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#3582 - Friday, July 3, 2009 - Editor: Jerry Katz  

The Nonduality Highlights - The first periodical publication on nonduality - Submissions welcome    


In this issue is a review of The Light That I Am: Notes From the Ground of Being, by J.C. Amberchele.

This book was introduced, along with an excerpt, in Issue #3551. Following the review, I have duplicated the material from #3551.





The Light That I Am:
Notes From the Ground of Being

by J.C. Amberchele

Review by Jerry Katz

This collection of interconnected essays, stories, confessions, and teachings is one of the best nonduality books I've ever read. Why? It's INTERESTING. The nondual teaching here is rooted in a soil that we get to feel between our fingers.

Amberchele writes well. Consider the opening lines:

"Whatever idea I've had about how things work in this world hasn't gotten me far, considering that I've spent more than twenty years in prison. Most of my beliefs I acquired from my father and from John Wayne, and anything that wasn't ultra tough and ultra cool was to me ultra embarrassing."

Few of us have gone that far with our early negative beliefs; however there's an immediate identification or fascination with the author, at least to some degree. The author essentially says he will probably never be let out of prison: "I was, at times, a thug of the worst sort."

Amberchele writes with spiritual authority but does not take advantage of the reader through excessive teaching or a parental attitude. Prison is humbling:

"So in the end, I'll take this prison I find inside of me over the monastery that I don't because prisons, it seems to me, supply a greater abundance of invitations to return. These taps on the shoulder are not subtle here, and include the entire gamut of negative emotions, fostered by every imaginable desire. Prisons are factories of longing, and I find all of these remarkable reminders - these opportunities - inside of me. And finally, ultimately, I'll take this prison over a monastery because I have."

This book is based on the teaching of Douglas Harding and is supported by the teachings of Tony Parsons, Byron Katie, Ramana Maharshi, Wei Wu Wei, and the Diamond Sutra. Many others are quoted or mentioned. Richard Lang writes about visiting Amberchele in prison and it appears that Lang facilitated the publication of his book.

Ultimately, this is a book about the Headless Way of Douglas Harding. Specific exercises are described, often involving practice with fellow prisoners.

The Appendix features the ten Headless Way experiments. They are tricks for getting you to see what you are, what is you, and what is. They are simple, almost childlike experiments, as though it's show and tell day at school and it's God's turn.

Amberchele addresses in depth the possibility that he picked up nonduality and the Headless Way as crutches for avoiding the full weight imposed by the guilt of his criminal acts. The sense is that he may have, but the conclusion is that he doesn't:

 "I am guilty and I know it. I am responsible for this mess I am in and the messes of God knows how many others."

"As a human, my problems are endless. I cannot fix or redeem myself at the human level; only at the level of Who I Really Am are my problems transformed. Nor is seeing and being this Source the easy way out, considering the profound commitment involved. (Seeing Who I Am is the easiest thing in the world; living from Who I Am is another matter.)"

Amberchele's early spiritual adventures with LSD introduce the magical couple, Aldo and Bitsy:

"Pure acid puts you down, reduces reality to molecules, lets you know you aren't in charge, and God help you if you think you are. Bitsy kept saying, 'Let go, let go,' and finally I peaked, and at that brief moment I knew all there was to know, ever and forever - and then Aldo and I spent the rest of the day tripping through the forest behind the house, examining, with the greatest of reverence, each leaf, every insect, the living earth beneath our feet."

LSD is only the opening of a door which is soon blocked by resistances:

"Thus with my fragile social identity, and coupled with my LSD experiences in the '60s and a growing curiosity about the true nature of things, I was probably a good candidate for awakening. Unfortunately, I resisted with a ferocity that was terribly damaging to myself and others. I was plagued with fear, holding on with whatever semblance of control I could fabricate."

Through a graceful and gritty journey, we learn about Amberchele's nondual daughter, his tragic son, prison life, his life before prison, spiritual practice, and hear discerning confessions about the nature of things:

"At my core I am Aware Emptiness, and it is because I am empty that I am able to be filled, because I am no-thing that I am capacity for everything. This is why, wherever I look, to whatever I attend, I am replaced. And the replacement is total. I am not partially empty and partially replaced. I instantly and totally become what I am replaced by, including not only the physical but the mental as well, all the thoughts and feelings that adhere to the objects of the scene. This includes the scenes I call memory, mental imagery, dreams and hallucinations. This is why I am both No-thing and Everything, both Emptiness and Form, but is essential that I not confuse what belongs where or what goes with what. Thoughts and feelings, although seemingly formless, belong to the world of form, adhere to and so define the physical appearances that constitute the world. Ultimately, they are the world. Empty Awareness is free of these things, and because it is free, it welcomes the world, which it then recognizes as itself! There is no separation, and at the same time, no confusion."

