What I learned from all my years of Zen training is that the essence of spirituality is attention and intention. After all, spirituality is the practice of perceiving the spirit of things, meaning the essence or inner reality of things, whether that be one’s own essence, or the essence of life, or the essence of a teacup. They are all the same. There is also the spirit, or essence, of an action or activity. That is why in Zen they talk of “the Zen of tea drinking,” or of flower arranging, or of sweeping the porch. What they mean when they refer to “the Zen of” a particular activity is to point out the selfless, embodied, and enlightened expression of that activity. Any truly enlightened action has four characteristics: selflessness, spontaneity, clarity, and wholeness.
The practice of attention (or mindfulness as it is often referred to in spiritual circles), is a way of redirecting attention away from the habitual focus on one’s inner narrative, and placing it instead on precisely what one is doing, on the nonconceptual nature of immediate experience and perception. Without this shift of attention—from concept to immediate experience and perception—spirituality tends to degrade into magical thinking, fantasy, and/or fanaticism. It is only by redirecting attention away from the surface level of the mind’s narrative, and towards the pure immediacy of the present, that we can break the trance of ego-identification and fall into conscious connection with our true nature. Attention is the secret elixir that one is working with in all spiritual awakening practices.
During my years as a Zen student I also learned the importance of intention. Intention has to do with what you are aiming at, and what your life-orienting values are. That is why when I first meet someone coming to me as a student, I ask them, “exactly why are you here and what do you want?” Such a direct question will often take people by surprise, which is good. When I can surprise someone a little, I know I have their attention, which is exactly what I want to elicit with such a question. Until there is great burning attention, we cannot truly begin. And when there is great attention, we then need to aim it. We need to employ intention in order to direct attention.
The intention that I am really talking about is not so much focused on what you want, but rather on what you are being inwardly called to. A spiritual journey is a calling. It is something initiated from somewhere beyond the ego, from a depth within the psyche that the ego has no access to on its own. Our spiritual journey will take as much or as little time as it needs to take. Our egos have no say in the matter at all. The ego’s part to play is to respond wholeheartedly (devotedly, even) to the calling of our true nature when it comes. And the ego must remain devoted to true nature, for if the ego tries to possess spiritual breakthroughs, or aggrandize itself with spiritual attainment, it will one day be surprised to discover that it has only ever been worshiping itself.
Our spiritual intention (that which we aim at and are devoted to) is not something that we, as egos, create. It is a calling, or instinct, that the ego receives. It is not a transactional calling where you give something expecting to get something in return. It is a calling to that which is undivided, whole, timeless, sacred, and beautiful. . . for its own sake. It is a call received by the ego, to discover and return to its source. It is also a call from our formless true nature to embody itself in, and as, the form of this very human life, as consciously as possible.
When dedicated attention and inspired intention work together as a whole, our spiritual practice will naturally acquire depth and reveal great wisdom. May our wisdom always be held in the great heart of compassion and love.
Copyright © 2021 Adyashanti.
Let’s remember why we’re here at retreat: for this amazing opportunity to really look into the core of our own existence, the core of life itself that is so easy to overlook. It’s so easy not to pay attention to it, because it’s not noisy and it’s not clamoring for attention like all the other aspects of the human mind. Egoic consciousness is always pretending to be the most important thing that is happening.
And yet there’s this thread, this sense of something other than, deeper than, more real than, more essential than this scattered and divided noise that so many human beings live in, in their minds. And right in the midst of all that, there is a presence, there is an awareness, an unconditioned awareness, an unconditioned consciousness. Right in the middle of this conditioned mind, conditioned consciousness, is this shining, unconditioned essence. Essence doesn’t mean a little part hidden somewhere in us, the little teeny kernel of essence. Essence means the totality, the whole thing. Essence means the truth of you as opposed to the untruth of you.
Essence isn’t a small thing, essence is an immense thing. The essence of you is everything you ever see, taste, touch, and experience. Everywhere you go, every step you take, every breath you take is actually happening by the essence, of the essence, in the essence, and to the essence. All the rest is noise and chatter.
So we come here to give our attention, our affection, our time. Our most highly prized commodity is our time. Anything or anyone you give your time to shows immediately what is most important. And I want to remind everyone that what you really are, what the person next to you is, what the children in Africa scraping up the little grains of rice are, this timeless essence, is not hidden. It’s not hidden at all. It’s in plain view. Everywhere you look, that’s the essence. And the mind would say, “Where? Where? I don’t see it. All I see is a car, a billboard, a tree, the person in front of me, the funny man on the stage. Where is this essence?”
