Selected Dialogues from Gathering 1998

In order to retain the flavor of the talks, we have tried not to edit the following excerpts much, so that they read as spoken words rather than written ones.

Gathering LogoJonathan Granoff
(Ahamed Muhaiyaddeen) began the program speaking about love.
We ask for love that doesn’t ask anything in return, for the love that is as easy as breathing, for the love that is in every flower turning toward the light. If you put a stone in front of it, it grows around the stone seeking that light . . . for the love that brings us together tonight, not because of race, religion, looking for power, miracles, wealth, or looking for a meditation that will fix our blood pressure or help us lose weight. We are not looking for anything other than the Source of that power—that calls us into being, that gives us this precious moment, that gives us this love—that is the source of being, that mystery in our lives—that is the mystery of life . . . the one life that is all of our lives in the way there is one electric current in this building, which animates the video machine and the lights. It’s just one current, which does many things.

The state we have come to know, that mystery, is a state of inner silence. So we have come together to that state of tranquility, silence, clarity, and wakefulness, and how glorious and extraordinary it is that there are this many people coming to die before dying. Who wants to do that? Everyone here pretty much knows the price of admission.

Professor Allan W. Anderson
Allan delighted all with his spirited talk and shared some of his poetry.
I like the way Coomaraswamy translates the beginning of the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. In chapter one, the second section starts by saying that in the beginning there was nothing whatsoever and that was covered over by “death.” Oh, how I rejoiced when I heard Ahamed give death a good press. Ah! I could hardly believe it! Now death really is very far inward, isn’t it, according to the sacred texts! It states the “That” (with a capital t)—the That said, “I want to be Self.” You can just feel the longing in “I want to be Self.” And from the That the text says came Light, the light! And from this light came the waters. And while all this was being fulfilled, the That as the Self, was shining. “The shining.” And while it was shining, it says, “There was Delight, the Sheen of Shining.”!

So in praise of things at hand, I shall stop these remarks with a little poem I wrote many years ago and I called it “Between.” Between means be-tween, it comes from twain, and twain is two.

Who can wander for a lifetime
In the valley, on the hill
And not see the face of heaven
On the swift and in the still?

On the swift and sounding waters,
In the smooth, wet-molded stone
Wide, wide heaven beds among them —
Lies where all the leaves are blown.

And the wafted leaf in autumn
Comes like us to find the ground,
Falling where the hand of heaven
Cups the seeker and the found.

Douglas and Catherine Harding
The Hardings shared a wonderful session that focused on hands-on experiments.
What is our theme, “awake to our freedom, awake to your freedom”? It is not only our theme, it’s our program. We have one and a half hours to awaken to our freedom. Well, you say, “Douglas it’s a tall order.” Well, it is a tall order and we intend to make it work. Of course, I’m not saying we stay awake to our freedom. On the contrary we will doze off, won’t we, Catherine?

This is our program: to really do it, not just talk about it. We have three strings to our bow. The talk, the blah, blah, blah, which is absolutely essential. We have the pictures, the Chinese say one picture, is worth a thousand words. Well, I don’t think our pictures are, but they can help. And the third thing, in England we call it the nitty gritty, of the occasion is the experiments. We move on; we have to really live it.

Toni Packer
During her morning talk Toni Packer brought forth a gentle wisdom and presence.
Watch these thoughts arise the next time fear strikes.  Not only verbalized, it is the body that has learned the immediate reaction of resistance, a state accompanied or induced by thought. It doesn’t matter; thought is not separate from all the physical functioning of this body.  So the next time (or right now), if fear is felt, if it’s not immediately contacted and so laid present, it sends signals to the brain saying there’s something to be afraid of.  A fearful body; don’t we all know it?  It’s quite convincing that there is some danger around, and the brain kicks in to scan for danger and will always find something. So, is it possible for ordinary human beings like you and me, when something feels very uncomfortable, to sort of  zero in on it, as it were (inquiring) . . . what is this? . . .  and to touch it, experience it, without judgment.

