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

March 2006

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

This month's contents:

Hermitage at Listening Point Hermitage at Listening Point

Defining the Truth by Richard Rose | Poems by Shawn Nevins | The Point That Does Not Exist by Shawn Nevins | The Certainty You Seek by Bob Cergol | Illusion by Ella Wheeler Wilcox | Meditation: What Is It? by Art Ticknor | Who Says Words with My Mouth? by Rumi | Five Reasons for Looking by Douglas Harding | Earnest Seeker or Sleepy Dreamer? by Bob Fergeson | Humor | Reader Commentary

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Defining the Truth
by Richard Rose

Most serious-minded people talk about the "Truth." But they take it for granted. They never get down to setting up measurements by which to gauge the Truth so that they will realize it when they hear it. They presume to be able to recognize it, and some go as far as to presume to be the fortunate possessors of it.

The Truth is a path more than a realization of measurability. The scientist feels that he is a pursuer of Truth, but the products of the scientific laboratory are more likely to be cannons and culture rather than inklings of the first cause or man's picture of ultimate destiny. And the same scientist, who may be trying to crack the atom or split a chromosome, may privately have massive rationalizations about religion, personal definition, or personal destiny. So that he is a mechanical seeker, but not an entire and dynamic seeker—even though he functions mechanically in his scientific quest much more valuably than most of humanity.

Truth is a path because it is never fully realized, and because many aspects of the search for Truth remain relative. Man is a being whose consciousness depends upon fickle senses and a mind largely capable of witnessing in a relative manner, and largely incapable of direct knowledge.

Defining the Truth podium Truth may well be absolute in nature, but to bicameral man with the necessary bipolar survey of all things—a definition of absolute or abstract things or states may be readily seized and accepted in relative form, that is, with relative and possibly equivocal words.

Every last one of us thinks we are right. Which means that we think we have the Truth or that if we do not have it, no one else will do any better. But everyone has a different definition of it. And with this different definition upon the minds of men, we have a subtle, unseen Tower of Babel which stands between the minds of men so that they cannot strive together. There is much talk of the brotherhood of seekers for Truth, but this brotherhood is split up into myriad groups with no common language or understanding. And all of this is because they presupposed, a priori, that which they expected Truth to be, and so defined it, rather than sought it for whatever it might be when found.

The Bible indicates that we should seek if we wish to find. Yet with equal authority Christ exhorts us to believe in Him if we wish to be saved. Now finding the Truth and being saved may be two entirely different projects, but believing is not compatible with seeking. The believer does not seek; he accepts that which another extends.

And with this bit of ambiguity the Christian world, for one, is hampered in honestly seeking for Truth. Lazily each sect rests upon a belief rather than upon a conviction. They comfort one another with mutual back-scratching, and make decrees to the effect that other religions are worthy seekers also, but perhaps less fortunate. They comfort their congregation and financial supporters by telling them that man was never supposed to learn the True nature of things, and dumbfound the mind with the cliché that the finite mind will never perceive the infinite.

It cannot be that terrible. Absolute Truth is not absolutely inaccessible to us, and relative truth is definitely accessible. We must desire the Truth, and have a capacity for it, else we could not receive it even if it came to us by accident.

We cannot shut our mind to any phase of reality, and still have a capacity for Truth in another field. For if we rationalize about one thing, then rationalization may well be a mental habit cooperating with our laziness or desire-thinking, and we are liable to rationalize about vital things. We cannot lie to ourselves in little things, or what we consider little things, and still be competent to receive knowledge of that which we admit to be more vital or more important.

The divergences of beliefs among men, whether these beliefs be religious, philosophic, or political, are not an indication of the infallibility of the masses nor of justification for the idea that everyone is correct to a degree. We like to think that the divergent observer is just looking at Truth from another or oblique angle. And rather than solve the problem, the divergent parties democratically vote everyone to be correct.

These procedures make for compatibility and social harmony, but they put the mind to sleep. We are either right or wrong. And if we are honest with ourselves and true to ourselves we do not wish to wait for twenty years to outgrow a religion. It is our sacred right as profaned animals to understand our state. It is our sacred right to doubt and to question. It must remain our valued trust—that we trust no authority. We must listen and sit down with an occasional book, but any acceptance should be tentative until we have a complete picture.

When I say that we are either right or wrong, I am speaking of relative truth-seeking. In the absolute state, things may well be neither right or wrong, or both. And while we aspire to an absolute state, and to absolute Truth, it remains doubtful if we will ever attain the absolute Truth if we compromise relative truth, or shut our eyes to reality.

Let us not pretend to be seekers while we remain addicted to vanity or enslaved to conventions. Likewise we are living a lie when we dedicate years or decades to the pursuit of pleasure or ambition, when in the honest analysis, we can find no valid gain for our search. And when we are guided by fear or emotion to accept a creed, we have neither a chance for truth nor an honest self-identification.

Many people have found reality for the first time in the depths of alcoholism, or drug addiction, or rather, have found reality after passing through the depths. They managed to become alcoholics because alcohol alone, or drugs alone, made it possible for them to live with massive rationalizations in the form of religion or social mores, from which their inner intuition rebelled.

