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, so 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

See also:

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The Talking School

Hollow Discussions


It is quite common for people who encounter certain nonduality teachings (like those of Nisargadatta Maharaj, from the Advaita School, or from the Buddhist Schools of Zen and Dzogchen) to find 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.

The problem is, as long as the 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 deeper than the realm of mental formations and cuts off the root of all identification and self-positions, it will not ultimately be very transformative, and can even pose as an additional hindrance by fattening the “spiritual ego”.

Indeed, clinging to an intellectual understanding of the emptiness of the self-complex 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 intellectual agreement is the tendency observed in so many enthusiasts of the nonduality scene to forgo a commitment to the practice/actualization component.

Experience of the concept, of course, is no substitute for the experience of the reality of the nondual view. Nisargadatta himself spent years plunged into intense self-inquiry and meditation prior to his awakening, but that element 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 is increasingly easy, but those who actually walk the walk are still 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, prior to showing up at Arunachala and beginning teaching.

Consequently, I will offer one good 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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The Motive

Your pride in yourself and your wanting,
these steal your energy along the road.

If you can kill these robbers
and become the servant of everyone,
you’ll meet the Lord in meditation
and see what you used to protect
as just a pile of ashes.

~ Lal Ded

Despite idealistic claims by some teachers that the process is an effortless one, it still seems that it is devilishly difficult for the vast majority of aspirants to actually let go of the programed belief in a separate and independent person, path, and destiny. All subsequent schemes and notions about performing liberating practices, accumulating merit, attaining enlightenment, and so forth are based on that primal case of mistaken identity.

In any case, we obviously cannot think or wish that delusion away, because its very root and origin is fixed in the deep subconscious. What we can do is to continue to reach beyond ourselves by giving love, and simultaneously refrain from investing in ego-mind’s self-absorbed narrative. At some point, the subconscious may simply cease projecting a karmic self, because there is no longer grounds for the existence of such a projection — its fuel supply has been severed due to non-attention.

Until then, it seems that we will persist in fretting about that which turns out to be a mere make-believe character. In the coffee shop adjacent to the theater, seekers will continue to gather after the movie and passionately debate the fate of the fictional movie character, as if he/she were real. Even that can be a playful sort of fun, except that everyone appears so serious. They are all doing sacred sadhana, after all, and that’s no laughing matter!

On the other hand, if we were somehow able to get a bit of perspective on the whole “me-project”, we just might recognize the humor in all of the arduous efforts undertaken to become . . . well . . . what we already are. When we read the anecdotal stories of awakening in the testimonial literature, there is typically a burst of laughter that accompanies direct recognition (often accompanied by some version of a face palm). Ramana Maharshi put it succinctly when he said: “We think that there is something hiding our reality and that it must be destroyed before the reality is gained. It is ridiculous. A day will dawn when you will yourself laugh at your past efforts. That which will be on the day you laugh is also here and now.”

For many of us, one of the chief culprits impeding such a recognition is pride, stubborn spiritual pride. After all, we have spent so much valuable time squirming and nodding at the feet of teachers, we have done the prostrations, read the books, twisted our legs into pretzels, visualized all sorts of super beings, chanted monosyllabic Sanskrit fragments countless times, and purchased all the prescribed mountain climbing gear we have been assured will help in our courageous ascent to the top where spiritual glory awaits us (or so we have been told).

Now someone comes along and suggests that all of that was essentially a humorous pretense, and points out that we are not one step closer to real liberation than we were when we started the whole pious business. Moreover, they claim the reason for that is because the one who was so determined to get free is actually the glitch that has been obstructing the spontaneous realization all along. The realization of what? The realization of that which has never been bound from the beginning, and so has never been in need of fixing! The spiritual comedian Chogyam Trungpa called this whole set-up “the cosmic joke”.

Indeed – how can one not laugh at the absurdity? Well, when we no longer take our foibles seriously, it can provoke a concomitant sense of humility, and humility is the last thing ego-mind wants to get involved with. Why? Humility can be quite uncomfortable to the mind intoxicated with its own importance. That is, humility will not confirm and validate ego-mind’s very existence. In fact, it diminishes its power, weakens its voice, saps attention from the perceived wonderfulness of its self-image, and generally deflates its enthusiasm to acquire all the perks that supposedly come with spiritual attainment. Clearly, ego-mind has no sense of humor, and that is a big clue in itself.

