The TAT Forum: a spiritual magazine of essays, poems and humor.

May 2005

Essays, poems, opinions and humor on seeking
and finding answers to your deepest life-questions

This month's contents:


Jacob's Ladder (part 4) by Richard Rose | Poems by Shawn Nevins | Summer, 1992 by Shawn Nevins | Being and Doing by Douglas Harding | First Know Thyself by Art Ticknor | This Camera by Art Ticknor | Trusting the Inner Self by Bob Fergeson | Hijacking of Thought by Bob Fergeson | Humor | Reader Commentary

Call for papers: What have you learned from studying your dreams? We're soliciting opinions on this topic for next month's Forum. Please your responses, limited to 800 words, by May 21.

Sign up for e-mail alerts that will let you know when new issues are published.

Want to meet some of the Forum authors in person? Interested in meeting other Forum readers? Watch for more information about TAT's meeting schedule and programs.

View video clips of the TAT spring conference DVDs or listen to free audio recordings.

Jacob's Ladder (part 4)
by Richard Rose

~ Continued from the April 2005 TAT Forum

Q. I sort of embarked upon this process myself. I suppose you could say I was all the way up to the process-observer point for awhile. Never satisfied, always evaluating many different types of feelings, including intuitive feelings that negated all of the empirical data I had accumulated.

R. Yes.

Q. But then, all of these things started to overload. I started to not be able to function on an everyday, practical....

R. Right. That's right.

Q. In fact, the ability of my mind to function in an empirical, linear fashion in a way that the University requires, began to break down. So again, instead of being able to keep going, I had to....

R. Retreat.

Q. Right. I had to retreat. And so I find myself slightly frustrated. Because at times I dip right back down to the bottom again.

sine wave's ups and downs R. Sure, sure. And if you reach the top you'd go back down to the bottom again. You can't live without eating at the table and going to the toilet and your body functioning the same as it did before. And you're going to have to retreat to that set of values, and daily compare the positive and the negative again. Until the day you die.

Q. (A different person.) I think you kind of reach another dimension. But you'll still be in the same place you were, and you'll still have to cope. But as for what he said about adding to the computer and things getting harder, I don't see that. As you get the thing working, things become easier, not harder. And the mind doesn't overload, because you were working against yourself in the first place, but now it's working with ideas that make it easier.

But it should become easier. And the intuition mixes with the logic. And I don't believe in positive/negative. Because if you believe it then you're going to look for it.

R. Let me say something to the other fellow, because he posed a problem. I don't know how much you're acquainted with Zen, but this process was demonstrated in the lives of people who reached the maximum enlightenment, or Sahaja Nirvikalpa Samadhi.

The thing happened to each person pretty much as you described. In that they saw the foolishness of life, they intuited a path but it didn't work, they approached a point in which their head, everything, all the stuff hit the fan—and they were overcome and they couldn't continue. It was either trust yourself to accident or death, or get back and grab a hold of something tangible.

Q. Exactly.

R. Now strangely enough, in the Zen path, so many scholars having described this to the three or six thousand students in some of the monasteries in China, they devised a system of deliberately bombing the head. And it was the exercise of attaining no-mind, which I don't approve of. I don't approve of trying to make your mind go blank.

The understanding is that when you reach the point of no-mind, the All-Mind invades it, and you know everything. But you can't go about it just by simulating, taking a symptom. You have to do it as you did it, but have faith in it and in yourself, regardless of whether you go insane, drop dead, get thrown out of college, whatever. Persist. Keep that computer going.

And what happens is the head explodes. Not the physical head, but the comprehensiveness.

Q. Are you implying that self-esteem, if I could use that category, is related to intuition? That the malfunction of intuition....

R. Your intuition wasn't perfected; or possibly your time hadn't come. I made a decision when I was twenty-one years of age—looking ahead and reading books about people who had gotten into raja yoga and that sort of thing, and people who had gotten into Christian mysticism and were written off as nuts—that I very possibly could be written off as a nut. That I could get into prostate cancer or something and die. And I said, "So what? I don't want to live undefined. I'll take the chance."

You walk right up to the edge and you say, "Hey, my head's coming apart." And you get frightened. But that total lonesomeness takes you away from all of your contact with relativity. That lonesomeness is that your essence is separated for all time from this relative thing, including your dear relatives, your dear children that may come or may have been here already, your possessions, everything. So you may lose all that, including your degree in the university.

But once you return—just like he says, he's coming in from a point which is very valid, too—that once you get there you realize there is no positive and negative. And that's part of the new definition that you have.

Do you understand what I'm talking about, then? That when a person says there is no positive and negative, he's transcended the positive and negative. Which we know in chemistry is there; in mathematics it's there. But in a spiritual realization, once you reach that, there are no positives and negatives.

For instance, I'll say that a guy who shortchanges me is a thief, maybe. But there are no bad people; I know that implicitly. There are no bad people and there are no good people. But we've still got to live in this good/bad world.

Q. Do you think that we're sort of fooling ourselves, coming to these lectures and reading books and trying to work on ourselves? I have a feeling that if I got to that point, where my mind was threatened, I'd be frightened too, and set back.

