In his 1958 classic “The Philosophy of the Buddha” Prof. Archie J. Bahm analyses the most ancient Buddhist scriptures (“Sutta” and “Vinaya Pitakas”) and suggests that during his 40 year career as a teacher the Buddha only taught one single universal Truth: unfullfilled desire causes frustration and the rejection of frustration is the source of suffering. According to Bahm, all other teachings including the “Four Noble Truths” and the “Eightfold Path” must have been later added to the philosophy by “other minds” due to misunderstandings of what the Buddha was trying to convey.
Now, you may ask, what is so hard to understand about the fact that unfulfilled desire causes suffering? By digging into the problem of desire more closely one easily understands why.
If the cause of suffering is unfulfilled desire, the solution to the problem must be to stop desiring. Simple as that. Simple? Not quite. Basically there are two ways of stopping desire: one either gets out of sight of the objects of desire (seclusion) or one tries to beat desire (asceticism). However, neither of these two approaches really work as the Buddha found out for himself during his pre-enlightment spiritual seeking. On the one hand, some basic desires such as food and sex are not extinguishable as long as one is still human. On the other hand, the desire to stop desiring is still a desire, just a more subtle form of it. So, it is impossible to willingly not desire, because that would be a desire! Furthermore one could argue that stop desiring is not even really desirable as desires provide motivation and fulfilled desires provide satisfaction. By creating emotions, desires are life-affirming.
So desire, when not fulfilled, provides frustration. Stopping desire, though, is life-negating and actually impossible. Not so simple, is it? This is were the genius of the Buddha comes in. He discovered the “Middle Way” between desiring and desiring not to desire. Here is how it goes: if we always desired exactly what we are getting, we would always get satisfaction and the sensation of being alive. Or in other words, if we always accepted everything AS IT IS (within and without), which includes the suffering, we would be free from suffering and live in joy.
Hold on, you may say, how can one accept everything without desiring to accept everything? Of course you are right, accepting without desiring to accept is impossible. Whenever you want something, you desire it, and since trying to not want is also a desire, the attempt will cause endless frustration and suffering. It’s like trying to relax a muscle by forcing it to relax. It just won’t work.
Nevertheless, there is a way the get into the “Middle Way”. It’s a paradoxical way, though. Once the desire to get into the “Middle Way” (or any other desired state) is completely broken, one automatically falls into it. Again, because this “break” cannot directly be achieved by will-power, the way “there” is to either completely exhaust the will to get “there” by trying as sincerely and forcefully as possible (remember the Buddha had his sudden enlightenment at the moment of renouncing 7 years of hard-core asceticism!) or by thoroughly realising by other means that the YOU has no power or control over the process of accepting or desiring. The former way is nowadays practised in Zen (e.g. with “koans”), the latter in Advaita (“SELF-realization” aka “there is no YOU”). Both, the exhaustion of the will or “Self-realization”, leads to a surrender to WHAT IS, which paradoxically, yields exactly what one was desiring to get but what one actually prevented from getting by the very desiring (or desiring to not desire) to get it!
Now, to make the long story short, the surrendering to Samsara (the world AS IS) is the way to Nirvana (desiring WHAT IS). Samadhi is the complete willingness to accept the actual as the ideal. The crux, though, is that surrendering cannot be achieved by the individual (“ego”), one has to be pushed into it, as it were, by some sort of grace in the form of will-undermining insight(s).
Finally, why does Prof. Bahm conclude that this is the only Truth that the Buddha taught? First of all, the Buddha was concerned with one thing only: the cessation of suffering. According to the records he stated this very clearly. Then he discovered that the only solution to the problem of suffering lies in surrendering to the present moment (WHAT IS). So, everything that was not concerned with the present moment like concepts of the past (e.g. “karma”) or the future (e.g. “reincarnation”) or any other metaphysical speculation (e.g. the question of the “soul”) he did not deem helpful for solving the problem of suffering. Therefore in the ancient texts the Buddha never answered any questions of that sort. He neither denied nor affirmed these concepts. For the Buddha in the oldest scriptures, the existence or non-existence of metaphysical entities and ideas simply did not change the fact that to end suffering one had to come to surrender to whatever IS in this very moment no matter what the cause or effect of this present moment was. By implication, this also means that as long as one’s ideas lead one to align one’s desires with WHAT IS, any “Truth” would be as good as another.
For the very same reason the Buddha also refrained from stating anything idealistic or from proclaiming any sort of higher virtues (e.g. he never idealised a monastic lifestyle or compassion). Whatever IS is to be surrendered to to end suffering. That is the full story of the teaching in the old texts. All else, including all methods and “Paths”, must have been added later by disciples not fully understanding the full depth of “whatever IS” (on the other hand, though, one could easily conclude, that all Buddhist methods and concepts must have been created to completely frustrate the seeker and/or make him experience his lack of power to get to Nirvana in order to bring him to the very brink of it).
