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ROBERT SALTZMAN
Interview with non duality magazine.
April 2011
 

 Dr. Robert Saltzman and Sombra

 

Dr. Robert Saltzman is a psychotherapist and non-teacher of non-duality who lives and works in Todos Santos, Baja California, Mexico. In addition to his therapy practice, he takes questions about psychology, spirituality, and problems of living from questioners world-wide on the Dr. Robert Forum http://robert.ismouton.org

 

NDM: Can you please tell me about Walter Chappell, your teacher, and was his background mostly in the teachings of Gurdjieff?

Robert: Walter's teacher, Dutch chemist, Willem Nyland, was a direct student of Gurdjieff, and he created a Gurdjieff style group. Gurdjieff's work was based upon group dynamics and consisted of group activities such as intricate dance movements, the carrying out of group projects, etc. Walter was a part of Willem's group for several years, but later broke away from Nyland and went his own way. He often spoke to me of Nyland with great respect, but never encouraged me to get into the so-called "Gurdjieff work," in fact, he actively discouraged it, since he believed that the spirit of it had been lost.

Some of my instruction from Walter touched upon Gurdjieff's ideas, and he used some of the Gurdjieff jargon, but most of what he imparted was something else entirely. For one thing, there was no group at all. Everything transpired between me and Walter, one to one, and often my wife, Catanya as well, so on those occasions everything transpired among the three of us. Walter's teaching was esoteric in the extreme. A great deal of what he taught me was not expressed in words at all, but by means of some kind of direct transmission via a combination of showing or modeling awakeness, and of somehow--and I cannot explain this--transferring awakeness to me energetically. Sometimes my students tell me that they feel that kind of energy in my presence, and I observe that they do, but I cannot explain how I "do it" either, any more than I can explain how Walter did it.

 

Gurdjieff

 



 

walter chappell
 

©1987 Robert Saltzman Walter Chappel

 

 

Walter and I traveled together, mounted shows of our photographs together, built darkrooms together, sometimes lived together, etc., and all that time Walter's teaching went on continuously. Any movement in ordinary life became also an occasion for spiritual instruction. For example, the process of building the structure for a darkroom became a kind of metaphor for constructing something spiritually—"erecting it," as Walter would put it--and had to be undertaken with utmost seriousness. Often silence was maintained for hours. For example, once Walter and I drove from New Mexico to San Diego to show some photographs, including one night sleeping on the bare ground in the Arizona desert, without exchanging a single word except once about where to stop for gas and coffee.

His attitude toward me was totally uncompromising and radically demanding. I was expected to "get it," and to make any and all efforts necessary to accomplish that. Any laziness at all in the work of "getting it," was severely criticized, and I might be told that if I really wasn't interested perhaps I should just leave and stop wasting his time. Of course, I never left, but just tried harder. On the other hand, Walter's eyes were often filled with deep compassion and encouragement, and he knew how to laugh with a wonderful freedom. Lots of the teaching was of the crazy wisdom variety, including intentionally acting out in public in order to expose my conventional hang-ups, insulting other friends, pretending to be drunk when he really wasn't, etc. He knew how to suffer too. The two sides of life, the ordinary and the esoteric, were always one and the same for Walter, and became one and the same for me too—a kind of radical non-duality in the midst of life.

I do not know what more I can say about this.  The New York Times obit on Walter is fairly accurate and comprehensive.
www.nytimes.com/2000/08/12/arts/walter-chappell-photographer-of-nature-is-dead-at-75.html By Roberta Smith

NDM: In this article www.askdrrobert.dr-robert.com/awakenedview.html you say "Because projection of energy upon the screen of awareness creates the objects and perceptions of consciousness, we have no idea of what those objects really are. All we ever really know is consciousness--not objects--and that is a total mystery.'

What do you believe is the mystery part about objects?   

Robert: The objects are not the mystery part. Science already tells us that no solid objects exist, and that we only imagine they exist, or perceive them, because energy (photons, etc.) impinges upon the nervous system creating physical changes in it. The mystery is consciousness. No one has the slightest idea what it is or how it arises. In other words, no one has the slightest idea how a brain which is a material substance, can produce consciousness, which is immaterial. How can a physical or chemical change in some cells in a brain, produce perception of color, sound, texture, etc.? This is perhaps the greatest mystery known to humankind.

NDM: When you also say all we ever know is consciousness. How does one know this?

Robert: When I say that all we can ever know is consciousness, I mean that everything we see, hear, smell, taste, or think is known to us only because we become conscious of it. If we are not conscious of it, for us it does not exist. For example, if you and your dog are sitting together, the dog may become conscious of a high-pitched sound of which you are not conscious because it is outside the range of frequencies which you can hear. Therefore, the sound exists for the dog, but not for you. The sound exists for the dog as a modification or disturbance within its field of consciousness. If you imagine consciousness as a pond with a completely smooth surface, then for the dog, hearing the sound is as if someone threw a stone into the pond, disturbing the previously pristine surface, and sending out ripples in all directions. When the sound dies out, the ripples stop, and the surface of the pond is quiet again until the next sound. This is just a metaphor, of course. For you, since the sound is outside your hearing range, your pond, your field of consciousness, remains unrippled, and you never hear—never become conscious, that is--of the sound. For you, there was no sound. For the dog, there was. Your consciousness, which is what you know, was quiet at that moment, and that is what you know: unrippled consciousness, no sound. The dog's consciousness was disturbed, and that is what the dog knows, the state of its consciousness (rippled). Therefore you can never know sound itself, or anything else directly, but you can only know disturbances in your own consciousness.

 

Walter Chapel and Catanya

 
 

Walter and Robert

 

"Discovery is unrepeatable
Being here, all we see
Creates this presence
In a living stream of energy"

---Walter Chappell
 

NDM: What about this "awakeness energy" that you say is transmitted?   

What is this “do it” exactly? Is it some sort of meditation practice, method, technique, or text that you use?

Or do you mean some kind of traditional Zen transmission or shakipat of some kind?
 

Robert: It is not that I intentionally pass any energy to anyone. There really is not an “I” which could do that anyway. What I meant is this: When Walter and I would sit together in silence, I would feel a kind of energy or vibrations which seemed to be associated with him, and which seemed to create a more open emotional state within me. Then, if our eyes met, I would see that he observed that change in me, and was aware that I had tuned in to the wider horizons which were his characteristic condition. This cannot be put into words. I am fully aware that calling something vibrations does not explain anything, but that is the best I can do. Now that I am the one who can sit in an emotional state of deep participation with and connection with the world "around me," (quotation marks because that world includes me, or one might even say is me)--a state of profound silence--I understand what Walter must have been experiencing. I observe certain students picking up on that same state—a kind of "contact high"--which they experience only when in my presence, or, if they are more advanced, which they experience more easily or more fully in my presence. Sometimes I am told this directly: "Robert, when I sit with you I awaken easily. When I am not here, I try to recall the feeling, but I can't." Another mystery which I am powerless to explain.

