Adyashanti (Sanskrit word meaning “primordial peace”; born Steven Gray in 1962) is a very popular contemporary American spiritual preacher, teacher, and author from the San Francisco Bay Area who conducts spiritual gatherings called “satsangs” in the United States and also teaches abroad. He is the author of an ever-growing list of books, CDs and DVDs and is the founder of Open Gate Sangha, Inc., a nonprofit business organization established in 1996 which supports and promotes his and his wife’s (Mukti’s) touring events and publishing activities.
Steven Gray was born in 1962 in Cupertino, California, in the San Francisco Bay Area. At age 19 he became intrigued by the “idea of enlightenment” based on a book he had read. Subsequently, he built a hut in his parents’ backyard and started practicing meditation in order to attain it. In his 20s, Gray studied Zen Buddhism under the guidance of his Zen teacher Arvis Joen Justi for fourteen years. Justi was a student of Taizan Maezumi Roshi of the Zen Center of Los Angeles. Gray was regularly sent by Arvis to Zen meditation retreats, where he also studied under Jakusho Kwong Roshi of the Sonoma Mountain Zen Center. At age 25 he writes that he began experiencing a series of transformative spiritual awakenings. While sitting on his cushion, Gray reported that he had a Zen Buddhist Enlightenment experience, in which he “penetrated to the emptiness of all things and realized that the Buddha I had been chasing was what I was.”
For the next few years he continued his meditation practice, while also working at his father’s machine shop. In addition to sitting, he spent many hours in coffee shops writing answers to questions that spontaneously came to him. Finally, at 31, Gray had an experience of awakening that put to rest all his questions and doubts – an experience he has designated as “liberation”. In 1996, he was invited to teach by Arvis Justi. He first started giving talks to small gatherings in a room above his aunt’s garage in Silicon Valley. After studying the near-by American teacher Gangaji’s successful operation, he changed his name to “Adyashanti,” a Sanskrit term for “primordial peace”, and began calling his gatherings “satsang” too. As with a growing number of popular contemporary teachers who tour on a platform consisting of a customized mixture of nonduality concepts drawn from several esoteric traditions, Adyashanti’s talks focus on “awakening” and “embodying awakening”, although he has lately broadened his repertoire to include his revised version of Christian themes too.
Although initially promoting himself as a “Zen Master”, he currently downplays affiliation with Zen Buddhism and the Neo-Advaitic teachings he originally espoused, leaning more to an eclectic orientation and subject matter in the current phase of his teaching endeavors. Consequently, he claims that “the Truth I point to is not confined within any religious point of view, belief system, or doctrine, but is open to all and found within all.”
He has authored a number of books, such as The Impact of Awakening, Emptiness Dancing, My Secret Is Silence, Falling Into Grace, True Meditation, and The End of Your World, as well as producing numerous audio and video recordings. In April 2014, he appeared in an interview with Oprah Winfrey on a Super Soul Sunday episode, promoting a new book called Resurrecting Jesus, in combination with the launch of a 22-CD album called Jesus: The Teachings of a Revolutionary Mystic. Presently, he lives in Silicon Valley in the San Francisco Bay Area with his wife Mukti, whom he has also authorized to teach.
For an extensive interview with Adyashanti from 2007 (prior to his Christian phase), please see:
“There is a great momentum of suffering and confusion that every spiritual seeker encounters. It is the momentum of ignorance which manifests as the experience of conflict and confusion and which causes suffering. In order to discover the perspective of Liberation, which alone transcends this entire movement of ignorance and suffering, one needs to let everything end.
‘Letting everything end’ means to stand in the moment completely naked of attachment to any and all ideas, concepts, hopes, preferences, and experiences. Simply put, it means to stop strategizing, controlling, manipulating, and running away from yourself — and to simply be. Finally you must let everything end and be still. In letting everything end, all seeking and striving stops. All effort to be someone or to find some extraordinary state of being ceases. This ceasing is essential. It is true spiritual maturity.
By ceasing to follow the mind’s tendency to always want ‘more’, ‘different’, or ‘better’, one encounters the opportunity to be still. In being still, a perspective is revealed which is free from all ignorance and bondage to suffering. From that perspective, eternal Self is realized. The eternal Self, the Seer, is recognized to be one’s true nature, one’s very own Self. This is an invitation to let all seeking end, all striving end, all efforting end, all past identity end, all hopes end, and to discover That which has no beginning or end. This is an invitation to discover eternal, unborn, undying Truth of Being. The Truth of your Being, your own Self. Let the entire movement of becoming end, and discover That which has always been present at the core of your Being.”
“What is it like to live an awakened life?
While the world is trying to solve its problems and everyone around you is engaged in the same, you are not.
While everybody around you is trying to figure it out, trying to arrive, trying to “get there” trying to be worthy, you are not.
While everyone thinks that awakening is a grand, noble, halo-enshrouded thing, for you it’s not.
While everybody is running from this life right now, in this moment, to try to get there, you are not.
Where everybody has an argument with somebody else, mostly everybody else, starting with themselves, you don’t.
Where everybody is so sure that happiness will come when something is different than it is now, you know that it won’t.
When everybody else is looking to achieve the perfect state and hold on to it, you are not.”
“Awakening to the truth of perfect Unity, means to awaken from the dream of a personal self and personal others to the realization that there is no other. Many spiritual seekers have had glimpses of the absolute unity of all existence, but few are capable of or willing to live up to the many challenging implications inherent in that revelation. The revelation of perfect unity, that there is no other, is a realization of the ultimate impersonality of all that seems to be so very personal. Applying this realization to the arena of personal relationships is something that most seekers find extremely challenging, and is the number one reason why so many seekers never come completely to rest in the freedom of the Self Absolute.