Additional personal note: the old-school philosophy of Buddha portrayed here can be criticised for the lack of moral outrage at the obvious evils like cruelty in the world. If one, for some reason or other, though, cannot surrender to the present-moment because of its monstrosity, and suffers as a result of it, one could still surrender to the non-surrender and the suffering, and therefore transcend the suffering. Hence, accepting “whatever IS” is not fatalistic. One can have an (unfulfillable) desire for a world without cruelty and not suffer, if (s)he can surrender to the frustration of this unfulfilled desire.
This little conundrum also explains the difference between before and after getting into “surrendering-mode”. “Before” one suffers over one’s frustration and because of that one starts suffering over the suffering, and suffering of the suffering over the suffering, etc. Suffering creates a downward spiral, a grip, if not surrendered to. “After” one may be frustrated (because of one’s unfulfilled desire) but one does not suffer over the frustration because the frustration is accepted. The spiral of suffering stops right there.
Furthermore, allthough I think that many of our desires actually stem from our fears and insecurities I see the Buddha’s point in not being concerned with the causes of desire, as the causes could be indefinite. Instead he went right to the immediate solution: accepting whatever IS includes one’s suffering caused by one’s fears. Quite smart the guy…
I have lived with a depressed person for a while. And although I have only personally experienced mild forms of depression, my friends illness clarified a few things for me about the nature of suffering which I would like to share with you out there.
First of all, what is a depression? For me, it is the painful sensation of life’s “pressure” due to a person’s inability or incapacity to flow with it. Life happens but the person resists, tries to desperately hold on as (s)he does not accept the impermanent nature of life. And this resistance to life is what manifests as suffering as it creates contraction in the body-mind, shuts the depressed person off sensually from experiencing the wonders of being alive and sucks him or her out energetically.
If you read my blog you know that my mantra is to say “yes” to life, to first understand it and then accept it. The reason for resisting (saying “no”) is always rooted in fear and fear is rooted in misunderstanding life. We usually find it easy to understand the “positive” aspects of life but we completely misunderstand the “negative” and so our fears and our resistance arises (I call our tendency to resist and clutch “ego”).
So what is it we do not understand?
We think the “positive” is independent of the “negative”. As we take a stroll in the woods we may be enchanted by the beauty of nature ignoring the fact that “behind the scenes” organisms are continuously fighting for survival. But the beauty of nature precisely hinges on the principle of the survival of the fittest. If you say “yes” to nature but “no” to the darwinistic principle you are being contradictory and will be hopelessly confused about life. Same applies to human qualities. If human beings had no means of being aggressive, we would not be here now capable of enjoying the world. Let’s face it: whatever exists has its place and makes sense in the grand scheme of things. Everything (including the “positive”) is the way it is, because everything (including the “negative”) is exactly the way it is. Or “this is this, because that is that”, as the Buddhists say.
Because we fail to see this interdependence we think that the “positive” and the “negative” are engaged in an epic battle against each other and that the “positive” can (and must!) win. This is the oldest story ever told. The quest to get to this place where the “good” will permanently prevail within (e.g. new-age “enlightenment”) and without (e.g. “heaven”). But that’s an impossibility because the “positive” can never take over the “negative” as they depend on each other. Like one side of a coin can never take over the other. Hence, trying to win this battle will forever frustrate us. It can’t be done. Life is the whole works, it includes light and darkness. For how would we define “good” if we could not contrast it with “bad”? The sense of darkness gives rise to the sense of light and vice versa. Eradicating something must ultimately eradicate its opposite as well. Take away one side of a coin and you don’t have a coin anymore. So, as we go on tackling this futile task of seeking “heaven” while rejecting “hell” we roam in the cycle of suffering that the Buddhists call Samsara (consequently, thus from a Buddhist standpoint even the angels have not transcended Samsara but are only temporarily in heaven). Hence, depression is another word for being very tightly stuck in Samsara.
Sometimes, though, being stuck is part of the way forward. The spiritual literature abounds with people having awakened in midst of a depression as they got so exhausted that the tendency to reject the flow of life (“ego”) just stopped. In these situations the biblical statement “thy will, not mine” reveals its deeper meaning.
To conclude, some wise words from the Buddha, the first systematic psychologist in history. His whole teaching can be summed up as follows: as long as we are too ignorant to notice that everything continuously arises and passes away in mutual interdependence, we are caught in grasping and rejection which leads to endless frustration and suffering.
Let things be and you have arrived.