The first thing that needs to happen is that the resistance and the attitudes and the judgments have to come into awareness; sometimes gross resistance and sometimes very subtle.  The body sort of wrinkles up habitually against feelings that it manifests itself. And to discover those wrinkles, those internal resistances, and wonder whether they’re necessary, whether they have to continue, just because they have been there habitually for a lifetime; the lifetime of humanity, the wrinkling up against fear, resisting, evading, and running away from it. Why resist? What is it really without resistance? Sounds like going out on a limb, but it’s all right to take that apparent risk. There’s no risk in being in complete touch with what this human body/mind manifests from moment to moment.

Rabbi David Cooper
The Rabbi began his talk by leading the group in a lovely Jewish chant.
Before we come to Passover, which is escaping from a place of constriction, we have to understand this question of freedom as it applies. It is such a tough question, when we learn about the plague of Egypt. There is this awful plague, the plague of darkness that’s explained in the mythical world. It’s said that it was time to get out and get into freedom, but 80%, at least four out of five who were destined to go out to freedom, didn’t want to leave. . . Here we are—we want to come to a place of freedom, and when we’re offered it on a silver platter, what happens is that the mind becomes so frightened about giving up the possibilities of this identity that I think is “me,” we slam the doors and run from the very thing we think we want. We slam the door on our own freedom.

This is the way Kabbalists read the opening lines of the Torah, “Along with beginningness IT created God’s heaven and earth. “You ask, “What is the IT?” It is called EinSof; it means endless, boundless, the unconditioned, the unborn. It cannot have any attributes; it cannot have characteristics. There is no definition for it. It should never, ever, ever be called He or Him.

Francis Lucille
Francis answered questions from the audience. One of the questions was about free will and freedom.
That, out of which the body/mind arises, along with the rest of the world is freedom itself. So, depending on the stand we take regarding what we are, we can say that we have no free will, as a separate entity, but as this “I AM,” this “I Amness” we are freedom itself . . . Everything that happens, happens only because awareness wills it. So the real abode of freedom and will is awareness. Because only awareness is efficient . . . There is freedom, but “nobody” is free—and we all are that freedom.

It is even wrong to say that it is a state of awareness, because it is in fact a state of mind. Mind is in awareness, so it is a state in awareness, not a state of awareness. Just as the specific reflection in the mirror is not a state of the mirror—the mirror is what it always was, solid, made of glass, transparent, and so on. So none of the qualities, characteristics of the mirror changes when the images reflected in it change. So the absence of a specific image within the mirror cannot be called a state of the mirror, but rather a state in the mirror.

Catherine Ingram
Catherine spoke on love and answered questions from the audience.
Love is living in the mystery of this life; we can’t know very much. We only need to know a few things, for real happiness, for this quiet. In this quiet there is a love, the love that you are. It’s a love that doesn’t seek to acquire anything, but rather is only interested in giving itself away. And strangely, the more it does that the more love there is. In this quiet, there is this divine presence in all. You see it in those who are even completely asleep to it, and you see it in the rock, and in the mall and in the garbage. And I say again—this is quite familiar—your own—so just sink into that. Live as that. Why not, why postpone it? Why think you have to get rid of something or get something, those thoughts are postponement, you don’t have to have a great IQ or to have done a lot of long-time practices or studied with all the right masters. You can’t attain this because it’s already here. It’s already your nature, just fall into it. Whether you notice it or not, this is the case. Your noticing it brings happiness, brings this love—that is the only difference.

Sufi Baba
Baba was visiting friend from India, and was asked to join Catherine. He took the stage and spoke a few heartfelt words:
Life is a fragrance, love is a fragrance, but we don’t get that fragrance because of what we like or dislike. When a change comes in your life, I will ask you this straight question, “Are you available to your own self?”

