The Path of No Path — The paradox of non-dual teachings.

Spiritual teachers with non-dual leanings often say that there is no path to enlightenment. There is nowhere to get to; you are already enlightened, you just do not know it. There is no need for a technique or practice; they will only keep your mind trapped in the illusion of relative phenomena. Do not meditate; do nothing.

There certainly is a profound truth embedded in such statements. When awakening occurs, there is the realization that there really was nowhere else to get to, no higher state of consciousness to achieve. The world remains as it is, and your experience remains as it is. What shifts is your relationship to experience, or rather your non-relationship to it. The identification with a constructed sense of self is no longer there. “You” are not thinking, seeing, breathing; thinking, seeing, and breathing are just occurring. It is obvious that it always was this way; but all our wanting, striving, clinging, avoiding, and self-identification obscured this simple fact.

In this sense there is nothing to do. The very opposite: it is our doing that is the problem. When we let go of all attachments as to how things should or could be, we wake up to the truth of what is. Even the word enlightenment is misleading; it implies some other, “higher”, state of consciousness. This is what makes the statement “you are already enlightened” so confusing. But to say you are already awake, but not awake to your own wakefullness, or you are already aware, but not fully aware of awareness, makes more sense.

From the awakened perspective, it is true that there is nowhere to get to. This is why many teachers say: Do nothing. Stop. Don’t meditate. Don’t try and get somewhere other than where you already are. There is nowhere to go. Nothing to do. There is no path.

And yet… Many of these teachers did tread a path. Some spent years investigating the true nature of our apparent “I-ness”. Others followed a path of total surrender, or a deep deconstruction of experience. My own glimpses of the truth have come in periods of deep meditation, when the mind is totally relaxed and still. Then I see so clearly that there is nothing to do and nowhere to go. And yet, if had not followed a path that allowed me to drop into a deep stillness and let go of my habitual mode of experience, I would not have fully appreciated this truth.

So from the unawake perspective—which is where I am most the time, and probably most of you are most the time—there are paths to follow. And, until such time as they are no longer needed, the paths that help the most are those that develop the skill of letting go, allowing the mind to relax, releasing all effort, all trying to get somewhere. So, do not meditate with an intent to reach some enlightened state of being. But do take time to let the “doing mind” die away, to sink into your own being. Take time to learn to do nothing.

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Praying to One’s Self by Peter Russel

A friend recently asked if I ever prayed for anything. My response was yes, but not in the conventional way. I don’t pray for intervention in the world, but for intervention in my mind, for that’s where I most need help.

We usually think of prayer as an appeal to some higher power. We might pray for someone’s healing, for success in some venture, for a better life, or for guidance on some challenging issue. Behind such prayers is the recognition that we don’t have the power to change things ourselves—if we did, we would simply get on with the task—so we beseech a higher power to intervene on our behalf.

Trying to change the world occupies much of our time and attention. We want the possessions, opportunities, or experiences that we think will make us happy—or conversely, avoid those that will make us suffer. We believe that if only things were different we would finally be at peace.

This is the ego’s way of thinking. It is founded on the belief that how we feel inside depends upon our circumstances. And if things aren’t the way we think they should be, we start to feel discontent. This can take various forms—disappointment, frustration, annoyance, impatience, judgment, grievance—yet whatever its form, the root of our discontent lies not so much in the situation at hand, but more in how we interpret it.

For example, if I am stuck in a traffic jam, I can see it either as something that will make me suffer—being late for an appointment, missing some experience, or upsetting someone—and so begin to feel impatient, frustrated, or anxious. Or I can see it as an opportunity to relax, and take it easy for a few minutes. The same situation; two totally different reactions. And the difference is purely in how I am seeing things.

When I catch myself feeling upset in some way, I find it helpful to remember that my annoyance might be coming from the way I am interpreting the situation. If so, it makes more sense to ask, not for a change in the world, but for a change in my perception.

So that is what I pray for. I settle into a quiet state, then ask, with an attitude of innocent curiosity: “Could there, perhaps, be another way of seeing this?” I don’t try to answer the question myself, for that would doubtless activate the ego-mind, which loves to try and work things out for me. So I simply pose the question. Let it go. And wait.

Often a new way of seeing then dawns on me. It does not come as a verbal answer, but as an actual shift in perception. I find myself seeing the situation in a new way.

One memorable shift happened a while ago when I was having some challenges with my partner. She was not behaving the way I thought she should. (How many of us have not felt that at times?) After a couple of days of strained relationship, I decided to pray in this way, just gently inquiring if there might possibly be another way of perceiving this.

Almost immediately, I found myself seeing her in a very different light. Here was another human being, with her own history and her own needs, struggling to navigate a difficult situation. Suddenly everything changed. I felt compassion for her rather than animosity, understanding rather than judgment. I realized that for the last two days I had been out of love; but now the love had returned.