This quote captures the essence of what I am trying to say in this blog:
“Running through the field of time is this energy which is the one energy that is putting itself into all these forms. By identifying with that one energy, you are at the same time identified with the forms coming and going. If you see the two modes—involvement and the still point within you, samsara and nirvāṇa—as separate from each other, you are in a dualistic position. But when you realize that the two are one, you can hold to your still point while engaging. It’s the same world experienced in two different ways. You can experience both ways at once.”
Excerpt From: Campbell, Joseph. “A Joseph Campbell Companion: Reflections on the Art of Living.” Joseph Campbell Foundation, 2011-08-01.
This is the last Q&A part (for the time being)…
What do you mean when you say “we are enlightened by nature”?
When there is fear we see the world through the veils of Maya, the great illusion of separateness. When fear is absent, the veil is lifted, and we see the (same) world through our Buddha-eyes as it really is. So, enlightenment is nothing that can be achieved. It is the falling away of fear.
How to untrap myself from the ego?
You see, the trap and what is trapped are basically one and the same thing. It’s called the self or ego. That’s why “we” can never untrap ourselves. To try to untrap ourselves is to trap ourselves by believing in a trap from which we can be untrapped. The only thing that will help, is to realize that the self, the trap, only “seems” to exist separately but in reality it is a hallucination. This undermines any urge to do or to not do anything to untrap ourselves and, voilá, we will realize that we were never trapped. It was all an illusion.
What is the Buddha’s method to gain enlightenment?
Buddhism is a dialectic process. That means, one does not need to believe in dogmatic statements or follow any rules. The method is a dialogue between student and teacher. The process starts with a departure point, usually a problem. Now, the master will try to make the student intuitively grasp that there is no solution to the problem, because it is illusory. There are several techniques to do that but all have one thing in common: that the student is encouraged to persist in trying to resolve the problem intellectually or experientially until (s)he knows by himself that it can’t be resolved because it never existed.
Is humanity crazy?
Humanity is not crazy but ignore-ant of its oneness with what is and, thus, irrationally fearful of itself and its environment. That’s why Western man seems to keep getting busier and busier. The more he tries to escapes what is, the busier he gets escaping. The faster he hurries, the slower he goes.
If nothing can be done to enlighten oneself, what is your teaching?
The teaching is to undermine the illusion of “something to get” because the urge to seek it is what keeps us in bondage.
Tantra or renunciation, which method is better?
Both methods work because neither renunciation nor indulgence will bring you peace. But if followed to their respective extremes, you may realize just that and consequently be free.
What’s the problem with self-consciousness?
Self-consciousness is a feedback mechanism. It is the self being conscious about itself. The idea of self and consciousness, experiencer and experience, is the foundation of duality. Duality means that there is an (apparent) entity and there is what this (apparent) entity experiences. The more self-conscious we are, the more we feel to be a separate entity “having” experiences. Any feedback loop works like an amplifier. In this case it amplifies our illusory separateness and thus our fears.
Alan Watts once said that being conscious of oneself is like hearing your own ears due to a Tinnitus. Any organ ceases to work smoothly when it gets in its own way. It then becomes the potential source of all kinds of problems and hang-ups.
If that example does not make sense, think of a situation when you just seemed to “flow” with life, even if it was just for a short time, when there was no “you” being conscious about yourself. There was no duality, just what is, moment by moment, a sort of oneness of experience and experiencer. Or in the words of Zen-master Dogen: “to forget the self is to be enlightened by the ten thousand things”.
From what has been said it could be argued that the development of self-consciousness marks the “fall of man” as portrayed in the bible (knowledge of good and evil, introduction of shame, etc.). Does that mean, though, that we should strive to perpetually go with the “Truth” of “flow” experiences and “forget” about ourselves? Even if we could (which I doubt), my answer is no. Just as self-consciousness is the source of suffering, it is also the source of great joy, gratitude and appreciation for life. How would you know that you are happy, if you ceased to be self-conscious? Could you be grateful for life if you ceased to know you existed? To wholeheartedly stay with one leg in the “dream”-world of separateness is what makes life worth living. This is the teaching of the middle way. Separateness is samsara is nirvana. If we dropped out of the “dream” completely, we would cease to have a genuine human experience. That’s hardly what we want. Wouldn’t you agree?
Many Yogi’s are saying we should stop thinking. You say we shouldn’t mind our thinking…
When the Yogi’s refer to thinking they mean the conceptual, evaluative, judgmental function of the mind under the spell of Maya (the illusion of separation invoking fear). This sort of thinking is the source of the duality of “right” vs. “wrong”, “me” and “other”. By realizing non-duality, this comes to a halt, and there is no more minding of anything, not even our “ordinary” thinking.
Often the Yogi’s are misunderstood, though. We think they suggest to stop thinking altogether. That would be like trying to stop our blood from flowing; it can’t be done and it mustn’t be done.
