Thursday, June 7, 2012

Soundbites Will Never Liberate You: Guest Teaching by Chris Hebard

WELCOME.  Last week was the first time in nearly a year that I didn't publish a new post on Awakening Clarity.  It was like going on vacation!  I had a huge windfall of time, and I used it wisely: I wrote quite a bit in my book, and got those chapters sent off to the publisher.  I also restructured some of this website, moving a few things, and removing several others.  I watch what interests you here, and this site is always a work-in-progress to bring it into line with what you're finding most helpful.  I love that ever-evolving aspect even though it sometimes drives me crazy.

FORM GRABBED ME by the collar this week.  Betsy and I lost our dog to cancer this past Sunday. Those of you who are animal lovers might want to use this link and visit the memorial page I put up for him. We thank all of you who've already sent condolence notes.  While this teaching allows us to see things as they really are, there's no point in trying to fly above it: we loved our dog and didn't want to see him leave, even though we know he hasn't really gone anywhere.  We'll nonetheless miss his beat up old body, ever-cheerful attitude, and always loyal presence. He was a gifted spiritual teacher.

 CHRIS HEBARD, our guest teacher this week, is someone a great number of you will already know.  Chris is, of course, the founder of Stillness Speaks, which is the magnetic spiritual pole many of us have circled around for years, perhaps especially those of us who rest our heads in the hinterlands.  South Carolina is not exactly the locus of either progressive living, or spiritual openness, which is why when I'm asked where I live, I inevitably respond, "The Internet."  Stillness Speaks was my Internet home before this site sucked up most of my time and attention, but I still get over there on a regular basis.  It's a great site.  (By the way, Chris expects for Stillness Speaks to be showing up with a refreshed look very soon now, so don't miss it.)  Chris' face is among the best known faces in contemporary Nonduality, and his smile and laugh are among the most infectious.

CHRIS HEBARD IS AS GOOD an interviewer as anyone on the planet, spiritual or otherwise.  I would rather watch him talk to people than be there myself.  Stillness Speaks, as well as their DVD series, have introduced us to a great many teachers. Chris probed the depths of this teaching by working with some teachers on set, as he did, for instance, with Awakening Clarity guest teachers Greg Goode and Peter Dziuban, as well as with Paul Hedderman.  He also brings us some of the in-depth teaching he's received over the years via DVDs of a retreat he taped for Francis Lucille. The production values meet a high standard in everything Chris does. As for recorded interviews, I see Bentinho Massaro and Jeff Foster on my shelf, as well as and a couple of long, wonderful interviews with our mutual friend, Rupert Spira. I think they're both milestones, and the Love DVD is quite simply the best spiritual DVD I've ever watched.  This is not hype; this is how I really feel. You can find some of these in the Stillness Speaks store and some others on Amazon, as you'll see below.  Chris generously sent me several of those gratis just to the experience of them with me.
HE HAS ALSO done interviews with a whole group of teachers in his "Western Masters of Non Duality" series.  Teachers included there are Vijay Kapoor, Stephen Wolinsky, Loch Kelly, Loibon Le Baaba, Peter Fenner, James Swartz, Chuck Hillig, Joel Morwood, and Jeff Foster, as well as completely fresh  interviews with Rupert, Greg, and Francis.  He's also done videos with Scott Kiloby, and Kenny Johnson.  I'm sure there are others I don't yet know about.  I have watched a ton of them, I can tell you that. I can remember sitting in my study, watching videos of different people having conversations with Chris and thinking, "Gee, he looks like a really nice guy."  I already knew Scott Kiloby at the time, so I asked him about Chris one day.  Scott confirmed that Chris was just as pleasant and as charming as he appeared on screen.  Now, just in case you've wondered, I can confirm that to you.  What you see is what you get.

