I. Review by Susan Hansen
This newly released book by an American carpenter (living in Vermont in New England) is a wonder. Rather like a gentle whack on the shoulder from a master, it encourages awakening. Right from the first page one sees this book will be different: it is not copyrighted because as Carse says, "the thoughts and concepts expressed are not mine." He next makes it clear that this is not one of the many books "to help you live a better life, become a better person, and realize your full potential as a spiritual being." He forewarns that if one understands at least some of what the book's words point to, it will be quite disturbing; further, it can be the end of you altogether. Self realization is not comfort but annihilation.
Carse begins each chapter with quotes from various masters which adds international flavor. He gives extensive detail on his own awakening experience and the search afterward for clarity on what had happened to him. He visits Ramesh Balsekar in India and reads extensively (there is a large bibliography.) He comments on various current spiritual teachers and their problems. Carse does not teach. This is it.
From the sudden shift of perception that happened to him, it was at once clear that "there's nobody home! There is Presence, Being, Consciousness . There is this apparent mind/body in which and as which Presence streams, functions, experiences. And that is all; there is no separate individual self or entity or person except as a mere thought construct."
He writes of the acceptance of what is, even the extremely unpleasant and horrific aspects of life. In a way which is beyond the comprehension of the human mind, there is a balance and perfect unfolding. "There is no point, no purpose, no meaning. Therefore no importance. Therefore no involvement. Nothing needs to be any different." "The constant asking of 'why' is simply the mind's attempt to grasp for control." Seen from this different perspective, nothing needs to be fixed or judged. No good or bad or responsibility - all just is. Love is the neutral holding of what is; "everything is literally made out of pure Love, beyond love, streaming. Thus there is no way anything at all can not be well. All is perfection, pure bliss love outpouring. All is well. Totally."
Published by Paragate Publishing and Non-Duality Press UK, the Buddha's heart mantra shines through the book: Gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha. Gone, gone, gone all the way over, everyone gone to the other shore, enlightenment, Joy! Truly, this book IS perfect brilliant stillness.
Susan Hansen Oregon, USA
II. Letter from Alan Mann
I have been away in the hills for a few days and took the opportunity to read Perfect Brilliant Stillness in the peace and quiet. One of my current projects is to plough through about forty years of my journal and salvage anything of interest to the family before tossing them out. Many of the experts or authorities David Carse quotes in his book have appeared in my own records at one time or another so I found myself on familiar ground as far as relating to his explanation of what he has been through. In fact, his book is a very close cousin to my journal as far as references, sources, guru quotes and so on is concerned.
Obviously, I cannot comment on what he calls his ‘jungle thing’. Most of us have openings of a similar nature if not so comprehensive as the event he describes. It is that sort of happening, which often sets us off on the search. That was so in my case. I have no problem with what he says I just wish he hadn’t said it so often. I thought his story unnecessarily repetitive. And, of course, as mentioned in an earlier message, I do not subscribe to the belief that it is all a dream. Nothing in the book helped me to see it otherwise. I prefer the alternative belief that there is, what is referred to, as objective reality and that is how the All in All manifests. So, all that stuff about I don’t exist, you don’t exist does not fit with understanding as far as it unfolds here.
In making a comment like that I have to remind myself that is my perspective on life. I find myself fully attuned to all the quotations he includes and the ‘inperiences’ he records but totally opposed to the conclusions he draws from them. He says, on page 105, Nothing has happened. Experiences are not important: in fact nothing is more important than anything else, because nothing is happening here. Nothing happening here? I think David would be well advised to go back and remind himself that he is describing his perspective and stop trying to universalize it – notwithstanding the bad example, in this regard, of Indian and other sages through the ages.
For me, to say that life is a dream is overdoing it, an analogy strained to meaninglessness. I can just about cope with dream-like. Life is life – life is what happens as it unfolds – why add to that simple word. We all feel it and are it why add, what is for most of us, the very confusing idea that what we understand by the word ‘life’ is ‘an illusion’. And usually without including a comment explaining at what level that statement might be true. The everyday consensus suffers from excessive objectivity, the nondual position from excessive subjectivity. Neither a subject nor an object might be a useful motto in considering these matters. And that reminds me that Douglas Harding responds to Hamlet’s famous question with ‘to be and not to be – that is the answer’. That, I think, addresses the reality of life, the essential dualism of our being as counterpoint to Being. The failure to address this question of levels is, I think, the weak link in the book.