 
NDM: On your bio it says Robert is a psychotherapist and non-teacher of non-duality.

When you mention "students" that you pass "energetic transmission" to, is this some other kind of teaching?

Robert:  Calling myself a "non-teacher of non-duality" was really just a bit of a word game. You asked for a short bio for Non Duality Magazine, so I wrote one. To be honest, I do not think much about non-duality at all. I just do what I do, and I don't call it anything unless someone asks. As for being a--for want of a better term--"spiritual teacher," some people think of me that way, but when I fill in a form with a blank for occupation, I write "psychologist," not "spiritual teacher." All of that is just words anyway. Teaching happens when it happens. "I" don't do anything really. Having to use language which has a subject, verb, and predicate, implies a doer—the subject of the verb—but that is a creation of language only. At root, no one does anything, and there is no separate person who ever could do anything. I tried to make that clear in the piece you cited.

All of these matters are impossible to put into words. That does not mean that one should not try, but it does mean that no explanation will ever fully evoke THIS—the ineffable suchness of everything.

I do not mean to be vague. I am doing the best I can.

 

NDM: In the article that you wrote, you said"   Awakening does not come from any kind of "practice." Procedures such as prayer, chanting, meditation, etc. just give ego more jobs to do so as to postpone awakening--postpone seeing ego's delusion. Perhaps some traditional meditation will calm you down enough to be able to notice your thoughts at all, but once that happens, any further "sitting," becomes, in my experience, just another project in strengthen the ego, not seeing through it.

 

What kind of meditation practice did you do and for how long? Did you have a formal Buddhist or yoga meditation teacher?

 

Robert: I have never practiced meditation in the formal sense—teacher, mediation hall, cushion, etc. By my late 20s I was making serious efforts to find my true nature, but I did not imagine that I would do that by any practice beyond constant non-judgmental self-observation which for me had nothing to do with "sitting" or not sitting. For example, I would spend extended periods alone and silent, simply letting thoughts go where they would without being attached to them, but looking for what lay behind or beyond thought. Obviously, this is a kind of meditation practice, but I was not necessarily sitting when I did it, and I did not think of it as meditation, but non-judgmental self-observation. I might have been walking around, lying down, riding my bicycle, or swimming when I did that. I spent countless hours when younger seeking that space beyond thought—the emptiness in which thoughts arise--without ever calling it meditation. These days, I would say that I have realized that emptiness, so that the space beyond thought is never not present. I do think formal sitting meditation can be helpful for some people, but not others, depending on psychological factors, and have even encouraged certain students to attend formal meditation retreats.

NDM: What would you say are these psychological factors?

 

Robert:  Some people have a tendency to use anything—physical exercise, mind-expanding drugs, whatever--in addictive ways. In other words, an activity which might be helpful or useful for one person, for another kind of person is not at all helpful or useful, but an addiction which must be fed in order for that person to feel "OK."

 

I have seen meditation become that kind of addiction for lots of people. Furthermore, spiritual seeking itself usually becomes an ongoing avoidance of seeing things as they really are. If that kind of seeking/avoidance is backed up by an addictive kind of meditative trance, instead of awakening, we have the pursuit and so-called "enjoyment" of "states." I have known many people who imagine that a state of bliss, for example, is an "awakened" state. Meditation is a terrible danger for someone like that, and is one of the reasons why older sources often warned against practicing meditation without a qualified teacher. That kind of so-called “meditation” is really only self-hypnosis.

 

NDM: Yes as you know, the Buddha speaks to this in his eightfold path. "Right concentration" meaning meditation practice and not using meditation for the wrong reasons.  When you say that the space beyond thought is never not present. Do you mean in the sense of what some call the witness?

 

Robert:  Well, that word is slippery, and this is complicated. Some teachers use the word witness to mean the reflection in consciousness of the universal, impersonal substratum of being. If the word is used that way, that is what I mean. It is that reflection in consciousness which gives rise to the sense of “I Am-ness,” that we feel prior to perceptions and thoughts. So this feeling of I Am-ness lies midway between the impersonal, unknown, mystery level of beingness, and the ordinary collection of physical and mental automatic processes plus autobiography usually called “myself.”

Unfortunately, many spiritual seekers on hearing the idea of a witness immediately split off part of the ordinary, automatic ego, and make that split off part, which is really still just ego in disguise, their “witness.” Since that splitting creates a seemingly separate point of view which can appear “spiritual,” one can be lost in that kind of false witnessing for years. Often this happens to successful “meditators,” who love to assume the so-called witness position, becoming increasingly isolated from ordinary life, while believing that the greater that isolation becomes, the more “progress” they are making. This is not progress at all, but a trap, a cul de sac.

 

To avoid this danger, I prefer never to speak about witnessing at all. It is a word I don’t use. If a student raises this idea, I will suggest looking first for the the undeniable sense that I exist at all, which, obviously, must be there prior to any possible witnessing. In other words, instead of witnessing, which implies a kind of activity, I suggest simply noticing the emptiness within which thoughts, sensations, perceptions, and all of that is arising. To put this another way, I like to take the focus off witnessing of phenomena, and move attention to noticing the awareness-space in which all phenomena arise.

 

 

NDM: You also say that Awakening is not what you think. So what is the difference with awakening and full enlightenment?

 

Initial awakening is like the moment when, as in the piece I sent you, How Does An Awakened Person See The World?, the projector malfunctions, and one remembers that he is not a character in the movie, but someone in a theater who had been watching the movie. I don't know if "full enlightenment" is a very useful term. Things just keep unfolding, don’t they? I would say that these days I just never forget what I really am—what we really all are--and that I could not forget it if I wanted to. In terms of your last question: for me, meditation is never not happening.

NDM: So what changed about you with this realization?

 

Robert: This question is hard to answer since the focus of it seems so distant from what I feel is "myself." Robert still has views and opinions (forgive me for referring to myself in the third person), but "I" always see them for what they are—the views and opinions of a particular egoic outlook, so that any force they have is quite limited. Same for beliefs, although I never was much for believing even before the change in outlook. For the most part my behavior in general is calm, tolerant, open, and friendly.
 

NDM: What about inclinations, tendencies, desires, likes and dislikes, preferences and so on? Do you still have any kinds of aversions or fears of any kind?

 

Robert: Not really. I still have a personality, and it still has likes and dislikes, but they seem really unimportant. The entire personality is simply outshone by the steady presence of awareness, the way the moon is outshone by the sun. I honestly do not worry much about what is arising. On the personality level, I just deal with things moment by moment, knowing that whether it is something I like or something I dislike, something which attracts me, or something I fear, it passes away as soon as it arises. My teacher said it this way: "Everything is just once upon a once."

 

NDM: Why do you think that these likes and dislikes still arise with some and not with others?

