Selected Dialogues from Gathering 2000

Gathering LogoRobert Rabbin
I suppose there are some audiences where it’s appropriate to teach or at least attempt to teach. But looking out at you, and truly seeing a brightness coming from everyone, I don’t feel in this moment that anything I know is really worth spending a lot of time on. You know everything that you need to know to be who you are, which is probably one of the reasons we’ve all come here—to celebrate this true essence—this presence that never comes and never goes. And there may be a few of us who forget that, and so we’ve come here with the idea of finding a way to recall it. But I’m not sure there are many of us like that. I’m guessing everyone here has just come to support Inner Directions, to share with each other, and to really let out what we know.

The truest thing I know is that everything in our life that resembles a weird failure—fear, loneliness, anxiety, confusion—or the positive things that we attempt to get in order to fill that existential hole within us; everything about our life that doesn’t quite work is because of a single cause: turning away from what we are in our essence. Spiritual paths, spiritual practices, teachers, gatherings like this—everything that is meant to mitigate the sense of weird failure, has really only one purpose: to encourage us to stop pretending that we don’t know what we know, and that we aren’t who we are. We sense that there is a spirit that loves the ants and the birds, perhaps the same one that gave radiance to you in the womb. If we didn’t know that was true, we would never even move from our lives toward that calling and toward that longing—to remember that Spirit. So we know that; we are that. You’ll probably hear that a lot this weekend.

Ram Dass
As you probably know, three years ago I was “stroked.” And it’s led to a very, very deep and profound silence, in just the way Robert spoke about. In this culture, it’s really sacrilegious to talk about a stroke with joy. The first part of my stroke-sadhana (practice) was keeping two things on the screen: stroke and my guru’s compassion. He’s compassionate and he’s my guru, and I’ve got this stroke—guru’s grace. I am living within his grace and the stroke.

A friend said to me, “Since your stroke you’re much more human.” And that’s kind of a put-down for a holy man (laughter), but I started to work with it. Prestoke, I was always looking from the “holy perspective,” and the stroke has gotten me in my body and in my fears. My sister-in-law, who lives in New York, has breast cancer. She wrote me a letter and said, “Rich, I don’t know who to speak to about this, I’m afraid.” And I wrote back, “I’m afraid too, but my ‘I’ at least comes to the Soul.” I told her that she might try identifying with her soul, because the soul doesn’t get cancer; the soul isn’t afraid of dying. The answer in my letter wasn’t my usual holy man prattle. I’m scared too, you’re scared too, it’s part of being human, but we’re not scared. That’s what being a soul is about.

When I was in India, I was trained in a renunciate path and I had renounced everything. I remember coming back from India the first time; I was living at my father’s farm. He had a big house, a television, heat, and water. I was living in the cabin from which I could see all that. I didn’t have running water, only running mice. I washed with a pail and I was just feeling so holy. From that renunciation came my Jewish sense of, “I’m no good.” And I came out feeling that this “playing” is not part of God. That’s too bad . . . to find a place that isn’t part of the One. With the stroke has come my deepening of the “seeing” . . . the psychological and the physical.

Lama Surya Das
I’ve had many spiritual masters, and this invisible array is certainly here with me, and with us, always. And there’s somebody very special here who has been my spiritual friend, benefactor, teacher, and inspiration for many years; it’s Ram Dass. All of you heard him last night, but we’ve heard from him most of our lives, so I’d like to acknowledge that we stand on the shoulders of giants. So with a bow to that invisible array and to all present, all of you Buddhas, I’d like to talk about how we are all Buddhas, not Buddhists—God forbid, but Buddhas. I can hear my grandmother say, “God-in-heaven, Jeffrey, what are you talking?” And we are all Buddhas. That’s what I’m going to talk about. We are all Buddhas by nature. We don’t have to awaken to that fact or recognize that fact.

