For this months main feature we have quite a unique offering. A delightful play of opposites if-you-will; a special feature from a UK Non-Duality imprint who primarily publishes works on the contemporary expression of Advaita by Western authors/teachers…brought to you by a Western site who often features authors/teachers from the UK and Europe!
We thought it was only natural that we hook up and give you an extensive behind-the-scenes look at this growing indie company. This offering has been in the works for a couple of years [believe it or not] as both parties have a very busy daily schedule yet maintain private personal lives.
Since its inception in 2004, Non-Duality Press has set out to make available the clearest contemporary writing on non-duality. Having read many of their offerings, we feel their books represent a substantial contribution to the understanding of Liberation, both as a resource for those that are familiar with the subject and an inspiration for those in the process of discovery.
If you are new to these writings, we hope you feel inspired to explore the perspectives contained in their books after reading this exclusive interview with Julian Noyce.
According to your website, you discovered there was: “a need for authentic and accessible contemporary writing on the subject” —please tell us more about your creation of Non-Duality Press and how that came about.
When we published our first book in 2004 it was very obvious that there were many worthwhile communicators or realizers who weren’t being published and were unlikely to be published any time soon. Books of any quality in this field could be numbered in the dozens rather than the thousands. So, my impression at this time, was that the non-dual community (such as it was), or people who might be interested in this approach, were not being very well served by publishers. Certainly, one or two books a year might emerge, or, after a large fanfare, a picture book with photos of Ramana Maharshi might be published. With the exception of Advaita Press who published Balsekar’s and Wayne Liquorman’s books, and Inner Directions, the scene at that time seemed slow and lumbering. This was not reflecting my experience and the impression that there seemed to be the beginnings of a genuine integration and re-expression of Eastern teachings in the West.
Nathan Gill, ‘Sailor’ Bob Adamson, Leo Hartong and Joan Tollifson. These teachers had many years of experience behind them but were not hamstrung by dogma or affiliated to any particular lineage. I found this an exciting development; so-called enlightened communicators, with Western conditioning, expressing and living something that just a few years earlier was previously thought to the preserve of gurus from the East. These writers were cultured and widely read but also ‘ordinary’ and accessible.
Returning to your question, in 2003 I starting a small business importing books from around the world, mostly from the US and India, for sale in the UK where they were quite difficult to get hold of. This happened to coincide with the internet becoming more accessible so that I was able to construct and maintain a website. Some of these titles were quite costly to import so I initially spoke to Sailor Bob’s people in Australia and asked if they would license Bob’s book to me for re-publishing in Europe. This was the first book we published and from there I asked Nathan Gill who I had known for several if he would like to write something. We then took on two excellent books by Joan Tollifson and Leo Hartong that had initially been self-published. I wondered in the early days if enough worthwhile manuscripts would come along but as we can see there has been a blossoming of writing on this subject since then.
Since you are primarily publishing books by Western authors and communicators, who is your target audience and or what is the ultimate goal for NDP?
We don’t think in terms of a target audience, our readers seem to come from very varied backgrounds with long seeking histories or no seeking history at all. I think it’s a wonderful aspect of this teaching that people who drift off the street and into a meeting with no prior experience can sometimes have more sense of this than long-time seekers. That isn’t to say I don’t have a great deal of sympathy for long-term seekers, by the way – but this so-called ‘scene’ is nothing if not paradoxical.
Ultimately, I feel the goal is simply to reflect how the current of non-duality and the perennial philosophy is being expressed now as best we can using words and books.
What are your thoughts on the e-book revolution? How long do you think (actual) physical books will be “officially supported” by readers and or readily available?
All our new books are published simultaneously now as paperbacks and e-books and we are gradually converting all our backlist of titles to ebooks. We were interested in e-books some years ago but the formats and platforms for selling them were so chaotic (many people cite the Betamax vs VHS analogy which fits quite well) that we didn’t really start our ebooks program until last year. We are lucky enough to be flexible with both formats, paperback and digital books; we don’t have a huge investment in hard-copy books. At the moment both are selling well with a small drop in paperback sales which is easily made up for by digital sales. I am surprised and quite happy that many readers are still very attached to physical books and we will continue to supply these and even have the occasional hardback edition planned for next year.
What are the greatest challenges you face with your business in 2013?
I think our greatest challenge is finding the right size for the company. We have no shortage of manuscript submissions but it seems to work best in terms of workload and quality if we publish between 8 and 10 books per year, perhaps even fewer. These represent what we feel are the ‘best of the best’ or the most original writing, or books we just like to take a chance on because they have a certain quality that we like.
The book trade and publishing has changed dramatically in the last twenty years and is still in flux. There is so much free material available now and this can be challenging for publishers but it seems there is still a place for a well written and carefully edited book so the foundations of the business still feel valid.
On a personal level, I find bookkeeping (accounts) a challenge – I don’t resent doing it but it seems to be a separate occupation in itself…!
Is this publishing company your primary [day] job or is this a “pro hobby” at this point? What do you like to do for fun outside of working on new projects for the press?
Very much a full-time job for the last few years – I worked part-time as an events organiser for a well-known teacher but now Non-Duality Press is my full-time job and that is more than enough to keep me occupied. Catherine, my wife, helps with editing and we have two very valuable freelancers who have worked with us on design and proofreading almost since the start of the business.
Are you an author and or writer yourself perhaps? —tell us a bit about yourself please…
I am not a natural writer although Jeff Foster likes my writing and encourages me to write more. I felt recently that it would be an interesting project to try to bring together a book about current thinking on ‘consciousness’ (entheogens, psychology, non-duality etc.); the current state of play and convergence in all these fields, the direction things are going and whether alternative ideas are becoming mainstream (and, indeed, if any of this is important…!). However, I’m not sure if it will happen.
I wasn’t a great reader when I was young but developed a passion for books after leaving school and ended up working in the book trade when I left and on and off ever since. I also worked as a gardener and furniture maker and still like to spend time with those activities when I can. And, of course, seeking and reading voraciously around this subject often go hand-in-hand as many of us know.
I met Ramesh Balsekar in 1993 and Jean Klein in 1995 and these two people were particularly influential teachers for me. Balsekar was an anomaly in the ‘90s – here was this relatively ordinary guy, apparently ‘enlightened’ who spoke about this in a very different way from the way his own teacher had communicated. If you could overcome you own projections, you could sit in a room with him at that time as an equal.
How many books and or authors have you published by your imprint thus far? What are some of the more popular titles?
We have around 60 books in print now. Our most popular books are by Greg Goode, Rupert Spira, Jeff Foster, Jean Klein and John Wheeler. We have a great affection for the majority of the books we publish – even though some sell better than others.
What does Non-Duality mean to you?
Read the books!
There are so many great books out there on the subject —who are some of your personal favorites and why? (These can be from NDP or other publishers!)
From our own list, two that come to mind are Goner by Louis Brawley and Perfect Brilliant Stillness by David Carse. Both of these are classics in this field. Goner is about the final years and death of UG Krishnamurti written by a close associate of UG’s. I found it moving and, although it’s sometimes hard to see the relevance of UG’s life to one’s own, his experience and surrender were both quite staggering. Perfect Brilliant Stillness is a beautiful and well-written account of an unexpected awakening which is then un-picked and put into context. Very compelling and erudite but also accessable. Many people including Terence Stamp, have told me it is one of their favourite books, but it’s not that well-known. I would also put All There Is by Tony Parsons in my top 5 titles – it feels very complete to me somehow.
I feel awful leaving out so many books, apologies to all the others we publish, we love them as well, of course.
There appears to be a flowering of ND expression in the last few years, what do you attribute this too? Will ND ever make it to the mainstream?
Traditional religions and paths have some beautiful aspects to them but also, it appears, many pitfalls. Many people are looking for answers (I kind of agree with the sweeping statement that we are all seekers of something) but don’t want easy answers or the extra baggage that sometimes comes with them. Maybe that’s why this approach seems to be spreading so rapidly now.
I don’t want to make any definite predictions but I think that this approach could be mainstream in the future. As Jerry Katz points out, the word nonduality or non-duality are already being used so much more frequently in the most unlikely of places. However intuitive you are, I don’t think it’s possible to tell which way this will go, perhaps the perennial philosophy was never meant to be that popular but just stay quietly in the background while the drama plays out at the front of the stage.
What are your thoughts on the traditional Satsang format? It seems some teachers are getting away from that – at least in America. Is it time for something “new” along these lines perhaps?
Absolutely right – it’s such a fraught subject. If I never see another Paypal Donate button it will be too soon! Integrating the traditional format into the West is challenging – for people who feel they want to share this in a wider way the traditional format appears to set up a distance between teacher and taught and I think as we continue to integrate and evolve this teaching in the West one of the main challenges is to break down this division as skillfully as possible. I don’t know what direction that will take.
Satyam Nadeen attempted leaderless Satsangs many years ago and Greg Goode wrote a pivotal article, From the Age of the Guru to the age of the Friend. Jerry Katz is also a great advocate of non-duality for the people. What I do sense , though, is that putting in many hours on Facebook and approaching this with a business plan probably isn’t the answer if you want to promote yourself or spread this message . It doesn’t seem to work that way. Aside from a few healthy discussion groups, and a bit of fun, I’m not aware of anything significant that has happened [on] Facebook. The people drawn to this teaching are often very intuitive and although self-promoting teachers do appear to have some success it tends to be rather ephemeral. Authenticity seems to win out in the end. Books and teachers seem to have a natural level of popularity and there is very little that can be done about that – I like it that way.
Is teacher or guru a “dirty” word? There is so much talk and or material floating around online about these topics, to be or not to be. People are claiming they are “teachers” when clearly they are not, and folks that are really helping people prefer not to be called teachers at all. We all know how much excess baggage that the word “guru” has with it. Please elaborate.
Catherine and I sometimes wince when we notice another teacher announce themselves but she also reminds me how valuable some teachers have been in our lives. It’s not black and white, unfortunately. Four of our most popular writers/teachers also keep up full time day jobs – I admire this.
On the other hand, those people who are full-time teachers may have valid reasons for being in that position, most often because there is a demand for their availability.
Is there a new Eckhart Tolle out there living today? It seems Byron Katie has quite a following and of course Adyashanti. Some folks liken these individuals as “rock stars” of the scene [unfortunately] — what’s your take?
Eckhart’s popularity is puzzling and I don’t mean that negatively … I don’t think you can manufacture this type of popularity, it’s a phenomenon which I haven’t found an explanation for. I think there could well be another communicator who reaches huge numbers of people at some point. If they could do that whilst maintaining the essence of the teaching it would be delightful.
I think there is a growing list of words and or “spiritual cliches’ that potentially hold back some folks in the West. Some words are: Ego, Enlightenment, Spiritual or Spirituality, Awareness, Awakening & even the word nonduality. Other examples could be purple lotus flowers, Buddha’s or [traditional] Satsang events. Thoughts?
I agree – we are seeing the emergence of a much more culturally stripped and grounded expression in recent years. I love the rich symbolism and romance of the older traditions but they can also be a huge impediment to people seeing the relevance of this communication in their own lives.
Unusual question time | What do you think about at night before bed? haha
I really try not to think just before bedtime. I have to be quite strict with myself or I will be thinking about non-duality every hour of the day and night – and that would never do!
What would you say is the most satisfying part of your job and your greatest accomplishment(s)?
I think many of these books we publish might have been overlooked by traditional publishers (because of the subject, I fondly imagine, not the quality!) so to make them available as best we can has probably been the most satisfying part of the job. It can be quite a workload at times but it’s always a welcome surprise when people email me and say they really enjoyed a particular book or what an effect it has had on them. Also, giving a break and a small income to some very worthwhile writers.
I guess being able to make a contribution to how all this appears to be evolving is a great privilege and I am very aware of that.
What are your plans for NDP? Any last words you would like to add?
We plan to explore different areas such as recovery from addiction, with the focus on non-duality. We also have an interest in different faith approaches (Muslim, Christianity, Buddhism etc.) and how these relate to contemporary non-duality. We already have e-books on our website but may move into downloadable films rather than DVDs which are a wee bit clunky and expensive to ship. We don’t strategize a great deal, I find this subject a little different from the standard sales and marketing which might be appropriate for other products.
Overall, we just plan to continue providing interesting books to readers interested in this for as long as there is a demand.
Well over a hundred years ago the painter Paul Cézanne said, “A time is coming when a carrot, freshly observed, will trigger a revolution.”
Has this revolution taken place, is it slowly taking place or is it about to take place? And what is the revolution to which Cézanne referred? How could something as insignificant, inconsequential and ordinary as observing a carrot trigger a revolution?
Cézanne meant that if we could see even a simple everyday object such as a carrot, as it truly is, our experience would be revolutionized. But what does it mean to see an object as it truly is? The key is in the phrase ‘freshly observed,’ which means to see clearly, unobstructed by the concepts that thought superimposes on our experience. In fact, most of us are completely unaware that our experience is filtered through a fine mesh of conceptual thinking that makes it appear very different from how it actually is.
As the Chinese sage Huang Po said, some 1200 years ago, “People neglect the reality of the illusory world.” The illusory world? Now that’s even more radical than Cezanne! It’s one thing to look freshly at a carrot, spade, house or world, but quite another to consider it an illusion. What did he mean?
We often hear phrases in the non-dual teaching such as, ‘The world is an illusion.’ But such phrases may create a rebellion in us, for we know that our experience is very real. So how to reconcile these two positions — one, ‘the illusory world’ and two, the undeniable reality of our experience?
Anything that appears must appear in or on something. For instance, an image appears on a screen; a chair appears in the space of a room; the words of a novel appear on a page; a cloud appears in the sky.
What about the mind, body and world?
Our only experience of them is what currently appears to us as thoughts, images, feelings, sensations, sights, sounds, textures, tastes and smells. In other words, all we know of a mind, body or world are appearances, and all these are continually appearing and disappearing. We may have a concept of a continuously existing mind, body or world, but we never actually experience such an object.
As Cezanne also said, “Everything vanishes, falls apart.” All we know of the world are perceptions that continuously appear and disappear. However, anything that appears and disappears must do so in or on something. What is that something?
Start with thoughts: wherever our thoughts appear is obviously what we refer to as our ‘self,’ ‘I.’ Our thoughts don’t appear outside of our self! However, we cannot see or find that ‘something’ in which thoughts appear because it has no observable qualities. As such, it is open, empty, transparent. But that doesn’t mean it is not known. It cannot be known as an object and yet it is not unknown.
If we are reading these words we are, by definition, seeing the screen on which they are written, although we may not be aware that we seeing it. If we are reading a novel we are, likewise, seeing the paper. If we are watching a movie we are, whether we realize it or not, seeing or experiencing the screen. If we are seeing clouds, we are experiencing the sky. It is not possible to see the words, novel, movie or clouds without, at the same time, experiencing whatever it is they appear in or on.
So, if we are experiencing thoughts we are necessarily experiencing whatever they appear in. Likewise, if we are experiencing a sensation or a perception — and the only experience we have of a body or world are sensations and perceptions — then we are also knowing or experiencing whatever these appear in or on.
In what does our perception of the world appear?
In what do bodily sensations appear? Perceptions of the world don’t appear in the world; sensations of the body don’t appear in a body. Perceptions and sensations appear in exactly the same ‘place’ as thoughts, that is, they appear in the open, emptiness of our self.
However, they do not just appear in our self; they are simultaneously known by our self, for our self is not just present but also aware; not just being but also knowing. Hence it is sometimes known as Awareness — the presence of that which is aware — or the light of pure Knowing.
Now, having discovered that all we know of a mind, body or world are thoughts, sensations and perceptions, and having seen that all these arise within our self, we may ask where they come from and of what they are made. What is their substance, their reality?
If we leave a jar of water outside on a freezing cold night, ice will start to form in it. The opaque ice is made only of the transparent water. However, the ice appears to be something separate from and other than the water. It seems to have its own independent existence or reality.
Likewise, the ice has a form and yet it is made of something that has no form. The ice gives form to something that is itself essentially formless. How is it possible for something that has no form of its own to appear as form, without anything being added to or taken away from it? The formlessness of the water has the capacity within itself to assume all possible forms. In fact, it is precisely because the water has no form of its own, that it is possible for it to appear as this multiplicity and diversity of forms.
Our experience is very much like this. The multiplicity and diversity of experience — thoughts, feelings, sensations and perceptions — appears in and is made out of our self. This ‘self’, pure Awareness, in which all experience appears, with which it is known and out of which it is made, is itself empty, transparent; it cannot be named and has no form, and yet it is the substance or reality of all names and forms.
All experience arises within our self, this transparent emptiness. And the only ‘stuff’ present in our self, out of which all experience can be made, is our self itself. It is our direct, intimate experience that all we know of a mind, body or world is made out of and is identical to the transparency of our own Being, the light of pure Knowing.
And what is present in our own self, prior to the experience of a thought, feeling, sensation or perception? Just itself, pure Awareness! All experience — that is, all thoughts, feelings, sensations and perceptions — is a modulation of the presence our own Being, the light of pure Knowing. The entire multiplicity and diversity of names and forms is made out of one transparent, empty, indivisible substance.
Just as the screen on which an image appears is usually overlooked due to our exclusive focus on the image itself, so this open, empty, transparent presence of our own Being is usually overlooked due to our exclusive focus on the objects of the mind, body and world — that is, on thoughts, feelings, sensations and perceptions.
However, just as it is not possible to see an image without seeing the screen so, although this Presence is usually overlooked, it is never truly unknown. Just as all we really see when we are seeing an image is the screen, so all we ever truly experience is the transparent, open, empty presence of our own Being, the light of pure Knowing. All It ever knows or experiences is Itself.
Love is the common name we give to experience when the ‘other’ is no longer experienced as ‘other;’ when the subject/object relationship collapses. It is to see the appearance of an image but to know it only as screen. It is to attribute the reality of the image to the screen. It is to know everyone and everything as one’s own self.
It is this transparent, empty Presence that, refracted through the mind, appears as a multiplicity and diversity of names and forms. However, the mind is itself a modulation of that very Presence. In other words, it is pure Awareness itself which, vibrating within itself, takes the shape of mind and, from the illusory point of view of one of the selves contained within that mind, seems to see a multiplicity and diversity of separate objects and selves, each with their own independently existing reality. In other words, the separate self is only a separate self from the illusory point of view of a separate self.
From the true and only real point of view of pure Awareness there is only its infinite self, refracted into an apparent multiplicity and diversity of finite forms, but never ceasing to be itself. This is what William Blake meant when he said, “If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.” This is what the Sufis mean when they say, “Wherever the eye falls, there is the face of God.” This is what Huang Po meant when he said, “People forget the reality of the illusory world.” This is what Jesus said meant when he said, “The kingdom of the Father is spread out upon the earth, and men do not see it.” This is what Parmenides meant, echoing the words of the Bhagavad Gita, when he said, “That which is, never ceases to be; that which is not, never comes into existence.” This is what Cézanne meant when he said that art must “give us a taste of nature’s eternity.”
All the great sages and artists from all times and all places have said or expressed this in one way or another. This is the one true revolution. At the root of all desire for change is this ultimate desire: to know only the reality of all experience; to know only love.
Unless and until the problems facing humanity are traced back to their ultimate source — the ignoring of this reality — they may be temporarily alleviated but will never be truly solved.
Rupert Spira – US meetings and retreats 2013
April 14 One Day Gathering in Sebastopol
April 15 Evening Meeting in Santa Cruz, CA
April 16 Evening Meeting in San Francisco
April 19-26 Two/Seven Day Gathering at Mercy Centre, CA
April 28-May3 Five Day Gathering at Guest House Retreat Centre
Some of us love deadlines. Some people have even created a deadline called 2012. It is a metaphor. But the idea is useful. What is the deadline for your transformation? ~Amit Goswama
This workbook was written to aid enthusiastic viewers of the documentary film The Quantum Activist to go deep into the exploration of quantum activism. It is dedicated to all present and future quantum activists.
It’s that time of year again folks, time for the SAND 2012 conference in California!
Most of our readers are more than familiar with this gathering, for those of you who are new or wondering what it is: The Science and Nonduality Conference is a five-day international event where more than one hundred leading scientists, philosophers and spiritual teachers gather to explore a new understanding of who we truly are, both as individuals and as a society. This exploration is grounded in cutting-edge science and consistent with the ancient wisdom of non-duality—the deep understanding of the interconnectedness of life. The conference is a journey, an exploration of the nature of awareness.
I’ve looked over the many workshops and panels for this years conference and this one really caught my attention. It’s a topic that I feel could use some more discussion and what a great time and place to offer such a panel. As our blog title suggests, the name of the panel is Nothing Changes—Nothing Remains the Same: Does awakening to one’s true nature affect one’s behavior in the world?
This special panel will feature:
Jeff Foster, Chuck Hillig, Scott Kiloby and Tom Crockett
Realization, recognition, awakening and even enlightenment are all terms used for the moment at which all sense of separation (and the attachment to a particular identity that supports that sense of separation) seems to dissolve. Where there may be some disagreement is in whether this moment is the end of something or the beginning of something. Some teachers seem to describe it as a “light switch” moment, after which there is no further darkness. Other teachers speak of this critical and beautiful recognition as the beginning of a process of embodying or living this truth. As a personal and subjective experience, it is impossible to quantify the awakening experience of another. On the other hand, there is a body of literature and a strong intuition that suggests that if one experiences a real dropping away of the sense of separation and the need to cling to identity and form and time for self-definition, that that experience would be reflected in the behavior of an individual (how he or she shows up in the world in relation to others).
The risk in having and not having this discussion
The risk in having this discussion is that by defining or describing some observable or sensate qualities that we would expect to see in someone who had realized their own true nature, we are simply going to create a set of behaviors for people to seek after or affect in order to appear awakened. We would, of course, also run into the problem of suggesting that there is something that one is currently not, which could just set up more seeking, but it also seems obvious that when one is suffering or doing something that is causing pain to others, simply saying that you are perfect as you are is not very helpful. The risk of not having the conversation is that non-duality becomes a kind of trivial and intellectual philosophy in which quoting the right quotes, saying the right things and affecting the right manner equals enlightenment.
· Do we really believe that anyone who experiences an altered state of consciousness that reveals an underlying sense of unity in all apparent forms has awakened?
· Are we really willing to concede that anyone who claims to be awakened must be awakened?
· Is any behavior of someone claiming to have recognized their true nature enlightened behavior?
· Is behavior in the world completely independent of any realized state?
There is a growing interest in this thing we call non-duality and a lot of misinformation or a romanticizing of what it means. Some proponents claim that “waking up” is all there is and that “awakening” eliminates the need for shadow work or psychological growth. Others say that “waking up” is outside of the bounds of psychology and behavior and doesn’t impact them one way or another. Do we believe that someone who is suffering or addicted or chronically causes others pain can be enlightened or awakened without those behaviors or patterns being affected? If so, it seems like awakening might not be what many people are describing it as being. If we overemphasize the idea that everything is perfect as it is or the need to simply stop seeking, stop doing, and just embrace what is, are we then at risk of embracing behaviors that diminish others and cause them pain because we are now enlightened and we now know that it is “all an illusion?”
Is it possible that a mature form of non-duality might begin with a kind of heart opening and crystalline clarity about ones’ own true nature and the true nature of the world, and then require a kind of process of adaptation in which the formerly egoically identified self needs to shed behaviors that can no longer be supported in the light of this new truth?
Some of us seem to have recognized a kind of awakening that at one point we thought was the pinnacle—the end game—the summit of the spiritual mountain—only to find over time a subtle unfolding and deepening or broadening of our perspective. If, to quote from the Zen tradition “first there is a mountain, then there is no mountain, then there is,” then it seems as though a lot of people are getting stuck at the “then there is no mountain” stage. By identifying some of what we might expect from someone who had gone all the way through to the “then there is” stage, we might move the community conversation forward.
*This panel will take place Friday, October 26th, 8:00PM – 9:30PM (Sausalito Room)
Living Relationship is the latest e-book by author/teacher/international speaker Scott Kiloby.
In this book, Scott is using innovative methods to penetrate self-limiting beliefs as they show up in relationship. “In relationship, we tend to focus outward, seeking outside ourselves and trying to change or control others.” states Scott. Within these 252 pages Scott invites us to turn our attention to the deficient self that is running the show in those moments, and to see through that self using one of three inquiries in the book.
Join us as we speak with Scott about the book and all of his latest projects for 2012!
It’s been four or five years in the making, and probably one of the most thrilling and interesting discoveries I’ve been involved with. I started writing the book long ago and kept dropping it. It seemed I had nothing new to say about Relationship and there were already so many books on the subject. My inspiration, originally, for the book was J. Krishnamurti’s line, “Relationship is a mirror.” But I didn’t want to just talk endlessly about that. Instead, I wanted to develop an inquiry that actually revealed how the mirror works and then penetrated through the belief in self and other very effectively. It wasn’t until I studied with Greg Goode, in both Direct Path Advaita and Madhyamaka Buddhism that it began to come together. I owe a large part of this work to Greg and his patience and wonderful way of talking about “inherent” selves and others. The book is not [directly] either one of those paths. It is its own method, influenced by my work in those areas. This has been one of the most effective discoveries for myself and for those I’ve worked with in private sessions. It amazes me how deep these inquiries really go.
How does this differ from your last e-book: Living Realization?
