This book brings together
--the desire for nonduality
--the teachings of Ramana Maharshi
--self-realization confessions from major traditions: Sufism, Judaism, Christianity, Native American Tradition, Buddhism, Taoism, Hinduism (Advaita)
--the nondual perspectives of psychotherapy, education, art, and the movie The Matrix
--and a conclusion grounded in the Heart Sutra
to present a sweeping introduction to the teaching of nonduality.
Here are some excerpts. They include the teachings of Ramana Maharshi, a summary of nondual confessions from major traditions, and an introduction to the nondual perspectives of psychotherapy, education, art, and the movie The Matrix.
The Essential Teachings
Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi
Selected by David Godman
This chapter describes the practices that allow us to carry through our desire for nonduality: inquiry, or attention to I-thought so that we may know its source, and surrender to Self or God. We are reminded that we are not separate from the Self. Because we are not separate from the Self, the Self cannot be reached as though it is at Point B while we are at Point A. But the Self can be realized or recognized. Sri Ramana Maharshi talks about the nature of Self, the nature of mind and ego, and where and how to turn our attention.This material was selected by David Godman from published works of Ramana Maharshi.
Question: How can I attain Self-realisation?
Bhagavan: Realisation is nothing to be gained afresh; it is already there. All that is necessary is to get rid of the thought, ‘I have not realised’.
Stillness or peace is realisation. There is no moment when the Self is not. So long as there is doubt or the feeling of non-realisation, the attempt should be made to rid oneself of these thoughts. They are due to the identification of the Self with the not-Self. When the not-Self disappears, the Self alone remains. To make room, it is enough that the cramping be removed; room is not brought in from elsewhere.
Question:Since realisation is not possible without vasana-kshya [destruction of mental habits and tendencies], how am I to realise that state in which the vasanas [mental tendencies] are effectively destroyed?
Bhagavan: You are in that state now!
Question: Does it mean that by holding on to the Self, the vasanas should be destroyed as and when they emerge?
Bhagavan: They will themselves be destroyed if you remain as you are.
Question: How shall I reach the Self?
Bhagavan: There is no reaching the Self. If Self were to be reached, it would mean that the Self is not here and now but that it is yet to be obtained. What is got afresh will also be lost. So it will be impermanent. What is not permanent is not worth striving for. So I say the Self is not reached. You are the Self; you are already That.
The fact is, you are ignorant of your blissful state. Ignorance supervenes and draws a veil over the pure Self which is bliss. Attempts are directed only to remove this veil of ignorance, which is merely wrong knowledge. The wrong knowledge is the false identification of the Self with the body, mind, etc. This false identification must go, and then the Self alone remains.
Therefore, realisation is for everyone. Realisation makes no difference between the aspirants. This very doubt, whether you can realise, and the notion ‘I-have-not-realised’ are themselves the obstacles. Be free from these obstacles also.
In the experience of one’s own true state of knowledge, one’s real nature, the ideas of bondage and liberation do not exist. There is no attainment of liberation from bondage in the ultimate state of supreme truth, except in one’s imagination.
It is because the mind, the vain ego, is habituated to the thought of bondage that enthusiastic efforts to attain liberation arise. Separation and union exist only through the ignorance of the jiva [the individual self]. They do not exist in the nature of the real, which is jnana [true knowledge] only.
These confessions are not grounded in mystical experiences that came and went, leaving a strong memory of a momentary recognition of nondual reality. Rather, they arise out of the ground of permanent and continuous realization of the Self. Glimpses of the Self, the Absolute, or whatever one wishes to call it, are not uncommon. Certainly such glimpses can be beneficial in life. They give us a bigger perspective on day-to-day living and therefore ease our suffering. Memory of mystical experience can bring a measure of peace. What may arise is an awareness of and detachment from what John Wren-Lewis called “a collective nightmare of separate individuals struggling in an alien universe for survival, satisfaction, and significance.”
These confessors, with their madness about nonduality, Self, or God, come from a variety of traditions, briefly described here.
