The Gateway to Present Perfection
All pointers converge on a central theme. This is the simple truth of what we are, the essential and inescapable reality that shines behind the doubtless sense of being present and aware. No one can say ‘I am not’, as the very statement presupposes the existence of the one attempting to deny his or her own existence. This is why one’s existence is the touchstone or ‘gold standard’ by which all other truths are evaluated. All pointers encourage us to probe the fundamental fact of our self-existent being, which not only is but knows. This is the heart of the matter, the constant and final theme of all of the great traditions that have come down to us under the banner of ‘non-duality’. Non-duality speaks to the non-separation of the seeker and the final reality being sought. As all of the traditions tell us, each in its own way: you are that.
In our own times, the direct communication of this basic truth was famously shared by the well-known sage of Mumbai (Bombay), Nisargadatta Maharaj. I was fortunate enough to meet one of Nisargadatta Maharaj’s direct students, ‘Sailor’ Bob Adamson, in Melbourne, Australia, a few years ago. He shared with me the essential pointers he had received from Nisargadatta Maharaj. More importantly, he was able to point to the reality of my being so directly that it could no longer be avoided or overlooked. As he once mentioned to me, it is not the words themselves that are important, but the living reality behind the words that makes the difference. This reality, when recognised by one who knows, informs whatever words may be used as pointers. This causes a resonance in the inner being of the receptive listener such that the true nature of the listener is recognised in all its immediacy and livingness. This is the pure light of non-conceptual awareness beyond thought. It is not that reality is difficult to perceive. In truth, it is so simple that we overlook the obvious. For, how many thoughts, feelings or experiences can you have without being present and aware to have them? Still, a direct pointer to this by one who knows is extremely helpful, as many can attest.
The recognition of the inescapable and ever-present nature of the listener’s real self lays bare the false basis of the belief that one is a separate, limited, isolated person apart from reality. As this is the basis of all of the concepts and identifications that generate limitation in life, this revelation effectively cancels needless psychological suffering. Such suffering is only sustained through a false belief in being something we are not. Not only is reality found to be shining within oneself as one’s very self, but the seeking, suffering and doubt that may have been carried for a lifetime is overcome at a stroke.
In seeing and experiencing these basic truths for oneself, there may naturally arise a desire to ‘share the good news’ with others who would resonate with the pointers themselves. There is no fixed set of pointers or manner of speaking of these fundamental truths. While the essential points, being timeless, remain consistent from year to year and age to age, the manner in which they are framed and communicated must necessarily vary, based on the needs of the times. Furthermore, the questions and issues raised by those engaged in the verification of the truths in their own experience are bound to change. This is why it is useful to have fresh expressions and pointers set in contemporary words and speech. This allows us to focus on the essence and frees us from having to digest archaic terms and outdated cultural trappings.
Beyond Words, Shining in Your Heart
If we are looking for answers at a conceptual level, the pointers are just words. Clearly, words have no real life or substance, being dead images. Listening to words is about as fulfilling as trying to drink water from the painting of a lake. At some point, an interest may arise to drop all the concepts, pointers and words — in fact, to stop looking in the mind entirely. In that pause, let the looking turn directly to that clear, doubtless existence shining in your heart.
If you are hearing pointers but not looking at what is being pointed to, this will seem like so much empty prattling, for that is all it can ever be at a verbal level. But take the cue and look directly into your own heart. See, know and be what you are. Drop the concepts and come face to face with your real self, your undeniable being.
All the pointers such as ‘love’, ‘oneness’, ‘awareness’, ‘life’, ‘aliveness’, ‘unconditioned’, ‘free of suffering’, etc., are only trying to give a sense of the nature of what you are. If they are left as words, they are just empty husks. But is what is shining in your heart a lifeless dead image? If not, what is it? This is what needs to be seen, non-conceptually, in direct experience. Nothing is gained or attained, because what you are has been here all along.
Words Are Only Pointers
It is a bit tricky quoting the words of ‘great’ teachers for confirmation of anything, because the words are only pointers and concepts arising in particular situations. In other words, in the moment the words were delivered they were spontaneous pointers of encouragement for someone in that moment to drop a particular concept or perspective in order to notice what is here prior to concepts. Later, when we read the words, it is actually a case of moving back into concepts and away from what is clear and present. Seeing this may free up a lot of space. That is why reading about non-duality is a bit misleading and often complicates the simplicity of it.
