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Excerpt from chapter 7
Do You Get It?
Science cannot solve the ultimate mystery in nature. And it is because in the last analysis we ourselves are part of the mystery we try to solve.*
It is often said that enlightenment is beyond the intellect's grasp. This chapter will investigate that claim, which raises much suspicion in the mind. Nebulous references, such as All is One; This is it; and Beyond space and time do not hack it. The intellect insists on facts and is sure that if someone would just explain enlightenment properly, it would definitely get it. The following story illustrates that hearing the right answer is not always as helpful as we might expect.
In his book, 'The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy' Douglas Adams tells us of an earthling, Arthur Dent, who escapes our planet just moments before it is demolished to make room for an intergalactic highway. The Hitchhikers Guide becomes his indispensable travel companion and the guide's motto "don't panic" sees him through many adventures. While traveling between the stars, Arthur Dent hears the story of a super computer named "Deep Thought," built by an alien race to answer the ultimate question of "Life, The Universe, and Everything." After seven-and-a-half million years of calculating, Deep Thought comes back with the result. Dignitaries, priests, and scientists gather to learn the answer. And the answer is (drum roll, please)뀉?2!
Well, 42 might be the correct answer, but without a firsthand understanding as to how Deep Thought arrived at it, this answer is useless. The same is true for the answer to the question "What is enlightenment?" Those who "know" insist that it is beyond the intellectual mind and, at the same time, that it is simplicity itself. One may tell you that there is no enlightenment and no one to become enlightened, while another will say that enlightenment is already fully present. Although they seem to contradict each other, they are both pointing back to the same indefinable center from which the pointing is done. They might tell you that if this is not clear, no answer will satisfy you, and any answer you might be given will only be understood as an invitation to ask the next question.
The intellect, however, is convinced that to each question there is a comprehensible and "right" answer. It says: "Just be clear with me and don't tell me that this understanding is beyond me. Did I not build the pyramids, bring forth the theory of relativity, put a man on the moon, and map the human genome?" Yes indeed, the intellect apparently did all these things and much, much more; but please note the use of the word apparently here. It's important because, when there is clarity as to what enlightenment is or what it is not, one's perspective on the activating energy in all thinking and doing shifts from the personal to the impersonal.
* Max Planck (Karl Ernst Ludwig) (1858-1947) Theoretical physicist.
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Excerpt from chapter 11
Who Is Watching the Show?
When a schoolteacher writes "I" on a blackboard and asks the students what they see, most of them will answer that they see the word "I." It's rare for someone to say "I see a blackboard with 'I' written on it." Just as the relatively huge blackboard is ignored in favor of a single letter, we ignore the Awareness that is the permanent background to all phenomena. We tend to ignore this in the same way that we forget the screen on which a movie is projected. It is the unchanging characteristic in all the movies we watch, but it never gets involved in the movie, as such. The movie may depict an ocean, a long winding road, a murder, or a forest fire; but the screen will not get wet, move from place to place, bleed, or burn. Likewise, Awareness remains pure and unaffected by its content.
Awareness is the consistent characteristic in and behind all experience, yet it is also that which most easily escapes our attention. Attention is not the same as Awareness. Our brain is designed in such a way that giving attention to something automatically implies ignoring something else. We see the stars and ignore the space; we read this text and ignore the page; we see the movie and ignore the screen; yet it is obvious that the ignored space, page, and screen are as fundamental to our observations as the stars, the text, and the movie, which hold our attention. This is an important point, as the mechanics of attention often get confused with Awareness. Attention works through noticing something in contrast to something that's ignored, while Awareness is the non-dual space that sustains both the noticed and the ignored. Attention may require effort; Awareness simply is. Everything that comes up is contained in and embraced by this Awareness, including objects perceived as "out there" (rocks, cars, other sentient beings) and emotions, thoughts, and feelings experienced as "in here." In this sense, Awareness is as much in the body-mind as the body-mind is in Awareness. Compare it to a clay pot, which contains space and at the same time is contained by space. Breaking the pot will not affect this space.
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Excerpt from chapter 13
No Claim, No Blame, No Fame
As I am sitting at my computer writing these words, I become aware of the sensation of thirst. Simultaneously comes the thought, "A cup of tea would be nice." This all happens spontaneously without me first deciding to be thirsty and then to think of tea.