 

Robert: In this very moment—which is all there is--things are as they are and cannot be any different. This is obvious. But if someone ignores or habitually denies that obvious truth, that person will always be creating a hypothetical alternative variation to what is—a "better, improved" version. But that does not and cannot exist, and so is not real. When we believe in and pursue things which are not real, we suffer. Belief in things which are not real is the principal source of suffering (and of seeking). When that is seen, the seeking stops, not because "I" stop it, but because the very seeing of that process takes the energy out of it. When seeking stops, likes and dislikes lose importance.
 

NDM: What is nirvana?

Robert: Nirvana is a concept in Buddhism which refers to freedom from the suffering which is said to arise from negative states of mind such as craving, anger, greed, aversion, etc. The same word is used also to refer to the absence of a sense of self separate from the rest of the world.

 NDM: What are your thoughts on what the Buddhists refer to as the "five hindrances" to meditation and the reasons why some people cannot meditate?

 

1

kamacchandra

Sensual desire

2

vyapada

Ill-will or aversion

3

uddhacca-kukkucca

Restlessness and scruples (anxiety)

4

thina-middha

Sloth and Unconsciousness

5

vicikiccha

Doubt

 

As well as 10 fetters outlined in the Buddhist teachings?  They teach that to truly escape samsara, to cease all suffering, nirvana cannot be attained as long as one has a trace of these 10 fetters.  That all 10 have to be eradicated.

  1. False belief in Self
  2. Skeptical Doubt about the Dhamma
  3. Attachment to Rites and Rituals, including norms, beliefs, concepts, names
  4. Sense Desires
  5. Ill Will
  6. Attachment for existence in the Fine Material Planes
  7. Attachment for existence in the Fine Immaterial Planes
  8. Conceit
  9. Restlessness
  10. Ignorance

For instance, the "Snake-Simile Discourse" the Buddha states:

'... [F]or those who are arahants, free of taints, who have accomplished and completed their task, have laid down the burden, achieved their aim, severed the fetters binding to existence, who are liberated by full knowledge, there is no (future) round of existence that can be ascribed to them.... [T]hose monks who have abandoned the five lower fetters will all be reborn spontaneously (in the Pure Abodes) and there they will pass away finally, no more returning from that world.... [T]hose monks who have abandoned three fetters and have reduced greed, hatred and delusion, are all once-returners, and, returning only once to this world, will then make an end of suffering.... [T]hose monks who have abandoned three fetters, are all stream-enterers, no more liable to downfall, assured, and headed for full Enlightenment.'

He uses the words "full enlightenment"?

Robert:  Before commenting directly, let me share this story:

God and the Devil are hanging out together, looking down at the desert where one of God's chosen is having a sacred vision. "You see," says God.” Now you will be out of business because my child has realized the Truth."

Not at all," says the Devil. "I will help him organize it."

In the same way that the words in the Gospels are not really the actual words of Jesus, the words attributed to Buddha cannot be said to be his actual words. Just as the Gospels were written down many years after Jesus (if there even was a historical Jesus, which historians still question), the sutras were written not by the Buddha, but by others, in some cases many, many years later, so we do not really know what the Buddha said. In other words, "Buddha" is a mythical character in the same way that "Jesus" is. When we read the words of a mythical character, the words need to be heard as metaphor, not history.

That said—and it is important always to remember it—even if those fetters and hindrances came right out of the Buddha's mouth, what does that have to do with me? I don't really care what the Buddha's concepts were, and I am not interested in imitating or following anyone. The Buddha was a man, just like me. He had his concepts and ideas, and I have mine. If he found something that worked for him, great. The story of a prince who rejects the material world in search of freedom is a great story which I appreciate, but I am not imitating it, and I certainly don’t worship it. This is the meaning of the phrase, “If you meet the Buddha in the road, kill him.” If you don’t kill him, the idea of him will kill you. The source of my understanding, my freedom, comes from the inside out, not the outside in. That source is silence, not the precepts and concepts of anybody.

There is an unfortunate tendency among seekers to imitate the behavior of imagined "enlightened" people because they hope that imitating the behaviors will somehow engender “enlightenment” in them. This magical thinking is quite backwards as I see it. There is no path to so-called “enlightenment,” and the very concepts which the seeker imitates are the fetters and hindrances, no matter which concepts. To be clear, it is not actually the concepts which are the problem, but the imitation. For example, perhaps an "enlightened" person, feeling connected with all sentient beings, becomes a vegetarian because he or she does not want to kill and eat "brothers and sisters." OK. But that vegetarian diet was not a cause of "enlightenment," but a result of it, the outcome of seeing things from a more awakened or impersonal viewpoint perhaps. Now if some seeker becomes, through imitation, a vegan, imagining that being a vegan will bring him or her closer to "enlightenment," that is a hindrance and a fetter. Awakening is now, only now, not after I have adjusted my behavior according to some rulebook.


If one of my students witnesses my silence, imitating it outwardly will do no good at all so long as the same uproar is still going on internally for that person. I can sit calmly because I am awake (if and when I am). The student has to find his or her own truth, own inner peace—not mine—and then he or she will sit calmly too.
"
As the great Krishnamurti said, "Truth is a pathless land."

NDM: When you say that Krishnamurti was "great", someone could reasonably ask what was so great about his behavior to some of his staff, students, his alleged verbal abuse, uncontrollable anger and so on. Please see here.

Krinsh (Krishnamurti) was outraged. His voice changed completely from a formal indifference to heated anger. It became almost shrill.

“I have no ego!” he said. “Who do you think you are, to talk to me like this?” (Sloss, 2000). www.strippingthegurus.com/stgsamplechapters/krishnamurti.asp

The question is, if he had no ego as he claimed he did not, then what was it that became so angry, shouted in a shrill voice?

Also as far as his famous statement "truth being a pathless land"; According to some of the 5,000 year old traditions of the teachings of Vedanta, they say that there is a clear cut path and a method at arriving at this truth. They say that they have tried and tested these methods and also say it is proven to have worked resulting in people like Sri Ramana, Nisargadatta and so on. What are your thoughts on this and Vedanta's teaching on this?

 

Robert: At this point I am beginning to wonder if this particular question is somehow personal with you. Perhaps I am mistaken, John, but you seem to be feeling some resistance to the idea that an ordinary human being such as myself would prefer to rely on direct personal experience rather than someone else's idea of what to do and what to avoid, or upon some 5,000 year old tradition, which, frankly, does not seem to have produced a great deal of “enlightenment” on this planet anyway. I am not saying that anything is wrong with spiritual authorities—clearly they are part of the scene, and I accept that--only that following authorities, any authorities, is not my way.
 

If someone wishes to follow the advice of scripture or a famous guru, fine by me—everyone gets a shot at the imagined brass ring--and it may even help, or perhaps it will hinder, but following scripture or gurus is not my experience, and I could not possibly endorse it. In my experience, awakening is not an achievement, and it does not happen by following any supposed path or master.