Inherent in the revelation of perfect unity is the realization that there is no personal me, no personal other, and therefore no personal relationships. Coming to terms with the challenging implications of this stunning realization is something that few people are willing to do. Because realizing the true impersonality of all that seems so personal, challenges every aspect of the illusion of a separate, personal self. It challenges the entire structure of personal relationships which are born of needs, wants, and expectations. It is in the arena of personal relationships that the illusion of a separate self clings most tenaciously and insidiously. Indeed, there is nothing that derails more spiritual seekers than the grasping at and attaching to personal relationships.
The revelation of perfect unity reveals the true impersonality of all relationships. The ego always interprets “impersonal” as meaning cold, distant, and aloof. However, “impersonal” simply means not personal, or void of a separate me and a separate you. The mind cannot comprehend of a relationship without separate entities. Much as a character in a dream cannot comprehend that all other dream characters are simply manifestations of the same dreamer. Yet when the dreamer awakens, he instantly comprehends that the entire dream, and all the characters in it, were none other than projections of his own self. In the dream there is the appearance of separate, personal entities in relationship, but upon awakening one comprehends the impersonal (non-separate) Self that is the source of all appearances.
To deeply inquire into the question “Who is another?” can lead to the direct experience that the other is one’s own Self – that in fact there is no other. However, I have seen that for most seekers, even this direct experiential revelation is not enough to transform the painfully personal ways they relate. To come to this profound transformation requires a very deep investigation into the implications inherent within the experiential revelation that there is no other. It is in the daily living of these implications that most seekers fail. Why? Because, fundamentally, most people want to remain separate and in control. Simply put, most people want to keep dreaming that they are special, unique, and separate, more than they want to wake up to the perfect unity of an Unknown which leaves no room from any separation from the whole.
There is a powerful tendency in most spiritual seekers to avoid probing deeply into the implications inherent within profound spiritual experience and revelation, because these implications are always threatening to the sense of a separate self, or ego. It is the implications inherent within profound spiritual revelation that demand the transformation of the apparent individual.
Inherent within the revelation of perfect unity is the realization that there is no other. The implications of this realization reveal that in order to manifest that unity in the relative world, one must renounce the dream of being a separate self seeking to obtain anything through relationship with another. Indeed, personal relationship appears to happen in the relative world, but in reality, all appearances simply arise as temporary manifestations of a unified whole. In the relative world these appearances are in relationship, but not as separate entities. Rather, they are the play of the one Self projecting itself as apparent entities in relationship to one another.
As long as you identify yourself with the projection of separateness, you will continue to deny that you are the Source of all projections. When you truly and absolutely awaken to this fact, and comprehend the overwhelming implications inherent within this awakening, you will continually experience that all apparently personal relationships are in truth nothing other than the play of your Self. To realize that the personal me is an illusion born of false identification with the body, thoughts, and emotions, brings a profound sense of freedom. This is fundamentally the realization of emptiness, of what you are not. But contained within the realization of emptiness (formlessness) is also the realization of what you ARE. In the most absolute sense you ARE this conscious emptiness which is the source of all appearances (existence). But you are the appearance as well. Not just one part of the appearance called “me”, but all of it , the entire whole. This is the challenge, to let your view get this vast. To let your view get so vast that your identity disappears. Then you realize that there is no other, and there is nothing personal going on.
Contrary to the way the ego will view such a realization, it is in reality the birth of true love. A love which is free of all boundaries and fear. To the ego such uncontaminated love is unbearable in its intimacy. When there is no clear separating boundaries and nothing to gain the ego becomes disinterested, angry, or frightened. In a love where there is no other there is nowhere to hide, no one to control, and nothing to gain. It is the coming together of appearances in the beautiful dance of the SELF called Love.
To the seeker who is sincere, an experiential glimpse of this possibility is not enough. If you are sincere you will find it within yourself to go far beyond any glimpse. You will find within your Self the courage to let go of the known and dive deeply into the Unknown heart of a mystery that calls you only to itself.”
“There is only consciousness. There is no individual apart from consciousness who is conscious. The individual is consciousness, and the consciousness that is aware of the individual is consciousness. Whether formless being or in manifest form, all that is, is consciousness.
Before consciousness there is emptiness. Emptiness is neither formless nor has it any form. Emptiness neither exists nor does not exist, for it is beyond all conceptual understanding.
Neither the mind, nor the senses, nor consciousness can touch emptiness. Emptiness is the Ultimate Principle, the Self, the Source of all. That awareness of consciousness is emptiness.
When you go to sleep at night you are no longer conscious, but there is awareness. When you sleep, consciousness is no more; being-ness is no more; oneness is no more. And yet, you still are. What is that?”
“Ego is the movement of the mind toward objects of perception, in the form of grasping; and, away from objects, in the form of aversion. This fundamentally is all the ego is. This movement of grasping and aversion gives rise to a sense of a separate “me,” and in turn the sense of “me” strengthens itself this way. It is this continuous loop of causation that tricks consciousness into a trance of identification. Identification with what? Identification with the continuous loop of suffering. After all, who is suffering? The “me” is suffering. And “who” is this me? It is nothing more than a sense of self caused by identification with grasping and aversion. You see, it’s all a creation of the mind, an endless movie, a terrible dream.
Don’t try to change the dream, because trying to change it is just another movement in the dream. Look at the dream. Be aware of the dream. That awareness is It. Become more interested in the awareness of the dream than in the dream itself. What is that awareness? Who is that awareness? Don’t go spouting out an answer, just be the answer. Be It.”
