True Meditation: Recognizing Basic Sanity

“There is no need of training. Awareness is always with you. The same attention that you give to the outer, you turn to the inner. No new, or special kind of awareness is needed. What you need is to be aware of being aware. Don’t be misled by the simplicity of the advice. Very few are those who have the courage to trust the innocent and the simple.”

~Nisargadatta Maharaj


In most esoteric systems and consciousness therapies, meditation is a goal-oriented process that may involve any number of strategic techniques directed at a positive and beneficial modification of the meditator’s state and condition, from the gross level that seeks material acquisition, skills enhancement, and physical life extension, to the mental plane where the attainment of unusual powers (siddhis) and fascinating transcendental experiences are sought, and ultimately to the fulfillment of an ideal of enlightenment, peace, and bliss at the so-called “spiritual” stage.

Regardless of the particular system to which one ascribes, some form of meditation is typically considered a prerequisite practice, both to calm the mind, and then to direct it towards the achievement of some desirable personal outcome, whether that be an awakening insight, a pleasant and unusual bodily sensation, a glimpse into other levels of consciousness, or simply a temporary state of heightened clarity that could prove advantageous in the realm of business competition.

business meditation

In the spiritual arena, there are innumerable texts composed by teachers and masters extolling the virtues of this or that method of meditation, with elaborate instructions for various beginner, intermediate, and expert levels of application. Moreover, one will also find detailed critiques of one particular sect’s meditation practices in comparison to another sect’s methods, in terms of efficacy and potency, and general efficiency in the attainment of the goals set forth by the umbrella religious/spiritual system.

Much of that competitive aspect is simply the usual human vanity expressed as “my way is better than your way”, played out in the religious arena. At its extreme, such attitudes predictably lead to religious conflicts and the type of sectarian strife so sadly evident both today and throughout history.

A number of examples (though thankfully mostly non-violent) of competing meditation programs could be found within Buddhism, with its various schools and sub-sects. For instance, in the school called Zen (Chan) Buddhism, which is known primarily as a meditation sect, one can find several diverse methods, each championed by its own sub-sect, and each typically going to elaborate lengths to differentiate itself from the others, as well as from other Buddhist “vehicles”.

One Zen sub-sect (Rinzai) favors the use of koans, or challenging and seemingly irrational enigmas drawn from classical “cases”, which the teacher provides for the aspirant to work with, in order to break through their mental rigidity and stimulate some trans-rational insight experience. Another Zen school (Soto), will instead focus on following or counting breaths, or else will employ a “just sitting” technique, derived from an earlier process called “silent illumination”, which involves observing one’s thoughts without any gaining idea, and which regards the assumption of the posture itself (a rather formal yogic position) as a manifestation itself of the very enlightenment that the Rinzai school is seeking to obtain via their koan program. Occasionally, another sub-sect might arise that seeks to combine the two techniques.

MtBaldy Zendo

Within Hinduism, there are even more variations on the meditation theme, which may include breath control, sound attenuation, mantras and magical incantations, numerous yogic postures and manipulation of subtle bodily energies, objects of concentrated contemplation and visualization, prayers and supplications to deities, and more advanced explorations of subtle and mystical realms achieved via mind control and various austerities, the potent intervention of a guru or spiritual preceptor, and numerous other approaches.

Regardless of the strategy, scheme, or method, the one common foundation of nearly all meditation programs at the very outset is the assumption of the inherently substantial reality of the meditator – the subject, or person (even if the eventual goal is to transcend that illusory identity). The proposition is to transform that person from a deluded being into an awakened one, from a suffering, bound, and conflicted individual into a free, peaceful, and happy one.

Essentially, all meditation programs are based on a desire to have things be other than they are, different and more agreeable. All of the many supports, such as special meditation environments, special clothing and accessories (such as incense, bells, statues, pictures, and prescribed cushions), special diets and exercises, select groups and teaching aids, and various elaborate rituals and trappings, are enthusiastically employed to dress the stage with the props believed necessary or conducive to accomplishing the purposes of the particular meditation of choice. All in all, it can become a rather elaborate affair, and more often than not, such props can actually get in the way of the very liberation being sought after, primarily by confirming the solidity of the aspirant and necessity of their ritual tools.

In contrast, true meditation begins with the recognition of the two-fold emptiness of both self and phenomena, the direct realization that subjects and objects exist purely by virtue of conceptual designation. Upon their arising, all thoughts, self-images, memories, beliefs, sensations, emotions and perceptions are revealed in true meditation as impermanent and empty of substance, like holographic phantasms. There is no requirement for some special costume or ritual in true meditation, nor any strategic plan for self-transformation and personal ascendance. The one who would accomplish any of that is recognized as an imaginative figment of a fictional story right from the beginning.

In fact, true meditation is actually non-meditation, since it has nothing to accomplish, and hence requires no effort geared towards a change of state or attainment of something extra. Nothing has to be developed, fixed, or resolved, but only recognized. It adds nothing to nor subtracts anything from experience. It simply consists of being aware of being aware, or directly noticing mind’s true nature – our native awake awareness that is self-existing and spontaneously present, open and spacious, lucid and transparent.

Nisargadatta Maharaj put it this way:

“To be aware is to be awake. Unaware means asleep. You are aware anyhow, you need not try to be. What you need is to be aware of being aware. Be aware deliberately and consciously, broaden and deepen the field of awareness. You are always conscious of the mind, but you are not aware of yourself as being conscious.

The mind produces thoughts ceaselessly, even when you do not look at them. When you know what is going on in your mind, you call it consciousness. This is your waking state — your consciousness shifts from sensation to sensation, from perception to perception, from idea to idea, in endless succession. Then comes awareness, the direct insight into the whole of consciousness, the totality of the mind. The mind is like a river, flowing ceaselessly in the bed of the body; you identify yourself for a moment with some particular ripple and call it: ‘my thought’. All you are conscious of is your mind; awareness is the cognisance of consciousness as a whole.”

When left unrecognized, the thinking, concept-forming, and interpretive activity of dualistic mind arises, and a continuously existing “person” is first fabricated and then taken to be who and what we are. Once we recognize this basic awareness, however, the passing parade of thoughts loses its power to seduce us into a trance of identification with a habitual state of craving and aversion — the same trance which in turn creates the illusion of a separate and enduring self — and so simply dissolves. In such recognition, any emotions, thoughts, preferences, perceptions of good and bad, and so forth are naturally released without effort. As the western teacher Adyashanti wrote: “When you rest in quietness and your image of yourself fades, and your image of the world fades, and your ideas of others fade, what’s left? A brightness, a radiant emptiness that is simply what you are.”

light being

In true meditation, there is a clear knowing space in which thoughts arise, linger, and disappear. Once noticed, true meditation is simply relaxing into that space of silent knowingness, the transparent awake awareness between thoughts, rather than pursuing and then identifying with any thought. In the recognition of this subtle awareness, or in the knowing of that which is knowing, there is a complete absence of any conceptualizing, memory association, or anticipation. By relaxing into the pure empty clarity of this knowing awareness again and again, true meditation eventually becomes stabilized. As the great Tibetan yogi Milarepa noted: “In the gap between former and later thoughts non-conceptual wisdom shines continuously.”

With every inward glance, we can notice that awake aware quality that is both empty and knowing, while remaining totally unaffected by any thoughts. True meditation is just staying with this recognition. It does not require studious analysis nor complex and progressive cultivation. Rather, it is merely a matter of recognizing, as our own mind nature — this very wakefulness of natural knowing that is self-existing and spontaneously present. Regardless of whatever thought forms arise in the mind, the essence does not change but remains a fresh, basic state of naturalness, which can be neither improved or corrupted by the play of consciousness.

In true meditation, attention merely shifts from its chronic obsession with mental fabrications and emotional moods to the natural state of changeless aware knowingness and silent presence. It is an effortless noticing, or as the Dzogchen teacher Mingyur Rinpoche notes:

“It is easy to recognize it. You just have to drop thinking and it is right there. There is not a lot to be done. You do not have to do this and that and the other. It is like the example of trying to touch space with your finger. To touch space, you do not have to move your finger at all, do you—it is already touching space, isn’t it?”

“It is as though your eyes are looking backwards instead of forwards as they usually do. You are looking out with your eyes but are looking back at the same time. Do not try too hard with this though, otherwise you will really make a big mistake. You just sort of look back at your mind and say, ‘Who am I? Where am I? What is this?’ When you do that, do you see the thing that is thinking? That is enough!”

In the parlance of Tibetan Dzogchen (Great Perfection) teachings, this state of true meditation is called “rigpa”. A contemporary master, Tsoknyi Rinpoche, says of it:

“What is this non-meditation? How do we meditate without meditating? Whatever situation mind is in, whether there are discursive thoughts of good, bad, clean, unclean, and so on, if you drop all of these so that you are without even a whisker of the conceptual activity of mind, the nature of mind will shine forth as non-stopped clarity and that is called self-arising rigpa. This does not need to be created or produced or purchased; when you let mind itself, just as it is, shine forth and stay in that, that is called self-arising rigpa. Someone who meditates using logical processes could never meditate on this, could never realize it.

