All That Matters

“The person, the ‘I am this body, this mind, this chain of memories, this bundle of desires and fears’ disappears, but something you may call identity, remains. It enables me to become a person when required. Love creates its own necessities, even of becoming a person.”

~Nisargadatta Maharaj

These days, it appears that there are some nondual-type teachers who claim that the “self” is merely a thought creation, a dream illusion, unreal. However, that’s actually only a fraction of it — like standing in the parlor and imagining one is seeing the whole house. Stopping there and fixating in that position would be a most premature conclusion, a perceptual error in recognition and appreciation.

In reality, the “self-sense” is an expression of something much more than a mechanical assemblage of mental events transpiring in the brain, and those who tend to conceptually write it off as that are missing its real purpose. In that regard, let’s explore the issue a bit further (elaborating on the consideration begun in the essays “The Ego Is My Friend”, and “Self-Realization”).

There is an apparent tendency of many aspirants to get fixated in concepts about emptiness, without also recognizing that emptiness is form. For a number of reasons, clinging to the notion of the emptiness of the self or ego is even worse than clinging to its form, primarily because it paralyzes the natural functioning of the human-soul fusion. Seeing through the substantiality of the self is merely a preliminary recognition. If one follows through with the inquiry, the “self” then returns, or is revealed as, a skillful servant, rather than a tyrannical master, so to speak.

Essentially, the sense of self is a unique and ingenious “space suit” that Spirit employs to navigate and thus enjoy the human experience, and so is absolutely necessary for life and relationships. We came here specifically to enjoy the experience of manifest 3-D human existence, and all the lessons and recognitions about what we truly are (and are not) that come with the “package”, and so attempting to eliminate the very vehicle by which we would do so is functionally counter-productive.

Indeed, such efforts mainly serve to prolong an inner conflict, the war with oneself. The human-based religious fantasies of original sin, perpetual guilt, and body shaming which have plagued mankind for ages are always spawned from that false internal division, as are the sometimes bizarre lengths to which aspirants of those persuasions have gone to alleviate their own self-created dilemmas.

All that is really necessary is to understand that the “self” is not really who we are, any more than we are the automobile we drive to get from one geographical location to another. With that recognition, we are then free to create with it like a paint brush on the canvas of experience, appreciating it for what it is in the context of the play of consciousness itself.

It’s true that form is empty, but if one stops there, they miss the other half of the wisdom, and that is, emptiness is also form. As mentioned, there are numerous nondual teachers who focus on no-self, but the result of that emphasis often leads to an imbalanced view and conduct. It is not really comprehensive to claim that there is either absolutely no self, any more than it is to say that there is actually an independent and enduring self. It is far more nuanced than that, and additionally a lot more fun to experience the whole matter as part of the vast and glorious mystery of our appearance (as opposed to some dry and dusty dogma). The Two Truths Principle is helpful in this case. That is, on a relative level there IS a person, though on an absolute level, there IS NOT. Both are true on different levels, and being able to fully appreciate the paradox of that is what maturing in awakening is all about.

When we put on our clothes, for example, those clothes are not who we are, but they are not just a daydream either — they serve a very necessary purpose if we want to be able to get around in the world, and that is what needs to be recognized in regard to the self-sense — it is the vehicle by which Spirit operates and explores in the 3-D realm of materiality, and so it can’t just be brushed off as a delusion or daydream.

No-self-type teachings frequently become appealing intellectual positions, and consequently end up being impediments, rather than liberating, because there is not a direct experience of the reality itself, but merely the (distorted) experience of the concept. One reason for this error is that such teachings are typically encountered prematurely, without a prior foundation of spiritual practice having been established to anchor the aspirant in humility, wisdom, integrity, and compassion. In that regard, the Persian poet Rumi made an astute observation: “If you are eager to be nothing before you know who you are, you rob yourself of your true being.”

Traditionally, for example, the advanced principles of Advaita Vedanta were taught to initiates only after they completed some years of yogic endeavor, and were then deemed ripe enough, and prepared enough, to handle the implications of those teachings in an appropriate manner. For that reason, it was considered the crown jewel of the wisdom teachings — in other words, the final or ultimate teaching. The same might be said about Dzogchen, or Ati Yoga.

These days, people can find the “secret teachings” on the internet, or at a half-baked guru’s “satsang”, and end up confusing themselves for a long time as a result, especially if they are mixed in with other spiritual supermarket acquisitions. It can often be quite difficult to awaken such individuals from the smug trance of misplaced certainty which accompanies fixation at the conceptual level with emptiness and no-self positions.

Likewise, the materialist assertion that Spirit is some sort of brain epiphenomena would be tantamount to believing that the radio announcer is a little man inside the radio. Spirit is not a brain figment, but unless one has the liberating experience and consequent recognition granted via expanded consciousness, they may continue in the conceptual belief that it is so, short of the big surprise they get when the body (with its brain) drops away.

In any case, the Self, Source, Pure Presence, All That Is, the Divine — whatever name humans apply — is manifesting Itself as all beings, in order to experience Itself through an infinite number of eyes. This is the Great Delight of the Infinite, though incomprehensible to the limited human intellect’s processing capacity. All selves are shards or extensions of Source in that respect, and all return to Self.

