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Winter 2013

 

 

THE CELIBACY QUESTION

 

NON DUAL SPIRITUALITY

 


 

THOMAS RAZZETO 

 

Thomas Razzeto has a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and years of experience in software design, technical support, computer training and computer consulting. He studied physics, chemistry, calculus and other scientific subjects as part of his college education. Thomas has always been interested in how things work and he likes to find ways to explain these things to the common person.
 
Thomas has always been interested in spirituality and began writing on the subject in 2001. In the summer of 2005, he started to attend the weekly satsangs lead by Timothy Conway. (“Satsang” means “Divine assembly” or “association in Truth.”) This was the first time he had heard the ancient nondual (or mystical) teachings and these weekly meetings provided the core message of all his subsequent work.

Thomas teaches his book, Living the Paradox of Enlightenment, as a class for the Center for Lifelong Learning, which is a part of Santa Barbara City College, the highest ranked junior college in the United States. In March 2012, Graham Hancock selected Thomas as his Author of the Month, and in September 2012, Thomas spoke for the prestigious lecture series, Mind and Supermind, which is run by SBCC. Thomas has spoken publicly numerous times, both in person and on the radio.

 

www.infinitelymystical.com  

 

 

 

 INTERVIEW

 

 

Can you please tell me about your background, what kind of beliefs you were raised with?

 

Thomas Razzeto: I was born in the mid-1950s and I was raised in a very loving Catholic family. I have many happy memories of my parents, brothers and sisters living together and having fun doing family things. The Catholic grade school that I attended is still there, with my youngest sister’s boy and girl in attendance. I went to a Catholic high school and then off to a public university.

 

When I was in grade school, I was a choirboy and an altar boy. My love for God was so strong that I thought that I was going to be a priest, but that thought faded when I entered high school. My faith remained strong throughout high school but upon graduation, certain questions started to bother me. For example, why can’t women be priest? It might sound silly to say that that question started to erode my faith, but it’s true; that was the start. It just didn’t seem right to me. Even though I was a bit troubled about a few things, I still went to Church every Sunday and certainly considered myself Catholic.

 

When I was 20, I read an Alan Watts book and I simply stopped being Catholic, but of course, some the basic ideas about God and being a good person remained. I never felt the need to return to the Church even though I certainly see it as a valid path for many people, including my fam

family. (All paths are valid; it’s just that some paths work better for some people.) Oddly, the Alan Watts book did not inspire me to explore Buddhism or anything like that. I just saw that there were other viewpoints with regards to spiritual matters and I just believed in God but not in any particular faith from that point forward.

 

So what happened during the period before you started to attend Timothy Conway’s satsangs in 2005? Did you do any sort of meditation practice for example? Yoga, or anything along those lines.

 

Thomas Razzeto: For some unknown reason, around 1980 - after over five years without any spiritual focus - I was inspired to learn more about life and “how it all worked.” I told myself I would go into the New Age section of the bookstore and pick out a book that looked interesting. Seth Speaks by Jane Roberts had been out for a while and it appealed to me. Seth seemed to be wise, insightful, compassionate and humorous. I asked a guy working at the store what he thought of the book and he said it offered an interesting way of explaining how the world worked. So I gave it a try. I immediately felt comfortable with these refreshing ideas and applied the material to my life, as best I could. I read some of the other Seth books, but not all of them.

 

In the early 1980s, I started to work with a meditation teacher. The students meditated two or three times a day alone and met once a week for a large group meditation with the teacher. I did that for about a year but the weekly drives got to be a bit more than I could handle since they were about 200 miles round trip on a weeknight and so I just continued to meditate on my own. Ever since that time, meditation has been important to me yet I only meditate about once a day.

 

In 1986, I worked with a group of people who were organized around a woman who was channeling and my job was doing the audio recording. So I was pretty immersed in the work and it was a lot of fun with good people and very powerful meditations. But after about eight or nine months, the personal dynamics of that group changed and we parted ways. A few months later, I shifted to a different group that was working with a different channeled entity. That group was not economically viable so after about another nine months, I just continued my spiritual work by meditating on my own and reading a few other channeled books.