AS ALWAYS, we have a links list at the bottom of this article.  Let me recommend two video interviews right off the top of my head.  The first is a YouTube interview by my long-time friend, Michael Jeffreys.  (A decade or so ago Michael was the first person to tell me about a little guy named Eckhart Tolle.) You may know Michael from his book reviews on Stillness Speaks, his own website, and elsewhere.  It's a terrific interview, with Michael really showing off his finely honed people skills, while Chris leads us through his awakening, his journey into the heart of spirituality, and the founding of Stillness Speaks.  He also tells us there about how he used to drink with Alan Watts--but that they never discussed spirituality!  Go figure.  Chris also shared my own interest in the Beat poets and writers, and was getting high and raising Cain about the Vietnam War at the same time I was.  (My claim to fame in Beatdom is a little time spent in Boulder in the early 70's with Allen Ginsburg and Peter Orlovsky, who introduced me to Gregory Corso and a bunch of the real-live folks from Kerouac's On the Road.  It was also the first time I came eyeball to eyeball with Buddhism, at Naropa.)

I HAVE MORE THAN ONE  Chris Hebard story I could share with you, but I'll share the most recent first.  Sunday night I sent out a link to the memoriam I put up for our dog to a number of friends, including Chris.  If you're an animal lover, you understand that losing a dog is no small thing.  Sure, it's just another arising, but we don't use Nonduality to escape pain, but rather to allow us to embrace it. Anyway, it wasn't long before I got an email back from Chris expressing his condolences.  He took the time and care to illustrate his letter with photos of his own numerous pets, and wise observations on our relationship with animals, and what they can teach us.  It was quietly beautiful, so heart-felt on his end, and so heart-taken on ours. It meant and means a great deal to Betsy and me.  I quote here from it: "Animals are remarkable; they remind us of the important things in life: lots of food, sleep and love--and play!  If I could only be as together in life as my animals, students would travel from all over the world to learn my secrets."

I TALKED WITH CHRIS at length via Skype one night a few weeks ago.  We touched on his life story, and he told me that he was "the most unlikely candidate" for a spiritual awakening that I'd ever meet.  Sometimes I  think the least likely candidates for awakening are actually the most likely.  There is nothing like crashing and burning from a misspent life to help us begin to welcome new ideas.  As it says in our masthead here, "It unfolds as it unfolds."  I'm sure glad Chris welcomed this teaching, and a whole lot of other people are, too.  I'm proud to be his friend, and to present his Guest Teaching Series post, which was written especially for Awakening Clarity.  I asked Chris what he had learned from his experience with Stillness Speaks.  This is his answer.

AND NOW . . .

Soundbites Will Never Liberate You


Chris Hebard

BEFORE I START, let me share a warning about "Teachings".  I do so hate the word--"teaching"--it implies that what is discussed here is both official and can be learned.  Here is my experience: It can't. True Wisdom must be seen and that seeing is born directly through the loins of the "seeker"--from a different, mysterious place altogether.

One of the challenges of being guided in Self Discovery is an inclination to forage for "pointers", feeding grist to the mill facilitating the search.  These pointers can be shortcuts.  The risk is that, prior to investigation of them, we may come to accept, rather than question, every view we encounter, particularly when they come from "teachers".  When this happens, we trade freedom for expedience.  In my experience, blind acceptance of any pointer--any teaching--may provide a false sense of assurance and feel good temporarily, but, it's fruit may be proven hollow under the harsh light of recognition of the very next emotional agitation experienced.

Accepting the word of another regarding our own happiness is just as dangerous as it's opposite position:  “There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments, and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance—that principle is contempt prior to investigation.” (Attributed to Herbert Spencer)

Both contempt prior to investigation and blind acceptance have no place in Self Inquiry. If you hear nothing else in this entire article, hear this: There is no liberation or happiness in inheriting another's set of beliefs. True happiness is discovered through the inspection and dismantling of belief itself.  Liberation could be called the end of all belief.It is the domain only of "what is".
And, "what is" can only be experienced now, and, it can only be experienced directly.

What would the value be of someone else's truth to you?  It would be valueless, unless it actually became your direct truth.  There is only ONE teacher. May you find him/her now.


What is the most valuable lesson I have learned at Stillness Speaks? It would be the most valuable lesson I have learned in life: I am not what I thought I was.

Over the years, I have come to realize that the basic quest of life is to discover where happiness resides. The hunt begins with the assumption that there is something missing "in here" and that something "out there" will complete me, thus bringing me peace and happiness. It certainly was the case here.