There is a valid recognition that, at the ultimate level, nothing happens. That is not really our concern while we are here, appearing and engaged in this realm or vibrational frequency, however. Rather, our job here is to directly realize that love is all that matters, and then to embody the implications of that recognition in our conduct and relationships. In the end, none of our fine notions about emptiness, the self/no-self paradox, and the fate of our daydreams will survive. Only Love is real, and that is the “lesson” we must come to real-ize in this human incarnation. The rest will unfold naturally.

From that perspective, the “self” is merely a prop in Love’s Play, and not some delusion that must be vanquished or made to disappear, but only rightly understood. For the best theatrical production, the actor on the stage must play their role to the best of their ability, but also recognize that the role is not their true identity.

When we conflate the fictional role we play with who and what we truly are, we inevitably suffer the consequences that come with such poor judgment and discernment, and that is the value of intermediate teachings such as “annica”, or no-self, which are meant to free us from lingering in that case of mistaken identity.

Essentially, no teaching is going to fully liberate us, because we have never been bound to begin with. Again, that is Love’s Play — a game of Hide & Seek with Itself, pretending to be separate for the thrill of reunion. It is only in direct recognition of that which is and has always been the case that we can even speak of liberation, since it is liberation from the false notions of limitation and attachment to provisional identities that have obscured our native state of unconditional love.

The infinite forms and personas that Love employs to express Itself do not in any way detract from or lessen Spirit’s timeless perfection. There is only one Source, one Self, projecting Its infinite forms through the inconceivable holograms of luminosity that we call Spirit. Moreover, this magical realm we call “the world” is a wild wonder beyond human reckoning! The mere appearance of anything at all is a perpetual mystery of pure awe and ceaseless astonishment! Why retreat into frozen poses of abstruse dharma, when every molecule of light amazes itself at its own inexplicable appearance?

These ever-shifting props that provide the sense of time and change are nothing but batons we juggle in the mid-air of the here and now! How thrilling to suddenly realize that the synchronous majesty of our infinitely expansive being is the perfect expression of That which is living us now, dreaming us now as a miracle fashioned out of unimaginable Love. Yes, we are Love, and Love must love, for therein shines our perfect purpose beyond any need for ersatz redemption.

There is one Presence, one Power, of which we are all unique projections. All the myriad sentient personalities flash and frolic as dreamy thought forms dancing in the Heart/Mind of Source. Drawn deeper into this stunning recognition, all universal nature herself becomes transparent as the manifestation of the Living Womb of Light, delivering everyone and everything into pure light and more light still.

That clear light radiance of awake awareness has no before or after, nor parts that somehow come together or randomly divide. There is only This! Such recognition is not an acquisition of the mind, but rather a letting go and awakening at the Heart — our destiny and present condition — when all that would obstruct clear seeing is sacrificed at the altar of the Unconditional, for the selfless sake of Love alone.

May all beings awaken to the bliss of their own true nature, their own primordial brilliance — only Love!

Q: What is this big talk about elimination of the self? How can the self eliminate itself? What kind of metaphysical acrobatics can lead to the disappearance of the acrobat? In the end he will reappear, mightily proud of his disappearing. Nisargadatta

Maharaj: You need not chase the ‘I am’ to kill it. You cannot. All you need is a sincere longing for reality. We call it atma-bhakti, the love of the Supreme: or moksha-sankalpa, the determination to be free from the false. Without love, and will inspired by love, nothing can be done. Merely talking about Reality without doing anything about it is self-defeating. There must be love in the relation between the person who says ‘I am’ and the observer of that ‘I am’. As long as the observer, the inner self, the ‘higher’ self, considers himself apart from the observed, the ‘lower’ self, despises it and condemns it, the situation is hopeless. It is only when the observer (vyakta) accepts the person (vyakti) as a projection or manifestation of himself, and, so to say, takes the self into the Self, the duality of ‘I’ and ‘this’ goes and in the identity of the outer and the inner the Supreme Reality manifests itself.

This union of the seer and the seen happens when the seer becomes conscious of himself as the seer, he is not merely interested in the seen, which he is anyhow, but also interested in being interested, giving attention to attention, aware of being aware. Affectionate awareness is the crucial factor that brings Reality into focus.

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Index of Essays


In Chronological Order, First to Last

True Inquiry and the Conscious Process

Direct Experience

The Game of Rejection

The Quest for Experience

The Pursuit of Happiness

The Game

Evolution of Consciousness

Tests of Mind, Character, Will

The Silence Behind the Mind and True Transformation

Survival and Personal Continuity

Desire, Fixation, Non-Dwelling, and the Heart

Fighting the Powers That Be

The Sense of Lack and the Master Game

The Powdered Sugar Structure of Illusion

The Journey

Zen and the Emotional/Sexual Contraction

The Myth of Enlightenment


Self-Destructive Thoughts (Revised 2014)

School of Life, Play of Light

Beyond the Language of Seeking and Knowing

Taking Offense

Self-Improvement Projects

Deconstructing the Story

The Practice of Non-Dwelling

Discipline of Silence

How To Change

Shaking Others Awake

Points of View

War and Peace

Fate or Free Will

What Am I?

