Dear Dr. Robert,
Your interview in Non Duality Magazine was fascinating. As I was reading it, something occurred to me that I would like to mention. It has to do with the compulsion to look for something better, a way out, a greener pasture somewhere else, etc. Throughout human history, there were periods of intense suffering and difficulties to meet life's challenges but people always found a way to cope. They have often turned to religious authority to provide the answers, a shelter, or perhaps an escape. Suggesting to someone to embrace life as it is, including all of its aspects, is usually met with resistance on some level. There is a constantly reinforced tendency to sleepwalk through life, fill it with content, and get out of it as much as we can before the expiry date. This is all obvious. What most of us forget to do in the daily rush is to remember to stop and look, really look mindfully, how amazing the manifested world is. We take for granted that it is just there, every morning somehow appears as a playground for our activities. But what a work of art it is! The patterns, textures, creatures, experiences, and sufferings, all happen in the stream of consciousness, a river of boundless energy, mysteriously coming out of the no-thingness. Isn't this by far the best "movie" ever? ...and we have the best seats in the theater to use the analogy. Funny thing is that screens today have replaced reality and are separating us from it.
There is also an issue I have with terminology. Specifically, the term ego as used by many popular gurus in some spiritual traditions, like Advaita, who paint it as the compulsive thought machine and root of all problems that must be removed to reach a spiritual attainment. The use of this term is very different from Freud's definition of the ego concept - the rational aspect of the mind - that people in the West are perhaps more accustomed to. You mentioned somewhere, if I am correct, that we need the ego and without it would be in a coma. Is it synonymous with the sense of separate self, the subject-object duality? Can we exist and evolve without thought? Perception of self, individuality, is a function of the self-preservation instinct and as such exists not only in humans but all other species. Of course, humans have brought individuality very far.
Thank you. I am glad you enjoyed the interview. I enjoyed giving it.
You wrote, "The patterns, textures, creatures, experiences, and sufferings, all happen in the stream of consciousness, a river of boundless energy, mysteriously coming out of the no-thingness. Isn't this by far the best "movie" ever?
Yes. This is what Walter Chappell, my teacher, was able to convey to me. Not the idea of it, but the experience, moment-by-moment, of it.
As for the ego question, it is not a matter of the "sense of separate self, the subject-object duality." Clearly that exists, is a part of experience, and does not require nullification or any kind of self-conscious "transcendence," if that were even possible. I understand that often the spiritual seeking kind of person imagines that part of awakening involves the disappearance of that sense of a separate self. That is not really what I am pointing to when I point to an—for want of better lingo—"awakened perspective," but rather the understanding—not a state of mind which can change suddenly and often (how quickly will an insult or a perceived threat change yours?) but the actual deep understanding—that in this moment, things are as they are, and cannot be any different.
It is against the backdrop of that paradox, not by imagining something better and "cleaner," that "awakening" has to arise.
Further on the topic of ego. As I understand it, the term is used to describe identification with form, hence your term "mis-identification". The ego avoids/negates the present moment because it cannot conceive of the formless so it is doomed to keep searching for some illusory idea, which it cannot find, therefore it is never satisfied. It continually tries to find a fixed point in the river of being because it fears for its existence.
The confusing part, aside from the Freudian usage, is how this narrow definition of ego relates to one's personality and rational thought—i.e. our public identity. I can choose (have to choose, really) to use the mind as a tool for rational thought to be able to function in the world. In an unawakened state ("sleep mode"), 'I' am lost in thought and unaware of the present moment. Once I become conscious of thought, a separation begins that becomes a stepping stone and I start to notice the selfing game as it is played out moment by moment, shifting focus from what is experienced to who is experiencing. This can apparently go on for a long time without any qualitative change, unless some further understanding (as you point out) or practice takes it to the next level.
To be awake, I must remain present for what is happening in an open way without judgment and attachments and, as you mention, to allow what is to BE. I have to release everything so that it is all freed from me—my clinging, judging, etc. The release part is the trigger and it just happens somehow (the 'AAAH' moment), removing the filter of delusion. I become aware of awareness—my private identity—while the ego, not able to withstand the light of consciousness, becomes hidden away. The question is what happens to it and do I really care?
The following is an excerpt from Douglas Harding's article "On Being Aware":
"Yes, you've got it! You see with total clarity Who and what you've always been, namely this Disappearance in favour of others, this Emptiness which is aware of itself as no-thing and therefore all things. How could we not see this most obvious of all sights, once our attention is drawn to it?
Congratulations! You're enlightened! You always were."
