These are very uncertain times we live in. The fact that you have all made the effort to come here this weekend is significant. A number of people phoned in the last 48 hours to say that they just couldn’t get themselves onto a plane. It is quite natural to want to feel certainty in our lives, but the only thing we can really be certain of is change. Nisargadatta Maharaj said, “The expected may never come about, and the unexpected is bound to happen.” I’d like to ask you to do something this weekend: Let us hold on to what is permanent, to what never dies. And what never dies is our own beingness—the sense of “I am,” which is present in each and every one of us, always. This is the only reality. May the grace of this reality, which is present here and now, awaken us to true wisdom, which is also here and now.
This world is the face of the dreamer, and the silent place that beholds it is the heart of the dreamer. What we call evil is a product of ignorance. To think my heart and your heart are different is the source of what we call evil. Also, evil appears because we look at this world from a center of fear, of separation, especially the fear of disappearing—the fear of death. From that vantage point, we very much identify with this human body and are afraid of what will happen to it.
What will certainly happen to it is death. We are not afraid of leaves turning yellow and falling each year; we find that quite beautiful, like a nice display of life before winter, before the renewal. When we envision the death of this body, then we don’t see the poetry in it anymore and we call it evil. We have to understand that even if, at some point, everyone is an enlightened human being; there will still be death at the level of this world. Perhaps then we will see the beauty in it.
Douglas & Catherine Harding
There are many ways home to the place we never left, as there are ways out of it. We’re not going to find remedies for the human condition by sweeping them under the carpet. We’re going to have it out and have a look at them and see this evening what can be done. In terms of time, I can promise you that my ninety-three years have gone like that (snap) in cosmic time. They have, haven’t they? Like a flash! Here today, gone tomorrow.
We’re separate, we’re lonely, we’re frightened of death; we’re lost in the cosmos. We blind ourselves to the human condition, and it’s time we stopped doing it. And then, when we stop doing it, we are in the market for the remedy.
What we hear often is that this is so visual. How would you explain this to a blind man? What about the other senses? There is an answer. We’ll do this last experiment which does not depend on vision. And for this, we close our eyes, if you please, and sit as uncomfortably as possible, in order not to go to sleep—because it’s so easy to go to sleep when doing this experiment. Again, do remember the rule: You are the authority. Don’t believe anything we say or suggest. It’s about you sitting in your chair, the first person singular. It’s about what you are, where you are on present evidence, and on this you are the sole and final authority.
Is there any evidence at this very moment of having a physical shape, of there being an interface between you and the world? Are you in the body now? Do you have any shape at all on present evidence? Or aren’t you at large, without boundaries, just as you were when our eyes were open? Yes, and in this space you are boundless, awake, and it’s not shut up in any box at the center, is it?
I come here because I always learn something. I learned something wonderful from Douglas and Catherine last night. I read On Having No Head when it first came out in this country. I had multiple copies and used it in the synagogue. I passed it out to classes; people read it and discussed it. We realized we were all looking from the same face. What I learned from them last night was a deep understanding of an old Hasidic story I’ve heard a number of interpretations of, but last night I finally heard the deep truth of the story. And as I said, though I read On Having No Head many times, I never connected it with this story. Though I can’t recall right now which Hasidic master the story originates from, it does take place in the 1700s.
Once upon a time, there was a Jewish peasant who had a memory disorder. His problem was that he took off his clothes each night and went to sleep, but could not, upon waking, remember where he put any of his clothes. So, he went to his Rebbe, his spiritual master, and he said, “Rebbe, I’m so upset because I can’t find my clothes in the morning that I no longer sleep at night and it’s making me sick.” The Rebbe said, “Listen, this is what to do: When you undress in the evening, simply write down where it is you put each article of clothing. This way, you’ll have a list in the morning and you’ll know where everything is.” He thanked the Rebbe profusely and went home. That evening the peasant did exactly what the Rebbe suggested, writing down the location of all his clothes. He went to bed that evening and slept like a baby. In the morning, he took up his list and began to put his clothes on, slowly dressing himself, when all of a sudden he began to panic, saying “Here are my shoes; here are my slacks, but where am ‘I’?” He reached that last frontier above which is empty space and above that is only the “I AM”—there is no ego there; there is no self there.
Henry David Thoreau said, “Be it life, be it death, we seek only reality.” This is absolutely undeniable, and is as plain as the “no-face” that we don’t have. If you strip away everything that you identify as “you”—age, gender, personality—and reduce all of it to the bare minimum of what you absolutely know to be true, my experience is that there are given conditions that you can recognize in your own experience. This is not esoteric, it’s not elusive—it’s immediate and it’s apprehensible.
The first given condition is the awareness of “I AM.” We’ve talked a lot about it. If you look within yourself, there’s a sense of identity being resident inside. Is there not? For most of us, there is a sense of “I’m in here,” “me,” “I.” That is undeniable and you don’t need anyone else to assert that for you. You don’t need that to be validated elsewhere; there is something there that we refer to as identity. The second one is that identity is aware; you see, you hear, you perceive, you’re taking this in. Whatever is out here, there’s a part of you that’s perceiving it and that, too, is undeniable. It’s familiar; we take it for granted. What’s so intriguing about these given conditions is they’re so familiar that we usually overlook them.