My view on this is underlined by the pair of Wei Wu Wei quotes on page 184. First WWW points out the necessity of exposing the mistaken identity and abandonment of an inexistent self then he points out that we do not exist. However, he is careful to explain that our non-existence lies in non-existence as individual, separated entities. And I assume he would go on to say that this is the case for all objects. So, I read that as a claim that you and I exist all right but our existence (individual being) is a secondary expression of ‘what is’. David may intend that but in nearly 400 pages he failed to make it clear for me. It had to creep out of a few of the quotes he used. And, in particular, he excludes such an interpretation on his “fine print” comments with which he opens the book: This book will tell you that these ideas are absurd, because it’s quite obvious that neither you nor anything else has ever existed. Well, I for one don’t find it obvious and consider the absurdity lies in making such statements without providing some associated commentary such as “by exist I mean ex-ist – that is, ex - out (of) and, sistere - to stand – to stand out from what is or, to put it in more familiar terms, “fundamentally I am not separated from the whole”.
Everything is consciousness is another frequently offered dictum. I would be happier with ‘everything is apprehended in consciousness’ or even apprehended as consciousness’’. To claim that everything is consciousness strikes me as another version of reductionism, the reverse of the materialist coin that everything is matter and consciousness a late arriving material epiphenomenon. I feel there is an enormous intelligence at work and our attempts to make sense of it must be continually qualified by an awareness of our inadequacy. David’s ex cathedra pronouncements come across as far too certain; certain to the point that he denies he is telling us what he believes to be true but the very truth itself. Doesn’t that have a familiar ring in these times? He seems to overlook his sources in this regard and even quotes the famous The world is illusory/Brahman alone is real/Brahman is the world without any suggestion that it is included as ironic comment on his position. (p355).
Love says that I am everything/Wisdom says I am nothing/Between these my life flows/ says Nisargadatta (p83) I can agree with Nisargadatta and Carse here but which part of that is the dreaming part? My hero, Traherne, said Till we see our nothing we cannot understand the value of our being. I am not denying the underlying so-called no-thingness, which is another big subject and that may be what Advaitists refer to as that which is doing the dreaming or generating their dreams, including the dream about life being a dream. (I think that must be so if I follow his squid example on page 357). I think David Bohm, who I see is quoted on page 379, offers the most convincing contemporary account of how to relate the spiritual notion of emptiness or Sunyata with the underlying no-thingness of contemporary science.
Carse quotes with approval on the ‘fine print’ page, only once in a thousand, thousand years does a soul wake up, and goes on, in the book to give well deserved credit to Ramana Maharshi for his contribution to these matters but who also pointed out that it is as plain and obvious as a gooseberry in the palm of your hand.
I think the book would have been better if written as a journal, it seems to be too unstructured, unplanned and too long (like this response, and I see much of myself in David’s not knowing when to stop) for a coherent presentation and, in spite of the jungle thing, it is too derivative; the sort of work you could put together by trawling through the available literature. It would have had more impact if he had distanced himself from what has gone before and come up with his own version in his own words of why it is all an illusion. I really hoped he would throw some light on the claim that it is all a dream or illusion, that consciousness is all there is and that you and I don’t exist. I am no wiser about why or how he sees things this way than when I started.
I wish I could have given a more generous response to the book; something on the lines of Susan Hansen’s open-hearted review. However, I can’t overlook or help resisting what strikes me as dogmatic non-dualism which seems to be appearing on all sides. Someone needs to come up with something like The Essential Dualism to balance things out a bit. The book will appeal to a lot of people who are exploring, especially those setting out, as it provides a wide-ranging introduction to most of the key figures in the field and in spite of my disagreements, I enjoyed reading it in the spirit of exploring an opposite view to mine.