We live in a cloud of illusions. We cling to them, legislate them in our councils, create and deify them in our religious dogma, breed them into our children, and rarely realize that we are spinning this web of fiction for all the hours and days of our lives unless we are fortunate or unfortunate enough to die slowly. I was shocked the first time I heard a priest at a funeral pray that all of those present might be granted a slow death. For a moment I thought him a barbarian carrying to the extreme his cult of masochism. But perhaps that slow death may be the only moments of reality for the total life of many earthlings. Because a dying man is forced to face the fact that he is about to become zero, and the pseudo-comforts that promised glorious lights, trumpets and escorting angels now have no meaning. All that the dying man knows is that he is about to begin to rot. Nothingness has more meaning to him and embodies his world of reality more than all of the religions and clichés of a human-animal philosophy eternally cursed and confounded by language and its deceptions.

This dying man knows too late the value of the doubt, and the foolishness of faith unless that faith be in his own power to solve the problem or cut the Gordian knot. Blind faith is only rationalization. It is the little pig that does not wish to grow up, and procrastinates weaning. It is the weakling-child that replaces sturdy effort with boasting and lies of pretended achievement. The most fanatical and dangerous (that is recriminatory) type of religious zealot is the one that would make a political cause out of his favorite religion, rather than go through the effort to make his life a true religion of Search.

There is but one Truth. To equivocate for the sake of social compatibility is to sell our spiritual nature for cowardly bargaining with the herd, when the bargaining is not necessary. For ages the wise men have served notice that we must remain inconspicuous, and this silence will help avert the teeth of the herd. But unless someone occasionally speaks up, the sincere will have no encouragement.

Tower of Babel We might ask here, "How shall we know the Truth? What is Reality?" We can only know the Truth by teaching ourselves to face the truth in all things. If we encourage our computer to come up with erroneous answers, because they are more desirable, then we are developing a computer that we may never be able to trust.

Let us take examples in social experience. Many of us, and many people we know employ incomplete formulae to govern their lives. After decades of misery they realize that they were lying to themselves. The decades would usually be prolonged but the person's friends become alienated, or they continue until some disastrous climax brings the truth into focus. This distress is usually caused by inadequate or incomplete assessment of the general picture of life.

We have the young bully who thinks that he is invincible. Repeated conquests have led him to believe that kindness is a sign of weakness. He may even believe that he is a gigantic avatar sent by the gods to boot the peasants of the earth into line. He does not bother to find out what line the gods want him to follow, for in reality it is his line.

The bully will eventually be rebuffed. Someone will change his philosophy with the same convincing force he meted out to others. His sadism will become inverted and he will see that he did not even have half of the picture of his destiny. But he may have rationalized half or three-fourths of his life away trying to be a bully before he relents and admits that he has little sure destiny except the all-conquering grave. And by the time he relents and realizes, it is too late for his brutalized brain to ponder anything beyond the grave.

Everyday we meet people who admit that they have been fooling themselves for years. They are generally up in years, and will be found more frequently in ale-houses than in churches. Instead of group-therapy, the churches specialize in mass-make-believe.

It is difficult to prescribe a conduct of Seekers of Truth. But Truth is that which is. A person who dyes his hair or wears a wig is not truthful. A person who wears clothes other than to cover himself is not truthful. A person who uses cosmetics except for comedy, is not truthful. The naked body with its tell-tale wrinkles, its sagging folds of fat, bowed legs, and collapsing organs, may be much more conducive to Truth than years of church-attendance, if we just observe in it our unglamorous destiny.

I am not advocating nudity since nudity may well be a rationalization or excuse to emphasize the urges of the body. Yet it is hard to tell which would do the worse for our salvation (enlightenment)—a parade of undyed nudes or a parade of vain clothes-horses on Easter Sunday.

Much of our religion is vanity. We clothe ourselves in it and strut about as if to mock the feathers of our neighbors. Too many of us think that we have chosen the true religion by virtue of our better intellect. We even manage to glorify ourselves by manifesting compassion for those who are less concerned with such toys as missionary work and conversion. We will carry a badge to show our superior position. The badge will be a quotation from the Bible, a talisman, a secret word, water on the head, or a missing foreskin.

What do we know for sure? We know very little. We find ourselves to be a rotting body, with thoughts and hope for something more permanent. Yet like children, we deck the body with importance, even as we vainly embalm the corpse to delay the truth. I am reminded of the case of the Narcissist, a woman who always wished to be a nun. She maintained that she was living for God, and that she was remaining pure for Him. In reality she was remaining pure because she abhorred change and aging. But her grand rationalization carried right through until her death. She refused a doctor out of modesty, and the result was a slow death. This woman never seemed to contemplate that God might have intended for her to reproduce. We evince the most blatant egotism when we announce that we are doing something for God. We who are not able to identify ourselves are about to oil the eternal mechanisms.

