September 11, 2001
While assembling articles for this issue (Fall 2001), we began to receive several telephone calls, asking if there would be selections that addressed the September 11th events. Though we hadn’t thought of this, it began to feel like it would be a good idea. As more people called to request these articles, we decided to defer printing of the existing materials until a later date. This collection represents contributions from both upcoming and past presenters who attended the Inner Directions Gatherings.
A neighbor called on the morning of September 11 and advised us to turn on the TV. Like most others, we were amazed by what was being broadcast. In that moment, I vividly recalled how in the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna revealed his infinite nature to Arjuna—a revelation so fierce that Arjuna, hair standing on end, begged him to return to the pleasant, recognizable form he was used to.
Arjuna: As moths fly swiftly into a blazing fire, only to perish there, so do these men (arrayed for battle) rush into Thy form, heading to their own demise.
Krishna: World-destroying time am I, engaged in the fulfillment of destiny. Even without your killing them, the warriors gathered here for battle shall not survive.
The world is quite a messy place. There is neither past nor future in Consciousness and events just happen. It is we who assign the ideas of good or evil to these events, then proceed to celebrate or mourn as the situation unfolds. We incorrectly consider ourselves to be the “doer” of actions and erroneously believe that the Divine has given us the free will to choose between good or evil. This situation arises because we see ourselves to be separate from the “other” people around us.
What if, for just a few moments, we dropped all of our positions? In other words, we would no longer hold any views on the political events of the day. But let’s go a bit further: what if, next, we let go of any identification we hold as members of a certain religious or ethnic community? Also, let’s not forget our treasured spiritual identities—you know, the ones that allow us to understand a bit more than our neighbor. Next, we will need to let go of all ideas of right or wrong, of good or bad. Finally, let us drop all ideas as they arise . . . all names . . . all language . . . relinquishing ownership of them.
As we remain in this emptiness, which is truly full, where does the idea of “another” arise? To “whom” do these or any other events touch? Where is there good or evil, except as our own conceptions of them?
Those in the political and military fields have their work to do, consistent with their destiny. We have ours. But we all have the freedom to let go of “otherness,” where it arises.
The phone rang early on the morning of September the 11th, and it was suggested that I turn on the TV Like millions of others, I woke to images of airliners crashing into the World Trade Center towers. My first reaction was “I am so glad to be here to witness this.” Within that gladness I experienced sadness for all the suffering that I was witnessing; shock that such an event had taken place at all; and a knowing that what I was looking at was the outward manifestation of separation and human ignorance, which is in no way separate from the divine itself.
Later that day I received a phone call, asking if I wanted to post a response on our website. The request, while understandable, seemed odd. Did the events themselves not speak clearly enough? Was any spiritual “spin” by me going to add something more valuable than what was actually taking place? I do not believe that human beings are so lacking in intelligence that they need to be told how to view and how to feel about events such as these. To be spiritually awake allows us to experience the full range of human emotions without going into conflict, fear, or unconscious reaction.
There is a strong tendency to want to frame the events of our lives, to interpret them in one way or the other. This tendency to frame our experience with interpretations—whether they are from the relative, the absolute, or the nondual perspective—is itself the cause of separation and conflict. We need to be very careful, lest nonduality itself becomes a new form of orthodoxy and conceptual fundamentalism that we use to distance ourselves from the immediacy of direct experience.
I have been asked frequently in the past two weeks what an enlightened response to these events might be. Such a question misses the point of enlightenment entirely because it equates enlightenment with a particular way of responding, or not responding. Enlightened action arises out of the absence of inner conflict and fear. What that action may or may not be will depend on how the divine is functioning through that particular human being. How these events will be experienced through various awakened beings will differ. Once again, there is nothing to hold on to and no one to hold on. Enlightenment is not a point of view, nor is it an absence of points of view. It is nonattachment to points of view and to the absence of points of view, alike.
People do not need spiritual teachers to tell them more; if anything, they need to be told less. “You are the Buddha.” That should suffice.
As terrible as this tragedy is—and it is indeed terrible—it is not new. This is the way of the world and of our species, and it has been so for as long as we know. People kill others over ideology, land, jealousy, religion, and for no reason apart from their being “other.” History, as we know it, is the history of suffering.
