Like Burglars

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

In that clear recognition, all such fictions of self-achievement are naturally liberated, like dream images that vanish upon awakening. Indeed, any sense of bondage can only exist as an investment in a thought object. For example, when we first awaken in the morning, there is typically no thought about who and what we are — there is only immediate awareness. That state of “not knowing” is our actual default condition, in which neither liberation nor bondage notions even apply. Habitually, however, we start right in compulsively projecting all sorts of thought energy in the form of conceptual designations, which in turn comprise our sense of self, and hence our reality.

Essentially, the real freedom is always naturally present prior to any such conceptual designations. If we could see directly that all of our complaints, ideals, hopes and fears, and even our very self-sense, hinge on a thin thread of thought, then we can sit back and let the whole house of cards collapse on its own. For example, when we see that we have been pinching ourselves, we just stop doing that. It is not really any more complicated than that, although for most of us, we tend to complicate the matter, and so there are all sorts of teachings directed at getting us to stop tearing at our own flesh, so to speak, and get out of our own way.

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

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

The entangling confusion that seems to beset most aspirants can be traced back to the belief that we are the doer – the busy pilgrim on the way to glory — when in fact that self-sense will begin reveal its true nature upon thorough investigation. Upon inspection, it is seen to be nothing more than a bundle of thoughts and memories mistaken to represent our actual identity. When recognized as such, it can become a useful tool in navigating the objective world (which is its actual function), rather than a tyrant dominating our life with misdirected efforts at confirming its existence at any cost.

Consequently, rather than desperately trying to calm the mind and achieve some idealistic transformation of the imaginary character we have previously assumed ourselves to be, we can simply refrain from trying to “do something” about that conceptual construct, and instead simply acknowledge its subsidiary function as a practical adjunct to the incarnational adventure, with no inherent or enduring substantiality beyond that. It is, after all, just a thought.

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

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

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

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

No doubt it is possible to remain fixated and aloof in a dreamy emptiness and yet imagine that we have accomplished our purpose in being born, when in fact we have barely begun to really manifest the living light. We may have just exchanged one prison for a more subtle one, and one perhaps even harder to transcend, since there is no apparent motive to do so.

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

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

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

Without Love there is no Truth. Without Truth there is no Love. Love transcends any sense of its own absence — that core story of separation and contraction from Itself, which is infinitely modified as the forms of our chronic suffering and dissatisfaction, and the ensuing cycle of craving and aversion. Strangely, fear of such love may be even greater than our fear of death, because the spontaneous recognition that there are no “others” leaves no refuge for that which would maintain distance and boundaries.

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

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

Q: Is not all suffering self-created?

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

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

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

Q: Do you advocate complete passivity?

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

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

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

2 bu

About Bob OHearn

My name is Bob O'Hearn, and I live with my Beloved Mate, Mazie, in the foothills of the Northern California Sierra Nevada Mountains. I have a number of blog sites you may enjoy: Photo Gallery: Essays on the Conscious Process: Compiled Poetry and Prosetry: Verses and ramblings on life as it is: Verses and Variations on the Investigation of Mind Nature: Verses on the Play of Consciousness: Poetic Fiction, Fable, Fantabulation: Poems of the Mountain Hermit: Love Poems from The Book of Yes: Autobiographical Fragments, Memories, Stories, and Tall Tales: Ancient and modern spiritual texts, creatively refreshed: Writings from selected Western Mystics, Classic and Modern: Wisdom of a Spirit Guide: Thank You!
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16 Responses to Like Burglars

  1. Lovely essay Bob.
    I rarely quote the New Testament, but after reading your marvelous piece my mind came back to what in my opinion is the best piece of writing the Apostle Paul ever did. I hadn’t read this in decades but your essay brought a fresh new meaning and a vastly deeper resonance to these words that I never experienced when I read the “love chapter” repeatedly as a much younger man.

    1 Corinthians 13:9
    “But if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.”

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

    “Affectionate awareness”, mmm… feeling this. All words finally fail, but much less mental and emotional baggage attached to these words than the word “Love”

    Love you man!!

  2. Bob OHearn says:

    “‘Nothing is me,’ is the first step. ‘Everything is me’ is the next. Both hang on the idea: ‘there is a world’. When this too is given up, you remain what you are — the non-dual Self. You are it here and now, but your vision is obstructed by your false ideas about your self.
    You know so many things about yourself, but the knower you do not know. Find out who you are, the knower of the known. Look within diligently, remember to remember that the perceived cannot be the perceiver. Whatever you see, hear or think of, remember — you are not what happens, you are he to whom it happens. Delve deeply into the sense ‘I am’ and you will surely discover that the perceiving centre is universal, as universal as the light that illumines the world. All that happens in the universe happens to you, the silent witness. On the other hand, whatever is done, is done by you, the universal and inexhaustible energy.”

    ~Nisargadatta Maharaj

  3. Bob OHearn says:

    He said:
    “You will remember, like a quick wisp, a small flutter… there then gone. You will remember the prowling of streets and the way your fingers brushed across the twilight. You will remember the buzzing of little bees and the extent of silence, you will remember conflict and loss, thickets of berries, the hands of a small child, the spokes of a wheel, the fragrance of night air, the tangle of your consort’s hair, conversations of sunlight You will remember all this and your heart will break into a thousand shardlike wounds and each of these will become a form, a body, a water moon, a magical appearance, a rainbow, a mirage, a dream, a moment’s hope.”