III. Response from David Carse
(A note of explanation. The words in blue are taken from the above letter to David. Those in red are sections taken from Perfect Brilliant Stillness.)
julian has passed along a letter from you concerning perfect brilliant stillness; i hope you will not consider an unsolicited response an intrusion. your letter comes through as intelligent and full of integrity. and there is a sense that you may be right about similarities in some of the ways these minds function. i do not know you or your intentions. responses have been offered to some who have retorted that they have no interest in waking up, they just like collecting ideas. if that is the case, please disregard this letter; you are doing well. i don’t sense that is the case here, and this is simply written in response to the crossing of these paths. thank you for your thoughts, and thank you also for your graciousness in publishing susan hansen’s review.
your allergy to certainty in these matters is deeply shared. the idea of a ‘final’ or ‘ultimate’ understanding is an inherently anathema concept; surely such a claim could only be a sign of ignorance? within the dream, yes, you are very right. and, these sayings do not come from an understanding within the dream.
I cannot explain this, because I am otherwise somewhat rational. Not only is there no doubt. The very concept of doubt does not exist. The word that comes frequently is that it is ‘obvious,’ but evidently that is an abuse of a good word because when it is used in conversations it usually draws blanks. Nevertheless. What is right in front of you, more than that, what you actually are, what all this is, what cannot be escaped from, what cannot be otherwise, is obvious, even if in most cases apparently there is not seeing. (p.17)
of course the objection is, Well, I for one don't find this obvious and consider the absurdity lies in making such statements without providing some associated commentary... yet obvious it is, and has ever been in each case where the seeing occurs: as you quote from the maharshi, it is as plain and obvious as a gooseberry in the palm of your hand. not to be certain about what is obvious would be absurd, foolish, disingenuous. of course i cannot pretend to be what i am not: equally, i cannot refuse to be, to see, what i am. some seem to find this disturbing.
It is what it is, and if it is not acceptable, that’s cool too; after all, there really is no compelling reason for it to be accepted. As soon as there is fiddling around with concepts and modes of expression, the david thing, along with everybody else, is likely to be quite ‘wrong.’ But what is Understood is very simple. It is What Is. And there can only be pointing toward it from various angles, which pointing in this case, because of the conditioning, will very likely not be in classical form. (257-8)
not a communicator here, not a teacher. blindingly obvious, ‘seen’ not ‘known’, yet it seems cannot be expressed. i know nothing. the mind is what it is, impenetrable. insists on some associated commentary when what is, is ineffable, precisely not of mind. from within the dream, you are absolutely right. as long as the dream is understood to be ‘real’, of course it is absurdly extreme to call life a dream. how to cross that gap? all that stuff about I don't exist, you don't exist can’t possibly fit with the understanding from the point of view of a dream character. this is what much of the book is about. it is not possible to understand this so that it can be seen. it must be seen to be understood. this ‘surrender’ is ‘understanding’, and it has nothing to do with understanding anything. easier for a camel, my friend.
you resonate with your hero traherne, and comment on other teachers that you agree with. please see that resonating and agreeing are not the useful input we have been trained to think. this is what www is saying on p.235. it is only what the dream character false self finds familiar and comfortable, what I would be happier with... not a relevant test for truth. I prefer the alternative belief... but what beliefs the mind prefers, are unimportant. how can the mind’s preference, itself a product of conditioning and false imagination, be an indicator of truth? silliness. the individual sense of being a ‘self’ taking it‘self’ far too seriously. “ We can’t insist on a truth that makes sense in light of what we know because we don’t know anything.”