It’s easy to grasp for it, isn’t it? “Where is it? What is it? I want to understand it. I want to know about it. How can it work for me? How can I utilize it?” But it doesn’t come upon us through the grasping of it, through the striving for it, and through the struggling for it. There’s no merit gained through wasted effort, through excess struggle. There are no merit points for the people who drove themselves the craziest along the way to self-realization. For most people it’s so obscure that it seems very intuitive to grasp and to struggle instead of relaxing, not grasping, letting something come to you, letting the truth of your being reveal itself to you on its terms, in its way, letting it happen.
It will happen. It’s always happening. It’s always trying to show itself.
© Adyashanti 2008
Excerpted from the book “Sacred Inquiry: Questions That Can Transform Your Life”
Life is an enigma spread across a landscape of nearly unimaginable unknowns. The immense terrain that even a single human life traverses is inconceivable. And yet here you are, right in the middle of navigating, and being navigated by, the great totality of life. This naturally and unavoidably gives rise to all manner of questions: Who am I? What is life? What is the meaning of life? What is the fundamental nature of reality? What is God, if there is a God? These existential questions live just below the surface of our painful habit of denying entry to the essential mystery of existence, and therefore subvert the one thing that has the capacity to transform human consciousness and unlock potential few dare to even imagine.
What makes sacred inquiry sacred? We can, after all, inquire simply as a means of gathering information, much like we do as schoolchildren. And while gathering and learning information is useful and even necessary, it is not a sacred act in and of itself. What makes inquiry sacred is that it is primarily a way of plunging consciousness into itself, into the hidden dimensions of the psyche which remain in darkness until we make an intentional effort to follow our questions beyond the periphery between the known and the infinite unknown. In sacred inquiry we are looking to evoke experiential insight and wisdom, not merely to collect more information or form yet more beliefs with which to delude ourselves.
Sacred inquiry is not simply about finding simplistic answers to life’s big questions; it is about transforming our consciousness so that we are living the answers, not simply knowing them as pieces of information. The state of our consciousness determines our entire experience of being, as well as what we are capable of knowing and perceiving. Sacred inquiry aims at the transformation of consciousness, for consciousness is perhaps the biggest mystery of all. And yet we take consciousness for granted, rarely stopping to notice or acknowledge, much less appreciate, that consciousness is the one indispensable ingredient in our entire experience of being. Contrary to our most basic human assumption, we are not human beings who possess consciousness—we are consciousness having a very human experience, with all the ups and downs, triumphs and tragedies that this entails. . . .
We are each an aperture through which the world knows and experiences itself. Each person embodies the infinite nature of life and consciousness within the finite form of their particular human life. Our questions are life’s questions, and our spiritual instinct toward connection and freedom are life’s deeper instincts. You and I, and the entirety of existence and beyond, comprise a single spectrum of being. This is to say that the words you, I, and existence refer to different perspectives within the totality of consciousness. And if conscious life is anything, it is naturally curious and questioning. Our questions—about ourselves and each other, about life and death, and about whether there is something that can rightly be called sacred—belong not only, or even primarily, to each of us. These questions belong to the immensity of life and the consciousness which we are each individual embodiments of. Your big life questions belong simultaneously to you and to the totality of existence functioning through and as you. The essence of your consciousness turns out to be the essence of all consciousness. . . .
We must be willing to suspend the compulsive drive of the ego for quick and convenient answers to our deepest questions and be willing to live in the creative tension between the known and the unknown. This creative tension, when deeply relaxed into, reveals itself to be the source energy of insight and revelation. As counterintuitive as it sounds, we come to greater insight by a willingness to not know—the greatest light is always found in the darkest region of our silent confusion. To sink all the way down into the unknown within you is the way to awaken the greatest leaps of insight and clarity.
© Adyashanti 2020
Excerpted from “The Awakened Connection to Soul,” February 8-9, 2020 ~ Portland, OR.
It’s not at all uncommon that people today feel some sense of disconnection from their soul. I use “soul” in the sense of our experience of meaningful depth, something that’s vital to us, even if we don’t think of it in a religious context. It’s like a source of meaning you can’t put into words, but you can feel it—especially when you lose it. Everybody knows the experience of becoming disconnected from the source of meaning and deep connection within themselves.