To do this, you need to reverse your outwardly-directed attention inward and look hither towards the mind. This way of looking hither towards the mind means to rest self-settled in unhindered clarity. Having released all the bindings of passion, aggression, pride, and so on, abide in the state of this self-arising rigpa of non-stopped clarity, crystal clarity, like the sun shining in the sky. Not being caught by this and that but resting in the non-stopped clarity of whatever there is occurring in mind is called self-arising rigpa.”

“In fact, rigpa is coming all the time. It is always there so there is nothing to do. There is no meditation to do because it is there all the time. There is no need of mantra, no need to do anything in particular, no need to visualize something; it is just there.”

This natural state of thought-free wakefulness is the mind’s ever-present background and true nature, but for most of us it is obscured and so remains unappreciated, due to our compounded fixations with self and phenomena which produce the vicious cycle of grasping and avoiding that is our usual experience. However, if we then fabricate some project to remove the mind’s obscuration, we just move further away from true meditation, which is not at all about removing or improving or any of the busy work normally associated with spiritual practices, such as conventional meditation. Rather, attention is simply shifted to the knowing awareness in which the various thoughts and emotions are appearing, which immediately releases them from any binding quality. Mind need not be altered in any way. It does not require any addition or subtraction. It is fine just as it is.

madmonk fb

Traditionally, aspirants deemed ready are introduced to rigpa through certain face-to-face “pointing out instructions” with their teacher. The contemporary western Dzogchen teacher Jackson Peterson shared an example of this direct introduction to rigpa from the Yeshe Lama by Jigmed Lingpa:

“Do not contrive or elaborate the awareness of this very moment. Allow it to be just as it is. This is not established as existing, not existing, or having a direction. It does not discern between emptiness and appearances and does not have the characteristics of nihilism and eternalism. Within this state where nothing exists, it is unnecessary to exert effort through view or mediation. The great primordial liberation is not like being released from bondage. It is natural radiance uncontrived by the intellect, wisdom unsullied by concepts.

The nature of phenomena, not tainted by the view and meditation, is evenness without placement …without premeditation. It is clarity without characteristics and vastness not lost to uniformity. Although all sentient beings have never been separate from their own indwelling wisdom even for an instant, by failing to recognize this, it becomes like a natural flow of water solidifying into ice. With the inner grasping mind as the root cause and outer objective clinging as the contributing circumstance, beings wander in samsara indefinitely. Now, with the guru’s oral instructions, at the moment of encountering awareness–without any mental constructions– rest in the way things truly are, without wavering from or meditating on anything. This fully reveals the core wisdom intent of the primordial Buddha.”


Thus, in true meditation, nothing is in need of renunciation or transformation. It is simply remaining present as this nondual awareness, the mind’s true nature, just as it is, without resort to schemes or strategies of some other, future attainment. It includes the realization that there is no difference between this moment now and supreme enlightenment. There is nothing beyond this basic state of wakefulness, nothing to grasp or avoid. This is why it is said that our ordinary mind, just as it is, is perfect and complete.

This very mind has always been fully awake, it is merely that we have not been clearly seeing our thoughts, emotions, and perceptions as they are, but instead have been adding conditional fantasies of interpretation to whatever arises, which have clouded our view and led to confusion. However, if we are able to recognize the true nature of the thought as soon as it arises, and leave it alone without pursuing it, then whatever thoughts arise all automatically self-liberated without effort or fuss. In this way, from the point of view of awake awareness, we recognize the innate purity and emptiness of whatever arises, without assigning any praise or blame, or indulging any motive to have things be other than they are.

“Buddhahood — the discovery of the Dharmakaya — is nothing other than the uncontrived and unadulterated essence of Awareness becoming evident. And because awareness is present in everyone without transition or change, I advise you to rest in the spontaneous presence of your uncontrived Awareness.”


world face 2

(A deep bow of gratitude to Jackson Peterson, who generously provided the Dzogchen quotations)

Posted in Uncategorized | 24 Comments

Science and Spirituality

science spirit

“Only when each one of us feels the truth, appreciates the truth, accepts the truth, and is ready to follow the truth, will it work. When someone puts himself outside of the truth in order to study the truth, he won’t know what to do when something happens to him.”

~Shunryu Suzuki Roshi

There is a terrific amount of fresh and exciting activity these days revolving around the increasing connections and bridges being forged and mutually fruitful exchanges being made between the latest developments in the scientific field (such as in quantum physics, neuroscience, psychology, and of course in various consciousness studies) and the world of spirituality.

Some have even suggested that the scientific method, if followed without premature bias, will result in the discovery of the Truth with a capital “T”. Indeed, a good case could be made that awakened beings such as the Buddha were actually very scientific in the process and development of their brilliant and inspiring insights, and left behind scientific means and methods to achieve self-knowledge, happiness, and freedom from suffering.

Certainly, intellectual knowledge (which is the domain and goal of science) can be incredibly useful for the evolutionary advancement and betterment of the species (although it is also capable of being employed for destructive purposes, as has been sadly proven again and again in human history).

However, can even the highest of human concepts ever amount to truly liberating knowledge? Furthermore, can liberation ever be the result of some skilfully applied method, which could in turn be duplicated under laboratory conditions and be universally applicable?


The great Masters who have addressed the matter are unanimous in claiming that genuine Liberation is beyond the causal process of strategic effort altogether. Nor can it be achieved through a contrived mindfulness, which only leads back to thoughts and concepts.

The nondual sage Ramana Maharshi indicated as much when he said: “All that you need do is find the origin of mind and abide there. Your efforts can extend only thus far. Then the Beyond will take care of itself. You are helpless there. No effort can reach it.

All the scientist (or any of us for that matter) can really do is to discover and then discard that which is not true. The mind can be employed to eliminate certain barriers to realization, but it cannot be used to grasp itself. Truth itself cannot be seen, because it is always what is seeing. Awareness can never be an object to itself. What is perceived cannot perceive.

Moreover, as the sage Nisargadata Maharaj noted: “Any knowledge of any kind that you think you have can only be in the consciousness. Whatever happens in consciousness is purely imaginary, a hallucination. How can the consciousness which came later give you any knowledge about that state which exists prior to consciousness’ arrival?”


Having some intellectual insight into truth is not at all the same as its direct realization. It is merely a faint and shadowy reflection, and not the great relief that comes with the genuine awakening that penetrates to the very cells. Relying on mind and intellect alone for an accurate model of reality (much less its living experience) is like trying to eat a painting of a cake on paper.

A good example of the coincidence of Science and Spirituality is demonstrated by the most recent findings/theories of quantum mechanics, which posit that there is no objective and independently existing universe outside of our observations and interpretations. Despite its apparent solidity, the universe is at heart a phantasm, a gigantic and splendidly detailed hologram. Moreover, if the apparent separateness of subatomic particles is illusory, it means that at a deeper level of reality all things in the universe are infinitely interconnected. In a holographic universe, even time and space need no longer be viewed as fundamentals.

bu 2

This revelation is consistent with the Buddhist teachings of Madhyamaka (Middle Way), which also propose that that there is no objective reality independent of our mentally fabricated interpretations on perception, or conceptual designations, and that all phenomena arise interdependently (Pratītyasamutpāda).

In both cases, we may find such information challenging, or refreshing, or even revelatory, but does such knowledge alone have the power to free the hearer or knower from their own self-fixations and emotional contractions, or their habitual confusion over personal identity? Indeed, does any conceptual proposition have the power to bring about the cessation of suffering that follows each one of us like our shadow, and liberate us into the direct realization of our true nature?

Nisargadatta’s own guru, Siddharameshwar Maharaj, made a very salient point about true awakening: “When you have actually seen that you are not, there is no necessity of a means and an end. You have seen that you are not existent. There is a confirmed realization from top to bottom in the whole body, that ‘you’ are not there.” In other words, if awakening is real, and not just the accumulation of more conceptual insights, it must impact the total being, the “whole body”.

This point was echoed by Nisargadatta when he noted: “What you hear must enter you like an arrow and hit something deep within you. There must be an internal reaction; without the reaction, what you hear won’t do you any good. You should know it when the arrow reaches its mark.”

Ecstasy of Saint Theresa

Any truth discovered as a result of intellectual analysis will likely still remain in the realm of knowledge, which is why many methods, whether scientific or spiritual, may bring one to the threshold, but none can carry one across. When does abstract knowledge become living wisdom? For that, something more is needed, something the intellect cannot comprehend, because it is that in which the intellect itself arises in and dissolves in.

As the great Kashmiri poetess Lalla once hinted: “Meditation and self-discipline are not all that’s needed, nor even a deep longing to go through the door of freedom. You may dissolve in contemplation, as salt does in water, but there’s something more that must happen.”