First, for those who do not already know, I had no true interest in spiritual matters until a precipitous event in 2006.  Previously, I had been a moderately successful entrepreneur: my behavior was greedy, vane and selfish. Today, I would say my former demeanor was motivated by ignorance; at the time, I simply had no clue.  Successful by most societal standards, I was driven by a deep need for approval and control.

I had all the trappings of low self esteem: fancy cars, big houses, young spouses, and all the external symbols of prosperity.  Everything went my way...until it did not.  Some awaken gracefully; I had to be hit with a 2x4 to discover the depth of my confusion.

Without belaboring the story, I would point to a Conscious TV interview for those who might be curious as to how this about-face occurred. Simply put, it was a complete train wreck.  As Michael Jackson once said, : "I have been a victim of a selfish kind of love. You've got to start with the man in the mirror."

Stillness Speaks started as a reflection of the deep spiritual quest that began due to this very sudden, inelegant and total collapse of my identity.  It became a journal of my stumbling in complete disarray while attempting to understand what had occurred. A "crack" had appeared; it was absolutely irreversible, permanent and total. It was not a pleasant "samadhi-like" experience: it devastated every semblance I had of identity.

This not to imply that this "event" was an endpoint; it was not. It did not leave me suddenly with answers, only certainty about what I was not. Stillness Speaks was born of deep confusion about who or what I was. It became a "journal" of discoveries and an inventory of resources while on this "pathless path" of Self Inquiry.

As the ancient Yoga Vasistha exclaims: "This world appearance is a confusion: even as the blueness of the sky is an optical illusion. I think it better not to let the mind dwell on it, but ignore it." (1.3.2)

I chose the opposite direction: I assumed that the world had an independent reality and that there was no "God". I chose to inspect and investigate every single assumption that led me to this conclusion.  I had no choice. In this sudden "crack", I had seen, without any doubt, that it could not  be true.  It led to an amazing conclusion, which confirmed Vasistha's counsel.  This journey continues to this day; the only difference is that today, this journey is understood as one of "eternal enlightening", the unfolding of this dance of imagination, of seeing the mechanisms that permit diversity to appear.

Shunryu Suzuki (1904-1971), the Zen monk and founder of the San Francisco Zen Center, once said: "Strictly speaking, there is no such thing as an enlightened person, only enlightened activity". So simple, so true. How could we forget this?

I am told by some that this journey ends with the ultimate discovery that all perception is absolutely meaningless. This may be true but, from here, it seems that "no-thing" continues  "seeing". It is an eternal unfolding of infinite potentiality, a divine dance beyond the mind's confined ability to understand. This is no ordinary love. It is the actual substance of every "thing".

While the mind still entertains itself as a separate, independent entity, every resistance, every fear, every desire is Grace, a gift of the true sat guru, revealing further dust in the attic to be brushed away. It is the answering of the only true prayer, the prayer to return home. Any residue of ignorance is bound to be revealed. The only requirement is the interest in seeing it.

Once again, Suzuki Roshi: "Day to day life becomes our Zen training, and we discover that to study Buddhism is to study ourselves. And to know our true selves is to be enlightened."  The success of the journey is inevitable for one reason only: we never actually never left home, not even for an instant.

Stillness Speaks was never designed as a commercial venture; it's fruit has been the bouquet of remarkable friends who have come to share this journey with me. It is not lost on me that I am surrounded by angels. Some are well known teachers and many others I call "silent jnanis in our midst." These are souls who have no further need for notoriety and have reached out  simply either in gratitude, celebration or as a gentle hand pointing away from the remaining foibles of ignorance back towards this light that makes it all possible.

Self Discovery is actually a huge deconstruction process. It points further and further prior to our current "point of view" until it is realized that no point of view actually exists. It is the tug of knowingness, even when immersed in ignorance, pulling us "prior to this" back to what has always been deeply known but which is acutely covered in the confusion of conceptualization, facetiously, created for  amusement.

Awkwardly, this journey first tries to get somewhere: that place would be home. Eventually, it is discovered that, ironically, every attempt to get there, simply buries us further in the fabric of an imaginary inner self, which cannot exist without the perpetuation of the suffering it is trying to eliminate. Thus, Vasistha's advice.

As they say in India, "What to do?"