“The goodie-goodies are the thieves of virtue”. What’s that supposed to mean?
The quote is from Confucius. It means that prescribed virtue is never genuine virtue. It is a form of hypocrisy which leads to inner conflict if not acknowledged. It also often brings about a “must-save-the-world”-attitude in people as the inner conflict is projected onto the outside world.
History tells us that “righteous” wars are always the longest and most brutal one’s (think of religious wars, or ideological wars like WW1 and WW2, etc). If one fights for the “good” it is easier to mobilize people and justify the means of war. The road to hell is indeed often paved with good intentions.
Is money “bad”?
Money is stored energy. You do something and as a compensation for the efforts you get this thing called money that can be exchanged for other people’s efforts.
Money is not something that can be experienced. You cannot touch, smell, see, taste or hear it. You can only see a number on a screen or a sheet of paper or cloth representing money. Money is not real, it is a symbol.
Symbols have the power to impoverish peoples lives. Symbols are lifeless, have no “soul” (because they have no experiential value). Thus, if we worship a symbol, turn it into our “God”, we, ourselves turn into lifeless zombies.
Wealth is appreciating what money can be exchanged for. If we don’t trade money for experiences, we have no wealth. To worship the symbol is to miss what it stands for (that’s what Buddha meant when he said that “the finger pointing to the moon is not the moon”). Money stands for wealth and wealth is (the experience of) being alive. So, money is not bad per se. But it is often mistaken for what it is not: a source of life in itself.
Ok, I am not doing anything anymore. I stopped seeking. Why am I not enlightened?
You still want to get it by trying to not get it. You are still seeking. Seeking means expecting results for your actions. You are deceiving yourself.
I am a mess. Will enlightenment settle things for me?
So, you’ve found out you’re a mess. Congratulations! You’ve already come a long way. Now, there’s an important last step to make. Ask yourself: what’s the problem with being a mess? Is there really a problem with being a mess or could it be that you only think it is a problem? Who says what is normal and what is messy? Have you ever seen a messy arrangement in nature? Or is nature beautiful exactly because it is not orderly and not all similar? You see “enlightenment” is not getting anywhere else or being anyone else than where and what you already are. There is nothing to be gotten out of it but the abandonment of our illusions.
How does non-objection and activism go together? They seem contradictory…
Non-objection is not becoming irresponsible or stop caring about the world. Non-objection is an internal alignment with what “is”. This alignment bestows peace. From this place of peace, activism is actually much more effective because it comes from the heart as opposed to from the mind. What does that mean? Activism which tries to change the world is usually ideological and, thus, from the mind. It purports ideas which are supposed to make the world a “better” place to live. But all ideologies create winners and losers, just as there is no action which is purely “good” or purely “bad”, ever. Activism from the heart is concerned with action to alleviate suffering of those who can’t handle it (anymore). It is not concerned with ideas on how to make suffering go away altogether. That’s a subtle but very important difference. If you want to make suffering go away, you are trying to do the impossible, to find a way of “winning” without “losing”. Thus, you keep yourself and all your followers in the wheel of samsara, the endless struggle to always stay up without ever going down.
Which level is real: the relative (personal) or the absolute (impersonal)?
There are no two levels of reality! This separation never took place other than in our minds. The only reality is “this” that you are now experiencing. What you can think of is conceptual and never real. That’s the whole teaching of non-duality in a nutshell.
What do you mean by “unknowing”?
Imagine you knew you were so intimately and seamlessly connected with the universe that you were in fact no different from it. And imagine you knew that the universe is the totality of all there is (without exception). How could you know anything about the fundamental nature of the world for certain? That which is everything cannot be identified, classified, observed, measured, etc, because there is no other, outside this totality, who could perform these tasks on it. It is the primordial and eternal (non-dual) subject-object. So, it completely defies logical analysis.
The universe as a whole will forever be ungraspable, just like the eye can’t see the eye. Whatever is said about it is speculation. What is it? Where does it come from? Where does it go? Does it have a purpose? Since we are the universe, there is nothing we definitively know about ourselves (our Selves!) either. This is the final frontier, the end of knowledge (“veda” = knowledge; “anta” = end) short-circuiting all seeking.
Your teaching implies an autonomous “I”. But there is no “I” who is doing anything!
What do you mean there is no I? IT is I, and I am IT. That’s why we talk of “non-duality”: no difference between I and other. To say there is no “I” would suggest there is only “other”. Everything is “other” is only one side of the coin of “Truth”. The other side is everything is “I”.
