and 'karma' are stories that seek to make sense of the
mystery of being. Many other stories seek to do the same,
such as the stories of the Kabbalah , of Buddhism, and of
salvation through the love of Jesus. If you want one of
these stories, have it. But while you are following it, the
wonder of presence is being missed.
personalities will be attracted to particular stories, but
in general all minds seek for meaning, and many minds are
attracted to stories that seem to explain injustice and to
promise justice, if not in this lifetime, then in the next
or in the one after that. This is why the story of karma is
so delightful. The mind hates the idea that it can get no
purchase on liberation, that where liberation is concerned
it is in reality helpless and none of its stories count for
By the way, the
stories of vasanas, samskaras and karma are excellent ones
for explaining certain psychological tendencies and
processes that go in on people, just as Freud's stories or
Jung's stories provide excellent modern alternatives which
require fewer metaphysical beliefs.
“Liberation cannot be described in words. It cannot be
understood by the mind. It cannot be seen until it reveals
itself. Then no words or ideas are able to express it and no
mind is able to grasp it.” However Vedanta says the exact
opposite. The Vedas - the secret forest teachings, and the
Upanishads - the Chandogya, Kena, Aitareya, Kaushitaki,
Katha, Mundaka, Taittriyaka, Brihadaranyaka, Svetasvatara,
Isa, Prasna, Mandukya and the Maitri Upanishads, all say the
opposite. The writings of Adi Shankara, Ramana Mahârshi,
Jńâneshvar, Vasishtha, Ashtâvakra, Nisargadatta, his Guru
Siddharâmeshvar Mahârâj, Yajńavalkya, Nâgârjuna and many
others all describe exactly what liberation is and even how
to attain it step by step. They lay out a clear-cut method,
through self-enquiry, Atma vichara, and Karma, Bhakti and
Jnana yoga, of how to do this and they say exactly what
liberation is with words and concepts, so that the mind
clearly understands it. In fact they say that if the mind
does not understand it, liberation is not possible.
What are your thoughts on this?
Perhaps some of us have too much respect for the words of
dead Indians. Others of us may have too much respect for the
words of dead Hebrew prophets or dead Italian Cardinals.
Therefore we do not recognise how over the centuries the
mind builds complexity on complexity on top of an original
insight into ultimate reality, like the monstrous temple
built on top of Nasruddin's dead donkey.* The original
seeing of liberation could never in any case have been put
into words, as the Buddha recognised.
The idea that
oneness would need to follow a particular path with
prescribed procedures in order to reveal itself is utterly
absurd, an invention of the mind and the egos that attach to
it. And you cannot put enlightenment in a box and sell it.
Oneness is neither a petty bureaucrat nor a door-to-door
salesman. Oneness is the lover who is constantly whispering
in our ear “I am here. I am closer to you than you are to
yourself. Notice me.”
There have been
many hints of the real nature of liberation in many cultures
and at many times. Some of the clearest are from the
Upanishads, for example:-
even proclaim aloud: there is in truth no creation and no
destruction. No one is bound and no one is seeking
liberation. No one is on the way to deliverance. There are
none who are liberated. This is the absolute truth, my dear
disciple. This, the sum and substance of all the Upanishads,
the secret of secrets, is my instruction to you.”
hints have been misunderstood or ignored, because they
offered no purchase for power or wealth to be built on them.
They were instead the purest expression of anarchy. Some who
hinted at this were murdered by the sects and creeds that
held power at the time. I'll quote from just one of these,
Marguerite Porete. Before being executed by the church in
the early fourteenth century, she wrote “Now this soul has
fallen from love into nothingness, and without such
nothingness she cannot be all”, and “If
you do not understand, I cannot help you. This is a
miraculous work, of which one can tell you nothing, unless
it is a lie.” Perhaps you recognise an echo of the Kena
Upanishad here - “Advaita is not an idea. It is! The
lightning flashes, the eye blinks... Then? You have either
understood or you have not understood… If you have not
understood, too bad!” Nor was Marguerite Porete impressed by
those who sought sanctity through morality, writing “the
annihilated soul is freed from the virtues”.
*One day, Nasruddin's father, who was a
famous spiritual teacher with a huge temple and many
thousands of followers, became so fed up with his wastrel
son that he sent him packing with just the clothes he stood
up in and his decrepit and aged donkey for company.
Nasruddin roamed aimlessly till he was
far from home in a strange country. He was miserable and
tired and to make matters worse, his donkey suddenly keeled
over and died. Nasruddin was so downhearted that he just sat
down in the dirt beside the dead donkey and sank his head
into his hands.