Living Realization is a book about recognizing non-conceptual reality and seeing through the belief in self, just like all my work. It deals specifically with allowing emotions, sensations, states, and experiences to arise and fall naturally and spontaneously, so that one does not identify with those appearances. It speaks very little to relationship. Living Relationship is, of course, all about relationship, and the mirroring effect (how we define self in relation to other) and then seeing through the most deeply held beliefs about ourselves that keep triggering us in relationships of all kinds (our relationship to others, to situations, to objects, drugs, alcohol, awakening, etc). Living Relationship is definitely rooted very directly in non-dual realization, but it’s focus is relationship and more specifically, the belief in a deficient self and how that belief creates and maintains seeking, conflict, and disharmony in one’s life.
Are these companion-style books or totally different material?
Yes, but totally different. Living Realization is direct pointing to non-dual recognition. Living Relationship is a book of inquiries about relationship, delving into the sticky areas that continue to pop up for people in relationship, duality.
It seems more and more authors have adopted the e-book method or P.O.D./delivery, what is your take on that VS printed books. Will your latest books be available for those who still prefer to hold a book [laughs]?
Self-publishing leaves a lot of room for an author to do whatever he or she wants to do with regard to getting the book into the hands of people who will benefit. Sometimes, publishers will put an author at the bottom of the list. With self-publishing, there is a lot of freedom, less dependence on a third-party. And with the internet, the book can be made available very easily. All the books will be in print and kindle form within the near future. We are working on it.
I know you are totally self-published and I respect that—not many are able to successfully do that.
I’m not totally self-published. The new addiction/recovery book “The Natural Rest” is being published by Wisdom Culture from California.
Any advice for other speakers/teachers or writers out there who may be thinking about self-publishing?
Yes, don’t be afraid to turn publishers down when they make offers. I did. If you get blindsided just because someone has offered you a publishing deal, you may not see the other opportunities out there. And one is self-publishing. Traditionally, the mark of a successful writer is, “I’ve been published.” Sounds good to ego. But when that tagline really doesn’t matter to you anymore, you are able to look at different approaches, not being swayed just because someone offers you a deal and not searching for a publishing deal as if that is really the Holy Grail of writing. The Holy Grail of writing is the writing itself for me, the creating, and then working with that creation in a way that allows real freedom. I can sit and do nothing with regard to marketing or I can put it out there. Either way, the freedom is retained, without having to answer to a third-party.
I’ve heard great things about the online/interactive meetings for both Living Relationship and Living Realization; what’s the latest with those projects? How do these differ from your in-person meetings, workshops or live talks?
One of the benefits is that no one has to travel! The meeting happens [right there] in your own home, on your computer. It’s a matter of just clicking on a link and suddenly you are IN the meeting. With the online meetings, there is also the ability to follow-up with people and create a relationship with them, answering questions or listening to their feedback about how the meetings work well or don’t.
We are constantly changing the format to make it more accessible and to offer benefit, with as little hassle to people as possible. With in person talks or meetings, a teacher arrives in town and is then gone within a few days, so if someone has a follow-up question, there’s no one to respond to it. And given the nature of the “Satsang hangover,” where one experiences some level of “high” during a meeting, but then crashes on Monday, it is helpful to have someone there explaining “it’s just a high followed by a crash.” And then I can point to how the search is often really a search for pleasure and avoidance of pain. That kind of follow-up talk puts things into perspective more.
You recently gave a keynote presentation at the PARADOXICA Conference in Canada. How was that experience? Was there anything new being presented and or what did you notice as far as current topical matter in the non-dual/spiritual community.
Paradoxica is a top-notch organization. Gary Nixon puts on the conference each year. The presentations are unique, and something you won’t see at other conferences. Tom Crockett and Chuck Hillig both put on really great presentations that were “out of the box.” Lots of other good stuff there , too many to mention. I highly recommend people attending next year, if you can make it up to Canada in June 2013.
Will you be speaking at this years’ SAND (Science and Non-Duality) Conference in California? I really enjoyed your panel with Jeff Foster and Unmani from 2011. It seems like that conference is getting larger every year and the non-dual community continues to flower worldwide.
Yes, I’m doing a panel with Tom Crockett, Chuck Hillig, and Jeff Foster. It should be interesting. We are discussing a topic that might seem controversial to some. Stay tuned…
Scott at the Science & Non-duality Conference
Absolute VS Relative…and why? [laughing].
Ha, with the inquiries we are doing in Living Relationship, it all becomes a moot point. Seriously. There are some great talks by Buddha where he would not answer that kind of question. Not comparing myself to Buddha here. I’m merely mentioning that he avoided those questions for a good reason, saying they were part of the “thicket of views.” He was interested mainly in ending suffering. That’s what my path has been all about and it’s really all that I’m interested in talking about these days. Clinging to views around that subject, itself, can cause suffering.
It seems you were lumped into a group of up n’ coming writers or teachers (if you consider yourself that) a few years ago in which the media labeled: neo-Advaita. What’s your $0.02 on that and it seems that “scene” is kind of dying out or fizzling somewhat.
Perhaps some of my earlier stuff could be called “Neo-Advaita.” But years later, as I sit here, having met with thousands of people in one-on-one sessions, the most effective pointing has been through inquiries and meeting people exactly where they are. I’ve sat in sessions where, for the first thirty minutes, the person just cried, obviously suffering a lot. To tell that person “it’s all Oneness,” “there is no self,” or “all is perfect,” might be something that snaps them out of identification with thought. But mostly it sounds like just more words for people. When people discover for themselves the great insights that are available, by looking into what they believe, and being with the greatest pain, that’s when freedom really dawns. Once I began using the inquiries from the Living Relationship book, I found less reason to even use the big “neo” pointers. It all became irrelevant for people. All they needed to do was see what they believed about themselves, and then see through it. Even views like “no self” or “Life already is” or whatever become redundant if you look deep enough.
You are about to release a book on addiction/recovery. This is something you could help a lot of folks with, tell us about that.
That’s another great topic, and one that touches many lives. If you aren’t addicted yourself, surely you know someone who is! And addiction comes in so many forms such as alcohol, drugs, shopping, gambling, sexual obsession, and even the seeking towards enlightenment. With that book, the object of the addiction is not so important. The book points to the mechanism of mind that is obsessed with objects and pleasures and then provides very direct ways of seeing through that mechanism, into the natural rest of the present moment, where the mind is quieter, the body feels transparent, and all temporary energies, good and bad, flow through without getting hooked into story. The book will hopefully be out this year. We are waiting on some reviews. I work with people in private sessions on this topic.
Can you walk us through a typical [private] session and or give us a snapshot of what that entails etc.?
In the first session, I want to know something about the person, his path, the kind of core story he identifies with, etc. From there, I start by pointing in the simplest way, which is that the search for happiness, enlightenment or recovery, is often a hidden search to find pleasure and avoid or cover up pain. I point to how to see that pain and pleasure are temporary energies that do not arise to a self or that there is no inherent self in anything that arises. Eventually, we get to the inquiries from the Living Relationship book and that’s usually where the rubber meets the road. People pick up those tools and start seeing through lifelong core stories that have been running the show. The goal of private sessions is to free oneself from the belief in self, then from the teacher and the teaching.
Oddly enough it seems that the West is enamored with the Eastern teachings and there seems to be a shift happening where a lot of folks from the East are becoming interested in the Western teachings. The internet affords such knowledge to circle the globe in unprecedented ways in 2012!
Can you recommend any books for “beginners” or folks starting out on some spiritual path?
- Greg Goode’s work on emptiness and the western approach to that is great. There are also some amazing techniques from psychology like shadow work that cut through self-centeredness very quickly. This field is still emerging.
- Living Relationship is a combination of Eastern and Western approaches also.
- Nonduality Press has a set of books from very good teachers. One might look there.
- Tom Crockett has some really fresh things to say about nonduality that I think will appeal to many.
There are so many things emerging. That is only the tip of the iceberg. Good ole’ Eckhart Tolle and Byron Katie are great, especially for those who are not familiar with this topic.
I am a big proponent of making the message [of non-duality] simple for the masses. So many teachers, therapists or Satsang givers use specific terminology which has no definite definition (or one def. that everyone recognizes). I think this is a downfall for such talk as it causes great confusion. I know it’s hard to use words/language to convey knowledge or concepts etc. What are your thoughts? You seem to be doing a great job of simplifying this and I applaud you for that!
The more one speaks in a simple, plain English way here in the west, the better. I try not to assume that someone knows what I’m referring to when I say “awareness” or “deficiency story” or any non-dual terminology. I break it down to one’s experience, rather than just more terminology. If you can see it in your own experience, there is less translation to do. The wilder the language gets, or the heavier it gets, the more you are asking the reader to assume the meaning of languages that have been passed down for centuries. It can actually make the mind even busier and not provide a direct experience of peaceful mind, open-heartedness, etc. Always know your audience! Sometimes I am speaking to people who have never heard about this subject. And mixed in the audience are people who are aware of my work. I try to speak to both.
Thank you for your time and service that you are doing in the community.
*Photos by M. Verkoren, E.Goodman and B.McFarlane
by Steve Taylor
One of the basic ideas of contemporary Advaita is that you can’t ‘do anything’ to wake up. Effort of any kind reinforces the ego, and so strengthens the sense of separateness. Making an effort to wake up is counterproductive. The goal of becoming enlightened actually takes you further away from the state. In this article, I’m going to look at whether my research into ‘spiritual awakening’ supports this view.
One of my main interests is in the connection between awakening and psychological turmoil. I have found that, while awakening sometimes happens for no apparent reason, in most cases it’s triggered by – or at least related to – intense psychological suffering. When I was researching and writing my book Out of the Darkness, I found dozens of cases of people who were in a state of intense turmoil due to bereavement, addiction, depression, serious illness, disability, facing death and so forth – but at a certain point, usually when they let go or stopped resisting their predicament, something gave way inside them. Their normal identity collapsed, but rather than bringing a nervous breakdown, something else arose in its place. A latent higher self emerged, and became their new identity, like a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis. They were now in an awakened state, with a new sense of wonder, meaning and connection, a feeling of lightness, and freedom from anxiety and discontent. They felt re-born, with a new identity. Years later – even decades – they were still filled with inner peace. Some of them expected the state to fade after a while, but in most cases it didn’t. It became their normal, stable and permanent identity.
I spoke to an alcoholic who reached ‘rock bottom’ and lost everything but then became liberated; a woman who has lived in a state of wakefulness ever since being told she had breast cancer; a woman whose daughter died and who lost her business and savings in the aftermath, but suddenly shifted into an enlightened state and has never grieved for her daughter since. I spoke to a man who became paralyzed after falling from a bridge onto a river bed, who struggled for months with pain and despair, then underwent a spiritual rebirth and now lives in a state of permanent bliss. I also interviewed a 90-year-old man named Russell Williams who underwent transformation over 60 years ago, after a long period of mental torment brought on by his experiences in the Second World War. As he described it:
“I was in a state of desperation…and it was suddenly as if a blanket was dropped over me. I felt an incredible sense of peace and freedom, a completely different person inside. And that freedom and peace have continued inside me right until now.”
At the time Russell knew nothing about spirituality, and it was several years before he fully understood the shift he experienced. Eventually he became a spiritual teacher, and has held twice weekly talks in Manchester, England for the past 50 years. (In fact, it’s quite common for people who experience these ‘suffering-induced transformational experiences’ – as I have called them – to become spiritual teachers. Krishnamurti, Eckhart Tolle, Byron Katie and many others – including some non-duality teachers – went through periods of intense turmoil before awakening.)
Interestingly, there doesn’t seem to be any relationship between this transformation and a previous interest in spirituality, or a history of spiritual practice. Only a small number of the people I spoke to were following spiritual practices or traditions, or even familiar with the basic ideas of spirituality. They weren’t mystics or monks, or even spiritual seekers. They were ‘ordinary’ people with ordinary jobs, who happened to go through intense psychological turmoil. As a result, like Russell, it took them a long time to comprehend what had occurred. Initially, although they felt liberated and peaceful, many of them felt slightly bemused by their new state. Usually, they went through a slow process of gravitating towards spiritual books and other ‘awakened’ people, until they finally had a framework to make sense of their new state.
This seems to back up the non-duality movement’s doubts about spiritual practice. It seems to confirm that awakening is something which just happens, rather than being consciously induced. However, my research did highlight one positive effect of spiritual practice. The small number of people who did have a prior interest in spirituality, or a history of spiritual practice, underwent a smoother transformation than others. Aside from some initial confusion, a number of ‘shifters’ also went through a difficult period of integration, where they had psychiatric disturbances, physical problems and found it difficult to cope with daily life. They felt strange energies welling up inside them, couldn’t sleep, had visions, or found it difficult to think clearly or to speak. They went through a very unstable phase but finally ‘settled down’ into a stable awakened state. But the people who were engaged in spiritual practice didn’t undergo these difficulties. They were like people who immigrate to a different country and find it easy to settle down, because they’ve learned the language beforehand and familiarized themselves with its customs and culture. The others were like people who were suddenly kidnapped by strangers and dropped into a completely foreign culture without any preparation.
It may be that spiritual practice provides a gradual opening to higher energies and potentials, so that when the full shift into awakening occurs, it isn’t as drastic. Those energies and potentials don’t overwhelm us, because we’ve already opened ourselves to them.
So these findings seem to give credence to the idea that there is no direct connection between spiritual practice and awakening, at least not when awakening occurs in a sudden and dramatic way. At the same time, spiritual practice does help us prepare for awakening, if it should occur. In other words, practice probably won’t increase your chances of immigrating to a different country, but if you do happen to land in that strange place of awakening, it will help you to adjust to life there.
Steve Taylor’s research into ‘spiritual awakening’ is published as Out of the Darkness, available at Amazon.
The book has been described by Andrew Harvey as ‘A wonderfully clear and inspiring book…Its importance for our times cannot be exaggerated’; while Dan Millman has written that ‘Each page highlights the resilience of our human spirit.’
Steve’s website is www.stevenmtaylor.co.uk
“Our true nature is unchanging Awareness. It is the source and the substance of all things. It welcomes all experiences. Its reality is our shared reality, without limits and universal. However, many of us believe that Awareness is limited and personal. We feel ourselves to be located inside a limited physical body. This deep sense of separation is at the core of all psychological suffering.
Once we realize and abide in our true nature, the body, the mind and the world become our instruments to express and celebrate our innate understanding, our loving nature and our deep sensitivity to beauty. Nonetheless, on the way, many of us are called to embark upon a deep exploration of our most intimate and direct experience…”
Please join us as I have a chat with Ellen Emmet about Non-Dual Therapy, Authentic Movement and The Essence of Yoga.
I see you were invited to speak at the SAND 2012 Conference in Europe. Congrats! Tell us about that please. What will you be speaking about or presenting etc.?
Thank you! I’ll be offering a workshop on the body and non-duality. It will include guided meditation, experiential explorations of the body (yoga) and conversations. I hope these meetings will address this:
- That to become fully established in the non-dual understanding we must take a close look at our experience at the level of feeling, sensing and perceiving.
- The belief in separation lives in unfounded conceptual interpretations of our experience; that’s the level of thinking.
But it also and especially hides in less visible and irrational layers of feeling in the body. Some are simple intimate sensations that create the sense of being located inside the body. Others are more complex or subtler and very effective in giving a pseudo physical and energetic reality to the separate entity.
This level of exploration is often overlooked in the contemporary teaching of Advaita. It seems we are willing to look at our thinking in the light of our true nature but less open to offering our body to that very same light. Yet how can the body-mind be re-orchestrated by this understanding if unseen identifications are still operating at the level of feelings?
Both activities of investigating the mind and the body are sacred and natural. Neither come from a person. They come from the Invisible; they are the beautiful gesturing of Presence back towards Itself.
You state that Francis Lucille was your teacher from back in 2001. Can you tell us about some of the body awareness sessions and the many friendly encounters with Francis during those few years please? How did you find him initially?
Up until my meeting with Francis, I was busy seeking relief from ‘my’ suffering: The intense anxiety that coursed through my body or the heavy cloud of depression that enfolded me in a dark cocoon, expressed themselves through interconnected patterns of thinking, feeling and reacting. They were all I seemed to know or access of myself and they were not acceptable! So most of the time, I seemed to be caught in a repetitive cycle of avoiding, resisting and seeking.
Yet at the same time I can now see that there was a deeper more impersonal quest at work: a sacred quest. This one was motivated by the deep intuition of the Truth, which reached my mind and body in little glimpses here and there: in a meeting with a special friend, through the writings of enlightened beings, through dreams, in the dance…
Eventually this invisible thrust brought me to Francis Lucille. It was a sacred meeting. Through it the light of Presence shined bright and pure. During many years I was moved to spend as much time as I could with Francis, eventually moving to Temecula where he lives. In this company my body and mind seemed to become highly receptive to the highest transmission of non-dual understanding.
Living near him and other friends, cooking, joking, meditating, doing yoga, simply hanging out, returned me to the truth over and over. The transmission was direct and pointed to a permanent establishment in Peace, Happiness and Love.
During the body awareness sessions we were persistently, patiently and repeatedly pointed back to our true nature at the level of feeling and sensation.
The feeling of being a separate limited being was met at that level. It was investigated openly, fearlessly and seen clearly for what it was.
Up until then, the realm of the body had remained impenetrable, irrational, layered by half visible feelings and scary like the dark forest in which the children get lost in fairy tales. But now we were being guided into the darkness with a torch and gentle encouragement. We could discover in our own time that the big, looming shadows were not ogres but trees, and the witch in the hut was just a little old lady. Soon we could see the whole forest in the light of day and the world and the horizon beyond stretching infinitely in all directions. Eventually the body was known as unfolding sensation reabsorbed in its very substance: infinite, open Awareness.
Have you ever done non-dual inquiry and said to yourself, “I understand it intellectually but I don’t feel it…it’s not my experience!” If so, The Direct Path could be for you.
This book could be the missing manual to the Direct Path and or the first time the Direct-Path [inquiry] is presented from beginning to end, in a user-friendly way.
The core of the book is a set of forty experiments designed to help dissolve the most common non-dual sticking points from simple to subtle. The experiments cover the world, the body, the mind, abstract objects and witnessing awareness.
You are taken step by step from the simple perception of a physical object all the way to the collapse of the witness into pure consciousness. Your “take-away” is that there’s no experiential doubt that you and all things are awareness, openness and love.
Also included are three tables of contents, illustrations, an index, and a section on teaching and the notion of a “post-nondual realization.”
Greg’s new book is forthcoming from Non-Duality Press in March.
So tell us about the new book please. What is it about?
GREG GOODE: It’s an experiential guide to nondual inquiry from beginning to end, and beyond. One investigates the world, body, mind, subtle objects, language, the witness, until it all melts into pure consciousness. There are 40 experiments organized around many of the trickiest issues and stumbling blocks in nondual inquiry. The book is organized along the lines of a “how-to” guide. I wrote it to be user-friendly in a modular sort of way. You can dip in anywhere that interests you, or go from beginning to end.
Sometimes this overall approach is called “tattvopadesha” in Advaita. That’s what it’s called in Nitya Tripta’s Notes on Spiritual Discourses of Shri Atmananda. Tattvopadesha means logically connected exposition of the path of non-dual inquiry from beginning to end.
Can you give me an example of one of the tricky issues?
GREG: Sure. One of the trickier issues has to do with what I call “intersubjectivity.” People have asked this question for years. In fact, a professional psychotherapist who has written on nonduality just asked me this question last week, and it is a good question:
If I am none other than witnessing awareness and the world arises to witnessing awareness, then I am the witness. OK, so let’s say that Fred over there is doing non-dual inquiry as well. Is witnessing happening there too? Or am I witnessing Fred? Or is Fred witnessing me? Are we both witnessing the same Eiffel Tower? What is the relation between awareness and all this witnessing?
I remember having this question myself many years ago. People want to know where witnessing is happening, and whether it wipes away the world. The way non-dual inquiry is set up, it seems to lead straight to these questions. But it’s not inevitable. In my book, there are experiments that pacify this issue. It becomes a total non-issue.
How is this book different from your Standing as Awareness?
GREG: This book is over twice as long. There are no dialogs. There is lots of resting in pure, sweet, open awareness. And there are lots of experiments, where you look very deeply and see what happens.
And what does happen <smiling>?
GREG: <Laughs> In most of the experiments, you are looking directly for something that is usually taken for granted as separate from you. Towards the beginning of the book, you look deeply for an orange. What is your direct experience? Is the orange really over there, separate from you? Towards the middle of the book, you look deeply for the mind, and parts of the mind that are usually regarded as separate and hidden. So in one experiment you look for the subconscious. What is your direct experience of the subconscious? Later you look for subtle objects such as causality and even witnessing awareness. What is your direct experience of these things? In every case what happens is that you make a discovery. Your direct experience is nothing other than awareness itself. And it doesn’t even end there…
There seems to be an never-ending supply of nonduality books these days. How is your book different from the others?
GREG: Very good question! This book is deeply experiential, not theoretical. It’s written and even typeset as a user guide. So there are lots of steps, guiding you to look here, examine there, etc. The book also talks about aspects of nonduality that aren’t often covered, such as language, teaching, and freedom from the path.
The book sounds like it has a method. But we often hear from some folks that there can be no “method.”
GREG: That’s right! One often hears this, but not always. There are many different approaches to non-dual realization. In the beginning of this book, it looks like there’s a method. It looks like there’s a real “how-to.” But by the end it doesn’t look like there’s a method because the “how” and the “to” are themselves deconstructed.
I think I remember you saying [NY Times?] that there would be something particularly relevant about this book for our readership or the West perhaps <laughs>?
GREG: The book does have a very Western flavor that I think your readers might appreciate. There are also more names from Western traditions than from Eastern traditions in the book. Names such as Francis Bacon, George Berkeley, Rene Descartes, Max Heindel, Stuart Hameroff, Homer, William Molyneux, Plato, Ayn Rand, Richard Rorty, and others.
You know, Zen and other forms of Buddhism have come from the East to the West and are settling in. I think the same thing is starting to happen with the Direct Path and non-dual inquiry as well.
Greg has launched a brand new website [see link below] on Emptiness Teachings with co-editors Tomas Sander and Tamara Vyshkina. This may be the first site of its kind as it presents approaches to emptiness realization from Western sources as well as Buddhist sources. Because emptiness is broadly defined lack of self, lack of essence, lack of inherent existence, there turn out to be many ways to realize emptiness. “We will try to showcase many of these approaches” states Greg.
“Emptiness teachings are widely held to be liberating. The purpose of this site is to present the wide variety of these teachings in a way that will help make them accessible and relevant. We will feature scholarly, experiential and popular approaches to the emptiness teachings, and we will honor the diversity of traditions from which they flow. Our goal is to highlight the power and appeal of these teachings so that they may do their work.” [from the About page]
The site is just getting started and there’s a lot of content worth checking out, including special guest articles from: Dawid Dahl (Integral Monastery), Scott Kiloby (Living Realization) and Vicki Woodyard (Nonduality Now).
*Greg and Tomas are also offering an all-day course on the emptiness teachings on Saturday Feb. 25th at Nalandabodhi in Manhattan. This is designed as a fun, easy and introductory session about these teachings. The class will feature a lot of interactivity, class participation, group discussion and space to share your findings and experiences.
- Experience the emptiness of meaning – this gives you the experience of freedom and flexibility
- Experience how to destabilize social norms and views – this provides greater openness and loving compassion
- Experience the emptiness of the perceptual world – this experience lightens up the world
- Experience art and creativity – allows you to revolutionize your world
- Experience a “Subway Meditation” you can take with you anywhere you go
- Experience the creation of your own heavenly “Pure Land”
More info here:
Dr. Greg Goode is known for a unique combination of penetrating insight, comfort with both Eastern and Western sources, and a down-to-earth sense of humor. He is the author of ‘Standing as Awareness’, ‘Nonduality in Western Philosophy’ and many popular articles.
Greg studied psychology at the University of California, and philosophy at the University of Rochester and the Universität zu Köln. He became drawn to self-inquiry initially through the work of Brand Blanshard, George Berkeley, the Chinmaya Mission and Arsha Vidya Gurukulam.
Greg’s spiritual search came to its sweet conclusion through the Direct-Path influences of Francis Lucille and Sri Atmananda. Greg is a member of the American Philosophical Practitioners Association and serves as the technical consultant for their peer-reviewed journal, ‘Philosophical Practice’.
Heart of Now Website
New Emptiness dot Co//mmunity
The desire for enlightenment once drove an earnest and highly determined individual to spend several years in the company of a spiritual teacher. During these years he proved himself a devoted disciple who was totally committed to the attainment of spiritual realization.
When the time came for him to leave and return to his native place, his guru made him promise that he would write every month, reporting on his spiritual progress. The disciple gave his promise and received his guru’s blessing. They said their farewells and parted.
The disciple had been gone just over a month when his first letter arrived:
“I am experiencing the Oneness with the Universe,” he wrote.
The master said nothing, but crumpled up the letter and dropped it in the bin.
The next month’s report came promptly and stated:
“The Divinity present in all things has been revealed to me. I behold It in a flower, in a stone, in the very air, everywhere.”
Again the master read the letter, crumpled it up and tossed it into the bin without a word.