 

I would say there was a period of about eighteen years or so where I was just reading a few books and meditating. In mid-2005, I started to attend Timothy Conway’s satsangs. The person who brought me to my first satsang practically had to drag me there since I had seen enough of spiritual teachers, or so I thought. But right away I liked Timothy and the material he put on the table. As I relate in my book, this was the first time I had ever heard anyone tell me that my fundamental self was pure awareness and that this awareness was the One Awareness, the Divine Awareness. I greeted this potential paradigm shifting statement by only thinking, “Hmm, this sounds like it could be the deep understanding that I have been looking for.” So I have attended satsang with Timothy almost every week since that time.

 

 

Do you feel there are stages to this process? Some traditions say there are. For example, they say the first stage is more or less getting past an “identity view.”

 

Thomas Razzeto: I do feel that there are stages or aspects to this process of polishing up the personal self, which is also known as the “jiva,” the soul, the personal consciousness or the viewpoint. This polishing is a purification of the form of the jiva and it leads to enlightenment. This polishing removes the binding likes and dislikes but it still leaves you engaged in society with wholesome inspirations and your preferences. While this purification can be a long, slow process involving many lifetimes, there comes a point where you suddenly realize that what you have always understood to be yourself is not you at all, and that you are pure, open awareness.

 

Yes, of course we have all heard that we are not a human being having a spiritual experience and instead we are a spiritual being having a human experience. But what you now realize is that you are not a being of any kind, spiritual or physical. You are pure awareness! And most importantly, your awareness is the One Awareness - the Divine Awareness - and as such, it is the only Reality that was not created. This Divine Awareness is the Source of all of creation and it is the only witness to it. This is your true fundamental self and it is looking out of your eyes right now!

 

The experiential intuitive state that you may have been in when this wisdom first arose within you will not persist. No states persist; they all come and go. But this wisdom - knowing by being, or Knowledge with a capital K - will not disappear. This wisdom is present within you. While it is more than just a mental concept, you can mentally hold and express this concept, which points to this deep wisdom.

 

In my new book, Living the Paradox of Enlightenment, I say that this sudden realization of understanding your True Self is like see one of those “Magic Eye” 3-D images. (You can see examples of this on the Internet. Just google magic eye 3-d images.) Once you see the image, you will not forget that it is there, even though you may look again and not see it right away.

 

Some people think that enlightenment is a slow process and then “boom,” it suddenly comes to fruition. The correct self-identification as the True Self often happens suddenly but almost everyone is still left with much polishing to do.

 

(This paragraph is from my book.) Timothy Conway wrote his Ph.D. dissertation on the criteria for enlightenment. In part, it was based on a massive literature review of hundreds of texts about enlightenment, awakening, God-realization, and “optimal well-being” found in many of the Sacred Traditions. Although there is no universally accepted definition of what enlightenment is, Timothy underscores two key criteria: 1) understanding your True Self as the One Divine Awareness, the Self of all selves, and 2) caring for everyone while being neither attached nor aversive toward anything in a binding manner. That’s it! That is all that Timothy puts on the table as the important aspects of enlightenment. This is the classical definition from the Advaita Vedanta tradition, and it is also found in Buddhism.

 

Timothy has pointed out that some Buddhists have a misunderstanding that Buddha taught that there is no self at all. Yes, the personal self is a false self. It is not an autonomous being, an entity, and it is not you. Yet you do have a true identity, the True Self, which is this pure Divine Awareness. And most importantly, this is the Self of all selves, and this is why a true sage reintegrates into the world as nobody but also, paradoxically, as everybody, as Timothy likes to put it.

