the ego becomes problematic for any who seek to realize their fullest potential, because the ego has a vested interest in maintaining the appearance of distinction between self and not-self.
8. The primary purpose of correct thought is to clear out deluded thought, as well as to function for communication. The ego, the notion of being a separate and isolated entity, is ultimately seen to be an elaborate illusion, but thought is real within manifest reality and has a particular function to perform. Ego, however, need not be confused with the sense of personal self, which is real by its own terms within relative reality.
9. Reality exists in both manifest, and un-manifest expressions. The manifest is the endless display of phenomena, the various dimensions of matter/energy and life forms. The un-manifest is the void. The two together—manifest and unmanifest—are two aspects of one continuous Whole. Put another way, the energy of the manifest cosmos is the dynamic expression of pure awareness, and pure awareness is the infinite silent center of Being, the latent or numinous essence of the manifest universe.