We’re living in a culture where people are suffering mightily because of the loss of their soul—not only individually, but also culturally as a whole. This is a part of modern life that we haven’t come to grips with. It’s one of the things that leads us to look for some deeper connection, however we define that for ourselves. It could be meaning, it could be God, it could be awakening, it could be enlightenment, it could be peace, it could be love—all these are words that point to a certain kind of connectedness and sacredness inside.
All of the external means of entertaining ourselves and connecting us don’t really take the place of this inner connectedness. There doesn’t seem to be a technological stand-in for the soul, for that source of vital being and meaning that gives one’s life a sense of significance—not just in terms of accomplishment and what we can put on a resumé, but a much deeper sense of significance. A soulful significance.
Each of you has your own experience of how sacredness feels to you and when moments of sacredness have visited you. You’ve had those experiences, as hard as they are to explain or convey. You know the sense of words like vitality, source, meaning, and soul. These are all words that attempt to convey the actual human experience of the sacred, which is quite apart from the ideas of the sacred—although ideas, images, stories, and myths can all be part of transmitting a living sense of the sacred to us.
In spiritual awakening, we experience that the source of the sacred—the suchness of the sacred—is actually essentially ourselves. When we experience the sacred, we’re experiencing something true and profound about ourselves—if we understand the word “ourselves” in the biggest possible context. As a teacher, I think one of the things that is vitally important is to attempt to give people practical means to engage in this reconnection. Sometimes I’ll talk about this reconnection in the most essential possible way. Spiritual awakening, for instance, is one version of that, such as awakening revealing that the source of the experience of the sacred is not separate from your own innate self nature or true nature. At other times I’ll talk about the experience of soul connection. Whenever you experience a living sense of sacredness or timelessness, you are connecting with the soulfulness of your true nature. Our soul connection also gives us an intuitive sense of guidance. It is the inner teacher reorienting our attention away from the surface of things to their depth. And you don’t have to be spiritually awakened to have a connection to the soul—you just need to attentively and humbly listen to your silent depth. Your presence is deeper than your relative personhood.
It’s also important to have a sense of what it means to be connected in many small ways as well as noticing when you deviate from your soul—not according to an exterior standard, but according to your own inner and intuitive standard. Holding integrity with your soul is a profound, challenging, and wonderful practice. It’s essentially an inner listening and attuning to the presence of being. It’s choosing to live in one’s depth rather than in surface and conditioned mental and emotional reactivity. This is an essentially devotional orientation; it is more of the heart than of the head.
It would be extraordinarily arrogant of me to think that I know the means of your own connection to the sacred. My suggestion is to think of soulfulness as an instinct that even transcends spirituality per se—the instinct to connect, in great awe, with the mystery of existence. When I say “connect,” I’m talking about something visceral, not something abstract.
There are tiny moments throughout the day when we move away from embracing that which gives us the most vital experience of meaning there is. Every time we don’t listen to our depth, or inner presence, we take a little step away, but we can’t actually step out of our true nature even when it feels like we have. We cannot ever lose our true nature, because we are our true nature.
One of the most challenging things is to actually get all of ourselves, for a moment, into our immediate experience of being. We can think we’re being in our experience, but we’re generally running our experience through immense filters of assumption, judgment, and belief. Most people are not having direct experience that often—they are having experience distorted through innumerable mental filters. But when you see a thought simply as a thought, it becomes just part of the scenery and your attention can orient toward the awareness of the thought. This can break the trance of reactivity and open the heart to presence and clarity—a reconnection with the soulfulness of true nature.
When you look into a mirror, there’s an irreducible presence of being, a conscious intangibility, that can’t be reduced to the old memories, identities, and personality characteristics. This is where real spirituality begins—noticing that, encountering it, not even necessarily trying to understand it—and realizing that the same thing is looking through your eyes right now. It’s like an intangible presence, and the more you connect with that, the more your soul lights up and your heart opens. It’s a very simple, direct, and powerful practice.
© Adyashanti 2020
In its true sense spirituality is not a plaything or a pastime. It has nothing to do with enhancing you or your status in the dream state. Nor is it about gurus in long flowing robes, secret oral teachings, ancient traditions, or holy books that people claim were written by God. It’s about here and now and you, and whether you are asleep within the dream state or awake within the awakened state.