After a while, a group of travellers came
by. They saw Nasruddin sitting wretchedly by his donkey's
corpse and they said to each other “This poor man has been
so saddened by the death of his donkey that he does not even
have the heart to bury it. Let us out of charity bury the
beast for him.” So they set about burying the donkey and
then proceeded on their way, leaving Nasruddin sitting
silently by the burial mound.
After a while some more travellers came
by and seeing Nasruddin and the mound, they thought that
perhaps Nasruddin was grieving the loss of a friend. They
too took pity on him, saying “See. This poor unhappy man is
so saddened by the loss of his friend and travelling
companion, that though he has buried him he has no strength
to erect a little memorial for him. Let us build a small
pile of rocks on the burial mound to comfort the wretched
fellow.” So they built a little cairn of rocks and went on
their way, leaving Nasruddin sitting silently by the cairn.
Some time later another group of
travellers came by. Seeing Nasruddin, the mound and the
cairn of rocks they thought that perhaps a rather important
man, perhaps a teacher, had died and that Nasruddin might be
his devoted follower who would not leave his grave. So they
determined to build a little mausoleum over the grave to
show respect. Nasruddin watched them without saying a word
and continued to sit there after they'd left.
After a while, another group of
travellers came by. Seeing Nasruddin and the rather
impressive little building, they thought perhaps that
Nasruddin might be a teacher and the mausoleum his temple,
built maybe by some followers of his. Out of respect, they
added a wing at both ends of the temple, and then sat down
by Nasruddin to imbibe his wisdom.
Gradually, more and more travellers came
by. Each added a little more to the temple, then sat to
drink in the spirit of this master, until there was an
enormous temple and there were hundreds of followers. Still
Nasruddin hadn't said a word. As Nasruddin's fame spread,
the hundreds of followers became thousands, until word even
reached his father, far away in his own temple, about this
great holy man who had so many devotees.
Nasruddin's father determined to travel
to this teacher to see for himself his great spiritual aura.
Eventually he reached the huge temple, and after pushing his
way through the great throngs of people he was astonished to
see his son, the wastrel Nasruddin, sitting on a great
velvet cushion on an ornate golden throne, still not saying
As soon as he was able to, his father
approached Nasruddin in private and said “My son. I'm
amazed. Tell me, how did you become such a great teacher
with so many followers?” So Nasruddin told him everything,
starting with the dead donkey and finishing with the mighty
temple and the crowds of devotees.
When he had finished his father looked at
him in silence for a moment and then said “That's
incredible. Exactly the same thing happened to me.”
You write “Language by its nature
describes duality. There is no language to describe
nonduality.” What about vedic sanskrit? What about the
poetry of the Sufi mystics such as Rumi, or the Gnostic
Gospel of Thomas, or Zen Haiku? What about dance and theatre
and art? What about the following:-
“Crossing long fields,
frozen in its saddle,
my shadow creeps by.”
There is Emptiness, No Thing, the Absolute, out of which
Fullness, Everything, the Relative, pours forth in
unconditional love. Of course the Relative is not different
to the Absolute – it is No Thing appearing as Everything.
Words can only describe phenomena, the
stuff that happens. There are no words to describe No Thing.
Even words like 'emptiness' and 'silence' can only be
pointers to the seeing of liberation. Nevertheless, as you
suggest, poetry and prose, theatre, dance and the visual
arts as well as humour can all sometimes point towards
liberation in a beautiful way. One of my favourite pointers
“How can we ever lose interest in life?
Spring has come again
And cherry trees bloom on the mountains.”
Another favourite of mine, perhaps
because I am quite lazy myself, is the following:-
“Among a thousand clouds and ten thousand
Here lives an idle man,
In the day time wandering over green mountains,
At night coming home to sleep by the cliff......
How pleasant to know I need nothing to lean on,
To be still as the waters of the autumn river.”
write 'the sense of self suddenly disappears. I do not live,
I am lived. I do not act, but actions happen through me, the
divine puppet', are you referring to not being the doer or
Yes. It is seen in liberation that there is no person who
does anything. “Actions there are, but no doer thereof” is a
traditional way of putting this. But we should also beware
of this phrase 'the divine puppet'. It is only a metaphor
and of course there is no puppeteer. If we do not recognise
this, we are likely to gallop off after another story of
meaning and significance.
say: 'However during the next year the self-frantically
tries to reassert itself, sometimes apparently very
successfully as issues manage to re-emerge, as boredom,
emotional pain somehow still have to be experienced.' Do you
still experience emotional pain, boredom, irritation, anger,
anxiety, frustration and so on?