“Embodiment (of truth) starts with the realization that every manifest thing and non-thing constitutes your true body. Your humanness is simply a reflection of the depth of your realization. So it’s not that you have to do something to the human body to make it a bigger, vaster, or wider container for the truth of being to come through. What’s most important is to perceive your entire body, which is everything. Then, your humanness will reflect the depth of that realization. Embodiment is not something that you do; it is something that is a result of how far you take enlightenment and how much of yourself you give to it. The entire cosmos is your body. Let your humanness reflect and manifest the whole.”
“Embodiment is usually a gradual process that begins after the event called “awakening,” so we can’t really speak about embodiment in absolute terms. The indications of embodiment are peace, love, wisdom, and enlightened action. What effect we have on others is a good indication of exactly how enlightened we are. If we think we are very enlightened, but have a negative effect on others, we are probably not nearly as enlightened as we’d like to believe. This is not to say that others will always like the way we behave, since enlightened behavior is often misunderstood by a mind still dwelling in separation. Enlightened behavior liberates. It doesn’t matter if someone likes it or not, the question is, does it liberate? That’s the only question worthwhile, and it’s the only proof of enlightenment.”
“Inexplicably it comes. When you least expect it. For a reason you can never know. One moment you are striving, figuring, imagining, and then, in the blink of an eye, it all disappears. The struggle disappears. The striving disappears. The person disappears. The world disappears. Everything disappears, and the person is like a pinpoint of light, just receding until it disappears. And there’s nobody there to witness it. The person is gone. Only, only awareness remains. Nothing else. No one to be aware. Nothing to be aware of. Only that remains itself. Then it’s understood, finally and simply. Then everything—all the struggle, all the striving, all the thinking, all the figuring, all the surrendering, all the letting go, all the grabbing hold of, all the praying, all the begging, all the cursing, too—was just a distraction. And only then is it seen that the person was, is, and ever will be no more than a thought. With a single thought, the person seems to reemerge. With more thoughts, the world seems to reemerge right out of nothing. But now you know.”
“Human beings have a drive for security and safety, which is often what fuels the spiritual search. This very drive for security and safety is what causes so much misery and confusion. Freedom is a state of complete and absolute insecurity and not knowing. So, in seeking security and safety, you actually distance yourself from the Freedom you want. There is no security in Freedom, at least not in the sense that we normally think of it. This is, of course, why it is so free; there’s nothing there to grab hold of. The Unknown is more vast, more open, more peaceful, and more freeing than you ever imagined it would be. If you don’t experience it that way, it means you’re not resting there; you’re still trying to know. That will cause you to suffer because you’re choosing security over Freedom. When you rest deeply in the Unknown without trying to escape, your experience becomes very vast. As the experience of the Unknown deepens, your boundaries begin to dissolve. You realize, not just intellectually but on a deep level, that you have no idea who or what you are. A few minutes ago, you knew who you were—you had a history and a personality—but from this place of not knowing, you question all of that.
Liberated people live in the Unknown and understand that the only reason they know what they are is because they rest in the Unknown moment by moment without defining who they are with the mind. You can imagine how easy it is to get caught in the concept of the Unknown and seek that instead of the Truth. If you seek the concept you’ll never be Free, but if you stop looking to myths and concepts and become more interested in the Unknown than in what you know, the door will be flung open. Until then, it will remain closed. I’ve seen people who have never meditated come to satsang and have a deep experience of the Unknown, and I’ve known many who remain in the trance because they stay with the mind’s techniques and strategies. There is no prerequisite for experiencing the Unknown. Everyone has equal access to it.”
Adyashanti: To me, awakening is awakening “out of” what we are not. When you finally find out everything you are not, what you’re left with is what I call Aware Space. So, when you awaken out of identification as a separate individual, that is awakening. I personally don’t call that awakening, in and of itself, enlightenment. To me, enlightenment, or the term I often use, liberation, is when that awakening has become a permanent state of being. Usually, when people have that awakening they do not stay awake, they keep contracting back into identification with the personal. To be liberated, or truly enlightened, one is no longer contracting back into the personal. It is when, to the core of their being they know that they are that awakeness, or aware space. They have left the personal behind.
Question: This is when you see that everything is who one is, everything is the Self.
Adyashanti: Yes, because that aware space is where everything returns back to the One. Everything turns back to its source. That source is always the same. It’s much the same as saying that the substance of every wave is water. Every wave is exactly the same as every other wave, in its most fundamental nature. It’s all the same source. In the appearances, it appears to be different. Each wave has a different appearance. The appearances themselves are beautiful and as soon as you realize that you are not the appearances, then you are free to enjoy the appearances without getting lost.
Question: So, you are making a distinction between awakening and liberation.
Adyashanti: Yes, but it doesn’t necessarily need to be a distinction, because one can awaken and not contract back into a sense of personal self. But, usually, this does happen to varying degrees. When you are actually liberated, the awakeness is exactly the same as when you awaken. In that sense, it’s no different, except that the liberated person has ceased to contract. That awakeness has ceased to contract back down into a misidentification of an individual “I”. Then what you are liberated from is the contraction.
Question: There is a common belief that awakening is something that occurs all at once, then it’s finished.
Adyashanti: Yes, but in most cases that doesn’t happen to be true. That belief is the source of endless confusion and misunderstanding. A gradual letting go of whatever is left of the tendency to contract into a personal “I” often follows the sudden awakening. Often times, that process is something that’s more gradual and happens over time. It doesn’t need to happen over time; it just usually does. Even if it does happen over time, it can come to a final completion. That completion is what I mean by liberation.
Question: Is that completion of coming to liberation still relatively rare?