First There Is a Mountain

To Do Something

Stages of Human Spiritual Development

The Corpse of Ambition

The Ten Thousand Idiots

Battle of the Sexes


Self-Essence and Identity

Rhapsody on the Perfect Enjoyment of Delusion

Getting High

True Inquiry, Part 2

Notes from the Other Side

Prison Planet Samsara

My Dog’s Better Than Your Dog


Beyond Religious Provincialism and Scientific Materialism


The Pursuit of Happiness, Part 2


The Futility of the Search for Meaning

In Search of Self and Beyond

Emotional Intelligence and Skillful Living

Aversion Therapy

Stronger Than Fear


As We Think

Nothing Personal

There Is No Truth, Only Dreaming

Memory Lane

Where Can I Be Safe?

Sabotaging Ourselves

Stop Pretending

Waking Up, Growing Up

Consciousness and Awareness


Pain and Spiritual Practice

Joy of Unknowing



Not Me

View and Conduct

Time Is On My Side

Nobody There

The End of the Seeker

Just Be

The Mechanics of Unhappiness

The Paradox of Inherent Perfection

Saving the World

A Brief History of the Dream

Like Burglars

Science and Spirituality

True Meditation: Recognizing Basic Sanity

The Motive

The Mystique of Freedom

The Talking School

World of Warcraft

The Ego Is My Friend

Though We Might Call It Love

All That Matters

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Though We Might Call It

“Perhaps everything that frightens us is,
in its deepest essence, something helpless
that wants our love.”

~ Rainer Maria Rilke

In recognizing that which we tend to construct or presume to be grounds for un-love and contraction, all is eventually or even suddenly revealed to be inherently without any limitation – the paradoxical but generous offerings of Love to itself.

In recognizing “that” from which we tend to recoil in fear and conditioned reactivity, all is revealed to be nothing but the selfless communication of Love to itself.

In recognizing the appearance of sensations, perceptions, and thought formations, all are revealed to be nothing but non-binding manifestations of our own indivisible totality, which is the boundless nature of Love itself.

In recognizing the vanishing of every formation, sensation, or thought object, the I-concept itself is revealed to be nothing but the transitory play of vast emptiness, which is simultaneously the unfathomable function of Love itself.

In recognizing the futility of belief in or identification with any form or concept, all seeming hindrances (including the presumption of a separate self-sense) are enjoyed as nothing but transparent modifications of Love itself, without any effort or motive to have them be anything other than what they are.

In recognizing that all seeking is merely the avoidance of “what is” — the breathtaking magnificence of the ordinary, the uncontrived rawness of it — Love reveals itself as the very home which the mind of preference is always fleeing in order to finally arrive home.

In recognizing the absurd predicament in which the mind of complication entangles itself through all of its efforts to confirm, enlighten, save, redeem, improve, liberate, or vanquish itself, a sense of humor is born, and it is that humble humor which heralds the beginning of true wisdom – the capacity to appreciate and incarnate Love itself.

In recognizing that consciousness itself is simply an engaging fiction, a fantasy creation of Love’s innocent dream-play, with no ultimate meaning or significance except to be That, our soul becomes still.

In such stillness, any pretense of knowing, along with the dualistic mind’s imaginative scenery, is dissolved in an infinite expanse – the sky-like spaciousness of Awareness itself.

The unparalleled beauty which shines forth from the heart of that dynamic silence is beyond any special name or poetic designation, though we might call it Love.

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The Ego Is My Friend

“The world is but a show, glittering and empty. It is, and yet is not. It is there as long as I want to see it and take part in it. When I cease caring, it dissolves. It has no cause and serves no purpose. It just happens . . .  It appears exactly as it looks, but there is no depth in it, nor meaning. Only the onlooker is real. To the Self the world is but a colourful show, which he enjoys as long as it lasts and forgets when it is over. Whatever happens on the stage makes him shudder in terror or roll with laughter, yet all the time he is aware that it is but a show. Without desire or fear he enjoys it, as it happens.”

~Sri Nisargadatta

sufi dancing universe

One regular refrain of traditional spirituality consists of the admonition that the so-called ego must be methodically eliminated in order for the light of truth to dawn. In other words, it has been taught that it represents some nemesis, obstacle, impediment, or downright nasty evil entity that somehow attached itself to us, or that we acquired by virtue of wrong thinking, wrong living, or simply as a condition of appearing here at all — something akin to the Christian version of original sin.

On the other hand, some of the more sophisticated of the wisdom systems will explain that the ego is simply a persistent hallucination, an illusion which is not real, but rather a false assumption that we are currently plagued with because of karmic reasons related to bad seeds of ignorance and selfishness we planted in the course of previous incarnations. Alternately, some will expound that it represents the habitual activity of craving and aversion, and thus is not an entity, but nevertheless should still be eliminated, conquered, subdued, or somehow manipulated into non-existence (even if it is an illusion in the first place and so only exists as a conceptual designation).

Upon some inspection, however, and perhaps with the benefit of a little insight gleaned from expanded consciousness into the mechanics of incarnating into the dense vibrational frequency of this psycho-physical realm, we can recognize that the ego, or sense of self, is more like a necessary downloaded software program (in the same sense that the body/brain is the necessary hardware) required to function in life and relations. Just so, let’s consider how this works.

Our true nature is not human. We are immortal Spirit, a beloved extension, expression, and reflection of Source, the Universal Basis. As such, we act as a lens for Source to experience Itself in all of Its infinite manifestations. Spirit does this by infusing a portion of its light energy (Source Energy) into various sentient beings, including humans, in order to sample and share in their experience. In this way, we reflect Source back to Itself. Just as humans populate their dreams at night with all sorts of characters (who are nevertheless projections of their own minds), so too does Source project the whole universe into existence in an act of indescribable love, and then enjoy the multi-faceted experience of it through Its Spirit extensions.