In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna says to Prince Arjuna, “In this sad and fading world, put your attention on me—and find freedom.” The question to ourselves in the face of this tragedy and in the face of all coming and going in this fleeting life is, “Where shall we place our attention?” If we fixate on passing phenomena or on the stupidity and cruelty of humankind, misery is inevitable.
Since the events of September 11, I have found consolation and clarity only in silence. I seem unable to form any clear opinion about what response we as a country should make, nor does my mind find interest in the underlying geo-political causes for this hatred to have been directed at us—causes that have become the rallying cry for the new peace movement. It seems impossible to trace ignorance back to an original point.
Since most people I know are not in the difficult roles of governing what will happen on the world stage, we can quietly bear witness with open hearts. Perhaps there can be at least a few of us who have no opinions about what to do and no certainty about the causes for this predicament—but who, nonetheless, simply offer love in this sad and fading world.
Rabbi Rami Shapiro
Nondualism posits an absolute unity in, with, and as the multiplicity of our everyday experience. This does not negate the value of that experience; it does not state that because God is all, nothing matters. On the contrary, it states that because God is all, everything matters.
Living in nondual awareness allows us to see unity within the greater reality I call God. It allows us to distinguish between good and evil without imagining either is absolute.
God manifests as all possibilities; for the possibility of terrorism just as for the possibility of love. But the conditions for terrorism have to arise if it is to manifest as action in the world. There has to be poverty, ignorance, fear, and manipulation on the deepest psychological level. Without these, terrorism cannot arise. God can no more stop terrorism than a river can stop flooding over its banks when the water rises too high. God is limited to being God and cannot act contrary to this.
While killing is universal, murder and terrorism are distinctly human. Why? Because only human beings have the capacity to deny their true nature. The same level of evolution that allows us to see that we are one in, with, and as God, allows us to deny it. We deny it by hiding behind all kinds of mental constructs: tribes, creeds, religions, etc. Terrorism is the response of the terrified, people deathly afraid of the essential unity of all things. Murder is a means of maintaining their sense of otherness.
Can I look into the face of my neighbor and see the One, or am I trapped in the illusion of otherness? The delusion of otherness is what has brought us to the horrible place. It is time for another way.
This too shall pass.
We meet in hell as well as heaven.
One of the dangers of spiritual life is the ego’s use of the concept of spiritual life as a means to escape heartbreak, to escape difficulty, to avoid the horrors of the repetition of the patterns of hatred, revenge, and war. To escape hell. Often the desire for transcendence becomes bigger than the willingness to let the heart open in the full meeting of all. All, all of it— the full human calamity as well as the full human beauty.
To attempt to escape flames or bombs is natural and right. To attempt to escape repeatedly, throughout our lives, throughout any one day, the hatred, the fear, the human animal aggression, and the tribal, religious, natural instinct to control, to conquer, and to direct is to keep the power of these primitive impulses hidden and extremely dangerous to all. To attempt to escape hatred is to act out hatred. To attempt to escape fear is to live a life revolving around fear.
The invitation is to stop the fantasies of future escape, whether those fantasies take the form of an infantile image of heaven or an infantile image of enlightenment, to actually be willing to be here, where you are, in the midst of it all: this stopping is the possibility revealed through true investigation, true meeting. And the greater that willingness, the greater the capacity for being even more fully here, in the midst, in the center of it all.
Finally, there is, without a doubt, the realization that there is no need to escape—whatever appears here can be borne here. Can be met. In that meeting, in this meeting, and every full meeting, there is the deeper unspeakable, undefinable, un-teachable revelation of Truth.
The attempt to jump into the cosmic divine story to avoid the horror that is appearing in the world story is the egoic concept of the spiritual life. The truth that can be learned, memorized, and pulled out in times of need is not the living truth. It is at best a beautiful reminder to stop now and tell the truth here.
For some, the apparent truth may be emotional; for others it may be mental; for others, a numbness. Whatever is appearing, in whatever form, is a vehicle for true investigation, for true meeting, for true self-inquiry. True self-inquiry is not escape and does not produce comforting platitudes. True self-inquiry is the invitation through what is known (mentally, emotionally, physically, and circumstantially) into what is unknown. The resulting action or nonaction is then freed from the familiar habits of escape.