The results of praying like this never cease to impress me. I find my fears and grievances dropping away. In their place is a sense of ease. Whoever or whatever was troubling me, I now see through more loving and compassionate eyes. Moreover, the new perspective often seems so obvious: Why hadn’t I seen this before?

The beauty of this approach is that I am not praying to some external power. I am praying to my self for guidance—to the true self that sees things as they are without the overlay of various hopes and fears. It recognizes when I have become caught in the ego’s way of thinking, and is ever-willing to help set me free.

There’s No Such Thing as Ego

I don’t have an ego. And nor do you.

That doesn’t mean you and I don’t get caught up in egocentric thinking and behavior, but that we are mistaken in thinking of the ego as some separate individual self. some “thing” in the mind.

When I observe my own mind, I notice there is an ever-present sense of “I-ness”. This has been there all my life, and has not changed. The feeling of being “me” is the same feeling I had when I was ten years old. My thoughts, feelings, likes, dislikes, attitude, character, personality, roles, desires, needs, and beliefs may have changed considerably over the years, but the sense of “I” has not.

I do not find a separate ego, another “self” that sometimes takes over. What I find instead are various patterns of thinking that condition how I decide and act. At times, I may feel fearful or judgmental, and I may behave in ways that are manipulative or self-protective. I may think that if I could just have things be a particularly way I would be happy. I may feel insecure and want attention from others, seeking to feel important. I may draw a sense of identity from my social status, the roles I play, my character, or my lifestyle. And when this is challenged in some way, I may try to defend and reinforce this constructed sense of identity.

In each case, past experiences and conditioning create beliefs, attitudes, needs, desires, and aversions. These become the lens through which I see my world, affecting how I interpret my experience, the thoughts that arise in my mind, and a whole set of stories about what to say or do, in order to get what I think will bring make me feel better. However, the “I” that is interpreting and thinking is the same “I” that is always there. But its attention has become engrossed in some or other “egoic” pattern of thinking, leading to correspondingly egocentric decisions and actions.

What we call the ego is not another separate self. It is as a mode of being that can dominate our thinking, decisions, speech, and actions, leading us to behave in ways that are uncaring, self-centered, or manipulative.
Our exploration of ego would be more fruitful if we stopped using the word as a noun, which immediately implies some “thing”, and instead thought of ego as a mental processes that can occupy our attention. For this a verb is a more appropriate part of speech. I am “ego-ing”.

The difference is subtle, but very important. If I see the ego as a separate self, some thing, then it is easy to fall into the belief—common in many spiritual circles—that I must get rid of my ego, transcend it, or overcome it in some way. But seeing ego as a mental process, a system of thinking that I get caught in, suggests that I need to step out of that mode of thinking—to look at the world through a different lens, one less tainted by fear, insecurity and attachment.

This is a much easier and more effective approach. When I notice myself caught up in egoic thinking, rather than berating myself (or my imagined ego), I can notice what is going on and step back from it. This doesn’t mean I have eliminated that way of thinking. It will surely return. And when it does, I can choose to step out of it again. Transcending the ego thus becomes an ongoing practice rather than a far-off goal.

Meditation – The Art of Letting Go

 In order that the mind should see light instead of darkness, so the entire soul must be turned away from this changing world, until its eye can learn to contemplate reality and that supreme splendor which we have called the good. Hence there may well be an art whose aim would be to effect this very thing.

Socrates

In addition to our character, our personality, our habits, our beliefs, the mistakes we have made, the hopes we have, and all the other things that go towards our sense of being an individual self, there is a dimension to our identity that we cannot describe so easily.

We all know what it means to say “I” — we use the word the whole time. Or rather, we think we know what the word means. We can define many of the things we identify ourselves with, but the underlying Self that is doing the identifying is much harder to define.

Trying to describe the self is rather like setting out with a flashlight to search for the source of the flashlight’s light. All I would find as I shone the torch around would be the various objects that the beam fell upon. However hard I looked I would not locate the source of light. It is the same when I try to discover the nature of “I.” All that I am aware of are various aspects of my self that the light of consciousness happens to fall upon — my personality, character, memories, ambitions, habits, beliefs, feelings, intelligence, failings, and so on. Try as I may, I cannot find the source of that light. I cannot find the source of my own experience, the unchanging, permanent core of my being.

This does not mean that we, as conscious experiencing beings, do not exist. That much is undeniable. We may question the truth of what we think, and we may question the reality of what we experience through the senses. What we cannot question is the fact that we think and that we experience.

This is what Déscartes was saying in his famous phrase, “Cogito ergo sum” — “I think therefore I am.” It was not, as is often interpreted, that his thinking was the cause of his existence. On the contrary, it was a proof of his existence. Déscartes was searching for the absolute truth — for that which is beyond all doubt. He found that, although he could doubt the content of any thought that he might have, he could not doubt the fact that he thought. And thus he could not doubt his own existence.