Adyashanti: Yes, as far as I know, it is relatively rare. The reason I say that is because one can even have no more tendency to contract into a personal “I” and actually have that become a permanent condition, and in that sense be liberated, but to me, even that’s not really enough. That’s not the full expression because one can do that and still have the personality that’s in the relative world of time and space not express that. The personality could still express that liberation in a very distorted way, and often does. That’s how we can end up with people, oftentimes teachers, that can actually have a very powerful and pure teaching and be able to help others, but yet in their daily life, in ways they move in time and space, do not reflect that realization. I continue to find that it is extremely rare for that realization to be reflected in daily life. This is rare because it demands everything. It demands one’s entire life. It even demands one’s personality. It demands the end of all excuses. It demands that you do not make excuses anymore for acting other than from that liberation. It seems like very few people are willing to do this.
Q & A from “The Awakening West”, by the Lumieres
“Enlightenment can be measured by how compassionately and wisely you interact with others; with all others, not just those who support you in the way that you want. How you interact with those who do not support you shows how enlightened you really are. As long as you perceive that anyone is holding you back you have not taken full responsibility for your own liberation. Liberation means that you stand free of making demands on others and life to make you happy. When you discover yourself to be nothing but Freedom, you stop setting up conditions and requirements that need to be satisfied in order for you to be happy. It is in the absolute surrender of all conditions and requirements that Liberation is discovered to be who and what you Are. Then the love and wisdom that flows out of you has a liberating effect on others. The biggest challenge for most spiritual seekers is to surrender their self -importance, and see the emptiness of their own personal story. It is your personal story that you need to awaken from in order to be free. To give up being either ignorant or enlightened is the mark of liberation and allows you to treat others as your Self. What I am describing is the birth of true Love.”
“Just remember that all direct path techniques are meant simply to undermine, to cut away, the one who is performing them. No matter what spiritual path you’ve walked or what teachings you’ve followed, they must lead you back to no path and no teaching. A true teaching is like a blazing fire that consumes itself. The teaching must not only consume you, but consume itself as well. All must be burned to ash, and then the ash must be burned. Then, and only then, is the Ultimate realized.”
Question: How did awakening and liberation occur for you?
Adyashanti: I had my first what traditionally would be called awakening experience when I was 25 years old. This was very powerful and full of emotion and release and joy and bliss and all that it is supposed to be full of. But, because there was so much emotion involved, it obscured the simplicity of awakeness itself. Like so many others, I continued to chase certain ideas and concepts of what awakeness was supposed to be. That caused years of misery. Gradually over time I had the same experience reoccur, but each time with less and less emotion. I could see more and more clearly over time what was the actual essential element. Then finally an awakening occurred where at the moment of awakening, there was no emotion in it. It was just the pure seeing of what is. When there was the pure seeing of what is, unclouded by emotional content, it was obvious. It was very obvious that consciousness recognized itself for what it really is – aware space before any emotion or thought or manifestation.
Question: Would you say that this is the point at which the distinction between awakening and liberation occurred?
Adyashanti: No. Even though there was a freedom and incredible sense of fearlessness and release from not being confined to the dream of a separate “I”, I started to feel somewhat discontented with that. I didn’t know why I felt discontented, and it didn’t bother me in any way. The discontent didn’t touch that freedom, so it didn’t bother me, but I was interested in it.
Then one day I was sitting reading a book, and I folded the book to put it away and realized that somewhere in some magic time, something had dropped away, and I didn’t know what it was. There was just a big absence of something. I went through the rest of the day as usual but noticing some big absence. Then when I sat down on the bed that night, it suddenly hit me that what had fallen away was all identity. All identity had collapsed, as both the self in the ego sense of a separate me, and as the slightest twinge of identity with the Absolute Self, with the Oneness of consciousness. There had still been some unconscious, identity or “me-ness” which was the cause of the discontent. And it all collapsed. Identity itself collapsed, and from that point on there was no grasping whatsoever for little me or for the unified consciousness me. Identity just fell away and blew away with the wind.
Question: When you noticed that the identity had collapsed and was gone, what remained?
Adyashanti: Everything just as it always had been. There was just the lack of any “I”, personal or universal, or the fundamental unconscious belief in any identity or of fixating self in any place. The mind can continue to fixate a subtle identity of self even in universal consciousness. It can be so incredibly easy to miss. To say “I am That” can be a very subtle fixation of consciousness.
Question: It’s still a landing, a form of identity.
Adyashanti: it’s a slight landing, a slight grasping. It’s very subtle. But when it collapses, you are even beyond “I am That”. You are in a place that cannot be described.
Question: And that is what you call liberation?
Adyashanti: That is what I call liberation. Really, in the end, what you end up with is that you don’t know who you are. You end up in the same place you started out. You truly don’t know who you are because it’s impossible to fixate the self anywhere.
Question: But this not knowing is not the same as ignorance.
Adyashanti: It’s not the same not knowing of ignorance. It’s the not knowing that comes from recognizing that the whole issue of a self, personal or absolute, is fantasy. Both the self and the Self are interpretations upon perception, and nothing more. And when the interpretation ends, thought ends. When all identity collapses, you abide in the unknown. There is no tendency left to fixate identity anywhere – even in a universal somewhere. So you are left resting in the mystery as the mystery. It is only then that you can be truly and absolutely free of all concerns. There is nothing to say. What can you say? There is nothing to say.
Q & A from “The Awakening West”, by the Lumieres
Q: People who have a yearning, or at least a curiosity, about awakening may wonder how they can find this freedom we are speaking of. “What do I do?” “How do I get it?” These are common questions.