I’m not here today to find out how we can get from “here to there.” The koan, the riddle for today is how to get from “here to here.” It’s always right here; the problem is “we” are always elsewhere, wandering in the path of memories or in the future, in fantasies and expectations. Seeking IT by any name, it is still as sweet. IT is always right here. We are always distracted, dispersed, and scattered, mindless rather than mindful and aware of the present moment—staggering forward as if on a treadmill. In the East it is called karma or conditioning. The faster we run the more tired we get, but we don’t actually get anywhere. So I want to talk about how to get from “here to here.” This is the nondual teaching, the deep dharma wisdom of sages of all the ages, the point from which (I believe) all spiritual paths converge and emerge. They all converge from this luminous heart of dharma and they all emerge from it as well. In the Buddhist nondual teachings of Dzogchen, the “natural great perfection,” everything is IT. Advaita Vedanta, the great ancient nondual tradition of India declares you, I, we, are IT . . . this is IT . . . everything is IT . . . there is nothing missing and nothing extra to get rid of. We are all Buddhas by nature—it says so in the Dzogchen scriptures—I’m just translating from the Tibetan. There’s nothing original here; I’ve never had an original thought in my life, have you? We are Buddhas by nature, we only have to awaken to that, and we only have to realize what we truly are. That’s the Dzogchen teaching, the teaching of “Who Am I?” of Ramana Maharshi. It is the perennial question, “What is reality; who am I?”

Byron Katie
Byron Katie:
The work simply consists of four questions. The first two questions are the same. The second ones are just in case you miss it the first time. So who would like to do the work? This play? Would you like to come up here?
So you have never experienced the work. Do you know anything about it? What do you know about it?

Questioner: I know that a friend of mine worked in this process and found it very helpful.
BK: That’s a lot to know. Let’s begin. A thought appears; here it comes.
Q: What do I do?
BK: I love that you just continue to ask these sweet questions. Isn’t life simple? There’s nothing more precious than your open heart. Feel it.

Q: What if the person that you’re having difficulty with is yourself, and you wish you would do something different? How to turn those questions around?
BK: Sweetheart . . .”you should do something different.” Can you really know that that’s true? Are you doing something different?

Q: No, but how would I do it?
BK: “I want to get up now,” is it true? If it’s true, what’s the matter with me . . . “I’m not getting up . . . oh, God I’m so depressed . . . I want to get up, oh, I’m not doing it . . . I want to get up.” Is it true? No. Not until I do it. It is what it is.

Q: Is there any way to move forward with this?
BK: Sweetheart, let’s move back to inquiry. What does it feel like when you attach to the thought? “I want to do something different,” and you don’t?

Q: Kind of depressing.
BK: Depressing. Can you see a reason to drop the thought “I want to do something different,” and I’m not asking you to drop it. Can you see a reason to drop the story, “I want to change; I want to be different”?

Q: No.
BK: It’s like, “I love depression.” I’m not asking you to drop the thought. Do you wake up in the morning and think, “I think I’ll think today” or “I think I won’t think today”? I hear when you attach to it, you feel depressed. Is that a reason to drop it?

Q: Apparently not.
BK: Okay, so keep it. What would you be without the thought “I want to do something different” if you never had that thought again?

Q: I don’t know. I guess I wouldn’t be as busy as I am.
BK: Can you really know that that’s true. We can’t “know”; whatever we “do” is the doing itself. (To the questioner): “I want to do something different”—turn it around—”I don’t want to do something different.”

Q: I got it; I must not want to.
BK: Obviously, you’re not. You don’t want to do something different. How do I know? . . . You’re not doing it.

I’d like us to go on a little trip together for the next half an hour or so—a trip that really doesn’t have to take the first step. I want you to go on the talk with me. By that I mean I simply invite you to endeavor just to listen from your neck down, instead of your neck up. I would invite you into something a little bit different for a few minutes, which is just to see where the words take you in the experience of yourself. And I want to talk about spiritual awakening, which is like any other awakening. It’s not different than turning the light switch on in any room. I’m going to take something called “spiritual awakening” and cut it into pieces, as if those pieces actually existed. As long as we understand together that these pieces don’t actually exist as different pieces, we’ll be okay. And if you start to think that they actually exist independently and separate of each other, you’ll find that you might not be so okay with it. I think, we all know what its like to try and change the world out there to suit “me,” its like shooting yourself in the foot. We saw some beautiful work just a few hours ago with Byron Katie, about trying to change the exterior world, thinking that it’s going to bring happiness, or satisfaction, or that its even true to begin with. And we saw what can happen when we change our whole relationship to that.

