In the fall of 1997, Inner Directions held a board meeting and explored ways to fund raise in order to keep our publishing work ongoing. One of the board members suggested that we call a group of friends together and hold a fundraising program. Originally designed for about fifty to sixty-five people, the February 1998 Inner Directions Gathering (the first one) was held in a hall in downtown La Jolla. About one hundred and sixty-five friends and supporters joined in the experiment. In 2000 we moved to Sherwood Auditorium in The Museum of Contemporary Art overlooking the pacific cliffs. The rest is history.
For seven years the Gathering grew into a much-loved event. And each program seemed to provide a significant occurrence: Ram Dass addressing the first large crowd after his stroke—and joining with Krishna Das on stage after twenty-five years; the deep and profound silence that filled the hall during the first presentation by Eckhart Tolle; the arrival of a slightly known “zen-satsang” teacher named Adyashanti; meeting a virtually unknown British author named Tony Parsons; the French philosopher Stephen Jourdain practicing his golf swing on stage; Prof. Allan Anderson quoting the Upanishads, then discussing his ability to speak “cat” with his pet; and the humorous and brilliant Rabbi Rami Shapiro, who served as both presenter and host throughout the years. But it was not always the words . . . many forms of music filled the hall, including Musica Sacra’s Gregorian chanting, Indian and Tibetan chanting, sitar, guitar, cello, original vocals, and the Illumination Band’s musical accompaniment to Rumi’s poetry with dervish dancing, and the much-loved spirit of Peter Makena who began most of the Gathering weekends with his uplifting music. It was a rare and colorful tapestry which served to express the unified reality through a series of apparently separate presentations.
One important point that I would like to make is that at this moment and at any moment, our experience, whatever it is, regardless of how mundane or sublime, contains everything. It means that in this moment my experience includes the body, the mind, form and formlessness, the conceptual and the nonconceptual, the creation and the source—all of it is present in each moment. Not only is everything present in each moment, it is all interconnected and interpenetrated in an amazing and meaningful way that we human beings can’t comprehend or recognize.
We have all heard that we don’t really need to seek, that we are Reality as a whole in all its dimensions, but we usually don’t perceive this. We only perceive what we consider our normal experience in our body, emotions, thoughts, aspirations, plans, and feelings. Really, enlightenment or realization, when we finally have a taste of it, is nothing but recognizing “what is.” Simply comprehending Reality in the moment is not just simply the experience of Reality; it is experiencing Reality with a full recognition of what it is.
I would ask that you remember one thing, and that is that nothing that I say is the truth. Everything that I say is and must be a concept. The truth cannot be spoken. The truth is what is here right now in this moment. These teachings do have an effect, an impact. What that impact is and where that impact will be felt, we can’t say. All that I’m certain of is that the teaching has its way with us. The teaching has the effect. In fact, this teaching is very much like a cancer (Laughter). I don’t think I’ve ever been in a place where “cancer” got a laugh. It should be an indication of what kind of group you’re hanging out with. But the teaching is like a cancer to the extent that once you have it, it replaces you with itself until you are gone. That’s what happens when there is grace, when the teaching enters and begins to grow, when the teaching finds this fertile ground.
Nisargadatta Maharaj had several themes, such as: “Hold on to the ‘I am,’ let go of everything else and anything you think you are, you’re not.” If I have a thought labeled “I’m bad,” “I’m good,” “I’m high,” “I’m low,” “I’m right,” “I’m wrong,” whatever it may be, obviously it’s not me—it’s not this, it’s not that. Question everything; don’t believe anything. Obviously, any information that comes at you is coming as information in a cognitive form; therefore, it’s a concept. So, without using any of your thoughts, memory, emotions, or associations . . . what is love?
Maharaj was very ruthless. He would ask questions (of you), and like a fisherman, he’d cast this thing out. One day I walked in and he said, “So what spiritual knowledge have you gotten today?” And, if you took the bait, he could easily reel you in because you had a whole cognitive structure—a map organized not only about who you were, but about what spirituality was. So, without using your thoughts, memory, emotions, associations, or perceptions, there’s not much to discuss.