Moreover, who wants to look like a fool? In the view of ego-mind, that is exactly how it would be perceived if all of its mighty efforts at becoming enlightened turned out to be a big diversion — a waste of time. Remember, how we are perceived is typically more important to ego-mind than the reality of who and what we really are. For ego-mind, it truly is all in the perception. The actual reality is conveniently ignored, unless of course it can be employed somehow to bolster the desired perception. It will even pat itself on the back for the brilliant recognition of its own non-existence!

Invariably, the cumulative energy behind this culture’s massive programing and marketing shtick is spawned and nourished by our fundamental concern for how we look, and that is certainly no laughing matter! This is because (in our minds) how we appear is the determinant for how loved and lovable we might be. Hence, here is the heart of it – what we are really seeking. It’s what all of our efforts are devoted to — the supreme and primordial motive – to be attended to, to be loved.

Once that is directly seen, we may be moved to return to the initial inquiry: who or what is so desperately yearning to be loved, confirmed, and cherished that we would jump through all the hoops tossed at us in the spiritual game, just to heal a wound at the heart which is there from our own doing ? Our own doing? Yes, in the process of assuming these human forms, we projected and then reinforced a sense of self and other, despite the reality that consciousness is indivisible.

We created the chasm, in other words, based on a case of mistaken identity – the identity of a separate and independent person believed to be in need of redemption, liberation, love. Certainly, we had a lot of help in the process. After all, the story we have been told from birth by all of the various agents of our socialization is based on being a separate person in a world filled with other separate people, some of whom could give us what we want, and some of whom could threaten our very existence. In any case, we are told that we are on our own. Yikes!

Keep in mind that all of this is related in general terms, and individual motives and experiences may vary, but if we are willing to deeply inspect our own motives, perhaps we can recognize a particular quality at the root of our being: self-interest. The motive of self-interest is in fact the primary one for just about all creatures in this realm. Nor can we simply banish it from our minds, especially if we are unwilling to confront it first, and see what kind of gift is hidden within its appearance.

If we are observant, we might come to see that whatever appears in our lives can be recognized as a gift for us, if we are open to receiving. Nothing is there haphazardly. Even the more difficult challenges and visions are still only temporary phenomena that are reflected in the mirror of mind. We are not what appears and vanishes, and so having faith in that fact, we can proceed.

Upon investigation, we can notice that the sense of self-interest is primal, arising for almost everyone simultaneous with embodiment. Indeed, without it, we would not last long in this realm, and so it can be appreciated as a useful and necessary program in that respect, as long as it serves its proper function. So far, so good.

The complication arises when we mistake the program for our actual identity, because then it threatens to become a tyrannical master, rather than a loyal and helpful servant. Moreover, in doing so, it creates painful contractions in the flow of our interpersonal relationships, even to the extreme of our making war to insure its dominance. Just so, if we survey this world as it is today, with all of its strife and bloodshed, we can see the results of an out-of-control sense of self-interest.

By spending some time turning our attention away from the interests of the identified one – its thoughts, emotions, memories, and perceptions – and instead allowing mind to come to rest in the spaciousness of that awake awareness which is always present, then the natural balance and harmony between the expediency of the transient self-sense and the eternal reality of our native pristine selflessness can eventually be restored.

In the process, the essential emptiness of the self-image may be revealed, thus freeing attention even more from the dilemma of imagined independent embodiment, and simultaneously releasing it to the exquisite enjoyment of pure being. Such liberated energy subsequently transmutes to a fine-burning fuel, freely available for the actualization of life’s inherent potential and evolutionary expansion to infinity.

Now we are no longer looking for love, because we know ourselves as Love itself. When the heart knows itself as it is, bondage and liberation both become moot, humor flows freely, while what remains is what has always been – this miraculous motionless moment that paradoxically goes on forever!


“That which you are, your true self, you love it, and whatever you do, you do for your own happiness. To find it, to know it, to cherish it is your basic urge. Since time immemorial you loved yourself, but not wisely. What is wrong is to love yourself stupidly, so as to make yourself suffer. Use your body and mind wisely in the service of the self, that is all.”

~Sri Nisargadatta

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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.” A thousand years later, the contemporary master Anam Thubten echoes: “Notice that there is a gap between each thought. Notice that there is a space between the place where the last thought came to an end and the next one hasn’t arrived yet. In this space there is no “I” or “me.” That’s it.”

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 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.

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Traditionally, aspirants deemed ready are introduced to rigpa through certain face-to-face “pointing out instructions” with their teacher. A classic example of this direct introduction to rigpa can be found in the “Yeshe Lama” by Jigme 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-liberate 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.”


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