R. Sure. Now that's the reason for the so-called monastery—and ashrams. A lot of people sensed this, that they'd want to be alone at that time. So they had somebody standing close to them, so when the guy said, "I'm scared stiff," why he says, "Well, if you die I'll bury you." (Laughter.)

It's just like a guy taking another person through an acid trip. You say, "Now you're going to encounter such-and-such a little bug along the road, and don't jump through the window, because you'll come back, and everything will be all right."

Q. The whole issue of the realm of emotions versus cognitive thought, or empirical thought—versus the meditative state, which is neither—the thing that throws me is the flooding of emotions, actually, that causes downfall. It stopped my cognitive, empirical powers of mind from functioning.

R. Well, of course, that stops you anyhow. That's what they call the death. See, I always say—you have to do a lot of this so-called empirical or logical thinking—that you have to fatten up the head before the head is cut off. The head has to be fattened up for some reason before you chop it off.

You can't just say. "Well, I'm going to be zero." You can't just go out and dissipate, and blow all your energy and say, "It doesn't matter what happens to me, whether a guy chops off my hand or chops off part of my mentality, or a drug blows part of my brains away." No, no. You have to concentrate.

Buddha made a remark—supposedly, I don't know whether he did or not, but it's in his books. He said, "First you have to learn to think of one thing; then you have to learn to think of everything; then you have to learn to think of nothing."

Now that's translated. I have another explanation for it. It's first you have to be one-pointed; you have to be determined and you have to have a single objective. In the pursuit of that single objective you have to study the universe. You can't leave a stone unturned or a book unread, if that's what it takes, or an exercise unexperimented with.

But then he says you've got to think of nothing. You can't think of nothing. What happens—after you bombard yourself with possibilities, you blow the head. And nothing is there. Your thinking becomes nothing.

But you don't think of nothing. So this is the difference between what I call choosing the symptom, trying to imitate the symptom—in some of the Zen practices of exercising no-mind, or trying to have no-mind—as opposed to just attacking the problem and attacking the problem, until the head just blows.

Q. The idea of meditation—I've gone through TM. I firmly believe that TM was not necessary, that I could have used any mantra I wanted to use—but the process of initiation I went through was helpful.

R. Sure.

Q. I occasionally reached a state in meditation in which there was no thought, no mantra, and even no space and time. And that also became frightening, because in terms of being a biological organism, there are certain things that we must do. And I don't want to be in a Zen monastery for the rest of my life.

R. I never spent any time in one. I don't think it affects you that much.

I studied under a Zen teacher for awhile. In fact, there's a saying, that during the experience the hills cease to be hills and the valleys cease to be valleys, but after the experience the hills are once more hills and the valleys are once more valleys.

You can't stay in that non-dimension. The body can't function, the mind can't function, in a non-dimension. You return; there's no doubt about it.

Q. Ok, in that non-dimension, during that period, there was no thought.

R. Right.

Q. And it wasn't a dream state either. Well, I can't say that because....

R. The trouble of it is though that you didn't hang on long enough, or you wouldn't have had the thought of urgency to get back and save your hide.

Q. This drawing you've given, which to me is very useful, is a very intellectual process. You're saying we watch our actions through this intellectual yoga. How in your system of watching your actions do you deal with the emotions? Which often are the drivers, and prevent the intellect from working.

R. Well—you're kind of throwing me on the dichotomy between intellect and emotions, because—sure, I don't think we do too much of anything unless we're emotionally impelled. I think sometimes the emotions impel us in a direction, and so for that we question our motives, and try to work diametrically opposite, or despite them. And that in turn is only emotional in origin.

Q. I'm speaking about emotions in the sense of that constantly changing pattern which comes as the sensory impulses come into the human being, and associate with patterns of desire and so forth. And therefore continually changing, and preventing the mind from working. How does your system deal with that?

R. You watch it. What I'm talking about, just simple positives and negatives, this is the whole spectrum of action. For instance, you go through such things as knowing, as I said, that what looks good to you today may be different tomorrow. And you look at, say, this cup I'm holding—in the eyeball it's upside-down, and the mind adjusts it.

And the same way with emotions. Emotions are like kaleidoscopic views. And you have to sort that, and keep sorting it, until you get a true perspective.

Q. Do you propose, at least at first, using sitting process meditating?

R. No. In fact, I can't think sitting, so I don't advise anybody else. I can think walking. Of course, I think that people who are highly agitated possibly should train themselves to sit. I'm hypothyroid; if I sat I'd go to sleep. So I keep moving.

Q. Do you advocate this for all your students?

R. No, no. I don't advocate. I say, "In your judgment, you have to start and look things over." And I don't say anything about diet; I don't even say anything about what books to read.

I just say, though, that no matter what books you read you're going to be faced with this same thing, of the relative world, the empirical, umpire type of judgment, the understanding of an umpire mind. This will come to you. And you'll eventually evolve in the same way, into a logical opposed to an intuitional type of thinking.