NDM: Do you also see other teachers such as Sri Ramana Maharshi  as mythological figures or fictional figures?

Robert: I don't care what Ramana Maharshi experienced or didn't experience. That is all hearsay, which has nothing to do with me, and which feels extremely distant from anything I think about anyway. The truth to which I harken comes from within me out of silence, not from the opinions of others, or their accounts of the greatness of others.

When I refer to Krishnamurti as "great," I am not referring to his personality. Nobody's personality is great. The idea of a "saint" is meaningless to me. I refer to Krishnamurti's ideas, with which I am in accord based on my own condition:

"The seer is the seen." This is a perfect five word statement of nonduality, which, if understood, provides all anyone could need in the way of direction.


"There is no how to be free." Yes, good words, Mr. Krishnamurti! I followed no path, and yet I found freedom from the known. True, I had a teacher, and probably could not have done it without him, but Walter never told me what to do and not do. Quite the opposite. He inspired me to search deeply for reality, not proper behaviors, spiritual “achievements,” or special states. What more can I say about this?

 

Sri Ramana Mahashi.

 
 

Adi Da

 
The book to which you refer, which I have looked through, makes some good gossip points, but in doing so, misses an important idea entirely: The teacher's personality is meaningless, and no human being is worthy of worship. If worship happens, if a cult of personality arises, the fault is not with the teacher who is only a human being after all, but with the credulity of the seekers. In the spiritual supermarket, caveat emptor. Yes, Adi Da was an outrageous, narcissistically inflated jerk as a personality, but that does not mean that his insights on reality were useless. Same with Trungpa. So what if he was a drunk? Truth is truth whether there is alcohol in the mouth that speaks it or not. Awakening is not about improving anyone's personality, but seeing things as they are. My teacher certainly wasn't perfect, but the things he taught me were.

Regarding Vedanta: it not just one thing, one unitary source. Vedanta is a large and varied collection of interpretations of the Upanishads, some of which seem valuable and some of which, not at all. If reading the Vedic commentaries helps someone to awaken, fine by me. Whatever works is what works. People have awakened when hearing two stalks of bamboo rubbing together, or during sexual intercourse, or sitting in a seat at the ball game drinking a beer. There is not just one way. I have my realization, and, just like any other teacher, that is what I have to convey. As teachers, we all just do what we can do. I do not recommend any fixed practice except quieting down enough to begin a search, dropping all opinions, views, and concepts (including Vedanta), and then finding out what "I" am—what is the source of that undeniable experience I AM? I teach making this search not by reading what someone else thinks about it, not by imitating what someone else eats or doesn't eat, drinks or doesn't drink, says or doesn't say, but by direct experience, prior to any concept whatsoever.
I have read Nisargadatta, and I do not see Nisargadatta as promoting Vedanta as a path at all. In fact, he seems actively to discourage belief in doctrine of any kind. Yes, he sometimes uses the language of Vedanta because that is his background, just in the same way that I sometimes use Zen stories when I teach, but that's just words, not truth.

Since this is an interview which I assume is designed to elicit my views and how I see awakening as my direct experience--not so much my opinions of other teachers--here is what I say: Truth is within. Look for the source within, not in anyone else's opinion, no matter how supposedly holy or sacred. All of that is hearsay. One second of direct experience is better than a lifetime of belief, doctrine, imitation, practices, and hearsay.

NDM: So are you questioning the validity of what some of Ramanas followers/disciples witnessed about his "saintly" behavior.  The question was in regards to his behavior, proclivities, tendencies, things of that nature?

 

Robert: It is not a question of validity at all. They saw what they saw. But why were they there in the first place? They were there because they were, by their own confessions, deluded--only the deluded follow--and they were looking to this man to awaken them from those delusions. Therefore their witnessings are the witnessings of seekers, deluded persons, which is not my witnessing.

 

NDM: In terms of clarity, the teachings of Vedanta or even some forms of Buddhist teachings would differ with your point of view and say that not all concepts, or words, lead to delusion. Especially since they say that Vedanta is a "word means" of directly pointing to truth.

For example on an empirical level, from this relative perspective, the sun rises in the east, not in the west. If someone were to say it rose in the north, would that not be a misleading pointer?  Or would it not matter, since east and west, the sun and earth or merely words and concepts.

 

Are you saying that truth cannot be pointed to with words, scripture, either, nor can it be reached by some method, path, or meditation?

 

 

Nisargadatta

 


Robert: Of course truth, or something close to it anyway, can be pointed at with words, and some words point to it very much better than others. Finding words which will point to something close to truth is a big part of what I try to do in my personal work and on my web pages, so certainly I respect the efforts that others have made in that regard. I am saying something else entirely which has nothing to do with teachings themselves, which may contain great merit, or perhaps not, but with how they are received. The finger pointing at the moon—the teachings--is not the moon. The finger is not sacred, the moon is, and the moon is here now. Words are for those who do not realize that. Once it is realized, words have no further use. Furthermore, while direct experience is immediate and indisputable, as soon as something is written down, people can spend endless time and energy arguing over what it means instead of realizing what it means. I use no words to describe life to myself, and--the final year or two of Nisargadatta’s satsangs excepted--I have no interest in books about spirituality. Why should I?

The moon is always here, always available, but the seeker would rather have “Vedanta,” or "Buddhism" or whatever than have the moon itself. When Vedanta (or whatever) is there, the moon is obscured by words, or, more accurately, by veneration of words. What an amazing pity! Riding on a donkey, looking for a donkey. And if Dr. Robert says you can’t find the donkey until you dismount, the seeker says, “No, I will not dismount. Who are you to call 5,000 years of belief a donkey? And anyway, I like riding this donkey. It keeps me occupied and out of trouble.”

 

In other words, the seeker talks about wanting truth or reality or awakening or enlightenment, but would rather cling to "my story," my faith, my religion, my guru, my tradition (which is really a tradition of imitation), than die to all that and actually awaken to what is in this very moment. All the traditions actually contain many fingers which point to truth, not just Buddhism or Vedanta, but Sufism, esoteric Christianity, etc. The trouble is that seekers begin to worship the fingers, and then lose sight entirely of the entire enterprise. The moon becomes some far off destination which I may or may not reach in this lifetime (certainly not if I like sex or wine, or whatever else the precepts warn against, because now I am a “bad boy,” and guilty, and obviously do not deserve “enlightenment”), so now I need the idea of multiple lifetimes. What nonsense. I say the moon is here now if you want it. If you really do not want it, but would prefer to continue the so-called "search," or "practice," many paths are available which can keep you entertained as long as you like. I say that it's time to dismount from the donkey.

NDM: You quote Nisargadatta:   "Believe me, there is no goal, nor a way to reach it. You are the way and the goal, there is nothing else to reach except yourself." However you seem to be taking this one quote out of context of a book with 550 pages in total. In this book he also qualifies this sort of absolute statement many times throughout the book.