 

The main paradox of enlightenment is that you will never become enlightened. The jiva becomes enlightened, but that is not you. So it becomes enlightened but you do not. Enlightenment is the highest condition the jiva can evolve into. You might call it a state of wisdom that exhibits virtuous traits, but enlightenment is not really a state. Meanwhile (before and beyond all time), your True Self is wondrous, unchanging, stateless and free from all conditions, and as such, does not need to be enlightened, nor could it be enlightened.

 

Timothy encourages us to give up all selfish seeking, which is focused on becoming something important or special by becoming enlightened, and instead, simply let passionate curiosity burn. Here we are not asking, “How can I become enlightened?” because of what it will bring us, but instead, we are simply but intently asking, “What is this? What is this Awareness that is host for seeing (and all sensing, thinking, feeling)? What is this Awareness, which is using these eyes and every set of eyes to see right now?”

 

 

In terms of polishing the jiva, or the conventional self, some Buddhist traditions (Theravada) also say that the next stage after overcoming an identity view is what they refer to as “once returner.” They use a four-path model, or a 10-fetters model as a sort of guide map, or a measuring stick as to where one is on this path.

 

For example, if a once returner would be considered a “partially enlightened” person, and has cut off three specific chains or fetters (Pali: samyojana) of which the Sakadagami is free are:

 

1. Sakkāya-ditthi (Pali) - Belief in self – Jiva identity view

2. Vicikicchā (Pali) - Skeptical doubt

3. Sīlabbata-parāmāsa (Pali) - Attachment to rites and rituals

 

The Sakadagami also significantly weakens the chains of Byāpāda (Pali) - as well as kama-raga: Sensuous craving, but some remain.

 

Do you believe its possible to get to a stage 3, Anagami, “non retuner,” one who has overcome Byāpāda: ill will as well as all kama-raga, sensuous craving, enjoying the pleasures of the senses and flesh without being totally celibate or a renunciate?

 

Thomas Razzeto: Taking the final part of your questing first, not only do I think that it is possible to become enlightened without being celibate or a renunciate, I think it is much more likely for most people.

 

One of the most important aspects of the enlightenment process is cultivating divine virtue and I don’t think that celibacy is really a divine virtue, although leaders of many religions do equate purity with chastity. But what better time to express selflessness and loving kindness than the moments with your beloved? Once you wake up to the divinity of all people and things, you realize that every moment is the perfect time to bring forth selflessness and loving kindness, although, obviously, it would be highly inappropriate for all those expressions to be sexual.

 

As you know, enlightenment is also called liberation but what is liberation? I mention in my book that the common person thinks of it as the freedom and ability to do whatever they want. Because of this, they seek to gain control of the circumstances of their life, what is often called the ability to manifest or the ability to consciously create. Whenever Timothy Conway is asked about conscious creation he is very clear. Timothy’s most emphatic point is that it is not a path to enlightenment. In other words, it is not a path to liberation and it is not a path to understanding the True Self.

 

He clarifies it this way: “This idea of ‘conscious creation’ usually presumes a separate ‘me’ who can create something, and this ‘me’ is neither real in itself nor does this ‘me’-sense have any actual power to create – only the One Divine Self manifests anything and everything.”

 

I like to say that unawakened people focus on getting everything they want but mystics know that they can safely experience and embrace whatever shows up. Embrace the whole of life and you will embrace the whole of God!

 

(This embrace does not condone inappropriate behavior; it just holds it without an emotionally charged judgment. In our ordinary world, there is a call to correct injustices, if we can, and we strive to do so without harsh, emotionally charged judgment towards the actions or the people involved with the actions. But obviously, this is sometimes easier said than done.)

 

So instead of understanding liberation as the freedom to be, do, and have whatever you want, you come to understand liberation as freedom from dissatisfaction and this comes by emotionally accepting the world exactly the way that it is, while paradoxically working to make it a “better” place.