Now. Here. In this moment of time.
In the aftermath of the events of September 11, we can scarcely confront, let alone accept, the enormity of the pain and suffering that has invaded countless lives and communities. We hear the numb and incredulous refrain, “How could this happen here?” We do not know what to do with our unbearable emotions, with our helplessness and fear and anger and sorrow and grief. Silence teaches us that we must not only bear our unbearable emotions and sadness, but enter them fully and with eyes and hearts wide open, feeling and seeing them to their very depths. In this way, we touch the universality of suffering, stripped of names and flags and uniforms and rationalizations and national anthems. We come without defense to feel the starkness of human suffering.
The magnitude of humanity’s suffering may seem too much to face, especially at this moment. But we must. The world is small and we all share a single table; we all share the same meal. We cannot end violence at one end of the table and not the other. “Here” and “there” are the same place. We cannot end violence here and not there. We cannot enjoy wealth here, if there is no wealth there. We cannot be safe here, if there is no safety there. We cannot be free here, if there is no freedom there. We do not live in separate countries, in separate cities, in separate houses. That is an illusion.
Wisdom teaches us that we must never sacrifice a peaceful heart, a steady and quiet mind, or a compassionate spirit. The natural and innocent state of all human beings is freedom, clarity, and joy. Kindness, compassion, and nonviolence flow effortlessly from this natural state. If we want to end terror and acts of terror, we must return to the natural state within our own self. We must remember what we once knew. We must leave the darkness and enter the light that we are. This is not a dream, but a necessity. This is why we are called to Silence, because in this Silence we remember what we once knew; we see our true Self, and we know there is only this one Self. Within the Self, violence does not exist.
As we reflect deeply and simmer in stillness and Silence, we begin to see the ways of our Self-betrayal, the ways in which we forget what we once knew and, instead, come to believe things that are not true. The light of the Self illuminates the various ways we have defined and diminished ourselves. We see how we create realities out of our thoughts, beliefs, and concepts. From these seeming realities, we set forth on quixotic adventures and crusades, as we may now do yet again. Within Silence, these seeming realities disappear, and only the light of the Self remains. We must not be fooled into believing what is not real.
We must be very careful now to not believe everything we think. Certainly, we must not believe everything we hear. Twenty-five centuries ago, the Greek philosopher Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” There is much wisdom in these words. If we are to know truth, we must question and examine everything that we believe to be true, everything that we hear, everything that we feel. We must examine everything with the light of the Self, through the magnifying glass of Silence.
The tragic events of September 11, 2001, are a profound reminder that ultimately each of us must come to terms with the finite, and with the inescapable realities of the human condition. Nothing else will suffice and, without this reconciliation, any attempt to find meaning in existence will be thwarted at every turn. However, with a recognition of the fundamental nature of the finite, this world and our lives within it will be recognized for what they truly are: gateways for a blessed inflooding of the Infinite.
One can only find satisfaction in a world filled with suffering by understanding the nature of suffering and the larger Reality out of which it arises. Nothing is more important than coming to terms with the fundamental nature of the human condition. Until we make our peace with the experience of being human, everything else will be distractions and details.
Every event is an opportunity to awaken into an Awareness of the essential nature of Reality. Even in the darkest of days, even when you feel you are losing heart, remember: time steals the finite away from us as a revelation of the Infinite.
All experiences of the finite will inevitably lead to one simple question: “Is this all there is?” As such, the finite is a priceless invitation into the Infinite, and our opportunity is to dedicate ourselves to discovering a Truth so large there is nothing that cannot be contained within it.
Life is a direct and immediate experience of the Infinite manifesting in and through the finite. We do not recognize this simply because of our narrow point of focus. Find That which is the unchanging constant within the heart of your own immediate experience, and you will discover an open portal the Infinite.
Every choice is an invitation, shaping the way Reality appears to and through each of us. Compassion is quiet strength, borne of this experiential understanding and insight. To live in peace and with compassion is a choice made in every moment.
The seeds of all possibility lie within the present moment, and entire universes of potentiality become actual through choice. In the immediacy of the present moment, Reality is inviting each of us to recognize the movement of Life within our lives, and the power of the Infinite within our own innate ability to choose. Discover the source point for this creative energy, and you will discover the Essence of That which is Real.