 

If you look back to the bottom of page 379, of "I Am That", the question he was answering was a followup question, in reference to the absolute and the relative levels of reality, in this instance concerning relative time and "timelessness".

Robert: Well, I do not think I took that quote out of context at all. He said similar things often in his many satsangs, but I don’t want to debate this with you. Saltzman and Nisargadatta are on the same page, as I understand Nisargadatta. If you read him differently, or read me differently, OK. You certainly have every right to your opinion.

 

Nisargadatta

 

NDM: What I also meant was taking Nisargadatta’s teachings about the absolute, out of the context of Vedanta.  If you take that quote out of this larger context, it can be misleading and confusing for some people who do not have a clear understanding about the relative levels of this. 

 

Robert: I understand what you are getting at, I think, but I cannot agree. There is nothing doctrinal or doctrinaire about Nisargadatta’s message at all, and it deals entirely with the absolute. It is entirely radical, totally authentic, and, except for word choice, not particularly Vedic. His teaching could have been expressed in any terms, and still be the same: What I really am exists prior to consciousness. People can engage in endless debates about what one word or another in the vast Vedic literature means or does not mean, but a single moment in the presence of a teacher like a Nisargadatta would destroy that entire fantasy world like a sand castle in the surf.

 

I do not mean to belabor this one point, but it feels important. Far from espousing Vedanta with its rigorous tradition of meditation, strict behavioral rules, and step-by-step progress along a path, Nisargadatta recommended simply finding the sense I Am, and then looking for the source of that. That simple procedure alone, he taught, regardless of belief or practice, would lead to realization of the true self. Since this is what my teacher taught me, I hope I can make the universality of it understood. 

 

Perhaps a second quote from Nisargadatta will clear this up better than the last quote which you feel I took out of context. This comes from Seeds Of Consciousness, page 53:

 “M: Whatever Buddha's philosophy is, these are all various ideas, various concepts. In each person the ideas are sprouting and when they arise spontaneously come out, he behaves accordingly. He follows those ideas because he likes them, they have come out of him. I am not inclined to follow various ideas or the judgment of others. Among the judgments, the best is given by Lord Krishna. He says we have to get out of our own judgment, our own concepts about oneself. Do not depend on anyone else.”

This is exactly what I teach. Do not depend upon anyone else. Forget concepts. Forget what others have known. Forget what you know.

 

Now, just in case someone wants to say, “But Krishna is Vedanta,” let me forestall that one. The focus here is the idea that one should not imitate. Perhaps the Krishna character in the Bhagavad Gita said, “Do not depend on anyone else” (I don’t know if he did or he didn’t), but it does not matter who said it or where it was said. The idea matters, not the source of it. For Nisargadatta, “Krishna” is only just another name for the unknowable “mysterious power,” which can have any name. He made that clear:

 

From I Am That, page 50:

“I found myself full, needing nothing. I saw that in the ocean of pure awareness, on the surface of the universal consciousness, the numberless waves of the phenomenal worlds arise and subside beginninglessly and endlessly. As consciousness, they are all me. As events they are all mine. There is a mysterious power that looks after them. That power is awareness, Self, Life, God, whatever name you give it. It is the foundation, the ultimate support of all that is, just like gold is the basis for all gold jewelry. And it is so intimately ours! Abstract the name and shape from the jewelry and the gold becomes obvious. Be free of name and form and of the desires and fears they create, then what remains?”

 Yes. Be free of name and form. Again, if it feels as if I have belabored this one point, I apologize.

NDM:  Nisargadatta also said many other things in this book.  Right before that quote that you mentioned he also said, "there must be immense longing for truth, or absolute faith in the guru".

 

Robert: Exactly. And that is exactly what I teach. You must have an immense longing for truth. In Zen it is said that this longing must be as if your head were being held under water and you were fighting for your next breath, or as if you had a red hot ball of iron in your mouth and needed to spit it out. That desire must be greater than any other desire at all, or else you do not really desire truth. When someone approaches me for teaching, they start with faith in me—otherwise they would not be there with me--and I turn them towards faith in themselves, which is the only real faith. The rest is not faith, but credulity. The Buddha himself said that. That's my job: to receive people who are seeking truth, and turn them towards faith in their own ability to find it. It's a simple, repetitive task, but someone has to do it.

 

The real guru is within, so faith in oneself is faith in the guru. The outside guru is simply a projection which holds the inner guru and reflects in back like a mirror until the seeker awakens enough to sense the inner guru. Once that happens--and it can happen quickly and suddenly in my work--ones entire waking experience becomes an unceasing, effortless meditation and a song of truth. That is my moment to moment experience, and that is what I teach.                                                                

  

NDM: You said earlier that Robert Saltzman and Nisargadatta were on the same page. However Nisargadatta belonged to the Navnath sampradAya. Meaning a long lineage of teachers going way back to shankara. In this tradition, someone who is "self realized', outside of this tradition is considered a mystic.

 

They also say that being a self realized mystic doesn't mean that they have the necessary skills and knowledge to then go out and teach Vedanta.  For example, the teachers in this sampradAya still maintain the tradition of celibacy, asceticism, living on alms, also an itinerant lifestyle and so on. What are your thoughts on this?

 

Robert. I make no claims to be teaching Vedanta. Vedanta was neither my path, nor my method. I don't teach Vedanta, and I could not teach Vedanta if I wanted to. I teach only what I have personally realized, and nothing else. I realized it, not by practicing Vedanta, but by following the instructions of Walter Chappell, my teacher. I knew nothing about Nisargadatta during that time, and I do not think Walter did either. He never mentioned him anyway, nor did he ever mention Vedanta. Walter's terms of art came out of the work of Gurdjieff which was rooted not in Vedanta, but primarily, as I understand it, in Sufism.

 

Shankara

 

In stating a feeling of fraternity with Nisargadatta, I do not refer to lineage, method, or cultural background, but an apparent agreement on the simple understanding of and experience of what "I" am, which, in my view, is the crux of the matter, and is what I teach. How one comes by that understanding is not, as I see it, of the essence, and my reading of Nisargadatta indicates that he also felt it was not of the essence. I can point to numerous examples of satsangs in which he said that simply finding the source of the sense I AM would awaken anyone who was willing to believe it. Why would he ever say such a thing if he believed that only years of rigorous and specific practices according to a specific lineage were necessary? I never met Nisargadatta, so I could be wrong, but I imagine he and I would have gotten along just fine.  

 I never considered the word "mystic" a derogatory term, so I am a bit surprised to hear it used that way.

NDM: Do you feel it's ok to take aspects from this ancient tradition, as the teachings of Nisargattada for example, who never charged anyone for his teachings and then turn around and market it in America?                                                                     
Robert: I certainly do not. I look with great distaste at the consumerist approach to so-called "spirituality," and with even greater distaste on those who pander to it. I am not involved in that at all, have never been involved in it, and have no intention of being involved in it.  