Source Itself is not an entity, but more like an ineffable field of creative energy which expands its Self-awareness by employing shards of Its own Source Consciousness (Spirits) to explore Itself in the mirrored halls of infinity, which are ultimately Its own dream creation. There is in reality nothing but Source, playing all the roles. We are Source, manifesting as Spirit — the actor who inhabits all manner of bio-vehicles to both play the parts and also to enjoy the drama of sentience, human and otherwise. Indeed, the human carbon-based lifeform construct is actually only one possible incarnational option amidst innumerable universes and dimensions, with most of them utterly incomprehensible to the current human intellect.

Although our Spirit has its own unique identity, that ancient identity is not the same thing as the perishable human self-sense, which consists of a combination of survival instincts and various personality factors. This transient self-sense, or ego-program, is the tool Spirit employs to experience realms such as that of the human. Without it, we would not be able to maintain the necessary focus of energy required for physical manifestation. Indeed, in order to play the game of life on this stage, we need the personality roles and identity props which are programmed into each of us so that Spirit can create the virtual reality scenarios and storylines that we call our lives.

This so-called ego-program, or self-sense, naturally projects the necessary illusion of substantial reality needed to provide us with a human experience. Consequently, the prevalent concept that one needs to kill or eliminate the ego in order to become enlightened actually represents a compounded error in judgment and appreciation. In other words, it is a conceptual fantasy based on purely human suppositions and conditioned interpretations on perception. In reality, there is no substantial or enduring mental subject or ego-person that can be established, disposed of, or liberated, and so whatever may arise (such as thoughts, memories, sensations, and perceptions that seem to reify such an entity) can be compared to a thief in an empty house.

Regardless of our most idealistic human intent, we simply cannot become more of what we already are. To the point: as immortal Spirit, and extensions of Source consciousness, we have never been un-enlightened, and so there is nothing which we can do, no special practice or Guru, that is going to make us any more spiritually elevated than we already are. That dog is simply a tail-chaser!

Furthermore, since we incarnated here to experience the human adventure, it would be contradictory and counter-productive in the extreme to attempt to eliminate that which makes human existence possible in the first place. Such an attitude and intention would be tantamount to the old saying: “cutting off our nose to spite our face”.

Words themselves provide a good working example of the paradox of ego. Words are essentially audible vocalizations, or else little lines, dots, and squiggles on a page, with no inherent substance, which we nevertheless interpret as symbols, and to which we collectively assign a provisional reality, employing them in order to communicate with each other. We know that they are only sounds and scribbles, and not what they are intended to represent, but we agree to grant them a temporary significance for pragmatic purposes.

So too with the sense of self, otherwise known as the ego. Inherently, it is empty — a fictional creation — but we behave “as if” it is real, in order to accomplish our aims while playing in this virtual reality. This self-sense, or ego-program, is neither good nor bad by nature, any more than an operating system in a computer is good or bad. It is in fact essential for the life experience, and depending on our intent, it can be employed to serve many functions, some of which we could consider skillful, and of course some not so skillful. The results of such skillfulness or its lack are clearly evident in the world which the present collective self-sense has generated, mixed as it is with the inspiring as well as the regrettable.

Drilling down to the level of the apparent individual, all of the numerous emotional and psychological symptoms of dysfunction originate from an internal conflict between the survival aspect and the personality aspect of the ego-program, just as all of what is beautiful and desirable is birthed into manifestation when the various aspects of the ego-program are in harmony.

The chief complication in this process is the tendency of the conditioned mind to enthrone and then worship this basic operating system as if it were its true identity, projecting it as the master rather than the servant that it is intended to be. That delusion is simply based on a case of mistaken identity, but is nevertheless responsible for all the suffering which ensues, and which, in far too many respects, defines this realm, on both the micro as well as the macro level, as a kind of prison circumstance.

Omniscient Spirit consciousness contracts its pure vibrational frequency into the dense form of the human animal so that it can fully inhabit and experience the human adventure. Moreover, in order to achieve maximum impact from the experience, it also assumes a kind of temporary amnesia regarding its true nature and condition, at least for the life of the bio-vehicle, so that it can enjoy confronting the Unknown.

What is called “awakening” in various human wisdom systems is simply a matter of directly seeing through the self-imposed amnesia, realizing the empty quality of the projected self and its world, and simultaneously re-cognizing our original Spirit nature. If it happens in the course of one’s human adventure, great! If not, great! In other words, it is not an object that can or need be pursued, particularly since this life itself, from the point of view of the Spirit world and one’s immortal illumined nature, is simply another inhalation and exhalation within the grand panorama of infinite expansion.

In that regard, the human mind itself, no matter how brilliant it may be in the relative sphere, is quite ill-equipped to comprehend the bigger picture of that which precedes it, and in which it appears and disappears like a tiny bubble in a sea of champagne. Even the most profound human spiritual capacity is still very much like peeking through a keyhole into the parlor while trying to take in the immensity of an enormous mansion with infinite rooms.