Let us look at this woman with candor. Let us just see that which she is. We will not presuppose that God created her, or that God is even around or concerned. This we do not know. But we know that she has been born with female organs, and feminine instincts to promote her female functioning. The prompting of those instincts, and the uncontrollable cycles imposed upon her by nature have become evil things or sins. She feels responsible for the hormones that might find their way into her blood, or the consequent thoughts that might find their way into her thinking. She lives a life of self-recrimination and confession in never-ending apology for having a body that she did not ask for, and which may have been created by agencies who are more responsible for it than the sufferer.

Again we do not denounce this unfortunate lady. Her tactic was her only means available to seek a better existence. She saw only a facet of the picture, and thought she had found the only door in the universe. She was a seeker in her own way, and her death-ordeal testifies to her intensity. But we cannot help but feel that her dynamic energy was wasted somewhat, and that the waste lies at the feet of the priest-union that preferred to let her make a life of sincere effort and tangential uselessness, out of what may have been a more articulate and understanding seeker. The priest-union preferred this to making an admission concerning the relative importance of moral teachings.

The purpose of this example is to show that it is possible for persons to follow a diligent tack all through life, which tack is absurd to minds of most other observers. It is possible that similar zealots find themselves on these life-long tangential paths because somewhere early in their lives they formed a fabric of rationalization rather than face reality.

That which is believed by the majority of humanity is not necessarily the truth. This is a common error man makes. Man thinks that if everyone or the majority of people believe a thing, that popularity makes it the truth. At one time the universal concept was that the sun revolved about the earth. At one time the thinking or scientific world had a "phlogiston" theory which was later dissipated.

Faith can change material things to a limited degree only. It did not render the earth flat nor did it arrest the cycles of the sun. If the sun danced at Fatima it would have involved motions for that star which would not only have been noticeable elsewhere but would have required that the sun travel at fantastic speeds out of its regular position. So that while millions of people may believe that the sun danced at Fatima, it is equally valid to offer or to believe that the minds of the viewers were simultaneously hallucinated, or hypnotized. I do not mean to imply that the hypnosis was caused by human agency, necessarily. Religious leaders when weary of their theological diggings, resort to edict and dogma. The scientific world, while more laborious, is prone to lean heavily upon its "concepts" and "theories," and much of the engineering in new fields treats these theories as fact by virtue of habit.

Again let us return to the observation of the two apparent types of truth. There is actually only one real Truth, but too soon we must admit that real Truth is absolute and ideal in nature. We are apt to coin another word, "relative" truth, for want of a better word to express our attempts to calibrate validity with a relative and restricted mind. It is better to understand that while searching for the Truth we will believe things that we will later no longer believe to be the truth, and this previous state of appreciation I would prefer to call incomplete truth, leading perhaps eventually to absolute Truth.

The human family is constantly finding things to be more true or less true. It is finding more perfect material formulae, and is discarding inefficient or erroneous formulae. If it can apply this weeding-out process to the vast tangle of metaphysical and religious formulae, it will begin to make progress.

The human family has been in the past in the habit of accepting ideas or spiritual concepts without even a half-hearted attempt to set up a formula. We know nothing of life after death, of the nature of our own essence, or of the motivating agencies of the visible or invisible worlds. The human family for centuries has just accepted that which sounded good or quieted their fears and made the children more tractable.

Our civilization has come to a point where we know about quality and demand that our food contain certain qualities, and that those who handle it do so with clean hands. But that admittedly most valuable food which is spiritual, too often comes from mountebanks, misfits, and often degenerates who know that their pretense may never be challenged, or their venality exposed. Modern society accepts religions that render compatibility, that keep down crime, and that work in harmony with the state.

We are allowing ourselves to be tortured by our clergy, even as the witch-doctor applied the needle of fear to keep his sinecure, in primitive cultures. The clergy maintained darkness for centuries with their "Anti-modernistic Oaths" or equivalents of such. They were not concerned with the laity, who over those centuries were reacting with more mature common-sense. While unable to deny that their function was that of a hammer, they maintained that God was the hand that swung the hammer. Generally if the peasant questioned the identity of the swinger of the hammer, he received a blow from the hammer.

A new trend now is growing. The men of science and the beatniks who proclaim their own common sense, have united to admit that God is dead. The new trend has no more validity than the old one. Yet, we may take a note. If the existence of God in the minds of men may be maintained by faith or belief, then denial or belief of non-existence may bring an end to God—if God has no more existence than in the minds of men. We must seek for that which is, and we will find that such facts are indestructible and not dependent on belief or human acceptance.

There is but one way to begin and promote such a search. It is the sorting of the most likely answer from the oceanic froth of data. It requires courage, diligence, perseverance and an open mind.

First published in the TAT Journal No. 9. © 1980 by Richard Rose. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission of Rose Publications. See the TAT Journal Archive page.


Poems by Shawn Nevins

There is a coat of warm fog over the landscape,
covering the close, pulsing hum of night insects.
Open your senses to compline,
turn inside out and swallow your self.
The warmth of the body is fog,
thoughts, the chants of night singers,
and you, that flickering point of light,
become darkness everywhere.

*

A cloud empties itself
upon the earth.
Fields shine beneath a clear sky.
Whatever passed by the window of my eye,
I no longer care.