For four months the letters arrived regularly. In his third message the disciple declared:
“The mystery of the One and the Many has been revealed to me. I now know and truly comprehend there is no difference between you and me or anything else.” Once read, this missive also ended up in the guru’s waste-paper basket. In the fourth letter the disciple said, “No one is born, lives or dies, because there is no one who exists.”
This letter too was read without comment and followed its predecessors, slipping with a rustle into the trash.
After the fourth month, however, no further letters arrived. No letter in the fifth month, no letter in the sixth month, no letter for a whole year! As the time passed and brought no news, the master became increasingly curious as to what had happened with his beloved disciple. Eventually, he wrote to him inquiring about his spiritual progress, and reminding the disciple of his promise to keep him informed.
Some time later, the guru was handed a letter addressed in a familiar hand. It was from his distant disciple. The guru opened it and read, [and laughed out loud] with obvious delight. His attendant disciples were puzzled as to what had prompted this outburst of joy. Beaming gladly, the guru passed them the letter.
They saw that it contained just three words, and the three words were:
“Enlightenment? Who cares!”
The above writing reprinted with permission. The piece was originally published in the book by Ramesh Balsekar, titled “Who Cares?” (for which transcripts of the daily talks were also provided).
Some of Ramesh’s last talks are also available here if interested.
Official website for Ramesh Balsekar
According to the founders, “the Science and Nonduality Conference was created to provide an arena where various aspects of nonduality can be explored, discussed, and experienced. Part seminar, part festival, part conference, this event also explores science and combines meditation, philosophy, art, music, dance, and entheogens to point the way to nondual experience, to aid in integrating nonduality into daily life, and to deepen the understanding of a fundamental nondual reality.
The conference opens up these experiences for further exploration. It places each attendee face-to-face with each other and with individuals living from the life-spanning varieties of non-dual expression.
This gathering is also a celebration of the bottom-line truth of our existence: that in our distinct and individualistic arisings and turnings, we are truly not limited, bound, or separate.”
Who are the conference founders?
When Zaya and Maurizio met in 2008, it immediately became clear that they could make a lot of noise together in this illusory world! They discovered that the only book they had both been reading for the past several years was “I Am That” by Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj. Almost immediately, they went to India together to shoot The Legacy of Nisargadatta Maharaj. The rest, as they say, is history…
Maurizio was brought up in Italy and went through many incarnations, always looking for answers under every stone. In 1986, he came to the USA on a 98 year-old sailing boat. He started working as an actor, model, and then filmmaker, but his thirst for knowledge was never satisfied, until he encountered I Am That in 2001 while shooting the documentary “Short Cut to Nirvana” in India.
Zaya hails from Bulgaria and has degrees in Engineering, Environmental Science, and also Film. For many years, she worked as an environmental activist in Holland and Bulgaria. She later produced and directed several award-winning documentaries in Europe and the United States. Her life long passion for science and mysticism finally came together with the emergence of the conference.
The team known as Maurizio and Zaya Benazzo are truly inseparable!
I sent over some interview questions and they proceeded to knock them out “tag-team” style. Let me explain: First Zaya answered [while M was driving!] and then they switched and Maurizio answered [while Z was behind the wheel]. They were read aloud once more and the finishing touches were added and sent. I thought that was adorable! Enjoy the interview.
Matthew: Congratulations on starting one of the most interesting conferences of the last decade! SAND is one of the few public events that make it possible for non-dual thought to emerge. It’s a great coming together of teachers, scientists, authors, musicians etc. I think such a “meeting of the minds” helps to facilitate in-depth discussion, fresh material and a genuine [in-person] way for folks to network in the community.
What’s your take please?
Yes, this year the feeling of community was palpable. Walking in the hallways you could feel the invigorating energy that only a like-minded, creative, mature community can spark. The combination of scientists, teachers from all traditions, philosophers and artists created an explosive mix that is still reflected in the feedback we are still receiving. “The next Buddha is the community” became the mantra of the gathering this year.
What would you say sparked your first interest in the connection between Science and Nonduality?
Both of us have always been interested in science and mysticism and for us somehow they were never separate. When we first met we went to India to film a movie about Nisargadatta Maharaj and one of the translators told us that Nisargadatta used to say: “…this is a scientific knowledge. One day scientists will come to understand all this very easily. It is scientific…” A few months after we found ourselves organizing this event. But, this is just another story! We do what we do and that is what it is.
Do you believe it is necessary to convince scientists of the non-dual nature of reality and vice versa?
We don’t believe that it is necessary to convince anybody about anything. We see our work more as a reflection of what “is” rather then having a mission or a goal to meet. The beauty is that many scientists do know and touch through their work the essential nondual nature of reality but most likely will not use the language the nondual teachers will use to describe it.
Do you believe it is important to help “nondualists” pay more attention to scientific theory?
Science today can tell us quite accurately about the body mechanisms from which the mind and the ego emerge, so, in a way, it becomes easier to understand things mystics have said for centuries like: “the ego is an illusion”.
Today you no longer have to believe the mystics blindly as you can also study the mechanisms through which this illusion manifests.
For example, teachers from all traditions have said: “you are not the doer.” Now mainstream neuroscience proves, beyond any reasonable doubt, that the sense of “I” comes later, after our actions have been performed. And up to six seconds later!
It would be interesting to know, which events were typically drawing greater numbers of participants – sessions with the prominent scientists and or spiritual leaders?
We asked that question in the evaluation form this year and to our surprise we discovered that the community has an interest in both aspects of the conference and they enjoy the balance.
What might a match between nonduality and science look like or does there need to be a match?
There is no need for a match.
We simply offer different fingers pointing to the same moon. Science can help us understand [more deeply] the wisdom teachings and vice versa. There is no “absolute” truth out there. Neither science nor spirituality can give us “final, absolute” answers.
At SAND, we simply invite our audience to experience thing by themselves and take nothing for granted. There is no absolute truth out there… There is only what is and how you perceive it is your point of view of it, your personal truth.
I applaud you guys for inviting more exploration of entheogenic studies as there are a lot of misconceptions about their usage. They can be a portal or “opening” in Consciousness [albeit temporary] and or successfully used to treat some patients with responsible administering etc. What’s your view on this?
Entheogens are another portal, a large [for some] finger-pointing to the moon, it’s very potent and direct portal that many have had the opportunity to explore at some point in their path of discovery of what is. These “substances” allow us to perceive our reality in a slightly different way opening the space for questions and deep insights.
That is why we have created a partnership with MAPS (Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies). MAPS organize a session every year on entheogens as portals to non-dual awareness. Next year we will have even more sessions designed to inform and discuss this topic along with more dialogues about social justice and ecology.
It appears you are growing rapidly. Did you expect such a great turnout—so fast? Now in its third year, what are your future goals for the conference?
We didn’t expect such a fast growth. We thought this was a very niche, extravagant, subject in which not many will be interested—but clearly there is a deep longing and need for this conversation. Again, we don’t have “goals.” We believe the moment we create goals it is easy to get disconnected from what is in front of us needing to be expressed. What we do is listen to our community, encourage feedback and suggestions while, we share what touches and inspires us personally.
And more and more communities around the world are requesting to bring the conference on the road.
The event is also attracting folks from all over the world, what do you attribute that too? Flying halfway around the world for a single conference is an amazing testament!
Yes the audience is not local as we expected it to be at the beginning. This year we had people from twenty-one different countries and thirty-five states in the US. Evidentially “this understanding” spreads all over the globe regardless of boundaries and socioeconomics. It’s a movement trickling from every corner of the globe. The next Buddha is the community!
I’ve heard you might be taking the conference to Europe next year, is that true and what are your expectations for that locale. How do you think the European mindset differs on such material and speakers vs. the U.S.?
Yes, we will have the first SAND European conference in Holland May 31st-June 2nd, 2012. Since both Zaya and I were born in Europe and choose to move to the USA to work it is quite tingling to get back in there with a project.
We have a local organization helping us with the logistics and they are giving us a lot of advice and our European SAND community is already quite large (due to social media channels and the many Europeans that came to SAND already). It’s going to be a lot of fun! We are exploring a new format and most likely we’ll have less speakers and longer sessions. The goal, as in California, will be to involve the audience and reduce the separation between speakers and audience. Again: “The next Buddha is the community”.
You’ve always put out a very attractive 3-DVD set for purchase. I’ve enjoyed the mini interviews and questions you ask some of the key speakers at each event. This is a great way to experience the depth of the speaker(s). Kudos on that! How did that come about?
We are both filmmakers and before we started the conference we were already creating media, film, DVD’s, etc. on topics related to the conference, so creating a DVD series was a natural evolution of what we do. But this project is also pointing at the evolution of the event; the interviews become a way to document the evolution of the conference.
The interviews are made primarily by Zaya together with our good friend Nick Day and the two of them are an awesome production team.
I noticed for this year’s event, you added a streaming video option for folks who could not attend and or perhaps in another country. Tell us about the ForaTV service.
All the sessions from the conference are available now on ForaTV. We were looking for a way to make the conference available to everyone who couldn’t afford to travel. They’re a great channel and allow many people to be with us without traveling half way across the globe.
But, [if we wish to be picky], the issue with ForaTV is that it is not free and it is becoming clear to us that this material, this knowledge, belong to the community and it should be available for free. Next year we will have a different arrangement and we have some great ideas about our internet presence that will be unveiled very soon!
I have to ask, it seems folks are buzzing about the commercialization of nonduality and or the “spiritual marketplace” as some call it. What are your thoughts on this subject?
Does anyone complain about people charging money to design, promote or sell solar panels or items that will reduce our carbon footprint? I don’t think so.
It is great to see professional people devoting their time and energy in creating “dreams” designed to make the world a better place instead of thinking about money as a motivator.
To us the only factor is where your motivations are. We don’t see what we do as a commercial product. It is a sincere labor of love which financially doesn’t make sense at all. We have no financial partners, foundations or universities behind us. As long as there is an inspiration and energy we probably will keep doing it.
Is there a way to promote responsibly?
Surely there is a way to promote responsibly and the line is drawn by your motivation! We do very little promotion because we don’t have the resources to do more and in any case we see our community growing more from word-of-mouth which is way better than advertising.
We can only do what we can and look at what happens next.
I read some of the feedback on your blog from the first event (that took place back in 2009). This a summary of what the participants requested:
- less speakers
- longer talks
- more integration between talks and experiential
- a science closer to our day-to-day experience
- and better coffee…
Were you able to meet the challenge and offer that in 2010 and how about 2011? At least for better coffee? Haha!
Since the first year we have 30% less speakers, “only” one hundred and twenty or so.
We shortened the talks and the integration is slowly happening but it is not as complete as we would want it to be. We definitely got better coffee…we seem to have solved that issue at least!
There are so many little issues that are solved every year.
Don’t forget we are not conference organizers and volunteers mostly run the event. By-the-way, our volunteers need a huge thank you for their hard work and commitment! They are an amazing group of committed people.
I really appreciate being asked to moderate a panel this year on behalf of Non-Duality America. Although I could not attend, I am honored to be asked. The fact that gatherings like this exists is such a blessing for all.
Thanks again for hosting such a fun + creative experience and for your service and dedication…very inspirational!
Is there anything you would like to add?
Matt, really, without you there will be no conference. It is people like you devoting their time to “this” that are creating the foundation for such an event to materialize. And it is people like your readers [yes, I am talking about you], that are making all this happen.
Thank you both for being who you are and for doing what you do.
“THE NEXT BUDDHA IS A COMMUNITY!”
Love, Maurizio & Zaya
Coincidentally (or perhaps not), Steve’s book The Fall was published on the very same day as Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth back in October 2005.
As a result (and given the similarities of the books), Steve sent a copy of the book to Eckhart’s office. To his surprise, a few weeks later he received an e-mail from his assistant, saying that he thought The Fall was a wonderful book, and would like to help him promote it. Steve states, “I spoke to Eckhart on the phone a few days later, and he struck me as a gentle, funny and generous man.”
Eckhart gave Steve a great endorsement for the cover of The Fall, and arranged for him to be a part of a ‘spiritual documentary’ directed by Guy Ritchie (which unfortunately never appeared).
Steve has kept in contact with Eckhart sporadically ever since; most recently, he interviewed him for his latest book, Out of the Darkness. Enjoy the article…
In a recent survey by Watkins Bookshop — the UK’s most famous spiritual bookstore — Eckhart Tolle was listed as the ‘most spiritually influential living person on the planet.’ You might think that this accolade would be given to someone who is a major presence in the media, and who appears regularly in public. However, Eckhart rarely gives interviews to the mainstream media and over the last few years, he hasn’t given very many talks. He isn’t a particularly prolific author either.
So how did he become so influential?
I was interested in interviewing Eckhart because he’s an example of a phenomenon which I have become more and more aware of in recent years — the power of turmoil and stress to bring about a shift into enlightenment.
As readers of The Power of Now will be aware, until the age of 29 Eckhart lived in a state of anxiety and depression. As he described it to me when I interviewed him for my book, ‘There was a sense of great fear of life: fear of the future, fear of the meaninglessness underneath it all, but not wanting to fully face that meaninglessness and find out what underlies it.’
There were some external factors in Eckhart’s depression. One was his parents’ unhappy marriage, and the continual conflict between them. He had also been unhappy at school, where he felt like an outsider: ‘I didn’t fit in. I remember my closest friend at school had a severe physical handicap. Most people didn’t want to have anything to do with him. I was an outsider for inner reasons, and he was an outsider for physical reasons.’
Another external factor was Eckhart’s lack of social roots. After his parents separated when he was 13, he moved countries twice, first to Spain then to England. In England, he found that he could boost his sense of identity through intellectual pursuits. He did a degree at the University of London, worked hard and got a first, and went on to do post-graduate studies at Cambridge. But this success didn’t bring him any contentment: ‘The more I pursued my intellectual search, the stronger the sense of despair became…In every ego satisfaction there is always fear that it’s not enough. The more you present a facade to the outside world of confidence, the greater the unconscious fear grows. That’s why people need to play roles.’
This growing despair culminated in the transformation described in The Power of Now, when, on the brink of killing himself, Eckhart’s ego dissolved away, leaving him in a state of pure peace. He experienced not a break down, but a ‘shift up’ into a state of enlightenment.
Although he wasn’t completely aware of it at the time, one of the major psychological changes he underwent was that his mind became quiet; the ego’s incessant ‘thought-chatter’ had stopped. As he told me: ‘There were long periods in my daily life where there was no thinking. I was no longer identified with thought processes. Those compulsive automatic processes had subsided, the noisy mind which I had identified with, which had covered up the deeper dimension within me.’
“A sudden awakening doesn’t mean a sudden understanding.” ~Eckart T.
Although he was very well read, Eckhart knew little about spiritual states or traditions, and so didn’t fully understand what had happened to him: ‘Being able to talk about it to others, to explain it to others, let alone help them — that came years later. A sudden awakening doesn’t mean a sudden understanding. I only knew I was at peace and I didn’t know why. But because I felt at peace, I felt very drawn to investigating spiritual teachings and schools and religions.’
It has now been more than 30 years since Eckhart’s transformation, and his awakened state has never faded, although there are sometimes fluctuations in its intensity: ‘Sometimes the underlying peace is just in the background; at other times it becomes so all-encompassing that it almost obliterates sense perceptions and thoughts and what one would usually consider one’s life. Even when things in the foreground might seem turbulent, in the background there is some sense of stillness and peace.’
Although its intensity is perhaps unusual, the transformation Eckhart experienced is not uncommon. For my latest book, Out of the Darkness, I spoke to 32 other people who went through a spiritual transformation after intense turmoil in their lives — people who were ill with cancer or ME, who reached ‘rock bottom’ through alcoholism, became severely disabled, or suffered from severe depression or intense stress. Like Eckhart, they all reached a point where they thought they were completely lost and broken, where they felt they had no choice but to give up and surrender to their predicament. And at the moment something shifted inside them. Suddenly they felt a sense of lightness and freedom. The world seemed a different place, with a new sense of meaning, harmony and beauty. And although the initial intensity of experience faded, the shift remained. They felt re-born, with a new identity. Years later — even decades — they were still filled with inner peace.
All of the ‘shifters’ — as I call them — were ordinary people with normal jobs and conventional lifestyles, who knew little or nothing about spirituality. As a result, it took some of them a long time to understand what had happened. Like Eckhart, they spent years slowly gravitating to spiritual books and teachers, gradually building up a framework to understand their new state.
If the transformation Eckhart went through is not so uncommon, what is it that makes his teachings so influential and powerful?
On the surface of it, Eckhart’s books are not standard mind, body spirit fare. They’re not always consoling and positive — a large part of A New Earth, for example, is taken up with explaining what’s wrong with human beings, analysing the dark side of human nature and the dysfunctional workings of the ego. Eckhart’s books don’t tell us that we can get everything we want just by wishing in the right way, or that there are angels or extra-terrestrial entities looking after us. But this is also part of their power. They express a very pure and direct form of spirituality, uncluttered by unnecessary concepts. They get right down to the core, beneath all the distracting bright lights and colours.
His writing style helps with this too. Perhaps because his first language was German — a logical and concise language — his use of English is simple and direct. Every sentence is measured and stately, pared down to its essence.
Some spiritual teachers — Krishnamurti, for example — say that books can be a hindrance on the spiritual path. They fill the mind with unnecessary knowledge, inflate the ego with learning. And in any case, how can words convey the richness and fullness of spiritual experience? As the Zen saying goes, ‘The finger that points at the moon is not the moon.’ But this doesn’t seem to apply to Eckhart’s books. In some mysterious way, his words are the moon. He has the rare ability to transmit spirituality through the medium of words, so that it’s possible for the reader to gain a taste of enlightenment through reading his books.
“Occasionally it happens that people want to make you into something special. This is a pitfall for anyone who becomes a spiritual teacher.” ~Eckhart T.
Compared to many spiritual teachers, Eckhart is self-effacing. Some spiritual authors and teachers seem to crave attention and power. But perhaps because he became a spiritual teacher almost by accident — simply because people were drawn to his peaceful presence — Eckhart doesn’t need disciples. He seems quite happy to be no one. Although he knows that something profound happened to him, he doesn’t see himself as a special person. As he told me, ‘Occasionally it happens that people want to make you into something special. This is a pitfall for anyone who becomes a spiritual teacher. I always point that what I term presence comes through me, not from me, and that it’s also in them, otherwise they wouldn’t even notice it. It’s not my presence or your presence.’
In my view, this integrity lends a great deal of power and authenticity to Eckhart’s teachings.
It’s also significant that Eckhart was an intellectual before his transformation. Intellect and spirituality are sometimes seen as opposites, but they need each other. Intellect without spirituality is cold and narrow, but spirituality without intellect is dangerous too, often leading to a mush of irrational wish fulfilment. The state of enlightenment, and the path that leads to it, is unknown territory for most of us. We need explorers to map that territory, guides to show us the way there, to point out difficulties along the way, show us the signs of progress and help us distinguish the false from the true. And because of his sharp intellect, Eckhart does this better than anyone. He’s really a ‘spiritual psychologist’, offering an acute analysis of the insanity of the human mind, identifying its causes and showing us how to transcend it.
And if, as my research for Out of the Darkness suggests, the kind of ‘suffering-induced transformation’ which Eckhart went through is becoming more common, over the next few years we’ll hopefully see other spiritual teachers emerge, with a similar power and integrity.
Steve Taylor is an author and lecturer whose main interests are psychology and spirituality. He is the author of Waking From Sleep, The Fall and Making Time. His books have been published in 11 languages, including Dutch, Korean, Russian, Spanish, Japanese, Polish, Spanish and French.
Steve is a lecturer in psychology at Leeds Metropolitan University and a researcher in transpersonal psychology at Liverpool John Moores University.
Out of the Darkness: From Turmoil to Transformation. Kindle version is available now in the U.S.
His website is www.stevenmtaylor.com
Please enjoy an excerpt from Jeff Foster’s new book (which will be published in 2012) - MK
“I long, as does every human being, to be at home, wherever I find myself.”
~ Maya Angelou
The search for home goes so very, very deep in the human psyche. Throughout all human history it has expressed itself in every single facet of our lives – in our art, our music, our science, our mathematics, our literature, our philosophy, in our quest for love, in our spirituality.
Male and female seek each other, try to complete themselves through sexual union. We seek our ‘soul mates’, search for our ‘other halves’ who will complete us. In our cosmic homesickness we seek union with God, with Spirit, with Nature, with the guru. We buy houses together and magically transform them into homes, and after a long, exhausting day at kindergarten, or at the office, we just want to go home, back to mother, back to our loved ones, back to sleep, back to the cosmic womb. We populate landmasses, create countries, and call them our homeland, our motherland, our fatherland. We fight and die to protect our homeland – the land that we love, the land our ancestors were born in and died in. We wander in the wilderness for a thousand years and long for the promised land, for our heaven on earth, for our Jerusalem.
Characters in novels, in plays, in movies, journey far away from home, discover who they really are and return home, somehow changed, somehow the same. We love our movies, our television shows, to end with a tearful homecoming, a tearful reunion, and the story of the one who never came home haunts us like anything. In The Wizard of Oz, perhaps our most beloved movie of all time, a young girl leaves her colourless home, goes on an incredible journey, meets various facets of herself, and returns to the same place – but now she sees what’s really there. In many Disney musicals, often the main character, feeling like an outcast in their own home, will sing a song about their longing for adventure, for love. Something calls them away from home, but in the end, they return home, or they find a new home, their true home, their true place in the world. It has been suggested that on the most basic level every story, every myth, shares this common structure – ending with the hero’s return. As children, we are homesick when we are away from home for too long, away from the ones we love.
In music, notes and chords go on a similar journey, moving away from home, creating tension for the listener, but finally they resolve themselves, and we feel like the song moved us in some way – took us on a journey away from the ordinary, and returned us to where we were, somehow changed, touched, transformed. In art, the interplay of foreground and background, light and shade, positive and negative space creates tension, drama. Our longing for resolution makes the artwork compelling. Perhaps it is the same longing that has driven mathematicians, philosophers, physicists, for all of human history, to seek some kind of grand, unified, all-encompassing theory of reality, to find wholeness in the chaos, to find love in the midst of devastation.
The spiritual seeker leaves home in search of enlightenment, and returns home again, only to discover that the enlightenment he sought was there from the beginning. When people die we say they have ‘gone home’, or found a new home where they can rest eternally. We are told that even the universe is expanding and contracting – somehow seeking equilibrium, seeking home. Yin and yang, light and dark, creation and destruction, tension and resolution, contraction and release – this is the heartbeat of the cosmos, the heartbeat of all art, music, literature, spirituality, the beat of our very own hearts, which must come to rest eventually. All things long to come to rest. It is no wonder that at its root the word ‘home’ means ‘rest’ or ‘lie down’. Home is not a place, a thing, or a person – it is rest.
- Jeff Foster will be speaking at the Science and Nonduality Conference 2011 (October 19-23, Embassy Suites and Marin Center, San Rafael, California).
- He will be holding a pre-conference workshop on Wednesday October 19th 2-6pm.
- And on Monday October 24th 10am-4.30pm he will be holding a joint workshop with his dear friend Scott Kiloby entitled “Feelings and Time”.
More information here: www.scienceandnonduality.com
- On 31st October – 5th November 2011 Jeff will be holding his first retreat in the USA!
FREEDOM IN EVERY EXPERIENCE
A 5-day Retreat with Jeff Foster
Petaluma, California, USA
What goes to the root of all my suffering and seeking?
Why do I continue to search for love, happiness, freedom and enlightenment?
Why does nothing ever seem to be enough for me?
What is the meaning and purpose of my life?
Who am I, beyond the image of myself?
What is the true meaning of ‘Acceptance’?
What is spiritual awakening? What is ‘nonduality’?
Is it possible to become awakened? Who awakens?
“On the retreat we will explore these questions, in dialogue and in stillness. Meeting together as friends, we will deeply explore the nature of our present moment experience, and discover the freedom and intimacy inherent there, no matter what is happening…” ~ Jeff
Discover who you really are, beyond your thoughts, feelings and experiences.
Explore the origins of addiction, conflict in relationships and physical suffering.
Find out the true meaning of peace, freedom and enlightenment.
Recognize what meditation and healing really are.
Discover the Home you never left.
31st October – 5th November
@ the beautiful Earthrise Retreat Center at IONS, Petaluma, California.
(45 minutes north of San Francisco)
Now booking. Prices from $645.
For more information please visit:
Jeff’s website is: www.lifewithoutacentre.com
*Special thanks to photographer Bill Hale for the childrens pic from Hawaii.
Below is a short + sweet excerpt from a book called “A Vastness All Around: Awakening To Your Natural State” by Rodney Stevens. Through his blog, Rodney has attracted readers and spiritual seekers from across the globe. In this book he gathers essays, dialogues, and interviews that point to our natural and immediate state. N-Joy…~MK
Ah, my annual holiday walk along the Horseshoe at the University of South Carolina, in Columbia, (South Carolina). The Horseshoe is the heart of the campus, with its lush lawn and brick-path promenade that showcase nearly a dozen 19th century buildings and a multitude of towering trees, including Southern magnolias and majestic live oaks. As always at this time of the year, there are less than a handful of people about.