It is the nature of all dreams that the characters therein are so busy being—well, dream characters—that the bigger reality of what lies outside the dream state eludes them. But then again, dream characters don’t wake up from the dreams they are a part of; the dreamer does. If spirituality is to be meaningful it must address what lies beyond the dream state that most of us create in our minds and humanity lives in day-to-day, for unless we awaken from our personal and collective dreams we will continue to live in a state of unconsciousness on the surface of a life of infinite potential.
Only that which is real and true has the power to liberate us from the mechanical and magnetic draw of the dream state. For ultimately it is ignorance (the belief in things that are untrue) that imprisons us within a trance state, which is induced by taking the conditioned stream of thinking within one’s mind to be true. If we are to awaken from the mind’s hypnotic embrace, we must question all of our beliefs and assumptions down to the very source of our being until that which is true, real, and everlasting reveals itself.
Truth is that which lies beyond the grasp of the dreaming mind. It is not something that can be captured and stated like a fact can. Truth is a timeless reality and therefore sacred in the true sense of the word. Please do not think of truth in mystical terms or even in spiritual terms. Truth refers to the whole of existence and beyond. Truth exists as much in your teacup as it does in your temples and churches. Truth is as present in shopping for your groceries as it is in chanting to God. To think of truth only in spiritual or religious terms is to miss the whole of it, for in doing so you create the boundaries and divisions that are the very antithesis of truth.
Truth is an immeasurable reality not at all separate from your own being. For in the revelation of truth, all beings rest within your being. Put more simply, if you cannot find it now underfoot, I’m afraid that you have missed it entirely.
© Adyashanti 2009
Truth is only discovered in the moment.
There is no truth that can be carried over
to the next moment, the next day, the next year.
Memory never contains truth, only what is past, dead, gone.
Truth comes into the non-seeking mind fresh and alive.
It is not something you can carry with you, accumulate, or hold onto.
Truth leaps into view when the mind is quiet, not asserting itself.
You cannot contain or domesticate truth, for if you do, it dies instantly.
Truth prowls the unknown waiting for a gap in the mind’s activity.
When that gap is there, the truth leaps out of the unknown into the known.
Instantly you comprehend it and sense its sacredness.
The timeless has broken through like a flash of lightning
and illuminated the moment with its presence.
Truth comes to an innocent mind as a blessing and a sacrament.
Truth is a holy thing because it liberates thought from itself
and illumines the human heart from the inside out.
© Adyashanti 2009
In essence the entire spiritual endeavor is a very simple thing: Spirituality is essentially about awakening as the intuitive awareness of unity and dissolving our attachment to egoic consciousness. By saying that spirituality is a very simple thing, I do not mean to imply that it is either an easy or difficult endeavor. For some it may be very easy, while for others it may be more difficult. There are many factors and influences that play a role in one’s awakening to the greater reality, but the greatest factors by far are one’s sincerity, one-pointedness, and courage.
Sincerity is a word that I often use in teaching to convey the importance of being rooted in the qualities of honesty, authenticity, and genuineness. There can be nothing phony or contrived in our motivations if we are to fully awaken to our natural and integral state of unified awareness. While teachings and teachers can point us inward to “the peace beyond all understanding,” it is always along the thread of our inner sincerity, or lack thereof, that we will travel. For the ego is clever and artful in the ways of deception, and only the honesty and genuineness of our ineffable being are beyond its influence. At each step and with each breath we are given the option of acting and responding, both inwardly and outwardly, from the conditioning of egoic consciousness which values control and separation above all else, or from the intuitive awareness of unity which resides in the inner silence of our being.
Without sincerity it is so very easy for even the greatest spiritual teachings to become little more than playthings of the mind. In our fast-moving world of quick fixes, big promises, and short attention spans, it is easy to remain on a very surface level of consciousness without even knowing it. While the awakened state is ever present and closer than your feet, hands, or eyes, it cannot be approached in a casual or insincere fashion. There is a reason that seekers the world over are instructed to remove their shoes and quiet their voices before entering into sacred spaces. The message being conveyed is that one’s ego must be “taken off and quieted” before access to the divine is granted. All of our ego’s attempts to control, demand, and plead with reality have no influence on it other than to make life more conflicted and difficult. But an open mind and sincere heart have the power to grant us access to realizing what has always been present all along.
When people asked the great Indian sage Nisargadatta what he thought was the most important quality to have in order to awaken, he would say “earnestness.” When you are earnest, you are both sincere and one-pointed; to be one-pointed means to keep your attention on one thing. I have found that the most challenging thing for most spiritual seekers to do is to stay focused on one thing for very long. The mind jumps around with its concerns and questions from moment to moment. Rarely does it stay with one question long enough to penetrate it deeply. In spirituality it is very important not to let the egoic mind keep jumping from one concern to the next like an untrained dog. Remember, awakening is about realizing your true nature and dissolving all attachment to egoic consciousness.