NDM: How would your students know if they awaken to their inner guru or to their inner ego?  How would they know what is the voice of the inner guru, as opposed to the voice of the inner ego?  Can you tell me what is the difference?

Robert: I can try to tell you. Ego is thought. Ego is words. Inner guru is silence. Inner guru is space. Part of my work with seekers is to help them to discern that space, to appreciate that silence, and then, finally, to abide in it.

When inner guru “speaks,” it is heard as a silent knowing, not as thought at all. Thought—ego—may jump in quickly to interpret, debate with, or claim the messages of inner guru, but there will always be a space, a moment of knowing, before thought can begin its work. Listening to inner guru, and honoring inner guru means savoring the knowing while ignoring the thoughts which inevitably arise. This is called separating the wheat from the chaff.

By the way, I know it is becoming fashionable to say that there is no student and no teacher, or that you only need a teacher if you are dreaming that you need a teacher, and this is sometimes called “nonduality,” but I don’t buy it. For one thing, it feels a bit like a word game. If someone writes a book expousing a no student/no teacher philosophy, and telling you that a teacher is not needed because you already are awakened, how is that not teaching? If someone buys the book and begins trying on that point of view, how is that not being a student?

However, on a certain level this no student/no teacher business is true. So on that level it is not a word game, but even on that level, most of us—I was one of these—need, at one time or another, a teacher, or a “mentor,” if that word works better. Teacher and mentor are both just words. Time with a teacher is a very good insurance policy against converting a couple of exciting breakthroughs, triggered perhaps by reading something or attending a satsang or two, into a dive off the deep end, and imagining oneself “enlightened.” I am so grateful to have had Walter there to tell me, “No, Robert. That’s not it. No, Robert. That’s not it.”

This is very sensitive ground. Apparently, in a certain way at a certain time one simply must surrender to a wiser hand. Speaking personally, arriving at that time feels like what I can only call grace. This aspect, grace, makes the relationship between teacher and student a sacred matter. I can recall times sitting alone with Walter and asking him questions that went as deep into my doubts and fears as I thought I could go, and then, by Walter’s words and Walter’s behaviors, being made to go even further. In other words, I can recall being totally vulnerable with him. Trusting him. And my trust was well placed. His answers were not just bright philosophical beacons—that’s already wonderful, but you can get that from a book, if it’s the right book—but were beacons especially lit to shine upon my precise, personally expressed, deepest inquiries. That is something  you can’t get from any book.

Method, if there is to be any, must not be received from any book, because what is written is fixed, and does not relate directly to the seeker, who, although called “a seeker,” is really not part of any certain class, but a unique manifestation, a “once upon a once.” Method, if it is to be living, must arise in response to the exact condition of the student or seeker, and that can be seen only in real time, within a sacred relationship, never through scripture--“holy” or not--or guide books.

NDM: Isn’t it very easy to put faith in your inner ego because it is going to tell you what you want to hear. The same thing with a dead guru.  A dead guru cannot call you on your self-delusion.  We have all heard the horror stories about many teachers who have awakening glimpses only to have this hijacked and swallowed whole by their inner spiritual ego.  Such as the case you mentioned. What are your thoughts on this?

Robert: I am not sure which case you mean. Adi Da, perhaps? But no matter, what you say is true in general. It is easy for someone who has begun to awaken to mistake states or transitory experiences for a true awakening. Then, if that person is put in the role of teacher, living up to the role, enjoying some narcissistic gratification from the idea of being “enlightened,” or even exploiting that role financially or sexually, as has happened so often, may overwhelm or even destroy the awakening. I cannot judge others in this regard, so let me tell you how it was for me.

In the memoir you published, Awakening Never Ends, I wrote about my big dream, and my work with Walter Chappell. I mentioned also, but only in passing, that I suffered a serious illness a few years later. In fact, that illness was life-altering, and probably was the final step in baking the awakening cake, so to speak. I suffered fevers and delirium for many months, had uncounted strange dreams and visions, and, when I recovered, I felt like a completely different person. During the long months of the illness, I once consulted a naturopathic doctor—a man younger than myself. At one point in the course of that consultation, I looked into his eyes, and saw a vast, almost oceanic compassion for my suffering, and instantly, in silence, the knowledge arose: “This is what I should have been doing.” The knowing was not that I should have been doing naturopathic healing, but doing oceanic compassion. Actually, I had been “doing” compassion for a long time, but, as they say in the Caribbean, “not to the fullest.” My primary focus was always on myself, my life, my experience.

When the illness first struck, I had been in the midst of a hot art career. After my recovery, I could not imagine doing all that any more. It became clear to me that I had something else besides imagery and ego to offer to others—something more direct and closer to the truth of my being. I flirted with the idea of beginning to teach. In truth, people, particularly young ones, already had been coming to me for years for some kind of teaching, but I never called it “spiritual.” It would have been so easy simply to claim that role and run with it. But something stopped me from doing that.

As I told you earlier, I had never much liked the guru scene, and could not see myself in that posture. Also, I knew my own personality well enough to understand that egoic inflation was always a possibility, and, if that ever got underway, what could possibly stop it? That is when the idea of psychotherapy came to mind. I had read psychology for years, and already had a pretty good background. In the next three years, I got a masters degree, a Ph.D., and established my psychotherapy practice which still continues. So my identity has been psychotherapist, not spiritual teacher, and in the course of thousands of hours of sitting in a small room dealing with the pain and suffering of my clients, I have had a pretty good look behind the scenes of ego, theirs and mine. All I can say is that when someone comes to me seeking awakening, the man called Robert who meets that person is not on any kind of ego-trip, and he knows it.

NDM: How would you know if one of your students were truly awake or not?  Do you give them some kind of test?

Robert: The Zen tradition has that idea, koans, battles of wits, etc. No, I don’t give any tests. My work with students—I prefer to think of them as seekers, actually—is not so different from the rest of my psychotherapy work. In fact, the seeker is suffering from a kind of spiritual illness, literally a dis-ease—what Zen calls, ”riding a donkey looking for a donkey.”—and the treatment is more like therapy, than teaching. Teaching implies adding something; therapy involves healing something. Awakening is like being healed of a mistaken idea, a mis-identification. The healing is not about changing one idea for another, or adding any idea, but in noticing what is already present prior to ideas at all.

I know that the seeker (or student if you like) already is everything that he or she ever really wanted to be, but the “dis-ease” keeps her (or him) from realizing that, embracing that, and living it. As Walter once said to me, “You are in the middle of Lake Superior dying of thirst.” The details of the method of healing vary—everyone is different—but typically, the student arrives and sits down. Usually I say nothing, and wait for her to speak. By listening carefully to what is said and how it is said, it is easy for me to tune in empathically to the place where she is coming from. That empathic attunement is effortless for me. I do nothing. It happens. This cannot be explained. It is a gift I happen to have, and it is how I do psychotherapy and also—for want of a more felicitous term—spiritual teaching. This attunement is a knowing, and is nothing I could ever explain. My therapy teachers, who knew nothing about my awakening experiences, which I kept hidden from everyone in those days, all told me I had that gift, and that it was rare.