To be termed scientific, a method of inquiry must be based on empirical and measurable evidence that is subject to specific principles of reasoning. However, most of the world’s great wisdom systems are in agreement that “enlightenment” is intellectually incomprehensible; it cannot be understood or attained through conceptual knowledge, because it escapes all categories of thought, and so transcends all philosophical or scientific theories and propositions that are dependent on rational standardization, statistical analysis, and verifiable hypotheses.

beyond the mind

Simply stated, the human brain does not understand how to process memories outside of the physical world. Our brain constructs memories by associating information with that which it already knows. Since it does not know what it is like to be a brain within an alternate or expanded reality, it has nothing to which it can associate information coming from the spirit state, and therefore it does not know how to translate or interpret it into language accessible by the brain. There is a way of bringing such information into our awareness, but it involves bypassing the human brain by resonating at the higher frequency ranges which access “Quantum Intelligence”. In order to do so, we must first let go of our fixated identification with human consciousness, with all of its filters and conceptual designations, which obstruct our intuitive connection with Spirit.

Going Beyond

There is certainly no doubt that a wise and appropriate integration of science and spirituality can lead to a better understanding of how human beings think and behave in both the micro as well as the macro context. However, true spirituality moves in the very opposite direction from science at a particularly critical juncture, in which intellectual knowledge itself is seen and recognized to be an impediment, an obscuration holding the aspirant back from the necessary surrender of beliefs and concepts that is the prerequisite for any real spiritual breakthrough. In other words, it is not by knowing, but by unknowing, that the ground is prepared for the emergence of transformative insights into one’s fundamental nature and identity. As opposed to the scientific paradigm of knowledge acquisition, the path of spiritual transcendence is more about releasing all mental fabrications, rather than perpetually gathering facts and constructing more concept models.

Again, Nisargadatta addresses this point: “While I am talking about knowledge that is beyond the phenomenal world, you are trying to understand through worldly concept and words. If you continue in the realm of intellect you will become entangled and lost in more and more concepts. It is not possible for you to acquire knowledge, you are knowledge. You are what you are seeking.”


Although with brain imaging techniques, science now has the tools to evaluate what happens in the brain during certain religious experiences, such as prayer and meditation, it cannot extrapolate that data and subsequently arrive at a prescription for removing cognitive and emotional fixations, much less the achievement of spiritual liberation. No fine tuning of neurotransmitters will ever result in awakening. For that, a special form of wisdom which directly realizes the essential emptiness of both self and phenomena must first arise, and that will not happen merely by manipulating brain scan data and attempting to form a hypotheses for the methodical acquisition of such insight.

With the benefit of the aforementioned brain imaging technology, scientists can now determine to some extent that so-called “spiritual emotions” and unity experiences occur when certain portions of the brain are either stimulated or else relaxed. However, although the body and the mind are interrelated, they are not the same. The mind is not the brain, and the brain is not the mind. The brain is physical, whereas the mind is formless. The mind is not contained in the brain, regardless of the speculative assertions of the scientific materialists. There is nothing within the body that can be identified as being “our mind”.

We are so accustomed to think of ourselves as bodies having consciousness that it has become a real challenge to accept consciousness as having bodies. Nevertheless, a key spiritual insight consists of the direct realization that bodily existence is but a state of mind, a movement in consciousness. True scientists of the mind turn attention back to its silent source. They practice being aware of being aware, seeking the source of consciousness, until they are able to withdraw beyond consciousness altogether. No instruments will take us there. In the process, even the sense of “us” and “there” are recognized as mere transparent conceptual designations. It all must be discarded — even the wish for truth — so that truth at last can reveal itself as the spontaneously evident presence of awake awareness.


Taking the inquiry to the next step, one might even argue that our purpose in incarnating in these human forms is not so much to find “Truth” (which is our actual nature, prior to, in the midst of, and after these temporary forms dissolve back to the elements). Rather, we are here more for the purposes of understanding and then transcending all the chronic poisons that tend to obscure our original innocence, such as greed, envy, hatred, pride, and ignorance. In the process, we learn how to “do the right thing” in every situation we encounter, and live a life of natural integrity. “The Truth” in its more universal or absolute sense is not really any of our business, as long as we are addicted to the false in the way we live and relate in this realm.

In fact, it could be argued that the dense vibrational frequency at which we as humans resonate allows little if any possibility of expanding to the point where it can access the higher levels of consciousness. That is, as long as we are anchored to the human body-mind organism, we are simply not fitted for the appreciation or apprehension of the ever more subtle realities in the greater spectrum of consciousness beyond our current receptive capacity. A device with a hundred volt capacity simply cannot handle a million. It would incinerate the device. This is also why many near death experiencers report the sensation of “dumbing down”, upon return to the physical bio-vehicle.

In any case, there is no question that progress in our scientific understanding of ourselves and the world we inhabit shows enduring promise. The rapid advancements we are witnessing today in the evolution of the quality of our shared information data base can help speed our emergence as a species from the superstition-shrouded dark ages (which is sadly still entrenched in many parts of the world, particularly as a result of fundamentalist religious provincialism).

All knowledge is welcomed, but we also must recognize that knowledge does not equal wisdom, although the two can certainly go hand in hand. Indeed, there may come a time in our group evolution where any distinction between science and spirituality will have long ago been rendered obsolete in a new golden Age of Enlightenment, and what remains will only be the conscious process of Recognition that is equally accessible to all.


“Of all the hard facts of science, I know of none more solid and fundamental than the fact that if you inhibit thought (and persevere) you come at length to a region of consciousness below or behind thought, and different from ordinary thought in its nature and character — a consciousness of quasi-universal quality, and a realization of an altogether vaster self than that to which we are accustomed. And since the ordinary consciousness, with which we are concerned in ordinary life, is before all things founded on the little local self, and is in fact self-conscious in the little local sense, it follows that to pass out of that is to die to the ordinary self and the ordinary world.

It is to die in the ordinary sense, but in another sense, it is to wake up and find that the “I,” one’s real, most intimate self, pervades the universe and all other beings — that the mountains and the sea and the stars are a part of one’s body and that one’s soul is in touch with the souls of all creatures…..

So great, so splendid is this experience, that it may be said that all minor questions and doubts fall away in face of it; and certain it is that in thousands and thousands of cases the fact of its having come even once to a man has completely evolutionized his subsequent life and outlook on the world.”

~Edward Carpenter
The Drama of Love & Death, 1912


See also:

Posted in Uncategorized | 23 Comments

Like Burglars

A monk asked Ryuge,
“What did old Masters attain when they entered the ultimate stage?”
“They were like burglars, sneaking into a vacant house.”
Ryuge replied.

burglary 1

When most aspirants embark upon one of the so-called “spiritual” paths, it is usually with some expectation that they will ultimately be rewarded with a higher, expanded state of consciousness, a more profound view, a greater sense of peace and joy, perhaps some special powers derived from various yogic exercises, a more attractive personal magnetism, a more open loving heart and sharper intellect, certainly a cessation of doubt, boredom, and suffering, and even the “Answer” – some knowledge and solution to all of one’s questions about life, such as why we are here, what are we supposed to be doing, and so forth.

In other words, when we take on some prescribed method (usually based on someone else’s recommendation, such as a Guru), it is part of a scheme or strategy to attain whatever it is we believe we are lacking in order to feel happy and complete. We enter the spiritual marketplace and attempt to purchase the right ticket to the destination we imagine will grant us what we think we want.

Indeed, that is how most of us were programmed or conditioned to approach life in general — as if it is a problem to be solved, if only we are capable of assembling the right combination of ingredients and persist in our efforts to accomplish the task. Naturally, in transferring that attitude to spiritual practice, it is assumed that there will be some sort of causal relationship between personal efforts and the eventual obtainment of wisdom, or realization.

Personal fortitude and courage, clear attention, focused determination, perseverance, positive attitude, willingness to endure pain and tribulation for the sake of the goal, and many other virtues have been listed as prerequisites for gaining the prize at the end of the race. We’ve been told (and so believe) that the proper application of mind, will, and energy will result in our ultimate personal victory, granting us the cherished fruits we projected would await us at the finish line, or at top of the mountain, or on the other shore.

What a shocking revelation then, when it is directly recognized that the belief in the reality of this person who is supposedly on some grand journey towards enlightenment has actually been one of the chief factors which have been obscuring true liberation. All along, there has been nothing to grasp and nobody to grasp anything! The person, the method, and the goal have been nothing but concepts, and when concepts are seen for what they are – empty mental constructs – then all of the imaginary stories generated by the mind (including those revolving around an inherent self and self-existing objects) lose their sense of substantiality.

As Vivekananda, the foremost disciple of the great nineteenth century sage Ramakrishna, wrote: “Space, time, causation are all delusions. It is your disease that you think you are bound and will be free. You are the Unchangeable. Talk not. Sit down and let all things melt away — they are but dreams. There is no differentiation, no distinction; it is all superstition.”

In that recognition, all such fictions of self-achievement are naturally liberated, like dream images that vanish upon awakening. Indeed, any sense of bondage can only exist as an investment in a thought object. Accordingly, real liberation is realized to be naturally present in the absence of any such conceptual designations. When we see that we have been pinching ourselves, we just stop doing that. It is not really any more complicated than that, although for most of us, we tend to complicate the matter, and so there are all sorts of teachings directed at getting us to stop tearing at our own flesh, so to speak.

The problem arises when we project our preconceptions onto these teachings, imagining that they reify an independent and enduring self in need of being instructed. By doing so, we fail to recognize that the teachings themselves are also our own projections. We projected a state of bondage, then projected a “Way” to free ourselves from that imaginary sense of imprisonment, and finally we projected a pleasing result or triumphant outcome for following such schemes.