We enter the world of the mind whenever we think. I’m not against the world of the mind and I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with it. I’m not saying we should get rid of thought or the ego. In fact, that will not work. However, we must become incredibly clear about what the world of the mind is, and that when I am in the world of the mind it is distinct from when I am in the truth of life. So we go into the world of the mind when we think, and you know what we do, we imprison ourselves through the power of belief. If you believe in your thoughts, your opinions, your ideas, even your spiritual concepts and ideas, they’ll imprison you. That doesn’t mean you can’t have them. You can enjoy them, you can play with them, and you can go and have coffee and expound great spiritual concepts with each other as long as you know none of it is true. That’s okay.
So the simple truth is that most of us are lost in the world of the mind without any real avenue that allows us to permanently dwell in presence, the truth of life. When you do open into the presence, the silence, the truth of who you are, your true nature, it’s important to know what that’s like, also. The first quality that you’ll notice is peace, peace. It’s the peace that passeth understanding that Jesus spoke of, and what he meant by that was that there is a dimension of who you are that is beyond the mind and the mind’s capacity to understand anything. This is beyond understanding; when you’re truly in the presence there is no understanding.
The Illumination Band
Most of you are probably already familiar with Rumi; there’s a powerful wind behind him right now, and he seems to have some duty here in the West. His teacher, Shams, said to him, “Someday your words will be heard around the world,” which would be a strange thing to say to someone in thirteenth-century Turkey. Rumi said that there are three levels of prayer. The first is ordinary prayer as you know it, the second is meditation, but he said that there is something called Sobet, or spiritual conversation, which is the third. So let’s try to move into that space here tonight. I think it’s important that in order for there to really be spiritual conversation, we move into a different kind of space, a much more intimate space than ordinary conversation; it’s as intimate as Douglas Harding would have it be. So, as you respond we will respond. And the way you can respond is to sit back and not think of us up here as being outside, and that the message that’s coming from Rumi is coming from the deepest part of yourself.
There is a story that is told of a disciple who came to Jesus and asked to be shown the way that would lead him to the absolute, and Jesus said to him, “Are you not the way and the absolute yourself?” I’m not saying anything new or teaching you anything when I say, “all that we tend to seek outside already exists within us, in perfection and completion.” We seek and look for the sun outside, not knowing that we already have the sun inside of us. In the Sufi tradition, there is a saint named Al-Ghazzali who, after he came to the realization that what he was seeking outside actually existed within him, said, “Now I have discovered the whole truth, and the whole truth is that the human being is a microcosm of the universe, and the universe is a microcosm for man.”
We can sit for a moment, for an hour, or for a lifetime. Maybe we have some big spiritual experience, maybe we dissolve and merge into the One, maybe our consciousness expands infinitely across the universe and beyond, or maybe we have a kundalini light show. Each time the tendency is to think, “This is it.” Of course, truth is that which does not come (which should have been a big clue—it only took me fifteen years to catch on) and does not go. All of those experiences came, had a life span, and went away. The tendency of mind is to think, “If I could just grasp on to that experience, extend it infinitely through time, then that must be what enlightenment is.” Of course, the truth is so compassionately ruthless it keeps saying, “No, no, no my dear, that’s not it.”
Maybe, like some of you, I was very familiar with chasing quietness. For example: it’s quiet when my thoughts are not bothering me, when the emotions are in a preferable state, or when the jackhammer is not running outside. This is a relative quiet, not the true quiet that always is in the midst of thought and in the absence of thought; the peace that always is in the midst of emotion and in the absence of emotion. To acknowledge yourself in the moment reorients everything. The first grace that I realized was to just be still. Don’t try to be still, don’t discipline yourself to be still, don’t twist yourself up in a pretzel on the floor to be still, and don’t count your breath to be still, just notice in this moment that there is stillness, whether your concept of yourself is still or not, whether your body is still or not, it is. In that moment of the recognition of stillness is so powerful. Who am I now, when this emptiness is present, when I finally stop filling it up with the “myself” concept, with my worries about others, about the world?
Is there any boundary between the awareness of freshness and the freshness itself? If there is perceived to be a boundary, is it imaginary or is it real? Does it really keep freshness and awareness separate? Is it possible to really keep freshness of beingness and the awareness of that beingness separate from each other? Our challenge, as always, is to hear freshly. Then, what we hear is our own heart.
To see freshly, to inquire freshly, to not know freshly, to know freshly, so that the truth that we have heard and do hear and will hear is continually heard for the first time again. Then, the greatest of illusions, the illusion of time, will be finished. We cannot speak of experiences without speaking of time, and the background of the experience of time, but in this instant, we can effortlessly, naturally, recognize what is uncorrupted by time, decay, and death.