These words refer to a period which is sometimes known as
'the desert', which can be experienced between awakening (a
sudden glimpse of the emptiness of the self) and liberation
(the seeing that there is both emptiness and fullness and
that the nature of oneness is love). In this desert, all the
stories about personal seeking have been seen through, but
the separated seeking self still seems to remain a reality.
This often results in a sense of hopelessness and despair.
The seeing of liberation has no necessary
implications. Anything that occurred before the seeing of
liberation could occur after it. It could not be liberation
otherwise, for liberation is all-embracing. Nevertheless,
liberation is a profound energy shift, and there is a
tendency for certain feelings to lessen or to drop away
entirely. For example many feelings have a distinctly
neurotic element to them, such as irritation and anxiety.
These might disappear. Other feelings, which could be
described as more natural feelings, might actually get
stronger, so instead of a long period of neurotic irritation
there might be a short period of natural anger. Liberation
has been described as living with the blinkers removed –
everything is more raw and immediate when the person is no
longer in the way filtering and toning down experience.
The topic of what experiences happen here
is not very interesting. But since you've asked, I'll report
that boredom and depression are now unknown. Boredom is
unknown because this, presence, is seen not only to be all
that there is, but also to be enough, so the ordinary and
the everyday becomes fascinating. Depression is unknown
because there is no longer a person here suppressing natural
feelings and draining the colour out of life.
about contentedness, joy, or happiness? Do you feel any of
These feelings, like any feelings, can come and go.
Liberation is the seeing that they do not come and go for
Dudjom Rinpoche said “Even in the
greatest yogi, joy and sorrow still arise.”
problems - external problems like paying the bills or
internal problems like fear?
Before liberation, paying the electricity bill. After
liberation, paying the electricity bill.
Fear is a natural feeling. Without it we
would long ago have been wiped out by sabre-toothed tigers.
'Liberation does not bring unending bliss. For that try
heroin, prozac or a lobotomy.' What do you mean by bliss?
For many people, bliss is the ultimate pot of gold at the
end of the spiritual rainbow. We might notice that the end
of any rainbow retreats from us at exactly the same speed
that we try to approach it.
As long as we are searching for bliss, we
are missing the wonder of this. Bliss is another experience,
another feeling. Liberation is neither an experience nor a
feeling. In liberation it is seen that bliss has no more
meaning or significance than any other experience.
Liberation is so far beyond bliss that they are not even
within the same paradigm.
But as long as we feel a sense of
separation, as long as we feel incomplete, it may seem
natural to search for bliss.
Tzu wrote 'Those who know, do not speak. Those who speak, do
not know.' If this is the case then why write books about
this at all? What is the point of trying to articulate the
ineffable. Is it, as Alan Watts said, to try to take some of
the effing out of it?
Your quotation from Lao Tzu is pithy and pointed. Of course
if we take it literally, we wipe away the Upanishads, the
Buddhist sutras, and everything else ever written about
this. Maybe that would not be a bad thing. The Buddha said
“Believe nothing, no matter who has said it, not even if I
have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your
own common sense.” I know that this saying is authentic
because I found it printed on a bar mat in a pub in Wales.
Liberation does not need scriptures or
gurus or priests to make itself known. One moment there's
somebody crossing a field, the next moment there's nobody
crossing a field yet it's seen that crossing a field is
still happening. The non-existence of the person is seen in
that. Nothing written or spoken, nothing studied and no
technique, can have any purchase here.
Let's be clear, there is no reason to
write books about this and there is no point in trying to
articulate it. Nevertheless, oneness obviously sometimes
enjoys attempting to write or talk about itself in as clear
a way as possible.
Please excuse the personification of
oneness in that last sentence. It's not intended, it's just
a consequence of the nature of language.
It is part of the madness of the mind
that it always looks for a point to everything and for
reasons why. The mind rarely regards anything as sufficient
in itself. The mind takes an instrumental view and treats
most things as a means to an end.
I love Alan Watts' remark. I hadn't come
across it before. If anything I've effing written has taken
some of the effing out of the ineffable, I shall be very
What is the difference between doing psychotherapy to purify
the subconscious mind and deal with the shadow, and doing
self enquiry or jnana yoga?
Quite probably there is no difference, except that the
techniques used are sometimes different. Eastern philosophy,
unlike modern Western philosophy, has always been very
practical. It is probably best to regard advaita vedanta and
Buddhism as psycho-philosophies, as combinations of
psychological and philosophical insight. The effectiveness
of certain ancient Eastern practices in dealing with
psychological and emotional problems is now being
acknowledged within our mental health services, where, for
example, techniques derived from Buddhism are being used
with patients to very good effect. Many mental health
workers have now been trained in mindfulness.
you believe in cause and effect? Or is everything a-causal?