To realize that the “I” is not as real as we used to think is a good starting point, though. The great sage Ramana Maharshi outlined a three-step approach to non-dual realization:
The world is unreal (~the “I” is unreal)
Only Brahman is real (~awakening to the Absolute)
The world is Brahman (~the “I” and the Absolute are one and the same)
All seekers get stuck at level 1 and level 2 for some time. First we need to leave the relative level of reality to be open to awaken to its opposite, the absolute level. Finally, the journey after awakening takes us to consolidate these polar concepts. Non-dual realization is to know that these levels are not different. Never have, never will be. They are one and the same, because there is nothing apart from the totality of “this” reality. Separation never took place other than in our minds. Even to speak of “non-duality” is delusional because there never was a “real” duality ever! Wake up!
By the way, the “there is nobody home” and the “nobody is doing anything” kind of talk is sometimes called the “Lucknow disease” (named after the place in India where modern advaita “guru” Papaji used to teach) or the “advaita shuffle” (jumping to the absolute level at odd times).
What’s your opinion on “direct pointing” exercises? Do you think they are futile?
The direct pointing approach tries to facilitate the intuitive experience of a very simple point: there is no individual person separate from the stream of consciousness. The sense of personality is a function of consciousness just as hearing, smelling, tasting, touching, seeing, feeling and thinking is. At the same time the approach tries to clarify who “you” actually are. The “real” you is something which can’t be experienced or pinned down for the same reason the eye can’t see itself: the source of measurement can never measure itself (in the absence of a reflecting device like a mirror that feeds the measurement back to its source). The fact that there is measurement, that there is seeing, implies a measuring source, an eye. So, the “real” you can never be experienced (or known) because it is that which makes experiencing possible. But the fact that there is experience implies that a “real” you (whatever it is) exists. So, all you can ever know is that you exist because you exist. I am that I am. Full stop.
All “pointing” then ultimately points to this: you are fundamentally that unknown thing which enables/ activates/ vitalizes everything. The social role you are playing in the game of life is not you, it is a mask (that by biological default cannot be removed but only glimpsed through occasionally). This insight is what “individuation” (as understood by C.G. Jung) is all about: you are not your social role, your mask, so don’t take it so damned seriously. An individuated person takes himself lightly and thus has an elevated sense of being. Or as D.T. Suzuki said “Satori is like an everyday experience, only two inches above the ground”.
Now, whether the pointing approach actually works or not, I have my doubts. As you try to realize the absence of a “you”, all you accomplish is a strengthening of the sense of you. Have you ever managed to relax by willingly trying to relax? All your trying will ever do is to prevent relaxation from happening by itself. You are getting in your own way. Thus, in my experience finding the trust to give up control is key to realization, not intellectual exercises in finding nobody (which in a way, though, could be seen as a method to get into your own way so consistently that you eventually give up and finally let “you” go).
What is your take on quantum mechanics, matrix, evolution of consciousness, etc.?
If you like to play around with these things, go ahead, entertain yourself. They won’t get you any peace, though. I am always amazed by all these complicated new-age theories. The “Truth” is so simple and yet everybody comes up with so much complicated stuff about it. Instead of reading about these things or watch endless Youtube videos, go out for a walk. It’s all always there in front of us. There is nothing “hidden”. Fact is that we can’t acknowledge reality as it is, as long as our selves feel threatened by it. You see, seeking “more” or “different”, is always an expression of fear, of not “good/ safe enough yet”.
Even if they claim otherwise, new-age theories are based on ignoring the unity of all things. What’s there to improve, develop, enhance, practice, etc. if we knew that we were that which is everything, which by definition is immaculate (because it has no opposite)? The benefit of traditional spiritual practice (like meditation) is that once we shut up for a while, be on our own and make our fears conscious, these new-age theories become completely obsolete. I guarantee you that if you actually had the guts to sit on your own for a few weeks or months, you would come to the same conclusion, that new-age is seeking for the sake of avoiding. Why eat candy when you can get a good meal?
What’s your message in a nutshell?
All is well, but our fears and insecurities suggest otherwise. The way to deal with our fears and insecurities is to look at them and to realize that a) they are ok, and eventually, b) they are based on an illusion.
Any last words?
Once you know you are god incarnate, you can relax and finally allow yourself to be a genuine human being. And once you allow yourself to be a genuine human being, you stop struggling to become a god.
End of Question & Answer
Is the ego a mistake?
No. Its biological function is survival. First of all, if we had no concept that trying to stroke a predatory animal could be dangerous, our species would have died out long time ago. Since the universe runs on a constant amount of energy, life necessarily needs to live on other life. Every organism has to die, otherwise there would not be “room” for new organisms. However, to be able to grow old enough to pass on its genes (and raise its next generation to maturity), every organism is endowed with a survival mechanism. The psychic tension that is created when we experience something which puts our organism at risk serves exactly this function. The ego’s job is to react to the tension and find ways to release it (e.g. by getting out of the danger zone, eliminating the danger, etc). It is an automated mechanism by which the organism learns to survive long enough to continue in the form of its progeny.
