In spiritual realization, if we mistake the first blush, the by-products of first discovery, for that which we’ve discovered, then we remain a kind of immature lover. An immature lover endlessly mistakes love for the experience of falling in love. In the same way, we may remain an immature realizer. We may have realized something, but we can remain in an immature state: “I want it to be this way all the time. I want it to feel like, ‘Oh, my God!’ all the time.” You’re not going to get past the threshold of the doorway of reality doing that. Experience teaches us that, and then we start to let go of it. We move beyond the ego mind into just being what we are.
That matures for a while. And then at some point, there may be a vast expanse of consciousness. It's like being a conscious, awake, alive, vibrant “nothing.” And it’s a great nothing to be—a totally ascendant, transcendent experience. But it starts to dawn on you, “Okay, I am the nothing as opposed to everything else. Something doesn’t quite add up. There’s still some division. Maybe this isn’t the entire picture.” Not that you have to throw away what you’ve realized, but maybe there’s more to the picture. “Maybe it’s not just this stark duality that I have going, being the aware, awake nothing of consciousness and the everything of existence, the form of existence. That’s a fundamental duality.”
When that interest arises in you, it starts to help. There’s a clutching that you don’t even know is happening. It’s deep in the unconscious. It’s holding on to the new identity of formlessness. There’s a great tendency to want to stay there because it’s a kind of heaven. And you can understand why, because life’s a rough ride sometimes, and then you come into contact with something that’s never been harmed and can’t be harmed ever, and is always there, something that nobody can give you or take away from you. It is such an amazing relief and security to experience something like that. One is not quick to let it go, nor should we be quick to let it go. But it does arise that there may be more to this story.
That curiosity starts to loosen the unconscious holding on to the new identity as formless awareness. It’s not that the formless awareness identity has to go anywhere; it’s just that the clutching at it starts to loosen. And as it loosens, then the witness position relinquishes itself, and the witnessing collapses into the witnessed. When the holding starts to be relinquished, it’s the descending movement. It descends down into the heart. When this descent happens, the heart starts to awaken, and the witness collapses into the witnessed. Then we start perceiving through the heart, seeing through the heart. Then the witness and what is witnessed seem to be one. They’re the same.
It’s a grand inclusion and the waking up of a perceptual capacity from the heart that sees the underlying unity of existence. Experientially, it’s like looking up at a tree and feeling as if the tree is seeing itself. Or you look up at the sky and it feels as though the sky is seeing itself. Or you touch something and you feel as though what you’re touching is feeling itself.
There’s no subject-object relationship going on anymore. There’s just one seamless thing, whatever you want to call it. Ramana called it the Self. The Buddhists call it Buddha nature. You could even call it the perception of life experiencing itself. “Oh, I thought I was apart from life. I thought life was something that I was in and trying to negotiate.” That’s the egoic perspective. “And now I see that I’m actually life itself, the whole of it, also appearing as a particular part at the same time.” You get to play both sides.
From Adyashanti’s Mount Madonna Retreat, 2018
© Adyashanti 2018
The great spiritual author Alan Watts had a wonderful image. He said when a boat goes through the water, it leaves a wake in the water as it passes through. The way we understand things psychologically would be that the wake actually creates the boat, that the past is what creates the present moment. But of course, we know that the wake isn’t creating the boat; the boat is creating the wake. It’s the present moment that is creating the past. The present moment is what’s knifing through the water and the wake is just the recording of the present moment moving farther and farther into the past.
So if you look at it from that standpoint, the past doesn’t actually create the present even though it seems like the past is what gives us our present experience, which conditions the way we see life. There’s actually another way to see it, and that’s what the spiritual orientation is. The spiritual orientation is rooted in the revelation or the perception that there’s only right here and right now. And even deeper than that is that everything you think and feel and experience right here and right now is not actually the outcome of the past. It’s actually the spontaneous bursting into existence of the present. In a way it’s uncaused.