It is all rather comical, except that we take our projections seriously, and so suffer the ensuing dramas, accompanied by all sorts of hopes and fears which further complicate the matter. We bought the train ticket to Nirvana, and are reluctant to discard it, even though we suspect that we might be traveling around in circles. As Nisargadatta Maharaj noted: “The man in the train travels from place to place, but the man off the train goes nowhere, for he is not bound for a destination. He has nowhere to go, nothing to do, nothing to become. Those who make plans will be born to carry them out. Those who make no plans need not be born. All you have to do is to abandon all memories and expectations. Just keep yourself ready in utter nakedness and nothingness.”

The entangling confusion that seems to beset most aspirants can be traced back to the belief that we are the doer – the busy pilgrim on the way to glory — when in fact that self-sense will begin to collapse upon thorough investigation. Upon inspection, it is revealed to be nothing more than a bundle of thoughts and memories mistaken to represent our actual identity.

Even then, such a collapse is not really the result of our doing, although the investigation itself will serve to some extent to remove impediments to clear seeing. However, that belief and conviction in a personal self goes deeper than the conscious mind’s constructs. In that regard, the contemporary Dzogchen teacher Jackson Peterson makes a salient point regarding the futility of self-improvement strategies when he notes:

“The subconscious mind is what is projecting your identity and sense of who you are. “You” have no control over that because “you” are just a puppet projection of past memories, conditioning, and self-images. . . Practice or effort has no influence on whether the subconscious ceases projecting the self-identity. The one who is “practicing” is this puppet. The subconscious is just having the little dream puppet busy practicing with effort or without effort. The key is getting the subconscious to cease creating the “me self”. And “you” can’t do that because that “you” is what the subconscious is projecting: a “you” trying to get rid of a “me”. It’s all puppet activity directed 100% by the subconscious. For many different reasons, the subconscious suddenly stops projecting a personal self. In that moment there is only emptiness knowing itself. Once the puppet disappears, there is no one left. There is just vast conscious aware space with no history, issues, or identity. That is what a Buddha is.”

He later adds:

“The problem is the subconscious is projecting a “you” that has no control of the projector. However the projector is also a receiver of all kinds of information, like perceptions, words, concepts and wisdom. If the receiver aspect processes particular information about the projection of the self being a mistake, it can sometimes immediately shut down. Exposing the mind/receiver to the “Emptiness Teachings” regarding the emptiness of the me-self, a sudden cessation can happen.

Consequently, rather than desperately trying to calm the mind and achieve some idealistic transformation of the imaginary character we have previously assumed ourselves to be, we can instead stop investing energy and attention in that conceptual construct. To this end, expedient practices such as non-dwelling, silence, and true inquiry can be employed like a thorn to remove another thorn. Once that initial thorn of the self-contraction is removed, then the practices too can be discarded.

When interest in and attention to arising thoughts is subsequently refused, the mind can relax and settle naturally. In this way, the seen becomes just the seen, the heard is just the heard, the sensation of being-ness is just that, without the gratuitous superimposition of fantasies of interpretation on perception. What is realized is that there was never anything in need of salvation, redemption, or enhancement. As the great Tibetan Adept Longchenpa taught:

“Since all phenomena are timelessly free, nothing need be done to free them anew through realization. Even the thought that freedom comes about through direct introduction is deluded. One strives to free this essence from whatever binds it, but nothing need be done to free it, for unobstructed Awareness, which has never existed as anything whatsoever, does not entail any duality of something to be realized and someone to realize it. There is equalness because nothing is improved by realization or worsened by it’s absence, so there is no need for any adventitious realization. And because there never has existed anything to realize — for the ultimate nature of phenomena is beyond ordinary consciousness — to speak of realization on even the relative level is nothing but deluded. What can be shown at this point is the transcendence of view and meditation, in which nothing need be done regarding realization, nothing need be directly introduced, and no state of meditation need be cultivated. So there is the expression ‘it is irrelevant whether or not one has realization’.”

That being so, is this the end of the whole matter — the realization that a phantom has been chasing an illusion in a dream? In some respects, the matter itself has been a simple case of mistaken identity, and yet, there is still this appearance, this apparent self, and the apparent world, filled with living and breathing sentience of life, a limitless energy wildly and sublimely manifesting as everybody and everything. Ramana Maharshi noted that this need not be a contradiction – that the “I” sees through the illusion of “I” and yet still remains as “I”. In fact, it is only at this stage of recognition that the Play of True Love can fully be appreciated in all of its bewildering and heart-breaking wonder, for the Awakened Mind is a Mind of Love.

True love is simple, primordial, and naturally selfless. It is only complicated by the superimposition of the “me and mine” story. Indeed, unless the emptiness of self and world is directly seen, love will always be burdened with conditions, precluding the possibility of selfless compassion. However, unless such awakened compassion is subsequently embodied in the way we now behave and relate, then the recognition of two-fold emptiness has not fulfilled its potential.

The danger at this stage is that we may remain fixated and aloof in a dreamy emptiness and yet imagine that we have accomplished our purpose in being born, when in fact we have barely begun to really manifest the living light. We may have just exchanged one prison for a more subtle one, and one perhaps even harder to transcend.

Those who have managed to see though the trap of clinging to emptiness and so proceed ever deeper into the revelation may come to realize that even the direct experience and recognition of the two-fold emptiness of self and phenomena does not necessarily resolve an emotional contraction at the heart. This is also why we hear, for example, of prominent teachers who display obvious signs of profound insight into the fundamental nature of things, and yet still find themselves involved in plentiful and disturbing scandals stemming from an inability to resolve emotional/sexual knots at their core.

The law of Love will not permit partial surrender. There is a natural progression, an evolutionary blossoming possible, if one stays true to the call of Love. To do so, everything, including all prior visions and gifts of spirit, must be let go, released – this, in spite of the fact that surrender is not something that can be done. One can’t surrender, but only remove that which stands in the way of selflessness. And that impediment is most often characterized by a reluctance to immerse oneself, nakedly and vulnerably, in the mystery of Love, for the sake of Love alone. Again, quoting Ramana: “Only if one attains the height of Love will liberation be attained.”

True Love is always present as the open and transparent spaciousness of selfless awake awareness in the midst of all life. It cannot even be defined in opposition to bondage. It is as free in bondage as it is in liberation. It is liberation even from liberation. Though all positions are position in mind, Love has no position. It has no opposite. It will always exceed any effort to contain it, because it is prior to the mind that would try to grasp it.

Without Love there is no Truth. Without Truth there is no Love. Love transcends any sense of its own absence — that core story of separation and contraction from Itself, which is infinitely modified as the forms of our chronic suffering and dissatisfaction, and the ensuing cycle of craving and aversion. Strangely, fear of such love is the only fear greater than fear of death, because it demands that we die into life with arms wide open.

This Love, this intimate connection with all beings and life itself, transcends and yet lives within the opposites, the paradoxes, of experience and perception. In order to maintain the image of being a separate self, and perpetuate the “me and mine story”, we must disconnect from Love, even though that which would do so is eventually consumed by Love. The totality of the universal manifestation is being lived by Love, is in fact nothing but an expression of Love, beyond the boundaries of any human comprehension.

Indeed, the old masters who realized the so-called “ultimate stage” may have been like burglars sneaking into the vacant house of self and world, but that house itself is located in the embrace of Love, surrounded and ever permeated by perfume of Love. To stop at the mere vacancy of the house alone is to miss the view from the open windows. That view is the view of Love, looking out of every pair of eyes, and recognizing only Itself, the bliss and the terror, the beauty and the ugliness, the light and dark of Itself, the conditional as well as the unconditional, for truly, there is only Love, and that which has yet to recognize Itself as Love in the magnificent starry Play of Love.

Q: Is not all suffering self-created?

Nisargadatta Maharaj: Yes, as long as there is a separate self to create it. In the end you know that there is no sin, no guilt, no retribution, only life in its endless transformations. With the dissolution of the personal ‘I’ personal suffering disappears. What remains is the great sadness of compassion, the horror of the unnecessary pain.

Q: Is there anything unnecessary in the scheme of things?

M: Nothing is necessary, nothing is inevitable. Habit and passion blind and mislead. Compassionate awareness heals and redeems. There is nothing we can do, we can only let things happen according to their nature.

Q: Do you advocate complete passivity?

M: Clarity and charity is action. Love is not lazy and clarity directs. You need not worry about action, look after your mind and heart. Stupidity and selfishness are the only evil.

Q: In love there must be duality, the lover and the beloved.

M: In love there is not the one even, how can there be two? Love is the refusal to separate, to make distinctions. Before you can think of unity, you must first create duality. When you truly love, you do not say, ‘I love you'; where there is mentation, there is duality. Without love, and will inspired by love, nothing can be done. Affectionate awareness is the crucial factor that brings Reality into focus.

snail love

Posted in Uncategorized | 13 Comments

A Brief History of the Dream

tiny grass is dreaming

“There is no need of a way out!
Don’t you see that a way out is also a part of the dream?
All you have to do is to see the dream as dream.”