After the events of September 11, 2001, the media and our political leaders said that America had begun a war against terrorism and that everything had changed. When people came to do The Work with me, I found that nothing had changed. People were frightening themselves with their uninvestigated thoughts, and after they found the terrorist inside them, they could return to their families, to their normal lives, in peace.
A teacher of fear cannot bring peace on earth. We have been trying to do it that way for thousands of years. The person who turns inner violence around, the person who finds peace inside and lives it, is the one who teaches what true peace is. We are waiting for just one teacher. You are the one.
Even though we lived in a city (Leipzig) with industry surrounding it, we were never bombed until December 4, 1943. A large squadron of bombers had set out for Berlin, the capital that had been bombed heavily almost every night. Because on this night an unusually large number of planes were approaching, Leipzig sent its fire-fighting and anti-aircraft equipment to Berlin to help out. However, instead of targeting Berlin, the squadron made a sharp turn toward Leipzig and dropped all of its cargo on the undefended city. The firebombs were placed in such a way that a strong windstorm developed, which kept the city burning for a week or longer. We didn’t see much daylight during those days—the sky remained a darkish gray-yellow smoky veil. The streets were littered with debris, among it partially burnt papers—torn-up book pages. Leipzig was the principal publishing center of Germany. Many people’s houses that were not hit at the beginning of the attack caught fire during the week of the storm. Our house was not damaged this time, and I do not remember the number of casualties. German media were not keen on publishing numbers. The surrounding industry remained mostly intact.
What is deeply imprinted in my memory is the depressed mood that set in right after the attack—the feeling of utter hopelessness and despair, not only because of the air raids that I knew would happen again and again, but also because of the constant fear that my mother, who was Jewish, could be deported to a concentration camp at any time, and the tormenting doubt whether there would ever be an end to the horrendous carnage of war.
Out of this darkest of moods was born the question that kept propelling from me from then on to find an answer beyond all doubt: What is the meaning of this totally senseless fear-ridden life?
My faith in God had shattered. I had seen my father, who had been a glowing model of brightness and equanimity for me all these years, sitting wrapped in a big gray coat in the dusty basement air raid shelter of our house, his hat pulled deeply into his forehead, absorbed in faceless fear. No feeling of security remained; nothing left to trust.
Only the question about the meaning of life stayed alive during the following years, and I engaged countless books and many people that I respected for their knowledge and wisdom in verbal or tacit dialogue—to no deep satisfaction.
Eventually, after much psychology, sociology, anthropology, philosophy, and mythology studies, I found meditation practice that would put an end to all questions and axed doubts about life’s ultimate meaning.
It is as clear as sunshine in a bright blue sky that there is no extra meaning to life—that life, just the way it is, changing from moment to moment in unexpected ways, does not point to any meaning beyond itself. Every moment is the result of the infinite past and at the same time new, fresh, and free.
Quietly listening, this moment of simple openness, there is no entity here who is fearing, wanting, or suffering—there is wanting and fearing and suffering the instant our thinking resists and fights what is here and now, and longs for what is not. Living each moment fully is totally different from dwelling in stories about it.
Right action does not flow out of reaction of any kind—be it fear, anger, revenge, thirst for justice, or yearning for the solace of belonging. Symbols like crosses, swastikas, and colorful flags do not bring this insight—they may provide inspirational energies and limited feelings of togetherness, but they cannot reveal this moment of wondrous presence, full of love, without any lack.
Douglas & Catherine Harding
Let’s Grow UP
Man is a bad case of arrested development.
Our life is a four-stage affair.
First, the newborn baby who isn’t yet, for itself, a separate bit of the world.
Second, the child who some of the time agrees, reluctantly, that his image in the mirror is himself, while the rest of the time he’s still boundless at large.
Third, the so-called adult, who has lost his space and become that face. Unfortunately, almost all of us are stuck at this stage. We mistake the dying thing we look like for the deathless no-thing we are. We condemn ourself to death, and meantime to all sorts of fear, hate, and greed.
Fourth, to grow up and complete our lives, we must turn our attention around 180 degrees and look at What we are looking out of. We rediscover, this time with full awareness, the clarity and immensity we enjoyed as infants. And we find that we are, in all vital respects, the opposite of what we look like. In particular, we find that face-to-face confrontation is a huge lie and that we still are, in fact, disappearing in one-another’s favor. Built for loving.