A: There are two important elements as far as I am concerned, maybe three. Number one is, before you get too involved in teachings and teachers and conforming to the way you think things should be spiritually, connect with the raw yearning at the core of your own being. Basically, this means, “What do I yearn for more than anything else?” For most human beings there will be conflicting yearnings, but see what the core yearning is in you. The very deepest core yearning is your red carpet to freedom. It is the place that you follow. You follow backward into that yearning. This is something that most spiritual students don’t take the time to do. They just jump into the teachings and start imitating and doing practices that they don’t understand. They miss that the divine call is in their own heart right from the very beginning. That’s the really important part.
Once you hear that call, the other important question is to ask: “Who am I really?” “Who am I really, truly, after all is said and done, who am I really?” To get into the unknown of that. The fact is that when someone asks, “Who am I?” the first thing they notice is that they don’t know, and they usually run from the fact that they don’t know. It is this running away from the fact that they don’t know who they are that is the cause of so much suffering. So, simply to ask who am I and not to know, then to rest ever deeper in the fact of not knowing. It’s by resting in the fact that you don’t know who you are that you come upon the direct experience of who and what you actually are.
These first two are the most important by far. The last one, which is not a necessity — and it is very important to understand that it is not a necessity, but it can be very useful — is to find an enlightened teacher. I stated these in the order of importance. Because, unless you’ve taken care of the first two, the teacher is not going to be able to do a whole lot for you. If you know what you want and you don’t know who you are, then when you come into contact with a true spiritual teacher the relationship between you and that teacher can have a very dynamic quality.
The role of the teacher is simply to be him or herself. That’s really the ultimate role of the teacher. The role of the teacher is to respond to the questions of the student in such a way that the question is used to point back to the student’s true nature, which is exactly the same as the teacher’s true nature. So, ultimately the true desire of all authentic teachers is to put themselves out of business as quickly as possible. This means to have the student rise to the same level of consciousness that they are no longer needed. As long as a true teacher understands that, then their motivation will be very pure.
Q: And what is the role of spiritual practice in awakening?
A: It depends on the nature of the individual. By practice I assume you mean some sort of meditation, prayer, or devotional practices. These practices either will or will not happen. You will find yourself drawn or not drawn to them.
Q: They’re not necessary?
A: They’re not necessary in and of themselves. But, if you happen to do them. then maybe they’re necessary for you. They can become a barrier too. “I don’t do enough meditation; how can I possibly awaken?” That’s not to say that spiritual practices can’t be very useful. They can be very, very useful as long as they’re not used as unconscious defense mechanisms.
Q: You mean as a defense against awakening?
A: Yes, because most often that is what they are used for. What I’m saying is that most meditators are avoiding their own experience rather than trying to truly understand it.
The two biggest prongs of what I teach are number one, to abide and number two, to inquire deeply. To abide simply means to let everything be as it already is. For most individuals it is extremely challenging in the beginning to simply let everything be as it is. In order to do that, we cannot hold on to any preference for our experience to be any particular way. Most spiritual people are doing anything but that. They are trying to make their experience be a very specific way. So they end up with a sort of spiritual slavery. Abiding is simply letting everything be as it is. Paradoxically, when we let everything be as it is, even if our experience is very uncomfortable, the first thing that starts to come into our experience is a great peace and calm. When this peace and calm comes into our experience, there is a sense of not being so hemmed in by our experience. There is an experience of more vastness.
It’s from that place of true abidance that we can begin to inquire. Abidance without inquiry usually doesn’t produce much, except a good feeling. But when abidance is coupled with true and authentic inquiry …. what I mean by inquiry is curiosity, a real curiosity about the true nature of one’s self, or who am I, or what is life? When those two are coupled, then inquiry adds a very dynamic quality that simple abidance doesn’t necessarily have in and of itself. It’s the dynamism of simple abidance coupled with a passionate inquiry into the true nature of one’s self or reality that provides the ground for awakening to most likely occur.
Q: So, it seems that meditation could either help or hinder that process.
A: Right. exactly. In my own teaching, in my retreats, there is quite a lot of meditation just for the reason of being able to abide. If someone cannot sit still, then they find it very difficult to inquire in any concentrated, single-pointed way. They inquire in a very messy, conflicted way.
Q: It helps to know how to quiet the mind.
A: Yes. Spiritual practices are not bad. It’s more the attitude that we’re doing them with than what those practices actually are.
Q: You yourself did fifteen years of intense Zen meditation practice.
A: Right, and for a lot of that time I did exactly what I am telling people not to do. I did a tremendous amount of meditation and a lot of that meditation was an unconscious grasping at an ideal that I had of what enlightenment was. In both cases it was a horrendous waste of energy. It was useful in the sense that I finally got tired of it, but in and of itself, it was a real waste of energy. It wasn’t until after many years of this that I actually got in touch with my true yearning. We can literally go through this for years before we really get in touch with our true yearning. The true yearning was really two things: “Who am I really, finally?” and “What is the Truth?” “What is the ultimate nature of myself and the world?” These are deep inquiries. And when those inquiries came, everything became very one-pointed and had a direction it didn’t have before. It didn’t take long for a lot to start happening once that inquiry came in a focused way.”
Q & A from “The Awakening West”, by the Lumieres
“When most people begin to come into contact with the true nature of their own self, they have such a hard time accepting that they could naturally be something positive and beautiful. In the west, many people struggle with negative self-image. I have seen that negative identity held onto even in the midst of profound revelation. It so easily contracts back into, ‘It couldn’t be me. It couldn’t be who I am; it’s just too good.’ If I had a dollar for every time someone told me that, I’d be a rich man!