Few present the teaching of nonduality as interestingly as Amberchele. This book will likely make an impact on you. At the least, you'll enjoy the writings a lot.

The Light That I Am:
Notes From the Ground of Being

by J.C. Amberchele

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The following duplicates Nonduality Highlights Issue #3551:

J.C. Amberchele is the pseudonym of a man who found freedom, real freedom, during the long prison sentence, which he is still serving. This freedom is the same liberation or enlightenment that so many of us are seeking, but we seek within the framework of a life where we can have access to all the paraphernalia of the spiritual search and the apparent comfort that money can buy. If you are reading this, you probably have an inkling that the real freedom which Amberchele talks about is something different and has no relation to the external freedom that most of us enjoy. 

The 'experiments' he used before his radical shift in perception seemed, in his own words "... crazy and childish, but I gave them a try. And there it was, as plain as day'. The Light That I Am is no mere prescriptive rehashing of techniques, it combines fascinating biographical material with uniquely accessible insights into the nature of who we really are and how a person continues to function after everything has changed and yet nothing has changed. 

Foreword by Richard Lang
Afterword by Douglas Harding

"This book is a collection of articles based on the insights of the English philosopher and spiritual teacher Douglas Edison Harding." 

About the Author:
J.C. Amberchele was born in Philadelphia in 1940 and attended a Quaker school, then colleges in Pennsylvania and New York, earning a B.A. in psychology. He is currently serving time in prison. 

Excerpt from the preface, by the J.C. Amberchele 

Whatever idea I've had about how things work in this world hasn't gotten me far, considering I've spent more than twenty years in prison. Most of my beliefs I acquired from my father and from John Wayne, and anything that wasn't ultra tough and ultra cool was to me ultra embarrassing. In fact, I lived in a state of near continuous embarrassment, never measuring up to the ridiculous standards I had accepted without question, applied to a framework of expectations I and no one else could meet: how I should act, how others should treat me or otherwise comport themselves in my presence, how the days and months and years should unfold in my favor. 

Needless to say, I became the poster boy for control freaks worldwide. And like all control freaks, I carried beneath a facade of polished strength a sense of hollowness and doom , ever waging the war between who I thought I should be and who I thought I was. In a haze, I self-destructed over and over, taking others with me. 

And then years ago, already well into this prison sentence, I happened to watch a PBS Bill Moyers interview with Joseph Campbell, and I decided to try meditation. It was difficult at first, what with the crowds and the noise and the routine in the cellblock, but I soon discovered that during meditation I had few expectations, of myself or of others, as if there were no others. It was a place of no standards and no embarrassment, a refuge where I no longer had to assert my misguided will. And except for the rare glimpse on drugs or during moments of life-threatening stress in my long criminal career, it was the first time I had truly noticed myself, that bare attention of "I am" at the center of awareness that, it was now obvious, had always been there. 

The mystery from then on, became a question of how this "I" had orginated and from where it continued to spring. The old way of thinking, that I could be a separate consciousness in a separate mind and body, was far too painful to accept. This was the way I had been taught, the way of my father and of everyone else by whom I had measured myself; this was the way of contraction and confrontation and endless self-torture. There had to be another explanation. 

This led to six years of obsessive reading. I wanted to investigate the unspoken hunch I had had since my LSD days in the Sixties, one that had previously manifested as fear, and one that had been resurrected during the Campbell interview: namely, that all the major religions carried at their root an identical message, one so clear and so basic that words were unnecessary for its realization. I suspected that my perception of the world and my so-called place in it were illusory, that reality wasn't what I and most everyone else had thought. It was as if humankind were the recipient of a hoax the universe had conspired to play on itself. And it was clear that my life thus far had been a fight against the revelation of this knowledge, holding on, as it were, to the lies I had been handed, lashing out to avoid the truth. 

I read Buddhist texts. I read Gurdjieff and Ouspensky. I read all I could find on the Christian mystics. I devoured Hafiz and Rumi, then launched myself into the work of the great Indian sages. I found Wei Wu Wei, then returned to Buddhism and dug in for the long haul. I was determined to sort this out, this mystery at the heart of the matter. 

And then one day I read an article by Douglas Harding about his so-called "headlessness," and something snapped. Seeing Who we are, Harding pointed out, was elementary, so easy we miss it, and in failing to recognize it we erect philosophical and religious structures of monumental proportions, thereby concealing it all the more. And all the while it is right Here, closer than close. ... The message was clear: "We can't see It because we are It," and the implications were mind-shattering. 

The Light That I Am
Notes From the Ground of Being 

J.C. Amberchele 

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