the beginning, trees were trees,
mountains were mountains,
and rivers were rivers.
Then came a time when trees were no longer trees,
mountains were no longer mountains,
and rivers were no longer rivers.
Now, trees are once again trees,
mountains are once again mountains,
and rivers are once again rivers."
- Zen saying
People sometimes tell me that they think this
message is nihilistic. That it’s life-denying,
that it separates the “absolute” from
the “relative”, emphasises the absolute
and denies the relative. Then again, there are
many people who read my books and see that what
I'm really talking about is unconditional love
and unity and the end of all seeking. Anyway,
I'm fascinated by the varying responses.
Sometimes the interpretations of what I write
(or more correctly, what gets written!) do not
at all match what is being communicated. Somebody
recently hit the nail on the head when they suggested
that upon hearing and believing the words "there
is nothing to get", someone might just go
and commit suicide because life was pointless.
It’s possible that the words could be taken
that way. And at the same time, that would be
to absolutely miss what the words are getting
at. Violence – of any sort - is not being
The books were written as a confession of
what is seen clearly over here: right here, right
now, this is the miracle, the divine Mystery.
And yes, of course, those are just words,
they don't come close to it at all. When I say
things like "I am That" or "everything
is God", of course we're back into
duality again (inside vs. outside, this vs. that,
God vs. not-God). It’s unavoidable when
using language. What those words are really trying
to point to is the ineffable isness that
is this ... totally and completely and utterly
The Tao that can be told is not the eternal
Tao. Over here, there is a knowing that
not a single word Jeff writes or says about
this could ever be true. The wonder of this,
the aliveness of what’s happening, cannot
be spoken of... and yet still, as I always
say, why not try. The Tao that can
be named is not the eternal Name, but that
doesn’t stop you from writing the Tao
Te Ching. When the why goes, all you’re
left with is the why not, and that’s
the freedom in this expression.
Let me tell you a little story. In the beginning,
trees were trees, mountains were mountains, and
rivers were rivers. Then, after years of all
sorts of mind-blowing spiritual experiences,
thinking that I was God, that everything was
Buddha, etc, there was, finally, a falling-away
of all of those concepts, of every concept known
to man. Finally, after a lifetime of words, there
were no more words. No more words for this.
What was seen is that everything is One (and
yes, of course, not even that, because “everything
is One”, well, that would just be another
concept too!) There wasn’t even that. Not
even “everything is One”. There was
nothing. No, actually, there wasn’t even “nothing” but
that’s the word that comes closest. For
a long while the nothingness of everything was
the only reality. There had been a falling into
the Void. Trees were no longer trees, mountains
were no longer mountains, and rivers were no
longer rivers. There was nothing. No me. No you.
No world. No past. No future. Nothing to get.
No meaning. No point.
But of course it cannot stop there. "I
am nothing" or "there is nothing" – that’s
still totally dualistic. What happened then is
that nothing collapsed into everything, and that's
as close as I can come in words. The emptiness
finally revealed itself to be total fullness.
The detachment and pointlessness (“nothing
matters! Everything is meaningless!”) gave
way to a fullness of being, to a joy beyond words,
a contentment without a name. You could say that
Jeff died. The seeker died. The longing for something
You see, there was a time, before the books
and the talks, where I had fallen into the "everything
is pointless, there is nothing I can do" trap
and, well, for hours and days on end, I would
just walk around my home town of Oxford, and
there was absolutely nothing in existence, absolutely
nothing happening at all. There was no world,
no past or future, nothing. Only the Void. And
it was all so very grey and lacking in joy. And
I was so very, very serious about something
called “spirituality” (and, funnily
enough, it was at this time that I also believed
I was awakened!). In the book Steppenwolf by
Herman Hesse, this stance is summed up as follows:
"I [find] neither home nor company, nothing
but a seat from which to view a stage where strange
people [play] strange parts… Time and
the world, money and power belong to the small
people and the shallow people. To the rest, to
the real men, belongs nothing.”