Death is:
the mind curling in upon itself,
the head and tail of time
engulfing one another,
and what remains after the moment
when Pulyan's penny no longer blocks the sun.

*

A dark evergreen shouldered with snow,
its farthest needles frozen in glassy ice.
All is still and quiet,
yet there is dancing
beneath these frozen chandeliers,
a whispering wind that makes light
sing and shimmer
within this quiet forest,
within this quiet world.
How are you both wind and light,
and
the black and icy night?

*

The personal whirlwind:
cares colliding with the earth,
whipping words in all directions,
the thrashing of thoughts,
the sky darkening with dreams.

Yet…
life was already in shambles,
the morning rising again and again
on never-ending new days,
that blend into a night
shared among all.


The Point That Does Not Exist
~ an experiment in headlessness
by Shawn Nevins

Recently, a friend was sharing some of Douglas Harding's experiments in headlessness. In one classic experiment, he had us point to a wall, then the floor, our feet, knees, stomach, chest, then point to the space out of which we were looking. If you are honest about what you see when you point at the place where you assume there is a head, you may be surprised by the change in perspective.

After the experiment, I somewhat absentmindedly pointed to the wall again, then—skipping the intervening steps—rotated my finger 180 degrees. I was immediately struck by the evidence presented by this simple movement: where was the point at which the first-person view (awareness) ended and "the other" or "the wall" began?

This experiment works best for those who have already experienced some of Harding's experiments. Here it is in detail:

  1. Point at a wall or any other object. Notice that the object seems to be "out there," a thing apart from you.
  2. Next, slowly rotate your finger 180 degrees till you are pointing at that space from which you look out. That feature-less, all-encompassing space. Who you are at center, as Douglas would say.
  3. finger pointing back at what you're looking out from

  4. Finally, slowly rotate your finger back toward the wall. Watch very carefully and try to locate the point at which the "other" begins. Try to find the point at which you are no longer pointing at awareness, but are instead pointing at something else. Is it when you are not pointing at the "center" of your center? Is it when you point ten degrees off of dead center? twenty degrees? twenty-seven degrees?

Is there "the other" or does the first-person awareness extend outward and encompass all things? Try as you might, can you ever find where "you" ends and "other" begins? Isn't pointing outward the same experience as pointing in?


The Certainty You Seek
by Bob Cergol

People who have had profound realizations frequently receive correspondence from others who refer to insights or experiences they've had, sometimes looking for confirmation and other times seeking guidance. The self-realized person tries to get a handle on the correspondent's perspective and convey something that may light the fuse for a deeper realization. —Ed.

I think you are seeing directly what you are—or rather the fixation of the attention on the object-experience of "Dave" is dissolving—and is instead itself becoming the object of its own attention. The man in the theatre, so engrossed in watching the movie of experience—by virtue of a power of attention that does not belong to him—loses his focus on the movie, and in that instant awareness recognizes itself as the only Being—leaving the poor man in the theatre behind. This leads to much consternation and machinations in the mind of the man in the theatre!

You can lose the immediacy of an experience, you can lose a verbalization of something you witnessed. You cannot lose the realization of what you are—provided that realization was not dependent upon experience and verbalizations. The experiences that people talk and write about are reactions by and of the individual to the realization. Quite a paradox.... Quite inexplicable....

Realization is not an intellectual conclusion. The intellectual conclusions are after-the-fact reactions belonging to the relative mind. There are those who claim they achieved Self-Realization as a result of an intellectual path. It could also be that their path was one of direct inward looking, unbeknownst to them, and that all the intellectual machinations that accompanied it were mere reactions and did not involve any doing by the individual whatsoever and were of no consequence.

El Greco, Knight You want a certainty that you don't have. The character on the stage that is animated and illuminated by Awareness remains on that stage exactly as before the magic occurs whereby Awareness manifesting as separate individuality bends back upon unmanifested Awareness—and Awareness as a drop knows itself to be Awareness as the ocean. The stage remains. The mind remains. Thoughts continue. So long as the machinery is in motion, it will continue to operate according to its characteristics and history.

Who is this character that conceives that the character needs to be remade?

You have, in the very conflict you state, the immediate occasion to look directly. If you truly have realized, then such looking will "reconnect" you with that realization, and if your realization is merely relative, then such looking can transcend that and provide the certainty you need and want.

I lived very close to Richard Rose and knew him very well. His was a difficult personality to interact with. He told me once that people had such absurd ideas about the requirements of personality for reaching a spiritual realization. He said a whore-master could get enlightened, and that after enlightenment, he would still be a whore-master—only free of the attachment. His point was that the egocentricity of perspective people carry is the block and that it is the relinquishing—nay the removal—of that egocentric perspective that opens the blinds, permanently. A change will be manifest in that person's character and actions—but not necessarily witnessed by others according to their expectations. Being free of Karma does not mean that the law of cause-and-effect ceases to manifest in the dream. It might mean that new Karma is not created. Rather a moot distinction for the person sitting in the theatre watching the movie play out.