My secret place is in one of the five gardens that are located to the rear of one of the buildings. Within the garden’s firebrick walls, there is a snug greenhouse with its opalescent exterior; dormant rose bushes and vines; cropped crape myrtles flaunting their smooth, cinnamon trunks; and (slightly to the rear of the space) a circular, softly pruned rosemary bush that I’ve claimed as my own. I dip my hands into the sticky leaves and gently rub their evergreen fragility between my fingers. Several seconds are all that is needed before my hands are pungent with the herb’s heady aroma.
I sit on a bench in front of the gun-metal, three-dish fountain (its steady murmurs formed by a thin stream of water). Again and again, I bring my cupped hands to my face and relish the camphoraceous scent. Through the years, it has always been a delight to come here and savor the quietness. But this year, having finally become clear on who and what I truly am (awareness itself!), I discover that there is even a space within the quietness, a space that is—at once—subtle, beginingless, and profound.
I then do something that I don’t often do: I simply sit with the presence of Beingness. Anyone entering the area would intriguingly (or annoyingly) think I was meditating or praying. But no, all seeking has stopped; and if I were praying, it would be for thanks, not supplication. There is just the simple sitting with the wafts of rosemary and the soft gurgles of water.
Or as Dōgen Zenji wrote:
Awakened, the one great truth:
Black rain on the temple roof.
Rodney Stevens: After decades of exploring many spiritual paths, Rodney came upon John Wheeler’s classic, AWAKENING TO THE NATURAL STATE. In the spring of 2007 (after some brief email exchanges with John) Rodney recognized his own radiant and ever-present clarity.
He lives in Columbia, South Carolina, and enjoys conversing with those who are vitally interested in self-knowledge.
Check out: A Vastness All Around: Awakening to Your Natural State
All great things must come to an end unfortunately and this post by Greg Goode is no exception.
In case you missed Part 1, or Part 2, we are serializing an updated version of his book Nondualism in Western Philosophy, which is a series of pointers to how the Western approach can assist with one’s self-inquiry.
It is less a historical survey, and more a collection of Western views that might serve as tools for inquiry, along with suggestions on how these tools might be used.
Please enjoy the final post from Greg. Without further ado, here is Part 3.
The Turn Towards Language
The older monist-style idealism lost its steam early in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, partly due to the rise of science and mathematics. The popularity of science stimulated an effort in philosophy to emulate scientific styles and methods. Importance was given to observation, verification and language. New philosophical movements arose, such as “logical positivism,” “philosophical analysis” and “ordinary language philosophy.” These movements examine the relations among sentences, as well as between sentences and states of affairs in the world.
Philosophies that focus on language are not themselves trying to make a nondual or monistic metaphysical claim. Rather, they merely critique the claims made by metaphysics about how the world is really is, in and of itself. They root out the metaphysical assumptions of other philosophies and argue that these assumptions are simply not needed to live life or to explain our experience.
One can attack a dualism with the weapons on hand, without leaving anything in its place. This is just what Royce, Wittgenstein, Quine, Sellars, and Colin Turbayne did – they gave the new focus on language a startlingly broad application. The result was to soften, blur or eradicate the old Cartesian and Kantian dualities that had occupied center stage for three hundred years.
Josiah Royce proposes a notion of the world consisting of signs interpreted by an infinity of minds. This is less dualistic than at first appears, since the minds themselves may also be interpreted as signs. Ludwig Wittgenstein turns away from the notion of language as having meanings that represent the world. For him, there is no independent entity called Meaning. Rather, the meaning of a word lies in its use. For Wittgenstein, conversation is a series of language games, where word choices are moves in the game.
W.V.O. Quine argues against the distinction between two kinds of sentences, sentences that are true in virtue of a logical relation between their terms (“No married men are bachelors”), and sentences that are true because they happen to represent facts in the world (“Some men are married.”). This dualism is Kant’s “analytic/synthetic distinction,” and refers to the difference between what we can know without worldly experience, and what we need experience to know. The stronger the grip of the analytic/synthetic distinction, the stronger will be the felt difference between what we supply to knowledge, and what the world supplies. In Eastern nondual terms, this is very similar to the distinction between Self and Other.
But Quine’s view is that the analytic/synthetic distinction does not stand. What really distinguishes the two kinds of sentences, he argues, is that we treat the former kind of sentence as hard to give up, and the latter kind as easy to give up. The difference is merely conventional, even though it is widely believed to be metaphysical. And with the linguistic analytic/synthetic distinction succumbing to Quine’s attack, the metaphysical distinction between Self and Other loses a prime means of support.
In Wilfrid Sellars’s attack against “The Myth of the Given,” he proposes that “all awareness is a linguistic affair.” He argues against the classical dualistic empiricism, in which there is supposedly something given to experience in a bare, raw, un-interpreted way, versus something known as the result of interpretation. This “given” is supposedly known non-conceptually, such as a red patch of color, and serves as a secure foundation for interpreted data, which is known conceptually. The conceptual knowledge would be something captured by the statement, “I see something red.” This is the classic empiricist account of something being perceptually given. Most people these days probably subscribe to a view very much like this.
Against this notion of a simple given like the red patch, Sellars argues that there is no such thing as raw and un-interpreted data. Sensing is not knowledge. When you’re driving on “auto-pilot mode,” you might actually be able to stop at a red light, even though you are not aware of having done so. Even a photoelectric cell can be constructed to respond differentially to red vs. green. Knowing, on the other hand, involves bringing something under classification.
Sellars response to the dualist empiricist is this:
If something is given, it’s not an object of knowledge. And if it’s an object of knowledge, it can’t be given.
For example, if seeing the red patch is knowledge or something of which we are aware, then we know that it is a red patch, or that it is something red. In this case it is not a given, but the result of some interpretation and enclosure within a web of concepts. On the other hand, if it is a raw given, it is not something known, but rather exists on the level of a sunburn, or the reaction of the iris to a change in lighting. So for Sellars, the “given” drops out. Knowing is always conceptual, always holistic, always devoid of a distinction between raw and interpreted. For something to be known is for it to exist in the “logical space of having and giving reasons.” Therefore, all knowledge is a matter of language.
Colin M. Turbayne suggests that we get away from the old dualistic “spectator” view of the world, and see the world as a language instead. According to the spectator view, the external world is the photographer’s model, which, thanks to mechanical rules, is conveyed to the theater of the mind. Turbayne proposes that we dispense with this mechanical, ocular metaphor and take up the linguistic metaphor instead.
Why? It is easier to account for oddities and changes in science if we interpret them with the linguistic metaphor as exceptions to grammatical rules or as linguistic evolution. Science can be very hard to explain (and embarrassing as well) with the mechanical metaphor, where we say afresh with every new innovation, “Now we really see the world accurately as it is.” Employment of the linguistic metaphor is an emphasis on language but it is not a monism or a true metaphysical claim. Turbayne is not saying that the world is a language. It is not a machine or giant theater either. He is saying that anything we say about the world is some kind of metaphor. So let’s choose an effective one, and not take any of them literally.
Experiencing the world in this way frees us from the alienating and anxiety-provoking dualisms (such as feeling cut off from the world) that we have inherited from the Cartesian mechanical world-view.
And Away from Metaphysics
Beginning in the early twentieth century, Western philosophy began to sprout reactions against the metaphysical urge. Philosophers such as John Dewey, Martin Heidegger, Jean-Paul Sartre, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Nelson Goodman and Donald Davidson have criticized metaphysical claims that there is a way the world truly is. These writers have inspired anti-metaphysical movements such as pragmatism, existentialism, hermeneutics, deconstructionism and postmodernism.
The individual philosophers and movements lie beyond the scope of this chapter, but many of them are summarized quite nicely by Richard Rorty in a recent article. Rorty, who has referred to himself as an “antidualist” or an “antiessentialist” or a “pragmatist” or a “nonrepresentationalist,” has written tirelessly against metaphysics ever since his well known book Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (Rorty, 1981). In his recent article “A World without Substances” (Rorty, 1999), he summarizes the various philosophies that have turned away from making metaphysical claims. He sees most anti-metaphysical philosophies as trying to shake off the traditional dualisms such as essence/accident, substance/property, appearance/reality and subject/object. There are certain other commonalities as well. Anti-metaphysical views do not hold that there is a way that things really are. Instead, they hold that:
• No description of things is intrinsically privileged over others. Its “betterness” depends upon the purpose at hand.
• Things do not consist of essences but of relations to other things.
• We never know a thing-in-itself. We never know anything in a description-neutral way; we only know true sentences about it.
• “Objective truth” does not mean “in touch with reality,” but instead means “in consensus with other inquirers.”
• The old, invidious distinction between appearance vs. reality has given way to the new, pragmatic distinction between less useful descriptions vs. more useful descriptions.
The anti-metaphysical approach is somewhat like Nagarjuna’s teaching, in which phenomenality is likened to Indra’s net of jewels. In Indra’s net, no jewel is primary or basic, and there is no basic substratum or essence holding everything together. Rather, each jewel reflects only the reflections of all the other jewels. Anti-metaphysics can be seen as nondualistic, not by claiming that “reality is One,” but by not falling into dualistic claims. Instead of advocating a new replacement for the essences that have been dropped, anti-metaphysics says, “Let’s change the subject.”
Where Do I Go From Here?
All these philosophers say different things. God, ideas, brain science, language, anti-metaphysics! Who’s right? How do I proceed? Since Western philosophy is not as soteriologically minded as Eastern philosophy, there is no strong culture of enlightenment surrounding Western teachings.
Nevertheless, Western nondualistic philosophy can be used as a tool to root out the conceptual bases of suffering. All nondual philosophies attack the claim of a truly dualistic world by attempting to show how our normal understanding of the world is mistaken. Normally, we think that the world is made up of a multiplicity of objects or substances or sentient beings. Nondual philosophies attempt to provide a clearer understanding which reveals how these distinctions are not the case. One just needs to know where to look and how to proceed.
OK, I see that – Still, what do I do?
It can certainly help to have a human, written or internet guide to the Western philosophers. Human guides include college teachers, spiritual teachers and philosophical counselors. You can find teachers through Google, through Jerry Katz’s www.nonduality.com, which includes one of the largest list of teachers in existence. You can find philosophical counselors through www.philosophicalgourmet.com, which evaluates various academic departments, or through www.APPA.edu, the official website of the American Philosophical Practitioners Association. Basic philosophy guidebooks can be found on Amazon by typing “guide to philosophy” into the keyword search field. Lou Marinoff’s Plato Not Prozac! is a well-known place to begin learning how various famous philosophies might be of service. Informative internet links include Garth Kemerling’s www.philosophypages.com and the giant http://www.Epistemelinks.com. There is a much smaller list of books and writers (Western and Eastern) on my www.heartofnow.com that I and others have found helpful.
Test the Grip of Duality
Not all dualities are created equal. Some of these dualities have actually been proposed as the solution to other dualities. Certain dualities exacerbate more than others the sense of alienation and being out of touch with reality. If you are interested in nondual inquiry and have a philosophical bent, you might be able to work on those first. Or you can work on the ones that seems the easiest to dispose of.
You can test the grip of these dualities. Ask yourself about each of the Big Dualities and check how you would feel if you had to live without it: Free will and determinism. Good and evil. Cause and Effect. Matter and spirit. Subject and object. Free will and determinism. When you visualize going about life without this duality, which one gives you the worst sinking feeling? This is probably the one you feel most attached to. Which one seems conceptually impossible to do without? This is the one that is probably the most integral to the rest of your understanding. About which one do you say, “Yeah, and so??” This is the one you can do without most easily.
One Duality at a Time
Here are some examples of how you might proceed by tackling the dualities one-by-one.
The notion of free will/determinism often carries a charge. It often seems that human life would be anarchic or chaotic without freedom of choice. If you wish to look into the issue, you can begin with Ted Honderich’s How Free Are You: The Determinism Problem (Honderich, 1993), which shows how a just, fair, safe society is compatible with the notion that our actions are determined by causes. Closely related to this duality is the distinction between good and evil. Do they really exist? Are they absolute? Are there true resolutions to ethical conflicts? Do you feel that a path of nondual inquiry would invalidate this distinction? You might try Richard Taylor’s genial and compulsively readable Good and Evil (Taylor, 1999), which argues that the basis for morality is neither naturalistic nor supernatural, but conventional.
Another related duality is the distinction between cause and effect. Often this grabs our interest because we wish to know what is responsible for the world, and how we can act so as to remain safe. If you are interested in looking into this duality, the classic work is David Hume’s An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding (Hume, 1999), especially Sections 19 and 43. This groundbreaking work shocked eighteenth century readers by arguing that that cause and effect are nothing other than regularity of succession of ideas. A cause as a special power transmitted from one thing to another simply cannot be found.
One of the more deeply entrenched dualities is matter vs. spirit. Why do they seem so irreducibly different from each other? Why do I feel separate from the moon but not from my thoughts? No philosopher has set out to demolish this distinction in such a thoroughgoing way as George Berkeley. His simplest work is Three Dialogues Betweeen Hylas and Philonous (Berkeley, 1998).
And – The Winner Is
The stickiest duality of all is the distinction between knowledge and its object, which is the same gap that Kant formalized over two centuries ago. This distinction is basic to the claim that knowledge has a real, independently existent referent. According to this duality, our thoughts represent an independent world of physical and mental existents, which are truly present even when they are not perceived or cognized. This duality is perhaps the most entrenched of all. It seems as if every moment of our experience is structured according to this gap. Even questioning it can begin to make a person feel alone in the universe, exposed and vulnerable. This duality is often the last one to dissolve in the course of one’s nondual inquiry.
Examination of this duality makes a person feel as though the world is about to disappear, or that intellectual and perceptual blindness is about to hit. This can be scary and cause people to back away from the investigation. Experienced teachers of course take this fear as a favorable sign that the inquiry is reaching deeper than the word level, and have skillful and helpful ways of guiding the person through the process.
There are several fine shadings on this duality. Various writers attack it by interpreting it as the distinction between subject/object, thought/referent, or language/meaning, appearance/reality. Regardless of how it is clothed, there are several quite direct and helpful attacks on this duality.
Subject/Object – William Samuel and Joel Goldsmith write in a mystical way that everything is an outpouring of God. Samuel’s A Guide to Awareness and Tranquility, (Samuel, 1967) is a triumphant song of praise to God as one’s nature. Joel Goldsmith’s The Mystical I (Goldsmith,1993) and Consciousness Is What I Am (Goldsmith, 1976) proclaims that God is the only cause and the only subject. Everything else is an effect of God’s nature.
Thought/Referent – If you would like a nondualist account of the relation between a thought and its referent, you might consider Blanshard’s The Nature of Thought (Blanshard, 1939), particularly a chapter in Vol. I entitled “The Theory of the Idea,” which generously examines various theories and concludes that our ideas, when fully developed and fully coherent, just are that reality.
Language/Meaning – Wittgenstein performs a similar task in his influential Philosophical Investigations. Here he investigates the relationship between language and its object. Using aphorisms and often cryptic pronouncements, he argues against the picture theory of meaning (that language accurately captures reality). He states that this picture theory is a kind of bewitchment. He argues that language is better understood by its use in particular contexts which he calls “language games.” Meaning lies in use, not in a separate metaphysical realm that language supposedly points to.
Appearance/Reality – Things seem so intransigently distant because we think that our thoughts are supposed to represent an independent reality that is not made of thoughts. One of the best philosophical antidotes to this dualism is W.T. Stace’s clear and engaging “Refutation of Realism” (Stace, 1934). Stace (1886-1967) was a mystic and a philosopher who combined Eastern with Western approaches. In his 1934 article he updates Berkeley by arguing that there is no such thing as an unexperienced object.
Then there are Richard Rorty’s well-written essays in his Objectivity, Relativism and Truth, Vol. 1 (Rorty, 1991), especially the Introduction and “Inquiry as recontextualisation: An anti-dualist account of interpretation.” Rorty calls himself an “antirepresentationalist.” He argues against both realism (the external existence of the world) and antirealism (there exists only a web of beliefs). Both sides of the debate are based on the unsupportable claim that our ideas represent things that are not ideas. This representational claim can never be proven, so there is no basis upon which to make the distinction between realism and antirealism. Hence the distinction is unnecessary.
A Note about Who is Right
Sooner or later most serious enquirers reach a point of doubt or exasperation. ` Who is right?” This frustration parallels the one felt by aspirants in Eastern traditions. These aspirants observe that the advaitins say everything is consciousness, while the Buddhists say it’s all emptiness. Faced with this diversity, the philosophical aspirant finds herself asking who is correct, or whether the teachings can be reconciled.
The question really hits home when one considers the goal of inquiry – the pacification of the sense of separateness. One begins to ask, How can this pacification arise when one’s teachings might be saying the wrong thing? Teachings seem so different! No one wants to be led down the wrong road. So the aspirant comes to feel the need to adjudicate between teachings, or at least prove that they are all saying the same thing after all.
Skillful nondual inquiry confronts this very issue squarely. One comes to see how the goal of a picture of a real world beyond the picture makes no sense. The very notions of “accuracy” and “representation” themselves depend on a dualistic split between appearance and reality. In other words, any nondual inquiry that goes far enough will bring peace about this question.
Nondual Nacho Satsang
[Excerpted from a conversation over a plate of nachos]
So, can Western philosophy really help?
A: It has helped for others. The insights and teachings are out there. Yes, they’re scattered, and not as easy to find in one work such as Nisargadatta Maharaj’s I Am That. But they are there.
That’s just it! It’s so all-over-the-place! How do I find direction?
A: Do an internet search “philosophy” and “practitioner” or “counselor” and ask whether the practitioners you encounter can help with nondual inquiry. Follow your heart, which will let you know which philosophical issues are relevant to your nondual inquiry, if any. Explore the bibliography and weblinks in this article.
How do I keep all this from getting dry like a brainiac?
A: Again, follow your heart. Of course this stuff isn’t for everybody – no approach is. But if it has gotten under your skin, then the deeper your desire for clarity on issues like free will, knowledge/object, self/other, etc., the less dry you’ll find the philosophical approach. It’s quite similar to Advaitic jnana yoga and Buddhist analytic meditation. Some of those who do this inquiry find that it matters more than anything else, and it shows up as the breath of life itself. You can also combine this approach with yoga, meditation, exercise, loving-kindness, and devotion to a chosen figure or ideal.
But that sounds like a lot of “doing.” I’ve heard that there’s nothing to do.
A: Hah! That itself is a great topic for inquiry. Is it really the case that there are bodies and a world, but no actions, no performers of actions? Why would certain kinds of things really exist, and other kinds of things really not exist? Is there really any difference between inquiry, and a bird singing on a tree branch? Is there really anything counterproductive about performing an action or participating in activities? This is a rich area to look into. And in a thorough nondual inquiry, this is one issue that always comes under scrutiny!
Are there groups that do this?
A: As of yet there’s no widespread Western-style social context for this exact kind of inquiry. Nothing large and analogous to the satsang movement. Small, private gatherings do happen (for instance, I have an occasional “nondual dinner” on Thursdays in Manhattan, New York, and there are others in the country as well).
But the culture of Western philosophy is slowly starting to enlarge. The West is seeing a growth in cafes philos, diners pensants, and salon gatherings. These social structures are already in place, and Western philosophical self-inquiry is well suited to their dynamics. There’s no doubt that Western inquiry or combined East/West-style inquiry will grow, and take new shapes as it proceeds.
Popular general search engine, very commercial.
General meta-search engine, searches other search engines for you, not so commercial.
Jerry Katz’s comprehensive site on nonduality.
The links page on my site. Includes books and writings I have found helpful.
Official non-profit site of the American Philosophical Practitioners Association. Members can assist with study on the well known Western philosophers. Some members can assist with nondual inquiry.
Guide to Philosophy on the Internet, by Peter Suber at Earlham College. He stopped updating it in 2003, but many links there are still active.
General philosophy web portal. Lots of links to links, from e-texts to job listings!
Ranks the academic graduate programs in philosophy.
Garth Kemerling’s philosophy site. An easy first stop to look up a philosophical word, book or person.
The authoritative Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy online.
Online library. Charges a monthly fee, but you can find classic, old, obscure, and out of print books and articles here.
Episteme’s (see above) E-texts page.
*View the detailed Bibliography [for all three posts] here.
Special thanks to Greg for sharing this excellent text!
Greg Goode has been a philosophical counselor since 1996 and has extensive experience with online consultation. As a philosophical counselor, Greg is nationally certified by the American Philosophical Practitioners Association, trained by Prof. Lou Marinoff, author of the well-known Plato Not Prozac! and by California State University, Fullerton’s J. Michael Russell —a true pioneer in the philosophical consultation movement.
Greg is a well-known innovator for having combined the ancient “direct-path” method of self-inquiry with modern electronic media. Nondual inquiry includes the powerful teachings of Advaita Vedanta and Mahayana Buddhism. Greg studied Advaita Vedanta through the Chinmaya Mission, Sri Atmananda, Jean Klein, and Francis Lucille. He studied the Mahayana teachings of Pure Land Buddhism through Jodo-Shinshu, and studied Chinese Middle-Way Buddhism through the lineage of the pre-eminent scholar of Chinese Buddhism, Master Yin-Shun of Taiwan, P.R.C., author of The Way to Buddhahood.
*All text herein copyright Greg Goode, 2007. All rights reserved. Except for brief quotations in critical articles or reviews, no part of this monograph may be reproduced in any manner without prior permission from the author.
**Photos used courtesy of Evan Ludes.
by Matthew King
Jerry Katz started what may be called “popular” nonduality. That is, he took the teaching of nonduality out of the ashrams, out of university departments of philosophy and religion, out of scriptures, out of the hands of gurus, and put it on the common sidewalks where anyone and everyone could access it freely.
The earliest vehicles for his efforts were:
The email forum called the Nonduality Salon
The website Nonduality dot com
Please join me as I converse with Jerry about the current landscape of the nonduality movement.
Tell us your view about the “ever-expanding” world of nonduality.
The world of Nonduality is always changing, and by the world of nonduality I mean any and all activity around nonduality — the people, the perspectives, every expression of nonduality, and the way information is delivered. These make up the landscape of nonduality.
Nonduality itself doesn’t change. It doesn’t even exist since the word means “not two.” Who, then, is there to see nonduality? Nonduality is exactly what we are. It is so intimately what we are that it cannot be seen. Anything said about nonduality is nonduality at play and play is the dualizing nature of nonduality or consciousness.
The world of nonduality is to be approached, received, and delivered seriously but not to be taken seriously. “Done seriously, not taken seriously,” much as you would hold a door open for someone in a lucid dream (the person doesn’t exist, the door doesn’t exist, the building doesn’t exist, and since you are dreaming lucidly, you know you are sleeping in bed rather than a person walking into a building). The non-existent dream character holds the non-existent door open for the non-existent person out of the integrity of the act, because of the respect for the apparent forms. In the same way, waking life and the forms upon the landscape of nonduality may be approached.
I encourage people to play with the landscape of nonduality. Start Facebook groups, in-person meetings, write books, write emails, write blogs and don’t feel you have to incorporate the current crop of nonduality teachers into your world. Find people and subjects that interest you and show us how they express the teaching of nonduality. Maybe your subjects are carpenters, hikers, bricklayers, parents, watch makers, who knows? Create your world and in that way the world of nonduality will keep expanding.
The landscape of the ND “movement” has apparently changed over the years, what do you attribute this too and can you throw out some general observations please.
It has changed because of technology. The Internet has allowed people to express themselves freely, to meet each other, to engage, to congregate, and to form groups that [in their wholeness] can act as a guru; I call that phenomenon, where the group is itself a force for dispelling ignorance, the hologuru. I’m sure that many people have experienced the hologuru. However, the hologuru is still to be questioned, as is any authoritative force including one’s inner authoritative voice.
Most of us are aware of the nonduality movement in the Internet era, however in the West it can be traced back to the late 1800′s with the advent of Christian Science, the Sacred Books of the East, and the introduction of Yoga and neo-Vedanta by Swami Vivekananda.
Of course the Holy Bible itself is nondual, however Christianity and Judaism tend to see God as “out there” and separate. Nondual Christianity and nondual Judaism have never not been around, they only haven’t been obvious to the mainstream of practitioners. In the last five years, however, they have been freshly brought to light and set forth especially by Richard Rohr and Jay Michaelson respectively, but by other notables as well.
To mention a few other lights on the timeline of the larger nonduality movement, in the 1930′s there was Paul Brunton (who introduced Ramana Maharshi to the West). J. Krishnamurti and D.T. Suzuki (who introduced Zen to the West) started teaching and writing in the 30′s and became especially popular in later decades. Dr. Jean Klein and John Levy were first teaching in the 50′s and 60′s. The Beat poets introduced nondual teachings in their own ways in the 50′s. Alan Watts pretty much commanded 60′s nonduality. In the 70′s — Rajneesh, now know as Osho, started his own movement. Also in the 70′s Da Free John (aka Adi Da), was a powerful teacher. Some of the teachers in the 80′s became well-known once the Internet era started in the late 90′s but many were lost and need to be re-discovered. I’ve mentioned a very small handful of influential people and sub-movements on the timeline. There are thousands more.
And while there are thousands more known people who could be placed on the timeline, there must be many more unknown thousands who could never make themselves widely known because they did not have the communication skills, the technology, or the great desire to express their realization. If the Internet was around in the 20′s, 30′s, 40′s, and so on, there’d be thousands more confessors and expressers of nonduality. If we guys of the Internet era can hold our own when it comes to nonduality, it has certainly been true for the last hundred years in the West, and throughout the world in all nations and times.