I thought I was a real man, not one
of those ignorant fools who were still lost in
the “relative” world (whatever that
meant). Back then, I thought this was what nonduality
was all about. But then (and I cannot really
say ‘when’ because it doesn’t
happen in time), after much agony, there was
a collapse of the nothing into everything, and
of course, about this I cannot really say a word.
Even the absolute detachment from life, even
that had been completely dualistic. It takes
a person to be detached, and a world to
be detached from. The "final" seeing
(and I don’t like to call it that, but
it’ll do for now) was the death of
the person, the person who could be detached
or not, and a revelation (for no-one) that it
was all a dance, a play, ALL of it, ALL of it,
including all the bits that Jeff had rejected,
including that nasty “relative” world
that was so full of ignorance and people who
were unaware of their “true nature” (whatever
that meant). There was a plunge into the absolute
mystery of it all.... totally beyond words, totally
beyond language. For so long there had been a
deadness, a lack of joy, a sitting-back and watching
the world go by without me. It had been such
a denial of the relative, a denial of the “world”.
The world had become the enemy, because it
wasn’t essentially real. Everyday
human interactions had lost their meaning, because
there were no others. After a lifetime of
misery and self-consciousness it had initially
been a relief to be “free” from the
world of form. But – and here’s what
I couldn’t see then – the nothingness
had just become another trap. The freedom
I’d initially found in the emptiness had
morphed into a prison. Freedom in the formless
had become a denial of form. But, as
the Buddhist Heart Sutra has been reminding us
for thousands of years:
“Form is emptiness and the very emptiness
is form; emptiness does not differ from form,
form does not differ from emptiness; whatever
is form, that is emptiness, whatever is emptiness,
that is form…”
There had been a resting in Emptiness. But
it still had not been seen in clarity that Emptiness
was Form. There was still a “me” there,
subtly denying life. Pretending he was more “spiritual” or “awake” than
others, feeling smug and safe, and somewhat arrogant,
but secretly joyless in his Emptiness.
Then one day, it all collapsed. The denial
of form could not hold itself up. I cannot put
it into words, but if I could, it would be something
like this. Jeff, after another day of walking
through Oxford, after another day of absolutely
nothing, another day of detachment from the world,
collapsed on the grass in Christ Church Meadow,
and looked up at a shaft of sunlight coming through
the branches of a tree. And Life said “LIVE,
DAMN IT, LIVE!” The emptiness collapsed
into the form. The form collapsed into the emptiness.
And then there was neither form nor emptiness.
There was just THIS, with no way of knowing anymore
what this is. The person dissolved into wonder.
Trees were once again trees. Mountains were once
again mountains. Rivers were once again rivers.
Everything fell back into its rightful place.
A chair was allowed to be a chair again (whilst
at the same time, of course, it was the divine
expression, it was Oneness playing the game of
being a chair.) A cup of tea could be a cup of
tea. There was a plunge back into the world, even
though it was only an apparent world, even
though it was all a dream, even though there
was no me, and no others. Suddenly, after years
of being detached and wanting to be
detached, there was a relaxation into what is.
The whole thing collapsed back into a very ordinary
life. But the seeking was dead.
What is was seen to be the miracle.
And it was always enough. The very idea of “spirituality” went
out the window. That concept was no longer needed.
Concepts of “nothingness” and “awakening” and “nonduality” went
out the window. Concepts of practices and goals
and future attainment went out the window. Why?
Because the grass was enough. The tree was enough.
The ground beneath my feet was enough. I fell
in love with solid ground, or solid ground fell
in love with itself, and the seeking of a lifetime
was at an end. As Ramana Maharshi said:
“The world is
illusory. Brahman alone is real. Brahman is
Brahman was the world, and it was all over.
Or, as Zen master Joho exclaimed:
“Fathomed at last!
Ocean's dried. Void burst.
Without an obstacle in sight,
When I write things like "there is nothing
to get", it is not a teaching. It is
an attempt to share this seeing. I am
not a teacher, I could never see myself as that,
because there is no longer any reference point
here. I have no way of knowing who I am, because
it is not possible to separate myself from myself,
look back at myself and say what that is. Because
I am nothing, I neither teacher nor student.