 

People often joke that Buddhist have a desire to be free from desire. But of course, what they really have is a wholesome desire to be free from selfish desires and to be free from self-indulgent tendencies. Rather than focusing on the self, you focus on helping the group in a way that is also healthy and wholesome for the personal self. Again, you come forth as nobody and everybody.

 

The goal is not to become a stoic robot free from all emotion or a robot that is happy all the time. The “goalless goal” is to be natural. It is not bad to be sad and my chapter about the passing of Tookie Williams shows how deep sorrow led to an important spiritual experience for me. That chapter is freely available for everyone to read on my website, as are other important excerpts from the book.

 

I don’t think it is possible to suppress all sensual desires and keep them from arising in the first place. I think it is better to just let them arise in a natural way. The presence of a desire is not the same as being controlled by that desire. If you have intense sexual desires and you don’t have a lover, what’s the big deal? So what? It’s just an unfulfilled desire. Nothing bad is going to happen to you, right? That is, unless you see yourself as a failure since you “let” the desire arise in the first place or if you see your life as incomplete since you cannot satisfy the desire in that moment with a lover. In other words, you might have an emotionally charged judgment about what is going on. If you judge the situation in those terms, you might say that you have a “problem,” but when you see more clearly, you see your true liberation lies in acceptance of “what is” and that these problems were just teachers.

 

Some romantic relationships contain selfish behavior that ends up hurting the other person but I don’t think the answer is to forbid romantic relationships. There is also the complex subject of emotional rescue, which arises as both the seeking of a savior, or the desire to save someone else, but that is more than I want to go into for this question.

 

Now, quickly, here is a thought about being a renunciate. Responding to the unwholesome goal of insatiable greed and the never-ending accumulation of wealth by swinging to the opposite extreme by renouncing everything does not provide a very functional platform from which to engage in society. And it is sometimes accompanied by a boastful attitude such as, “Look at me, the great nonmaterial holy person!” While this path may work for some people, it is not something that most people can handle, nor is it necessary.

 

Liberation is not a shift from being dysfunctional (forever chasing desires and avoiding dislikes) to being non-functional or uninvolved. It is about being fully engaged in society in a healthy way. This balanced liberation from dissatisfaction paradoxically comes from surrendering to the deep wisdom within you.

 

This is how I say it in my book:

 

It is the intuitive wisdom from your higher mind that calms the conscious mind by teaching it that it does not need to control what is happening in the outer world. But false beliefs about the validity of your intuitive wisdom will shut this wisdom off and create a frantic conscious mind trying to control as much of the physical world as possible, a job that it was never designed to do, and most certainly a job that it cannot do, yet it will appear as if it can do it to a small extent, which is why we so often just try harder, but with the same approach, which is only focused on manipulating the outer world.

 

Thankfully, the solution is easy!

 

Just remove the false belief that your higher mind is dangerous and surrender to your own “upstream wisdom,” which is the wisdom of the One Divine Mind.

 

Please note that the solution is easy unless you believe that it is hard. And also note that if you are not yet open to your intuition, you would be surrendering to the chaos of the world and perhaps to the unwholesome wishes of others, rather than to the wisdom of your own higher mind. If the idea of surrender stirs up some fear, this is only because you have not yet opened up to your innate wisdom. Surrendering to this wisdom will only bring forth the deep peace of liberation.

 

Yes, liberation comes when you surrender. In order to be completely free, you must totally surrender to your inner wisdom, the wisdom of the One Divine Mind.

 

This is another important paradox and it’s a package deal. Not only will you become liberated, but you will also find true personal peace. Here I am talking about liberation from dissatisfaction, not the freedom and ability to do whatever you want.

 

--- End of book quotation ---

 

And, John, your question also contains the three aspects of entering the stream. Here is what I learned from Timothy, again from my book:

 

Surrendering is the third aspect of what Buddha called “entering the stream.” The Buddha said that in order to enter the stream that flows gently from the Source, you must give up three things:

 

1) You must give up the belief that there is a separate yet eternal “me” that will go to heaven, achieve some final goal, attain a supreme state or condition such as enlightenment or receive some ultimate reward.