I encourage everyone to express themselves so that we don’t get lost like multitudes of others. However, let’s keep in mind that the collecting and cataloging of “nondualiana” is only a human interest and no different than collecting and cataloging stamps. Let’s not imagine we’re doing anything other than working at what is natural for us. We could just as easily be fixing cars, farming, or handing out donuts at Krispy Kreme. This “nonduality stuff” is only work.
I read a quote somewhere that author/teacher Scott Kiloby called you “the forefather of modern, internet nonduality” — how does that sit with you? I thought that was pretty cool and applicable!
Yes, Scott said that. Chris Hebard has called me the “Grandfather” of nonduality. Maybe these guys are just saying I’m old, I dunno! But if these monikers bring attention that would allow me to encourage, invite, support, and welcome the spreading out and further leveling of the playing field of nonduality — I’m in favor of them.
I was apparently the first person to create a place — that is, an email forum and a website — where people could speak freely about nonduality without being beholden to the teaching of a single guru, academic approach, or tradition. That was a novel idea in 1998.
In other words, my view was to welcome all the givers of nondual knowing while being based in none in particular. Also I recognized so-called ordinary people as realizers and confessors of nondual truth and placed them on the same plane as the most famous and legendary spiritual sages of all time. I saw no difference. I see no difference.
So my contributions to nonduality, which have perhaps earned such monikers, include the introduction of the concept of free and independent online places, namely websites, email forums, blogs, etc., the promotion and encouragement of people and teachings in the nonduality field.
How does the Eastern Vs Western nondual perspective/viewpoints compare these days? It appears America still loves it’s McDonald’s “fast-food” versions.
The fast food version of nondual realization says there is no you, nothing you can do, you’re already “it.” Since anyone can quickly realize that for a few seconds, it can be called a fast food version of nonduality.
The Eastern traditional approach, especially Advaita Vedanta, is “slow food” because it says you need to study in a formal and methodical way under a teacher or Sadguru until the intellectual becomes experiential. This takes great effort, study, and investigation, and could take many years. Traditional Advaita at some point confesses the fast food slogan that there’s no you and nothing you can do, but it doesn’t start at that point.
Therefore, you can get the fast food version in the West and experience it momentarily. But can you keep it? Can you value it? The Western approach is hit or miss, it’s the wild west — it’s a disorganized Disneyland of nondual teachers, groups, and institutions.
The Eastern traditional approach is for people who want immersion into an ancient and proven methodical teaching with a single teacher to whom one is committed as a student for a long time, if not a lifetime.
I have no hard evidence, only impressions, and my impression is that the line between the two is fading. I feel that the effect of the Eastern traditional teaching can be experienced by immersion into the fast food culture, into the unrelenting novelty of its forms, and into the good company of self-realized people where you may listen deeply to discussions, ask questions freely, and mingle with seekers, non-seekers, and realizers themselves until nonduality shifts permanently from the background to the foreground of your moment to moment perspective.
How can we promote the message of nonduality in a responsible way? For some there is “much to do”, of course, for others — there is “nothing” to do.
As far as the world of nonduality, the responsible way to promote and teach nonduality is to check yourself to make sure you are not giving people anything to hang onto, including your personality and your teaching.
Openness upon openness is the hallmark of a responsible teaching of nonduality. In other words, be open and check your openness. As teachers we are constantly drawing lines and creating duality, therefore the responsible act is to erase those lines as we draw them.
It may be taught that there is much to do and it may taught in the next breath that there is nothing to, but something else must be taught as well to give context to those statements, and the context is awareness or consciousness.
Giving teachings without giving the context of awareness is like handing out salt and describing its taste. Salt needs liquid to dissolve and to be tasted and known. In the same way nondual teachings need to be dissolved in the context of awareness to be tasted and known. And we can tell which teachers are just teaching and which are teaching in a way such that the dissolution happens and we can taste and know what is being communicated.
*I see that you were invited to speak at the recent Paradoxica Nondual Psychology Conference. Tell us about that please.
I was honored to be the opening keynote speaker at the Paradoxica Conference held at the University of Lethbridge, in Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada. Lethbridge is about a three-hour drive south of Calgary.
The organization, the quality of the speakers, the commitment of the attendees, were all superb. What really impresses me is not just the annual conference itself but the entire academic program of which it is a part.
The program was conceived and is run by Associate Professor Dr. Gary Nixon. He demonstrates that one person can change the landscape of nonduality. The program consists of the conference, a journal, an addictions counseling training, a graduate degree, coursework, psychotherapy, group therapy, and one on one interaction with Gary which could be called a guru/devotee relationship (Gary and his students might disagree with the terminology).
Anyone interested in the nondual side of psychology has to investigate what’s going on at the University of Lethbridge. I also recommend the conference to anyone interested in nonduality, not just psychologists. You’re going to hear a lot more from Gary Nixon in various ways in coming years. I continue to work with Gary as senior associate editor for the Paradoxica Journal of Nondual Psychology and as a member of his Board of Reviewers. I’m really pleased to be involved with the group there.
Also you were at the Science and Nonduality (SAND) conferences in California. I’ve heard both positive and negative comments about folks’ experience there [mostly positive]. Is this the right type of environment and or time for this?
Oh yes, SAND is essential to the nonduality scene, I feel. The joy and the problem with SAND is the large number of people. It’s great having 600 nondualists milling around, each with his or her own take on nonduality. There is a problem with having so many themes and speakers from which to select. Having 5 or 6 concurrent sessions makes it impossible to see every speaker. However, every year will be different and should serve attendees more effectively. I know that the organizers strive for that.
I was one of the four original developers of the SAND and we all agreed that both a great openness to the varieties of nondual expressions was needed along with the stabilizing presence of scientifically valid approaches. We don’t want it to turn into a New Age Nonduality Faire. SAND is about quality, substance, and freedom and diversity of expression. What you’ll see more of, I hope, is interactivity between speaker and audience and more experiential opportunities.
Another concern about SAND that is going to be addressed is one of orientation. New people to nonduality are overwhelmed by the choices available at the conference and they need some assistance and getting situated. I believe that is going to be addressed in the next SAND in October, 2011.
So yes, I feel the time is right. The positive aspect of the conference is the energy generated by having so many hundreds of people milling around and the diversity of speakers and attendees. You can meet so many people and there’s a chance you can be a speaker if you have some background in a facet of nonduality and write a good proposal. Primarily you can see major speakers and nondualists. The organizers work very hard to bring in prominent speakers.
I want to emphasize that a big part of a large conference such as SAND is simply hanging out with everyone. I recently interviewed Chuck Hillig, who has been to the previous two and I asked what he likes most about them and he said it’s meeting all the people and talking and seeing what’s going on. Of course he’s also been one of the most lucid presenters.
Will these types of gatherings ever make their way to mainstream America? Meetings, retreats and Satsang events seem to always take place in the usual spiritual hotbeds in the U.S.
Yes they will migrate to various corners and niches of North America. For example (as I mentioned earlier) Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada, is a global center for nondual teaching, training, and research. Who ever heard of the place?
We’re having meetings here in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. We’ve attracted people who are sincerely interested in nonduality and they come again and again to our meetings.
What’s most important is a vision. A vision is different than an idea. You need more than merely an idea to hold meetings on nonduality or to start a website. You need to be driven by a vision or a calling. Otherwise nonduality will spit you out pretty quickly. I’ve been spit out myself when all I’ve had are ideas. I’ve started websites and forums that have died because they were nothing more than cool ideas. I’ve also been spit out of groups where I didn’t fit. That’s going to happen. But visions tend to manifest. And there has to be a fit. However, don’t be afraid to try stuff in the world of nonduality. I’ve had some successes and lots of failures.
As long as people have visions for some of kind work in nonduality, those visions will manifest wherever the visionaries live and work. They don’t need to be in Marin County or Byron Bay or the hotbeds in Germany or The Netherlands.
William Samuels, teaching back in the Sixties, was based in Alabama for gosh sakes! He was a teacher’s teacher; Masters came from around the world to sit with him in Ala-freaking-bama. The message then is to work from where you are and only if you have a true vision.
Is “non-duality” a good word, definition and or tag for this movement? It is unique and hard to tag and or classify, since it resides outside of religion(s), New Age movement, self-help industry etc.
I don’t know if it’s the good or not. It’s good for me. I bend the meaning of nonduality to suit my vision and I made up the term “Nonduality Movement.” There’s no finality or ultimate truth to what I’m doing. I’ve made up my own brand of nonduality. Since it isn’t tied to anything and invites reinvention and its own demise, it’s going to be hard to classify. You’re pointing to the hallmark of the current Internet Era of the larger Nonduality Movement: it can’t be classified; you can’t grasp it.
In addition, I use the word nonduality as a branding device. Some people prefer the terms singularity or totality. I use nonduality as my brand and everything I do has the word nonduality in it: Nonduality.com, Nonduality Highlights, Nonduality Street, Nonduality blog, Cinema Nondualie’, my meetup group is called Nonduality Satsang. My Twitter name is Nonduality. My book is One: Essential Writings in Nonduality. When people think of nonduality I would like them to think of what I promote, which is a free and independent nonduality in which they could partake and which they could shape.
Having exposed my personal reasons for liking the word nonduality, there are other reasons that I see: It’s still a new word, hence it is fresh and [fairly] free of nebulous and negative connotations; the word nonduality is a key which, when entered into search engines, opens worlds of discovery. Nonduality is a buzzword and not a bad buzzword; if you’re talking to someone and both of you know the word nonduality there is immediate common ground and potential bonding. Also the word nonduality is like the red pill in the movie The Matrix. Recall that in the movie The Matrix, Neo was offered either a blue pill or a red pill. The blue pill would have returned Neo back to his dream world whose unreality he sensed but did not understand. The red pill would have awakened him to who he really was, which would have begun his journey through life and to the source.
The word nonduality could work as a red pill if you value its meaning enough to follow it as deeply as you can. When Neo was being given his choice of pills, his teacher and mentor Morpheus explained to him:
“This is your last chance. After this there is no turning back. You take the blue pill, the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes. Remember, all I’m offering is the truth, nothing more….”
The word nonduality can be like the red pill.
How do you see this same flowering of expression in say the next 10 – 20 years?
Technology will make access to the teaching and to teachers even easier than today. We’ve seen how Facebook makes teachers very accessible. Google+ may take that accessibility to another level since it’ll be easy to get together on video. The separation between teacher and student will continue to narrow.
As well, more people will become exposed to nonduality. As they become exposed, they will find it easier to both notice nondual expression around them and to introduce nondual meaning into activities around them. In these ways the flowering of nondual expression will carry on further.
In very recent years we’ve seen the advent of such terminologies and fields of endeavor as nondual psychotherapy, nondual Judaism, nondual Christianity, nondual science, nondual spirituality, nondual inquiry, nondual awareness, nondual philosophy, nondual comedy, nondual cartoons, nondual knowledge, nondual wisdom, nondual healing, nondual teachers, nondual tantra, nondual presence, nondual pointing, nondual perspective, nondual contemplation, nondual coaching, nondual counseling, nondual parenting, nondual design, nondual brain, nondual retreats, nondual Yoga, nondual ecology, and I’ve even seen nondual Tweeting.
When I started popular nonduality, I don’t even think the word nondual was recognized as an adjective. The “non-dualizing” of everything will continue over the next several years.
Is the traditional Satsang model helping more folks and or just extending the obvious/inherent clichés that this model represents? I respect the tradition, but I am not a fan of sitting in a room with a bunch of folks and or listening to someone speak on a pedestal with flowers sitting all around them!
There’s nothing wrong with that model, but it’s no longer the primary form in which nondual encounters happen. Nondual encounters happen on Facebook with an ad for Groupon instead of a vase of flowers, and with a pop-up saying that someone poked you instead of a portrait of Papaji. They happen on the phone, on Skype video, on conference calls, and through other technologies. They happen at Starbucks.
However, the traditional Western Satsang model can be helpful. There’s still a time and place for it. The photos and flowers are gestures of respect. In that kind of setting it is implicit that the teacher is enlightened and the people in the audience are not enlightened. Some people benefit from that kind of dynamic.
When they appear in-person, many teachers these days simply sit in front of a room and talk, invite discussion, and entertain questions. They’ve done away with the flowers and photos.
I like what happens in small settings with a dozen or so people where there is no “front of the room.” People sit in a circle, around a table, or in a restaurant. There may be one or more leaders of the conversation, but there is not a teacher who is the ultimate authority. I like that approach and practice it in our Nonduality Satsang meetups in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Attendees tend to pretty quickly get what nonduality is about and they return to enjoy the company, the teachings, and the conversation (and the food). We have potlucks. We also rent a store space for the evening and everyone chips in to pay the rent.
Do you think that some “seekers” out there mistakenly make THIS [attending countless meetings/retreats/intensives/buying lots of books] their full-time occupation?
Devoting one’s time and energy to an investigation of the source of thoughts and conditioning isn’t a mistake unless it interferes with other natural commitments to family, health, finances and employment. But if you don’t need to work, if you have no family ties, need very little money, and aren’t overly concerned about your health, why not spend as much time as you can reading nonduality books, going to retreats and satsangs, and immersing yourself in the culture? You gotta do something in this life and if that’s your overriding interest, go for it.
Now there are non-seekers who spend their lives pursuing nonduality for the joy and curiosity of it, and there are seekers who pursue nonduality out of desperation to become something, to gain something, to resolve some burning question related to existence.
Neither kind of person is making any mistakes as long as their natural commitments in everyday life are not violated.
Speaking of books — tell us more about your “One – Essential Writings on Nonduality” title from Sentient Publications.
“One” was an extension of my website, Nonduality dot com.
My intention was to present in book form the spirit of Nonduality.com. Hence there is a variety of writings from different traditions and fields of endeavor. It’s a good introduction to nondual writings and perspectives.
The book shows that the teaching of nonduality is universal and it implies that the teaching can be found wherever you look. At one time [for a couple of days] the book was ranked number 300 on Amazon.com.
We are definitely living in some amazing [yet strange] times, how can the message of nonduality help most folks? And does this message have the capacity to reach those on a global scale? If so — what will it take to get it there? It seems like most teachers and or authors are oftentimes focused on helping individuals or small groups perhaps.
The teaching of nonduality has a reach as global as the technology and it is capable of being heard and understood by multitudes more than currently receive and understand the teaching.
The way nonduality is useful to a person is that it exposes a perspective which makes living life more effective, more spare, more direct, more natural.
However, there are two sides to nonduality. One side consists of the shedding of excessive action — drinking, drugs, too much partying, all our addictions and self-indulgent habits — and the shifting of attention from outward distractions to a realization of one’s nature as I Am. It is this side of nonduality that would be most useful to most people.
The other side is radical and consists of the shedding of even the I Am. If this happens spontaneously a person can be left in great freedom and great confusion for some time.
I don’t think any studies have been done to confirm this, but anecdotally it seems more and more people are becoming aware of nonduality throughout the world and since technology is making access to the teaching easier, this awareness will continue to grow.
Many thanks for your time and service. Is there anything else you would like to add?
Matthew, thank you for your contribution to a free and independent nonduality. I like how you go outside the box to find artists and others to feature on your site. I feel that’s important because it can be easy to interview only the current crop of accepted nondual personalities. So keep up the good work and thank you for inviting me to appear on your website.
Jerry Katz grew up in Paterson, New Jersey and Santa Monica, California, and for the last twenty years has resided in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He earned an M.S. degree in biology from the University of New Mexico where he conducted the University’s initial research into the pineal gland.
Some of his interests and pursuits include:
The Nonduality Highlights: a letter published daily since 1998.
Nonduality Satsang: monthly meetups in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Nonduality Street podcast
Senior Associate Editor of Paradoxica: Journal of Nondual Psychology.
Please enjoy this excerpt from Chapter Four entitled “Seeking Enlightenment” from Tom’s excellent One Drop Awareness book from Bliss Press. One Drop Awareness: Picturing Enlightenment and Nonduality, is a playful primer for oneness. It is an exploration of nonduality and the relationship between the appearance of form and formlessness, between growth, change, and evolution and the realization that everything is perfect as it is. It is also a collection of visual and textual pointing out instructions—nudges in the direction of enlightenment.
Siddhārtha Gautama, the Buddha, was a Hindu sage in the same way that Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, was a Jewish Rabbi. Both were driven by a desire to end suffering and reveal the hidden truth of existence. The Buddha built upon the truths of his day found in the Vedantic (Vedantic means way of knowledge or knowing) tradition.
The Vedantic tradition of Hinduism held that there were five causes of suffering:
• Not understanding the true nature of reality
• Attachment or clinging to transient phenomena
• Fear or repulsion of transient phenomena
• A false sense of identity
• Fear of death
Of course, they also said that the last four causes could be summed up in the first cause. When we do not understand the true nature of reality, we behave in ways that lead to suffering. And the true nature of reality is that everything that can be perceived is transient and impermanent and illusory.
The Buddha reduced suffering down to one cause. Duhkha, or suffering, was caused by the thirst for (craving or seeking after) things that were, by their very nature, impermanent. If our happiness is dependent upon things that are impermanent, our happiness is destined to be impermanent.
In fact, this Buddha character had a lot to say about suffering and seeking and enlightenment.
Pain and Suffering
It is important to remember that pain and pleasure are phenomena of this realm of incarnation. We cannot escape them. Trying to escape pain or pleasure is not the same as ending suffering. It, in fact, causes more suffering.
Pain and pleasure are temporary and fleeting experiences. When we dwell upon the pain of the past (the recollected self) or armor ourselves against the pain of an imagined future (the anticipated self), we create suffering. When we lament the fact that we are no longer experiencing a certain pleasure or live in anticipation of a pleasure yet to come, or when our focus in the moment becomes an opportunity for judging and evaluating what is arising as if we were providing play-by-play commentary upon our own existence, we miss the beauty of this moment and create suffering.
Pain is the experience we have. Suffering is the commentary we write in the aftermath of the experience.
I sometimes meditate with my dog. She is a German Shepherd named Maya. Actually, between the two of us, I am the only one capable of holding the concept that we are meditating. I am much better at turning my attention inward past the phenomena of thought to abide with that which is observing. She is much better at experiencing each moment as it arises.
She does not add unnecessary suffering to her day. If I accidently step on her paw, she barks, whines, and limps only as long as she needs to and then opens as love to me almost instantly. If my beloved, accidently hurts my feelings, I generally suppress my barking, whining and limping in such a way that it can be days before I realize how closed my heart has been and how much suffering I’ve added to a moment of pain.
From the Author
Honestly there aren’t many picture books about enlightenment, pure awareness, or nonduality (probably for good reason), but, since I don’t need to do anything because I am perfect as I am, and since I understand the trap in seeking my identity in the creation of some other form, I don’t suppose there is any harm in playing passionately with words and images and pulling them together to form a book.
I will also apologize in advance for treating this subject with some humor and inquisitiveness. So many teachers in the nondual tradition in the West seem to be so earnest and serious about their revelations. I don’t mean any disrespect. I just think that the truth of nondual awareness should liberate us to a more passionate engagement with the world.
I also understand that for some people, nondual awareness is simply true. It needs no other value than that it is true. For other people, however, nondual awareness is also useful in that it seems to bring an end to the suffering associated with separation and striving. Being something of a pragmatic mystic, I appreciate the truth, but find the usefulness, well, useful.
This is not meant to be the final word on enlightenment and nonduality. There are teachers and writers with a far greater depth of understanding than I possess. I am also writing as something of an outsider. I have been that dreaded thing—a self-confessed “spiritual seeker” and spiritual teacher—for nearly three decades and, if I have any kind of expertise, it is in knowing what doesn’t work, at least what doesn’t work for long.
I am not a guru. I am not even a very good teacher. I don’t know that I will ever reach that point where my eyes will glaze over in rapture as I pontificate on how there is no “me” anymore, but I do identify less and less with the “me” that has been seeking and teaching for so long.
This book is kind of a visual primer. Though I have read widely and learned a lot from other teachers, what I’m presenting in this book is expressed through a filter that I’m not sure those teachers would agree with. As much as anything, this book is a collection of the answers that have arisen from asking myself the most difficult questions about my own dissatisfactions and longing.
It is also important to stress that I’m communicating with words and pictures, but there is nothing special in the words or pictures. They are just pointers. When it comes to nondual realization, pointing out is the best we can do. I am consciousness pointing out consciousness. That doesn’t make me special. That doesn’t make the words special. If the words don’t point you to anything useful, let them go, but if they do point you to something useful, you also have to let them go. There is nothing in the words that you need to hang on to.
The challenge in talking about something like this is that I have to use concepts to describe a radical lack of conceptualization. I will use metaphors that draw distinctions: distinctions between emptiness and form, between oceans and waves, between waking and dreaming, but they are all just teaching tools. There are not two things, only one.
Our experience is always only one seamless, intimate totality. Only a subsequent thought appears to split it up into different categories of experience, such as mind, body and world, each made out of a different substance.
In fact, all experience is made out of the same stuff – it could be called ‘experience,’ ‘awareness,’ our self or ‘I.’
No part of experience is any closer to or further away from experience, awareness or our self than any other part. It is not even that the experience of the mind, body and world is close to experience, awareness or our self. It is closer than close. How close is an image to the screen?
There are not ‘two things’ in experience. In the final analysis, which is, in fact, just the analysis based on our true experience, it is not even correct to say that all experience of the mind, body and world are permeated or saturated with awareness or presence.
The statement that the mind, body and world are permeated or saturated with awareness or presence, implies that there is an independent mind, body and world present in the first place, which could be permeated by something that is other than or separate from itself, in the way that a sponge is permeated with water. But this is to start with the belief in the independent reality of the mind, body and world that are, in fact, never found as such.
However, such a statement is valid if we believe in the independent reality of the mind, body and world. It draws attention to the fact that every experience of the mind, body and world is utterly one with awareness or presence. It is a ‘half-way’ stage.
As it becomes more and more obvious that all experience is permeated with awareness or presence, the awareness or presence aspect of experience becomes more predominant and the apparently objective aspect of mind, body and world, that is, the changing names and forms, begin to lose their apparent solidity and independence.
Initially awareness seems to be the hidden, insubstantial, intermittent aspect of experience and the mind, body and world by contrast seem evident, substantial, stable and real. As such, we see only the objects mind, body and world. Then our attention is drawn to the fact that awareness permeates every apparently objective experience of the mind, body and world.
However, the more we contemplate our experience the more obvious it becomes, gradually in most cases, that awareness is, in fact, the stable, ever-present and substantial aspect of experience. As this becomes more and more our lived experience, so the corresponding reality of the mind, body, and world, as independent objects in their own right, begins to diminish.
This contemplation may begin at the level of the mind but in time it descends into the depths of our being and takes us over completely. It pervades our feelings and perceptions as well as our thoughts.
The world and awareness change places.
At a certain point there is a shift. The reality we once attributed to the mind, body and world is understood and experienced to reside with our self, awareness.
The experience of the mind, body and world in the waking state becomes more and more like the experience of them in the dream state. It loses its apparently independent, solid and separate reality, and is understood and experienced instead to be a dreamlike superimposition upon awareness.
Although we continue to see the appearances of the image on the screen, our actual experience is always only the screen itself.
It is not that normal experience becomes unreal or insubstantial. Rather, it is that the reality and substance of experience is known and felt to be made only of the intimacy of our own being, awareness.
The mind, body and world are experienced to be unreal as objects but real as awareness, just as the fields in a film are unreal as fields but real as screen.
However, they were only ever real as fields from the imaginary point of view of a separate self. From the real and only point of view of our self, awareness, experience is always only ever real, as awareness.
So the ‘object-ness’ of objects slowly fades and is replaced by the ‘present-ness’ of awareness, just as darkness is slowly replaced by light in the early hours of the morning.
We can never say how, when, why or where this dissolution happens precisely because the how, when, why and where dissolve along with the darkness. Those questions no longer remain to be answered.
This shift is natural. To begin with it may seem that we have to make efforts to understand this but after a while the truth of our experience, the obviousness of it, begins to impress itself upon us effortlessly.
It is like reaching the top of a hill and starting to walk down the other side. Suddenly the hill, which initially seemed to oppose our efforts, now begins to cooperate with them.
Or, we could say it is like doing a jigsaw puzzle. To begin with the pieces seem abstract, incoherent and unrelated. However, as we proceed the picture begins to fill out and it becomes easier and more obvious. There are less and less possibilities. This places us on a straight and narrow track where everything falls into place quickly.
It is the same here. All the mind’s objections are met with understanding until a time comes when there are no more objections left. The mind, which constructed the apparent duality in the first place, has deconstructed its own edifice.
Those residual bodily sensations that seemed to support the now discredited belief in a separate inside self and its correspondingly separate outside objects, others or world, are left to tell their empty story and are slowly consumed in the light of understanding.
This leaves us on the brink, in openness and unknowing.
From here awareness shines more and more brightly dissolving within itself any last vestiges of separation and otherness that linger out of habit, revealing awareness shining in and as itself. It doesn’t matter if it is long or slow, for there is nothing to wait for any more, nothing to long for, nothing that is lacking and no-one to wait.
Even our desire for truth or reality somehow loses its fierceness and can no longer really be called desire, for there is no room for desire here, however noble. Our desire is transformed into love. In fact, it was always love, disguised as desire by a thin veil of otherness.