I think the formula is simply "daily remembrance"—meaning a habit of inward looking: seeing, not thinking (that happens all by itself anyway). It is the seeing, or attempt to see, that is important. Visualization is not seeing. Therefore oblique looking is effective. That oblique looking is looking at conflict. All conflict is an affliction to the sense of self and opens the connection in a timeless instant for one to see directly what one is, one's Source, BUT the individual immediately looks away. That looking away is experienced as the onrush of emotions and thoughts that provide a substitute object for the attention. This is tricky in that you cannot just sit and attempt to make your mind blank. You have to look at something. You cannot look at nothing. The way to ask the "Who Am I?" question is to ask it obliquely by recalling afflictions to the sense of self. The attention splits—a piece of it stares directly into that very sense of self and from whence it arises—another piece spins off in reaction. Eventually the latter collapses in on itself leaving only what's left when that self, or sense of self, falls away: NOTHING of you remains. And that somehow brings certainty to the individual who lives this life—amid the largely same set of circumstances and attendant problems.


Illusion
by Ella Wheeler Wilcox

God and I alone in space, and no one else in view:
And where are the people, Lord, I asked,
The earth beneath, the sky o'er head,
The dead whom I once knew?

Oh, those were dreams, the Great Lord said,
Dreams that seemed to be true;
There are no people, living or dead,
No earth beneath, no sky o'er head,
There is only myself and you.

Then why do I have no fear, I said,
Being alone with you this way?
That I've done wrong, I know full well;
Can this be heaven, can this be hell?
Can this be judgment day?

No, those were dreams, God smiled and said,
Dreams that seemed to be,
There is no you, there never was,
There is only and always ME."


Meditation: What Is It?
by Art Ticknor

I meditated over a period of 25 years, admittedly with more discipline in earlier years, before reaching the resolution of the yearning for self-definition that prompted my search. And even after self-realization, I didn't feel like I had any perspective on "What is meditation?" Then, a little more than a year later, a perspective drifted into my mind as I was drifting off to sleep one night.

St. John Baptist meditating

Meditation is watching.

Like watching squirrels at play? Not exactly. Meditation is watching the mind.

Like watching our thoughts and feelings? That's a step in the right direction. But not exactly it, either. Meditation is watching the watching.

How do you do that? By watching the conflict going on in the mind without getting caught up in it. Easier said than done. It requires staying alert to the watching.

And then what? The watching will jump to a more interior view within the mind. Like a new eye opening? Not exactly. The more interior watching has been going on while our attention was on a more exterior watching.

What will I see? You'll see processes going on within the mind, processes such as decision-making. Like a factory with machinery operating or a computer with programs running.

And then what? You'll become aware of the biggest conflict, the main problem that the mind is trying to resolve: What am I? Where did I come from? What's my connection with the world and particularly with this body-mind? Will its death be my end?

Meditation is not drifting off into a pleasant state. There's no state more pleasant than dreamless sleep, and we go there every night, but it doesn't solve the problem. We return to the waking state without a resolution of the yearning for definition. (Substitute your own word or phrase for "definition": meaning, purpose, truth, reality, nirvana, heaven, oneness, love, etc.)

Meditation is reviewing life's traumas, the blows to our self-esteem, and letting them lead our search for the elusive, afflicted and needy self. Meditation is learning to monitor and control or sidestep the physical and mental obstacles to meditation. Meditation is watching until the watcher is known.


Who Says Words with My Mouth
by Jalal al-Din Rumi (1207 - 1273)

All day I think about it, then at night I say it.
Where did I come from, and what am I supposed to be doing?
I have no idea.
My soul is from elsewhere, I'm sure of that,
and I intend to end up there.

This drunkenness began in some other tavern.
When I get back around to that place,
I'll be completely sober. Meanwhile,
I'm like a bird from another continent, sitting in this aviary.

The day is coming when I fly off,
but who is it now in my ear, who hears my voice?
Who says words with my mouth?

Who looks out with my eyes? What is the soul?
I cannot stop asking.
If I could taste one sip of an answer,
I could break out of this prison for drunks.
I didn't come here of my own accord, and I can't leave that way.
Whoever brought me will have to take me back....


Five Reasons for Looking
by Douglas Harding

Today we are going to take a fresh look at our identity, at Who we really are. I will explain how we are going to do it a little later on. But we must first address the issue of why. Why should you bother to look at Who you are? Well, I can only tell you my reasons for looking. Perhaps you will find they are similar to yours.

number 1 The first reason why I am interested in my identity is that I have happened. I have occurred, and I needn't have occurred. I could have missed the bus of existence. Do you remember all those spermatozoa rushing to the ovum? I won't go into the biodetails, but I turned out to be "me" on account of one particular spermatozoon making it ahead of the others. Now that was a chance in a million, for a start.

The thing which we least value and which is indeed the most precious is the gift of existence. We've occurred! We may be thankful for being American. We may be thankful for being Californian. We may be thankful for being a woman or a man. We can be thankful for a million things. But how many people are thankful for being—not being this or that but just being? It's something not only to be thankful for but to be amazed at. I've happened! I'm jolly well not going to die without having a look at what's alive, at what's occurred into my chair, into my pants, while there's an opportunity to have a look at it.