For every passage one quotes, you can find dozens more asserting the opposite view. It is helpful to see why this must be so. There is not a fixed ‘teaching’ at all. There is a stream of spontaneous points arising to expose whatever dualistic notions the ‘seeker’ may have been holding as true. It is more a matter of love in expression rather than some spiritual verbiage one should sift through years or centuries afterwards. People think you get to the heart of this by studying philosophy, learning Sanskrit, or delving into the recorded words of Shankara, Buddha or whomever. This is entirely erroneous and completely misses the mark. It only fattens the stock of concepts and keeps the attention locked in the mind. It is overlooking your ever-present natural state.
Pause the concepts, whatever they may be, and notice what is present, what you actually are here and now. That is already evident and available in all its immediacy. No teacher, guru, scripture, satsang or awakenings are involved. I cannot stress this strongly enough. That we thought they were was only an ignorant mistake. So return to the basics and have a look for yourself.
Instead of talking about concepts, chuck them all overboard and talk from what is actually present in your experience. Non-duality books, quotes, spiritual jargon and hypothetical ‘what ifs’ are entirely incapable of revealing the direct recognition of immediate freedom and happiness. That is present as the pure light of simple knowing and being shining in the core of your mind or the centre of your heart. In that light, the universe and all bodies and minds arise and pass like specks of dust in the warmth of a vast, cloudless sky, which is the sky of your being. That non-conceptual awareness or presence of life beyond the mind pours out through your senses and bathes each thought, feeling and experience in a timeless and inescapable clear cognisance. Call it what you will — being, awareness, love, presence, what is, knowing, light, life, intelligence, spirit, etc. Whatever it is, it is undeniable and inescapable. It is being that cannot be doubted or contradicted; an unborn, undying awareness without ceasing; life with no boundary; a peace and causeless joy that embraces all appearances, all possibilities, all opposites. Nothing can be outside of that; nothing stands apart from that; there is nothing other than that. And you are that.
Awareness and Objects
The resolution of the apparent duality of awareness and objects lies in seeing that the supposed difference is not really present. In other words, there is an assumption that there is awareness and objects. Then the mind gets tangled up in how they are supposed to be stitched together. This is like the person who asks, ‘How do I awaken?’ and then gets wrapped up in that concept. He or she overlooks that awareness is already awake, and that the supposed ‘I’ entity is not really present, except as an assumption. In the clear seeing of this, the dilemma collapses.
The issue is similar with awareness and objects. No object or experience can ever stand outside of, or apart from, the awareness of it. This resolves the issue directly. The objects and awareness are not separate, even now. So why talk of how to put them together, or how to see them as one? Are they separate to start with? No. Therefore, the concept and the problem drop.
Most people naturally assume there are only objects and have no real sense of awareness itself. So the pointer is brought up to distinguish objects and awareness only for the purpose of highlighting the presence of awareness, not to create an absolute split between them (because there isn’t one). Once awareness and your identity as that is clear, you can look back at the apparent objects and see that they have no real substance or independent nature apart from the awareness of them. This is somewhat like the figures on a carved marble relief not being separate from the marble itself. The false dilemma is apparent in the question, ‘How are the carved figures and the marble to be seen as one?’ The real question is, ‘Have you ever seen them as separate from each other?’ The bottom line is that there can be no experience outside of awareness. So, to speak of awareness and objects as if they were independent is not possible based on direct experience.
It is very important to mention a subtle point that many miss at this juncture. The objects are not in themselves the same as awareness, or the abiding reality. Objects are appearances, but your real being remains independent of the presence or absence of the objects. In practical experience, you can see that objects are constantly changing, but your own being remains without break. A wave is nothing but water; but water as such is not a wave as such. Therefore, it is not a one-to-one equivalence. That is why when people say ‘all appearances are the oneness’, it is not a precisely clear and accurate statement.
Images and Thoughts Are Not Me
Question: Your meeting last night was very helpful for me. I now see that the mind and its concepts are just that — mind and concepts. I recognised the truth from the first time you explained it to me a few years ago, but for the last few years I have been unclear in regards to thinking and thoughts. Like Alicia Silverstone in the movie ‘Clueless’, you just need to say to thoughts: ‘Whatever!’.
I have been investing value in thoughts and projecting identity into them, which is a typical Gemini trait! Last night helped me to see the simple point that beingness or awareness is what I am, and I need not (nor can I!) leave my beingness. Thoughts are not the problem. I can see much more clearly now that it is just ignorance (ignoring the obviousness and simplicity of who I really am) that prompted me so often to identify with thoughts and to lose sight of myself in mentation.