So, if you understand this, here I sit abiding in the silence called “awakeness,” while another human being sits before me, speaking. “Awakeness” hears the words, looks into the eyes, and picks up on the subtle levels. “Awakeness” intuits where that other person is, where the blockage is, if I can call it that, the dis-ease. This knowing is not thought, not description, but a wordless knowing. We converse. Sometimes, but not always, I deliver a bit of discourse. The healing moment arises when my student has a brief comprehension of her true self, a sudden opening to the emptiness in which ego and everything else, including “oneself,” continually arises like a movie on a screen. When that happens, the entire tenor of the relationship suddenly shifts. In the blink of an eye two “awakenesses” are sitting there looking into one another’s eyes. I am calling it “two awakenesses,” but really it is just one “awakeness.” “Ah,” I might say. “Yes.” Or, with a more experienced student, I might say nothing and perhaps just raise an eyebrow.

No student can fake this. Yes, people can pretend to be silent, and they may even fool themselves, as you were saying, but you can’t fool old Dr. Robert. This is a brief and cursory look at how I work.

 

Robert Saltzman and Robert Hall

 

NDM: What do you see as the difference with teaching from the relative and absolute level?   When you teach this, do you mostly teach from the absolute level?

Robert: All teaching takes place on the relative level. The absolute level is beyond concepts and beyond all imagination, so no teaching goes on there at all. It is always here. It is the substratum of everything we are, everything we see, hear, smell, taste, feel. All of it. But we will never know it as long as there is an "I" which feels separate from it or requires a teacher or any teaching. 


NDM: Can you please tell me more about what you teach exactly and how you do this?


Robert: Yes. Thanks for the opportunity, John.

 

There is no seer separate from what is seen, but only seeing. Any separation between “myself” and the imagined world is a delusion. That delusion arises from mis-identification of "myself" as this body and the body’s autobiography—a story I constantly and habitually tell myself. When the story stops, 'I" die (although “myself” continues in a relative sense as one character in a world of characters), and the real "I," ever-present awareness, appears in its fullness, like the sun coming up over the horizon. Fear and desire end, and freedom, which was always there, but seemed distant, unattainable, becomes immediately apparent.


Sleeping dreams imagine an entire, often totally convincing world. When you open your eyes in the morning, the sleeping dream disolves, and a new dream appears instantly. Memory, belief,  habit, fear, craving, and a myriad of other conditionings, playing upon the vicissitudes of the human nervous system, immediately produce a new dream world which you call “the world.” You are dreaming that world too, and you are dreaming the “myself” which imagines itself as the center of that world.

 

That dream—the waking dream--arises in awareness, which is altered not one whit by that dream, any more than a mirror is altered by whatever is reflected in it. What we really are is that awareness, which no one owns and no one controls. It has no name, nor any autobiography, and it never did. All experience, including what I habitually and mistakenly call “myself,” arises in that awareness, but, due to ignorance, we identify with the transitory experiences of “myself” rather than with the unchanging true self—awareness--in which all experience arises. This mis-identification, this belief in something which is not real, produces all manner of suffering. But to abide in awareness, which exists prior to any particular experience or another, is freedom.

 

That awareness was there when you were a child, and it is there now. This is perfectly obvious—so obvious in fact that most of us miss it entirely. Just as a fish, having been born in water, never notices the water, but just takes it for granted, we take awareness for granted. Then, failing to notice it, we become hypnotized by what is reflected in it.

 

Noticing awareness, and abiding in it requires no effort at all. You do not have to earn it, and you do not have to deserve it. It is here now, always has been, and always will be. Nothing needs to be added to this moment, and nothing can be added to it. But when I tell you this, you doubt it, and so you continue the relentless seeking—which is simply more egoic seeking. Calling it “spiritual seeking” or “practice” changes nothing but the name. Although this very moment is all we ever have, you continue to seek something “better,” something “higher,” something more “evolved,” some accomplishment you will eventually realize by following a supposed path. That fruitless search continues, and will continue until the fantasy of becoming exhausts itself and you find yourself at last, just as you always were.

 

I teach by example, by sharing my sense of freedom, and by engaging the seeker in dialog which attempts always to point towards truth. Now and then I will deliver a bit of discourse which attempts to awaken. It is different for each seeker—there are many styles of illness, and each needs its own particular medicine--so I cannot generalize, but my earlier answer gave clues about how I work.

NDM: When you say that "I do not believe at all in subsequent lifetimes. It is now or never to awaken, and that will not happen by putting it off until I have "purified" myself sufficiently, meditated properly, or whatever.

Do you see a difference with "awakening" and liberation, moksha, being a Jivanmukta, or full enlightenment in the Buddhist tradition?  Meaning attainment of nirvana. Being a arhat.
www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/34073/arhat

Also please see How to Recognize a Jivanmuka by Sri Swami Sivananda
www.nondualitymagazine.org/nonduality_magazine.4.jivanmukta.htm

 

Robert: I am not interested in hanging any labels or definitions on myself. All of that is entirely conceptual. When you name a flower, you stop seeing it for what it is. I have just replied as openly as possible to all your questions, so now I'll leave it to you to decide who and what you think I am.

 

NDM: Did you practice or study Zen, Zazan meditation, Shikantaza, koans, practice Sesshin in a monastery, or some kind of retreat setting with a Roshi, (master)?
 
Robert: I never studied Zen with a master. My first interest was not Zen, but Taoism which I approached by reading Tao Te Ching, and attempting to understand what was being said. I began reading Zen soon after, having seen that the essence of Zen was in the same ballpark as Taoism which had made sense to me immediately. This was the 1960s.  I liked reading Alan Watts during that period, and Krishnamurti. I was pretty much turned off entirely by the entire guru trip, and kept my distance from it. Here's a bit of memoir on that theme:

In the summer of 1969, I went to visit some old friends in Taos, New Mexico. There was a whole group of friends there—all people who were native New Yorkers, and had that kind of New York style practical skepticism. Taos was beautiful in that era. I recall days of eating peyote—someone arrived at the house with an entire pickup truck full (I think it was still legal in those days)--and walking to the hot springs where dozens of beautiful young people cavorted naked and happy. People were always giving things away: food, marijuana, clothing, whatever. Although I was reading Zen, and Taoism, most of my companions were not "spiritual" at all. Because I would come forth with Taoist ideas, they began to call me "Cosmic Bob." There was one astrologer in the crowd who later became famous as a best selling author on astrology, but I completely discounted astrology along with all the other mysticism in the air. I considered myself a realist. Anyway, in that house I was probably the most open to "searching for truth." The others, my best friends, were more occupied with love affairs, sex, drugs, R. Crumb, etc.