What's occurred into your clothes? What is it? Have a look at it! Don't take anyone's word for it, and don't take Douglas's word for it. You are the sole authority on it. When we join the human club, what intimidation we suffer! We take everyone's word about what has happened except our own. The dying words of the Buddha were, "Betake yourselves to no outside refuge." That's sound advice, but it is taken by how many? You've occurred, and it's beneath your dignity, I propose, to live and die without having a look at who is living and dying. You have a chance to look at it. We're going to take that chance this evening. Point one.

number 2 Second, a most extraordinary proposition, an unbelievable, unthinkable, shocking proposition has been advertised down the ages by very wonderful and great people who have survived in the species' consciousness. The proposition is that sitting in your chair at this moment is something of just inexpressible wonder and astonishment and splendor and grandeur—namely, nothing less than the Source and Origin of the whole world. The great mystics have said that nearer to us than all else, the heart of our heart, the soul of our soul, our essence, our salvation, our eternal bliss, is none other than God; that Who we really are is Being itself, Reality, Atman-Brahman, Buddha-nature, the Void, Allah, the Holy Spirit, the Kingdom of Heaven, the one Light that lights every man. That nearer to me than Douglas Edison Harding is where Douglas Edison Harding and the whole world comes from. That's wild! Our hair should stand on end. I mean, fancy these little creatures, being born and dying, having every kind of handicap and misery and problem, turning out to be the Origin and Substance and Reality behind the world! What a proposition! Of course, it's true that in some of the religions, some of the time, you got barbecued or crucified or otherwise incommoded for pointing this out. All the same, you can find it lurking there in all the great religions.

Since the great ones of our species have said you are at Center the Origin of the world, and the great scriptures of the world have said you are at Center the Origin of the world, it's irresponsible not to test this proposition, isn't it? It's irresponsible to go through life without seeing whether they had got it wrong or were kidding us. If they were kidding us, let's junk the whole ridiculous notion. If it's true, let's enjoy it. Just because they said it doesn't mean it's true. We are going to test it. We're not going to believe it. We're saying they might be wrong. They may be a lot of con artists, these "great" ones down the ages. All these scriptures of the world may be a big confidence trick. It's for us to test what they say. It's for me to test whether nearer to me than Douglas is the origin of Douglas and everything else. We are going to test these propositions tonight. It's certainly worth spending two hours of our valuable time checking up whether those guys got it right, isn't it?

So that's what we're up to. The first motive is that I'll be damned if I'm going to die before I've really bothered to look at Who is living. And the second motive is this wild rumor that's been around about me and you personally, and I want to check it out.

number 3 The third motive I have for looking at Who I really am is that Douglas Harding is troublesome and in trouble. Being Douglas Harding, being this tiny bit of the world, is a dreadful problem. He's just a little guy, one of thousands of millions on the earth, so brief. He's up against all the others, at loggerheads with them, separate, lonely, and afraid. Being what you see—hairy and pink and English and old—is being separate. And being a separate, one-off, temporary specimen of Homo sapiens, so-called, is, for me, hell. I promise you, it is just hell. You may find that being a human being works all right for you for the moment. But even if it's working fairly well now, there are times when it doesn't work that well, I suspect. You would be unwise to count on it.

How can the barriers come down between us? How can we really set the scene for loving one another? How can we deeply enjoy one another without fear? How can we come together? Well, there are those down the ages who have told us that when we see Who we are, we will find that the barriers are down and the love is there, not because we've engineered it, not because we've achieved it, but because by our very nature it's there when we see how we are already constituted.

number 4 Another reason I am encouraged to look at Who I am is that some of these wonderful people said that Who you are is the most obvious and accessible reality in the world. Mind you, a lot of other people have said it's the most difficult thing to see; you have to go to the East, to the other end of the world, you have to wear funny robes, you can only learn about it from people with different-colored skins and speaking foreign languages. There are a hundred things you have to do, and it's highly inaccessible and difficult. You have to be very, very good and very earnest and very determined to find it, and even then it's difficult, and you perhaps won't find it in this life at all. You may have to go through many lifetimes to find it.

Now, that may well be true for you, if you think it's true for you. But I am lazy, yet at the same time I really want it. Two people come along. One says it's difficult to see and I have to pay this very high price. The other says it's the easiest, simplest, and most obvious thing to see. I'll go for the last guy. I'll have a go and see if he isn't right. And in California, I think you'll go for that guy, won't you? My reading of true Americans is that you go for the guy who says, "I'll show you how to do it now." So, I'm a true Californian here! I'll have a go with the chap who says it's available now.

You say, "Yes, but has this guy who says it's easy got any status?" Well, there's one person who has really encouraged me here: Ramana Maharshi of Tiruvannamalai in India, who died about forty years ago. This great Indian teacher, acknowledged by Zen people and by yogis, acknowledged by millions of people in India as one of the great mystical teachers of this century, said that liberation, which is seeing Who you really are, not what you are told you are, is the easiest thing in the world. Of course, just because he said that doesn't make it true, but it encourages us to see by experimentation whether he was right. I mention him for our encouragement.