In any case, since one of the functions of the ego-program is to handle survival issues, it automatically reacts to any presumed threats to its existence, including threats to its image of itself. Indeed, all we are ever trying to protect and defend is some image we have of ourselves, based on this false assumption of limited identity. Subsequently, since the current propaganda of this world is fear-based, the egoic survival mechanism responds by generating a corresponding contraction in the being, and hence the sense of unhappiness follows as night follows day.

Beliefs in threats, separation, conflict, and lack continually reinforce the ego-self survival program with a negative feedback loop, which in turn infects the collective environment, and subsequently is reflected in the various human religious and political clashes which have rendered this a war planet. This was not at all the original purpose of the program, but is simply what it has become in far too many cases, and also why there is the movement in human spiritual philosophies and systems to banish it.

As understandable as that motive may seem, it is utterly ineffective. Nobody can banish the ego and remain alive. The wiser course, on the other hand, is to simply switch from being controlled by it to taking charge and re-programing it to fulfill its original intent. In order to do that, it is necessary to first understand its mechanics – how it operates – and the best way to do that is through the process of True Inquiry (which has been elaborated in detail in previous essays here). As long as we remain ignorant of how we have allowed ourselves to be controlled by it, we will never be able to see through its defenses and discover the misdirected love at its core.

Certainly, a major part of True Inquiry involves inspecting the role of thought in the creation of our life and relations. Indeed, every thought is generated by the program. Consequently, if we can see directly how identifying with and fixating on thoughts keeps the contracted ego-mind in the driver’s seat, so to speak, than we can also turn the tables by bringing attention to the witness of thoughts – that awake aware space in which thoughts arise and dissolve — and thus undermining their power to drag us around by the nose.

Again, this does not mean that we go about trying to eliminate thoughts, but rather simply see them for what they are, and thus not be controlled by them. After all, the gifts of being able to think and feel, to create and form relationships, originate dependently with the self-sense. These are all wonderful capacities, and if properly understood and directed, provide the tools with which we can accomplish our creative purpose in coming here in the first place. For example, as a means of expression, every piece of music or art is created through the vehicle of the ego.

Even so, we need not take the transient self-sense to represent who and what we truly are, but we can instead simply appreciate it as the creative expedient that it is, like a space suit worn to navigate a particular environment. We are not the costume, we are not the program, but we do need it in order to provide Spirit the necessary access to the physical adventure it desires to immerse itself in, and so provide Source with eyes and hands and feet to discover and enjoy Itself in this shimmering corner of Its dream of living light.


“Those who teach enlightenment through the dissociation with the physical expression of Self walk a path of exclusion and separation, rather than inclusion and connection. Such are teachings in their expression that one thing has greater value than another, that one status of expression is more ascended and proud than another. If all are One, there is only one true value of every-thing. The body, the being, is the celebration and the fruit of the soul. It is the chalice that holds your sacred waters of life, and the temple through which the symbolism of harmony within diversity is expressed and embodied.

It is your human persona which perceives and pigeon holes the physical plane as a ‘lower’ dimension. There are actually many, many physical dimensions which coexist, yet which at times most, are never aware of each other. One is not ‘lower’ than another. That is a judgment you have placed upon its understanding in order for you to relate to it more conveniently. It is more accurate to say, they are simply different expressions of the same source, or, they are different potentials or canvases of creation. One potential is not ‘better’ or ‘higher’ than another, for all potentials come from, and lead to, the same One source.

Just in the way you taste a variety of ingredients when preparing food; one ingredient is not ‘higher’ or ‘lower’ than another, they simply provide different flavours, different experiences. The physical dimension to which you relate is simply one of many flavours, one of many sources of experience, which present you with an expanded insight into what can be created from the ingredients of that which you know as God. So, in a sense, you are like a child playing in the kitchen of the cosmos, or the cradle of creation. If such is your human experience that leaves, how to say, a bad taste in your mouth, then your beautiful divine Self will simply pursue other ‘ingredients’ within the cosmos to cook up and create new experiences of its Self.

So then, your ‘level of spirituality’, as you have called it, is simply your human brain, your ego, trying to fabricate challenges, obstacles and interactive pathways for you to somehow ‘achieve’ something which, in fact, you already are, always have been and always will be, regardless of anything and everything you do in physical state. So before you, or anybody who now reads these words lowers their own spiritual Self-value, know that regardless of what ‘spiritual’ progress you presume you have made through physical ‘learnings’, it does not and will not change who or what your spirit is. You are beautiful, you are perfect and divine, and you do not need to achieve, suffer or struggle for this to remain fact, in life or in death.”


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World of Warcraft


“You fight others all the time for your survival as a separate body-mind, a particular name and form. To live you must destroy. From the moment you were conceived you started a war with your environment – a merciless war of mutual extermination, until death sets you free.”

~Nisargadatta Maharaj

Earth is a war planet, one of many. Most souls incarnate here to test themselves in situations of conflict, and it is conflict on one level or another that they will inevitably find. It is a process of discovery for the soul in that sense, dealing with qualities such as greed, envy, hatred, and selfishness in general.

Those who manage to create a life of integrity and compassionate service “graduate”. There are many other classrooms, or higher frequencies of vibration than this dense one. Not every soul even needs to go through this one, but if they choose to do so, it can be very useful, because it is such a daunting challenge, and some souls thrive on challenges.

Being a war planet, we can expect that there will be a lot of killing. The human species currently dominating this planet specializes in killing everything they encounter, not the least of which is each other.

