What is Nonduality
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Nonduality Salon (/ \)
issue number two - October, 2000
Nonduality Salon Magazine
THIS IS IT: AN INTERVIEW WITH
by Gloria Lee
[Editor's note: Dan Berkow is a long-time prolific contributor to Nonduality Salon email list, as well as to HarshaSatsangh, Advaitin, and A Net of Jewels lists. His words have a way of slipping the reader into the 'void'. Gloria Lee is one of the founders of Nonduality Salon, organizer of the HS/NDS retreats, a respected voice on Buddhist subjects, and a contributor to email community's in many indefinable ways.]
There are some frequently heard expressions that are
used in discussions of spirituality, like those on the Nonduality
Salon, often with the assumption that everybody already knows
what is meant by these ideas. Besides possibly being confusing to
someone new to nonduality, this assumption means they are seldom
questioned. Words that are originally very descriptive, then are
used prescriptively, as in: Here, just see this, realize this, do
this, and you will become enlightened, or whatever result is
being advised. Yet with a closer look at what is actually meant,
or what are the implications of some of these ideas, even much
well-intended advice may actually be seen to be
counter-productive. So, Dan, that is the aspect I would ask you
to explore here, by looking more closely at a few of these
popular concepts and ideas.
To begin with one example, the phrase "I am not the body, thoughts, feelings" may be used to indicate a state of spiritual detachment or some different perception of identity. This may be said with the intention to break the habit of self identification or to step back from reacting automatically, and
supposedly represents progress. Often this practice may be called being in the "witness state" or just observing. This practice may be advised to lessen desire/aversion or reduce ego. Supposedly the experience of being "pure awareness" is the intended result, though it still may leave some form of identification as the observer. Furthermore, it may also result in a kind of distancing from experience, even a resistance to what is happening. As I am sure you are aware of these issues,
what are your thoughts on the implications of this concept?
The "recommended witness state" can only be a construction that is put together while trying to make sense of what is being recommended. As a result there is "this Present as is" with the added imposition of the idea of the recommended state - which
is now retained as a description of Reality. This is like trying to avoid breathing, because one doesn't want to breathe until one has read a good description about breathing from a certified specialist in oxygen intake.
All that can occur from this attempt is the activity of trying to imitate the description, the idea -- striving to "make it real". Meanwhile, awareness of and as the actual Present is made "distant".
We find here the attempt of the "me" to become something the "me" isn't, but would like to become. Nonetheless, Reality is never in the idea, isn't something that will become in the future, isn't produced by or for the "me".
Striving to maintain "the witness state" can only be the imposition of a remembered idea or experience, a bringing of the past to bear on the present. What is missed is the Present as is, the Present that doesn't have, carry, or refer to a past. The unbroken Present has nothing outside of itself - neither past nor future is somewhere else, somewhere outside as a reference point. Words about the past or future, images or memories that arise, can only seem misleading if awareness conceives of itself as split in nature. When awareness doesn't try to retain a conception of a "me" opposed to and separate from an "it", there is no being misled.
In your question, you ask about breaking the habit of identification and the "intended result" of pure Awareness. Looking into this situation, it is seen that an observer appears to have taken a position. That position is that "breaking identification" would be useful and that the experience of being pure Awareness would be fulfilling. As long as this observer continues to attempt to break identifications, detach from this or that, or experience pure Awareness, the full depth of the question of the nature and existence of the observer cannot be explored. The observer is always assumed to be there, as the one who witnesses, the one who recognizes identification and detachment, the one who experiences Awareness, or who knows Awareness as such and can talk about it.
The "deepest" question is looking into the reality of the observer, about whether any position ever has actually been taken by an observer. The question isn't used by an observer, it is used to negate assumptions about an observer. The instant the observer is not, no question arises, no answer is needed. As long as there is continuing thought and energy aimed at a goal, or aimed at maintaining or changing a state of being, there will always remain the impression of an observer. It is at the very moment that no attempt is made to continue a thought
process, achieve a goal, have a particular outcome, maintain a state - at that very moment there is the seeing that no observer has ever taken a position anywhere. This was always assumed, was always the basis for activity. Nonactivity of mind allows the truth to clarify itself.