Now as for how you go about that—I don't believe that any two people are the same. I knew a man one time—one of the most outstanding cases of enlightenment I encountered in my entire life [Paul Woods]. And I studied under a Zen master whom I know was enlightened.

He's unknown. His name is [Alfred] Pulyan, out of Kent, Connecticut, right next to New York. But he didn't care, particularly; he wasn't selling anything, so he didn't care to be advertised too highly. While a lot of the people with the rubber stamp—they had the authority, by virtue of the rubber stamp, and they taught words. Which anybody can get out of ancient books.

But anyhow, this one fellow, his name was Paul Woods—out of Dallas, Texas, or San Antonio, Texas, one of the two—was basically a Christian. And he never was interested too much in anything except the Christian religion. Devout, believed in the Church—and they made an aviator out of him. And they sent him over to bomb Japan.

sparrow So he bombed Japan. And when he landed his plane, why, he started thinking. "What happened?" He said, "The Bible says that God observes the fall of the sparrow. If God observes the fall of the sparrow, was he watching that bomb and how many people it killed?"

So he went nuts, so to speak, in the eyes of his fellow officers, and they furloughed him back to the States. Where he continued to wrestle with these ideas. "What's going on? My thinking has been erroneous. I depended on the fundamentalistic approach, and it isn't working out."

So he just belabored himself. His wife says, "You'd better shake yourself out of that and go back to work, or we're going to starve to death. He didn't. She divorced him. His kids wouldn't have anything to do with him. He went down and tried to get a job—he went to work as a salesman for some car agency, and he told me he was in there and everything was hitting the fan. Just like this fellow was talking about.

Everything went wrong. He was praying. He said the only thing he knew how to do that he learned from the church was to pray. And that was the Lord's Prayer. So he said he took the Lord's Prayer and he took it apart and he prayed it forwards, backwards, he analyzed it, he studied it, and he kept on praying. But he said it wasn't getting him anyplace, he wasn't doing anything.

So one day, he said it was an especially bad day, he was sitting at his desk and a couple of customers came in. He had sold them a car, and they were preaching at him, bitching. And he said he just right in front of them laid his head down on the desk and prayed for God to kill him. He found a new prayer.

And he just passed out. He said when he woke up, he was in the hospital. But he said he had been for about ten days on a journey, in which he saw the space/time picture. He had been in space/time. He had traveled, he had seen history.

He'd be walking down the street with you, and he could describe, if he happened to be in that place, he could describe say the battle of Gettysburg. He'd be watching it, telling you what was happening.

But he had come to the answer beyond all trouble. He knew what the answer was and he had still returned.

But this man didn't have anything except this persistent determination. With what little tools he had in hand, his Lord's Prayer, his Christian education, his sense of logic, his sense of justice, his sense of injustice. And these things battled back and forth until his head popped.

When I discovered this, I found that it isn't limited to any system. Anybody can do it. You don't have to have a teacher even. It's good to have somebody—if you don't want to catch leprosy, well, consult a leper. Or if you want to be a mountain climber, talk to a mountain climber; he might save you breaking your neck.

Or, if you're going into something and there's somebody standing beside you, and your head flips out—and he gets a hold of you and says, "Ok, I'll stick here with you until the thing's through"—maybe that helps.

But I maintain that there's no—it doesn't matter whether you eat meat, or eat grain, or stand on your head, or sit in a position. I think these are all external things that belong to an external world.

~ Continued in the June 2005 TAT Forum

© 1976 Richard Rose. All Rights Reserved. This talk is available on CD through Rose Publications.

Poems by Shawn Nevins

"Quiet Rooms"

A leaf falls,
opens a door
to an attic of lost dreams.
There, a mirror waits,
draped by forgetfulness and fear,
containing stillness
that you will, in time, uncover.


Silence hangs in the air
with bewildering simplicity.
Breathe deeply,
and in the moment after exhalation,
inside and outside reveal no difference.


"Down the Rabbit Hole"

by the slight curve of a riverbank,
my mind is pulled out of thoughts
and into the river itself.

Somewhere in you is a moment
found not by adding,
but by subtracting,
in which a single ray
becomes everything.


"The Name"

There is a face
whose name
you can't quite remember.
A name you almost hear
in the slow, majestic dance
of leaves on distant trees;
you almost see
in a rusted sheet of metal,
hanging onto a barn
by a forgotten dream;
and you almost feel
in the hands
that built this barn amongst the trees
long ago.
That face
whose name
you can't quite remember
hidden inside.


Within you is a
like a well with no walls.
You feel the need to call out,
but shadows do not answer.
They reflect
in their dark and silent way
that we are Whole
and need cry for no one.


an undeniable train bears down on you.
I can't hit you hard enough
to transmit the solidity
that presses on the door of your dreamy life.

"Back there," he intoned,
"Back there, behind that door,
a torrential quiet bursts with answers."


My life opened in the darkness
like a morning glory,
though I found no color inside,
only the giving of my self
to an emptiness that abounds.