Some would say there is nothing to do and, standing as the absolute, this would be true. But… If it is believed that we are, indeed, human beings on a journey through time and space, if it is believed that there is, in fact, an independent me, living in a world of others, there is, in fact, something to do…

And that is to deeply examine whether this is true.

This is what Stillness Speaks has tried to do: while investigating the nature of this reality here, I have tried to share resources that have helped me. Along the way, remarkable men and women have walked with me thru this confusion. Across all spiritual traditions and time, great texts have shared the same realizations. Stillness Speaks celebrates this guidance by recognition of this assistance with those on a similar path.

Although there may be one destination, there seems to be infinite varieties of ignorance and thus, individuality. Hence, there are an infinite number of paths of Self Discovery. Nothing that is shared here is meant to imply that one path is better than any other. In fact, just the opposite, as the great American mystic, Robert Adams, once said: "All is well and unfolding exactly as it should."

All that can be shared here is what has worked here.  It is as simple as that. And, much of that came as the result of meeting my teacher, Francis Lucille

I call the path I took the Path of Perception; some call it the Direct Path. Richard Rose (1907-2005), another American Mystic and founder of The Tat Foundation, said the direct path to truth is the retreat from the untruth. It is the contemplation of our direct experience, uncovering that which is it's reality--that which does not change.

This is a key: "For something to change, there must be a changeless element."  Francis Lucille.

Many attribute the "Direct Path" to  Shri Krishna Atmananda (1883-1959), a contemporary of Ramana Maharshi  and Nisargadatta Maharaj. I refer to these three as Titans of Twentieth Century  Indian Self Inquiry.

I was introduced to the work of Atmananda Krishna Menon by my teacher, Francis Lucille, who studied his work thru his teacher, Jean Klein. Jean Klein knew Krishna Menon and studied with a contemporary of his, Pandit Veeraraghavachar Rao. Perhaps, the best resource on The Direct Path would be the transcriptions and remembrances of Atmananda Menon's satsangs in a 3 volume set, entitled, Noteson Spiritual Discourses of Shri Atmananda, taken by Nitya Tripta. Less available, but, prosaically beautiful, are two of his original works: Atma Darshan and Atma Nirvritti. Both are out of publication but can occasionally be found at collectible book stores.

Later, I participated in the development of an in depth experiential DVD guide on  The Direct Path, entitled "Illumination", with Dr. Greg Goode, who later authored a book based upon our examination, entitled The Direct Path, A User's Guide. These resources were indispensable to me.   

Peter Dzuiban, author of Consciousness is All, and Rupert Spira, my friend and fellow student of Francis Lucille, both documented various specific experiential exercises, step by step, that can be followed by the viewer in film features we created.

(Those interested in following along can watch free sample video clips from "The Transparency of Things" and "Love" with Rupert Spira, and Peter Dzuiban.)

The Essential Arising of Fear and Desire

Does the world survive when we die?

The answer to this question is a key. If the world has an independent reality, then, it stands to reason, that it is unpredictable and can be dangerous. But, what if  it was not separate at all? If the very world only existed in dependence of that which we are, there would be no room for fear.  Further, the investigation of all that we perceive-- in other words-- the investigation  of the world, body and mind, must also reveal the reality of the perceiver--that which we are.

What evidence do we have that we are a mind and a body living in an independent world?  The investigation of all types of perception is essential to our examination of the belief that the world of objects have an independent reality.

My teacher and friend, Francis Lucille, has always counseled that ignorance, "ignoring the true self", has a foundation built on two pillars, ignorance of the mind and ignorance of the body.  Francis teaches that both paths, the investigation of our intellectual beliefs and the deep experiential path of exploring all perception--thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations and sensing itself: touching, smelling, hearing, seeing had to be equally and deeply investigated.

First, an apparently shocking statement: We never experience an object. We only experience perceptions of objects. There is a big difference.  By perceptions, I am referring to the entirety of objective information received as sight, sound, smell, taste, tactility, bodily sensation and thought.  Apparently, we can agree that we experience perception.  But, to correlate that these perceptions exist independently, as objects, assumes facts not in evidence. We have no proof that the perceptions we perceive have any sort of independent reality. In other words, we have no evidence for objects, as commonly defined, at all.