If you watch your mind, you will see that thoughts arise of their own accord. Please, do not simply accept or reject this. When you honestly observe and investigate, it will become clear that you are not the thinker of your thoughts. What this chapter will try to show is that you are also not the doer of your deeds. This may go against your deepest convictions and beliefs, so I ask you to suspend the judgment that may come up as a reflex and see what is really being offered here.
All apparent decisions and choices are thoughts. To act upon a thought feels like choice and is labeled choice by the language, but choice is really just the expression of whatever thought arises most predominantly. I did not choose my desire for tea, nor did I choose the stronger desire that I should finish the paragraph first, but that is what is spontaneously happening.
This is not to say that I am an apparatus without free will. There is actually no individual here to be deprived of free will. The thought of "I" and the thoughts of tea and typing merely unfold as a manifestation of the animating energy of Pure Awareness.
From this perspective, there is a sense that life is simply living, thinking, and acting through you and as you. The Taoists call this Wu Wei, which loosely translates as non-doing. This does not mean doing nothing in the sense of inertia, but rather that everything -including "your" thoughts and actions- is happening naturally and of its own accord. Lao Tsu describes it in the Tao Te Ching as follows:
Tao, without doing anything,
Leaves nothing undone (37)
Less and less is done,
Till only non-action remains.
Nothing is done, yet nothing is left undone. (4Cool
In Buddha's words:
Suffering exists, but none who suffer,
The deed there is, but no doer thereof.
We all know the feeling of being in the flow of things. At such times, we lose ourselves in our activity. Writers frequently have this experience when the words seem to simply pour onto the page and they have no idea what the next line is going to be until they write it. Most athletes also have moments when suddenly everything clicks and they manage to perform beyond their normal capacity. There are sometimes moments during lovemaking when lovers melt into a union that knows no separate individuality. Or what about narrowly averted accidents on the highway where you later wonder just who was steering the car? I'm sure if you think about it, you have had several such experiences in which you forgot yourself and everything seemed to magically fall into place.
This forgetfulness is very different from forgetting your friend's birthday or where you put your glasses. Nor is it like the absentmindedness induced by too much booze or too many tranquilizers. It is a forgetfulness that is alert and alive. This losing oneself in the flow is a taste of what is meant by "the action of non-action."
All works are being done by the Gunas (or the energy and power) of nature, but due to delusion of ego, people assume themselves to be the doer. (3.27) *
Although being in the flow feels wonderful, the idea of our actions happening by themselves instead of through our free will can be upsetting. This is especially true for the western mind, which tends to view free will as either an inherent quality of one's prized individuality or a gift/test from God to see if one is strong enough to do the right thing. For the atheist, his doing or failing to do the right thing may be a measure of his true character; for the religious person there is a lot more at stake, since for him it determines the quality of his after-life.
From the free-will point of view, the idea that something is living through us can be quite objectionable. It seems to reduce us to mere marionettes, implying a helplessness, which is hard to accept. Furthermore, there arises a fear that if nothing we do is truly our own action, then people have an excuse for undesirable behavior. What is overlooked in such arguments is that all activity is of the one Self, appearing as the multiplicity of characters that apparently do the thinking, acting, and choosing. To excuse our undesirable behavior on these grounds does not work, for there will still be consequences. You may protest that the thought that led you to steal from your employer simply arose, and you are not responsible; but then neither is your employer responsible for the thought that led him to fire you and press charges.
Ultimately, since the ego is an illusion, it cannot be deprived of free will nor can it be the victim of predestination. The ego is neither the doer nor the non-doer; it simply does not have an existence independent of the Self, any more than a character in a novel exists independently of the author who portrays him. He and all other characters in the story arise from the imagination of the writer.
* The Bhagavad-Gita Copyright 1988 by Dr. Ramanand Prasad
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Excerpt from chapter 17
Giving Up the Ghost
Death is not extinguishing the light;
it is putting out the lamp because dawn has come. *
Death is certainly one of the greatest mysteries of life. Because it is an event horizon we cannot look beyond, it is a topic of speculation and of fear and fascination. Before we continue, we have to make an important distinction: The fear of dying is not the same as the fear of death. The former is a very practical and commonsense characteristic of the body, while the latter is a curious mix of fantasy and make-believe belonging to the mind. Animals know the fear of dying, but are, as far as we know, unfamiliar with the conceptual fear of death.
The fear of dying is that which stops you from disembarking an airborne plane without a parachute or from organizing a picnic on a train track. The fear of death, on the other hand, is more abstract as the mind projects a future in which it no longer exists. You could say that it mourns its own demise in advance. It terrifies itself with pictures of life being terminated, followed by an abyss of eternal nothingness and then recoils from this void as if nonexistence could be some kind of an experience; something like being buried alive in a cold and dark emptiness that goes on forever.