Our job is to live this way and do all we can to help Man grow up.
Are we then suggesting that the third and extremely difficult stage of our life can be dispensed with?
Emphatically No! But it needs to be shortened. Seventeen is a very good age for discovering that you are still space for the world to happen in.
As yet, so few people reach this Fourth Stage, and their capacity to change the world seems so negligible. Individuals are surely powerless in the face of the threats to our species arising from Stage Three.
So it would seem. But before giving up all hope for our crazy species, let’s be clear about what our Fourth Stage amounts to. It’s the realization that you and I are One with our Source, identical at centre with the Power that’s giving rise to all things. You and I aren’t through to the One as human beings (What a hope!), but as the One, as the only Real Power.
There’s an early Buddhist story that the Buddha’s enlightenment involved the enlightenment of all sentient beings. I am suggesting that, when you see into your boundless, immaculate, imperishable, all-inclusive, wide-awake Source and Centre, you are empowered by the only Real and Ultimate Power. The Power that, having already achieved the “impossible” miracle of Self-origination, isn’t easily baffled. Tell me, what’s impossible for the One that creates Itself? And what’s impossible for those who enjoy union with Him?
Mankind has survived ice-ages, ages of stagnation, and every sort of nastiness and nonsense. It’s up to you and me, who clearly see that we are by grace One with the One, to see our brothers and sisters through to the love and the glory that’s here, undimmed, at our heart.
Sheikh Abdoulaye Dieje
The attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, has triggered a wave of shock and horror all over the world. No nation or government can check, by its efforts alone, the consequences of this horrendous act, which has caused the death of 6,000 innocent victims.
We sincerely believe that whenever there is an outbreak of violence, we have no alternative than to go back to Holy Scriptures and reduce the conflict to its simplest form, which is the perpetual struggle between good and evil—and opt for good—whatever our religious creed or faith. No revealed religion advocates crime and violence as solutions to social evils. No nation is willing to exist or survive in a state of war. The mistakes and gross distortions of man, in relation to the sacred scriptures, are due to the misinterpretation of these texts. The true Islam, as practiced by the Prophet, is a religion of peace and compassion that is meant to bring about the overall development of the human being while awakening him to the existence of his soul.
The interpretation of religious texts can be either harmful or beneficial to humankind. Sheikh Ahmadu Bamba, a Senegalese saint (1853-1927), wisely interpreted the concept of Jihad in Islam, while remaining true to the teachings of the Prophet. Avoiding all fundamentalisms, he stressed the fact that Jihad, or holy war, is essentially the struggle against the ego. Hence, it is the struggle of knowledge and piety against passion and the acute exaggeration of worldly enjoyment. This concept of Jihad, therefore, excludes all violence and the excessive use of physical strength and authority. Sheikh Ahmadu Bamba, as an apostle of nonviolence, teaches us the futility of having recourse to violent means to settle conflicts. He asks: “What punishment does the one who tears others’ clothes deserve, considering the fact that he is punished for tearing his own clothes?” He adds: “If someone is punished by God for taking his own life (through suicide) what will be his fate if he kills somebody?”
For the true Muslim, religion cannot be summed up as a list of what is licit or illicit in an exterior code of conduct while the inner being, the heart and the soul, wither in the mad pursuit for power and materialism.
Man too often forgets that his role on earth is to be the embodiment of divine principles—if he remembered this reality he would not have been content to simply speak of peace, of human rights, of sharing and tolerance, but would act promptly. Had man borne in mind the divine attributes of compassion, mercy, purity, and peace, he would have gone back to his origins and would have realized that such attributes lie within his own soul. Wisdom would dictate him to weigh his decision and opt for good.
From the point of view of our true nature, all is unfolding perfection. This world and its turmoil are only a cosmic dream.