It’s pride. Pride in the form of an unwillingness to admit that all the avenues that we try to pursue to make us happy don’t ultimately end in happiness. Yet, we continue to insist that they do in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. The other kind of pride is being unwilling to admit that you simply don’t know who you really are and that you don’t know what life is about. Pride will keep somebody from being able to say something that is obviously true. When someone’s willing to call into question their most fundamental beliefs and ideas – that is the birth of true humility. It is difficult for people to not be prideful because we have an unconscious belief that to be humble is to feel bad about oneself. It may be unconscious, but when we think of humility, we usually think of something that’s rather depressing. Shame. And this is unfortunate, because shame is not humility at all.
Actually, shame and pride are two sides of the same coin. On one side is arrogance and inflation and on the other side is shame and worthlessness. Yes, and we can have a lot of pride wrapped up in being worthless. ‘Don’t tell me I’m not worthless. My whole existence depends on it! ‘ This is why the negative self-image is held onto so tightly. This whole dilemma of the human condition is really an avoidance of emptiness, an avoidance of the unknown. There is an emptiness in the midst of the human condition, but it’s not the threatening, empty emptiness that the mind thinks it is. When one finally gets the courage to go into it, it’s found to be empty and at the same time pregnant with every possibility there is.”
“Life moves, undulates, breathes in and out, contracting and expanding. This is its nature, the nature of what is. Whatever is, is on the move. Nothing remains the same for very long. The mind wants everything to stop so that it can get its foothold, find its position, so it can figure out how to control life. Through the pursuit of material things, knowledge, ideas, beliefs, opinions, emotional states, spiritual states, and relationships, the mind seeks to find a secure position from which to operate.
The mind seeks to nail life down and get it to stop moving and changing. When this doesn’t work, the mind begins to seek the changeless, the eternal, something that doesn’t move. But the mind of thought is itself an expression of life’s movement and so must always be in movement itself. When there is thought, that thought is always moving and changing.
There is really no such thing as thought. There is only thinking, so thought which is always moving (as thinking) cannot apprehend the changeless. When thought enters into the changeless it goes silent. When thought goes silent, the thinker, the psychological “me”, the image-produced self, disappears. Suddenly, it is gone. You, as an idea, are gone. Awareness remains alone. There is no one who is aware. Awareness itself is itself. You are now no longer the thought, nor the thinker, nor someone who is aware. Only Awareness remains, as itself. Then, within awareness, thought moves. Within the changeless, change happens. Now Awareness expresses itself. Awareness is always expressing itself: as life, as change, as thought, feeling, bodies, humans, plants, trees, cars, etc. The changeless is changing. The eternal is living and dying. The formless is form. The form is formless. This is nothing the mind could ever have imagined.”
“In my experience, everyone will say they want to discover the Truth, right up until they realize that the Truth will rob them of their deepest held ideas, beliefs, hopes, and dreams. The freedom of enlightenment means much more than the experience of love and peace. It means discovering a Truth that will turn your view of self and life upside-down. For one who is truly ready, this will be unimaginably liberating. But for one who is still clinging in any way, this will be extremely challenging indeed. How does one know if they are ready? One is ready when they are willing to be absolutely consumed, when they are willing to be fuel for a fire without end.”
“If you start playing the game of being an “enlightened somebody,” the true teacher is going to call you on it. He or she is going to expose you, and that exposure is going to hurt. Because the ego will be there, standing in the light of Truth, exposed and humiliated. Of course, the ego will cry “foul!” It will claim that the teacher made a mistake and begin to justify itself in an effort to put its protective clothing back on. It will begin to spin justifications with incredible subtlety and deceptiveness. This is where real spiritual sadhana (practice) begins. This is where it all becomes very “real” and the student discovers whether he or she truly wants to be free, or merely wants to remain as a false, separate, and self-justifying ego. This crossroad inevitably comes and is always challenging. It separates the true seeker from the false one. The true seeker will be willing to bare the Grace of humility, whereas the false seeker will run from it. Thus begins the true path to enlightenment, granted only to those willing to be nobody. Discovering your “nobodyness” opens the door to awakening as beingness, and beyond that to the Source of all beingness.”
“Do not think that enlightenment is going to make you special, it’s not. If you feel special in any way, then enlightenment has not occurred. I meet a lot of people who think they are enlightened and awake simply because they have had a very moving spiritual experience. They wear their enlightenment on their sleeve like a badge of honor. They sit among friends and talk about how awake they are while sipping coffee at a cafe. The funny thing about enlightenment is that when it is authentic, there is no one to claim it.
Enlightenment is very ordinary; it is nothing special. Rather than making you more special, it is going to make you less special. It plants you right in the center of a wonderful humility and innocence. Everyone else may or may not call you enlightened, but when you are enlightened the whole notion of enlightenment and someone who is enlightened is a big joke. I use the word enlightenment all the time; not to point you toward it but to point you beyond it. Do not get stuck in enlightenment.”
“Enlightenment means the end of all division. It is not simply having an occasional experience of unity beyond all division, it is actually being undivided. This is what nonduality truly means. It means there is just One Self, without a difference or gap between the profound revelation of Oneness and the way it is perceived and lived every moment of life. Nonduality means that the inner revelation and the outer expression of the personality are one and the same. So few seem to be interested in the greater implication contained within profound spiritual experiences, because it is the contemplation of these implications which quickly brings to awareness the inner divisions existing within most seekers.”
“Spiritual people can be some of the most violent people you will ever meet. Mostly, they are violent to themselves. They violently try to control their minds, their emotions, and their bodies. They become upset with themselves and beat themselves up for not rising up to the conditioned mind’s idea of what it believes enlightenment to be. No one ever became free through such violence. Why is it that so few people are truly free? Because they try to conform to ideas, concepts, and beliefs in their heads. They try to concentrate their way to heaven. But Freedom is about the natural state, the spontaneous and un-self-conscious expression of beingness. If you want to find it, see that the very idea of “a someone who is in control” is a concept created by the mind. Take one step backward into the unknown.”