    I replied:
    “There is no rainbow, no mirage, no water moon. There is no one to see it and nothing to be seen. This virtuous moment has never been and will never end. No Buddha descended, no beings were lost, no dreamlike victor saved them from diseases they never had. No suffering, no end of suffering and so on right up until…. this moment.”

    He said:
    “Yes, and still your heart will break, and still the bitter sweet pain will fill you, and still the myriad worlds will turn and spin, and still you will appear again and again until every being who never was is freed from suffering.”

    I replied: “This is a hard bargain you drive.”

    He said: “Yes, but it’s the only game in town.”

    Night was falling into silence. The twilight sun splayed in a thousand rays and droplets. Mind from the heart flowed through the corridor of the eyes and became the only love. It is not that I was wrong, rather, it was simply that he was right. The fragrant flower closed in upon itself as dusk turned to dark.

    ~Traktung Rinpoche, from A wounded heart in the month of miracles: (recollecting a conversation with Guru Pema on how we appear again and again)

  4. Bob OHearn says:

    “Love is nothing other than God. God loves himself and his nature, his being, and his divinity. In the same love, however, in which God loves himself, he also loves all creatures, not as creatures but he loves the creatures as God. In the same love in which God loves himself, he loves all things. Now I shall say something I have never said before. God enjoys himself. In the same enjoyment in which God enjoys himself, he enjoys all creatures. With the same enjoyment with which God enjoys himself, he enjoys all creatures, not as creatures, but he enjoys the creatures as God. In the same enjoyment in which God enjoys himself, he enjoys all things.”

    ~Meister Eckhart

  5. Bob OHearn says:

    “The eighth- century Buddhist adept Vimalamitra described three stages of mastery in meditation and how thinking appears in each. The first is like meeting a person you already know; you simply recognize each thought as it arises in consciousness, without confusion.

    The second is like a snake tied in a knot; each thought, whatever its content, simply unravels on its own.

    In the third, thoughts become like thieves entering an empty house; even the possibility of being distracted has disappeared.

    Long before reaching this kind of stability in meditation, however, one can discover that the sense of self— the sense that there is a thinker behind one’s thoughts, an experiencer amid the flow of experience— is an illusion.

    The feeling that we call “I” is itself the product of thought. Having an ego is what it feels like to be thinking without knowing that you are thinking.”

    ~Sam Harris

  6. marcelvuijstmarcel vuijst says:

    Thank you Brother!

  7. marcelvuijst says:

    Thanks Brother, didn’t know about the movie’s existence. Only skipped through it so far but will watch the whole of it somewhere next week when finally everything around my father’s phenomena has been done. Which ironically, I met the best friend of my Father and it turns out he’s a medium, also very well schooled in non-duality and what not, yet still (as many) it was too obvious he is fixed within identities of light/dark, he did some stuff regarding my Fathers death he isn’t proud of and confessed (illegally sold stuff for family members) though he confesses it, what happens is that he spews up a “spiritual” explanation about past lives and karma and a whole bunch of stuff so he can find peace with himself, which he can’t but uses it as a story to tell others and himself to believe so he can cope. Also a lot of people (to my surprise) direct friends and family have shown a lot of “poisons” (greed being dominant) triggered by conditioned everyday events, it has come to my attention that all knowledge folks have is useless (in essence) and is being misused to shape a (selfish) mental picture they live by, most funny is when it happens with “spiritual” folks who preach about how there is no “I”, yet can’t walk the walk. Though it’s interesting to observe it is also very tiring, it’s good to be physically alone, being bombarded with folks (subjective) agenda and emotional reactivity (in speech or silence) all day is draining a lot of energy, hence I’m a bit quiet lately cus I need my rest in between the traffic.


    • Bob OHearn says:

      I understand, Brother!

      I hold you in my heart, where we both blend with infinity.

      In terms of the “Talking School”, Nisargadatta noted: “You may know all the right words, quote the scriptures, be brilliant in your discussions and yet remain a bag of bones. Or you may be inconspicuous and humble, an insignificant person altogether, yet glowing with loving kindness and deep wisdom.”

      Love & Blessings!

  8. marcelvuijst says:

    Thank you Brother!

    I deeply appreciate this rare place of sanity in the crazy jungle, it always reminds me of what truly matters.

  9. Bob OHearn says:

    There is only a stream of sensations, perceptions, memories and ideations. The body is an abstraction, created by our tendency to seek unity in diversity. You have never questioned your belief that you are the body. It attracts attention and fascinates so completely that rarely does one perceive one’s real nature. It is like seeing the surface of the ocean and completely forgetting the immensity beneath. The world is but the surface of the mind and the mind is infinite. What we call thoughts are just ripples in the mind. When the mind is quiet… it dissolves and only reality remains.

    ~ Nisargadatta Maharaj

  10. Bob OHearn says:

    “The practitioner is like the mirror which can freely reflect whatever presents itself, without the reflections in it either sticking to it or leaving any trace in it; the reflected image liberates in the very moment that it appears. Since there is no longer a mental subject that can be harmed by whatever manifests, it is said that at this stage the passions and whatever may arise are like a thief in an empty house. When one manifests this ultimate capacity of self-liberation, this is the realization . . .”

    ~Chogyal Namkhai Norbu

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