From Advaita Vedanta comes Dattatreya, supposedly the author of the Avadhuta Gita.“The Avadhuta Gita is … written in spirited Sanskrit verse, which breathes the atmosphere of the highest experience of Brahman [Hindu name for God or Self]. It goes into no philosophical argument to prove oneness of reality, but is content to make the most startling statements, leaving the seeker of truth to imbibe them and be lifted from illusion into the blazing light of Knowledge (jnana).”
In the Avadhuta Gita we see Dattatreya blaze:
“I, the One only, am all this, beyond space and continuous. How can I see the Self as visible or hidden? … Thus you are One. Why then do you not understand that you are the unchangeable One, equally perceived in all? O mighty One, how can you, who are ever-shining, unrestricted, think of day and night?”
About the Sufi Ibn ’Arabi it is said, “All his life [he] felt the pain of not being understood.Yet the breadth and depth of his wisdom, insight, vision, and knowledge was and is awesome to whomever catches a glimpse of it. Many of his expressions of divine mysteries have never been improved upon.”
Listen to a few lines of Ibn ’Arabi’s confession in which Allah is called “He,” and which could be called Self or God for purposes of this book:
He is the First without anything before Him. He is the Last without anything after Him. He is Visible in all that is seen. He is Known, clearly, in all that is hidden. He is in all forms and images without any relation to any appearance. He is the secret and the appearance of the first letter announcing the beginning of existence. He is the presence of all the letters that belong to the First and all the letters that belong to the Last and is the presence in all the letters that are visible and all the letters that are hidden.
May Allah have mercy on the soul of Muhyiddin Ibn ’Arabi, and may He be pleased with him and bestow peace upon his soul.
Such confessions come forth when the desire for nonduality is turned toward inquiry or surrender.With such intensity, existence as the Self is known, perceived, and experienced, whether or not passionate written description emerges.
Though the authors of the Kabbalah of Judaism are not known, we hear the spirit of the song of the free:
“The depth of primordial being is called Boundless. Because of its concealment from all creatures above and below, it is also called Nothingness. If one asks, ‘What is it?’ the answer is,‘Nothing.’”
The Tao Te Ching is widely known as the classic philosophical and scriptural text of Taoism.Though Lao Tzu is the named author,Victor H. Mair, editor of the version excerpted here, states that this Taoist text “represents the accumulated wisdom of centuries, not the enterprise of one author.”
To realize that you do not understand is a virtue;
Native American Tradition
Not to realize that you do not understand is a defect.
The reason why
The sage has no defects,
Is because he treats defects as defects.
He has no defects.
Kent Nerburn tells us about the Native American writer Ohiyesa, “He was ever the observer, journeying ever deeper into the ways of white culture, trying, as his grandmother had always instructed him, ‘to follow a new trail to the point of knowing.’The writings he has left are the documents of that journey, crafted by a man with a warrior’s heart, an orator’s tongue, and human spirit of such dignity that it transcends boundaries of race and belief.” Ohiyesa wrote:
We believe profoundly in silence – the sign of a perfect equilibrium. Silence is the absolute poise or balance of body, mind, and spirit. Those who can preserve their selfhood ever calm and unshaken by the storms of existence –not a leaf, as it were, astir on the tree; not a ripple upon the shining pool – those, in the mind of the person of nature, possess the ideal attitude and conduct of life. If you ask us, “What is silence?” we will answer, “It is the Great Mystery.The holy silence is God’s voice.” If you ask, “What are the fruits of silence?” we will answer,“They are self-control, true courage or endurance, patience, dignity, and reverence. Silence is the cornerstone of character.”
The chapter on nondual Christianity is challenging and extreme. In the life and teaching of Bernadette Roberts we meet a Christian apophatic contemplative.
“Bernadette Roberts is the first advanced contemplative to psychologically describe complete human transformation in the Divine: first as the ego falls away, then followed by the self ’s unconscious dissolution, and finally self ’s ultimate end.” Roberts confesses, “In order to come upon Eternal Form, all form must first be an absolute void where nothing can possibly be relative to it; it is only from this position that Eternal Form can be revealed. By definition the divine or Absolute is ‘that’ which is nonrelative, and the only thing that can be nonrelative is a void of voids. This void of voids or absolute nothing IS Christ.”