My grandmother who passed away a few years ago used to say to me jokingly, “Getting old is not for wimps.” She was well aware of the challenges of an aging body, and while she never complained or felt any pity for herself, she knew firsthand that aging had its challenges as well as its benefits. There was a courage within my grandmother that served her well as she approached the end of her life, and I am happy to say that when she passed, it was willingly and without fear. In a similar way the process of coming into a full and mature awakening requires courage, as not only our view of life but life itself transforms to align itself with the inner mystic vision. A sincere heart is a robust and courageous heart willing to let go in the face of the great unknown expanse of Being—an expanse which the egoic mind has no way of knowing or understanding.
When one’s awareness opens beyond the dream state of egoic consciousness to the infinite no-thing-ness of intuitive awareness, it is common for the ego to feel much fear and terror as this transition begins. While there is nothing to fear about our natural state of infinite Being, such a state is beyond the ego’s ability to understand, and as always, egos fear whatever they do not understand and cannot control. As soon as our identity leaves the ego realm and assumes its rightful place as the infinite no-thing-ness/every-thing-ness of awareness, all fear vanishes in the same manner as when we awaken from a bad dream. In the same manner in which my grandmother said, “Getting old is not for wimps,” it can also be said that making the transition from the dream state to the mature, awakened state requires courage.
Sincerity, one-pointedness, and courage are indispensable qualities in awakening from the dream state of ego to the peace and ease of awakened Being. All there is left to do is to live it.
© Adyashanti 2008
Spiritual seekers are some of the most superstitious people on the planet. Most people come to spiritual teachers and teachings with a host of hidden beliefs, ideas, and assumptions that they unconsciously seek to be confirmed. And if they are willing to question these beliefs, they almost always replace the old concepts with new, more spiritual ones, thinking that these new concepts are far more real than the old ones.
Even those who have had deep spiritual experiences and awakenings beyond the mind will in most cases continue to cling to superstitious ideas and beliefs in an unconscious effort to grasp for the security of the known, the accepted, or the expected. It is this grasping for security in all its inward and outward forms which limits the perspective of enlightenment and maintains an inwardly divided condition which is the cause of all suffering and confusion.
You must want to know the truth more than you want to feel secure in order to fully awaken to the fact that you are nothing but Awakeness itself.
Shortly after I began teaching, I noticed that almost everyone coming to see me held a tremendous number of superstitious ideas and beliefs that were distorting their perceptions and limiting their scope of spiritual inquiry. What was most surprising was that in almost all cases, even those who had deep and profound experiences of spiritual awakening continued to hold onto superstitious ideas and beliefs which severally limited the depth of experience and expression of true awakening.
Over time I began to see how delicate and challenging it was for most seekers to find the courage to question any and all ideas and beliefs about the true nature of themselves, the world, others, and even enlightenment itself. In almost every person, every religion, every group, every teaching and every teacher, there are ideas, beliefs, and assumptions that are overtly or covertly not open to question. Often these unquestioned beliefs hide superstitions which are protecting something which is untrue, contradictory, or being used as justification for behavior which is a less than enlightened.
The challenge of enlightenment is not simply to glimpse the awakened condition, nor even to continually experience it, but to be and express it as yourself in the way you move in this world. In order to do this, you must come out of hiding behind any superstitious beliefs and find the courage to question everything, otherwise you will continue to hold onto superstitions which distort your perception and expression of that which is only ever awake.
© 1999 by Adyashanti. All rights reserved.
Many seekers do not take full responsibility for their own liberation, but wait for one big, final spiritual experience which will catapult them fully into it. It is this search for the final liberating experience which gives rise to a rampant form of spiritual consumerism in which seekers go from one teacher to another, shopping for enlightenment as if shopping for sweets in a candy store. This spiritual promiscuity is rapidly turning the search for enlightenment into a cult of experience seekers. And, while many people indeed have powerful experiences, in most cases these do not lead to the profound transformation of the individual, which is the expression of enlightenment.
In speaking regularly with spiritual seekers, it dawned on me one day how addicted so many of them are to the power of charisma. They swap stories about how powerful this or that teacher is and compare experiences. They get a charge from it, many mistaking charisma for enlightenment. Charisma attracts at all levels: political, sexual, spiritual, etc., and it feeds the ego's desire to feel special. The ego loves getting hits of power—it's like a form of spiritual candy. The candy may be sweet but can you live on it? Does it make you free?