In your dream last night you may have waved you hand at a
taxi in the street, causing that taxi to stop and pick you
up. But when you woke up you could see that actually nothing
had happened – there was no taxi, no street, no waving of
Or a week ago you may have gone to see a
film in which Humphrey Bogart's steady gaze and proferred
cigarette lighter caused Ingrid Bergman to fall in love with
him. But you know that this was an illusion, just flickering
light falling on a screen.
Perhaps these metaphors are useful,
perhaps not. But in this waking dream it is much the same.
In this dream of time and space there seems to be cause and
effect. In liberation this is seen through and it is known
that there is only this, presence, in which the dream of
cause and effect arises.
What about Dharma? What about Morality?
The idea that we have a special dharma is a story which is
very appealing to the ego of the person. But when it's seen
that there is no person, there can be no dharma because
there is only this.
Morality also belongs to the person. If
you want to concern yourself with morality, I'd suggest that
all that is needed is the golden rule. This is so simple
that a child of seven can understand it. Perhaps that is why
there is a version of it in many different cultures. It
simply says “Do not do to other people anything that you
would not want them to do to you.” That's pretty
What do you mean when you write about liberation being
'seen'? What about 'knowing'? What about 'understanding'?
There are no good words for describing this. I could have
written 'sensed' or 'known', but 'seen' seems to me to be
the nearest that words can get.
The trouble with 'understanding' is that
it implies that concepts about liberation are relevant here.
But they have no relevance at all. It is possible to see
liberation with no understanding of it, or to have an
exquisite understanding of liberation but without seeing it.
The first is like enjoying a cake without knowing what the
ingredients are. The second is like knowing what the
ingredients are without ever tasting the cake.
Do you have a an aversion to Indian gurus and wisdom
traditions because of the negative experiences with your own
'guru of the single malt' which you write about in 'I Hope
You Die Soon'.
My experiences with my 'guru of the single malt' were
overwhelmingly positive. That was the most enjoyable ride
that I went on in the Spiritual Fun Fair.
But when the person drops away, all
stories of becoming, all stories of evolutionary paths to
enlightenment or other forms of salvation, are seen for what
they are, as simply stories. So they lose their fascination,
and it becomes difficult to hang around them any more except
for the sake of old friendships or for the sheer colour and
entertainment offered by some of them. I prefer to walk
round the park and drink coffee by the lake now.
about words being pointers. But in traditional Vedanta words
are more than pointers, they deliver knowledge and remove
ignorance. For example, the word 'awareness' is not a
pointer, it is awareness.
We will just have to agree to disagree about this one. The
word 'awareness' is just a word. Awareness itself can never
be put into words. We're back to Alan Watts and the effing
what you write sounds very close to existentialism. Are you
an existentialist? If not, what are you?
An existentialist is someone who has seen through all the
stories about meaning and purpose but still feels themself
to be a separated person. This often leads to depression.
In liberation, all the stories about
meaning and purpose fall away because the person has been
seen through. This does not tend to lead to depression.
Instead, for the first time, the glory of presence is seen.
I am, perhaps like you, a very ordinary
bloke. I am, as you are, also the light in which everything
arises, and so is Lizzy and Tommy and Jimmy and Anne. It
would be more accurate to say “There is only the light in
which everything arises.”
NDM: When you speak of liberation, what
are you liberated from?
I am not liberated. No one is liberated. There is no such
thing as a liberated person. Anyone who claims to be a
liberated person, or to be an enlightened person, is by that
very claim disqualifying themself from having anything
authentic to say on the matter.
Liberation is seen, impersonally, when
the person drops away. It makes as much sense, by the way,
to say that there is in any case only liberation, that being
awake and being asleep are the same thing. However, in being
awake they are known to be the same thing, but in being
asleep it is believed that there is a difference, and
therefore it is thought that there is a pot of gold to
NDM: What are your thoughts on neo-advaita?
I've come across the suggestion that there are three kinds
of advaita. According to this description, in traditional
advaita there is both liberation and a path to liberation,
in neo-advaita there is liberation but no path to
liberation, and in pseudo-advaita there is neither
liberation nor a path to liberation.
The idea that there are
three kinds of oneness, or three kinds of not-twoness, is
very entertaining. It generates a great deal of heat on the
internet, which even spills over into 'web-rage', the
internet equivalent of road-rage, at times. But it has no
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