Some say that things are going to change, and maybe that change will indeed come someday. We can certainly all work devotedly towards that end. In the meantime, this is still a war planet, so we can expect a lot of killing.

If we go into a jungle, we might find animals chasing and eating each other. We don’t judge them, for they are animals after all. Killing is their main source of nourishment. Only the “higher” primates have developed behavioral characteristics which exceed any mere survival instinct and constitute actual strategic warfare.

In terms of survival, humans do not need to kill to eat. The vast majority could get by perfectly fine on a vegetarian diet, but they kill other animals anyway because they like to eat them, regardless of whether or not the animals offended them.

When it comes to slaughtering each other, humans conceptualize many rationales to justify their blood lust, such as territorial politics, religion, economics, and philosophy. All of that is on the surface, however, because by nature they are still an immature and particularly dangerous predatory species, prone to resolving any conflict by resorting to violence.

When not involved in actual killing, people relax by vicariously watching others being killed in movies and on television. According to one recent study, the average child in America will watch 8,000 murders on TV before finishing elementary school. By age eighteen, the average American has seen 200,000 acts of violence on TV, including 40,000 murders.


Indeed, a big part of early socialization is accustoming the child to warfare. For young males, war toys are provided, enabling the child to imitate the killing viewed in the media (which includes video games, the most popular of which involve multiple killings).

It doesn’t stop there of course. Recent statistics show that there are more firearms than people in America – a country which came into being based on a concerted campaign of genocide of millions of native Americans, and whose growth was fueled by the enslavement of millions of captured and subjugated fellow humans.

Upon entering the educational system, competition (which is a form of warfare) takes primacy, and sets the course for the rest of one’s life, which invariably involves competing for resources. It is called “business”, and extends into every facet of one’s existence.

As part of the societal programing, one is taught who to fear as the designated “bad guy”, and so the enemy can take the form of a competing romantic suitor, a competing sports team, a competing business, a competing ideology, or a competing nation.

The corporate media blare out an unending stream of fear regarding the latest designated enemy, and public opinion dutifully follows with implanted ideas of hatred and desire to violently punish and subdue the appointed villain.

Even human religions, which were ostensibly established to promote moral behavior, peace, and tolerance, frame the spiritual life as a battle perpetually being waged both inwardly and in the celestial realms between God and Satan, or devils (asuras) representing our “bad” thoughts and angels (devas) our “good” ones.

Few stop to realize that all such concepts are mere fantasies of interpretation, whose only reality is that which our conditioned minds have been taught to grant them. Just as when a thief sees a saint and only notices what he might steal from them, so too do humans conditioned to warfare tend to see life through the narrow lens of conflict, typically based on programed prejudices relating to gender, race, age, ideological affiliation, or nationality (to name some of the most common roots of bias).

In any case, war is the established and accepted agenda – the preferred business model — and consequently more time, energy, and resources are devoted to it than anything else. In America, for example, at least 60% of its national budget goes to the military, and yet there are many who are claiming that is not enough.

On any given “news day”, one can find a flood of “fear porn”, detailing the growing threat from this or that competing nation or ideology, and hence requiring even greater sacrifices from the taxpayers to fund the already bloated military-industrial complex.
On the micro, or individual level, most humans are also engaged in a relentless internal war, driven by alternating craving and aversion. This manifests as a prevailing sense of dissatisfaction with one’s thoughts, one’s body, and one’s life.

The alarming epidemic of psychological disorders and subsequent avalanche of pharmaceutical products intended to ameliorate them attest to the fact that this internal conflict exacts a ferocious toll, even to the point of rocketing self-murder statistics.

Indeed, as the wise among us have always counseled: If we wish to change the world, we must first change ourselves, because the war always has its roots within our own hearts and minds.

As immortal light being souls temporarily inhabiting these human animals, we have the chance to use our soul energy to guide them early on to behave properly, develop the desire to seek peaceful solutions to conflict, and most of all, to grow in empathy and compassion. However, some of us just sit back and let the animal run wild, to see what will result.

What has resulted is the world we see today, roiling in aggression, conflict, and blood lust on so many levels. Some say humans are on the verge of self-extinction, just as they have presided over the extinction of more than half of all animal life on the planet in the last 50 years. The mass self-destruction (prompted by greed, hatred, and ignorance) of entire civilizations has happened on other planets, and it could happen on this one too.

Right now, it appears that it could go either way. The group consciousness will decide. If we want to understand how that works, we have but to consider that our current reality has been determined by the group consciousness of the past, and so if we wish to know what will pertain in the future, we need look no further than what the group consciousness is projecting and energizing today.

For example, is the collective consciousness moving towards a mass recognition of our essential oneness, or is it dividing more and more into separate and antagonistic camps that can find no common ground? It’s been said that energy flows where attention goes, and so where is our attention going today, as both individuals and as a species? Is it still fixated in grooves of selfishness, control, and dominance, or can it rise to a new level of united awareness, wisdom, and love? The fate of humanity is about to be determined by such choices being made right now.

War Movie In Reverse

Holes close to smooth skin
when the shrapnel flashes out.

The shores of burns recede,
and flames leap with their hot metal
back into the bomb that rises,
whole and air-borne again,
with its gathered blast.

Leading the plane perfectly,
the bomb arcs back slowly
through the open gates
and disappears into the waiting belly.

The bombardier lifts
his peering eye from the sight.

Swallowing its wake,
the plane returns to base
with its countermand mission.