~Nisargadatta Maharaj

Our true and original nature is the Supreme Source of the universe and all of its infinite energetic manifestations. Everything we see and experience, including the body and its conditions, is a projection of that Source energy as radiant holographic light, which assumes the forms of you and me and everything. There is no “external” reality separate from our own activity as Source, nothing appearing outside of us — no “objective world” — that is not a figment of our own dreamy Source energy projections.

As shards of Source energy, we “co-create” the illusion called “the universe”, along with its dazzling variety of props and experiences, tests and challenges, loves and losses, victories and defeats. The Hindus use the term “lila” for this immense display, commonly translated as “creative divine play”. In any case, it is all a truly awesome mirage, birthed in an act of indescribable love. Though far beyond the comprehension of our limited human intellect, it is still a kind of magic trick all the same. When we turn our attention from the magic to the magician, we make a radical discovery. We’ve been pulling a rabbit out of our own hat!

Sorcerer Apprentice

Somewhere down the road we might become weary of the production, or indifferent to its elaborations, and so create the teacher and the teachings that point back to who and what we truly are, which we’ve pretended to have forgotten when we entered into the game of time and space (which is also our own mental creation). We’ve played all the roles, we’ve seen their effects, garnered the laughs and applause, endured the boos and thumbs down, but now we are ready to lift the curtain. Perhaps we are ready to wake up and See.

Our view as a child is not the same as our view now, but what has changed? For the person, nothing is remembered, but for Source, all is known, because Source is beyond the confines of time. Omniscience is our natural condition, which this human amnesia only temporarily obscures (for the purposes of the game, the play, the theater of action). Source imposes such forgetfulness on Itself, mostly for the joy of remembering Itself once again. As expressions of Source energy, we each provide Source with unique vantage points from which to enjoy Its creative play, as well as vehicles by which to recognize Itself when the causes and conditions ripen.


The individual we take ourselves to be, the sense of “me” in the midst of a particular human incarnational story, is but a momentary modification of this luminous Source energy, typically misperceived as being trapped within a dense material vibration. However, because it arises dependently, it is empty of any inherent and substantial “self” that could ever be truly bound or free. This realization becomes apparent in the course of a sincere and focused inquiry into our real identity. In that conscious process, we notice that all of our emotional suffering, our sense of self, our delusion and frustration, exist only in our “inner” thought world, and moreover, we come to recognize that world is not who or what we are. As we awaken, the whole narrative of “me and mine” is undermined, and eventually seen for the fraud it really is.


Thoughts perpetually arise and dissolve, but do not affect our real being. So too do forms come and go, stories come and go, self-images come and go, but what we are is beyond those transient and non-binding modifications of consciousness. We are them, but they are not us. All angles of vision are nothing but Source, looking out of every eye. Although all eyes are equally Source, some views are cloudy and obscured, while some are crystal clear. Most are somewhere in between. Whatever the view, it has no impact on our immediate awake awareness, the primordial presence of reality itself.

Nevertheless, by habitually granting attention and reality to our passing thoughts, we tend to identify with them to the point of distraction from our free native state, and what ensues is an alternating cycle of desire and fear, craving and aversion. It’s not that there is some separate inner world that exists independently, but rather that the fantasy realm of appearances is only reified when our distracted attention creates it and maintains it. In that way, we are the authors of our own sense of suffering. We are our own jailers.

When we sleep at night, we populate our dreams with all sorts of imaginary creatures and characters. In much the same way, so too does Source populate its dream universe with an infinite variety of dreamy entities and action figures, in order to experience all of the infinite aspects of Itself in every kind of situation. Direct recognition of this process, or seeing the dream as a dream, is called by some “Awakening”, although there is no actual person that awakens. When our attention turns around and rests in the silent space between thoughts, Source recognizes Itself through the open lens of its dream character, remembering its original nature and identity, from which it has never actually been divided.

There is the seed of that true recognition (also called Buddha Nature) within all experience. It is not enhanced, corrupted, or manipulated in any way by the play of consciousness. Just as a mirror is not affected by its reflections, so too does our true nature of transparent awake awareness remain unmodified by any projections in the dream. There is nothing appearing in the mirror that can be grasped or clung to, there is no argument to be won or perfect state to be achieved, nothing requiring figuring out or fixing, nothing in need of redemption or salvation. All of that is just flashing reflections and dream projections.


The flowering of this seed of our original innocence yields the realization that there are no others, and that such dualism is an inaccurate way of perceiving phenomena altogether. Indeed, all conceptual designations or mental fabrications, such as self and other, subject and object, good and evil, light and dark, inner and outer, yin and yang, male and female, old and young, even liberation and bondage, or samsara and nirvana, are simply our own compounded projections flashing in the mirror-mind of Source, and are no more or less real than a fleeting day-dream.

As Nisargadatta Maharaj remarked: “If you seek reality, you must set yourself free of all backgrounds, of all cultures, of all patterns of thinking and feeling. Even the idea of being man or woman, or even human, should be discarded. The ocean of life contains all, not only humans. So, first of all abandon all self-identification, stop thinking of yourself as such-and-such or so-and-so, this or that. Abandon all self-concern, worry not about your welfare, material or spiritual, abandon every desire, gross or subtle, stop thinking of achievement of any kind. You are complete here and now, you need absolutely nothing.”

Map to Heartbeat 7  Koehnline

Indeed, any attempt to liberate anything is superfluous, since everything is already self-released into the open spacious freedom of primordial awake awareness. Nothing has ever been lacking. Delusion and enlightenment are not two. All of our problems have arisen solely because we believed that we were an independent doer, when in fact that has never actually been the case.

Even now, we can recognize the changeless ground of the Great Perfection that we always already are. In practice, when we observe a thought appearing in mind, we need not follow it, but instead we can notice the clear aware space in which that thought is appearing. By relaxing and resting in that sky-like spaciousness, instead of running after thought, the thoughts themselves and their implications naturally self-release. By repeating this process again and again, the angle of vision will clarify, and the direct recognition of our original nature as Source Itself will move from the silent background to the forefront.

As the great Adept Saraha noted: “The root of the whole of samsara and nirvana is the nature of mind. To realize it, rest in unstructured ease without meditating on anything. When all that needs to be done is to rest in yourself, it is amazing that you are deluded by seeking elsewhere! Everything is of the primordial nature, without its being this and not that.”

snow boat

At such a juncture, the distance between the arising thought or emotion, and the awareness of it, dissolves, and there is simply awareness experiencing itself as thought or emotion, memory, or perception. The dreamer and the dream are not separate. The ocean is the wave and the wave is the ocean. There is only One, mysteriously appearing as everything and anything, and joyously experiencing Itself as all and nothing. When It recognizes its own empty nature as transparent awake awareness, all its expressions are spontaneously self-liberated.

For this recognition, there is no need for complex mental acrobatics, no need to run away and sit in a cave, twisting body and mind into contortions, or chase after every guru on the satsang circuit, hoping that somehow they will provide some special enlightenment ingredient which we believe is lacking in ourselves. We can let go of any sense of limitation right here and now.

All we need do is pay attention, and stop allowing ourselves to be led around by the nose by our thoughts, emotions, beliefs, memories, positions, and conditioned interpretations on perception. Nor do we need to go looking for love – we are love, we are grace, we are beauty and freedom. There is no other place we need to be. Our very appearance in this world, or any world, is the blissful dynamic play of Source, and we are That.

Let’s stop believing otherwise, and let the dream be.

“You are the Supreme Reality beyond the world and its creator, beyond consciousness and its witness, beyond all assertions and denials. Remember it, think of it, act on it. Abandon all sense of separation, see yourself in all and act accordingly.”

~Nisargadatta Maharaj


Posted in Uncategorized | 36 Comments

Saving the World


“Millions eat bread, but few know all about wheat. And only those who know can improve the bread. Similarly, only those who know the self, who have seen beyond the world, can improve the world. Their value to private persons is immense, for they are their only hope of salvation.”

~Nisargadatta Maharaj

From the absolute perspective, there is no need for any story – things are what they are. What is, simply is. However, while immersed in the relative, objective sphere of time and space (as all of us are), there will be narratives, because that is how humans organize chaos. Even several levels above this vibrational frequency, there are still narratives, just more subtle.

The question is: to which narrative will we grant reality? Depending on our choice, so is the world created. We are not so much in the world as the world is in us. It is a compounded product of our own projections, both individually and collectively. On the macro level, the current world is the result of stories we have collectively fashioned, and so will be the world which follows.

When the mind moves, stories are spawned. Be before mind, and stories will take care of themselves. However, how many are able to drop off the mind? Certainly not the mass of humanity, or even the mass of spiritual practitioners. Consequently, we need to be very discriminative with our story-making.

The following consideration has been touched on previously, in essays such as “To Do Something”, “Shaking Others Awake”, and “Fighting the Powers That Be”, which are archived here. However, given the multiple alarming flash points that threaten humanity of late, it seems appropriate to inquire into the matter once again.