Ironically, the clinging to life can get in the way of living fully so that, in a round about way, the fear of dying becomes a fear of living. This fear comes at the cost of many of life's simple pleasures. For example, when riding a bicycle, protective clothing and helmets may add to our safety, but they definitely do not contribute to the pleasure of a leisurely tour through the countryside; taking care for one's health is a good thing, but it can become a restrictive obsession; making a living can turn into an ever accelerating struggle leading to stress, nervous-breakdowns, or worse.
Mortal fear is at the core of various religious belief systems, which offer the prospect of reincarnation or an after-life; but is there actually something beyond this life? If we take a good look at this question, we see it is predicated upon the assumption that there is, in fact, an individual that has been born and eventually will die.
If you believe that you are the body, then death seems an absolute certainty. If you believe that you are a soul residing in a body, then you assume your body dies, while that which is essentially "you" survives. Surviving "the crash" may seem great at first, but it's risky. Depending on your belief, there's always the chance of being assigned an "inferior vehicle" next time around; or you may not qualify for the grand prize of Heaven and, instead, end up in eternal flames. All this, however, is a matter of belief/ hope/fear and not a matter of knowing. Both the hope for an afterlife and the fear of death originate in the mistaken belief that you are a time-bound and mortal individual whose candle will be snuffed out when the grim reaper comes to get you. The antidote to all this fear and speculation is to recognize that what you truly are is outside time, unborn, and undying. You are the field in which birth, existence, and death appear.
It has been said by St. Francis and others that by dying you will realize eternal life. This dying is the death of the illusion of the separate and individual self. In the removal of the "I," death is deprived of its prey.
From the perspective of "me," this is an unsatisfactory answer to the life-after- death question. It says there is no life after death for the illusion you think you are, but the good news is that it also affirms that there is no death for that which you truly are.
Modern medical technology has allowed doctors to retrieve people from beyond the brink of what was once considered dead. Many of these people have reported near-death experiences (NDE's). In light of the available information, such experiences deserve to be taken seriously, but their actual meaning remains open to speculation. The interpretation of such reports is, of course, subjective and further complicated by the fact that they are often colored by the person's cultural background. Some people take them as proof of an afterlife, while others are very busy trying to explain them away.
* Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) Indian/Bengali poet, novelist, educator, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913.
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Excerpt from chapter 18
Blinded by the Light
There is a story about a soldier who was sentenced to death. On the day of his execution, he is transported in an open cart to the gallows. As he takes in his surroundings for what he believes to be the last time, a great stillness descends upon him. The world appears in a clear and transparent vision of unity and harmony. His fear of dying is replaced with a deep sense of peace in which he and all of creation are one in a mystical union with God. At the very last moment, the king pardons the soldier. He regains his freedom and life, but loses the vision of paradise. The rest of his life is a hopeless quest to regain that vision. He takes to heavy drinking and dies years later as a lonely alcoholic.
For me the experience came when I was twenty-one. For several reasons, I felt at the end of my rope, and as it slipped through my fingers, my overwhelming sense of desperation suddenly lifted. I've got a Feeling from the Beatles' album Let It Be was playing on the stereo, and it touched something deep inside of me. A large space opened up. It would be as true to say that I expanded to encompass the whole of existence as it would be to say that I had totally disappeared. Eternity, which I had understood as time without end, appeared as the absence of time. Everything was infused with life, including what, up until that moment, I had considered inanimate. All existence shared a common source and the first day of creation and the final day of destruction were seen as equally present. The Universe was neither big nor small. It revealed itself as simply One beyond all relative attributes, such as size, location, and time. While on the relative level, everything's purpose was shown to serve everything else in an intricate mosaic of perfect harmony, the totality of creation showed itself beyond purpose. I saw that it simply is as it is: Its own cause and fulfillment.
Things that really mattered before did not matter any longer. The people I saw from my window all seemed to be "in the know" while pretending not to know who they really were. As the experience was slowing down, I remember thinking: How can I go on with my day-to-day life, pretending to be this limited character? How can I go to work and face the daily routine again? As it turned out, I was perfectly able to continue my life as before-but I was left with a certainty that, even when I do not see it, all is as it should be.
What the soldier's and my personal story have in common is that they show a vision of the eternal recounted as an experience with a beginning and an end. It has been called a mystical, transcendental or peak experience, and that is exactly what it is-an experience.