“There is nothing more insidiously destructive to the attainment of liberation than self-doubt and cynicism. Doubt is a movement of the conditioned mind that always claims that “it’s not possible … that freedom is not possible for me.” Doubt always knows; it “knows” that nothing is possible. And in this knowing, doubt robs you of the possibility of anything truly new or transformative from happening. Furthermore, doubt is always accompanied by a pervasive cynicism that unconsciously puts a negative spin on whatever it touches. Cynicism is a world view which protects the ego from scrutiny by maintaining a negative stance in relationship to what it does not know, does not want to know, or cannot know. Many spiritual seekers have no idea how cynical and doubt-laden they actually are. It is this blindness and denial of the presence of doubt and cynicism that makes the birth of a profound trust impossible. A trust without which final liberation will always remain simply a dream.”
“All fear comes from thought in the form of memory (past) or projection (future). Thought creates time: past, present, and future. So fear exists and comes from the perceived existence of time. To be free of fear is to be free of time. Since time is a creation of thought, to be free of fear you must be free of thought. Consequently, it is important to awaken and experience your Self outside of thought, existing as eternity. So question all notions of yourself that are creations of thought and of time — of past, present, and future. Experience your eternalness, your holiness, your awakeness until you are convinced that you are never subject to the movement of thought, of fear, or of time. To be free of fear is to be full of Love.”
“Many spiritual seekers get “stuck” in emptiness, in the absolute, in transcendence. They cling to bliss, or peace, or indifference. When the self-centered motivation for living disappears, many seekers become indifferent. They see the perfection of all existence and find no reason for doing anything, including caring for themselves or others. I call this “taking a false refuge.” It is a very subtle egoic trap; it’s a fixation in the absolute and all unconscious form of attachment that masquerades as liberation. It can be very difficult to wake someone up from this deceptive fixation because they literally have no motivation to let go of it. Stuck in a form of divine indifference, such people believe they have reached the top of the mountain when actually they are hiding out halfway up its slope.
Enlightenment does not mean one should disappear into the realm of transcendence. To be fixated in the absolute is simply the polar opposite of being fixated in the relative. With the dawning of true enlightenment, there is a tremendous birthing of impersonal Love and wisdom that never fixates in any realm of experience. To awaken to the absolute view is profound and transformative, but to awaken from all fixed points of view is the birth of true nonduality. If emptiness cannot dance, it is not true Emptiness. If moonlight does not flood the empty night sky and reflect in every drop of water, on every blade of grass, then you are only looking at your own empty dream. I say, Wake up! Then, your heart will be flooded with a Love that you cannot contain.”
“Maybe I can point you to the great Reality within you. Maybe you will awaken to the direct experience of Self-realization. Maybe you will catch the fire of transmission. But there is one thing that no one can give you: the honesty and integrity that alone will bring you completely to the other shore. No one can give you the strength of character necessary for profound spiritual experience to become the catalyst for the evolutionary transformation called “enlightenment.” Only you can find that passion within that burns with an integrity that will not settle for anything less than the Truth.
Enlightenment has nothing to do with states of consciousness. Whether you are in ego consciousness or unity consciousness is not really the point. I have met many people who have easy access to advanced states of consciousness. Though for some people this may come very easily, I also noticed that many of these people are no freer than anyone else. If you don’t believe that the ego can exist in very advanced states of consciousness, think again. The point isn’t the state of consciousness, even very advanced ones, but an awake mystery that is the Source of all states of consciousness. It is even the Source of presence and beingness. It is beyond all perception and all experience. I call it “awakeness.” To find out that you are empty of emptiness is to die into an aware mystery, which is the Source of all existence. It just so happens that that mystery is in love with all of its manifestation and non-manifestation. You find your Self by stepping back out of yourself.
Ramana Maharshi’s gift to the world was not that he realized the Self. Many people have had a deep realization of the Self. Ramana’s real gift was that he embodied that realization so thoroughly. It is one thing to realize the Self; it is something else altogether to embody that realization to the extent that there is no gap between inner revelation and its outer expression. Many have glimpsed the realization of Oneness; few consistently express that realization through their humanness. It is one thing to touch a flame and know it is hot, but quite another to jump into that flame and be consumed by it.”
“If you are a true seeker of liberation you’ve got to be willing to stand alone. At the moment of Liberation everything falls away…everything. Suddenly the ground beneath your feet is gone, and you are alone. You are alone because you have directly realized that there is no other, there is no separation. There is only you, only Self, only limitless emptiness, pure consciousness. To the mind, the ego, this appears terrifying. When the mind looks at limitlessness and infinity, it projects meaninglessness and despair. To the ego Absolute Freedom can look terrifying. But when the mind is let go of, the view changes from meaningless despair and fear to the unending joy and wonder of Liberation. In Liberation, you stand alone. You stand alone because you need no supports of any kind. You need no supports because you have realized that the very notion of a separate you no longer exists; that there is nothing to support; that the whole ego experience was a flimsy illusion. So you stand alone but never, never lonely because everywhere you look, all you see is That, and You are That.”
“Just stop and be still. Make no effort to be still. In the absence of all effort, stillness is revealed to be your natural condition. Thoughts and emotions may come and go, but stillness is the permanence within which they come and go. In all of your effort, you have overlooked what is most present and available – the stillness you are seeking. Realize this stillness to be your own Self, and It will reveal everything to you.