Summer, 1992
by Shawn Nevins

The last time I talked with my grandfather, I was struck by his summarization of people's lives: Carl Walters, he bought a farm, married a girl from in town, had two kids, and he died. One of his children was a banker. He did really well. Had a big, brick house near Kidville. He died. Elizabeth was a student of mine. She married a boy from Simpsonville. He died. Later on, she died.

Baranof River source Baranof River source

So it went, life after life abstracted to two or three sentences. Of course, at 97, my grandfather has a long lens through which he views the past. A lot of the detail is lost. We aren't much different. We condense hours into days and weeks into months. A courtship becomes, "Your father and I dated, then we got married," and all those evenings of wonder and doubt are lost to the fragile chemistry of memory. Memory becomes a mere outline of our lives.

Are you anything other than this fragile chemistry?

That is not what I set out to write today. Instead I wanted to write of the heart of the spiritual path—the quest for our source. Particularly, of the day I realized that the answer to my philosophic questions lay in looking for the source of thought. Prior to that day, I spent nearly two years reading spiritual books, attending Self Knowledge Symposium meetings, challenging and changing my habits and character deficiencies. In short, I was improving my self, becoming a better functioning human being.

That changed one day when, during my first solitary retreat, it dawned on me that I was searching in the wrong direction. I suddenly realized I had to study my mind with my mind, to search within for the source of my thoughts. If I could unravel that mystery, I would be free.

Trouble is, that sudden realization didn't happen that way. My brain did a bit of automatic summarizing in the twelve years since that isolation. I know this because I still have my journals (by the way, if you don't keep a journal, you are a fool. It is an immensely valuable practice.).

Rather than a sudden realization, there was a slow percolation of thoughts over the preceding months. Working through one method, a new method appeared. That is the path. You work with the immediate problems at hand—your natural koans—by observation, then rejection of that which is less true (see The Natural Koan and To Change or Not to Change for more on this).

Here is an excerpt from my journal. It is the last day of my first week-long solitary retreat.

7/28/1992: When I first came to the Group [Self Knowledge Symposium], I was hurting from a girl who left me, disillusionment with the academic world, and the recognition that my life was still not right even though I had moved to a new town. I was facing my fear of being alone. The Group gave me something to be a part of; where I could fit. The conversation stimulated my mind. I took some pride in being part of a group of philosophers who were talking about "deep stuff." My old fear of death, which I had intellectually settled, resurfaced. I realized I didn't know where I was going, if anywhere, after death. So I began to read and wonder. The longer I stayed, the more I began to look at the world. I realized that no one really knew anything. They were all stumbling along in the dark. I was afraid of wasting my life.

This summer brings a change of perspective: who is afraid? My curiosity about myself has awakened. I wonder who it is that is driven by this fear and why. Where do thoughts come from? I see now that I must analyze my thinking machine before I can discover anything about an afterlife. For some reason, I'm not quite as afraid of death. Oh, I know the body would resist to the end, but the idea of death isn't quite as terrifying. There is work to be done, countless factors to be accounted for. I am curious about my robot. Still, I lack desire, a fire to know. I must build a fire under me, get my feet moving.

I never did find the fire I thought I was supposed to have. I simply kept working.

If you seek the source of thought by literally looking within your mind, attempting to look beyond the black box from which thought originates, you may move beyond being merely memory. You will look upon the summarization of your life with humor rather than fear and let the details fall where they may.

Being and Doing
by Douglas Harding

Life has a distressing way of presenting us with dilemmas, with seemingly insoluble problems about what to do and what not to do. Not so much problems with no answer as predicaments with two quite contradictory answers. We don't know where we stand. Issues aren't clear-cut. Right and wrong have a tendency to change places. You might say that life is a cleft stick, a game impossible to win, a continuing choice of evils.

One of the most troublesome of these dilemmas is whether to watch or to play the game of life, whether to decline or welcome responsibility, whether to cop out or to cop in.

The world's great teachers don't make it any easier for us to decide. They seem only to add to the confusion. Take Jesus for example. On the one hand, in his Sermon on the Mount, he tells us to relax, to let tomorrow take care of itself, to leave everything to the hidden Power that makes the lilies grow and accounts for their beauty. On the other hand, in the Parable of the Talents, he heaps praise on the busy, duty-bound, responsible citizen, and cheerfully consigns the unprofitable layabout to hell. Or take Nisargadatta: "As long as you have the idea of influencing events, liberation is not for you. The very notion of doership, of being a cause, is bondage." And yet, again and again, he insists that conscious effort is essential in life, and indeed that earnestness is the decisive factor. Finally, take Ramana: "No-one succeeds without effort," he declares. "The successful few owe their success to their perseverance." And then immediately he adds: "A passenger in a train would be silly to keep his load on his head. Let him put it down. He will find that the load reaches the destination all the same. Similarly, let us not pose as the doers, but resign ourselves to the guiding Power."

Well, which shall we do—carry our load or dump it? Help others to carry their loads, or accept no responsibility for them either?