Now what a contrast! One guy's telling me it's the most difficult thing. The other guy's telling me it's the easiest. I don't find too many middle-of-the-road ones. Ramana says it is the most obvious. He says if you can't see Who you are, who the hell can? And surely it's got to be available if I am it. At least, it seems to me there's a very good chance that it's available. And I would suggest to you that if you say he's wrong and that it is very difficult and that you are on the road and that one day you hope to see Who you are, I suggest that you don't want to see Who you are at all. What you like is being on the road and, for some reason best known to yourself, which I respect, you don't want liberation yet. You are like the young St. Augustine, who had that wonderful prayer: "Oh Lord, make me chaste, but not yet!"

I'm perhaps treading on some corns here. I think it's OK not to want it now. It's OK to get a lot of mileage out of this adventure. But I'm impatient, and you may be impatient like me. I'm not one of those people who are going to take their time over it, perhaps several years, perhaps all their lives, perhaps fifteen or a hundred lifetimes. Of course when, after putting in all that work and meditation and seriousness, the realization finally strikes you, you probably will have a peak experience. But if you're like me and impatient and you want it now and you see it now, you are unlikely to have a peak experience. You'll probably say, "Yes, yes, now what next?"

Ramana says that it's the most available thing, that it's the most obvious thing, that seeing Who you are is easier than seeing a gooseberry in the palm of your hand. Most of the people around him said, "Oh, what a marvelous, dear master he is! He can do it, but none of us can do it." They worshipped him and adored him and never listened to what he said. "Oh, the pity, the pity," he said. It's strange. We think we want to see Who we are; we think we want to be free. But in all of us I perceive a great resistance. This resistance to seeing Who we are is largely due to the fact that seeing we are nothing seems to be the end of the story. If we can quickly go on to perceive that as nothing we are also all things, that it's a case of trading one little guy for the whole world, then we can see it's very good business. It's not losing out. Quite the contrary. But the threat seems to persist.

Now, Ramana and company are very insistent that it's available at this moment just as you are, without further discipline, without further meditation, without further accomplishment of anything. Ummon, a Japanese master of the twelfth century who is very well regarded, said something like this: "It would seem good sense to get rid of your bad karma so as to clear the way to enlightenment. The problem is that it doesn't work too well." He said the way of Zen is first to see Who you are and to get rid of your bad karma afterwards. For my money, seeing Who I am is so easy and so obvious, while getting rid of my bad karma is a big deal. I wouldn't know how to go about the latter at all, but I find that seeing Who I am is the easy thing, and that I will do first.

So, here's Ummon encouraging us, saying, "First see Who you are. Get your enlightenment first, and deserve it afterwards." Well, that suits me. It's rather like buying a television set. We take delivery of the darned thing and enjoy the programs, or suffer from the programs, from the very beginning, but then we pay over the months—on the never never, as we describe it in England. In the case of seeing Who you are, however, you take delivery of your television set, and the payment is the viewing. That's good business. However rotten your karma—I'm not an expert in the field—but however rotten your karma (and it couldn't be much worse than mine, I guess), I don't see any reason why it should stand in the way of what we are going to have a look at presently.

Wittgenstein, the philosopher, says the things that are most essential for our lives are all of them hidden by their own obviousness. True. There are two traditions concerning how the Buddha felt about sharing the experience he had under the Bo tree six hundred years before Christ. The normal tradition is that he thought it was going to be terribly difficult to share this vision with others because they might not be prepared to go to the lengths of asceticism he had been to. So he devised the Eightfold Noble Path and the Sangha in the hope that at least a few monks and nuns would see Who they were. But there is an alternative tradition, associated with Tibet and Burma, in which the Buddha said that it was going to be terribly difficult to share this vision of reality for a different reason. Why? Because it was so obvious, people would never believe it.

To summarize so far: I am going to look at Who I am because I want to see Who is alive while I'm alive to see, I want to find out if this rumor about being the Origin of the world is true, and I want to escape the hell of separateness. And I am encouraged by the claim that seeing Who I am is easy and available now.

number 5 The fifth reason for investigating Who I am is that I live in a culture which is based on the scientific attitude, and I have the scientific attitude. If we look at the history of science, what do we find to be the precondition of the scientific attitude and of scientific achievement and discovery? The precondition is that you look and you doubt everything you can doubt. In medieval times, science was very handicapped. It never really got off its launching pad. Why? Because people didn't experiment and see what happened. They looked up answers in the Bible or in Aristotle. For example, if they wanted to know whether a big stone fell faster than a little stone, they looked in Aristotle. But then along came Galileo, who went out and got a couple of different-size stones, carried them to the top of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and subjected the whole question of which fell faster to the test of direct, naive experience. He found, of course, that they both fell together and arrived together at the bottom. He got into terrible trouble with the Church over this. Soon people were discovering all sorts of things, and they had to be very careful how they published their discoveries. Otherwise, they could find themselves in deep trouble and even burned at the stake, which Bruno was, for example.