It was always only that for which it was seeking.
The Transparency of Things
June 5 – 10, 2011, Rhinebeck Campus
Omega Institute for Holistic Studies
I am very happy to be able to bring you Part 2 of this post. This is a series of pointers to how the Western approach can assist with one’s self-inquiry. It is less a historical survey, and more a collection of Western views that might serve as tools for inquiry, along with suggestions on how these tools might be used.
In case you missed Part 1, with Greg’s permission, we are serializing an updated version of his book Nondualism in Western Philosophy (which is not available anywhere else on the web for free). Without further ado, here is Part 2.
Materialism is the view that reality consists solely of things having a location in space. Most materialists proceed reductively, arguing that things we take to be non-material are actually material things. We are mistaken, they say, to take things like minds, thoughts, and free will as non-material things.
One prominent kind of materialism is atomism, which holds that the one kind of thing that exists is tiny particles of matter. The earliest atomists are Leucippus (c. 450 BCE), his student Democritus (c. 460-360 BCE), and Lucretius (99-55 BCE). As a theory, atomism has two objectives. One, identify the world’s ultimate ingredient by explaining the complex in terms of the simple, and two, allow for change and diversity. Atomism holds that what truly exists are tiny, solid, indivisible particles too small to be seen with the naked eye. The atoms exist within a limitless field of empty space and are compressed together in various degrees of density. The interplay of atoms and space leaves room for the atoms to move and touch each other. The world, the person and the eye itself are all made of these atoms. The eye cannot see the atoms themselves, but can see their effects as they move, collide and combine.
In his Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690), John Locke proposes an updated version of atomism called “corpuscularianism.” This is a claim that all matter is made of minute corpuscles which themselves have no observable properties or discernable causal relations to what we actually observe. Locke’s denial of observable properties to the corpuscles makes some sense – for if the corpuscles are too small to be seen, then how can they have observable properties? But this unobservability thesis gets Locke into trouble with George Berkeley (1685-1753), the most famous “idealist.” After Berkeley, philosophy took a turn towards the nonmaterial side, and corpuscularianism became more of an explanatory hypothesis than a metaphysical theory.
Modern philosophical materialism is not necessarily atomistic. It is largely an attempt to solve the puzzle as to why mental things such as thoughts and feelings seem so much different from physical things such as rocks and trees.
Psychologist B.F. Skinner (1904-1990) has been accused of materialism because of his denial of personal autonomy. In his shocking and popular Beyond Freedom and Dignity (1971), Skinner argues against the notions of a thinking, willing, choosing faculty in mankind. These notions lead to blame and punishment, which Skinner argues do not serve to improve society. Skinner suggests another way to understand human behavior and improve society. This is to think of behavior as completely determined by conditioning, which is made up of genetic background and life history. If we improve people’s physical and social environments, we will improve society. The arguments and emphasis are similar to the teachings of Ramesh Balsekar, Wayne Liquorman, Tony Parsons and others.
More recent philosophical materialisms are explicit attempts to account for mental phenomena in terms of physical phenomena. Psychologist U.T. Place asked, ‘Is Consciousness a Brain Process?’ in a 1956 article, and argued that mental states just are brain states. This is called the “identity theory.” But identity works both ways, and critics noted that mind/brain identity does not do what the materialist wants, which is to show how mental terms are empty and physical terms are not.
In other words, identity theorists wanted to favor the brain by saying, “the brain is what the mind is identical to; therefore the brain is basic and mental terms are empty.” But since identity is bilateral, it also allows the idealist to favor the mind by saying “the mind is what the brain is identical to; therefore the mind is basic and physical terms are empty.” This warranted inference from the materialists’ own premises did not sit well with the them, so they sought other theories that allowed them to eliminate mental terms.
The Myth of Jones: Eliminative Materialism
“Eliminative materialism” does intend to discard the mental model in favor of the physical. It argues that commonsense or “folk” psychology, which speaks of mental states, beliefs and feelings, is simply mistaken about our cognitive processes. Folk psychology’s most important terms simply do not refer to anything, according to eliminative materialism, whereas terms for brain states and brain functions have verifiable referents.
Eliminativists take advantage of the philosophical momentum provided by Gilbert Ryle (1900-1976) and Wilfrid Sellars (1912-1989). In The Concept of Mind (1949), Ryle comes down on the physical side of traditional Cartesian dualism. He examines mental concepts, attempting to show how they invariably appeal to the actions and interactions between physical bodies. What we are really talking about, he argues, is bodies, not minds. The notion that there is a “ghost in the machine” or a conscious inner controller directing our actions, Ryle calls a “category mistake.” To think that anger is truly a state of mind is just such a mistake, because the only real category is a body – a body which at the moment happens to flush, speak loudly, move quickly and unpredictably. These are observations about bodies, not minds.
The eliminativist view is an alternative to what could be called the spectator view of the mind. The spectator view is the one that most denizens of the modern industrial scientific world grow up with. It posits an inner spectator within the theater of the mind. This spectator regards all sensory input, feels feelings, thinks thoughts, contemplates alternatives, makes choices and utters speech. This spectator’s job is to accurately represent the outer world in thought, and communicate it accurately to others.
The spectator view is one of the main barriers to nondual understanding. According to this view, the spectator is metaphysically distinct from that which it observes (the world). Inner is cut off from outer, and most everyone, after acceding to the notion of the inner observer, proceeds to identify with it. Eliminative materialism accepts most of the observations that folk psychology accepts, but does away with the dualities between inner and outer, subject and object, and seer and seen.
One of the most subtle and cogent presentations of eliminative materialism comes from Wilfred Sellars.
If bodies exist and minds do not, then how did the notion of mind arise in the first place? This is just what Wilfred Sellars tries to account for in his subtle and influential Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind (1956). Sellars tells a fascinating story called the “Myth of Jones.” Jones is one of our “Rylean ancestors.” Jones and his neighbors can do things and move and communicate, but they do not have or cannot recognize anything called experiences or “inner episodes.” When they talk about what they do, the language is phrased in terms of publicly observable characteristics. Sellars develops the myth by having Jones attribute the same physical states to his neighbors when they are silent and still as when they are talking and moving. To do this, Jones postulates inner states and thoughts and a controlling entity to his neighbors. After a while, talking in terms of states and inner controllers becomes comfortable and efficient, and voila! It’s as though the Ryleans had minds all along!
Early eliminativists might have gotten a boost from Ryle and Sellars, but the most recent weapon in the eliminativists’ arsenal is probably neuroscience. Paul and Patricia Churchland, in a series of publications including Paul’s paper “Eliminative Materialism and the Propositional Attitudes” (1981) and Patricia’s book Neurophilosophy: Toward a Unified Science of the Mind/Brain (1986) develop the overall argument that neuroscience is a much more rigid and reliable guide than folk psychology. Further neuroscientific research, they say, will show us what we are really talking about when we use those unreliable folk psychological terms such as ‘beliefs’ and ‘emotions’. Some day, say the Churchlands, we will be able to eliminate such talk.
Daniel Dennett is a well-known prolific writer who could be seen as a “soft eliminative materialist.”
In Consciousness Explained (1991) he does not so much try to negate mental phenomena as argue that they do not depend on a unitary mind. He combines neuroscience with philosophy and psychology in an attack on the spectator theory of consciousness. The spectator theory is another Cartesian legacy – the spectator is a unified inner observer who is aware of ideas being projected in a sort of theater of the mind. Dennett tries to eliminate this unitary observer with a kind of functionalistic artificial intelligence view, in which mental states are the software for the hard wiring of the brain.
The Only Substance There Is: Nonmaterialism
This kind of monism holds that there is only Being, God, mind, ideas or consciousness. It includes the following philosophical varieties: idealism, pantheism (all is God), panentheism (God is the nature of all, but lies beyond as well), and neutral monism (the basic stuff is neither physical nor mental). The more idealistic or consciousness-based monisms are similar to the Eastern philosophies of Advaita Vedanta, Buddhist Dzogchen and Buddhist Yogachara.
Plotinus’s monism is an early example of neutral monism. In his Enneads Plotinus embellished Plato’s notion of the One, or the Good. The One for Plotinus is self-caused, and causes the world as well. How does The One cause the world? Not by setting off a chain of chronological events, but by being what all things are at the simplest level. The One causes the world in the way the ocean causes waves. We can grasp the One not by observing properties of things, but by understanding what it is not. This is similar to the “neti-neti” (not this, not that) approach in Advaita Vedanta.
Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677)
In his Ethics (1677), Spinoza sets out a number of propositions which lead to his conclusion that God is the only substance. The argument relies heavily upon Spinoza’s characterization of “substance” and “God.” A substance is defined as having its own characteristics, which define just what it is. A substance can also have what Spinoza calls “affections,” which are non-essential characteristics. God is defined as that substance which has infinite characteristics, one of which is existence. The propositions relevant to Spinoza’s monism can be summarized into the following philosophical argument. And for modern readers, the notion of “awareness” or “universe” may be substituted for Spinoza’s “God.” Similar arguments have been made in Eastern teachings.
1. Two substances cannot share any characteristics.
2. God is a substance with infinite characteristics which all express eternal and infinite essence. With such characteristics, God exists, and cannot not exist.
3. Therefore, God is the only substance.
Getting from (1) and (2) to (3) depends on Spinoza’s notion of characteristics. According to (1), no two substances can have even one characteristic in common. According to (2), God has all the characteristics there are, and God exists. There are no characteristics left over for any other substance to have. Therefore, (3), no other substance exists.
Thinking of a Teacup: Idealism
Idealism holds that what we normally think of as physical objects is actually a mental substance. There are points of overlap among idealism, pantheism and the neutral monism of Plotinus.
John Scottus Eriugena (812-877)
In the middle ages, Eriugena gave the neoplatonic monism of Plotinus an idealist twist. Using sources from the Neoplatonic and mystical traditions, as well as from Eastern Orthodox Christianity, Eriugena argued in The Division of Nature that God is beyond being and non-being. With the assistance of Ideas in God, all things emanate from God and return back to God.
George Berkeley (1685-1753)
Berkeley is not a monist, but the reductionist par excellence. He argues resolutely for the nonmaterialist side of Descartes’ dualism in Three Dialogues Between Hylas and Philonous and A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge. There are no physical objects, just minds and ideas. Berkeley’s conclusion is so un-intuitive, and his arguments so clever and impassioned, that he remains one of the most famous idealists in the Western tradition. His approach is very similar to the early and difficult stages of the teachings of the great Advaitin, Shri Atmananda Krishna Menon.
Berkeley attempts to refute a widely held view that we now call the “representationalist theory of perception” (RTP), which holds:
(1) Physical objects possess observable qualities, including color, shape, size, hardness, texture, fragrance, etc.
(2) If you mentally strip away all observable qualities from an object, what is left is physical substance as their support and substrate, and it is not observable.
(3) Physical objects exist whether or not they are observed; they exist outside the mind.
(4) These external physical objects are perceived by causing our ideas of them; they do this by impinging upon our senses and then being communicated to the mind.
(5) Our ideas represent external objects by being likenesses of them.
RTP sounds plausible to most people, perhaps even today. But Berkeley disagrees with (2)-(5) above. He argues that rocks, trees and houses exist, but that they are really combinations of ideas. His argument is simple.
(B1) It cannot be doubted that the mind perceives ideas; for a mind to perceive an idea is for that idea to exist in that mind.
(B2) Ideas can exist only in a mind (not outside); also the mind cannot contain anything other than ideas.
(B3) What is not an idea cannot be perceived by the mind because mind has access only to ideas and to nothing else.
(B4) Because it exists only in a mind, an idea cannot be a likeness of an external object. What is outside the mind is not available to be compared with what is in the mind. The comparison cannot be made.
Because of (B1) – (B4), Berkeley argues, external material objects cannot be said to exist, because they are impossible to perceive. This conclusion is the basis of Berkeley’s famous dictum “esse est percipi,” or “to be is to be perceived.”
As an example, imagine the burning sensation we feel when our hand is in the fire. This sensation in us is not a likeness of a burning sensation within the fire itself. Therefore RTP’s statement (5) above is false. The other qualities of the fire – color, shape, sound, size, temperature, location – are analogous. They do not exist in the fire itself apart from the mind; they are ideas perceived by the mind. Since we cannot say that the fire, as an external object, is perceived at all, (4) above is false. Because (4) is false, (3) is also false, since nothing outside the mind can be perceived whatsoever. Because external physical objects are not perceived and hence cannot be said to exist, it is mere fantasy to talk about their makeup as composed of an external, unobservable material substance, with observable qualities that exist in the substance itself. So (2) is groundless. But Berkeley does accept (1), and interprets “physical” objects as ideas in combination.
This brings up the question, where do our ideas come from if not from external physical objects? For Berkeley, who was a bishop in good standing in the Church of England, there are only minds and ideas. So our ideas can come only from another mind – the mind of God. This also solves for Berkeley the problem of the continued existence of things. Does the pen on my desk actually go out of existence when I’m not thinking of it? No, says Berkeley, because God is thinking of the pen at all times, even when I am not.
Berkeley is not officially a monist because in the majority of his philosophical writings he accepts both minds and ideas. But there have been hints that he also had a private theory, according to which he applied similar arguments to the notion of mental substance (a thinking mind) as he applied to the notion of physical substance. There is also some indication that later in his life, Berkeley quietly adopted a pantheistic monism.
Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762-1814)
After Descartes, Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) became the most influential dualist. After the revolutionary influence of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason (1781, 1787), no one, especially in Germany, could write philosophy without attempting to reconcile the gap that Kant seemed to have widened between knowledge and its object. Kant’s Critique argued that the object in itself is totally independent of our knowledge of it. This independence renders the object utterly unknowable. Many subsequent philosophers reacted to Kant’s subject/object gap by emphasizing the subject or knower-side of the gap, and building the world of objects from the knower. This subject-side emphasis became the keynote to German Idealism.
Johann Gottlieb Fichte made the first move. In his Science of Knowledge (1794), Fichte chooses to begin with the subject side because he sees the knowing subject (and not the inert, unknowable object) as the basis of moral freedom and autonomy.
Fichte’s argument is an early nondual tour de force. It seeks to reconcile free will with physical causation, as well as self with other. It is an attempt to explain the world and our experience by using no conceptual building blocks other than the “I.”
Specifically Fichte strives to reconcile two seemingly opposed everyday notions – the freedom of the self vs. the causal necessity which was generally believed in his time to be an intrinsic property of objects in the material world. That is, the will is supposedly free, but an apple necessarily falls from a tree. How can this be reconciled? He begins with the proposition that “the I posits itself.” He then maps the progress of the I’s development. The next movement is “the I posits itself as an I,” followed by “the I posits itself as self-positing.” This latter shows that the I is self-aware, which is the self-consciousness that all consciousness entails. The I is always immediately present to itself, prior to any sensory content. Because the I is unitary, and it exists through and as something that posits itself, the I is both a fact and an act. The I is not any kind of substance, rather its nature is that it self-posits. The I’s freedom is not absolute, rather, it discovers and senses a limitation. This limitation starts as a feeling, then a sensation, then an intuition, and then a concept. Thus is the entire world created from the I. Fichte’s I is not an absolute I like the Brahman or Self of Advaita Vedanta, but a finite, empirical self.
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831)
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831) built one of the grandest monistic systems in all of Western philosophy. In The Phenomenology of Spirit (1807) he argues that nothing less than Absolute Spirit (God, consciousness) is the basis of all phenomena. The history of the world is actually the evolution of Spirit. As Spirit evolves toward self-definition and self-consciousness, the world becomes more sophisticated. Spirit moves in a dialectical way. Something is posited. This can be called the thesis. As the thesis undergoes self-development, it inevitably encounters its own limits. These limits also develop and help spawn the antithesis. As Spirit moves to resolve the tension between thesis and antithesis, it rises to a higher level and forms the synthesis, which encompasses and accounts for the two.
This tripartite dialectic can be seen from the human perspective as the evolution of consciousness. In an individual observer, subjective consciousness asserts itself, discovers its limitations, and discovers other people and their activities. By seeing that it is also instantiated in other locations, subjective consciousness realizes its universal characteristics. It therefore becomes objective consciousness. But this subjective/objective distinction is not static as in Kant’s philosophy. Hegel argues that it is actually a movement. The movement is the progress of absolute consciousness (God or Absolute Spirit) as it becomes more developed and self-aware.
The evolution of Absolute Spirit can also be seen, Hegel argues, in cultural progress. Art makes the first appearance on the world stage. It is likened to subjective consciousness. Religion follows. Because of its recognition of the objectified otherness and subjectivity of God, religion is analogous to objective consciousness. Philosophy makes its entrance later still; it encompasses both art and religion; it manifests as the self-conscious recognition of the Absolute’s development.
Philosophical monism of the idealist sort, similar to Hegel and Fichte’s, was taken up by English-speaking philosophers over the next century. British Idealists such as Thomas Hill Green (1836-1882), Francis Herbert Bradley (1846-1924), and the Americans Josiah Royce (1855-1916) and Brand Blanshard (1892-1987) argued during their careers that the Idea is metaphysically basic. The most recent idealist work from these writers is Blanshard’s The Nature of Thought (1939), in which he tackles the traditional problem of the relation between the idea and its object. His conclusion is clever and unique: it’s all a matter of degree. Blanshard argues that the object just is the idea, more fully realized.
*Stay tuned for [the last] Part Three in a future post.
Greg Goode has been a philosophical counselor since 1996 and has extensive experience with online consultation. As a philosophical counselor, Greg is nationally certified by the American Philosophical Practitioners Association, trained by Prof. Lou Marinoff, author of the well-known Plato Not Prozac! and by California State University, Fullerton’s J. Michael Russell —a true pioneer in the philosophical consultation movement.
Greg is a well-known innovator for having combined the ancient “direct-path” method of self-inquiry with modern electronic media. Nondual inquiry includes the powerful teachings of Advaita Vedanta and Mahayana Buddhism. Greg studied Advaita Vedanta through the Chinmaya Mission, Sri Atmananda, Jean Klein, and Francis Lucille. He studied the Mahayana teachings of Pure Land Buddhism through Jodo-Shinshu, and studied Chinese Middle-Way Buddhism through the lineage of the pre-eminent scholar of Chinese Buddhism, Master Yin-Shun of Taiwan, P.R.C., author of The Way to Buddhahood.
All text herein copyright Greg Goode, 2007. All rights reserved. Except for brief quotations in critical articles or reviews, no part of this monograph may be reproduced in any manner without prior permission from the author.
Today we have a special treat for our readers. It’s an exclusive writing from the book that she is currently working on. The book will be called ‘From Awakening to Liberation’. Please enjoy this excerpt from Chapter 3; Desire.
All desire arises from an innate lack of contentment. While nothing that mind can imagine and want is of any real value, the personal ‘I’ will ensure that each day is peppered with efforts to fulfill desires. In fact when identified thought is running, there is interest in little else. It is the nature of desire to prompt the mind to create a world for its fulfillment.
The state of craving for anything inhibits deeper experience. When mind is fixated on a desire, maturation is arrested. If you inquire into yourself, all you really desire is desirelessness. Desirelessness can be recognized as the moment of satisfaction when desire is fulfilled. There is calmness, perfection and a feeling of completeness. Desire for an object or experience is a compensation for the lack of fulfillment of the ultimate desire – desirelessness. There is no end to the cyclical nature of desire; however, the cycle falls away when it is seen to be a looped pattern of thinking. The perpetuation of desire is predicated on the fact that personal ‘I’ desires the very thing that cannot come by desire.
The smallest desire has the ability to ignite a long line of action as one objective idea feeds the next. To engage in desire is a lack of discrimination; let it be seen that acquiring objects, be it a car or a lover, can never bring you to the end of desire. In order for you to enjoy something it must first be objectified by mind as an independent form or formless experience. There is only movement in consciousness which we call life force or functioning and we give names to create an objectified world. Then if this apparent division into subject-object is taken to be true, the desires to have and to own, to acquire and enjoy, will follow. Thus the mind will make the body dance to its tunes.
When a desire is fulfilled the personal ‘I’ is happy for a while. This happiness arises because of the absence of desire and has nothing to do with the properties of the object of desire. Original perfection is restored when desire is not running. If you imagine yourself to be separate from the world then the world will appear as separate from you, and you will experience desire and fear. As long as there is identification with the body, attractions and repulsions will operate. You cannot but see the world through the ideas you have about yourself. Managing desire has nothing to do with your relationships with objects of desire; it is your own misunderstanding that requires correction. Find out how the perception of objects arises in mind and do not follow thought patterns in ignorance.
There is no object which is of a different nature from the subject, and as there is only the subject, how can it be seen as an object? Let it be realized that there is only subject and then it is clear that there can be no division in such a vision. All experience rests on the reality of objects. If you investigate you will find that objects are unreal. Thus the effect of an unreal object is also non-existent and the experience of any effect is delusion. Let the end of desire and experience come into view through correct seeing. Understand that the world has no real existence and it will no longer be troublesome.
It can be said that desire is the memory of pleasure and that fear is the memory of pain. These are simply habits of mind. Once you know they are impermanent and not real, why bother with them? Pull attention away from the personal and impersonal, and all of this is just the flickering of energy. If you cannot, then there is a deeper understanding and a dropping of attachments that needs to take place. When mind turns to go outward, turn it inward instantly. It goes out due to the habit of looking for happiness in objects, but if you have seen that external objects are not the cause of happiness, then it is time to keep the direction of mind in check. In all whom search for truth there is a root desire to be free from misunderstanding, free from the personal. This pursuit continues for as long as you can be seduced by pleasure and goaded by pain, because desire continually agitates the mind. Desire is at the root of all misunderstanding. For as long as desire continues to hold your attention, the sense of good and bad, right and wrong, acceptable and unacceptable, will inevitably continue.
Jac O’ Keeffe was raised in rural Ireland and after university she worked in the overlap between creative arts and community development. In an attempt to unpack her catholic, Irish rearing, she consistently attended therapeutic processes from the age of 20.
In 1997 Jac was working as a freelance arts consultant when her first significant spiritual experience took place. In a moment, her 6th sense opened and the normally invisible energies appeared before her.
She was able to see chakras, past lives and spirits from other dimensions and she had no skills to process any of this. Fearful, yet intrigued by these phenomena she gained knowledge and understanding of healing and of energy work. Within 6 months she closed her business and began working first as a ghost buster, then as an energy worker. At the end of what unfolded as a seven-year phase, her inner journey brought her to the point of having to surrender all, both internally and externally. Leaving her familiar life, she spent three months in a campsite in Spain and began to follow the path as a disciple of a spiritual master.
Finding her way to southern India in 2006, many realizations came to fruition and the spiritual path fell away. In Tiruvannamalai she came across literature and speakers of non-duality for the first time, and this offered the language and pointers to what was already directly understood. Transcendence of dualistic thought stabilized over the following three years in India and she was invited to give satsang for the first time in 2009.
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Life Without A Centre is about the non-separation (‘nonduality’) between you and your world. It is about the origin of suffering, and the discovery of freedom within that very suffering.
It is about the ways in which we try to run away from uncomfortable and painful experiences, and the possibility of discovering ease and relief right in the midst of those experiences. It is about seeking, and the end of seeking. It is about seeing life as it is, right now. ~ Jeff Foster
1.) Are you a teacher?
Well, I don’t consider myself to be a ‘teacher’, in the same way that I don’t consider you to be my ‘student’. I don’t feel that I have anything that you lack. I’ve always seen what I do as a kind of sharing. A sharing between friends of something that’s really too intimate, too alive, too present to talk about. And yet talking happens, and that’s part of the adventure.
Why would one share the sunset? Well, why not?
Why do I talk about nonduality? Well, why not.
Call me a teacher, or call me a friend, or call me nothing at all, it doesn’t really matter in the end. I am what you are. Underneath our individual stories, what could possibly separate us?
2.) Do you consider yourself to be enlightened or awakened?
Well, to see myself as ‘enlightened’ or ‘awakened’, as a rare and special human being, as different from or better than you in any way, I would, on some level, have to separate myself from you. I would have to tell a story about what I am, and about what you are not. It would be my own belief – I would have to believe my own story. It would be my own dream.
Beyond the dream of identity, how can I know what I am? Beyond the dream, how could I ever separate myself from you?
“I’m enlightened” or “I’m awakened” or “I get this and you don’t” or “I’ve transcended the ego and you haven’t” (and the list of boasts and claims made by the ego are infinite) are all just thought-constructed identities.
In other words, somebody who thinks they are ‘enlightened’, and that you are not, is simply somebody with a belief that they – a separate individual – are ‘enlightened’ and you are not. They see themselves and you as separate. Beyond this, there is no way of knowing that you are ‘enlightened’ – and so there is no enlightenment. The question ‘are you enlightened?’ becomes totally irrelevant when things are seen clearly. The question simply burns up in the clarity of present seeing.
3.) Somebody who claims to be enlightened still sees themselves as separate perhaps?
Of course, since there is no other way to see yourself as enlightened! A self-image, including any ‘enlightened’ self-image, is always separate. It is always part of the dream.
This message is about seeing through the dream of separation. That’s why when it comes to this message, there are no authorities, no ‘enlightened’ or ‘awakened’ people, no gurus and no disciples. It is the person, ‘enlightened’ or not, that is seen through in the end.