The existential problem starts when we are conditioned to experience irrational fears (e.g. the fear of death, the fear of minorities) and thus develop a rigid set of “right” vs. “wrong” concepts (e.g. laziness is bad, thin is beautiful). Every such dual/ polar concept is a seed for irrational psychic tension to arise when it is triggered by inner or outer circumstances. Usually in our over-civilized and over-conceptualized world, by the time we are into our 30ties, our ego is almost constantly “active” trying to find ways to deal with these accumulated, irrational fears and out-of-touch-with-reality concepts.
Am I a puppet of the universe or am I the master? Is there free will or not?
Both, the ideas of fatalism (puppet) and free will (master) are based on fear. The source of this fear lies in the notion of an independent agent, a separate “you”. But you are an inter-dependent agent. Look at the ocean. Does the ocean push the wave or the wave push the ocean? Neither/ nor because ocean and wave are one inseparable process, the same “thing”. So, the wave is neither the puppet nor the master of the ocean because it IS the ocean.
A fatalist person tends to feel like a victim, is amotivated and depressive. A mastery-type of person tends to live a life of struggle to one-up on himself and his environment. The person who transcends the notion of separateness, though, becomes autonomous, that is, free from the urge to hide from or dominate his life.
If I start to live by letting things happen, will I become passive?
No. As you are liberated from the urge to compulsively control and justify yourself, a lot of previously wasted life energy is freed up. However, what seemed important before (e.g. possessions, status, satisfaction of desires, etc.) may lose its appeal. So often, ambition, restraint or the need for gratification are not pursued for their own sake (that is, because one enjoys it) but have their source in a feeling of lack or fear. They are dysfunctional “survival” (ego!) strategies which weaken our organism as they suck out lots of life energy. When we make these strategies and their underlying beliefs conscious, see that they are socially conditioned and realize that they are self-defeating, we clear them from the organism.
What do you mean when you say “everything is One” or “non-dual”?
Very simplified, physics tells us that energy is vibration (a continuous interval of “on” and “off”) and that all matter is energy. So everything is vibration (think of Shiva’s dance!). What is suggested here is that fundamental to existence is a uni-form field of vibrations (the uni-verse). Reality as we know it manifests itself by certain vibrations of this field being picked up by our sense organs and processed by our brains (if our “receivers” were different it could be possible to see or hear radio-waves or x-rays, for example).
Given that our bodies, thoughts, feelings, etc. are also vibrations, we are basically vibration perceiving vibration. Or in “non-dual” lingo: We are all that IS, perceiving itself through itself.
It is important to realize that although absolute reality is “not-two”, for a reality to manifest there needs to be a relationship between two seemingly separate things: receiver and received; self and other. Maya, the illusion of duality, is a necessary mask of the universe to be able to discover itself. Duality is the stage from which to depart on this amazing adventure called life.
What do you mean when you say “there is no time”?
Time is the notion of a progressive series of events. But what if there was no such progression because all these events are not happening in a series of different moments but in the very same (endless) moment? The present moment is like a TV screen that can show millions of movies without fundamentally changing. It is forever still, the same, while at the same time it can forever host motion and alteration.
Is there cause and effect?
On a fundamental level, the answer is no. If there was cause and effect, there must have been a first cause that brought the universe into being (something like the “Big Bang”). But if that was so, what could have caused this first cause? There is no solution to this problem unless we assume that something can start out of nothing. So, there must have been something always. Hence, the fundamental reality, the uni-form field, is uncaused.
It is also forever unaffected, itself, because it is the only thing there is. Causes and effects refer to two different manifestations which are, however, in essence one and the same thing. So, fundamentally, causes are caused by themselves and effects affect themselves. While “things” happen, nothing really happens.
Is there death?
Since the separate self is an illusion, dying is an illusion.
What then is that which we call death? Let’s look at the ocean-wave example. A wave is defined as a form consisting of a trough, a crest and another trough. It is a certain configuration of the ocean. Now, the only constant in the ocean is continuous change of configuration (because the universe is a vibratory thing). So, we could say that the ocean is constantly wave-ing.
Similarly, we could say that the universe is constantly materialize-ing, gas-ing, light-ing, heat-ing, liquidize-ing and therefore flower-ing, animal-ing, people-ing, etc. All these forms in the universe are void of inherent, that is, independent existence just as a wave is not inherently different from the ocean. What we call death is simply the transition of one form of “spirit” (or energy/ vibration) into another. And because this fundamental essence of being never depletes, the universe will not disappear either. It will just keep changing its configuration. Forever, and ever and ever.
What changes when we embrace change?
When we don’t, we are involved, that is, we struggle in vain to always stay on the sunny side of life. E.g. we spiritual seekers try to stay in a happy, aware, meditative mood always, although that’s impossible. We want just the “good” without the “bad”. This is Samsara.