Spiritual inquiry really begins with “Who Am I?”; who is all this happening to? Every experience from birth to life to death is “who” that “I” refers to. As soon as we learn language we learn “I,” “me.” Everything relates to this “I.” Have you noticed everything that relates to the “me” is always changing? What you believe today may not be what you believe tomorrow. Everything’s changing and everything’s happening to “me,” supposedly. In fact, we have a whole room of people right now who may or may not be in the position of “I am the listener,” “I am the spiritual seeker.” Even if I’ve bought into the concept of consciousness one still thinks, “I am the seeker.” So everything relates to this “I,” and yet the human condition is characterized by the fact that most of us walking this planet don’t know who this “I” is that’s living this life, or if it is. This is where true spirituality starts. “Who’s” living this life? If we are seeking after God, who is seeking? Is the one seeking after God any different than the one who last week was drinking the third bottle of wine or whatever it was doing? In true inquiry, if we go to the heart of the matter and hop off the path, hop off the journey, hop off taking the first step to get anywhere, we start to inquire in whatever way rings true in our own heart, in our whole being, which is “Who is here to take the first step?” “Who is doing this?”, “Who’s the seeker?”, and “What is this all about anyway?” This stops everything in its tracks, including the spiritual search. In this stopping we look, and we see that “looking” is happening. That’s why it doesn’t really matter if you agree with any spiritual speaker, that’s not the point. The point is what is awakened in your living experience.

Rabbi Rami Shapiro
Did you ever play the game “Telephone”? You know, where you start a message on one end of a line and it goes all the way around. Then, you listen to the person at the end of the line who repeats what they finally heard—and it’s a totally garbled message. And everybody laughs. Religion is the game of “Telephone”—except nobody laughs. Somebody gets a message in the beginning. You know, “It’s Mohammed, it’s Jesus, it’s Abraham,” whoever it is. They get a message; they pass it on. And right away it gets garbled. It takes just a couple of people. But as long as the person who has the original message is around, they can say, “No, no, no that’s not exactly what I said.” And then they can correct it. Once in a while someone gets another clear message again and they try to correct it; those people are oftentimes burned. Then we turn the game into something we call “sacred,” and I think all that means is that it has been going on a long time. We think old is better than new—and it’s been going on in such a way that it makes you feel a little guilty if you’re not playing. And it is run by a professional group of people who insist that their garbled message is the ultimately true garbled message. So a lot of us just give up on religion all together. Those of us in the “religion business” have transcripts of the game of telephone. We have the Vedas and the Upanishads, the Koran, the Gospels, and I’ve brought with me the Hebrew Scriptures, transcripts of the Jewish game of telephone. But I think we can go through the transcripts, there’s like 1,300 pages—we can go through it quickly. You just stay in the “Now” and I’ll kill ninety minutes. I believe you can go through the transcripts and find hints of the original phone call and the original message. And you wouldn’t have a religion if you didn’t have the garbled part, though I’m not too interested in the mumbled, garbled part of the message. I’m much more interested in what I believe is the echo of the original message.

One part of the original message considers “breath” to be one way we become conscious—the ground of all being is the change of breath. All this is a metaphor for our own consciousness. That’s why every meditative system stresses the way we breathe. The meditation that I teach states that when you breathe out you wait; there’s no need to breathe in. There is an emptiness between God’s breathing into me and my breathing out into God. And in that space of emptiness there is no “me” and there is no “God.” Exhalation and inhalation disappear, and in that deeper silence there is just reality.

Michael Green & Friends
I think most of you here are familiar with Rumi. Mixing around on the edge of what scientists call “the event horizon,” on the edge of nonduality, on the edge of what the Christians call, “the cloud of unknowing.” His poetry has a shifting quality to it. Don’t let it get to you. It works very well. One quality of his poetry which I particularly like is that most of it was written—or not written—was simply dictated as he was walking through a vineyard or wherever in his life. And there’s this groundedness as he reacts and responds clearly to the here-and-now around him. So that if he were here today, this Spring day, he might be saying:

“Spring, and everything outside is growing
even the tall cypress tree
We must not leave this place
around the lip of the cup we share these words
‘my life is not mine’
If someone were to play music
it would have to be very sweet.”

In the Middle East people gather like this and recite Rumi’s poetry all night long. It’s a kind of yoga of understanding, it’s what he called Sobet, and it’s a communing which he says is higher than meditation. One of his poems goes like this, where he comes down and joins us:

“All day I think about it and all night I say it
where did I come from and what am I suppose to being doing
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 now in my ear who hears my voice
who says words with my mouth
who looks out with my eyes
what is so.
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 on my accord and I can’t leave that way
whoever brought me here will have to take me home.”

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