For most of us at our current level of awareness, the story of this realm is to a very large extent about a dedicated theater/training ground for soul evolution. In that respect, it functions perfectly, just as it is. It perfectly serves the various actors/students who appear here, who do so based on various causes and conditions which ripen into human birth on this planet (and countless others throughout the multiverse which provide comparable curricula).

Briefly, it is because conditions here are so different than what we experience in our natural state as immortal beings of light that we are curious about and thus attracted to the possibilities of human incarnation. Among other reasons, it provides a unique opportunity to find out how we would react when faced with the kinds of challenges specific to realms like this one. It is a particular kind of stage with particular kinds of props, and although the props will always be changing, the stage remains the same.

Essentially, the focus of this Earth drama/curriculum revolves around issues of love, integrity, and freedom from ignorance. Consequently, the fundamentals of both right view and right conduct are at the heart of most of the dramas and tests souls are subjected to here. These tests specifically entail such challenges as ignorance, greed, envy, hatred, and pride — the chief impediments that characterize rudimentary levels of soul developmental adaptation. Thus, the main emphasis in this screenplay is on how we treat each other in our lives and relationships, particularly in the midst of the challenging conditions that pertain on a war planet such as this.

Yes, a war planet. For the overwhelming mass of humanity, that is what it was designed to be, that is what it has been for as long as it has been here, and that is what it will likely remain (regardless of any attempts to have it be otherwise) . Throughout its history, there have been many who would like to modify this realm in order to have it approximate their subjective fantasy of what it should be and look like. However, since this realm itself is more in the nature of a virtual reality, any efforts to have it correspond and conform to our ideals are not unlike trying to change a dream. No matter how passionately we may strive, it is still a dream.

We accept a kind of amnesia when we come here, in order to give the story more impact, and so allow us to more fully glean the experiential lessons implicit in the adventure. If we were to retain our natural soul knowledge, it would defeat the purpose of incarnation. We love the mystery of the Unknown. Nevertheless, to one degree or another, most who arrive here will eventually want to change the dream/story in order to have it be more agreeable to their personal conditioned preferences.

Just as one might identify with a movie character to the point that they forget it is merely a movie they are watching, so too do we forget that our own human story is fictional too. Hearing that it is a dream, and even having some intellectual understanding that it is a dream, is not the same as directly realizing that it is a dream, and that is what constitutes the wisdom of awakening — directly seeing the illusion as illusion.

Nisargadatta Maharaj made an excellent point when he noted: “There is nothing that can help the world more than your putting an end to ignorance. Then, you need not do anything in particular to help the world. Your very being is a help, action or no action.” As long as we take the world to be real, we will be operating under a false assumption. We will run around trying to fix Samsara, locked in a vicious cycle of desire and fear, rather than recognizing how we are prolonging our stay in it by continuing to grant it some enduring and substantial reality. Moreover, as long as we cling to our human identities, we will not be able to move on to our true inheritance beyond this dense dark plane of interminable conflict. Our very ignorance will trap us. As such, the metaphor of having to repeat an elementary class over and over again is not inappropriate.

Does this mean things will never improve here? Of course not — things will improve, and then they will un-improve, and that cycle will alternate perpetually, because that is the nature of this realm. The Awake among us have always stressed the fact that we need to change ourselves first, before we run out and try to change others. Great changes can be made and have been made, no doubt, but Samsara is still Samsara, and that fact has not changed. Suffering has not changed, nor has ignorance. Human behavior is still dominated by desire and fear. A brief glance at the current world headlines demonstrates that fact amply enough.

When a questioner demanded to know how to deal with the world’s suffering and sorrows, Nisargadatta responded: “You have created them out of your own desires and fears, you deal with them. All is due to your having forgotten your own being. Having given reality to the picture on the screen, you love its people and suffer for them and seek to save them. It is just not so. You must begin with yourself. There is no other way. Work, of course. There is no harm in working.”

Does that mean we just ignore suffering? Of course not — we do what we can whenever the opportunity presents itself for us to be of service. However, our altruism needs to be tempered by the realization that we are not here to change the world, but to be changed by our experience of it. We are not here to perfect elementary school, but to learn its lessons and then move on to more advanced curricula, and that starts with us coming to know our true being.

Until all the notions, wishes, demands, and beliefs that things should be other than they are, and that this world should be other than it is, are seen through and understood in the light of real awakening, we will only be spinning our wheels, and doing no real good for anyone. Indeed, we will only be creating more suffering, in the conceited guise of being some sort of bodhisattva or savior. Again, it was Nisargadatta who pointed out such hubris: “When you deceive yourself that you work for the good of all, it makes matters worse, for you should not be guided by your own ideas of what is good for others. A man who claims to know what is good for others, is dangerous.”

Just so, who better than the Buddha to clarify exactly how the true Bodhisattva regards sentient beings? In the Vimilakirti Sutra, an essential Buddhist scripture, he begins:

“A bodhisattva should regard all livings beings as a wise man regards the reflection of the moon in water or as magicians regard men created by magic. He should regard them as being like a face in a mirror; like the water of a mirage; like the sound of an echo; like a mass of clouds in the sky; like the previous moment of a ball of foam; like the appearance and disappearance of a bubble of water; like the core of a plantain tree; like a flash of lightning; like the fifth great element; like the seventh sense-medium; like the appearance of matter in an immaterial realm; like a sprout from a rotten seed; like a tortoise-hair coat; like the fun of games for one who wishes to die . . .”

He continues on with these similes for a while, pointing to the truth of emptiness and the dream-like nature of all beings, and when asked how a true Bodisattva rouses great compassion for sentient beings, he replies:

“He generates the love that is truly a refuge for all living beings; the love that is peaceful because free of grasping; the love that is not feverish, because free of passions; the love that accords with reality because it is equanimous in all three times; the love that is without conflict because free of the violence of the passions; the love that is nondual because it is involved neither with the external nor with the internal; the love that is imperturbable because totally ultimate, a love that that causes living beings to awaken from their sleep . . .”

In other words, the highest form of compassion is not involved in schemes and strategies to save or improve the world, but rather is geared towards the awakening of all beings, because all beings are recognized to be none other than oneself, and furthermore, that self is ultimately recognized to be empty of any inherent substance or solidity – a character in a dream. Thus, in Mahayana Buddhism, wisdom and compassion are inseparable.

The Sage Nisargadatta once noted, “Helping others is mere imagination, however noble. In truth you do not help others because there are not others.” To truly awaken to the nature of reality is also to recognize that the whole concept of separate entities in need of being saved is a delusion, and yet it is paradoxically just such a recognition that qualifies one as a true Bodhisattva – one who is able to respond to suffering in the most effective fashion, based on an enlightened balance of love and wisdom.

A contemporary Chan (Zen) teacher, Guo Gu, clarified this matter when he wrote: “Remember: those who are suffering are precisely you, but you are not them. If you only have the first part, then you’re simply suffering. If you only have the latter, then you’re deluded.”

In any case, if we sincerely inquire into our motives, we might come to recognize how arrogant our assumption is that we know what is right for somebody else, much less the world. The fact is, we are never in any kind of position to comprehend the bigger picture, at least as long as we are encased in these meat suits, and are operating at this dense vibratory frequency. That being so, why go about making assumptions about others’ fate that may be merely a product of our own delusion? An old cliché that is nevertheless rings true, especially in this regard, is that “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”.

The various crusades that humans have undertaken can serve as cautionary tales in that regard, because they invariably make things worse. Clearly, we need look no further than places like Cambodia, China, and Russia in recent times, where people imagined they could make things better by imposing a more just ideal of society, but instead ended up with dictatorial regimes that slaughtered millions in the name of progress.

Indeed, this planet has seen countless civilizations rise and disappear, long before our current one began recording its own brief history. All sorts of actors and dramas have played out their roles and scenes on this stage, and that will continue, as long as there are sentient beings who wander in the delusions of “me and mine”, self and other. In the course of time, more trouble than good has been perpetrated on humanity by well-meaning but ignorant missionaries, blinded by their own zeal and uninspected beliefs. Given that, true compassion may very well mean that we let others have the experience they came here to have, without any meddling interference from us (based on our limited filters and idealistic but biased programs).

Does this mean we stop caring? Of course not — there is no end to caring, but few ever bother to deeply inquire regarding who or what exactly is doing this caring. That’s the key the sages are pointing to. They do not urge us to go out and take up social work, suggesting that we become professional “do-gooders”. Rather, they ask us to find out who we truly are (and aren’t). The rest will unfold naturally from that liberating recognition, though without it, we are just endlessly pushing Sisyphus’ rock up a hill — a rock that is bound to roll right back down again.

The fact is, we are not separate from the world. Simply by virtue of being alive here, we are already and always changing it, regardless of where we are geographically located. That is what Inter-being (Co-dependent Arising) is all about. The question is, wherever we are, are we changing things for the better or worse (setting aside for the moment the fact that “better or worse” is a conditional interpretation on perception)?

If our actions are based on ignorance — even seemingly well-intentioned idealism — there will be one predictable result. As noted previously, that is how the world got into its present precarious situation — humans trying to modify the world to make it more agreeable to their conceptual ideal.