When we lose the fear of change, that is, when we do not object to it, though, we transcend Samsara, because we are not involved anymore. With non-involvement I mean that there is no more struggle, no more “self” (ego).
So, in a way nothing changes: changes still happen. After the sun comes the rain. But in another way everything changes because we are at peace, in non-objection to whatever is (ourselves!). And this peace, this not wavering, is the anchor to the “now”.
End of Part 2
The next few posts will be Q&A’s that I have compiled over the last year writing this blog. The questions start of basic and broad and get more and more specific.
Hope you enjoy the dialogue. Further questions welcome (to: truthlesstruth[at]gmail.com).
Why do we feel separated, alienated from our environment?
Whenever our attention is focused on our experiences (thoughts, feelings, sense impressions) there arises the illusion of an experiencer, a separate agent. The experiencer is nothing but an echo of experience itself, an experience of experience (or a self-experience). With this separate agent arises fear and a feeling of alienation. Whenever our attention comes to rest on experiencing itself (which is the natural state), this illusion vanishes and we feel at ease.
Our attention gets focused on experiences when we grasp or reject them (which happens automatically in accord with our unconscious fears and desires). When we are in a complete affirmative mind state, judging is transcended, the “experiencer” collapses for a while and we seem to flow along with life and feel “one” with it.
It is important to realize that this “flow” is always there. It’s not something we need to first align ourselves with. Everything, including our fears, our confusions, our restlessness, the boredom and our anxieties are part of it too. Mostly, though, we reject these unpleasant sensations and get caught up in the illusion of separation. In this rejection mode, the (illusory) “experiencer” goes about trying to hide from these aspects of the “flow”, push them away or channel them. However, this is an impossible task, because the “experiencer” has no control over the “flow” whatsoever. We simply cannot decide to feel, think or sense this way or that way or not at all. All such futile pursuits ever accomplish is exhaustion, depression or repression.
The only way to stop anything from moving that we have no control over is by moving with it at the same pace. Or in other words, by non-objecting to what is (already g(fl)o(w)ing on) we keep on flowing with life and find our stillness in motion.
Why do we object to reality?
As we feel separate from the universe, we live in unconscious existential angst. This angst is the driving force of Samsara, the endless, frustrating struggle to fight with or to flight from what is. Our fears make us continuously seek either control or distraction, because truly resting in the present moment would mean coming face to face with our unconscious fears. How long can you be all by yourself before you get the itch to “do” something to distract yourself from yourself or to try to become more than you are?
How to realize our unity with the universe?
Actually, our non-separation with the universe is the most obvious fact. Read any science book and you’ll get the point. However, since in our aculturisation process we were conditioned to fear and mistrust our inner selves and our environment, we are under the spell of illusory separateness from the universe within and without.
Any attempt to unify ourselves will perpetuate the illusion of a separate entity that seeks unification. So, to realize our unity is to see through our illusion of separation. The only way to do that is to convince ourselves that our fears are fundamentally ungrounded.
My advice is this: spend some time alone into nature (e.g. a cave, a monastery, etc.) try out psychedelics (in a beneficial setting, with professional guidance, respect and care!), or, alternatively, seek so hard to unify yourself with the universe (yourself!) until you get the point that “you are riding on a horse asking where the horse is!” (~Ajahn Chah).
Will I ever be able to see through my illusion of separateness?
No, not by any effort from your side. It’s an illusion to ever be able get out of an illusion, because you can never get out from what does not exist in the first place. You were there from the beginning. You are never not IT.
Is spiritual practice relevant?
All goal-oriented practices are ways to try to outsmart the way things are. So, they are inherently non-affirmative to what is and, thus, increase the illusion of separation. It’s like wearing a CIA-shirt when going on a undercover mission. It defeats its own purpose. But spiritual practices do it so consistently that the practitioner may eventually burst into a liberating awakening experience.
Practice is relevant as long as we are under the illusion of separateness. Once we “know”, practice becomes irrelevant (but not necessarily futile, because one could still go on practicing for the sheer enjoyment of practicing).
What is liberation?
Liberation is granting yourself the freedom to allow yourself every experience genuinely, to respect and non-object to it. Liberation is something you give to yourself! It’s the freedom to be ashamed, to be a fool, to be embarrassed, to be angry, to feel sad, etc. By not minding you re-align with the universe and pacify the heart and mind. Or in other words, a liberated being lives completely autonomous, free from social conditioning of “good” vs. “bad”.
So, liberation is not about freeing oneself ideologically or physically from social conventions, but about gaining the ability to move within one’s social sphere without getting “hung-up” on it.
Wouldn’t civilisation fall apart if we all acted genuinely without a control feature?