We’re taught to view life through the orientation that the past creates the present. The “here and now” orientation doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense. And yet, not only in the realm of spirituality, but also in the realm of science and quantum mechanics, we start to see that life actually bursts forth uncaused, seemingly out of nowhere, seemingly out of nothingness. This is what some of our physics and physicists have observed, that the smallest particles of matter actually seem to burst out of nowhere, out of nothingness, and on an even more perplexing level, that our observation of life is what actually brings life into being.
This is really the deeper meaning of “spontaneous.” Spontaneity means uncaused. It’s not following the laws of causation. At the subatomic level, nothing happens until it’s observed, and as soon as something is observed, the observation itself is what brings it into being. So the observation and what is being observed actually arise spontaneously together.
This may all seem quite abstract. That’s why I like the image of a boat moving through water, because with that image you can see how it’s the present moment that’s creating the past, not the past that’s creating the present moment. Even though that may be hard to grasp, it’s really quite easy to have some rudimentary understanding of this by just imagining a boat going through the water and the simple recognition that it’s the present moment of the boat going through the water that creates the wake. The wake will be the past. That’s where the boat moved through the water, and that’s the signature of the boat moving through the water. But the past does not create the present.
From Adyashanti's True Spiritual Orientation, 2010
© Adyashanti 2010
In one sense, part of our question-and-answer sessions is that you shoot your conceptual arrow. It’s like we meet out in a big meadow, and you’re at one end, and I’m at this end. And the Truth is the meadow. The Truth is the space. The Truth is the presence that is permeating the whole thing. But if you don’t get that, then you shoot a conceptual arrow: “This is what I think. This is my question.” And if you shoot a conceptual arrow, I shoot one back. And if we are lucky, both of those arrows meet tip to tip. And if they meet tip to tip in mid-air, they destroy each other.
There is yet another invitation and opportunity: to see the space that’s left when those two concepts mutually destroy each other. And if you don’t get it, then you'll lob another conceptual arrow: “Well, what about this?” And so we just shoot, and we hit tip to tip—boom. Really what it’s about is that mutual destruction of concepts, of viewpoints, of world views. And all that’s left is the consciousness that it’s happening in. That’s the Truth; that’s where all the wisdom is. It's not in your conceptual arrow, and it’s not in mine. Mine is just meant to hit yours.
It’s just like these words—they are not true. They are just meant to hit concepts within you. And maybe they will hit tip to tip and reveal space. Of course, that was there before we ever lobbed the concepts. Before we shot the conceptual arrows, that state of consciousness was there, because that’s what we are shooting the arrows in. The arrows can be many things: They can be our questions. They can be our demand that it should be this way or that way. Whatever it is, we are just shooting it right through consciousness. Consciousness doesn’t care. Innocence doesn’t mind.
But when those concepts hit each other and destroy each other, that’s the welcoming, the opportunity to wake up as that space that all this is happening in. When we see that, we stop putting importance in our conceptual arrows, because we already are what all our concepts are looking for. You already are the space in which the questions come. That space is what you are—that’s the end of it.
So any spiritual talk, any spiritual book, any sutra, is just a conceptual arrow. But what does the mind do? The mind grabs the arrow and thinks the Truth is in the arrow, and it starts to look at it, and it starts to collect them and put them in its little arrow package. When it gets a lot of arrows, it starts to feel safe. It has a lot of ammunition to defend itself against everything. And that’s what happens until it doesn’t. That’s how the mind operates. It’s a collecting of conceptual arrows.
But it doesn't matter how many arrows you have. Life is always shooting another one. And life has better aim than you do. It's always fracturing you. Have you ever noticed? So the blessing is seeing that it's not about what conceptual arrows we have, what conceptual demands we have, what emotional demands we are making upon this moment, whether those are met or unmet. It's really not about that. When we see that, then we stop fracturing ourselves. We stop looking for ourselves in the concepts or even in some emotional experience.