I am whatever you say I am. And so I am everything
too. Call me teacher, call me friend, or call
me nothing at all. You are what I am, and I am
what you are. And it all ends there, in an intimacy
that’s beyond words.
“There is nothing to get”. It’s
not a teaching. It is a confession [read Jerry
Katz on nonduality.com for more on the idea of
confession vs. teaching]. What is seen here (and
I can only ever speak about what is seen here)
is that there is nothing to get (because THIS
is the miracle). There is nothing to do (because
THIS is the miracle). Yes, that can be heard
in the wrong way. But there is also the possibility
that what is really being communicated,
what is really being pointed to by those
words, will be heard. That resonance, that recognition
is possible. Perhaps that’s why the sharing
happens. I don’t know.
No, I cannot see myself as a teacher. I just
offer the words in the books and talks and nothing
more. I just sing my song. The bird tweets, the
cat miaows, and this mind-body organism (or whatever
the hell it is) sometimes blabs on about nonduality.
There are many who will take one look at those
books and turn away. There are others who will
read them and love them. I love that people walk
away, and that people stay ... that's their freedom.
Freedom to stay, freedom to go. Freedom to listen,
freedom to walk away.
When you are talking about nonduality, you
are always talking about something that cannot
be spoken of. If I say "this is already
complete and there is nothing to get", I
get accused of falling into the absolute. If
I say "there is a practice, there is something
you can do to get closer to this", I get
accused by the nonduality fundamentalists (those
who have turned nonduality into their religion,
the “religion of no practice”) of
falling into the relative. The Buddha himself
“…Discard, not only conceptions
of one's own selfhood and other selves… but
also… all ideas about the non-existence of
When we cling to ideas of self, or ideas of
no-self, we are falling into duality. After years
of falling into this and so many other conceptual
traps, what is now seen in absolute clarity is
that nonduality cannot be contained by any concept,
by any philosophy, by any system, not even the
most refined, the most researched, the most tried-and-tested
You see, there used to be a ferocious, violent
intellect here, a mind that could never rest
until it had exhausted every possibility, every
possible permutation of thought. It would settle
for nothing less than absolute freedom. Over
the years, so many traps were seen through. So
many heavy thought structures were shattered
from their very foundations, and seen to be made
of nothing but light. My goodness, there were somany traps, so
many subtle ways in which I was kidding
myself. There are so many ways in which
the mind can settle on a concept, on a thought
structure, on a belief system, and at the same
time (and this is how ingenious it is) proclaim
freedom from all concepts and beliefs. The ego
can find a million different ways of making it
seem like there is no ego.
“I’m free from
ego! Me, I’m free from
And so these days, when I say “there
is nothing to do” what is also seen
is that the moment that turns into a belief,
it is no longer true. That is why the
guy who believes that "there is nothing
to do" and stays in bed all day has not
really been listening. The pointers
have become concepts for him, they have hardened
into beliefs, and led to stagnation. This is
such a common trap. I know, I’ve been there.
There are people out there who truly believe that
there is no person, no self. They truly believe that
there is nothing to get. They truly believe that
there is no future, no Africa, no planet Earth.
The belief is the problem. Once it’s
turned into a belief, it’s stagnated.
It’s a person with a belief. It’s
my belief versus your belief. And there’s
no end to it.
In the clear seeing that there is nothing to
do (because THIS is already complete), stagnation
goes out the window. What I find is that there
can be a springing out of bed, the heart fully
open to another day of not knowing. “Nothing
to do” – just a concept. “Something
to do” – another concept.
To say "it is" is to grasp for permanence.
To say "it is not" is to grasp at
Therefore a wise person
Does not say "it is" or "it
“Whoever knows that the mind is a fiction
and devoid of anything real knows that his own
mind neither exists nor doesn't exist. Mortals
keep creating the mind, claiming it exists. And
Immortals keep negating the mind, claiming it
Mind exists, mind doesn’t exist. Nothing
to do, something to do. Practice, no practice.
Past, no past. Self, no self. No need to stick
to either polarity, or even negate both polarities.
It happens so often: people go to see nonduality
teachers (or non-teachers), and hear that there
is nothing they can do, so they give up and sometimes
get very depressed. But look: part of the dance
is that on this astonishing planet there are
a million things to do, or so it would seem!