“If you meet the Buddha, kill the Buddha!” is a Zen teaching emphasizing focus upon the Self and nothing outward: not authorities, teachers, visions, hopes and dreams, ideas, experiences, or the works of self-realized people. The Buddhist scripture the Diamond Sutra is, like the confession of Bernadette Roberts, difficult to grasp. Wei Wu Wei writes:
The essential doctrine of the Diamond Sutra is that no sort or kind of self is to be considered as existing. Having disposed of the I-concept, the Buddha proceeds to dispose of the elements that serve as the basis for it.… In short, as Hui Neng realized so early in life, nothing at all exists, which is the Void. But the Buddha always adds that therefore everything exists in some manner.
If nonduality makes sense to us as a good perspective from which to live life, then it would be worthwhile to know who is living life that way, what they’re doing, and why their work is significant.
John J. Prendergast provides an excellent introduction to nonduality and then shows how therapists may apply awakening nondual awareness in their practices. He says,
[An] impact of an awakening nondual awareness is an enhanced capacity to be with what is. All mainstream schools of psychotherapy understand the importance of acceptance, yet the dualistic mind can never be an agent of complete acceptance. The mind only accepts what is conditionally, hoping that if something is accepted, it will change. The living insight of nondual awareness is that everything already is accepted and embraced just as it is. As awakening deepens, the judging mind loses its grip and attention becomes increasingly innocent, intimate, and impersonally affectionate.
When it comes to educating our children, Steven Harrison calls for a focus upon awareness so that the information absorbed by children is integrated wholly:
Awareness doesn’t need more information. It needs only enough information. This intelligence, the quality that mediates information into wisdom, is seldom referenced in school. If we do not include awareness in what we convey to our children, then aren’t we teaching them to be unconscious and to be consumers of an endless stream of pointless information and products?
The young child inhabits a vast array of kinds of intelligence held in the body/mind. Their need for information is intense, but it is mediated by the other capacities of their system – their feelings, sensations, and body appetites for movement and play. We can channel all of their life energy into the absorption of information, but without the intelligence of the whole child, we will produce adults who have a great deal of fragmented data, but have integrated nothing.
Later Harrison says, “The life of inquiry, the life of open learning, requires ... investigation of and contact with everything, just as it is.”
Jerry Wennstrom is an artist living on Whidbey Island in Washington State. His story is one of surrender to God or Self:
In 1979, I destroyed all the art I had created, gave everything I owned away, and began a new life. I sensed an inner and outer world in perfect order. I sensed that I could become a willing participant in that order, and that it allowed for my individual expression and unique contribution. I know now that my participation was conditional on how well I learned to listen and to see the inherent patterns within the natural order I sensed. The return of a physical creative expression came later, after I learned what was required by the inner life. The new life that I gave myself to required unconditional trust and noninterference. I asked for nothing from any human being. I needed to know if there was a God, and I risked my life to find that out. I know now that we risk far more when we attempt to create a life devoid of a personal relationship with our God.
Pradheep Chhalliyil, a scientist living in Iowa, shows how the movie The Matrix depicts reality from the nondual perspective. The Matrix is a computer program that controls human minds. In the story, human beings are kept in pods, serving as energy sources for artificial intelligence. Their brains are connected to the Matrix program which allows people in pods to think they are living in a normal world in which they wake and sleep, date, marry, have jobs, etc. It is a life of unawareness of reality. Many live like that now in this world.
Because every thought depends on the mind – the thinker – we become a slave to the mind. Every experience we go through, every impression we take-in molds our future thoughts and actions. As we go through life we program ourselves to accept a world that is not more real than the world of The Matrix. Our world becomes a Self-created reality with its own mind-created logic to justify it. Thus we lose our real freedom, our unbounded nature. If “happy” thoughts flow, we are happy. If “sad” thoughts flow, we are sad. All emotions are nothing but thoughts. If they get completely out of control we can even go insane. And it all seems so real!
As we read these accounts of nondual perspective, over and over again we will find accord with the practice of inquiry and surrender prescribed by Sri Ramana Maharshi. These perspectives are various ways of confessing or calling for a turn toward awareness, Self, God, our unbounded nature. That turning is the job of one who desires nonduality.
Return to list of topics in Discourses by Teachers and Writers .
See the list sorted by Topic.
See the list sorted by Author.