The content of such experiences seems to vary from person to person, depending on one's personality and socio-cultural background; but in essence, all peak experiences are similar in that they all recount a unity of man and God (or whatever name you're comfortable with), and they all transcend space and time. It is the sort of experience that people who want enlightenment are looking for; and many have confused it with enlightenment, as did I. What is generally overlooked, however, is the silent background in which both the experience and the "I" that remembers and interprets it occur. To this mirror-like Awareness, such an experience is simply another cloud drifting by.
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Excerpt from chapter 21
Awakening to the Dream
Lucid dreaming is a term that refers to waking up inside a dream, realizing it is a dream, and then continuing the dream with this understanding. Seeing through the illusion of separation could be termed lucid living, as it is not you waking up from the dream of life, but the impersonal awakening to the dream of life. From which point could an illusion see through itself as an illusion? What could an assumed doer do to become a non-doer? What thought could take the thinker beyond thinking? The answer is nothing and none. Like Rumi said,
"Whoever brought me here
will have to take me home."
This "coming home" reveals the illusory nature of the ego, the world, time and space. All this does not disappear in a blast of white light, but what does disappear is the sense of separation that constitutes the ego illusion. Although it may put a glint in "your" eye as "you" delight in this cosmic illusion, there will be actually no you to delight in it, no you to see it, and no you to get it. The play, including your role in it, continues with the altered perspective of knowing, delighting, and seeing, without an individual claiming these as personal activities or achievements. What is left is that which appears as you and everything-your true Self, which is already and always awake to the dream of life.
This realization happens by itself. No new knowledge is acquired, but old assumptions fall away. No effort in the world can make you what you already and actually are. The truth behind ego is a no-thing-ness too close for investigation, since it is the very source from which the attempt to investigate arises. Seeing this makes it clear that the activating agent in all your actions is not a fictional "me," but the universal energy, or one's true Self. The belief in a "me," as well as the seeking for enlightenment, is seen through by no-one as nothing but the playful activity of this primal activating energy. The cosmic joke in the journey of the seeker is that the energy that fuels the seeking is precisely what is being sought. In Zen this is called "riding an ox in search of an ox." Wei Wu Wei compared it to looking for your spectacles, not realizing that they are on your nose and, were you not looking through them, you wouldn't be able to see what you are looking for.
IT awakens to itself or, more to the point, IT is Awakeness itself. It is the light in which all apparent opposites reveal their interdependence and ultimate One-ness; it is the clarity in which the illusion of separation dissolves. The witness and that which is witnessed merge into witnessing, while the illusion of past and future dissolves into the clarity of timeless presence. As It Is, life has no meaning beyond itself. It is always at the point of completion and, simultaneously, as fresh as the morning dew at the dawn of creation.
Posted: Mon Jun 30, 2003 8:06 am Post subject: Free will: yes or no?
You are absolutely right. The volume of material written on this topic is a testimony to how difficult it is for the ego to agree that it does not in fact have any free will. Indeed once it is seen that the ego itself is an illusion and not an entity as such that is capable of action, how can an illusion possibly have any free will that could have an effect on anything???
The best metaphor for the absence of any free will is the steering wheel that isn't attached like in a fairground ride as described by Wayne Liquormann. We all believe that our steering wheel is attached despite numerous life experiences to the contrary. Unfortunately we pay more attention to when it works than when it doesn't and blame when it doesn't on other factors "beyond our control"!! In fact, of course the steering wheel is and has never been attached.
So the truly awakened life involves simply letting go of the steering wheel altogther and realising that when we don't try to steer, everything still happens, good and bad, nothing changes, because the illusory "me" has never ever been able to change or control what is happening. Everything happens as it must according to the cumulative conditioning and "we", as Awareness only, are simply the silent Witnessing of that happening, whatever it may be in this moment.
The illusion of there being any exercise of free will in respect of an action to be performed arises from the belief that that action is decided upon a priori by a "me" who makes a decision to act one way and not another. This however is the core illusion, because whichever action is chosen, is "chosen" precisely and only because of prior conditioning and could not have been "chosen" otherwise. It was always going to happen perfectly anyway. Hence there never was a choice to be made, only the illusion of one created by a little "me" who believes it does so!! When the little "me" gets out of the way and stops steering, it all happens as it should, according to the Divine Will if you like.
Sadly, the "create your own reality" idea that you mention stems from the self-help schools and is in large part responsible for perpetuating the illusion of a "me" that can do anything.