The house was a rented house, and one day a group of very serious looking young people arrived and asked what we were doing there. My host, George, explained that he had the house rented for the summer. The head guy of the other group became quite upset. Apparently, the house was the New Mexico ashram of Yogi Bajan (none of us had ever heard of him), and the Yogi was expected to arrive at anytime. We would have to move out. "Impossible," said George. A long negotiation. Finally it was agreed that we NY people would use one part of the house, leaving the other part, including the kitchen to the 3HO people. Since Bajan was expected to stay only three or four days, it seemed workable. We would cook outside, and spend most of the day in the garden, and they could have the house for their doings. All of us city people were learning to relax and be "far out," so it seemed to be the least we could do.

OK. Yogi Bajan arrived. A large, powerful looking man with a nasty look in his eyes. He could have been a hit-man or an undercover cop. He wrote all of us off with a single glance, and sat on the throne which had been prepared for him, surrounded by his adoring disciples. We retreated. Over the next three days, I eavesdropped a lot. What I heard was totally shocking—and eye-opening—to me. Here was this guy with a gold Rolex on his wrist, giving orders to a bunch of poverty cases sitting at his feet: who would marry whom, who would get to rub his feet (considered a prime privilege), who would fetch his tea—just like some kind of pasha or potentate. Later I found out that he was a complete fraud who, in India, had not been a "yogi," at all, but some kind of corrupt government official.

So much for gurus. I kept my distance from anyone who claimed special powers of any kind, and continue to do so to this day. My own teaching maintains that bondage is an illusion of thought, and so is freedom—the concept, I mean--so that anyone who offers you “freedom” by following any method at all (apart from sincere self-inquiry) is simply offering you the next form of bondage. Although I was lost in some level of illusion until the mid 1980s, the roots of that understanding—nobody special--were already present in my awareness even before Yogi Bajan made his appearance, and certainly thereafter. I never wanted a Zen teacher. I never wanted formal so-called "meditation" (which is not what I call meditation at all, but simply enforced concentration—a strengthening of mind, thought, and effort, in other words. Wrong direction entirely.).

What attracted me to Taoism was the utter simplicity of it. The Watercourse Way, as Watts liked to call it. Water seeks its own level. No effort. Wu Wei. When I began to get the gist of Zen, I was attracted to the idea of instantaneous enlightenment. One moment I am lost in illusion, and in the next, suddenly, I awaken completely. No path, no teacher, just this. I know that this is the theme in what is now called "neo-advaita," but it really is not so new.

 

Truth be told, it is not new at all. Old Zen writings talk about wanderers who learn on their own from nature, not from books. In fact, the man who became the famous Sixth Patriarch of Zen, Hui Neng (638-713), was illiterate. One day, while delivering firewood to a shop, he overheard a man reciting a line from the Diamond Sutra: "Depending upon no-thing, you must find your own mind." Instantly, Hui Neng was enlightened, so the story goes. When he showed up at the temple of the Fifth Patriarch, Hung Jen, he knew nothing else of Zen or any other philosophy, and could not read. Because he was so different from the ordinary students of the Fifth Patriarch, he was not allowed to practice, but was sent to work in the kitchen instead. Some months later, Hung Jen announced a poetry contest to see who would be his successor. Whoever had true realization of original nature  would be named the Sixth Patriarch. Most of the monks already knew who would be chosen. It was obvious to them, because one of their fellows, Shen Hsiu, stood head and shoulders above them in comprehension of Zen. Shen Hsiu posted this:


The body is the wisdom-tree,
The mind is a bright mirror in a stand;
Take care to wipe it all the time,
And allow no dust to cling.


The other students were duly impressed, but Hung Jen was not.

Meanwhile, since he could neither read, nor write, Hui Neng persuaded another student to take down his poem and to post it anonymously:

No wisdom-tree exists,
Nor the stand of a mirror bright.
Since all is empty from the beginning,
Where can the dust alight.

Delighted with this perfect expression of self nature, Hung Jen summoned Hui Neng in the middle of the night, and gave him the insignia of office. Then, fearing possible harm to Hui Neng from the jealousy of the other students, told him to escape and hide until the time was right for him to begin teaching.

OK. For whatever reason, John, I understood—and deeply—the Zen idea of emptiness the moment I first encountered it. I won't say that I was instantly enlightened, like Hui Neng, but it did produce in me a profound, and not at all temporary, emotional state. In a way, that is when I first began to practice. I wasn't looking for a teacher. Everything I did in life was somehow rooted in that emptiness. But nothing precious about it, or mannered. I was quite ordinary. My friends from that time always tell me when we meet (which is rarely now that I am living here so far away), that I was always like this, even in the sex, drugs, and rock and roll days.

I wasn't looking for a teacher, and was skeptical of anyone who claimed to have the power to teach a "path." As I have said, I still am skeptical of that claim, which to me is simply another level of illusion. If everything was already empty, what was all this ceremony about anyway? Prayers, special garb, claims about a so-called afterlife and reincarnation, gurus who claimed extraordinary powers, why? I did not want a teacher. I just wanted to continue doing what I did, then I met Walter.

 

Long answer to your questions. In short, yes,  Zen has been important, most specifically:

 

 Hui Neng (638-713) (here is a sample, but it’s all good):

"It is not the wind that moves; it is not the flag that moves; it is your mind that moves." (I loved this immediately upon first reading. Simple, really, isn’t it?),

and Foyan (1067-1120) (again, just a sample, but it’s all good):

"In my school, there are only two kinds of sickness. One is to go looking for a donkey riding on a donkey. The other is being unwilling to dismount once you have mounted the donkey. . . .


"Once you have recognized the donkey, to mount it and be unwilling to dismount is the sickness that is most difficult to treat. I tell you that you need not mount the donkey; you are the donkey!

The whole world is the donkey; how can you mount it? If you mount it, you can be sure the sickness will not leave! If you don't mount it, the whole universe it wide open!"


Yes, John. This is what I teach, and this is the kind of therapy I provide to seekers in my “school.” Whatever donkey that person has been riding, whether it is called "religion" or "spirituality" or "Vedanta" or "Zen" or “nonduality,” or whatever, I say, "Time to dismount, otherwise you will be riding that donkey forever, looking for a donkey.”

NDM: Would you say that Zen Buddhism is your background the way Vedanta and meditation was Nisargadatta’s background?  

 

Robert: Because I have read a lot of Zen and Taoism, often those are my terms of art, my metaphors, but they are just words. I don’t practice Zen, and I don’t teach Zen. The source of my teaching is beyond any words.

Not that what I teach is not also contained in Vedanta, or Zen. Obviously it is. I have invented nothing new. But clinging to the words, concepts and fantasies of those traditions kills understanding before it can be born and thrive. Yes, I have nothing new, but hearing this from Robert has one great advantage: I am just an ordinary person, not a so-called "saint,” so you won't end up at my feet. I don't want you there. I want you to get it as soon as possible, find your own freedom, and then leave.
 

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