Because these questions seem to lead to an answer, the misconception tends to arise that the idea of "no observer" or "Awareness is all" is some kind of answer, philosophy, or belief to be promoted. The opposite of this is the case. If such ideas are taken as answers, the observer clearly has set up shop as the one who can promote the idea that there is no observer. Thus, this inquiry is profound, and is not at all a matter of accepting any answer or formula. The questioning intensifies so that "this moment", "this instant" becomes the only "place" the question can arise or be directed. "This instant" is a flash, and yet is "all that is". "Instantaneous awareness" is this moment, is where the question arising and that to which the question is addressed are not-two. The subject conceiving the question and the object of inquiry (e.g., the present moment) are unsplit. It is a matter of intensifying inquiry to the pointless point which is presentness. Then, neither question nor answer is needed.
The observer has disappeared this instant, as this "momentary" or "discontinuous" perception has no place for an observer. The observer requires time and distance. The instant that there is not the intent to describe or act upon a description, the observer (who is nothing but description) ceases.
There indeed can be distancing from feelings, and resistance to 'what is' in the process of "aiming to be the Witness", or trying to "experience pure Awareness". That friction and distance is the attempt of the observer to be, where no observer actually is.
Gloria: Dan, when you mention no observer, that brings to mind another popular expression, that there is "no doer" either. Then furthermore "pure awareness" becomes "choiceless awareness" and we are usually off to the races, debating free will vs determinism once again. Let's not go there! The difficulty with applying these ideas as a recommended practice, even if one somehow believes them to be true, is that not only do they contradict the usual childhood conditioning to be responsible for our choices, but also our "felt experience" of life is often that we are a someone doing something. So when "choiceless awareness" is recommended or spoken of as desirable, it is sometimes misunderstood to be merely a form of passivity. Or to a beginner, "no doer" may sound like advice to literally do nothing! How would you clear up this confusion for someone who imagines or sees all this as leading up to some sort of zombie like state of mind? What can it mean to someone to simply be told, "there is no doer"? If this is not already one's experience, how can one move toward that being true?
At this point in our discussion, it's clear that the "choiceless awareness" that can be recommended or spoken of as if desirable isn't the fact of "choiceless awareness". Recommending something implies choice by the one who hears the recommendation, and something desirable implies the choice to go after what is desired, to realize it, to "make it a reality for oneself". Truly choiceless awareness can't be recommended, desired, or implemented. It is not a conceptual product nor a description. When the observer/doer is not, choiceless awareness automatically is the case. There is no one there to choose or not choose. The observer/doer isn't done away with, "logicked" out of existence, nor made to go away by choosing (?) not to believe in it.
The observer ceases the instant that clarity *is* as "presentness". The only impediment to clarity is the attempt to make a certain kind of clarity be the case (based on idea, desire, anxiety, or description - all of which imply and require an observer). When there is not the attempt to manufacture clarity (or well-being), there is nothing to impede "what is" *as is*. The truth is, we don't want "what is". We don't want "no observer". We don't want Reality. Methinks we doth protest too much. All our supposed expressing of Reality, explanations of how we found Reality, attempts to seek for Reality, descriptions of Reality -- all of these bring Reality no closer than it is now. The truth is, we are avoiding Reality. Even in the process of expressing, describing, and pretending we *are* Reality - we're avoiding. It's clear how we're avoiding. We're avoiding whenever we are "there" as the observer/expresser. We can't make ourselves not be "there". We can only not be there. This is true humility. It means that not one word said here about Reality is true, nor any other words about Reality.
To clear up confusion for a beginner isn't difficult. Simply let the beginner forget all ideas about becoming an "expert". There
are no "experts" Here. If a zombie-like state of mind is imagined, that is no worse than if a glorious state of sat-chit-ananda is imagined, or Clear Light, or beginningless and endless Awareness or Enlightenment. Let the beginner simply do nothing to move ahead beyond beginning, set no image as a goal. Any attempt to move anywhere will only be an introjection of one's own projection, like eating a picture of a sandwich for lunch. Indeed, what does the beginner imagine he or she has begun? Who is imagined to be there to begin something? Even to think that one is a beginner is far too sophisticated for the simplicity of "what is".