An authority figure is someone who thinks that they know. This message is all about the not-knowing. And who could be an authority on not-knowing? Can I know more about not-knowing than you? Can I possess more nothing than you? Can there be any more Being here than there is there? Can there be an authority on life? Or is life itself the only authority?
4. What is enlightenment or awakening? Do those words have any meaning?
Okay. So let’s take a fresh look at those words. You see, for me, enlightenment has nothing to do with ‘somebody’ becoming ‘enlightened’. That’s the mind talking. That’s the voice of the seeker.
Awakening has nothing to do with ‘somebody’ becoming ‘awakened’. That’s the myth. That’s the dream – the ultimate dream of the ego, in fact.
‘Enlightenment’ is simply a word that points to the en-lightened nature of life itself. If something is en-lightened, it is in the light. It is lit up. It is visible. And what can be seen is this: Life itself is already fully visible – it is already fully enlightened, filling all space, appearing as everything, right here and right now.
Open your eyes and the world is simply there. What a miracle! Sights, sounds and smells simply appear. A bird singing. Hunger. Cars whooshing past. A thought about last night’s football match. Life simple appears, out of nothing. It appears, and is seen, and life is not separate from that seeing. Was there ever anybody here separate from this seeing? Was there ever anybody here, separate from life, who could become enlightened? Maybe that was part of the dream…
Similarly, ‘awakening’ is simply a word that points to the ever-present awakeness of life itself. Life is not asleep, it is awake. Life is not switched off, it is switched on. It is already awake to itself, appearing as everything. It is already awake to sights, sounds, smells, to colours, textures, movement. To the sound of that bird singing. To present feelings in the body. Was there ever anybody here separate from this ever-present awakeness? Was there ever anybody here who could become awakened? Maybe that was part of the dream too…
5.) Could it be said the, that Life Without A Centre is about the discovery of who I really am?
It is the discovery of what you are – and what you are not! All your life you have taken yourself to be an individual, a separate person. You live with a story of yourself, a self-image that you attempt to protect and defend. This story becomes your identity – who you think you are – and you end up forgetting who you really are, beyond that story.
Thought weaves a story about who you are, based on past experience. Before you know it, you are a ‘someone’ rather than a no-one. You are a person in a world. You have a past and a future. You try to fit in, to adapt, to make things go the way you want them to, to make your life work. You build up a list of achievements and failures. You work on yourself. You try to fix yourself. When asked, you tell your story of ‘me’. You listen to stories about other ‘me’s’, and compare and contrast, defend and attack these stories, forgetting that your ‘me’ is simply a story, and that story cannot even begin to describe what you really are.
You start to believe that this ‘me’ really exists outside of thought. You take it to be so much more than a story. You start to believe that this ‘me’ is who you really are! You defend this illusory story of ‘me’, and forget that you are defending nothing more than an image appearing in awareness. This is the origin of all violence and suffering. Violence and suffering do not begin ‘out there’ in the world, they begin with ‘you’.
The ‘me’ is your personal journey, your life story. It holds everything: Your successes and failures. Your past and future, your memories and projections. Your beliefs, your judgements, your opinions. Your fears, your regrets, your worries, you’re seeking. I refer to it all as ‘the story’, because that’s ultimately what it is, a story, a narrative, a tale, appearing in awareness, appearing in the present moment… and there is only the present moment.
Ultimately, your entire past and future are merely thoughts appearing in the present moment, and that’s the only reality this personal ‘you’ has. The personal ‘you’ has no reality outside of presently arising thoughts…
6.) Is there anything wrong with having a story of ‘me’?
Well, there is nothing wrong with the story, in itself!
Many people believe that this ‘individual self’ is what they are, and they ignore the space, the openness, the vast ocean of Being in which the ‘individual’ arises. They identify exclusively as a ‘separate person’ and never stop to ask if that is what they truly are.
You see, this message points to the possibility that you are not what you think you are.
You have taken yourself to be a separate wave in a vast ocean. You see yourself as a little person in a vast ocean full of other people. You see yourself as an individual in a world which is fundamentally separate from you.
But of course, the ‘separate wave’ in the ocean is not really ‘separate’ from the ocean at all! The ‘separate wave’ is really just the ocean appearing temporarily as a wave.
The wave is actually one-hundred percent water. In essence, it’s the same as the ocean. And so really there is no ‘separate wave’ at all.
There only appears to be a separate wave. The wave is in appearance only. It is a temporary appearance of the ocean.
You – what you take yourself to be – the person, the character, the ‘me’, only has existence as an appearance, a story appearing now in boundless Being, a story which is ultimately not separate from Being…
7.) Is nonduality all about getting rid of this separate wave? Is it about getting rid of the appearance of the ‘me’ and falling back into the ocean?
Perhaps it does sound like I’m saying that the appearance of the separate person is a problem and we should get rid of it. But who is going to get rid of the wave? The wave? How can the wave get rid of itself?
This is one of the traps that people fall into when they identify themselves as being ‘spiritual seekers’. They think that they need to get rid of the wave in order to reach the ocean, and there seem to be a lot of spiritual teachers and gurus out there who believe the same thing. Some spiritual teachers implore you to ‘kill the ego!’ or ‘destroy the mind!’ or ‘get rid of the self!’ and miss the fact that the attempt to kill the ego is that very ego, and the effort to destroy the mind is the mind, and so on…
The point is, the wave is already fully ocean. Any attempt to get rid of the wave is the wave attempting to get rid of itself.
Years ago, when I was a very serious and intense spiritual seeker, I tried desperately to get rid of Jeff, the character, the person. But this attempt ultimately ended in failure and frustration, because I was trying to get rid of something that wasn’t actually there! I was fighting an illusion, and when you fight an illusion, you are assuming that the illusion is real. What you fight, you give life to. What you resist, persists, as they say.
You don’t need to get rid of an illusion. To expose the illusion as an illusion is enough. To expose an illusion is to end it.
And so the attempt to destroy the ego, transcend the mind, kill the self, get rid of the ‘me’ – in other words, the spiritual search – is really just a war with life. It’s water fighting water.
Luckily, my spiritual seeking failed. And in that failure, this other possibility shone through – a possibility that went beyond seeking and finding, beyond ‘me’ getting what ‘I’ wanted, beyond my personal desire to become an enlightened person. Beyond the seeker and the sought, there was – and is – only unconditional love…
Nonduality does not mean ‘not-duality’ – that would be completely dualistic! In reality, nonduality includes (the appearance of) duality, because it is everything. It is nothing – no-thing – and it is everything.
Ultimately, nonduality appears as duality. They are one and the same. Then you can’t even speak of ‘nonduality’.
In other words, the appearance of the separate wave is not a problem for the Ocean. The appearance of your life story is itself a perfect expression of Being. In this unconditional love, nothing is denied.
And so it was never about getting rid of Jeff. It was always about falling in love with Jeff, and through him, everything…
8.) How does the experience of being a separate person relate to seeking?
The individual, the separate person, is a seeker. The separate person always seems to be looking for something more. The gift of this moment never seems to be enough. They experience lack, and look into the future to find the end of lack (which is of course, a projection of themselves).
The moment you have an individual, a wave separate from the Ocean, somebody separate from life – you have a seeker.
The moment there is separation, the moment there is two (one ‘thing’ separate from another ‘thing’), you have a longing to return to One. You have the experience that something is missing.
The moment there is separation, there is a longing to end the separation.
It’s out of the sense of separation – which manifests in the individual as the sense that there is something missing in the present moment – that we begin to seek. We seek to fill a hole in our lives, to put an end to the sense that we aren’t quite whole, the sense that we are not quite complete. And we look out into the world (in other words, into time and space) to try and put an end to this sense of lack at the heart of our experience.
But no matter how much we achieve in the world, no matter how much money we make, no matter how many spiritual experiences we have, no matter how ‘enlightened’ we get, no matter how many times we meet our ‘perfect partner’ or get the ‘perfect job’, we never seem to feel complete. No matter how much we find, the seeking seems to carry on. We get the new car, the new house, the new job, the new lover, the new guru, the new spiritual high, and it all satisfies for a while… but then the seeking starts up again. There always seems to be a longing for something more. We just can’t seem to shake off the sense that we are incomplete.
But here’s the problem – the individual, the seeker, is the very sense of lack he seeks to be free from.
How can the individual (separation, lack, seeking) put an end to separation? This is the dilemma which every seeker faces in the end.
9.) When I feel separate, I seek. How is separation and seeking related to Oneness or wholeness?
Well, really the search of a lifetime is the search for wholeness, for Oneness, for the end of separation. We think we are looking for money, for power, for wealth, for love, for spiritual experiences, for enlightenment, for liberation, for Nirvana.
What we are actually looking for is wholeness.
You see, if we’re honest, we don’t really want material wealth, power, success. We don’t really want to become an ‘awakened’ or ‘enlightened’ person. What we really long for is to end the sense of being a separate person, to end the sense of being someone over here looking for something over there, to end the sense of being a seeker separate from what is sought.
What we really long for is just to come Home. To finally come Home to what we are. To finally see life for what it really is, beyond our concepts about what it is.
The seeking can become so exhausting. The fight against life can drive us to despair, to depression, to addiction, or simply to a lifelong sense that there is something missing, that we ‘aren’t there yet’, that we ‘aren’t good enough’, that we are sinners, losers, failures…
Perhaps it’s the failure of seeking that points us Home in the end.
10.) Separation is seeking, and seeking is always about the search for wholeness…if so, how do we stop this process? How do we stop seeking?
Good question. But can you see that the search for the end of seeking is just more seeking? This is another trap on the spiritual search. We see that seeking is the ‘problem’ (in the sense that seeking is the very sense of lack we are trying to overcome) and so we try to give up seeking. We seek the end of seeking, and the seeking never seems to end.
11.) If we can’t stop seeking, and seeking the end of seeking is just more seeking, what can we do?
As Krishnamurti said: “There is no how to be free. If you ask how, you’ve stopped listening.”
If you ask ‘how do I – a separate person – stop seeking?’, you’ve already stopped listening to what is being communicated here.
This message is about the possibility that there never was a separate person – there never was anybody there separate from life. There never was a seeker separate from what was sought. The question ‘how do I stop seeking?’ is rooted in faulty assumptions about who you really are.
And so the question “how do I stop seeking?” is replaced by “is there actually anybody there who can seek or not seek?”
The question “how do I stop seeking?” is replaced by “is there a seeker at all?”
At the heart of your experience, can you actually find a seeker? Can you actually find somebody there who is separate from life? Can you actually find a person there who is living your life? Or is there just the present appearance of life?
Is it true that you are a separate person doing breathing, doing seeing, doing hearing, doing thinking? Or are breathing, seeing, hearing, thinking just happening? Have you ever stopped to look, with fresh eyes? Or have you been on automatic pilot your whole life, just accepting what the world tells you about life and yourself, and never questioning it? Do you believe that parents, teachers, gurus, masters have the answers, and have you accepted their answers unquestioningly?
12.) How can I see that I’m not separate from life? It seems as though I am!
Well, that’s the play. Of course it seems as though you are separate. Of course it seems as though there’s a me and a you. Of course it seems as though I’m over here and you’ve over there. Of course it seems as though there’s somebody here subjectively looking out at a solid, objective world. It’s supposed to seem that way. The seeming is the appearance. The seeming is the play. The seeming is the dance – the dance of duality.
But beyond the seeming, is there actually any separation?
Right now, what is happening? For a moment, if you can, and if you are willing, put everything you believe on hold, suspend all your second-hand knowledge, forget for a moment what you’ve been told by teachers, gurus, authorities, and look with fresh eyes at life. Look with fresh eyes at your own experience. Begin again, like a child seeing the world for the first time.
Right now, are sounds appearing? Listen: sounds simply happen. Without any effort, without you having to do anything, sounds simply appear. The sound of breathing. The sound of cars beeping their horns outside. The television blaring. A bird singing.
There is simply the spontaneous play of life.
And then a secondary movement seems to happen: thought comes in and says “I am hearing”. “I am a separate person, hearing these sounds. There’s me, and there’s the sounds. I am the subject, and the sound is the object. There is a perceiver and the perceived.”
But does this separation ever really happen? In direct, unfiltered experience, is there any evidence that there is somebody here, hearing sounds? Is there actually a person here who does the hearing, or is hearing simply happening, effortlessly? Is there somebody here doing sounds, or do sounds simply appear spontaneously?
Yes, thought says “I hear the sounds”, but this begs the question, what is this ‘I’ who hears the sounds? Is there really an ‘I’ hearing the sounds? Who hears the sounds?
13.) There is hearing, and then a thought says ‘I am hearing’?
Well, in direct experience, right now, can you find two things (the one who hears the sound, and the sound itself)? Or is there just the sound, being heard, effortlessly?
Is any personal doing involved in hearing? Or does hearing just happen?
Could it be that the hearing of the sound, and the sound, were never separate? Can you find any dividing line at all, in your direct experience, between the hearing of the sound and the sound? Any gap in time, or distance, between the sound and the hearing of the sound?
Can you find the one who hears the sound over here, separate from the sound over there? Or are ‘over here’ and ‘over there’ never part of your actual experience?
Are there two things? Or is there just the singular movement of life?
Same goes with seeing, thinking, feeling. Can you find anybody here doing seeing, doing thinking, doing feeling? Or are seeing, thinking and feeling simply happening, effortlessly?
A question asked by spiritual teachers throughout the ages: Who sees? Who thinks? Who feels?
14.) Is this what you mean by Life Without A Centre?
Well, can you actually find somebody there at the centre of life doing hearing, doing seeing, doing feeling? Or is everything happening spontaneously – in a very mysterious way – without you?
Without the thought “I hear”, hearing still happens, doesn’t it?
Without the thought “I see”, seeing still happens, doesn’t it?
We say “I am thinking, I am feeling, I am seeing.” But in direct experience, isn’t it more true to say that thoughts just appear? Feelings in the body just appear? Sights and sounds and smells just appear?
That they don’t appear to ‘you’ or for ‘you’, they just appear?
That life isn’t happening to ‘you’ or for ‘you’, it’s just happening?
That really life has no centre?
That really, there is simply the present appearance of everything?
This is the dream: that you are a person at the centre of your life, somehow separate from life. That you are a person doing life, a person controlling life, a person in charge of life, a person orchestrating thoughts, feelings, sights, sounds smells…
See that life is just living itself. This is not ‘your’ life, this is just life. Freedom from the burden of individuality cannot be found by the individual in time. Freedom from individuality is right at the heart of individuality. True freedom is not freedom from the personal. It’s freedom in the personal. Freedom as the personal. As Jesus said, you have to lose your life to save it. Perhaps this is what he was pointing to…
15.) Do you offer a practice, a method, something that I can do that will bring me closer to what you’re saying?
Well, in a way, if you ask for a practice, you’ve not been listening to what I’m saying. You’ve already concluded that you are not there, and that you need a practice or method to take you there. Of course, if this is what you believe, it becomes true for you. If you believe that you are not there, then you will need time to get there, wherever you think ‘there’ is!
Of course, when it is discovered that there is really here, the question ‘how’ dissolves. Because the end of seeking, as I always say, is life as it is. The end of seeking is not something to be found by the seeker in the future. The end of seeking is the seeing-through of that very seeker – a timeless seeing that is always now.
The end of seeking is hidden in and as the seeker. Ingenious!
I’m not saying that practices and methods are wrong, or bad. You will find yourself doing practices or not. I’m certainly not saying “don’t do a spiritual practice because all spiritual practices are dualistic” – of course, that would just be a practice in itself. The practice of no practice. The anti-practice practice.
Some people meditate, some people self-enquire, some people visit gurus, some people just like walking in nature or listening to music. It’s all life, it’s all absolutely appropriate to each and every dream, and I’m not here to tell you how to live or what to do. But what these words are really pointing to is the possibility that there is nobody there separate from life in the first place – and that life itself is not the result of any practice.
You see, no practice can bring you closer to life. There is only life, and all practices, and absence of practices, appear within life, which is what you and where you are. If you think you are closer to life, or further away from life, these are just thoughts appearing within life. ‘Closer’ and ‘further away’ are simply concepts appearing in that which is prior to, and beyond, all concepts.
Some people do meditation because they think it will get them closer to what I’m pointing to. Some people do self-enquiry because they think it will get them closer to what I’m pointing to. Some people give up practices altogether because they think it will get them closer to what I’m pointing to. I’m not saying any of this is right or wrong, I’m just saying it’s what seekers apparently do!
The real question of course is who does the practice? Who sits down to meditate? Who self-enquires? Who asks questions and waits for answers? All practices, in the end, lead to this question. All seekers, in the end, are confronted with their own absence.
So, are you open to discovering what lies beyond seeking? Or are you going to run away from this message, and fall back into seeking, and into time itself?
16.) Why do you think some spiritual teachers give out practices, then?
Well, perhaps the ultimate point of practices is to make you believe that you are getting somewhere, until it is seen in clarity that there is nowhere to go but here! To make you think that you are getting closer to your goals, until it’s seen that your goals are imaginary. However, this could be seen whilst doing spiritual practices… but it could also be seen whilst having a cup of tea, or walking in a park, or listening to music, or shopping in a supermarket…
There’s a world of difference between sitting down to meditate to get somewhere, and meditating for its own sake. There’s a huge difference between singing mantras because you think it will bring you closer to awakening… and just singing mantras. There’s a huge difference between sitting on a chair watching your breathing because you think it will bring you closer to enlightenment… and just sitting on a chair. There’s nothing wrong with meditation, or singing mantras, or sitting on a chair. How could there be?
But the question is, what are you looking for? When will you find it? And is there actually anything to find? Or is there only the present appearance of life? Is there only life, appearing to no-one? Is that possible? And are you open to that possibility?
Yes, the need for spiritual practices may simply fall away when it’s seen that there’s nobody here separate from life. And then you will find yourself meditating, or not meditating, and either way, you can’t go wrong. Because you will see that meditation is equal to eating a cheese sandwich. And repeating mantras is equal to going to the shops to buy a newspaper. It is all the One Taste, as they say in Zen…
Perhaps the reason I don’t give out specific practices is because I don’t know what’s best for you, in your dream. I am not an authority on life – there’s no such thing. I’m not a guru – I don’t have a one-size-fits-all method or practice that will magically solve all your problems. That’s a lovely idea but unfortunately life doesn’t really work like that. In the end, life isn’t something that needs to be fixed anyway…
17.) Are you saying we should just stop practices, stop trying to help ourselves, and others?
I’m not here to tell you how to live, only to point back clearly to life as it is. I’m not telling you to give up on life, I’m not telling you to stop doing what you’re doing, I’m not telling you to stop helping others, I’m not even telling you to ‘do nothing’…
Look, you will find yourself helping people or not. You don’t need me to tell you how to live. But beyond helping and needing to be helped, there is a wordless intimacy here in which nobody can help anybody – because there is simply nobody there separate from life. Beyond help and helplessness, you are already free, and that’s the possibility that is being shared here. And again, this could be seen in the midst of practice, or in the midst of watching TV or doing the washing up.
Nonduality isn’t about detaching yourself from the world and from other people (and justifying that detachment with the belief that ‘there is no world and there are no others’). Detachment is separation. No, this is about a life lived in fullness, where nothing is denied. And that fullness could include moving to help apparent others, although ultimately there are no ‘others’. It could include moving to improve your life, if you think that your life needs to be improved, even though ultimately it’s not ‘your life’ at all.
To the mind it’s a total mystery, a total paradox… but to what you are, it is the clearest and most obvious thing of all.
If someone is hungry, you might give them food. If somebody is in physical pain, you might help ease their pain if that is possible. If somebody is upset or frightened, you might help them to take a look at what they are thinking in the moment, to help them feel exactly what they feel, to see it all as just a story, and to find the open space beyond the story. When there is unconditional love, there is enough room for all of this. But where the action comes from, you don’t know – it all happens spontaneously, without any specific agenda.
When the completeness of life is seen, there is room for appropriate action, always.
When you see that the world does not need your help, perhaps that’s when you become the greatest help. Because ‘you’ get out-of-the-way.
So, after all that, do I really need to give you a practice? Can’t you see that you already have the perfect practice? That you’re doing it right now? That, in fact, you are it?
18.) Do spiritual practices bring you to that very realization? Didn’t you do spiritual practices when you were a seeker? Didn’t they bring you to where you are today?
My goodness, year ago I used to be obsessed with spiritual practices! I was desperate to become an ‘enlightened person’, I was desperate to become ‘awakened’, to lose my self and merge with life. I was a depressed, miserable human being, and I saw spiritual enlightenment as the only way out. Modern psychology hadn’t worked for me – it only seemed to deal with surface issues. I didn’t want to ‘fit in’ or ‘adapt to society’ – I wanted to be free, totally, radically, free. I didn’t want a fleeting state called ‘happiness’ – I wanted truth and reality, something absolute and unchangeable, something totally beyond earthly pleasure and pain. And so I turned to the teachings of enlightenment, and I became obsessed with my own enlightenment (a wonderful contradiction in terms!)
I tried everything. I meditated for hours every day, I did self-enquiry obsessively, I even became a vegan for a while because I thought it would bring me closer to enlightenment, closer to the disappearance of the self, closer to the dissolution of separation. And it was all very exciting at first, because I thought that I – a separate person – was getting somewhere. I thought that the seeker was getting closer to the sought. I thought that I was ‘nearly there’.
But eventually, the seeking failed. Why? Because no matter what I did, or didn’t do, there was still the sense that there was somebody there, separate from life, doing or not doing. No matter what I did, or gave up doing, to try and get rid of separation, separation still seemed to be there.
I was in a double-bind. I saw that seeking was futile, but I couldn’t give up. I saw that practices were pointless (because they seemed to fuel the sense that I was separate) but I also saw that not doing practices, or giving up practices, was just another practice, just another tactic to bring about a desired change. The seeking ended in despair and frustration. How could a separate self get rid of a separate self? Not possible. I was lost.
And in that lost-ness, in that frustration and despair, another possibility arose. And it had nothing to do with somebody doing something to get somewhere. It went beyond doing practices or not doing practices. This possibility said that freedom was already right here and right now, and that there had never been anyone here separate from it. That no practice can take you to freedom, because practices already arise in freedom. That the ‘I’ could never become awakened, but ever-present awakeness is already here, lovingly embracing everything, and here is the end of all seeking. It all became as clear as crystal, as obvious as breathing. It wasn’t an experience (experiences come and go), it wasn’t a passing state (states are in time), it was life as it is, and it had always been staring me in the face.
In the seeing of this, practices became totally unnecessary. Having a coffee with a friend became equal to sitting down to meditate. Why? Because it was seen that the one who sits down to have a coffee with a friend is the one who sits down to meditate! The one who walks through the park looking at the beautiful flowers, or the one who lies in a hospital bed in extreme pain, is the one who sings mantras or goes to therapy or spends a lifetime seeking enlightenment! The seeker is the sought. There is nothing to find – nothing was ever lost. As wise men and women throughout the ages have tried to tell us – You Are That. Already.
And so these days, life is very simple. The spiritual search came crashing down, and what emerged from the rubble is a very ordinary life being lived. Who it is lived by, I have no way of knowing. The question, ‘Who is living life?’ self-destructs the moment it asked. It collapses under the weight of its own assumptions – every question does in the end.
‘Who is living life?’ – that question cannot stand.
The mystery is enough. I still call myself ‘Jeff’ (the character is not lost, the wave goes on being a wave), but what is seen is that ‘Jeff’ is simply a wonderful story, a narrative that comes and goes in that which does not come and go. I don’t even need to be attached to the story ‘I am not Jeff’ or ‘I am nobody’ – that would just be another identity, something else that comes and goes.
And so, what is left? Life, lived in fascination. Life, lived in gratitude.
Life, in its radical simplicity.
19.) Did those practices lead you to this realization?
Yes and no. It’s always yes and no, and totally beyond yes and no. The mind operates in the world of ‘yes and no’. But of course, life is always beyond mind. This is why this is very difficult to talk about…
You see, practices were all about me attempting to get somewhere, while this realisation was a seeing-through of this me who was trying to get somewhere! Practices were all about doing something to bring about a change – this was the seeing that life is always exactly as it is, and no change, in the moment, is necessary.
Practices were all about cause-and-effect, about putting in effort to get a result, and what was seen is that life is ever-free from cause-and-effect. Life as it is is not the result of effort, because ‘effort’ and ‘result’, ‘cause’ and ‘effect’, indeed all thoughts about life, are simply thoughts appearing in life.
The thought of a ‘cause’ doesn’t actually cause anything. The thought of a ‘result’ is not the result of anything. The past does not bring you to the present. The present is all there is, and the past is just a story arising in the present. (And ultimately the ‘present’ is just another thought too…)
In the story of time, it seems as though there is cause and effect. It seems as though A leads to B. It seems as though acorns grow into oak trees. It seems as though what I did brought me to where I am now. It was this illusion (this seeming) that was seen through! The seeming has no reality outside of thought. I’m not saying there is no seeming. I’m saying there is only seeming in thought.
No practice brought me here, because ‘I’ am not here! Or you could say that ‘I’ is just a story arising here, appearing in the vastness of life itself. The shocking realisation was this: freedom had nothing to do with whatever Jeff did or didn’t do on his spiritual search. Freedom is not a result of Jeff’s search. Life is not caused by Jeff’s search (what arrogance it would be to think that!). Jeff’s search appeared in life… and itself was a full expression of life.