For me, to say that life is a dream is overdoing it, an analogy strained to meaninglessness. I can just about cope with dream-like. but you see: of course; ‘for me’. for the dream character, it is essentially and inherently meaningless, incomprehensible, unacceptable. ...which part of that is the dreaming part?...what Advaitists refer to as that which is doing the dreaming or generating their dreams, including the dream about life being a dream... the mind is a product of the dualism it enshrines. there is no one doing the dreaming, no thing generating, and ‘Advaitists’ know it is not ‘their dreams’ as there is not, cannot in any sense be any ones here dreaming. yes, i know, half-baked teachers galore spout this advaita drivel, that can’t be helped. words. no translation. what is seen is that there is only the dreaming, and there are no parts.
there is only clear seeing. once seen it cannot not be seen. little ability to communicate it, to penetrate the dream mind which values the valueless and does not see the obvious. no need. the book did flow out, but of course it makes no ‘sense’. foreign non-language, no translation. this is spelled out many times in the book. those who have glimpsed, recognize. the mind dislikes, objects, finds it absurd. ... What is written about here, if it is really understood, is so genuinely strange that it is on the far edge of what the normal human brain can comprehend or accept. I wouldn’t have understood it myself, or found it interesting, before what happened in the jungle.
what is absurd of course is believing you are the illusion, the dream character. the illusory self says it would be absurd to stop believing in itself. no evidence? you are surrounded by evidence. you see what you believe and believe what you see... (yes, david bohm on page 379). you will not see the evidence until you are convinced. ha! “ Earthly things must be known to be loved. Divine things must be loved to be known” thus, bhakti; which the mind hates, avoids, thinks it is already beyond, superior to.
the mind, of course, will always insist that it exists, that it is not a dream. of course.
the mind is confused, that’s its nature. the mind can’t be used to find no-mind. it will always be confused. don’t take it so seriously. look around it while it’s busy, around mind, ah.. no mind. what i is, god presence perfect beauty here, what is, what else is there? no thing. look around the mind. yes, i know, the mind will say, ‘now he’s being anti-intellectual’. nudging toward trans-rational, not pre- or anti-rational. but it doesn’t matter. all only pointers.
no words or thinking or any of this can help. none of this is true. all of this, spiritual writings and teachings, are only one thing: an attempt to trip you up. that’s all. don’t take any of it literally. all there is is presence... there’s no such thing as presence. silly idea. calling it perfect or brilliant is just a way it is experienced here. stillness is stillness, how can it be brilliant?
the mind interprets in terms of what it already knows. (p.233-4) you know ‘openings of a similar nature... which sets us off on the search. It was so in my case..’, and so the mind assumes, interprets accordingly. not of a similar nature. not setting off, but ending. not transforming a life but obliterating it. the crushing flash that annihilates. nothing, nothing. this is in the book, but cannot be seen if the mind already thinks it knows. this is why the repetition irritates. there is resistance each time, wishes it would go away.
the mind has a loop, ‘reality is what we take to be true...’ etc. we only experience what we think we know, and vice versa. what we call reality, what we think of as possible, is just the mind’s construct, consensus reality. a closed circle. you intuit that what you want is outside the circle, but how to get there? the mind cannot. all of spirituality is only an attempt to break the vicious circle, trip you up, make the mind stumble, jump the track. that’s all. and all you can ‘do’ is be willing. in the unfolding of all this, there can be such a thing as setting yourself up to be tripped. of not always resisting, protesting, arguing, ‘totally opposed.’ of learning, perhaps gradually, surrender; into a place where tripping up happens. unspeakable. does exist. cannot be expressed. none of these things said or written are literal. just attempts to let the mind jump the track, trip. the mind resists tripping. it’s an old story. it’s good, although it can feel unpleasant. tripping happens. grace. don’t worry.
the only function of mind, the only ‘act of will’, that is appropriate is complete surrender. not that any act of will is possible, not that there is any person to make such an act, not that there is any such thing as human will; just that at least surrender is not inconsistent with the non-existence of the entity. the mind, of course, resists. self preservation. needs to be tripped.
the crux is, you were never created. eternal unborn. that’s the heart of it. made a stab at describing it in the book, failed, of course, can’t really express it, no one can. eternal unborn. never created, that’s the heart, that’s all there is.
www (Wei Wu Wei an Irishman whose real name was Terence Gray. AM ) at the very beginning of the book: “the essential understanding is that in reality nothing is. this is so obvious that it is not perceived.”
this, my friend, you must come to terms with. the mind does not like this, finds it strained to meaninglessness, absurdity. necessarily so. can you see that the only point of spiritual teaching, and the only aim of any teacher, is to press this strain to breaking? Everything is consciousness is your misreading. consciousness is all-there-is. universe of difference. conceptually, there is everything, and there is this awareness. and everything is not. and this awareness is. i understand fully that from the ‘human’ or dream standpoint, this is unacceptable. you have read the book selectively. the thread that runs through the book is that this can only be pointed to obliquely, and that one such pointer, not literal, not to be understood with the mind, is that of the dream. how it is that it is a ‘dream’ is indicated many times. but it cannot be seen with the mind.