Only the alternative to ignorance will change that, and it begins with real self-knowledge, not beliefs and vague hopes. If one truly understands themselves, then they will also understand the world, and what is actually required to effect positive transformation, right where they are. Accordingly, if we want to live in a more peaceful and loving world, then we ourselves must first become more peaceful and more loving.

Perhaps the two complementary aspects of love and wisdom were best summed up by Sri Nisargadatta when he said: “When I see I am nothing, that is wisdom. When I see I am everything, that is love. Between these two my life moves.” Just so, true love is selfless in that it embodies the principle of loving others as oneself, because that is the literal truth. In other words, when we awaken to the Real, we realize that there is no other, and there is no world, separate and divided from ourselves. We are that! The mystical epiphany that there is only God actually reflects this recognition.

True wisdom is likewise selfless, because it recognizes the essential emptiness of both the self and the world. We are neither this nor that – self or world – but rather the open spacious transparency of awake awareness, in which both self and world appear and disappear. It is this union of love and wisdom that defines the authentic Bodhisattva — the one who hears the cries of the suffering, and responds with enlightened compassion (Bodhicitta). It is only That One who truly “saves the world”.

heart world

“No doubt, striving for the improvement of the world is a most praiseworthy occupation. Done selflessly, it clarifies the mind and purifies the heart. But soon man will realize that he pursues a mirage. Local and temporary improvement is always possible and was achieved again and again under the influence of a great king or teacher; but it would soon come to an end, leaving humanity in a new cycle of misery. It is in the nature of all manifestation that the good and the bad follow each other and in equal measure. The true refuge is only in the unmanifested.

Once you realize that the world is your own projection, you are free of it. You need not free yourself of a world that does not exist, except in your own imagination! However the picture is — beautiful or ugly — you are painting it and you are not bound by it. Realize that there is nobody to force it on you, that it is due to the habit of taking the imaginary to be real. See the imaginary as imaginary and be free of fear.

When you realize that you are the light of the world, you will also realize that you are the love of it; that to know is to love and to love is to know. Of all the affections the love of oneself comes first. Your love of the world is the reflection of your love of yourself, for your world is of your own creation. Light and love are impersonal, but they are reflected in your mind as knowing and wishing oneself well. We are always friendly towards ourselves, but not always wise. A Yogi is a man whose goodwill is allied to wisdom.”

~ Nisargadatta Maharaj


See also:

Posted in Uncategorized | 53 Comments

The Paradox of Inherent Perfection


Monk protests: “But Master, yesterday you said that Mind is Buddha.”

Ma Tsu: “That was like offering yellow leaves to a child and telling him it is gold — just to stop his crying.”

Monk: “And what about when the child has stopped crying?”

Ma Tsu: “Then I say, Not Mind, Not Buddha, Not things!’

The Mind is the Buddha’ is like medicine. ‘No Mind, no Buddha’ is the cure for those who are sick because of the medicine.”

Ma Tsu’s teaching above is one effective method the Masters employ to tear away any lingering remnants of borrowed support, leaving the disciple with nothing to fall back on, no comforting religious consolation or conceptual crutch to cling to. The purpose is to fully plunge them into the Unknown, or “the Realm of the Real Dharma”, as Huang Po poetically calls it, beyond philosophies and partial realizations, and into the direct realization of the two-fold emptiness of self and phenomena.

The late great Sage Ramana Maharshi proclaimed that the final truth consists of the fact that there is no path, nor any such thing as progress. In other words, Reality is not some sort of attainment to be gained by a progression from state to state. There is no final, triumphant union to be attained, because there never was any separation from the no-beginning. There is simply the unfathomable expanse of spontaneous presence, pure unborn awareness, regardless of any intermittent mental content which might appear in that sphere of being. Recognizing the empty nature of both the dreaming as well as the dreamer is considered by the sages to be liberation, though paradoxically, there is nobody being freed or bound. There is simply awakening to that which has always been the case, even as we daydreamed.

This challenging realization forces the aspirant to let go of all gaining ideas, along with all the interpretive dualities of the intellect that represent fixation, reification, and solidification of perception, thus opening them to direct and immediate re-cognition of the prior freedom of the Real. And what is “the Real”? The late great Tibetan Adept Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche pointed to its essential realization when he noted:

“Seeing all things as naked, clear and free from obscurations, there is nothing to attain or realize. The nature of phenomena appears naturally and is naturally present in time-transcending awareness. Everything is naturally perfect just as it is. All phenomena appear in their uniqueness as part of the continually changing pattern. These patterns are vibrant with meaning and significance at every moment; yet there is no significance to attach to such meanings beyond the moment in which they present themselves.”

Of course, such appealing notions as inherent perfection are easy for beginners and casual practitioners to misconstrue, especially when they hear that there is nothing that needs to be done, and no effort is necessary, because “enlightenment” is always already the case. However, if we do not want to fall into that trap, all we need do is take a good honest look in the mirror at our own character. Are we free, for example, from greed, envy, hatred, ignorance, and pride? Do we always live a life characterized by integrity and loving kindness? If not, then there is still work to do, even though, paradoxically, it is also true that there is nothing to be done.

If we rely on the verbal, conceptual mind to make sense of that seeming contradiction, we will just end up going this way one day, and that way the next, while getting nowhere in the process. That is why we practice, to go beyond conditional second-hand reason and logic programs, and recognize the truth that is always right here, staring us in the face. In that conscious process, we don’t need to point some accusatory finger at ourselves, or wring our hands in self-concern, but simply wise up to exactly who “that one” is that we have taken to be “me”. Who is this character believed to be either perfect, or in need of some serious adjustments?

Another good example of the paradox being considered here is the common phrase: “We must forgive ourselves first, and then forgive everyone else.” Of course, in this human drama, forgiveness is not only appropriate, but critically necessary for our relationships and personal happiness. If we carry around unresolved traumas, wounds, regrets, and resentments, we will always be fueling an internal conflict, and never achieve psychological healing and mature adaptation to the stage of balanced and un-contracted emotional adulthood.

On the other hand, from the point of view of the higher wisdoms, there is actually nothing and nobody that needs to be forgiven, since at the absolute level, all is indeed perfect just as it is, and without qualification. Moreover, even conceiving the existence of a self, some solid and enduring character that requires fixing or forgiving, can be an impediment to fully awakening to the truth of our prior nature, which has never required modification or remedial attention.

Echoing the previous comment from Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, another contemporary Dzogchen Master, Tsoknyi Rinpoche, puts it this way:

“From the very beginning everything, whatever appears and exits, has never been anything other than pure perfection. There has never been a single day, a single moment when everything was not complete purity, pure perfection. It’s not that everything has to be brought to a state of purity at some point, but rather that it always was and is.”


Indeed, the paradox of our prior freedom and inherent perfection is that we all may be perfect in the ultimate sense, and yet the eminent Zen Master Suzuki Roshi makes a pertinent comment in this regard: “You are all perfect the way you are, and you could use a little improvement.” Certainly, if we were to spend some time reviewing the day’s headlines in the news, we might recognize that Suzuki was being rather kind and generous in his assessment. Moreover, if we examine our own life and relations, including our thoughts and behaviors, most of us might readily acknowledge that “a little improvement” would probably be comparable to taking the first few steps up Mt. Everest.

How then to explain this paradox? A good start would be to understand that we are both human animals, with all the positive as well as negative attributes that the human incarnational circumstance implies, and yet we are also immortal spirit, forever free, awake, and unconditionally loving. As light being souls, we choose to inhabit human creatures in order to experience the kinds of adventures and challenges characteristic of the human species. By testing ourselves to see “what we are really made of”, we thereby enhance our levels of self-awareness in our soul evolution.

We enter into the virtual reality of this 3-D realm in the same way one might engage a video game. The trick, however, is that we generally assume a kind of amnesia about our true nature for the duration of the game, in order to get the full impact of the experience. In doing so, we take the human identity to represent who and what we really are, and this (mistaken) identity is rarely questioned in the midst of the adventure. By fusing with the human bio-vehicle, we thus become subject to its complications, which include less than perfect qualities.

If we apply our innate soul power to improve the host, we will likely see the development of soul-like qualities, such as compassion and expanded consciousness. However, if we choose instead to not interfere, and just remain a detached witness to the human’s life, then the human will follow its animal course, which is often filled with violence and selfishness. Again, all we need do is review current world events, characterized as they are by blood lust, interminable conflict, blatant self-interest, and outrageous inequality, to recognize what kinds of choices are being made these days, in terms of efforts to effectively train the animals with which we are identifying.

There is more to this story, however. Ultimately, we are not only not the human animal, but we are not even the soul being. In reality, we are dream characters in the Mind of Source, being lived by Source in a drama of unfathomable love. It is unfathomable, because it is beyond the human capacity to comprehend, and so is typically misunderstood and misrepresented by the religions that humans have created to provide explanations for the Mystery.

Source wants to explore Itself, in much the same way we want to explore our own breadth and depth by incarnating as humans, for example, among the countless possibilities we may and do choose. Thus, in our role as immortal souls, we afford Source the perfect vehicles for such exploration, and as such, we are in a sense co-creators of a movie entitled “Infinity”.