I think its the other way around. I think civilization is falling apart, because of too much civilization. As we are trained to not attend properly to our emotions, feelings and urges we not only develop the dangerous illusion of a separate self but also act them out in harmful ways. Think of priests molesting children in the name of God, or the general violence against our natural habitat, mother earth.
Our cultures and societies in general deeply mistrust our innermost being. Therefore, it emphasizes the need to control it. But go, get lost in nature and ask yourself this question: has the universe ever produced a mistake? Has there ever been a “wrong” snowflake or a weird constellation of stars? All is happening perfectly coordinated and orchestrated by itself. Why not trust the universe’s intelligence? Or ask yourself the following question: if you can’t trust the universe, the fore- and background of all there is, whom could you trust? You couldn’t trust anybody, not even yourself! So you would have to come up with checks and controls and because you couldn’t trust the checker and controller either you would have to come up with a check for the checks and a control for the controllers, etc. As a consequence, you would never find peace, you would never be at ease. So then, tell me what reasonable option do we have other than to take the risk to trust the universe?
How to quiet the mind?
The desire to quiet the mind is a rejection of the disquiet mind. In other words, the disquiet mind is rendered into a problem. To try to get rid of a problem is to enforce it, because the very trying validates the problem by giving it credit. So, the attempt to get rid of a (psychological) problem by problematizing it is as accomplishable as trying to not see an elephant when you think you see one. It can’t be done. The source of any psychological problem is the thought of a problem. You can never ever not have a problem as long as you think you have one.
How to solve this dilemma? What to do? Do nothing. Do not mind the disquiet mind and it will calm down by itself. Once you realize this, the problem of a disquiet mind ceases to be problematic and will not bother you again.
End of part one
Once we start to hang out in spiritual circles of the Buddhist or Advaita kind we soon enough come across statements like “life is an illusion” or “life is just a dream”. While teachings pointing to the “unreality” of the world as we perceive it through the filter of our minds are very helpful, I find spiritual seekers often get stuck in it. And whenever seekers get stuck, it is because they mistake the metaphor for the reference.
All the “dream”-metaphor refers to is the fact that how we perceive the world is fundamentally subjective. The image of the world as we know it is a function of our individual set of conditioned beliefs of good and bad (in time and space). The judgmental (good vs. bad) interpretation of the stream of experiences creates the illusion of an observatory experiencer, an entity separate from the stream. This split is the source of duality: there is a “me” experiencing and evaluating what is happening within and without. Accordingly, non-duality is realizing the “me” as another experience, as another aspect of the stream. It is the awakening to the truth that all there is, is the stream of experience. Thus, by entering the stream, “we”, the subjective “judge” dissolves. And by no longer objecting or trying to control the stream, we flow with it and suffering ends.
Unfortunately, for many people I have met, the metaphor seems to mean that they should suspend judgement or negate their subjective experiences. Both approaches, though, are expressions of a fundamentally judgmental nature. They can’t work, because whenever we do something to get something we are operating from a stance of good vs. bad. “I should not judge” is as judgmental as it gets.
Spiritual pointers and metaphors are not meant to make us do something but simply to acknowledge and accept how it is. Hence, to enter the stream (and dissolve the “judge”) all one has to do is to fully acknowledge our imaginary views of the world. Once we don’t care about judgement anymore, we have transcended judgement, and we enter. When we say “yes” to everything, even to our conditioned “no’s”, unity is restored. Nirvana is Samsara fully embraced.
There are certain ways to bring this state of surrender about. Ramana Maharshi for example would say that the world is unreal (a subjective image), that fundamentally only Brahman (the “raw” stream of experience) was real, but that in the end, the world was Brahman. So, even the subjective judgement (the “me”) is an expression of the sacred, because it is also an experience. There is only experience, unity, and “thou art that”.
The (teaching-)approach which works for me is a bit different, though. I compare living with going to the movies. We all know that the whole fun of going to the movies is to forget that is a movie and to get lost in the plot. So, if we kept telling us it was “just” a movie or “just” an illusion, we could have stayed home, because it negates the whole movie experience. The same applies to life. If we keep telling ourselves that life is “just” a dream, we keep ourselves out of, that is, detached from life (see an older post on detachment). To get the most out of a movie experience one has to get wholeheartedly involved in the plot. Hence, getting completely sucked in by life without wobbling or hesitating, to live for the sake of playing out our part on the world stage, whatever this part turns out to be, that is the enlightened life. It is a sacred “yes”, which is unconditional, which does not expect anything in return and which, for those reasons, will yield constant surprise, wonder and gratefulness. A “dream” it is, but what an amazing one!
“Let everything happen to you. Beauty and terror. Just keep going. No feeling is final.”
~Rainer Maria Rilke