The purpose of meditation is to find the meditator. When you look for the
meditator, you will not find him, her, or it. All you will find is silent emptiness. In finding emptiness, the mind stops. If you let it, emptiness will stop the mind – unless you run back into samsara, into the mind drama of thinking, striving, and confusion. When you allow emptiness to stop your mind, you will awaken and realize that you are that emptiness. You will realize that you are not the mind, or the body, or any meditative phenomena. You are emptiness. Emptiness means limitless, boundless, immaculate consciousness.
Experience the core of stillness. Dive into it and surrender fully. In full surrender to stillness, you directly experience That to which the concept of God points. In that direct experience, you awaken from the dream of the mind and realize that the concept of God points to who you truly are.
You do not need techniques to be as you truly are. Simply be still. Don’t try to be still. Trying is effort, make no effort and stillness comes to you. Let go of all concepts, ideas, beliefs, identities, hopes, pasts and futures.
Be an open space for whatever arises to arise. Notice that you are the space that everything arises in. When everything is allowed to arise you have the opportunity to perceive That which does not arise or subside. You Are That.”
“True meditation has no direction, goals, or method. All methods aim at achieving a certain state of mind. All states are limited, impermanent and conditioned. Fascination with states leads only to bondage and dependency. True meditation is abidance as primordial consciousness.
True meditation appears in consciousness spontaneously when awareness is not fixated on objects of perception. When you first start to meditate you notice that awareness is always focused on some object: on thoughts, bodily sensations, emotions, memories, sounds, etc. This is because the mind is conditioned to focus and contract upon objects. Then the mind compulsively interprets what it is aware of (the object) in a mechanical and distorted way. It begins to draw conclusions and make assumptions according to past conditioning.
In true meditation all objects are left to their natural functioning. This means that no effort should be made to manipulate or suppress any object of awareness. In true meditation the emphasis is on being awareness; not on being aware of objects, but on resting as primordial awareness itself. Primordial awareness (consciousness) is the source in which all objects arise and subside. As you gently relax into awareness, into listening, the mind’s compulsive contraction around objects will fade. Silence of being will come more clearly into consciousness as a welcoming to rest and abide. An attitude of open receptivity, free of any goal or anticipation, will facilitate the presence of silence and stillness to be revealed as your natural condition.
Silence and stillness are not states and therefore cannot be produced or created. Silence is the non-state in which all states arise and subside. Silence, stillness and awareness are not states and can never be perceived in their totality as objects. Silence is itself the eternal witness without form or attributes. As you rest more profoundly as the witness, all objects take on their natural functionality, and awareness becomes free of the mind’s compulsive contractions and identifications, and returns to its natural non-state of Presence.
The simple yet profound question, “Who Am I ?,” can then reveal one’s self not to be the endless tyranny of the ego-personality, but objectless Freedom of Being — Primordial Consciousness in which all states and all objects come and go as manifestations of the Eternal Unborn Self that YOU ARE.”
“Life without a reason, a purpose, a position… the mind is frightened of this because then “my life” is over with, and life lives itself and moves from itself in a totally different dimension. This way of living is just life moving. That’s all. As soon as the mind pulls out an agenda and decides what needs to change, that’s unreality. Life doesn’t need to decide who’s right and who’s wrong. Life doesn’t need to know the “right” way to go because it’s going there anyway.
Then you start to get a hint of why the mind, in a deep sense of liberation, tends to get very quiet. It doesn’t have its job anymore. It has its usefulness, but it doesn’t have its full-time occupation of sustaining an intricately fabricated house of cards. This stillness of awareness is all there is. It’s all one. This awareness and life are one thing, one movement, one happening, in this moment-unfolding without reason, without goal, without direction.
The ultimate state is ever present and always now. The only thing that makes it difficult to find that state and remain in that state is people wanting to retain their position in space and time. “I want to know where I’m going. I want to know if I’ve arrived. I want to know who to love and hate. I want to know. I don’t really want to be; I want to know. Isn’t enlightenment the ultimate state of knowing?”
No. It’s the ultimate state of being. The price is knowing. This is the beautiful thing about the truth, ever-present, always here, totally free, given freely: It’s already there. That which is ever presently awake is free, free for the “being.”
But the only way that there’s total and final absolute homecoming is when the humanness presents itself with the same unconditionality. Every time a human being touches into that unconditionality, it’s such peace and fulfillment. In your humanity, there’s the natural expression of joy and love and compassion and caring and total unattachment. Those qualities instantly transmute into humanness when you touch into emptiness. Emptiness becomes love. That’s the human experience of emptiness, that source, that ever-present awakeness.
For the humanness to lay itself down – your mind, your body, your hopes, your dreams, everything – to lay itself down in the same unconditional manner in which awareness is ever present, only then is there the direct experience of unity, that you and the highest truth are really one thing. It expresses itself through your humanity, through openness, through love. The divine becomes human and the human becomes divine – not in any “high and mighty” sense, but just in the sense of reality. That’s the way it is. The only price is all of our positions. The only price is that you stop paying a price.”
“This innocence waking up, realizing that everything is itself, even all the confusion and all the ignorance and everything… this is the dissolving of confusion, of ignorance, of karma.”
“Incarnation is nothing more than a thought. A thousand incarnations are but a thousand thoughts. And this amazing miracle of a mirage we call the world reappears as it was before, but now you know. That’s why you usually have a good laugh, because you realize that all your struggles were made up. You conjured them up out of nothing — with a thought that was linked to another thought, that was then believed, that linked to another thought that was then believed. But never could it have been true, not for a second could it have actually existed. Not ever could you have actually suffered for a reason that was true — only through an imagination, good, bad, indifferent. The intricacies of spiritual philosophy and theologies are just a thought within Emptiness.”