The pilot, irresolute now, faces
his commandant, who marches,
brisk and backward
to the general’s lair.

The general takes back the orders.

But into what deep and good and hidden
recess of the will
go his thoughts of not bombing?”

~ Mark Johnston

sticks and stones

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The Talking School

Hollow Discussions

“If we have listened to many learned masters and received deep instructions, have studied a few sutras and tantras, without ever applying them —‘Oh how pitiful!’— we are just fooling ourselves.”


At a certain point on the journey, it becomes obvious that Reality is not reducible to any one view, dogma, religious or philosophical description, sage’s testimony, or even any direct experience, regardless of how seemingly profound and conclusive. On the contrary, it both includes and simultaneously exceeds all that we can know or imagine, and so clinging to any fixed notion, scripture, or purported revelation only serves to superimpose a conceptual limit on what is fundamentally limitless.

In that regard, and in today’s multifaceted spiritual environment, it is quite common for people who encounter certain nonduality teachings (such as Advaita Vendanta, or the Buddhist Schools of Zen, Mahamudra, and Dzogchen) to find substantial resonance on an intellectual level. After all, once one begins to examine such teachings, they do make a lot of sense, especially if one has already had some exposure to the eastern spiritual traditions, or grown disenchanted with the Abrahamic religious dogmas as propounded in the conventional institutions that most Westerners have been raised in.

The problem is, as long as these nondual teachings remain on the level of the intellect, they may have some philosophical value, but that is typically as far as it goes. Unless the inquiry penetrates deep enough through the layers of mental formations to sever the root of our transient identifications and self-positions, while simultaneously opening the heart to the call of selfless compassion, it will not ultimately be very transformative, and can even pose as an additional hindrance by fattening the “spiritual ego”.

Fixating in a purely intellectual understanding of the emptiness of the self-complex, for example, can actually interfere with or impede its direct recognition (or clear seeing), which is something of an altogether different nature. In that regard, one of the strange drawbacks of such philosophical agreement is the tendency observed in so many enthusiasts of the nonduality scene to forgo a commitment to the practice/actualization component, choosing instead to extract certain themes from the totality of the teachings (such as, “there is nothing that need be done”, “everything is already perfect as it is”, “just be what you are”, and other typically misunderstood and out-of-context proclamations), and then feel satisfied that they have “got it”.

Experiencing the concept of nonduality, of course, is no substitute for the literal revolution in consciousness to which the concept merely points. The great Advaitic sage Nisargadatta Maharaj himself spent years plunged into intense self-inquiry and meditation prior to his awakening, but that fact is often by-passed by the mind that believes it has the whole thing figured out, based on a bit of reading and internet conversation. Finding those who can talk the talk has become increasingly easy, but those who actually walk the walk are still quite rare.

Even my previous essay, on the Mystique of Freedom, could be misinterpreted to suggest that practice is unnecessary. In fact, no effort can bring about awakening, but paradoxically, in order to realize that, some effort does seem to be required.

As Nisargadatta himself noted: “Unless you make tremendous efforts, you will not be convinced that effort will take you nowhere. The self is so self-confident that unless it is totally discouraged it will not give up. Mere verbal conviction is not enough. Hard facts alone can show the absolute nothingness of the self-image.”

Practices such as Non-dwelling, the Discipline of Silence, and True Meditation (Mindful Awareness) can effectively serve to remove obstructions to Clear Seeing. In that regard, I have used the classic metaphor of a thorn employed to remove a thorn (as an expedient means), and once it has done its job, it too can be discarded.

Even Ramana Maharshi, who is held up as an example of the rare instance when awakening occurred spontaneously, actually spent years in sadhana in seclusion cultivating his initial insight into the Self-nature, prior to settling at Arunachala and beginning teaching.

I’ve heard some teachers claim that practice may not be necessary, and that may or may not be true for us someday, but certainly not as long as we are appearing in this realm. The great Zen Master Dogen said, “enlightenment has no beginning, and practice has no end.” To have no end means that there is infinite expansion, which doesn’t end with some experience of awakening. Indeed, such experiences may merely signal the beginning of a new phase of Self-exploration.

In any case (and not to belabor the issue), I will offer one good practice tip from a pretty reliable teacher, Garchen Rinpoche:

“If you were to practice mindful awareness with great diligence for just a month, if you were to recognize even the slightest thought and not allow your mind to wander off into delusion for that time, even in such a short time you would witness great changes. Fierce afflictions would not faze you so much anymore, because you would have gained personal experience in observing the illusory play.”

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The Mystique of Freedom

“In fact if everything arises from pure and total consciousness, then pure and total consciousness has no need of a path to tread to reach itself”

 ~Chogyal Namkhai Norbu

In the vast library cataloguing exceptional human experiences, daunting adventures, and intriguing explorations, the tales of humanity’s search for spiritual liberation are some of the more compelling, and have even formed the basis for most of the world’s religions and philosophies. We all love a good story!

However, as fascinating as the reports may be — these bold testimonies of spiritual heroes and heroines persevering through all manner of adversity to finally attain the pinnacle of human potential, pull the sword from the rock, and ascend blissfully beyond the dreary fate of ordinary mortals — the actual truth is that they are all based on a fundamental case of mistaken identity.