This world – as every child knows – is
an adventure playground. It neither exists nor
doesn’t exist, but either way it’s
a play. And so the whole thing ends in the absolute
paradox of it all. Nothing to do, lots to do.
Nothing, something. Self, no self. There is nobody,
there is somebody. The opposites collapse
into each other, and what is seen is that nonduality
could never be understood. Run a million
miles from anyone who claims to understand this!
This is a plunge into the mystery,
totally beyond words. That is what all the words
in all the books are really pointing to.
And then, far from being depressing, words
such as "this is it" and "there
is no path" are all seen to be pointing
to this liberation, this unconditional love.
And it’s seen that they always were pointing
to that – we just couldn’t see it
at the time. Yes, nothing to get, because it's
all HERE. The intimacy and unconditional love
that was always sought are seen to be right HERE.
Until then, yes there is the danger that those
words could be taken the wrong way (“you’re
saying that it’s all Oneness, so murder
must also be Oneness, so I could just go and
kill someone and that’s okay because it’s
all Oneness, right?”). And I am very clear
about this in the meetings (only recently we
went into this at great length in one of our
London meetings). Yes, there is that danger,
but there is also this possibility: that what
is being said will be heard, really heard.
It is that sharing (not teaching, remember, because
I cannot see you as separate from me) that is
being pointed to.
And then the whole duality/nonduality paradox
is resolved, and it is seen that there never
was a paradox in the first place. The seeing
is that Oneness manifests itself as apparently
separate beings. Things go on appearing to be
separate, whilst at the same time they are all
manifestations of the whole. It’s the divine
dance, it’s the cosmic entertainment, it’s
lila, it’s nothing being everything. And
yes, that could all remain on a purely intellectual
level. But what is being pointed to here
is the seeing (not just intellectual
understanding) of this in clarity, and in that
seeing, all questions (which always point towards
a future that never arrives) dissolve and what
is left, you have no way of knowing.
When this was first seen, there were no words.
I couldn't say the first thing about this. Not
a bloody word. It has taken years for the words
to return. There was a time I could not even
use the word "I" because it felt like
a lie (an "I" separate from the whole!
How absurd!). But in time (yes, the so-called ‘relative’ world
is honoured here!) the words came back, and there
was talking and writing about this… all
done with a deep knowing that the moment Jeff
spoke about this, people would misinterpret and
misunderstand, and that it would even anger and
frustrate some people, but that was part of the
play too. The Tao cannot be told, and, well the
moment you speak about it, you’re into
the world of words, the world of interpretation
and misinterpretation, the world of truth and
falsehood, the world of a thousand things. You’re
into the world of time and space, and you and
me, and yin and yang. And that, perhaps, could
become a good reason to never speak about this,
ever again. But “not speaking about this”,
well, that could become another religion. The
religion of silence. But this embraces
both silence and noise, and, as the story goes,
one day, for no good reason, Jeff began to write
and speak about it...
This has always been seen as a sharing,
in openness and friendship… and of course
I'm only ever sharing with myself. So the mirage
of separation goes on, but all the while it is
known: there is no separation at all. Yes, it
all ends in the mystery, in absolute love. How
can I communicate to you the intimacy and freedom
and peace and emptiness and fullness of just
sitting on a chair, right now? Of just breathing,
just sounds happening? The isness of
this will never be spoken of, and yet it continues
to shine, moment by moment, although there are
no separate moments at all.
And so the paradox is resolved here, in the
absolutely simplicity and wonder of what is.
In breathing happening, in noises in the room,
in the warmth of my mug of tea, in the crunch
of the biscuits, in the crumbs falling onto my
trousers. The search of a lifetime ends here,
and there is only gratitude for the mug of tea,
for the biscuit, for this, as it is. Nobody drinks
the tea, nobody eats the biscuit, and nobody
is typing these words, but still, what a miracle
it all is, and how crazy (and innocent in my
craziness) I was all those years, looking for
something more than this, when everything I ever
needed was right here. Right here, in the place
where I am not.
Foster – December
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