Right action in this dream originates from intelligence, love, and freedom. It is made possible by our welcoming of the facts, of the totality of the situation, without any reference to the past. Because it comes from absolute peace, right action is always peaceful, fearless and, most of the time, non-violent. However, there may be exceptional circumstances in which peaceful action requires some amount of violence. For instance, the police may have to kill a murderous hostage taker to prevent further killings. Although such an action is violent, it is still peaceful, because it comes from intelligence and love. Its goal is the preservation of the preponderance of life. If the police don’t take out the mad man, this apparently nonviolent attitude is in fact more violent than the alternative, because it leads to the killing of more innocent hostages.
The Bhagavad Gita gives us a beautiful illustration of such extraordinary circumstances, not unlike the circumstances that prevail in the US since September 11, 2001. The dialogue between Krishna and Arjuna has become the inner dialogue of each well-meaning citizen of the world since that outrageous event took place. Honest minds may disagree on how to resolve this situation. We are fortunate to live in a country where such divergent views may be freely expressed, where each truth seeker can freely follow the path of her choice, where everybody has his place under the sun of freedom.
Intelligence and love require that civilized countries don’t allow suicidal madmen to play with the various toys of destruction that modern science has made available. The fate of freedom and the fate of mankind are at stake. Reluctantly and unwillingly, we found ourselves on September 11, like our government, at war with terror, on the side of Krishna.
Throughout history, human beings have suffered from, inflicted, and died by acts of unspeakable violence and cruelty. More than one hundred million were killed in the twentieth century alone. This is not to diminish the magnitude of the recent terrorist attacks, but to see the larger context within which they occurred. It is often not until such violence directly affects our lives that we begin to see the insanity that is inherent in the human condition. Increasingly, the effects of that insanity are being magnified by the tools of science and technology, resulting in an ever-greater destructiveness. Can there be any doubt about the urgency of a transformation of human consciousness?
The first act of violence is to attach a mental label onto a person (or a group, nation, race) and completely believe in it. Jesus calls it judgement. For some militant Moslems, the label “unbeliever” is enough to justify killing a person. Some Christians would do the same not that long ago. Any thought, which is what a mental label is, is at best a tiny fragment of the truth, one of many possible perspectives. All thought is fragmentary. When you know the limitation of thought, thought is not a problem. When you don’t know the limitations of thought, you confuse a mental position with the truth. You are trapped in thought, a conceptualized universe that has little to do with the truth of how things are and what they are. The greater reality of other human beings, as well as your own, becomes obscured. You can no longer sense their depth and aliveness. You are in continuous conflict with yourself and the world around you. This is identification with thought; this is unconsciousness. It lies at the root of all violence. The terrorist is an extreme manifestation of this unconsciousness, as is the government that manufactures demonic biological and other weapons of mass destruction.
Just as the witnessing of violence can awaken you to the reality of human insanity or unconsciousness, when death occurs close to you—as it did for many of us on September 11—there is a shocking realization of just how fragile the fabric of phenomenal existence is, how illusory its apparent solidity and permanency. In the face of death, especially if it is sudden, violent, or seemingly premature, the world doesn’t make sense anymore; explanations and philosophies collapse. This can give rise to fear, confusion, deep sadness, denial, or the seeking of explanations in order to repair our conceptual frames of reference. There are many ways in which we avoid facing death. However, if death is faced completely—our own impending death or that of people close to us—the redemptive and liberating dimension of death reveals itself. There are numerous accounts by people who came so close to death that they had no choice but to face it completely, and many of those accounts speak of a sudden shift from fear to a deep peace and serenity and a knowing that “all is well” or “there is no death.” What happens here?
Death is the dissolving of forms, although not necessarily of the physical body. It can also come as some great loss, such as home, possessions, or a close relationship. When the dissolution or disappearance of a form is not resisted but faced completely, you become “speechless,” as it were. That is to say, something in you also dies when you completely face death. Just as in outer death, a physical form dissolves or disappears; inner or psychological death is the dissolution or collapse of thought forms, and, in particular, of the thought-based sense of self: the fictitious entity “me and my story.” In other words: surrender happens and the “me” cannot live in surrender. The “me” depends for its survival on non-surrender. And the miracle is this: whenever a form dissolves, the formless One Life shines through the opening that is left by the dissolving form. That is why death is sacred. Some die before they die and so become liberated from all identification with form. With that comes the peace that passes all understanding. Others die in the face of imminent physical death, and realize who they are beyond form just before that form dissolves.
That is the other side of death; that is its redemptive dimension.