Freedom is not necessarily exciting; it's just free. Very peaceful and quiet, so very quiet. Of course, it is also filled with joy and wonder, but it is not what you imagine. It is much, much less. Many mistake the intoxicating power of otherworldly charisma for enlightenment. More often than not it is simply otherworldly, and not necessarily free or enlightened. In order to be truly free, you must desire to know the truth more than you want to feel good. Because if feeling good is your goal, then as soon as you feel better you will lose interest in what is true. This does not mean that feeling good or experiencing love and bliss is a bad thing. Given the choice, anyone would choose to feel bliss rather than sorrow. It simply means that if this desire to feel good is stronger than the yearning to see, know, and experience Truth, then this desire will always be distorting the perception of what is Real, while corrupting one's deepest integrity.
In my experience, everyone will say they want to discover the Truth, right up until they realize that the Truth will rob them of their deepest held ideas, beliefs, hopes, and dreams. The freedom of enlightenment means much more than the experience of love and peace. It means discovering a Truth that will turn your view of self and life upside-down. For one who is truly ready, this will be unimaginably liberating. But for one who is still clinging in any way, this will be extremely challenging indeed. How does one know if they are ready? One is ready when they are willing to be absolutely consumed, when they are willing to be fuel for a fire without end.
If you start playing the game of being an "enlightened somebody," the true teacher is going to call you on it. He or she is going to expose you, and that exposure is going to hurt. Because the ego will be there, standing in the light of Truth, exposed and humiliated. Of course, the ego will cry "foul!" It will claim that the teacher made a mistake and begin to justify itself in an effort to put its protective clothing back on. It will begin to spin justifications with incredible subtlety and deceptiveness. This is where real spiritual sadhana (practice) begins. This is where it all becomes very real and the student discovers whether he or she truly wants to be free, or merely wants to remain as a false, separate, and self-justifying ego. This crossroad inevitably comes and is always challenging. It separates the true seeker from the false one. The true seeker will be willing to bare the grace of humility, whereas the false seeker will run from it. Thus begins the true path to enlightenment, granted only to those willing to be nobody. Discovering your "nobodyness" opens the door to awakening as beingness, and beyond that to the Source of all beingness.
Do not think that enlightenment is going to make you special—it's not. If you feel special in any way, then enlightenment has not occurred. I meet a lot of people who think they are enlightened and awake simply because they have had a very moving spiritual experience. They wear their enlightenment on their sleeve like a badge of honor. They sit among friends and talk about how awake they are while sipping coffee at a cafe.
The funny thing about enlightenment is that when it is authentic, there is no one to claim it. Enlightenment is very ordinary; it is nothing special. Rather than making you more special, it is going to make you less special. It plants you right in the center of a wonderful humility and innocence. Everyone else may or may not call you enlightened, but when you are enlightened the whole notion of enlightenment and someone who is enlightened is a big joke. I use the word enlightenment all the time—not to point you toward it but to point you beyond it. Do not get stuck in enlightenment.
Ego is the movement of the mind toward objects of perception in the form of grasping, and away from objects in the form of aversion. This fundamentally is all the ego is. This movement of grasping and aversion gives rise to a sense of a separate "me," and in turn the sense of "me" strengthens itself this way. It is this continuous loop of causation that tricks consciousness into a trance of identification. Identification with what? Identification with the continuous loop of suffering. After all, who is suffering? The "me" is suffering. And who is this me? It is nothing more than a sense of self caused by identification with grasping and aversion. You see, it's all a creation of the mind, an endless movie, a terrible dream. Don't try to change the dream, because trying to change it is just another movement in the dream. Look at the dream. Be aware of the dream. That awareness is It. Become more interested in the awareness of the dream than in the dream itself. What is that awareness? Who is that awareness? Don't go spouting out an answer, just be the answer. Be It.
Enlightenment means the end of all division. It is not simply having an occasional experience of unity beyond all division, it is actually being undivided. This is what nonduality truly means. It means there is just one Self, without a difference or gap between the profound revelation of Oneness and the way it is perceived and lived every moment of life. Nonduality means that the inner revelation and the outer expression of the personality are one and the same. So few seem to be interested in the greater implication contained within profound spiritual experiences, because it is the contemplation of these implications which quickly brings to awareness the inner divisions existing within most seekers.