John: The basic issue in this context has to do with ‘returning’ to the mind with some sense that whatever the mind is saying about you (the conceptual ‘me’ or person notion) is an adequate, real or true definition of who you are. But those images and concepts in the mind are always in reference to one’s identity as that image or entity, which itself is an appearance in the mind. Our own being or consciousness nature is not an image, a thought or an appearance in the mind, as it always precedes and survives any such thoughts. The direct and clear seeing of this position takes the steam out of any tendency to look for our reality, identity or happiness in that network of thoughts. Why would the sky look for itself in a mass of passing clouds? It would never imagine itself to be one among the number of clouds that happen to be appearing, saying, ‘That particular cloud is me’. The sky is open and at ease as it is, always untouched and unaffected. What can a cloud do to obstruct the sky? It is the same with thoughts; they are images blowing through the clarity and spacious nature of non-conceptual being-awareness, which is your innate self. Clear seeing shows that the images and thoughts are not me. They do not define me. I exist at an entirely different ‘level’ or ‘place’ (as the space in which the thoughts appear). Looking in this way makes it hard to grasp hold of any particular thought with a sense that ‘this is who I am’. It is no bar on thought or the meaningful use of the mind in the appearance of things. However, there is a clear and emphatic recognition that no thought ever defines or limits your innate and abiding self.
Awareness Is Constant, Contents Are Changing
Question: I have been seeing in experience that awareness is always present, without effort; no searching necessary; and ‘I’ appear in awareness rather than awareness appearing in me.
John: You are the awareness. The key is to see that the dualism implied in ‘I and awareness’ is false. It is not you in awareness or awareness in you. You are that. That is the whole essence.
Q: When thoughts and concepts are gone, I am still here and aware. There is no problem with that in experience. Then there is trying to stay in presence-awareness and less in thought.
John: This brings in a false dualism. If you are awareness and the separate ‘I’ is not, who should try to stay in awareness? Knock this concept out with a bit of clear seeing.
Q: The pointer that is difficult to reconcile with my experience is that awareness and the contents of awareness are the same.
John: This is not really needed. This is only a concept that the mind is trying to reconcile, and it just stirs up the doubts. Make sure your identity is clear and that there are no doubts about that. The rest will become apparent on its own.
Q: I feel awareness illuminates the outside world, but that seems different than saying that the world is awareness. I can reduce being to two: awareness and its contents.
John: The point is that you do not experience any content independent of awareness. That would be entirely speculative. It is not that the appearances are awareness. How could they be? Awareness is constant, non-objective, cognisant. Contents are changing, objective, insentient. Equating awareness and contents one-for-one is not possible. Contents are appearances of awareness. They have no substance or independent nature apart from awareness. So the awareness is what is real or substantial. The tried-and-true analogy is waves on the ocean. The waves are nothing but ocean water, but the ocean per se is not waves.
Keep in mind, though, the key point in all of this is not to get lost analyzing appearances. It is to know yourself. Do not lose sight of this point.
Q: All things are allowed without resistance. All things need awareness to come into being. But I am struggling with the point that awareness and the objects of awareness are one and the same.
John: Think over what I just said. That should clear things up.
Q: Allowing things is not the same as being things.
John: There is a subtle concept in here. Who is allowing? Things are simply happening. It is not a matter of allowing them. That would bring in a subtle sense of separate self. Drop all references to the concept of separation and be what you are. That is perfect freedom and peace.
The Gateway to Pure Being
Question: You say being is the reality.
John: Words are pointers. In this context, ‘being’ is being used as a pointer to final reality.
Q: But is being or ‘I am-ness’ not observed too?
John: Beingness (note, the suffix ‘ness’), ‘I am-ness’ and consciousness are often used in reference to the first manifestation of pure being. Note that ‘being’ and ‘beingness’ are different. One is reality, the other is a quality (or the expression) of reality.
Q: Is being just a gateway to reality that is beyond being and non-being?
John: Being and non-being, consciousness and unconsciousness, etc. are dualities. As such, reality transcends and includes them. When I say ‘being’, I am generally referring to ‘pure’ or ‘non-dual’ being, meaning beyond the duality of being and non-being. Words are limited!
Q: Nisargadatta Maharaj clearly made the point that we are not the concept ‘I am’, nor are we the non-conceptual ‘I am-ness’. He said the non-conceptual ‘I am-ness’ brings us to the absolute, which I assume is pure awareness, which is everything.
John: Yes, ‘pure awareness’ and ‘pure being’ are pointers to non-dual reality, your natural state.
Q: Yet being is observed and leaves us, whether in deep sleep or death.
John: Not true. Consciousness departs. As does knowing that I am. These are really the same thing. The awareness of being departs, but your actual existence remains. That is the absolute that is prior to consciousness. Do not just go by words. Make sure you see what is being pointed to by the words.
Q: Are you just saying being is reality as a gateway, or what?