So, our culture is founded on seeing what we see instead of what we're told to see. It is based on humility before the evidence. I do not want to look up Who I am in a book. I am going to look for myself.

What I've done, then, is to give you some reasons for looking at Who and what we are. Now we are going to test scientifically this proposition which the sages throughout history have put forward: that Who you really are is not a bit of the world but is the Reality behind the world....

~ An excerpt from Chapter 2 of Face to No-Face: Rediscovering Our Original Nature by Douglas Harding. © 2000 by David Lang. 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. Douglas recently celebrated his 97th birthday.


Earnest Seeker or Sleepy Dreamer?
by Bob Fergeson

In pursuing a path of self-enquiry such as advaita, we would be well served to keep in touch with our present state of mind, and not venture too far afield into realms of fantasy and unquestioned belief. One thing we can use to ground our search in fact, is honesty. Another is coming to know our true motivations, why we seek. These two tools help us stay balanced as we walk the razor's edge of truth and illusion, safely crossing the chasm of maya and duality. Let's take a look at aim and honesty, and their counterparts, sleep and imagination.

Columbines (photo by author) Columbines (photo by author)

To get anywhere, we must have direction. To Become, we must have the intimate knowledge that we are not. A little self-observation can show us rather quickly that if we are identified with the personality, intellect, and emotions, we are not a stable entity. Observation of our desires and fears as they manifest and control our actions will show us that we also do not have a stable direction. We hear from those who have gone before that there is another shore, where the misery of instability and want are replaced by Oneness, lacking in confusion and desire. Now, if we like the sound of this heaven, we are apt to use the only well-trained tool we have to find it: our imagination, the inner movie. We have been taught to live in imagination, and to use it as the gauge for how things are, and how they should be. Thus, we have been cut off from our ability to perceive directly, and are left with only concepts, ghosts and echoes.

If our direction is controlled by our imagination, and our imagination by desire and fear, we have no direction. We are wandering in our sleep, led by pleasure, pain, and illusions of happiness, none of which last, but constantly change as we drift along the primrose path of maya. We hear from advaita that there is no person, no doer, and that nothing needs to be done, for all is One. If we are prone to laziness and ease, we may think all we need do to attain this state of oneness is to blindly follow a teacher and their words, and don't worry, be happy. If we are afraid, we may seek security in these words and safety in the ashram. If we are ambitious, we may even claim realization and become a teacher ourselves.

As the years roll by, most of us find that following our desires and fears has simply made us pay. We have paid with our time and money, not only to keep our own imagination pacified, but also to keep our so-called teacher's private dream-world well funded. If we are lucky, sooner or later the bubble bursts, and we are left with only a bad taste in our mouth, an empty checkbook, and a bruised ego. The old saying, "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is," takes on new meaning. Our direction was only towards desire and away from fear. It was not towards truth, at least not yet. We may find that our true aim, what we really wanted, was not truth or oneness after all, and thus we paradoxically move closer to the goal, for now we know ourselves a little better.

Here's also where honesty comes in. If we continue to observe our own mind all the while we seek and meditate, we can see that despite whatever calming thoughts of oneness we hold in our head, the mind does not really change. The catchy slogans and charming teachers do not stand up to the tests of day-to-day life, and we find we remain frustrated and unhappy. We may look back fondly on the time when we did not have to pretend to ourselves that we had "no-mind" and did not have to put one thought up against another to keep our new spiritual ego afloat. It's hard, miserable work, being perfect. Our talents, friendships, and capabilities are ignored while we cater to an ego-god that cannot be satiated. Is this really what nirvana is all about?

The path to self-knowledge is not one of ease and belief, a quick concept-jump into karma-free bliss, but one of hard work in facing oneself. The path of self-enquiry eventually leads to the state of non-action, but only after all ties to action are broken. Action and awareness do not conflict with one another; they do not need to be at war. Our thoughts are not us; we may watch them undisturbed. If we think becoming is simply a process of getting the right thought/concept to identify with, we are fair game for anything that comes along. Honest observing of the mind gives us a new direction, one of going within, and eventually leads to That which is beyond mind. Identifying with thoughts, whether spiritual or otherwise, leads us farther outward into the mind's labyrinth, where one thing is against another, and the game is lost no matter how strong the belief or loud the noise. Instead of agreeing or disagreeing with yourself, observe yourself.

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


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Reader Commentary ...

I enjoyed the last issue and feel moved to record my appreciation of Shawn's note on the fundamentalism of non-dualism. I was just concluding a rather grumpy review of a non-dualist book and it was a delight to find a fellow sufferer on the TAT Forum. In my note, I mentioned that we are overdue for a book on "The Essential Dualism of Being" as a counterbalance to the flood of non-dualist literature. Not all of it leaves out of account the day to day level of relationship but for many it is an either-or business and, if you are not embedded in the one, to the exclusion of the many, too bad! Thank you for sharing these contributions, they are greatly appreciated. ~ Alan Mann

See Alan's web site Capacitie. Alan lives in Australia, is a friend of John Wren-Lewis and an appreciator of Douglas Harding as well as Thomas Traherne, whose writing inspired the site's name.


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