Spiritual people can be some of the most violent people you will ever meet. Mostly, they are violent to themselves. They violently try to control their minds, their emotions, and their bodies. They become upset with themselves and beat themselves up for not rising up to the conditioned mind's idea of what it believes enlightenment to be. No one ever became free through such violence. Why is it that so few people are truly free? Because they try to conform to ideas, concepts, and beliefs in their heads. They try to concentrate their way to heaven. But Freedom is about the natural state, the spontaneous and unselfconscious expression of beingness. If you want to find it, see that the very idea of a someone who is in control is a concept created by the mind. Take one step backward into the unknown.
There is nothing more insidiously destructive to the attainment of liberation than self-doubt and cynicism. Doubt is a movement of the conditioned mind that always claims that “It's not possible,” that “Freedom is not possible for me.” Doubt always knows; it "knows" that nothing is possible. And in this knowing, doubt robs you of the possibility of anything truly new or transformative from happening. Furthermore, doubt is always accompanied by a pervasive cynicism that unconsciously puts a negative spin on whatever it touches. Cynicism is a world view which protects the ego from scrutiny by maintaining a negative stance in relationship to what it does not know, does not want to know, or cannot know. Many spiritual seekers have no idea how cynical and doubt-laden they actually are. It is this blindness and denial of the presence of doubt and cynicism that makes the birth of a profound trust impossible, a trust without which final liberation will always remain simply a dream.
All fear comes from thought in the form of memory (past) or projection (future). Thought creates time: past, present, and future. So fear exists and comes from the perceived existence of time. To be free of fear is to be free of time. Since time is a creation of thought, to be free of fear you must be free of thought. Consequently, it is important to awaken and experience your Self outside of thought, existing as eternity. So question all notions of yourself that are creations of thought and of time—of past, present, and future. Experience your eternalness, your holiness, your awakeness until you are convinced that you are never subject to the movement of thought, of fear, or of time. To be free of fear is to be full of Love.
Many spiritual seekers get "stuck in emptiness,” in the absolute, in transcendence. They cling to bliss, or peace, or indifference. When the self-centered motivation for living disappears, many seekers become indifferent. They see the perfection of all existence and find no reason for doing anything, including caring for themselves or others. I call this "taking a false refuge." It is a very subtle egoic trap; it's a fixation in the absolute and all unconscious form of attachment that masquerades as liberation. It can be very difficult to wake someone up from this deceptive fixation because they literally have no motivation to let go of it. Stuck in a form of divine indifference, such people believe they have reached the top of the mountain when actually they are hiding out halfway up its slope.
Enlightenment does not mean one should disappear into the realm of transcendence. To be fixated in the absolute is simply the polar opposite of being fixated in the relative. With the dawning of true enlightenment, there is a tremendous birthing of impersonal Love and wisdom that never fixates in any realm of experience. To awaken to the absolute view is profound and transformative, but to awaken from all fixed points of view is the birth of true nonduality. If emptiness cannot dance, it is not true emptiness. If moonlight does not flood the empty night sky and reflect in every drop of water, on every blade of grass, then you are only looking at your own empty dream. I say, “Wake up!” Then your heart will be flooded with a Love that you cannot contain.
Maybe I can point you to the great Reality within you. Maybe you will awaken to the direct experience of Self-realization. Maybe you will catch the fire of transmission. But there is one thing that no one can give you: the honesty and integrity that alone will bring you completely to the other shore. No one can give you the strength of character necessary for profound spiritual experience to become the catalyst for the evolutionary transformation called "enlightenment." Only you can find that passion within that burns with an integrity that will not settle for anything less than the Truth.
Enlightenment has nothing to do with states of consciousness. Whether you are in ego consciousness or unity consciousness is not really the point. I have met many people who have easy access to advanced states of consciousness. Though for some people this may come very easily, I also notice that many of these people are no freer than anyone else. If you don't believe that the ego can exist in very advanced states of consciousness, think again. The point isn't the state of consciousness, even very advanced ones, but an awake mystery that is the source of all states of consciousness. It is even the source of presence and beingness. It is beyond all perception and all experience. I call it "awakeness." To find out that you are empty of emptiness is to die into an aware mystery, which is the source of all existence. It just so happens that that mystery is in love with all of its manifestation and non-manifestation. You find your Self by stepping back out of yourself.