It’s not so much that they have often been seriously “airbrushed” (although that is a regrettable though all too common fate of many of these hagiographies), but rather that they were embarked upon under false pretenses from the beginning. That many of these characters burst out laughing in recognition of that fact at the culmination of their quest does provide a saving grace element to the reports. Let’s examine why.

In reality, nobody goes from being bound to being free, from being lost to being found. There is no mountain to climb, river to cross, or surrender to be done in order to acquire or attain that which we already are and have always been. Free. Nobody has ever been bound, nobody has ever required salvation. Indeed, whatever we try to do to grasp or achieve it actually obstructs its recognition as our natural primordial state.

Despite all hope or idealism to have things be other than they are – better, more agreeable, brighter — there is never going to be any more to who and what we are, than who and what we really are right now. There is nothing about who we really are that has ever needed improvement. Freedom is our native, or default, condition, and it has never changed, nor will it ever. It is not modified by time or experience, is not born, and never dies.

We are always already free, even to the extent that “freedom” itself is just a conceptual designation signifying that which has always been the case from the very no-beginning. What is, simply is. “Is” does not need to become more “is”. Nor is there anything about our primordial nature that needs to be liberated, redeemed, saved, or enlightened, but simply recognized.

The real freedom that is true of us is not a new accomplishment or state to be gained in opposition to bondage. This pristine awake awareness that we are has never been conditioned, nor can it become more aware. It is empty and transparent, yet knowing. Knowing what? Knowing this immediate experience, whatever it may be.

Within that ineffable spaciousness which has no limit and no circumference, thoughts, emotions, memories, sensations, and perceptions appear and vanish as the display of awareness itself, our display, in the same way clouds appear and vanish in the sky. This also includes the sense of self, a projection of mind which mind may in turn mistake as our true identity, even though our true nature is this prior awake awareness.

Whatever appears in the sky does not affect the sky, any more than what is reflected in a mirror affects the mirror. The most profound beauty or the most terrible ugliness are exactly the same to the mirror – mere reflections without substance or endurance. They all comprise what comes and goes, but awareness itself is motionless.

Within the space or embrace of awareness, whatever arises is instantly known, just as what passes before the mirror is instantly reflected in it. The knower of whatever arises is this fundamental awareness. When the sense of a concrete and independent self-entity arises within this space, it is simply the space of awareness manifesting as a momentary, empty formation. Awareness itself is never implicated by its content.

However, emptiness is also form, and so this transient complex of thought energy may begin weaving a narrative – a story composed of thoughts, feelings, and perceptions that seem to amount to a substantial “me”. Mind projects this dreamy character and then sets about trying to confirm its existence in the virtual reality realms of infinite experience.

Nevertheless, this “me-complex” can never be truly satisfied, its longing for validation truly quenched, despite all efforts to make it so. After all, it is merely a temporary play of consciousness, like a movie character that seems real, but is actually just the projected light reflecting on a screen.

In Buddhism, this stressful sense of dissatisfaction or un-fulfillment is called “Dukkha”. The Buddha taught that it inevitably arises as a result of a fundamental ignorance regarding who and what we truly are – this sky-like awake awareness. It represents a contraction of the free flow of beingness, a kind of knot-complex entangling life energy in the illusion of insufficiency.

In any case, it is that one, the dissatisfied one, who is forever exploiting the possibilities of experience in the hope of acquiring happiness. However, because such quests inevitably turn out to be in vain (in the sense that all effort at happiness only reinforces the sense of unhappiness), it is also “that one” who may eventually assume the identity of a spiritual seeker, armed with all sorts of schemes and strategies to get enlightened, saved, redeemed, and thoroughly satisfied at last.

As it so happens (and to make a long story short), that seeker is also the very one who disappears in the blaze of true realization. In that unaccountable grace of recognition, awareness suddenly awakens to itself. Of course, this is just a manner of speaking, pointing to the moment in which the subconscious ceases projecting an independent self, along with the dreamy story of “me & mine” which accompanies it.

It is not as if the ego-mind finally triumphs in the attainment of its goal. It is simply that it is seen through and recognized as the illusion it has always been. Upon awakening, the fate of our dream characters is moot. They were only dreams, after all. The seeker does not suddenly awaken. They never will, since they were a fiction all along. Who applauds when the mirage is seen to be a mirage?

In a flash of Realization, the sense of identity has now been reversed, from being the desperate searcher-subject we took ourselves to be, to the recognition of our true nature as the pure and timeless awareness in which that dancing thought-form momentarily arose and then melted away.

It is not as if a definitive key to life has been discovered. The one who would find such a formula has been a fictional creation all along. In reality, there is only life, what is, “this”. It can’t be divided into subject and object, except in the imagination. There is no separate “awareness” that is witnessing experiences.

Even calling it “our nature” is a kind of language trick, since how can “what is” belong to anybody? In that sense, “impersonal” does mean some sort of cold and aloof state of withdrawal from relations, but simply indicates the absence of a personal subject, separated out from experience. There is simply  experience, life, happening to no one.

In reality, nothing has happened, nobody has arrived anywhere. Nor is this a clue for the mind still committed to dilemma, any more than the sound of tides washing onto the shore is a way or a means to something more. The waves wash in, the waves wash out, but the sea remains the sea.

“Pleasure and pain alternate. Happiness is unshakable. What you can seek and find is not the real thing. Find what you have never lost, find the inalienable.”

~Sri Nisargadatta


 See also:

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