Thanks for verifying an intuition that sometimes a lot of this
"spiritual advice" is actually counter-productive and
merely sends people down the proverbial garden path chasing
rainbows. Ha! been there, done that, like who hasn't? It seems that many of us begin (and continue) some form of spiritual seeking without even questioning what is behind this dissatisfaction with reality to begin with anyway. Or we just believe it all needs to be difficult and complicated. But what else can you do with yourself if nothing like this simplicity occurs to you? This reminds me of those Zen guys who say things like: Spend 10 years studying bamboo and then when you draw, forget all you know about bamboo. We seem to want to study how to become spontaneous. Maybe the vital aspect is only a readiness to hear. For example, having read Ram Dass's "Be Here Now" over thirty years ago, it certainly was not understood then to be anything simple. Or more likely, I would not want have wanted to hear anything about me not being there. Whether the truth was in that book or not is irrelevant, I am just verifying what you say about avoiding. What, do nothing? The ego does not want to hear it is not real and doesn't have important things to do.
Saying that "the observer is not" is not to say that something real is missing. What has ceased (as "Now" is the case) is the conceptual position onto which "an observer" is projected, along with the striving to maintain that position by employing thought, memory, expectations, and goals.
If "Here" is "Nowness", no point of view can be identified with as "me", even from moment to moment. In fact, psychological time (which is constructed by comparison) has ceased. Therefore, there is only "this unsplit Present moment", not even
the imagined sensation of moving from this moment into the next moment.
Because the conceptual point of observation is not, that which is observed cannot be "fit" into conceptual categories previously maintained as the "me-center" of perception. The relativity of all these categories is "seen", and Reality that is undivided, unsplit by thought or concept simply is the case.
What has happened to the awareness previously situated as "the observer"? Now, awareness and perception are unsplit. For example, if a tree is perceived, the "observer" is "every leaf of the tree". There is no observer/awareness apart from things,
nor are there any things apart from awareness. What dawns is: "this is it". All the pontifications, pointings, wise sayings, implications of "special knowledge", fearless quests for truth, paradoxically clever insights -- all of these are seen to be unnecessary and beside the point. "This", exactly as is, is "It". There is no need to add to "This" with anything further, in fact there is no "further" - nor is there any "thing" to hold on to, or to do away with.
Gloria: Dan, at this point, any assertion seems superfluous. This is a territory only referred to by silence and emptiness, and even that is too much. Even to say, "I AM" only further complicates, it adds another layer of meaning to awareness. Even saying no-doer is a type of assertion, isn't it? So is this just impossible to discuss further?
You bring up two points here, Glo, which seem worth addressing: not referring to "I AM" and using "nondoer" terminology, or I think, perhaps "nonobserver" terminology might be more apt.
Not using "I AM", and instead referring to "pure awareness", is a way to say the awareness isn't focused on an "I" nor is it concerned with distinguishing being from not-being regarding
itself. It isn't viewing itself in any sort of objectifying way, so wouldn't have concepts about states it is in -- "I AM" only fits as opposed to "something else is", or "I am not". With no "something else" and no "not-I", there can't be an "I AM" awareness. "Pure awareness" can be criticized in a similar way - is there "impure" awareness, is there something other than awareness? So the terms "pure awareness, or just "awareness" are simply used to interact through dialogue, with recognition that words always imply dualistic contrasts.
The related concepts that "the observer is not", or "the doer is not" are ways to question assumptions that tend to govern perception. When the assumption has been sufficiently questioned, the assertion is no longer needed. This is the principle of "using a thorn to remove a thorn." No negative has relevance when no positive has been asserted. "Simple awareness" has not thought of an observer or doer being present or not being present.
Gloria: Yet when a doer is present, say even as an assumption in an email dialogue like this, you seem to bring this to attention by a process of gentle negation. You can use negation, as you say, to remove that thorn. I call you an artist of net-neti, because you can expose and remove previously unconscious supports, until one has nothing left to stand on at all. Instead of just talking and hearing words, something within actually collapses. One time in a discussion with you of "no experiencer, no experience" - consciousness just shifted, space opened up, letting go... somehow the actual disappearance becomes real, though it may or may not be a lasting change in perception.
As you bring up "neti, neti"
and "no experiencer or
Negation is the mind
from its self,
As long as a truth is affirmed,
there is the focusing on that
truth, the attempt to
perpetuate it, keep it.
With no clinging to affirmation,
no need for a negation.
"No experiencer, hence no
experience" is only what is
already the case.