Ramana Maharshi's gift to the world was not that he realized the Self. Many people have had a deep realization of the Self. Ramana's real gift was that he embodied that realization so thoroughly. It is one thing to realize the Self; it is something else altogether to embody that realization to the extent that there is no gap between inner revelation and its outer expression. Many have glimpsed the realization of Oneness; few consistently express that realization through their humanness. It is one thing to touch a flame and know it is hot, but quite another to jump into that flame and be consumed by it.
First published in the Inner Directions Journal, Fall/Winter 1999.
© 1999 Adyashanti.
Anybody can awaken to the truth of being. And yet, when it is realized, often the person who has committed a large portion of his or her life to the spiritual path is more readily able to let go and flow with that realization than the person who hasn’t been on a spiritual path. Does that have anything to do with some sort of merit earned by sitting on a meditation cushion, or whatever the spiritual practice was? Absolutely not! It has nothing to do with that. It has nothing whatever to do with preparing the field, tilling the soil, or fertilizing the soul. It’s just that it’s possible, though not a guarantee, that someone who has made the spiritual search his or her priority in life is already in fidelity to truth when realization happens. Realization was wanted more than anything else, and his or her life has been a living, walking, breathing demonstration of this fidelity.
But if those who walk in off the street and realize the truth of their being want it just as much as those who put in decades of spiritual practice, guess what? They are at no disadvantage whatsoever. None. Zero. And by the way, having put decades into the spiritual life and spiritual practice does not necessarily mean that we actually value the truth more than anything else. It’s no guarantee. But to take awakening into enlightenment requires a certain sort of fierce commitment to the truth. It is a surrender to what is realized, a surrender to not be moved in the face of anything. And for anybody who loves the truth, really loves the truth, this surrender is not going to be avoided.
In the past, the deepest spiritual teachings were reserved for a very small part of the spiritual population. Those were the people who became monks or nuns or sadhus (renunciants), and committed their entire existence to get the teachings. You couldn’t get the teachings until you’d done that, walked away from family and friends and life as you knew it, and put everything on the line. And even then, teachers wouldn’t give the teachings to you immediately. They’d probably make you wait some years. Why? Because those few enlightened beings knew that to really take awakening to enlightenment or liberation was going to require that kind of commitment, that kind of love of the truth, and the kind of person who would put all their eggs into that basket, right there.
Today you do not have to live in that rarified spiritual environment or commit your entire life to get the teachings of the truth. And yet, to realize the truth and then take it all the way into living and being what you really are, fully and completely, the internal commitment is not any less. It can’t be any less because nothing less than a full, internal love of truth will do. If you love anything more than you love the truth, there’s no way this realization can complete itself. You can realize it, you can awaken, and you can have a nice enlightenment experience, but it’s not going to be something that’s going to be stable and effortless, or last forever. That’s just the physics of it. I’m not writing the rules. It’s just the way things are.
When you realize the truth, then you know that this truth is not fooling around. This truth wants you, and it wants your life, and it’s going to devour you and eat you up for dinner. The truth is not playing games. I’ve had more than one person say, “Adya, how do I turn this off? How do I back out of this deal? This isn’t what I signed up for.” And the only answer is, “Sorry, it’s too late, you can’t back out. You can walk away from me and from all teachers, and from spirituality altogether. You can go to the end of the earth and play some other game, but it’s too late. You can’t unrealize what you realize.” It’s a game until it’s not, but by the time you realize that it’s not a game, you can’t back out.
By and large, people want liberation, freedom, bliss, peace, love, and total release from fear. They want all the accoutrements of enlightenment without having to pay the price. They don’t want to pay the price of a total love affair, a total commitment. I’m not speaking of anything that is separate or different from your life. This doesn’t have anything to do with the monastery or leaving your day-to-day existence. The truth is here in every single moment of your life. That’s the truth. It’s not separate from your life. You can’t run away from yourself and your life in order to awaken to reality. Your life is your path to awakening. Stop and open your eyes: You were free from the very beginning.
Please understand that it’s not you that wakes up; it’s reality that wakes up, the truth wakes up. You are not enlightened; enlightenment is enlightened. Ultimately this realization doesn’t have anything to do with individuals, since there aren’t any separate individuals. That is the whole illusion, that there is something separate from the ultimate reality. When it’s clear that there’s nothing going on other than the ultimate reality, it’s a done deal -- enlightenment is effortless.
Excerpted from a talk in Mountain View, California, March 13, 2003.
© Adyashanti 2013
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