However, because our familiarity with the world around us is considerably more developed than our familiarity with the realm of mind, we are only half-awake to our inner nature. We overlook our true essence. Instead we identify ourselves with our more tangible aspects — with our physical form, our personality, our profession, our position, our past, our potential, and so on.

Such attributes are conditioned by events and can change with time. They are not a single, permanent, unchanging, independent Self.

To realize the nature of the underlying Self has been an eternal quest of humanity. It was this call that was inscribed above the portals of the ancient Greek oracle at Delphi, Gnothi Seauton — “Know thyself.” And in one way or another it is the core of most of the major world religions.

A Still Mind

A common aim of many techniques of meditation is to bring mental activity to an end and so reach what Indian teachings describe as samadhi — a state of “still mind.”

A still mind is a mind that is free from fear, free from fantasies, free from ruminations over the past, free from concern about what may or may not be happening to it. It is mind no longer disturbed by the many thoughts that come from believing that fulfillment lies in what we have or what we do. For once the ego-mind has fallen silent.

Consciousness itself remains; you are still awake, you are still aware. You, the experiencer, still exist. For a while you are free from your hopes and fears, your social status, your character and personality, and all those other things that gave you a sense of personal identity. You are free to know the underlying Self.

Such knowing comes not as an idea or an understanding, for that would make the subject of experience an object of experience. Besides, the still mind is a mind that is not moved by ideas or understandings — at least, not as we normally think of them. This knowing comes from a direct acquaintance with the Self. I simply am. I am not any thing; there is no substance or form to my being. Yet its reality is absolutely clear — and undeniable.

It is this transcendence of the ego and remembering of one’s underlying nature that gives meditation its value. Here is the identity, peace and serenity that we have been searching for all along. Here is the fulfillment for which we have been yearning. Then, when we come out of meditation, we return to active life with a taste of this inner truth, and a little less attached to the things of the world.

No single moment of transcendence is likely to enlighten us forever. Our conditioning is so deep that it does not take long before we once again are caught up in our hopes, fears, worries and concerns, and once again start looking for external sources of fulfillment. But a little of the taste remains, and our attachment to the world may not be quite as strong as it was before. And perhaps after another taste, a little less strong still. This is why regular meditation practice is usually recommended — a daily dose of dehypnosis — a daily remembering of ourselves in our unconditioned state.

Different not Difficult

Meditation is often thought of as an activity of the mind, some form of mental “doing.” However, a mental activity does not easily lead to a state of stillness; and meditative practices which take this approach tend to be very difficult. True meditation is not difficult so much as different — completely different from the mental processes we are accustomed to.

Most techniques aimed at stilling the mind are exercises in attention rather than exercises in thinking. One does not quieten the mind by changing what one thinks, but by changing the direction and quality of one’s attention. In their own particular ways meditation techniques shift the attention away from the world of the senses — the world we one thought would bring us peace of mind — and turn the attention inwards towards our inner essence.

As the mind begins to settle down it discovers an inner calm and peace. The attention has found what it has been seeking along, and needs no coercion to continue in this direction. This is reflected in the following lines by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the teacher of Transcendental Meditation, taken from his book The Science of Being and Art of Living:

To go to a field of greater happiness is the natural tendency of the mind. Because in the practice of transcendental meditation the conscious mind is set on the way to experiencing bliss-consciousness, the mind finds the way increasingly attractive as it advances in the direction of bliss. It finds increasing charm at every step of its march. This practice is, therefore, not only simple but also automatic.

Practice

In this respect the art of meditation can be the essence of easiness. It is just letting go — allowing the mind to return to its natural state of its own accord.

Any difficulty that may be experienced usually comes from the difficulty involved in unhooking the mind from its conditioned thinking. So strong is our attachment to finding happiness through the world we experience — and this includes not just what we experience through our eyes, ears, and skin, but also the things we see, hear, and feel in our imagination — that the mind holds on hard to its cherished beliefs.

Even when we do let go and the mind begins to relax and settle down, it usually is not long before it is disturbed again as some unfulfilled desire starts once more to work out ways of finding future satisfaction. In this respect stilling the mind is not at all easy.

This is why specific techniques of meditation are of value — not as things to do, but as aids to release the mind from its deeply ingrained patterns. They are skills we can learn to disengage our egoic mode of thinking.

Another important consequence of allowing the mind to sink into the silence of pure consciousness, is that the qualities that usually distinguish one self from another are no longer there. All markers of individuality have gone. We become aware that we are the light of consciousness, and that this light is the same light that shines within all beings. We become one with all beings.

This is the divine union of which so many great saints and mystics have spoken. And, as they have repeatedly told us, it is only through a direct personal knowing of our deep inner unity with all beings that we will be saved.

This is our challenge. Can we wake up in time? Can we continue our evolutionary journey and grow from our current state of semi-wakefulness into the full realization of our true identity? This may sound a lofty goal, but it is, in fact, where each of our lives is taking us. It is just the state of full human maturity.