The dilemma is far from being a merely intellectual puzzle. It is real and it hurts, so much so that some of us are being torn apart by it. There is no "right" choice. Whether we take the way of just letting things happen, or of strenuous intervention, we are in for trouble. The life of the dropout who exerts no effort and makes no decisions and accepts no responsibility for himself—let alone for others—what sort of life is that? As for his opposite, the "square"—the hard-working, conscientious, load-carrying, public-spirited fellow—we all know the stresses and strains, the compromises and frustrations and anxieties that are coming to him. To say nothing of the decay and death that will too soon terminate himself and his best-laid plans.

Krishna tells Arjuna about the real doer Krishna tells Arjuna about the real doer

So much for the dilemma that confronts all humans. Now for its resolution. Yes, there is a resolution, a truly practical one that we can immediately start to apply in our everyday living. But first let's be clear about who it is that is engaged in that everyday living.

It is the very nature of every living thing to look after itself, to see to its own welfare, to prefer itself to others. It has no time for altruism. Its job is the survival of its separate thinghood. Thus it lays claim to a portion of the world's space, filling out this volume to the exclusion of all rivals. It has room only for those things that it needs to unthing and incorporate—in a word, for its food. In general, its behavior is aimed at its own survival at others' expense. Now this unrelenting self-seeking is more than a necessity of life. It is the life-thrust itself. Well aware of this, you don't say of an undersized cabbage in your vegetable garden that it generously takes less than its full share of water and sunlight, or praise the weakest piglet in the litter for not being greedy at the trough. On the contrary, you dismiss them as unhealthy, insufficiently alive. It's the same in your flower garden. The finest lilies are those that grab their full share, or more, of the available nutrients.

It’s no different with people. Let's face it: a vital, truly alive man is one who knows what he wants, and goes after it, and gets it. He is self-reliant, energetic, audacious, determined, fully cooperative when it suits his purpose, of course, but at other times quite ruthless. Above all, he doesn't sit around moaning about his bad luck, his crippling circumstances, or what God and his parents and his genes and chromosomes did to him. Instead, he takes himself for better or worse as his own property for which he alone is responsible. And insofar as he avoids this responsibility, and lacks purpose and drive and a strong sense of doership, he falls short of manhood. You could charitably call him a retiring, humble, self-effacing man; or, more honestly, a tired man, a sick man, a failed man, and no more deserving of our admiration than the wilting plant or the undersized animal. To be manly is to take responsibility for one's particular portion of the world and all the life in it, and to live out that life zestfully, without apologies or holding back.

What price, then, the Sermon on the Mount, with its insistence on passivity? And what shall we say of the Saint or the Sage who is happy to stand on the bank of the river of life, watching the waters rush by, and careful not to get his feet wet?

Are the Liberated, in fact, idle, feeble, failed, irresponsible humans? Obviously not. Quite the contrary, they are specially alive and in their own way marvelously determined and energetic and—where necessary—quite ruthless. The Blessed Angela of Foligno, a true Seer of the indwelling God, went so far as to view with almost murderous satisfaction the deaths of her mother and husband and children, whom she regarded as "impediments" to her spiritual life. Young Ramana stole money to go off and live the holy life—a life that throughout relied on others' earnings—and for years he never revealed his whereabouts to his grieving mother. The real Sage or Saint or Seer is a tough and determined character. There is a world of difference between the dropout and the Seer, no matter how alike their appearance and behavior (and sometimes their account of themselves) may happen to be.

And the difference is this: the dropout thinks he is essentially some kind of person (for example a carefree and unconventional person) whereas the Seer sees that he's not a person at all. The one imagines he's a thing in the world, while the other perceives he's the No-thing that contains the world. The one identifies himself with his appearance as a second/third person, the other with his reality as First Person. And not only is the Seer the Space in which things happen, but also the Space in which all the dilemmas and contradictions that afflict things happen, without affecting the Space in the slightest. In his capacity as the Container of things, as the Aware Space which is also their Source and Reality, he is himself the reconciliation of whatever divides them.

Thus the Seer resolves the dilemma of passivity versus activity, of detachment versus involvement, of witnessing versus responsibility, in the only way they can be solved—by being the Source of both. As their single Source and Spring, he is upstream of all its bifurcating tributaries. He is the Stem of the cleft stick. He is the indivisible Divider.

And what you, dear reader, really, really are is that Source, that Spring, that Stem. Only in appearance have you ever been human. Intrinsically, therefore, you are free of all the contradictions and tearings apart that humans are subject to.

What is a human being? It is, as we have already noticed, a something—opaque, colored, solid, small. It is full of itself. It occupies and packs out with flesh and blood a few thousand cubic inches, thus excluding other creatures from that volume. It exists by closing itself to others, by being distant from them, distinct from them. It survives by disappearing them. It proclaims itself alone, announcing to an alien world: "Here am I! Keep off! No entry!"

Are you like this, in your own experience at this moment?

If so, how do you manage so easily to take in this page and all the printing on it, right now? How else but by giving it room, by disappearing in its favor? Have you anything where you are, at this moment, to keep it out with? Aren't you built open, an empty vessel for filling with anything and everything that may present itself, all the way from the stars to these black marks on paper? And when you look up from this page to the face of your friend over there, don't you take in and take on that face?