In any case, as dream characters, there is nothing in need of forgiveness or improvement. Just as we are, with all our seeming faults and foibles, we are perfectly fulfilling Source’s desire to know Itself, in all the possible permutations of Itself which It can manifest. Source does not need to improve or forgive us, any more than we need to enter back into last night’s dream to improve or forgive our own dream characters, once we have awoken. It was, after all, a dream. There is no judgment, no blame or punishment — only a thirst for experience, in whatever way it might happen to present itself, or in whatever form it might happen to manifest, as we enter into the compelling illusion of time and space as shards of Source’s own divine light, playing our parts perfectly.

“This is Perfect. That is Perfect.

From the Perfect springs the Perfect.

Take the Perfect from the Perfect

and only the Perfect remains.”

~Nityananda Bhagavan


See also:

Posted in Uncategorized | 39 Comments

The Mechanics of Unhappiness

cracking up

“Fear is the energy which contracts, closes down, draws in, runs, hides, hordes, harms. Love is the energy which expands, opens up, sends out, stays, reveals, shares, heals. Fear wraps our bodies in clothing, love allows us to stand naked. Fear clings to and clutches all that we have, love gives all that we have away. Fear holds close, love holds dear, Fear grasps, love lets go. Fear rankles, love soothes, Fear attacks, love amends.”
~Neale Donald Walsch

The condition which we commonly call “unhappiness” is a psycho-physical state of negative reactivity originating from a complex contraction in the being itself. Moreover, this contractive activity spawns an ongoing internal conflict which we are habitually reinforcing, based on uninspected programs that we have incorporated in the course of our human experience. Although these afflictive programs are as diverse as there are humans, they all derive from a fear-based reaction to life and relations.

For that chronic fear reaction to maintain its prominent position in our mental and emotional life dramas, a level of identification with a solid and enduring self-sense is necessary. In other words, a “me-story” must be created and preserved, in the form of an ongoing narrative in which the survival and validation of the central character is always the prime concern. There’s an old Buddhist saying: “If you want to be unhappy, think only of yourself”. Is there any emotion more associated with such self-interest than fear?

Of course, there are many who claim that the fear-response is hard-wired into our very molecular structure — our DNA — for a very important and even critical purpose, directly related to the ancient challenge for physical survival. Although most of us do not currently live in an environment in which we need to be on the lookout for predatory animals, nevertheless there are still plenty of threats all around us. Because of that, a certain degree of prudent concern and attention is certainly necessary.

For one example, on a societal level, we employ a criminal justice system in order to protect the populace from those who would do us harm in one form or another. For another example, on a personal level, we have learned to avoid participating in unprotected sex, considering the looming dangers of sexually transmitted diseases that are potentially deadly, such as the virus associated with AIDS.

Therefore, given that some degree of fear may still be a necessary component of living in this human world, at what point does that energy become the basis for the persistent mood and assumption of unhappiness that seems endemic to our present civilization? When does appropriate caution transform into a neurotic prison, in which the future is dreaded and we are eaten alive by worries and cares? And perhaps most to the point: does the appearance of fear energy and the accompanying sensations confirm the reality of the solid, independent, and enduring person most of us imagine ourselves to be?

Upon investigation, we can notice that there is a specific mode of perceiving that makes it seem as if there is an actual person implicated by the arising of sensations such as fear. This same mode of perception creates the appearance of self and other, and when an “other” appears (a not-me), so too does the seed of fear take root. This mode of perception is called “dualism”, and it is the usual way we humans apprehend the world, based on a division between what we identify with as our “self”, and all that we take to be “not-self”.

The eminent Dzogchen teacher,  Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche, delineated the effects of clinging to the dualistic perspective:

“If, through fundamental misperception of reality, the individual enters into the confusion of dualism, primordial consciousness, which is in fact the source of all manifestation (even of dualistic consciousness and, in fact, of all phenomena), itself becomes obscured. The individual’s deluded mind then mistakes the manifestations of its own pure, innate primordial awareness for an external reality existing separately from itself, which it endlessly, and ultimately unsuccessfully, attempts to manipulate, trying in vain to bring an end to the continual underlying sense of dissatisfaction and unease which is the inevitable experience of the obscuration of pure awareness. The experience of underlying dissatisfaction (or ‘dukha’ in Sanskrit) that unavoidably arises with a deluded mind, continues, no matter how ‘successful’ the individual becomes in dealing with his or her world in materialistic terms, until the individual regains the experience of the primordial state.

By carefully observing the actual nature of perception itself, we can eventually (or even immediately) come to realize that that there is no actual subject-object division in direct experience. Such a breakthrough recognition reveals that the dualistic model of processing experience consists of an essentially arbitrary and non-binding modification of consciousness, a mental fabrication or fantasy of interpretation on perception which is strictly dependent on the reality and belief that we happen to grant it. In other words, our sense of reality is based on our own limited conditioning and perceptual filters, which necessarily obscure “what is”.  On one hand, it may seem to be a convenient and even useful way of seeing things in the objective realm — inferring a subject apart from the object — but on the other hand, the ensuing sense of separation and apparent division in consciousness which accompanies such a view invariably leaves us with a chronic sense of dissatisfaction in life and relations.

Indeed, for most humans, life is one long experience of dissatisfaction, alienation, resistance, and suffering, only rarely punctuated by pleasure, relief from anxiety, and some measure of fleeting happiness. Hanging over our very heads, there seems to be an ever-present sword waiting to drop, and this sense of apprehension infects all of our relations. Poets may rage against the fact of impermanence, and yet is there anything in life that is not subject to change? Even so, the fear of change most of us share is one of the main obstacles to accepting life as it is, and that fear itself is rooted in a distrust of the unknown.

However, it is only in fully relaxing and coming to rest in the unknown that we are able to find the space for our natural happiness to emerge from the shadow of fear. In reality, we don’t know. In fact, by incarnating in the human realm, we have purposely set aside our universal knowledge in order to fully appreciate living in the unknown, with all the uncertainty that such an adventure implies. Not knowing is a fundamental human condition, but accepting that fact need not provoke some sense of dread and insecurity. Rather, we can shift from our typical fear-driven dualistic perception to one wherein experiencing the unknown is no longer fraught with inherent divisions in consciousness between a “me” that needs to be protected from whatever appears as “not-me”.

In order to make such a shift, however, we need to see through and discard all limiting conceptual and emotional overlays, as well as all dualistic superimpositions, that obscure reality as it is. Rather than fixating attention in some conflicted view of self and other, based on a felt contraction in the being, we can directly recognize ourselves as the source, or projector, of the indivisible flow of reality itself.

In this regard, Nisargadatta Maharaj suggested:  “Contemplate life as infinite, undivided, ever present, ever active, until you realise yourself as one with it. It is not even very difficult, for you will be returning only to your own natural condition. Once you realise that all comes from within, that the world in which you live has not been projected onto you but by you, your fear comes to an end. Without this realisation you identify yourself with the externals, like the body, mind, society, nation, humanity, even God or the Absolute. But these are all escapes from fear. It is only when you fully accept your responsibility for the little world in which you live and watch the process of its creation, preservation and destruction, that you may be free from your imaginary bondage.”

In practice terms, even when primal-type fear arises, we need not add our usual conditioned interpretations to it, and in turn confirm some distinctly separate and concrete self-sense as a result. Rather, we can simply allow it to arise in the light of naked awareness, and also let it dissolve accordingly, without trying to change, name, or claim it. In this way, the fear is not given a chance to gain a foothold – it has no place to land. Moreover, if we continue in this shifted mode of free-flowing non-dwelling perception (rather than falling back on the dualistic default of a subject-object illusion), we can notice that our prior nature of aware spaciousness moves correspondingly to the forefront, like the sun melting away the clouds of unhappiness.

In other words, what is not used becomes obsolete. Consequently, by not indulging the mechanics of unhappiness (which is after all a foreign installation), we have opened the space for our true happiness to shine through. Such genuine and heart-felt happiness naturally illuminates all that it comes in contact with, thus raising the frequency of vibration for the whole collective in the process.

Both happiness and unhappiness are infectious, just as are fear and love. Regardless of how things may appear in any situation, we always have a choice about which mode of perception we will feed, and therefore what kind of influence we will manifest in this realm. Since we live in a world of interdependence, the choice we make is for all. In choosing love over fear, we are also choosing freedom over bondage, and by remembering and embodying that liberating truth, we support the grounds for an increasingly sublime evolutionary advancement as a species.

To love or fear –
that’s the test.

At the core
the heart knows best.

Open your eyes and
you will see,

fear is
the malignancy.

The fearful mind is a
conflicted thing, obscuring
the songs that love would sing.

Let the healing begin within —
don’t prolong a war that
no one can win.

Give up the fight with yourself
before it begins, why struggle
in vain with your own
best friend?

Our nature is to be at peace,
to know ourselves,
to let fear cease.

Only love can liberate
entanglements that we create.

If you want to be happy
let go of yourself, and
offer your best to
somebody else.

There’s no heart math
more plain than this –

the more selfless the love,
the more lasting the bliss.

Relax your fears
and enjoy life’s play.

Above all, love,
and you won’t go astray.


See also:

Posted in Uncategorized | 21 Comments