If ‘this,’ the world of things and ideas, is seen as what is real, as true, as ‘reality,’
then That which is completely and radically ‘not-this,’
for which there are no words or ideas within ‘this,’
will necessarily be seen as no thing, as unreal...
It is only when ‘this,’ this so-called ‘reality’
is completely understood to be dreamlike illusion
that what is ‘not-this’ will, at the same time, be seen to be What Is.
...the heart turns from the illusion of ‘this’ and opens to What Is. (p. 353-4)
yes, i understand well that from within the dream this is not easy to see this way. as douglas has said (p.346), everyone sees it, cannot not see it; but has been conditioned to turn away immediately and the mind will not recognize that it sees it. when experiencing began in ‘alan’, manifestation was not seen as it is now seen and called ‘real’ by alan. this was learned. pure impersonal witnessing without belief was displaced with the mind’s insistence on the absurdity of its own existence.
to awaken is precisely to quiet the mind’s insistence, objection, absurd commentary. for the heart to turn from the illusion of ‘this’ and open to what is. ramana maharshi: “you will come in due course to realize that your true glory lies where you cease to exist.” this too my friend you must come to terms with.
when ramana said the heart is the only reality, mind only a transient phase, what was he talking about? when mystics and teachers talk about god as presence, what are they referring to? jesus said the living place of god is within; if this were ‘known’ or seen or experienced, how would it be known or seen or experienced? he who discovers the true meaning will never die. you will be astonished.
from within the dream, you are absolutely right: to call all this a dream is absurd, and to speak with certainty is laughable. the understanding from which this is being said is not from within the dream. the language is, yes, and also the understanding with which this is being heard. which is the difficulty. and yes, there is a sense in which ‘you’ and ‘all this’ exist in a manner of speaking (p.313, 327, and a couple of chapters on how it is a matter of mistaken perception which creates the illusion).
but to insist ‘the world does really exist’ is to cling to the mind’s familiar, the mind’s comfortable. you’ve got that part down cold, are in no danger of losing whatever balance is provided by that. for you the call is to see the deeper truth, to come to terms with ramana’s “what is not present in deep sleep does not exist,” with www’s “in reality nothing is,” with maharaj’s “ realize that you are dreaming a dream you call the world,” with david’s “there is no one home, there is nothing happening here.”
yes, i understand that from within the dream these sayings are absurd, ...bad example of Indian and other sages through the ages... they are simply pointers my friend, to a direction in which there may be movement if the mind eases its grip; pointers in a direction where it will indeed be obvious that you do not exist. yes, there is no object, there is no subject. this is not ‘true’ on one level and ‘not-true’ on another. the insistence on levels is the mind’s dream of separation, of dualism. there are no ‘levels’.
so-called awakening means popping out of the context in which ‘levels’ make any sense.
words and books are unhelpful: the book is full of words used obliquely to point away from themselves, and even though there are 3 chapters of disclaimer in the beginning and further mentions throughout that none of what follows is true, asking that you don’t latch on to the words, etc., it’s inevitable: the mind reads selectively, sees ex cathedra statements and tedious repetition and has its buttons pushed. the way of all the earth. please stop reading books. please stop believing your own thoughts, what your mind tells you. none of this is true. follow the pointers in the direction where the mind objects. “ ...The mind will rebel in the beginning, but with patience and perseverance it will yield and keep quiet.” (maharaj). easier for a camel, yes. grace. tripping happens.
all is well my friend. svaha! thank you.
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