We start to see this innocent state of being that exists prior to all of that. And it's in the middle of all of that as well, and after all of that. That state of being is what you are. That's the awakening that's what you are, because then you don't have a relationship with it anymore. You are not objectifying it somewhere else. Just to let go of your demand for this state of silence, to let go of any demand you might have upon it for just half a second, that's all it takes for it to reveal itself, to wake up.
From Adyashanti's Santa Cruz, CA Meeting, March 2001
© Adyashanti 2001
Strictly speaking, we can’t actually want what liberation is. We can’t want it because we can’t know it—we can’t project an idea onto it. You can’t describe it. I call it pure potentiality. That’s as close as I can get, because a big “void” experience is actually a projected idea of what pure potentiality is. That’s what I call eternity. Pure potentiality is complete nothingness. Because it’s pure and it hasn’t become form, it’s often thought of as a void, but not a void of emptiness because it’s also not spatial. All of our ideas of emptiness and void and big expanses of sky and space are not it either, because all of those are spatial references. It’s not in time and it’s not spatial, so you really can’t say anything about it. You’re stuck in a place of divine ignorance.
Some people have actually called it a state of divine ignorance because you can be something that you can’t know. Meister Eckhart sometimes called it “unknowing knowledge.” Unknowing knowledge is like when that immensity—not the “me,” but that immensity itself—has a recognition, “This is what I am.” But beyond that, it can never know itself more than that, because there’s no experiential quality to it. That’s why I say that the deepest impulse is paradoxically beyond rationality.
As I’ve seen over the years, many people have bumped up against this. They’ve had an experience, dipped their toe in, gone to the other side to some extent, and were pulled back. Usually it’s just an automatic response, a survival instinct. But I guess if you wanted to think of it as a benefit, the benefit is that the nonconceptual knot—the ultimate root of what both ego and self are—that knot lets go. And when that knot is even starting to let go, that’s when you feel like “I’ll be annihilated.” Because when that knot lets go, it’s not a knot anymore, and everything it’s ever known about itself was some version of contractedness. That knot, that contractedness, is just falling out of experience.
This knot lets go throughout one’s whole being, and a tremendous lack of self-consciousness is what comes along with it. You lose your inner world.
By inner world I simply mean that the gaze of consciousness or the gaze of awareness is trying to get us to pay attention. There’s part of consciousness that’s dedicated to what we’re doing, and then there’s a piece of it that is constantly doing a U-turn. It’s looking back inside. It’s always saying, “Well, how am I doing? How do I like this? How is this working out for me?” It’s the thing that refers back. The self is that contracted turn, and what it reflects back on is what we call ego.
So first you see through ego. And then you see through this self-turn. Then what’s inside when there’s no ego (if only temporarily), when it’s very mature, is a totally unified inner experience of being. When it goes to the ground of being, this arc straightens itself out, because what it was looking at is what falls away.
When it falls away, you’re no longer pulled, attracted, obsessed. The arc of consciousness straightens itself out, and then there’s just one thing going on all the time. Because the thing that we were turning in toward was produced by the imaginary qualities of self. We grow out of that just like we grow out of infancy. And when we grow out of that, it just falls away. As far as I can see, that’s why the Buddha used the word “nirvana,” which was like blowing out a candle flame. The definition of his enlightenment experience was something being blown out. It wasn’t the addition of anything, it was the subtraction. Something just stopped happening. And that’s what I call one’s inner world.
When consciousness is straightened out, it’s not like it’s no longer in touch with life—it’s just in touch completely directly. The intermediary falls away. There’s nothing to look at anymore and then you’re very in touch, actually. What you’re in touch with is fluid. There’s something extraordinarily affirmative and affirming about it. It’s far from negative.
Nobody even has to look for it. At some point you’ll start to be drawn in there. It can even happen to people who aren’t spiritual at all. Because in the end, we’re talking about the ground of our being. We’re talking about our truest and real nature. There’s always a thread that’s inclining you in that direction, even when you don’t know you’re being inclined in that direction.