What is awareness? This is really not very difficult to answer. But, what is matter? That is a much more difficult question. So, a thorough, step by step investigation of perception is necessary. If the goal is to realize the truth, no part of this examination can be overlooked; in fact, as is sometimes said, "Half measures availed us nothing." My teacher once said, "Don't stop until you are completely satisfied."

A quick examination of direct experience reveals that all of our conclusions about mind, body and world are based upon four forms of input: perceiving, sensing, thinking and feeling. As the audit unfolds, each of these categories dissolves revealing the one and only, frequently overlooked, constant: the awareness in which every-thing appears.

The Collapse of the Imaginary Me

Spending time examining perceptions and it's relation to the awareness in which it appears will, eventually, result in the recognition that we could be nothing but this awareness. All sensory perception and bodily sensation appear to mind, making it no more real, or unreal than thought itself.  Sensing and perceiving are types of thought; as discussed previously, the only thing ever experienced is perception, including thought. It is never an object as commonly defined. There is no evidence for the independent reality of objects.

As awareness itself, we are here prior to any thought, while the thought occurs and after the thought disappears. Is this not true--whether the thought is apprehended as a sensory perception, a bodily sensation or mental reflection? And, what of the space between two thoughts? We could not argue that there is no space between two thoughts, as thought itself would be indistinguishable if this were the case.  But, is what I am a passing thought? Here now and gone a moment later? Or, is what I am to be discovered in the space between the thoughts--the space which supports it?

Do thoughts think? Do sensations feel? Do perceptions perceive? Exactly, then, what is it that is reading the words in the article right here, right now? But, is this awareness limited? Does it have any boundary or border? Where does my awareness end and yours begin? Are there multiple awarenesses? In our direct experience, there are not. Awareness is, in fact, totally intimate, but, in no way, personal.

If I cannot find the boundary to "my" awareness, what makes it "mine"? How can I assume that "my" awareness is not the same as "your" awareness?  Even deeper, if what I am is the awareness in which all objects appear, who is it that says that some perceptions (i.e. the itch on my arm) belongs to a "me" and the honking of a car does not belong to "me"? Don't they both appear in the same aware space?

What decides which of the perceptions "I" witness belong to a separate "me" and which ones do not? Do not all perceptions occur in the same "spaceless space" of awareness? What makes one set of perceptions "me" (tingling in fingers, itch on nose, ache in arm, fingers typing, eyes burning, thoughts moving thru mind) and others not (birds chirping, cars passing, light shining thru curtain, hardness of table)  within this indefinable "spaceless space" of  Open Awareness--Consciousness--Presence? What makes one sensation seem "closer to "me" and others further away?

What am I? And what exactly is the true nature of these perceptions that appear within "me", to a "me"…and as a "me"?

Over the years, I have  met many who have deeply  explored the timeless basic questions, "What do I know to be  really true?" and "What and who am I?" Like me, they have read countless texts, enjoyed the company of teachers, attended endless satsangs and endured all sorts of practices.  Like me, they had a fairly clear mental understanding of Truth, yet, like me, there was something missing-- the enduring signature resulting from the deepest recognition  of  our miraculous, yet ineffable, indefinable Self -- sat chit ananda-- the deep abiding love, peace, happiness from which all perception is born.  It is the unshakable perfume of silence.

What was missing?

Each time that we closely investigate the reality of our experience we find that our investigation has yielded an apparent triad:

Knowing, Knower, Object Known
Seeing, Seer and Seen
Experiencing, Experiencer and Experienced

But, exactly where is this Experiencer, this Knower, this Seer? Could it be imagined, an inner self assembled by Mind itself , a "me" created to permit diversity itself to occur? Could a world appear without it?