Hameed spoke yesterday about the realization that presence is all that is. Today, we spoke about the fact that consciousness is all that is. We usually speak about this in Buddhism as awareness. We all experience this, whether it is outer objects that we perceive through our senses or whether it is sensations, emotions, thoughts, appearances, or phenomena that arise. All of these are actually inseparable from awareness itself. Nothing is actually a separate self-existing entity; there is no separation between anything that is. In order to have separation, you have to have something that exists with clearly defined borders, with static characteristics.
When one investigates with awareness, one finds that that is not actually the case, but that everything is simply openness, and that openness is spontaneous presence. Spontaneous presence is self-liberating. So, from a Buddhist perspective we can inquire, we can quiet the mind. In this inquiry, with the concentration that comes from meditation into the nature of reality, into the nature of the self, into the nature of other, into the nature of all that is, we come into direct knowingness.
It’s true that the awakened state is like being full of nothing—perfect, eternal, silent Presence—which is nothingness. But I can only awaken into that pure consciousness in relation to that which is already here. That is the beauty of what is already here. Everything here in physical form is an invitation for me to be present with it, whether it is these flowers or the sounds I hear. It brings me the gift—it brings you the gift—everything in physical form brings the gift of invitation. What is the invitation? The invitation is to be present with it. It’s like everything in physical form is saying to you, “Beloveds, beloveds, don’t you know who I am? I am God manifested in this form as a flower. Will you not be present with me? I have been waiting forever for you to come out of the world of the mind, the world of illusion, the world you are lost in and insist on remaining lost in. This is my invitation. Will you not be present with me?”
One of the beautiful things about truth is the very masks it can wear; the many ways that it presents itself through various teachings and forms in its great diversity. The mind is trained to look at these teachings and forms and ask, “Which one is true? Why do they keep contradicting each other? Why are they inconsistent? Why is it that what one person says isn’t the same as another person?” And yet, I think this is one of the gifts of being in a conference like this—that it’s not about the words. It’s not really about the teachings or the teachers either, it’s about our true nature—our birthright.
A good actor takes on the persona and pretends to be that persona. The better someone can take on the persona the more we enjoy the performance. The root meaning of persona is “to peer through the mask.” So right now you and I wear a mask, the clown costume. That is our persona, our personality structures, and all of the rest. And the real question, spiritually speaking is, “What is peering through?”
As you’ve noticed, each messenger of truth speaks from their own experience, and they speak of their way home, back into the heart. And like a menu, each one is an offering, a pointing, an invitation. Thoughts and feelings present themselves to you. They’re always coming for reassurance and clarity. The “innocent presence” that we are doesn’t claim anything about itself, it doesn’t chant “I am that I am” or “I’m omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent.” Just a slight change in an invitation needs to be made. There is nothing to be changed, enhanced, or edited from you, because you’re the author of perfection and imperfection. Perhaps you have just forgotten to bless it? So, this is an invitation to throw kindness at it. Just set aside awakening and separation. In this moment, there is something benevolent within you. It is all there at the center.
We make a move toward something we have heard about: enlightenment. Then, we go to teachers—teachers who teach us as individuals. Next, we get another list: meditation, mantras, feeling the presence—whatever it is—all directed towards the individual. All of this basically goes on reinforcing the sense that there is an individual who is separate, who can choose to become something and fulfill the longing, fulfill the sense of loss. And basically, all teaching about becoming arises out of ignorance of the nature of awakening.
All teachings about becoming are teachings of imprisonment since they reinforce the sense that there is an individual who needs to learn something. But awakening is beyond the need to learn anything. Awakening, liberation, is totally beyond understanding, beyond the idea that there is anyone who needs to change or become something, or needs to have a still mind, or whatever. The list is endless.