Reality is reality in the sense that it’s not becoming. It’s not changing. In one sense, it’s not evolving. And at the same time, one’s human capacity to embody it is changing and evolving and growing without end. Because we’re actually embodying something that’s the infinite ground of our being, there’s no end to how deeply and fully it can be embodied. And that’s a continuous journey. Even Buddha is still becoming Buddha, but the difference is not becoming in the sense of looking for completion—just the adventure, the endless wondering, “How accurately can this be embodied?” And there’s no endpoint.
We get foretastes of it all along the way, those little moments when you bump into your own nothingness, when you can’t find yourself and yet there you are. There’s nothing to chase. And remember, it’s all good. It’s all natural. There’s really nothing to fear.
From Adyashanti's Tahoe Retreat, May2018
© Adyashanti 2018
Our senses need to become refined, and the way our senses become refined is by starting to live through our senses again. It’s a great spiritual practice—a great human thing, but especially a great spiritual practice—to really be connected to your senses. You go outside and you actually feel the cold or the warmth on your skin. You don’t just take quick note of it and you’re off to the next abstract thought that flows through your brain, but you actually feel the cold or the warmth on your skin.
You really see what you’re looking at. You see it because you’re actually looking at it. We can have our eyes open but not really notice very much. You can look at something without having any of your senses online except vision. It’s almost like a computer looking around: “Okay, I’m taking it in—blue, white, ceiling, floor.” People live most of their life doing something like that. Or you can actually feel and sense what you see. Your sense of seeing and your sense of feeling are now operating in a kind of tandem.
It seems to me that either what evokes this noticing or what actually brings it into operation is the capacity of the heart to experience life in a tremendously deep and intimate way. Of course, it’s easier when you look at a tree or some flowers, something with some beauty to it. If you’re looking at them with any attention at all, you’ll realize it evokes a sense, a feeling. Your vision and the feel of something are operating in one moment. You’ve got at least two of your senses cooperating.
Actually, I think all of the senses are meant to work as a coherent whole. Their original way of operating is where you see and feel and hear and taste and touch things all at once, like the great composer who could not only hear music, but see music in his mind’s eye. How many people see music?
At any moment when all of our senses come together and really start to work as a coherent whole, when they’re all intermingled, they actually create another sense. That sense is what I’m calling the heart. All of a sudden, life is experienced in a very different way. As the great Zen Master Dogen said, “It is to be enlightened by the ten thousand things.” It’s an interesting thing to be enlightened by the ten thousand things—meaning everything. It’s to be enlightened by what you see and hear and taste and touch and feel, to be enlightened by the world.
So this is the awakening of the heart. You can just do whatever you’re doing, look at whatever you’re looking at, and imagine that somehow there’s something in the heart that’s actually part of the process of what you see. You’re seeing from it. You’re looking from it. Immediately it will change your experience. It will become a more intimate experience of being. It really doesn’t matter what you’re doing if you start to do it from the heart.
From Perceiving from the Heart, Oakland, CA, March 2018
© Adyashanti 2018
From the ordinary standpoint, which is where we all start out, spiritual practice has a quality of being a goal-oriented activity. We’re doing it for a particular reason. We’re hoping for a particular result. We hope it will help us to awaken or reveal the truth to us, or help us find peace or freedom. That’s entirely understandable. It’s a way of relating with whatever our spiritual practice is that feels honest. That’s a conventional view of practice, whatever the spiritual practice is.
The most important part of any spiritual practice is its authenticity, its honesty. And that’s something that’s often missed. The spiritual path is an embodied form of being really true and honest with yourself. That’s not an easy thing to do, especially at the beginning.
To be aware is to be confronted with whatever the reality of your condition is at any particular moment. That can roll off the tongue very easily, but when you go to do it, it can be very challenging to really show up in your life authentically for whatever’s unfolding at that moment. We’re always trying to change what is, or explain it, or justify it, or anything other than a direct encounter with the raw reality of our condition at any given moment.