In Guru Vachala Kovai, the Garland of the Guru's Sayings, Murugunar, a leading disciple of Ramana Maharshi, spending decades with him, both before and after liberation, is quoted regarding this triad (triputis, in Sanskrit):

"If the ego is destroyed by the sadhana [of Self Inquiry],then nothing will be seen as another [that is, the experience of the triputis will cease]. Then, as declared by Advaita, all that was previously known as deceptive other things, will be [known as] only Self. Those who have destroyed the ego, the embryo [of all names and forms], and who have [thereby] seen the reality, know [the names and forms of] this world to be an illusory appearance. Since they shine as the unlimited space of consciousness [which is devoid of names and forms], their decision is that consciousness, their own nature, alone exists."  (767-768)

Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi referred to the experiencing of the apparent difference between Knowing, Knower and Known as the Triputi-bheda. "So long as there is triputi-bheda  [the experience of the difference between the triad – the knower, the act of knowing and the object known], sadhana  is indispensable. From [the experience of] the triad [triputi ], one can determine that the false delusion, the ego, has not yet been annihilated." (765)

Ramana prescribed dhyana or meditation, not a philosophical concept referring to the illusory nature of the mind, but, rather, one of experience in life for liberation. The difference is important.  It is the experience of the triad - seer, sight, and seen-- that demonstrates that the false sense of me has not yet ceased. The sadhana Ramana prescribed could be called meditation. From here, it might better be described as repeatedly and continually honoring  Truth, "taking our stand as awareness":

"Self-abidance [atma-nishtha ], which shines without defect, alone will destroy all bondage, which is non-Self. [On the other hand] discrimination [viveka ] which distinguishes the real, one’s own nature, from the unreal, is only an aid to pure desirelessness."

"If you enquire [you will find that] you are not that [the body] which you now take yourself to be. [Therefore] enquire what you are, drown in the heart and be directly established as ‘You are That [Self]’."

"Knowing well that there is no permanent foothold anywhere for the soul except in remaining merely as the one reality, destroy desires towards everything, but without aversion [towards anything], and abide in the Heart as one with the supreme existence-consciousness [Sat-Chit ]. "

"Those who have destroyed ignorance by the clarity of knowledge and who are established firmly in Self-abidance [nishtha ], are completely dead-minded. They will survive as eternal Muktas , their mind having been given jiva-samadhi." ( 769-772)

So, there you are: deep and single pointed discrimination opens the mind to the possibility that consciousness is neither located or limited. Fully understood, that is the end of the mind's journey. From here on, there is only one direction: "drowning in the heart". And, that is the journey of endless enlightening.

"Like the moth and the flame, the separate self we imagine ourselves to be becomes the flame as it touches it. At that timeless moment, resistance and seeking come to an end and with it the imaginary, inside self. All that remains is the flame in which the imaginary self has been consumed. All that remains is our essential being." (Rupert Spira, Presence)

As Jean Klein concluded: "There is no more identification, time, space, bodies, senses and mind. All events happen in awareness. "To this, I would add: "All events happen both in and as awareness."

"All that is experienced is the experience of experiencing. What is it that experiences experience? Only experience. It experiences or knows itself. This pure experiencing is what we are. It is pervaded by the intimacy of our being." (Rupert Spira)

The great gift of this inquiry is the  sudden realization that the "substance" of experiencing is Love itself. Powerful subconscious attachments and determination to hold onto my separate "inside self" blocked Love itself, which was always present.

Francis Lucille once said, "Truth without Love is not Truth at all."
Listen carefully:  "That which is, never ceases to be, that which is not, never comes into being." The Bhagavad Gita.

As I said, I am blessed.

* * * * *
Copyright 2012, Chris Hebard
All rights reserved, used by permission 


On Twitter:!/oncechristopher

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"Kissed by God" Interview with Michael Jeffreys:

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Interview with Non-Duality Magazine:

Ninety-seven videos on YouTube:

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The Transparency of Things, with Rupert Spira: 

Love, with Rupert Spira: 

Illumination: The Direct Path of Shri Atmananda Krisha Menon, with Greg Goode: 

Satsang Dialogues with Francis Lucille: 

Francis Lucille Dialogue Excerpts, 5 DVD Set: 

Consciousness Is All, with Peter Francis Dziuban: 

The Emptiness of Perception, with Bentinho Massaro: 

Addiction, Recovery & Spirituality, with Paul Hedderman: 

Masters of Western Non Duality: 

No Walls Remain, with Kenny Johnson:

Housekeeping Notes:
Let me welcome Isle of Man and Nicaragua as countries 83 and 84 to join our ever-expanding family. Readers there now join others around the world who are helping to awaken Clarity where they are, which is always precisely Here, precisely Now.