John: As stated, the experience of consciousness, of knowing that I am in duality, or beingness (the experience of being) are the gateways. They are pointers to that which is prior. That which is prior (or always there) is usually termed as one of the following: pure awareness, pure consciousness, pure being (beyond being and non-being), your real nature, non-dual being or awareness, or the absolute.
Note that knowing that you are comes and goes. In sleep, you do not know that you are. But your real being is always there. That is always present and always aware. You even know the coming and going of consciousness. This is self-evident, but we tend to miss this point because we are always focused on objects. But even now, what we are is not an object.
The sense ‘I am’ is the first manifestation of your pure being. This is also what Ramana Maharshi called the ‘I thought’. Nisargadatta Maharaj and Ramana Maharshi recommended tracing this experiential ‘I’ or ‘I am-ness’ to its source. Therefore, it acts as a gateway to the reality that you truly are. Remember, you are that here and now. The pointers are only temporary devices to be used if this point is not clear.
Getting to the Root Assumption
Question: I have been looking into my discontent or misery to see the truth about it. This morning I woke up with the feeling that, while things are okay right now, sooner or later it is all going to come crashing down. There is nothing rational to the feeling, but it was very strong (and still is to an extent). I looked at it as simply a feeling that would pass and give way to another feeling, and that a feeling is just a feeling, not a fact. This was of little consolation, however. Trying to counter these feelings with ‘good’ thoughts does not work either. How does one go to the core of this and see the truth that nothing is wrong and that these feelings really have no bearing on what I am?
John: One thing to notice is that the feelings are driven by assumptions or concepts. Ideas can be just as powerful as events, when it comes to our felt response to them. A key approach is to be clear on precisely what the ideas are claiming, so that you have some space to question them to see if they are true. That is not a complete solution, but it is a vital initial recognition. Once you get a sense of how these thoughts work, you can look a bit deeper at the core assumption at their root and see if that is really true. A bit of looking shows that all the thoughts are different labels and concepts about ‘me’, about who I am. There is a common theme running throughout all the patterns and concepts, which is that I am some limited person in the appearance of things who is subject to suffering and some horrible fate. Ultimately, this assumption needs to be looked at head on. The key is being very clear on the positive truth of what you actually are. That is the essence of it, because the notions of limitation and separation depend upon overlooking that aspect or being in some doubt about it. In the end, any limiting experience in life is only a call to know yourself. Make sure these points are clear, and use them as the basis of any other understanding or looking. If who you are is not clear, any other looking will be colored by that perspective. That is why most spiritual practises and approaches fail to deliver lasting freedom. The assumptions we take into them often hamstring the results. When the basic sense of what we are is clear, we can look at concepts — even the root ‘I’ concept — and see them as untrue, based on our own clear sense of who we truly are.
Concepts Come and Go, but You Remain as You Are
Question: I am just coming to the end of your book The Light Behind Consciousness, which is beautifully clear. There seems to be a clearer recognition now of my true nature. The simple fact that I am present and aware right now is recognised. But I still have nagging thoughts regarding the inquiry into the ‘I’. In the investigation, the mind will not leave alone the notion that the body is related to the ‘I’. Upon looking for this phantom ‘I’, the body is seen and is related to as my ‘I’. I am failing to see the falsity of this, and so the suffering appears as related to something very real. I know I am making this too complicated, but I cannot see past the idea that I am this body.
John: To see yourself as the pure, simple being and knowing presence is the heart of it. Pause there and drink in the clarity and freedom of being itself. See that all the thoughts and appearances come and go in this. Everything simply arises and sets in your being or innate presence. That presence remains as it is — solid, present, profoundly cognisant, still and yet wonderfully alive and radiant. That is the point — to see this, know this and be this. Even those words are too much, for you effortlessly are this. It is just a noticing of a simple fact that we may have overlooked.
If we go back into the mind searching for answers and trying to understand various pointers, that is only engaging the conceptual mind. So do not complicate the point of all this. The pointers are only to bring us to see this, our natural state. Once recognised, the pointers have done their job. The thoughts ‘I am the body’ or ‘I am not the body’ are both concepts coming and going in what you are. Neither is true; neither is false. Also, neither of these concepts is what you are. Clearly those concepts will (and do) come and go, but you remain as you are. It is not so much that the body is a problem, for it is not. Like everything else, it is an appearance (meaning an appearance in awareness). From the position of simple aware-presence, all appearances are at the same level. All appearances are in and of awareness itself. The thought ‘I am a body’ is clearly a concept. That concept is not your abiding reality. To believe that thought means to ‘trade in’ your non-conceptual nature for a mere concept. You are not a concept! The point is not to grasp that concept or identify that as yourself. Then you simply remain as you are, concept-free. All things, including the body, arise and pass in the clear light of being and knowing, like clouds passing through the sky. All is well.