In other words, I had always been Home, but hadn’t realised it.
Even in the depths of seeking there had been Oneness. But that hadn’t been seen – and that’s why the seeking had continued for as long as it did. Seeking is equal to not-seeing.
It was Oneness, dressed up as a seeker, looking for Oneness!
Oneness looking for itself…
20.) Do you feel that your seeking was necessary?
I must say this: the story of Jeff’s search is the only story that could have happened, because it did happen. I simply had to go through what I went through, not because it was predestined, but because it happened, simple as that. What happened, happened. The dream you dream is the only possible dream. Your life story is the only possible story that could have arisen. Your dream is perfect for you.
And so spiritual practices were necessary (only because they happened)… until it was seen in clarity that they weren’t necessary. And when it was seen that they weren’t necessary, it was also seen that they had never been necessary, because there had only ever been life, and no practice had ever taken me even one inch closer to life.
You see, I have always been this. Even before I did spiritual practices I was this. When I took my first breath, I was this. When I take my last, I will be this. I cannot not be this. And neither can you. You are what I am. And that recognition renders all spiritual practices obsolete.
As I said, this is not a rejection of spiritual practices, but a movement beyond them, for those who are open.
It doesn’t take another 50 years of meditation, or psychotherapy, or guru worshipping, to become what you are. However, if you believe that it does, if that is your dream, then you will probably find yourself meditating, or worshipping a guru, or attending psychotherapy sessions for the next 50 years. I wish you the best of luck! You live your own dream. What you believe is necessary becomes necessary for you, in your dream. It’s that simple.
And maybe the freedom that being pointed to here will be seen in the midst of meditation or psychotherapy. Or maybe it will be seen in the midst of doing the dishes, or walking through the park, or reading these words. Who knows. There are no rules, and there is no authority. Or if there is any authority, it is life itself, not any particular individual within life. Although ultimately every apparent individual is simply an expression of life…
You will find yourself meditating, or not meditating, and I am not here to tell you how to live. There are enough people in the world telling you how to live! But if you really listen to what I’m saying, you may find that the need to practice or be practiced on simply falls away very naturally… and then all that’s left is life happening, with no need to do anything to get closer to life happening. It’s an intimacy beyond words, and really it’s where you already are, even if you don’t know it. Everybody is this, even if they don’t recognise it.
Ultimately you can’t even ‘return Home’… because you never left Home in the first place. You can’t ‘find’ the miracle because you’ve always been living it. You can’t ‘become’ awakened, you can’t transform into an ‘awakened person’ or reach an ‘awakened state’, because life itself is already awake, and there is nobody here separate from that ever-present awakeness. In a way, this turns all spiritual teachings upside-down and inside-out, revealing a previously ignored simplicity right at the heart of life.
For the spiritual seeker attached to their spiritual teachings and teachers, this message is radical, no doubt about it!
I know that not a word I say could be true, because no word can touch life. Life is too alive for words. So, no, I don’t actually believe in this stuff, in the sense that I cannot form it into a ‘belief’ that I’m separate from. I don’t believe in life – because there is only life. Life as it is does not require belief, and that’s the beauty of it. It is simply this – here and now. It is breathing happening, it is the heart beating, it is sights and sounds and smells appearing exactly as they appear. It is sound of the washing machine whirring. It is the taste of the cup of tea I’m drinking. So simple, so obvious, so present. So wonderfully ordinary, so extraordinarily wonderful. No need for belief, at all. All belief comes and goes, but this remains, whether Jeff believes it or not!
Life is the bonfire that burns up all beliefs, all words, even these words, leaving only presence. These words appear and are immediately burnt up. Jeff knows he is not special or different – he is simply an appearance in life. I cannot be an ‘authority on nonduality’, I cannot ‘know’ this, because these words are equal to the barking of a dog or the tweeting of a bird. It is all the One expression, it is all an expression of the One, and nobody can separate themselves from that expression and claim ownership. Nobody can teach life itself, nobody can give you that, because the dog barking, the bird singing, the sun shining is already life itself. Nobody can teach you it because everything is teaching it – everything is it.
I’m not saying “there is no authority, except for Jeff!” (and this is the guru trap of course). I’m saying there is no authority, and that includes Jeff and his expression . To be totally free from all authority, including your own… that’s the real freedom.
These words come from the certainty that there is nothing to know. It’s not the certainty of the mind, but the certainty that is not-knowing itself. All knowledge, all intellectual certainty, is just a play of thought. Beyond thoughts, there is no world. Beyond the world, there is nothing to know. Who would know it?
You see, where there is belief, there is doubt. Anything you believe, you can also doubt. If I believed any of this stuff, I could also doubt it. But because for me this is not a belief, there is no doubt either, not a trace of it.
Life as it is cannot be doubted. In simple language, you cannot doubt that you are awake and present, right here, right now. You cannot doubt this simple feeling of being that is identical with life itself. You cannot doubt the sound of that bird singing, or the taste of this cup of tea, or breathing happening…
Oh yes, you can doubt everything you know about life, you can doubt all the language we use to point to and describe life, you can doubt even the word ‘life’ itself, but you cannot (unless you are in total denial!) doubt the reality to which the word ‘life’ points. And even if doubt appears, life is that which is doing the doubting. So in the end you can’t escape it. You are Home, no matter what. Beyond belief, beyond doubt.
When there is nothing to know, when there is no belief and therefore no doubt, all that’s left is life itself, in all its beauty and rawness, and a deep, unshakeable knowing that this is all there is – and that this is enough (because this is all there is).
It’s not something that ‘you’ know. But, undoubtedly, it is known. Life knows, because life is. The Knowing is the Being, and in that, everything comes full circle, and life completes itself. The origin of life is its destination, and its destination is its origin. Creation and destruction are not-two.
To look life in the face, and to see only love, only an intimacy beyond words looking back at you, that’s when you know it’s all over… and only just beginning.
Welcome to Life Without A Centre, the life you are already living!
*Artwork/banner by Sarah Pollak
I can remember longing for something to inspire or motivate me to endure one more day, week, month and year, even decade. Yes, there was a point in my campaign of rage, where it came down to searching for some sort of wisdom or knowledge that would provide me the strength to endure ten longs years or more. That is when meditation and contemplation on all sorts of secular and scriptural material, was the key to survival.
It was during these solitary moments in prison where I would read about people who were transformed. Malcolm X to Muktananda are some examples. Then in my deepest despair, Norman Vincent Peale would pay a visit in the form of “The Power of Positive Thinking.” ~Kenny
*Please enjoy this short excerpt from his forthcoming book of inspiration entitled “The Last Hustle” [Nonduality Press].
Free At Last
. . . For many weeks thereafter, day in and day out, I sat in the dark solitude of my little microfiche workroom in the prison. My boss got used to it. I’d make some excuse, say I was searching for parts, and then I’d just sit in the dark, reveling in the love and the bliss that continued to reveal itself inside me.
Whenever I asked myself, Who am I? and I looked deeply within, I honestly could find no one there. “Kenny” appeared to be just a thought in my mind, not the actual truth of who I was. And yet, there I could see myself, this body, this man I knew as Kenny Dale, sitting in the microfiche room, but I no longer seemed to be who I’d always thought I was. This new Kenny was joy. He was love. No longer did I have the usual limiting thoughts running around in my mind, labeling this “good” and that “bad,” this “right” and that “wrong.” There were no judgments of any kind, only an empty mind, resting in pure awareness, an awareness that was aware of nothing but itself. There was no need to think about anything, and that was the greatest gift of all. The old Kenny had ceased to exist. An all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving power had taken over my mind and set up residence in my heart. I was free.
As I did what little work I had to do in my darkroom, every simple act of doing something was just that—”doing.” My actions left no tracks in the mind, like someone walking down a beach and leaving no footprints in the sand. I could feel my humanness and at the same time this divine power coursing through my body, but I couldn’t find any separation between myself and what I could only call the Divine. That force knew what to do when and why. I didn’t need to know. I didn’t even have to think about it. It knew what was best for me. It knew what was best for all beings, everywhere. I decided to trust it. I let go into it. I let it have all of me.
I had thought that this kind of grace would arrive at my death, or at very best through my going to church. In my imagination I had always seen myself struck by grace in the middle of a preacher’s fiery sermon. I had envisioned grace blasting my sinful heart open, then walking up to take the altar call and give myself to the Church. I had even tried that strategy a few times at my family’s insistence, on the rare occasions when I’d found myself home from prison. I would sit there in my pew, waiting on the Lord to descend upon me, and nothing would happen. Eventually I’d walk out of the church the same sinner I’d walked in.
Now, here I was locked up in a place with a lot of pissed off men of every race, each one actively sinning, yet grace had somehow made its meandering trek through the mine-fields of my skepticism and into my waiting heart. Grace knew I was ready to receive this amazing gift of freedom, something I could have never known.
To this day my heart spills over with gratitude for this unexpected and incomprehensible gift.
*Finally, some laughter in nonduality! Thank you Kenny, we love you.
For more information about Kenny Johnson’s work, please visit:
This article [based on the author’s dissertation] is about the process of having a numinous experience. Complex issues as to the role of sensuousness; the role of gender; and why Eastern-oriented compared to Western-oriented experiences are so different are also discussed. While Eastern experiencers report a oneness experience, Westerners report a sense of twoness and the phenomena of inner dialogue.
Focusing on the under-reported Westerners’ experience, the study introduces us to Celtic consciousness by describing William Sharp’s experience and his relationship with his inner teacher, Fiona Macleod, which is a compelling example of the strong Western tradition of nondual consciousness in which Western men report female inner teachers. When compared to the more disciplined Eastern approach just the opposite occurs—no inner teacher, no dialogue and no self!
An experiencer of the numinous encounter herself, the author agrees with theorists Michael Washburn and Lionel Corbett that the numinous is best viewed as a healthy and evolutionary growth experience.
The article also invites further research on three major concerns: 1) Do all experiencers go to the same place? 2) Is our physic structure one of a dialectic triggering us to automatically seek what is missing and 3) What role do our senses and our gender play in this nondual/numinous encounter?
The term nondual experience as of this writing seems to be the cutting edge word to describe what we experience when we let go of our ego consciousness and engage the other more neglected aspects of us. The term I am more familiar with is numinous as coined by Rudolf Otto and used by C. G. Jung and other religious studies scholars. As a Celtic studies student I also use the term seduction to describe this initiatory experience into the immortal realm. I will define and connect these terms shortly.
In the winter of 1983 I had a nondual spontaneous experience that I described as a cosmic orgasm. It was a massive infusion of energy that would take three years to integrate with my existing self. While I had studied world religions and philosophies, I had no spiritual practice and was completely unprepared for my encounter with what I am now calling my soul consciousness or inner teacher. However, I did have what Sigmund Freud and the “French Freud,” Jacques Lacan tells us is important: a desire for the adventure into the unknown other.
The purpose of this article is to open up a dialogue or, I should say, to join an ongoing discussion within the psychological community about the nature and impact of this nondual experience. Although I worked alone in trying to understand what had happened to me, I did encounter pioneers like Stan Grof, Larry Dossey and Rachel Naomi Remen and in fact produced a series of national conferences on the topic of consciousness and addictions in the 1980’s. However, it was in the 1990’s my search for answers took an academic turn and I enrolled in a doctoral program at Pacifica Graduate Institute. My dissertation is dedicated to finding answers to what this numinous experience means for me and to identify others throughout history that had similar experiences. What I found, as others are claiming, is that there are different types of experiences, with some people experiencing a oneness experience and others reporting a sense of twoness. In addition, the people experiencing twoness report what I called divine dialogues or inner teachers whereas the oneness experiencers report a loss of self or no self. These types of experiences may or may not equate to experiences of the Eastern oriented compared to the Western oriented tradition. And yes, as I report, believe it or not, the West actually does have a tradition—a tradition of inner teachers going back to pre-Socrates philosophers like Parmenides and Empedocles.
I now give a brief overview of my dissertation identifying the trends I discovered, the issues I identified and resolved; but more importantly, issues I identified but was unable to resolve. In this article I look at the differences between Eastern and Western experiencers, the important role of the female inner teacher and the expansion of my answer to Freud’s question, “What’s in it for me?”
The title is: Celtic Siren: A Case Study of William Sharp’s Seduction Experience In Which The Numinous Other Is Understood And Interpreted. The focus is primarily on one man’s numinous experience, William Sharp, but it soon evolved into not just his story, but the story of the history of the numinous experience itself, at least from the Western world as well as the story of Celtic consciousness. It is a triple biography! This biographical approach is the view from a chronological perspective or the length of it or from across time. The cross-cultural view is the main focus of this article –the nondual dialogues, or as I call them, the divine dialogues.
Before discussing the dialogues, I need to go over definitions as the terms have different meanings to many of the contributors to this discussion. As used in this study, the definition of numinous experience is that it is an experience of an intense energy exchange in which the ego self is transformed into what Jung termed the Self with the capital “S“. I should point out my definition and Jung’s definition is different. Jung took Otto’s term, the numinous, and equated it with archetypal experiences. For Jung archetypes present the same luminosity as described by Otto and as with Otto’s formulation, the archetype can present both positive and negative sides. Consequently, Jung’s definition is much broader than mine and includes dreams, visions and déjà vu experiences. In this article to avoid confusion, I will use, as I did in the dissertation, my definition of numinous.
In his book The Religious Function of the Psyche Lionel Corbett gives the following definition of the numinous from a psychological perspective:
“The numinous experience arises from an autonomous level of the psyche and is either the source of, or the medium for, the transmission of religious experience, empirically, we cannot say which.”
He goes on to give examples by what he means by a numinous experience:
- A dream
- Walking vision
- Experience in the body
- Within a relationship
- In nature
- A synchronistic event
On the other hand, Michael Washburn comes from a philosophical point of view, and basing his definition on Jung’s ideas, he goes beyond them to include the immortal realm. This is Washburn’s definition as defined in his book, Ego and The Dynamic Ground. In order to understand Washburn’s definition of the numinous, we must first understand what he means by the term Dynamic Ground:
The power of the ground . . .is a fundamental reality of the soul. It is true that owing to original repression, the power of the ground is rarely evident within consciousness. Although usually repressed and unconscious, the power of the ground is something that can impinge upon consciousness in many ways. As psychic energy, it amplifies experience across all dimensions, and as spirit, it affects dramatic transformations of the ego and of the subjective life.
For Washburn luminosity is intermixed with sensuousness. His view of the relationship between spirit and soul is dialectic and Dynamic Ground is the fuel that makes the exchange between the two occur. For Washburn the numinous experience relates and is intermixed with all three stages of human growth, so is evolutionary in nature. His definition is:
Mystical illumination is an experience of inconceivable enormity . . .the ground releases a prodigous outpouring of spirit. The aperture of the soul is opened to its widest pore and spirit, in the fullness of its power and glory, graces the ego with the ultimate contemplations, is inherently of the nature of a gift.
I have more to say about the role of sensuousness and dialectics later in this paper. Echoing Washburn’s theory of spirit is personalized and the body is spiritualized, Corbett writes, the numinous experience results from the interaction of soul and spirit, and, if successful, allows more of the Self to embody as soul. Henry Corbin expresses the same dynamic “the body is spiritualized the spiritual is embodied.” I resonate to these theorists’ descriptions as they come closest to explaining what happened in my experience.
Nondual Experience Definition
Nondualism may be viewed as the understanding that dualism is illusory. Many traditions state that the true condition or nature of reality is nondualistic, and that dialectic dichotomies are misconceptions of reality. William James coined the term sciousness or consciousness without consciousness of self. However, it is a term the Eastern schools have used more than the West. For Buddhist the non-self or no self is the goal of their meditations – the practice of breaking through the separation and returning to the oneness.
The experience practitioners describe is not unlike the numinous experience as it includes a sense of energy where formlessness infuses into form and a direct experience of oneness is reported. A leading nondual teacher, Peter Fenner, describes a nondual experience as:
. . .it includes all phenomena and experiences, with nothing left out. If any experiences are excluded or resisted in any way, the state is, by definition, dualistic rather than nondual. This nondual quality inevitably embraces paradox—that is, the possibility that something can be both true and false, good and bad, present and absent. Contrary to the experience of conditioned mind, unconditioned awareness allows us to remain peaceful and undisturbed in the midst of paradox and ambiguity. Our usual preferences for order, structure, categories, and concepts don’t exist when we rest in this nondual awareness.
These are all working definitions. William James was the first to claim the numinous experience is ineffable. However, to communicate we need to use the language we have available.
In addition to the primary case study of this nineteenth century Scottish mystic/writer, I discuss others; namely, Merlin and Viviane, Dante and Beatrice, Boethius and Lady Philosophy, Socrates and Diotima, Lord Krishna, Arjuna, Job and Yahweh and my own nondual dialogue and awakening of the soul’s consciousness. These divine dialogues are used as the mythological approach to understanding the numinous experience. I devote a chapter to the psychological approach utilizing Freud and Jung’s theories, and a philosophical approach with G. W. F. Hegel, Martin Heidegger and Paul Ricoeur. Finally, I look at the research done by religious studies scholars like W. T. Stace, Ninian Smart and F. C. Happold. In essence, Sharp’s experience of the numinous is analyzed from every discipline available to me. From the psychologists, I asked the question “what”, from philosophers the question “why” is answered and from human development theorists Michael Washburn and Lionel Corbett “how” is the focus.
A major part of this article is spent on unresolved issues and my thoughts about them; however, I first feel it is important to give the reader a sense of my own experience and why I was directed by my inner teacher to search out my own Celtic heritage for answers. A heritage I was unaware of when this endeavor began.
My own experience came by way of an inner dialogue. I was in a hospital setting and was in the process of being required to swallow some very unpleasant liquid. I remember reading Alice Walker’s Color Purple where she describes turning herself into a piece of wood when she was being abused. Taking a cue from Alice, I decided to turn myself into a chalice and allow my whole body to absorb this unwelcome substance. It not only worked to avoid immediate pain, the process led to a long encounter with the otherness within myself.
However, having no meditative practice, or knowledge of anything other than the traditional forms of Western medical practice and organized religion, what I experienced was beyond my scope of comprehending. The state I experienced was one of unconditional love, acceptance and a challenge or opportunity for growth. Existing belief systems disappeared, all fear dissolved and a dialogue with the unknown other began. I had a sense I was being called to serve, an image of the French Foreign Legion came to my awareness and I understood the mission was to be somewhat secret and somewhat dangerous. I silently asked questions and “heard” answers. I understood very few people had an experience as the one I was undergoing and when I questioned, the answer came back less than 1% of 1%. I was to play a role as a communicator and take the lost, misinterpreted sacred knowledge and convert it to today’s language and sensibilities. I sensed if I accepted this new life, my old life, as I knew it, would disappear. My sense of disorientation was answered by an image of the old king dying and the new king being greeted with the first traditional words, “God Save the King”. I understood being English, with no spiritual discipline, this was the best my mind could deliver – but I understood a death of part of me had occurred and had been replaced by something new and different.
The only disturbing aspect was that I projected a male voice onto the dialogue. I am thinking this was because my only reference point for anything like what I was experiencing was from my Catholic high school education and thoughts of St. Bernadette and the children of Fatima and remembering they thought they heard instructions from the celestial realm of God.
Following the spiritual path was easy as I just followed the energy. What I mean by “following the energy” is: I became inner directed vs. outer directed. Prior to the numinous/nondual experience, I had set goals based on external conventional cues, whereas subsequently I have based any life choices on what my inner teacher, or as Walt Whitman says, my friendly co-worker, signals me to do. A couple of examples of signals are: books falling off shelves indicating I need to read this and it is important to my path, including in the case of R. J. Stewart‘s book the words The Immortal Hour jumping off the page. Another example of being led was a small advertisement in a local paper for a thirty-hour spiritual retreat at Mt. Shasta literally stopped me in my tracks and I knew I had to be there. This was my introduction to Findhorn’s Game of Transformation and the five participants and two skilled facilitators helped me integrate this numinous experience into my life. From there I followed the trail to my Celtic heritage starting with Sharp’s Celtic renaissance in the nineteenth-century and working my way back to Ireland’s first poet, Amergian. At the time there were many books on American Indian spirituality but none on the Celtic counterpart. Even Pacifica Graduate Institute had no courses on Celtic mythology so I found myself embracing the Hindu cousins in particular in the words of Lord Krishna’s “I am” poems. I was able to piece together a Celtic worldview and identify a path of destiny similar to the one discussed in the Bhagavad-Gita, referred to from now on simply as Gita.
In terms of the religious scholars my experience falls into the category of nature mystics and because it is a twoness experience and includes the body and the senses, it is considered a lower level experience than those reported by the Eastern oriented schools having a oneness encounter. As I said earlier, I follow the energy and the energy was insisting on Sharp and the Celts.
Who is William Sharp/Fiona Macleod?
What is unique about Sharp is that he not only identified with an inner female teacher, he presented his teacher to the public, literally, to the world. For thirteen years Sharp wrote under the pseudonym of Fiona Macleod and his many books on Celtic myth were translated into several languages, the most popular being The Immortal Hour, an adaption of an Irish myth about Etain and Mider.
For Sharp, having an experience before Freud’s and Jung’s time, he believed what happened to him was a mystery. In an effort to communicate the Fiona mystery Sharp gives us a beautiful allegory.
All the formative and expressional as well as nearly all the visionary power is my friend’s [meaning Fiona]. In a sense only hers is the passive part, but it is the allegory of the match, the wind and the torch. Everything is in the torch in readiness, and as you know, there is nothing in the match itself. But there is a mysterious latency of fire between them [. . .] the little torch of silent igneous potency at the end of the match—and in what these symbolize, one adds spiritual affinity as a factor—and all at once the flame is born. The torch says all is due to the match. The match knows the flame is not hers. But beyond both is the wind the spiritual air. Out of the unseen world it fans the flame. In that mysterious air both the match and the flame hear strange voices
What is Celtic Consciousness?
My introduction to Celtic consciousness came by way of Sharp. From my own inner teacher I understood what Sharp had done to reclaim Celtic consciousness in his era through his writings under the pseudonym of Fiona Macleod, I was to do for my time through the available media of the twenty-first century. In order to understand Sharp’s numinous experience, it was necessary for me to understand the Celtic worldview in which he lived. To me Marie-Louise Sjoestedt best captures the Celtic worldview. Celtic consciousness is different from both the consciousness of the Greek and Roman counterparts of their day and from our own dualistic consciousness of our times. To quote Sjoestedt:
A discussion of the mythological world of the Celts encounters at once a peculiar difficulty, namely, that when seeking to approach it, you find that you are already within. We are accustomed to distinguish the supernatural from the natural. The barrier between the two domains is not, indeed, always impenetrable: the Homeric gods sometimes fight in the ranks of the human armies, and a hero may force the gates of Hades and visit. . . But the chasm is there nonetheless, and we are made aware of it by the feeling of wonder or horror aroused by this violation of the established order. The Celts knew nothing of this.
I imagine during the Celtic era that a significant percentage of people were experiencers of nondual consciousness, compared with less than 1% today. This is supported in my study by the evidence of the inner source for all their creative expressions.
French anthropologist, Lucien Levy-Bruhl coined the term participation mystique to describe the relationship between the indigenous people and nature. French philosopher Paul Ricoeur and others have referred to this same symbiotic bond as the first naiveté. I am not sure about all indigenous peoples but I did research the Celtic tribes of Britain around the time of Pythagoras and I found evidence based on their poetry, myths and art that tribes like the Iceni in East Anglia experienced nondual awareness.
Figure 1 Iceni Coin 1 A.D.
It is well documented and accepted that the Celts revered nature. What is less known is that according to Ammianus Marcellinus, they followed Pythagoras‘ teaching. More importantly, art critics Andre Malraux and Ruth and Vincent Megaw claim their intricate abstract designs on the sacred stones, on the backs of mirrors and on coins are inner directed.
In addition, the Celts embraced the feminine and held rituals to balance the opposite elemental forces. French philosopher George Dumézil’s research on the ancient balancing rituals supports this claim.
Figure 3 Castlestrange Sacred Stone
County Galway, Ireland
My point here is that although it is fragmentary, the West did have its own heritage of experiencers of nondual consciousness and as I proved in my dissertation,
Celtic consciousness equals nondual consciousness. If no other myth makes the case, the story of Etain and Mider clearly tells us Etain forgets who she is and thinks she is merely a mortal until Mider reminds her that she, like him, has an immortal element to her being.
For the title of my doctorate work I purposely chose the term seduction, as this reflects the Celtic teachings through the myths like the Scottish Thomas the Rhymer and the Elfin Queen, the Welsh Shepherd of Myddvai and the Faery Maiden and the Irish Ossian and Niamh. In each story the feminine “seduces” the male seeker and takes him to the immortal land of tir n’og. As Stephen James wisely points out “we do not go to faery, we become faery.” Here I am reminded of W. B. Yeat‘s poem of Ossian’s seduction experience. A few lines will help convey the sense of a mortal being swept off their feet.
And Niamh calling: Come away, come way.
Empty your heart of its mortal dream.
The winds awaken, the leaves whirl around,
our cheeks are pale, our hair is unbound,
our breast are heaving, our eyes are agleam,
our arms are waving, our lips are apart,
and if any gaze on our rushing band,
we come between him and his dead of his hand.
we come between him and his hope in his heart.