2) You must give up the unhealthy doubt that someone can indeed wake up from the false sense of “me” and recognize the True Self.

3) You must give up the idea that the personal self is in control and simply surrender to the Divine Will. You must give up any form of magic or superstitious actions that try to manipulate the world through rituals or sorcery. This includes trying to please or bargain with a favor-granting supreme being, and any desire to draw attention to yourself as a do-gooder since it is the Divine that does it all.

 

--- End of book quotation ---

 

 

Do you equate “enlightenment” with nirvana?  Permanently exiting samsara?  Or do you mean it in a Bodhisattva model?

 

Thomas Razzeto: Timothy tells us that the Buddha simply defined Nirvana as freedom from ignorance (delusion), attachment and aversion. Earlier I mentioned the two aspects of enlightenment. The first aspect is concerned with ignorance and the second aspect is concerned with attachment and aversion. So, yes, I see enlightenment as Nirvana. While you are engaged with wholesome inspirations, there are no selfish or self-indulgent agendas. In this way, I think that it is possible to be fully enlightened while still participating in our “ordinary” world. Yet only the fully enlightened are completely liberated.

 

I should mention that I do not consider myself to be fully enlightened and I do not have an estimated time of arrival of this full freedom and clarity for the personal self. I say this since there is still plenty of work to be done on the binding likes and dislikes, but thankfully, this is really only done by the One. I should also add that our True Self is always free from all worlds and conditions.

 

 

What about the 10 fetters model?  A Theravada  Buddhist abbot from this monastery recently said that someone who had attained arahant would probably not be living in the world anymore, nor as a householder.

 

The Pali canon's Sutta Pitaka identifies ten "fetters of becoming":

 

1)       belief in a self (Pali: sakkāya-diṭṭhi)

2)       doubt or uncertainty, especially about the teachings (vicikicchā) 

3)       attachment to rites and rituals (sīlabbata-parāmāso)

4)       sensual desire (kāmacchando)

5)       ill will (vyāpādo or byāpādo)

6)       lust for material existence, lust for material rebirth (rūparāgo)

7)       lust for immaterial existence, lust for rebirth in a formless realm (arūparāgo)

8)       conceit (māna)

9)       restlessness (uddhacca)

10)   ignorance (avijjā)

 

Most certainly, breaking free of these ten chains means that they will no longer control you; you will no longer be a slave to them. You will be free to work in society without any selfish or self-indulgent tendencies. But I don’t see the world as something to escape from. I see it as a beautiful place where there are lots of people who might benefit from sagely wisdom, although many of them are not yet ready to hear it. And we also have the paradox of the Diamond Sutra: “one must save all sentient beings” / “there are no sentient beings.”

 

By the way, if you define heaven as the place where God is, we are all in heaven now and it has always been this way, since everything is the unseeable face of God, presenting itself in a disguise.

 

 Do you consider yourself more of a tantric practitioner since Timothy’s teacher was Nisargadatta?

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nath

 

Thomas Razzeto: While Timothy does refer to Nisargadatta as his teacher, Timothy points out that Nisargadatta was not a tantric practitioner, and neither is Timothy. Also, Timothy has had other teachers and is very knowledgeable about all nondual traditions. While he seldom talks about his own awakening experience, at times he will mention that his original teacher was Reality, which suddenly woke him up with a life-changing, initial direct experience at the age of sixteen and there were ongoing openings thereafter.

 

As for me, with very few minor exceptions, my only nondual teacher has been Timothy. I have not read any of the past or currently popular books by any of the other nondual teachers, including I Am That, a translation of some of Nisargadatta’s words. The Alan Watts book that I read when I was 20 did not prompt me to ponder the nondual nature of Source-Awareness, but it certainly let me know that there were other ways of seeing the big picture besides what I learned during my Catholic upbringing. While that book did have an effect on me, for some odd reason, as I mentioned earlier, I never read any other books by Alan Watts.