Life is so simple, very simple. There is no two, like and dislike, two polarities, male and female. The day you become available to your own self there is not a single question that does not have an answer inside. We have forgotten we are human beings. Being means we have to be. I say it is here and now. I never say something in the future . . . It is effortless effort, it just happens. Continuously happens. Becoming is the biggest bullshit. Whatever you are is the Truth. Accept what you are. We never accept what we are and we wear a mask. In a mask no one is comfortable. Ask yourself how long will you go on wearing a mask . . . when you don’t expect anything from anyone.

Be honest with your own self; be pure with your own self. Wake up. Every breath is presence, this moment will not come back . . . Existence is there to help you. Do the experiment on yourself, and then you will know it. Be Alive. Then there will be a fragrance, joy, and celebration. Every moment is a celebration.

Dr. Robert Powell
Robert spoke on “Nothingness” and the non-existence of “Death.”
Regardless of superficial appearances and impressions, at no time is there an elimination or destruction of that which exists. In other words, at no time “nothing” comes into being. One might say therefore that ontologically the term “nothing” should be deleted from our working dictionary—which is exactly what the Greek philosopher Parmenides recommended when he stated: “You cannot know Non-Being, nor even say it.” This conclusion may at first seem counter-intuitive, yet even science points to the same truth through its mass-energy equivalence formula, E=mc2, indicating that no thing ever truly disappears into “zero existence.” If matter is “destroyed,” it reappears as energy in the exact amount indicated by the formula, and vice versa. More generally, though the appearance of a thing—that is, its particular manifestation—may undergo various changes, yet what is—its underlying reality—remains ever the same.

One further important inference is to be made from the statement that there can be no such thing as “nothingness.” It is that it voids the existence of “objects” and all separate entities. Because for the latter to be possible, they must have borders or delineations—either physical or psychological—that endow them with particular identities, allowing them to be individual objects and “beings.” Now what would separate the objects and entities from each other? Obviously, this could only be Nothingness. But having already seen the absolute non-existence of Nothing or Nothingness, this invalidates the existence of objects, as well as “persons.” To maintain the existence of discrete persons there would have to exist something like a matrix of “non-entity” separating the postulated persons to give them personhood or individuality. In the absence of such a matrix of Nothingness, the “person” is a logical impossibility. In other words, it signals the end of dualism and affords clear evidence for non-dualism. Reality must therefore be considered to be one solid block, as it were. “Objects” as superficially perceived are only appearances, and there is no “I” as distinct from “you” and “he.” Hence all change is now seen to be unreal, and space and time cease to have fundamental reality. Only the unchanging and indivisible is real. I am That, or more universally and accurately: “We are That, the Totality.” Appearance-wise, one may assume and discard one or more bodies, and weave a web of thought around them just like we do in the dream state, but in reality and to the truly Awakened neither birth nor death exists, for That is immutable.

Coleman Barks
Coleman was accompanied on cello by Karla Holland-Moritz. It provided a deeply touching ending.
All of these poems (spoken today) were spoken spontaneously 700 years ago by Jelaluddin Rumi who was the head of a dervish learning community exactly the size of this group. The work was to open the heart and explore the mystery of union. And they did this with everything . . .  movement, music, jokes, everything that human beings do. They used everything as a lens to look into the growth of the soul.

This next poem was spoken after they stayed up all night, doing that practice they call remembering or “zikar.” Rumi describes the state of awakeness they are in now with the word splendor; like the return of sunlight, the dawn comes up. It may be that the state of awareness they are in can be represented architecturally as a Cathedral or Stonehedge or the wonderful caves in Southern France. Maybe it’s the vast innerness that they call majesty. It’s the whole inner-outer thing that this whole conference has been about. Rumi tries to say what the awareness is: (an excerpt from the poem)

This we have now is not imagination
This is not grief or joy
Not a judging state or an elation or
a sadness
Those come and go
This is the presence that doesn’t
It’s dawn, Husam*
What else could humans being want . . .
. . . This that we are now
Created the body cell by cell
Like bees building a honeycomb
The universe and the human body grew from this.

*Husam Chelebi was Rumi’s scribe.

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