Or, if you disagree, if you aren't accommodation for things, but just one of them, how do you account for their brilliance at this moment compared with the obscurity of their observer, not to mention his absence? All you need to settle these crucial questions is to stop thinking long enough just to take a look. And then, if you really do experience yourself as that object you keep on seeing over there in your mirror, if you really are what you look like to others, why then you are a human being after all, and that's that. But if, on the contrary, you really are what you look like to yourself—namely, Room for things to come and go in—why then you are divine, and should put an end to this charade, this pretence of being "only human after all."

As Divinity itself, as the Space for all and the Source of all, you are responsible for all. There is no second Power. Who you really, really are did it all, is doing it all. But notice whether this Space that you are is efforting its contents. Do you, who are attending to the scene, have any sense of intending it, of contriving it and cobbling it together, of causing and maintaining it? It is for you, who are responsible for it, to say. Isn't it rather that everything flows spontaneously, without motive or taking thought, from your Being, a ceaseless spin-off from Who you are? Wasn’t Ramana right when he said: "No motive can be attributed to that Power ... God is untouched by activities, which take place in His presence"?

Here, then, is the perfect reconciliation between the detachment that witnesses all and the attachment that is involved in all. It was the false notion that you are really a human being that gave rise to the dilemma, the contradiction between the Sermon on the Mount and the Parable of the Talents. At the highest level Dilemma, which is uncomfortable, gives way to Paradox, which isn't. Your true Nature is the Paradox to take care of all paradoxes: there is nothing that is not you and nothing that is you; the Aware Space is and isn't its contents; you care and you don't care; you control things and they just happen. This may sound silly, but in fact it is the perfection of wisdom. Also it works.

And even at less exalted levels these conclusions make sense. The responsibility that a man feels, his sense of controlling this and that, is illusory. Every event in his life is conditioned by the other events constituting the universe, as if everybody were making a living by taking in everybody else's washing. Attributing particular causes to particular events, and feeling personally responsible for any of them, is unrealistic. The universe is strictly indivisible, and the only way to take responsibility for some of it is to take responsibility for all of it. Which is to be the Whole of it.

You as the Whole of you are responsible for everything, and manage it all very well—and this without any sense of responsibility or good management. How can you know this for sure? Only by being yourself now and consulting your firsthand experience. Only by ceasing to masquerade as a man, a woman, or a child.

The answer to the dilemma of being and doing, to the problem of personal responsibility, is not to give up the feeling of being personally responsible for this and that, but to take it to the limit—where it vanishes, and you can say with Ramana Maharshi:

From "Look for Yourself," by Douglas E. Harding. © 1998 by Douglas E. Harding. All rights reserved. Reprinted by arrangement with Inner Directions, Carlsbad, California 92013. www.InnerDirections.org. For information about Douglas Harding and his teaching, visit Headless.org.

First Know Thyself
by Art Ticknor

If someone told you there was going to be a catastrophe at an intersection down the road—that they'd had a vision of it—and you didn't dismiss the possibility outright, how would you react? Would you ignore it under the conviction of fatalism, personal immunity or other superiority? Would you avoid the intersection on the off-chance that it may be true? Maybe tell your family and friends about it "just in case"?

sketch of man in front of mirror If you had a vision or even a strong feeling that there was going to be a catastrophe down the road, how would you react? Would you write it off as nutty, or as a nothing-to-be-done, impossible-to-prevent situation? Would you alert family and friends, adjuring them to avoid the spot? Contact the local media, police, and emergency-responders, subjecting yourself to expected ridicule and rejection—or possibly even suspicion? Would you station yourself near the intersection in hopes that you might somehow prevent the catastrophe?

"First know thyself." How does that command register? Is it the voice of someone else telling you something, trying to get you to do something? Or does it ring a bell somewhere inside? If the former, will you dismiss it outright? Give it some half-hearted consideration, maybe agreeing that it's a good idea, while the mind lines up arguments about the impracticality of such a quest? If the latter, will the mind go into high gear rounding up reasons why, although it's important and maybe even critical to your well-being, it's too big a task to tackle right now—since there are other things that need to get done first? Or, if the mind is more clever, set off on a course of study and investigation of how to go about knowing the self—as a means of indefinite procrastination until the "perfect" path is found?

To know thyself, you have to go beyond the self. Douglas Harding spelled out the success formula that he found: "Put first things first, and everything else will take care of itself." Richard Rose stated it in these terms: "Do all things for the sake of a higher power, and it will correctly guide your every step." Perfecting the self is not the goal. Knowing the self involves transcending the individual self and seeing it from a higher perspective. The higher power, with its comprehensive perspective, turns out to be none other than our True Self.

Before: This Camera

Where am I, exactly, at this point in time?
Am I on a path that will bring me home?
What is it that stands between here and there,
      that keep me split, that separates me from Thee,
           Eternal Beloved?

It can't be a matter of travel in space;
it can't be a matter of passage through time.
Can this view of my self as something trapped in space,
      as something caught in time,
           as some thing,
                 be transcended?