It’s not easy for human beings to be really honest with themselves. It’s one of the most stringent, demanding practices that there is—to not knowingly, intentionally deceive ourselves or others. Just start with yourself. That’s enough for any given day. It's what needs to be informing our spiritual practice.
Spiritual practice becomes effective and powerful in direct proportion to how true and real and honestly it’s undertaken. That's authenticity. And so much of being honest and real with ourselves is realizing what we don’t know. Knowing that we don’t know takes a lot of honesty. A space opens within the mind and even in the body when we start to know that we don’t know. We open to uncertainty: “I’m not so sure anymore. I don’t know who I am. I don’t know what enlightenment is. I don’t know what God is. I don’t really know much of what I thought I knew.” Sometimes that can be tremendously liberating, when you let go of a painful idea or belief or opinion that was really burdensome. That can be very freeing, just to get that far.
From the standpoint of realization, practice looks very different. Practice is actually an expression of the state of realization. It's an embodied statement. At first, we can see something like meditation as a means to an end: “I hope this helps me get to where I want to get to.” But from a realized perspective, meditation actually becomes an embodied expression of that realization. It’s not the only expression by any means, but it’s one embodied expression. So then the practice and the realization become the same thing.
The underlying attitude that needs to inform our spiritual approach is basic honesty, sincerity, and truthfulness. To whatever extent we can become honest, truthful, and sincere right from the beginning, we’re actually participating in an embodied form of realization. So we can actually utilize aspects of realization far before we’re even realized.
From the viewpoint of realization itself, not only is practice an expression of realization, but it’s also simultaneously a way that realization explores itself, that reality explores itself. Again, it’s not a goal-oriented activity, because realization itself is infinite. Realization itself has no borders. It has no boundaries. Reality can always be realizing more of itself. When it’s reality doing the realizing, there’s no goal. There’s no end. There’s no anxiety. Strictly speaking, there's no seeking, because there’s no goal orientation. How could you make something that has an infinite capacity into a goal? Because if it’s infinite, by definition, you’re not going to get to the goal.
So practice can been seen from this other orientation, the orientation of a deeper realized state. And we can utilize some of that orientation, even if we don’t think we’re realized yet. We can use some of that attitude, you might say. In fact, it’s essential that we do use that attitude, because spiritual practice itself actually isn’t confined to specific spiritual disciplines. That’s another mistaken idea of spiritual practice, that when we're meditating, listening to a talk, or inquiring, we're engaged in a specific spiritual practice. But spiritual practice actually transcends all of those particular forms. It expresses itself through those embodied forms of spiritual practice. The forms are embodied expressions, but what informs all of those forms is something else.
What informs all of those forms of practice is the commitment to realization itself, which goes back to honesty, sincerity, and truthfulness. These are the primary spiritual practices. In that sense, they’re not limited to any particular form. They’re not limited to a time of meditation. You can practice honesty, sincerity, and truthfulness at any moment of your life, in any situation you might be in. Literally, these are the fundamentals of spiritual practice.
From Adyashanti's Authentic Spiritual Practice, UK Retreat, 2018
© Adyashanti 2018
When we are paying attention, we have a natural sense of awe. We are all here on this tiny planet floating in an immense and expanding sea of time and space. We are barely a pinprick, yet we are conscious beings. As far as we can look in this space, we can see a lot of things, but we have not encountered another intelligence with abilities that are like or beyond those of humans, at least not yet.
Of all the places we could be, of all the beings we could be, it is remarkable that in a certain sense we are the eyes and ears and the contemplating ability of the universe. Consciousness gives us this unique facility, not only to be aware, but also to be aware that we are aware. We can reflect on reflecting on things, and so what is happening is that the cosmos is reflecting upon itself. When we look at incredible mystery, spiritual awakening, or revelation itself, it will show that we—in the deepest sense of things—are the mystery that we are looking at.