 

My book came about from my time spent in satsang with Timothy, plus my own direct experience. Timothy’s satsangs are open and free flowing, and as such, they cannot really be considered classes in Buddhism, Hinduism, nor any other nondual tradition, and yet, taken as a whole, they certainly present the core wisdom of all nondual traditions. If someone brings up any particular practice, Timothy will not discourage sincere practice yet I have never heard him state that any practice is required, because our Unborn, Changeless Source-Nature is already complete, whole, pristine and free. He reminds us that enlightenment comes by the grace of God (or “Reality”) and if there is any practice, it is truly being done by the One.

 

Yet insofar as the empirical personal consciousness seems to have any choice or power of attention (ultimately it doesn’t, being inert), he invites anyone not feeling free and clear to our Reality to engage the ancient triple method of self-inquiry: first deeply hearing nondual Truth, then carefully pondering the difference between our phenomenal, changeable self and our nonphenomenal, unchanging Self-Nature, and finally meditating on/as this Truth. Not just by asking “Who/What am I?” but also asking “Who/What are you, really?” (not letting anyone be a mere “it” object). Or by inquiring “What is the true nature of this?” (whatever is arising in sensation, perception, emotion), and profoundly intuiting the Unseen Seer of seeing, the Unheard Hearer of hearing, the Unfelt Feeler of feelings, etc., as the oldest Upanishad of India suggests.

 

Timothy will invite people to realize what they are at the beginning of each moment: entirely undefined, open, free, unborn Awareness. Or he’ll invite inquiry into the nature of the personal consciousness itself, in order to discover its real nature. Or a person can close their eyes and inquire, “What’s aware of the darkness formed by the back of your eyelids?” Or Timothy will just invite listeners to deeply contemplate the shapeless, colorless, formless Aliveness (the Life of all lives, as he terms it) that allows one to lift a finger, feel a feeling, comprehend language, digest food, beat the heart.....

 

So while he certainly encourages inquiry, he doesn’t suggest that one feel tied to any particular practice, since one’s essential nature or Self is already boundlessly open and doesn’t need “methods” or “means” to simply be this unborn freedom.

 

Timothy’s academic aptitude is very high and his language skills are far beyond mine. Years ago, when I took a quick look at Buddhism, I could not get past all the Sanskrit words that obscured the message. Timothy’s presentations helped me tremendously in that regard since when he uses Sanskrit words, he immediately explains them in plain English. So I acquired an understanding of the core message of all nondual traditions without seeing myself as a member of any particular one, and also without building a vocabulary of Sanskrit words.

 

My book is virtually free from Sanskrit words simply because I do not know very many. When I quote Timothy in my book, you will see some Sanskrit words, but my writing only mentions three: advaita (nonduality), jiva (soul or personal consciousness), and jada (inert).

 

I hope that the example of my not-so-scholarly path will help others realize that they, too, may not need to read a bunch of books sprinkled with mysterious words from an ancient language that they might have trouble understanding.

 

To get back to your question about me being a tantric practitioner, well, I have never studied or practiced tantra. I just consider myself someone who is alive in the most natural way that I know how to be, flowing through life without pushing or pulling, as best I can.

 

It seems that some people focus only on the first step of dis-identification from the personal self and the world, but Timothy often reminds us of Nisargadatta’s famous quotation to encourage us to complete the second step of re-integrating into society in a loving way as both nobody and everybody. This is the way Nisargadatta put it: “Wisdom says I am nothing; love says I am everything. My life is a balance of the two.”

 

Timothy talks about living from this Open Awareness and letting the personal self be clear so divine virtues can flow forth. Perhaps the most important part of Timothy’s teaching is the encouragement to actively engage in society in order to share compassion and kindness with everyone in a wholesome and healthy way. What would any spiritual tradition be without that? Who would anyone be without that?

 

 

 

END OF INTERVIEW