Is the path, then, through seeing the self as no-thing?
I've looked and looked and so far have found nothing
      that can be labeled self,
merely pictures,
      still-lives, scattered on the ground.

What remains is this self-conscious awareness,
      this observer,
           this feeling
that I am this camera which is recording,
                 and is aware of its recording.

Trusting the Inner Self
by Bob Fergeson

Trap: Identification with pain. The usual reaction to pain is avoidance, either through distraction or medication-induced relief. Thinking it is "us" that hurts, we must get rid of our pain. Pain is nothing more than a signal that something needs our attention. Identification with our thoughts and feelings, and thus our pain, keeps us from this simple truth. By avoiding pain or medicating it out of our awareness, we procrastinate facing both the problem the pain is pointing to and the action or change needed to solve it.

Trick: Seeing pain for what it is. By seeing pain as the simple signal it is, we can turn our attention on it without fear or over reaction. The underlying problem can be dealt with and, usually, the pain stops. This is especially true in relation to psychic pain, the avoiding of which can keep us in the following Trap of

Ignoring our conscience: That faint voice from the depths is often seen as a pain to be avoided, thus preventing us from learning the following Trick of

Trusting the Inner Self: If we learn to listen to this inner voice, our own inner wisdom, we see that instead of it being a pain or inhibition keeping us from what we want, it is actually a guiding signal from an interior compass deep within. This beacon gives us direction in our search, pointing to a path or lifestyle that gives better probability of Becoming. Experience will show that the pang of conscience is best dealt with by the avoidance of temptation, not pain.

Man does not know the influences which cause him to think and to act, as long as he does not know his own nature. He is therefore not a responsible being, except to the extent of his wisdom and power to control his own nature. Wisdom and strength can only be attained in life by experience and by the exercise of the power of overcoming temptation. —Franz Hartmann

~ Bob's Mystic Missal contains a monthly update of Tricks & Traps.

The Hijacking of Thought:
The Paradox of Fear and Death
by Bob Fergeson

In spiritual work, we hear a lot about the so-called "false self." We may then decide, based on our new found information, to distance ourselves from this "self," and look for something else we have heard of: the real "Self." This splitting of our "selves," sad to say, becomes just another trap of the mind to keep us lost in the realm of thought. After some honest self-observation, we may see that we have invented a problem so that we might continue unabated in our love affair with thought. Fearing a loss of continuity of thought, which we equate with death, we enter a new "spiritual" realm in which we can become lost for years, perhaps lifetimes. Let us take a look at this realm of thought and its various selves, and see why we worship it so, this paradox, this trap of mind and fear from which few escape.

Let's take a look at a man involved in ordinary life, and see how the circle of his mind works. He has a bad day at the office, where his boss berates him, causing a loss of self-esteem. He returns home and starts his daily meditation practice, intent on regaining some peace of mind after the trauma of the day. He meditates on things holy, on the words of wise men that tell him he is immortal, infinite and serene, and that it's just that false self thing that is troubled and disturbed. His body calms down, and he finds a bit of energy, feels renewed, and the holy words of how he is Everything and One pump up his deflated ego until he feels he can face life once more. He is now reassured that the self he seeks through his spiritual ambition is the real one, and the false self the one that was deflated in daily life. He has convinced himself that one day he will make the real self permanent, and ditch the false one for good. But come later that night, his wife points out some fault of his, the kids are being kids, and he finds himself back in the dumps again. His resolve to be the better self is forgotten amid the onslaught of circumstance.

Now, if your goal is just to be a better person and get by as best you can, this all might not make sense, but if you've had the intuition that life, in thought alone, is a zero-sum game, let's take a look at the basis of our man's dilemma. He has, first off, become lost in thought, and secondly, believes that more thought will somehow release him. His ego has split itself into several objects. One is the judging, critical man who resolves to change, and dumps all problems on the heads of the others, including his false selves. These unlucky saps are the pairs of polar opposite selves, including the everyday man of action, whom he calls his "false self," and its twin illusion, the "real self" he aspires to, projected as innocent, perfect, and always just out of sight. The common ground of this menagerie is thought. All are patterns of thought. In any valid sentence structure we have a subject, an object, and a verb. It is the same in our man, with one difference: he is lacking the verb, and changes from subject to object at the drop of a hat. The subject/object is the ego, or self, which splits and changes according to circumstance, and the missing verb is our basic seeing, the observer.

Our man's subject/object thought-patterns can be seen as two movies: one an inner drama of thought, memory and concepts, being basically reactions to the other movie: the outer world of the body. When the outer world, say the man's boss, delivers a negative shock, an affliction to the man's individuality sense, he is then forced to counter this in the inner drama with positive thoughts in order to maintain his ego. This is the real function of his so-called meditation: an attempt to get his ego back on its feet, and reaffirm his sense of existence. This cycle is self-perpetuating and circular; it never ends of its own accord. It is simply thought maintaining a belief in itself, through the fear of thought coming to an end. It is not spiritual, good, bad or even real. It will only end when we no longer fear its end. Only when we can face the moment alone, without running headlong back into the realm of thought, do we have a chance of facing our self, much less actually going within.