But now comes the hard bit. Seeing what you really are is just about the easiest thing in the world to do, and just about the most difficult to keep doing, at first. Normally, it takes months and years and decades of coming back home, to the spot one occupies (or rather, doesn't occupy--the world does that) before one learns the knack of remaining centred, of staying indoors, of living from one's space instead of from one's face."
Well, whether I am using the word "ego" to mean "identification with form" or not depends on what you mean by "form." I generally use the word "ego" to point to a version of "myself" which is comprised of those aspects of the body over which we seem to have conscious control, plus the body's autobiography, the latter being the story I tell myself about who and what I am and what my place is in the apparent world and its apparent organization. This is not quite the standard usage, but what we are discussing here has little or no place in standard ego psychology either.
No, I do not believe that you can choose to use the mind as a tool for rational thought. Rational thought happens when it happens in response to whatever triggers it. Ego then falsely takes credit for "directing" the mind to think rationally, but this is what ego always tries to do—take credit for whatever "doing" occurs. And ego, by the way, is usually far from "rational." For example, ego habitually locates itself in the center of reality, which is not at all rational.
All of this is very complex and difficult to discuss, David, because what would make sense to one person, in one condition, will make no sense at all to someone else in a different condition. This is why the bulk of my teaching takes place one-to-one. For example, when I say no one is to blame for anything, some people grasp that immediately—notwithstanding how truly foreign that idea is to the normal way of understanding what a "person" is—while others cannot get to first base with that idea. Since I do not know where you, personally, are with all this, I will try to address your question, but this is only a shot in the dark really. If you were sitting here with me, we could feel our way into this, but in print it is not at all the same. Also, to sit with someone who is in an awakened state can be "catching," at least for the moment, and words on a page are not at all like that. That said, David, here goes:
Awakening just happens. You do not have to do anything. You do not have to release anything. And the ego does not become hidden away. Everything is just as it always was, except that the "myself" which seemed so obviously factual, so indisputably here at the center of "my" experience, and the doer, creator, and liver of "my" life, is seen to be a ghost in the machine. Life just happens. No one is doing it. No one ever did. From another angle, awakening is the simple recognition that in this moment everything is as it is and cannot be any different. In other words, no one is making anything be this way, and there is no explanation, no rhyme nor reason to any of it. THIS, including myself, is what the entire universe is doing, and there is no one with the power to stand apart from that doing anything different. All of THIS, being life itself, simply arises as it must, and I am that.
I don't know anything about Douglas Harding, and I am not moved by the quote to google him. This "Guess what? You are already enlightened" stuff is flowing quite freely nowadays, but I cannot really buy it. That is more of a word game than anything else. Yes, it is true on a certain level, but that level is not one which can inform someone who is seeking awakening in the way that you are. I prefer not to use the word "enlightened" at all. Awakening is the understanding that the very idea of a "myself" which can become anything is pure reification—making a solid "thing" that is, out of a conceptual point of view. The concept of becoming is ego, and exists only as a story I tell myself. In other words, an "enlightened person" does not refer to anything real. It is simply another facet of the daydream called "myself," which now becomes a fantasized "enlightened myself." When that daydream is seen to be based upon an empty concept (what a mathematician would call "an empty set," one is awake. Ego will still be there, and will even notice the "awakeness," but then immediately will try to take credit for it, or dispute it, or deny it. This is called "drinking knockout drops."
I like your use of the word "knack." I remember trying as a boy to get my Duncan Yo-Yo to "sleep." I saw other kids doing it, but could not catch on to the knack. Then, suddenly, I got it! It was as easy as pie. Nothing to it. In fact, it was hard to make it not sleep. That is what residing in silence and emptiness is like. I really cannot not do it, even if I wanted to. Oh, I can distract myself with some activity or whatever, but the substratum of all of that never really disappears, and I certainly never have to make any effort to notice it or "reconstitute" it.
If you remember that you cannot acquire that knack through any effort whatsoever, you will be just about as close to the crux of this matter as words can go.
Beyond that, the best that anyone can do is to try to prepare the ground for the knack. The best approach to that, in my experience, is remembering as often as possible that prior to thought, prior to feeling, "I AM." In other words, I am that to which or in which thoughts, feelings, emotions, and objects—including "my own" body—become apparent moment by moment. In different words, I am the emptiness into which all these phenomena appear. If you will do that—a simple question of remembrance, nothing more—sooner or later, without conscious effort on "your" part, a shift will simply occur, and you will be awake, perhaps only for a brief moment, perhaps longer. No problem. That experience is one observation, one "dot." Later, another mini-shift into—for want of a better term—"impersonal awareness," yields another observation, another "dot." Once that begins to happen, David, it is just a matter of connecting the dots.
Does that help?