This pattern of identification with thought is rationalization of fear and desire; it is not proper thinking. Thinking has been hi-jacked and is now used to keep the idea of our "self," itself a thought, alive. It is lying to one's self to keep the story line intact. Thought is used to manufacture a "real self," which we aspire to, or believe in. We then reject our present state, the "now" of seeing, the verb, in favor of an illusion that we desire, or an image we are running away from. Thus we are unreal, a thought. A thought endlessly forced to modify itself to avoid the present moment, for that would bring the facts into play and end the continuity of thought, which is seen as death. If we could just look, or observe, rather than thinking about what we think we see, we could "sit with" or accept what we see. This is to go within, rather than the seeking to bolster the "self" by thinking our way out of the moment. Thought is hi-jacked through fear, the fear of the end of thought. What a paradox, and what a trap, one in which the only true escape is through the very death of the fear of the end of thought. This dis-identification with our own mind will usually be considered only if it is forced upon us, by utter failure or trauma, barring intense true earnestness. We must uphold our pride in order to avoid facing the end of thought, our basic fear, and thus until our pride, our knowing, is so badly shaken that we can once again see clearly, we will not consider anything outside of our pride in our mind.

As U.G. Krishnamurti points out, we can never return to our natural state of enlightenment by the rearranging of our thoughts: psychological mutation. We must actually change what we are, our basic identity, and thus leave thought aside. We return to our true state, that of seeing rather than thinking. But how? The trap is almost foolproof. Any effort on our part is just more thinking, an unreal self trying to catch it's tail, going ever faster until it flies up its own you know what. Some teachers tell us that earnestness is the key, that we must become so earnest in our search that we become a living vector towards truth. True, but definitely the exception to the rule. For most of us this lies farther down the road, and a little convincing might be in order first.

To gain this conviction, this earnestness, we can do two things. First, we take care of ourselves. We save our energy, however we can, and lead a simple, directed life. This gives our intuition a chance to mature, and our reason a chance to purify. Secondly, and here's the hard part: we learn to look, to listen, to observe. We learn to return our thinking to what it does best, which is running the practical matters of life, such as earning a living and fighting spam. Then, free of plotting and planning our future victory over the universe and ourselves, we instead take up the arduous task of self-observation. Life will give us plenty of opportunities for this, if we are brave, and learn to sit in the silence within. We can't look directly within at first; we would only be indulging in fantasy and escape. But we can learn to look at our sense of "self," when life threatens this sense. Next time you feel a threat to your basic sense of existence, to the thought of who you are, instead of running away or countering it with another thought, simply look at it. Thus we retreat from thought, backing within, in an oblique manner. This also gives one a sense of direction, of where "within" really lies. When thoughts arise and the spin of thinking comes rushing back, don't go with it, but sit quietly and just look. Accept the pain of the ego in its fear of death, and look at its root. Look at the fear, the need to run away into distraction and thought. Stay focused, quiet and brave, and allow yourself to be in the moment. After a time, you will come to know this direction, the way within, and will come to look at your troubles as opportunities for further meditation. The sense of being the doer or subject will fade, the attention will be freed, and thought will be seen for the reaction it is. Motion and mind will no longer be your "self," and listening with attention will be valued more than plotting. This is true meditation, and the road Home.

~ See Bob's web sites, The Mystic Missal, NostalgiaWest, and The Listening Attention.

Optical Illusion?

optical illusion exercise

Click on the above graphic to start the exercise.
~ Thanks to Vikas Madhavan Alathur
and Shashi Kant Gupta

Reader Commentary:

Just to let you know I appreciate your site, and I enjoy the various articles, poems, humor, etc. I especially liked the Franklin Merrell-Wolff segment in [the April 2005] edition.... I have been in touch with Bob Fergeson, briefly, and enjoy his work, too. Thank you for making it available to folks like us out here in the world, finding spiritually-inclined thoughts and feelings to be like an oasis in a sometimes seemingly crass society. My very best wishes to all of you at TAT Forum. ~ M.J., Iowa, USA

I ... like the monthly TAT forums. I recently found [Bob Fergeson's] essay "The Hijacking of Thought: The Paradox of Fear and Death" [in this issue -Ed.] which has given me a lot to think about. Bart Marshall’s Nothing Is Necessary ... essay also spoke to my problem. I really appreciate all of the work that ... the TAT community put into all of the websites and publications. ~ Brian Hicks

Sign up for our e-mail alert that will let you know when new issues are published. Contact the Forum for questions, comments or submissions.

Want to help? Your donation of $5 or more will support the continuation of the Forum and other services that the TAT Foundation provides. TAT is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit educational organization and qualifies to receive tax-deductible contributions. Or, download this .pdf TAT Forum flyer and post it at coffee shops, bookstores, and other meeting places in your town, to let others know about the Forum.


Keep informed of TAT events and receive our free monthly Forum filled with inspiring essays, poems and images.

Email & Social Media Marketing by VerticalResponse

© 2000-2016 TAT Foundation. All rights reserved.

View Full Site Back to Top
TAT Foundation logo