The spiritual impulse—the impulse that motivates, drives, and inspires us to awaken to the deeper nature of reality—has a human element. In other words, as human beings we want whatever we want from that realization, whether that’s happiness or love or a relief from suffering. But the real drive of awakening lies within life itself. This agenda is bigger than the human one: it is life or existence seeking to be conscious of itself and to know itself. If my talking about this ability of consciousness to recognize itself sounds a little too cosmic, you have my sympathies, but if you are quiet for a moment you will find that there is the simple sense of being—the sense of “I exist” even before you form the words “I exist.” Even before thought defines that sense of being, there is a sense of existing and a sense of knowing that you exist. That is consciousness and what consciousness makes us capable of. . . .
Part of what gives any spiritual discipline its power is our ability to look in a precise way, not in a haphazard way. What is the nature of my being? Where is this self? What is it exactly? Does it exist? If I am not a self, then what am I? These questions are not meant to have quick answers; they are meant to open your mind and open consciousness so that you can experience both mind and consciousness more directly and intimately. No matter where we look—from the biggest of the biggest to the smallest of the smallest—if we are paying attention, we cannot help but experience the awe and wonder of existence, and the awe and wonder of existence is what drives spiritual yearning. In a deeper sense, life’s inherent inclination is to become fully conscious of itself: the feeling that you have of yearning or being driven spiritually is a desire that belongs to life itself wanting to be conscious of itself—to be fully awake and fully present. This is where the spiritual impulse is derived, from a place that is even deeper than our personal concern, deeper than what we hope for or what we want from our spirituality.
In other words, there is another game being played out on a completely different scale, and that is by life itself, by this immensity seeking to become as self-aware as it can. That is your connection to the mystery, and that is the origin of cosmic curiosity, whether it is curiosity about the vast scale of the cosmos that we find ourselves in or about the vast scale of the consciousness that we are. To engage with these things is so important; it is the reason why every form of deep spirituality emphasizes the ability to pay attention, to not walk through life on automatic pilot. One of the greatest potentials of spiritual practice, if we are doing it right, is that it takes us out of automatic pilot mode. It makes us conscious and aware of what is going on, of who we are, of what we are, and of how remarkable and unfathomable this world is and our being is. Consciousness itself is amazing—how it comes to life and how there is a consciousness of anything. That there is a consciousness of consciousness is mind-boggling.
Right down to the most ordinary events in life, everything is much more extraordinary than we give it credit for. To engage with the true nature of ourselves—with the mysterious and overwhelming quality of existence—requires us to pay attention, to be present, and to not sleepwalk through the next moment and the next day and the next week and the next year. It requires us to endeavor to bring even a deeper sense of consciousness and awareness to each moment. When we do, the quality of our consciousness itself transforms our whole being.
It is an incredible experience to go outside, look up at the sky, and contemplate the overwhelmingly vast distances that make up this universe that we find ourselves part of and that we discover ourselves to be the consciousness of. When we are contemplating the universe, we are the universe contemplating itself, and that may be the most wondrous and extraordinarily profound aspect of our whole life.
From Adyashanti's book, The Most Important Thing
Published by Sounds True
© Adyashanti 2019
Awakening, at least initially, is often a kind of transcending of the human dimension of being. Body, mind, ego—all of that is transcended. And that’s necessary, because it’s not our egos that wake up. We have to be able to sort of leave them behind. But also, we do have a body and a mind and a human life that’s in time and space, and it’s always in a process of becoming.
To our ego mind it’s hard to imagine “becoming” that has no search for completion in it, no sense of angst or unworthiness. But it’s actually happening all around us. Everything in nature is in the process of becoming, but it’s not in a rush to get there. When a pine tree is a seed, in a certain sense it’s complete. It contains the entire pine tree within the seed. In fact, in a way, it contains all pine trees within the seed. It’s totally complete; nothing is left out. The potentials for roots and trunks and branches and pine needles are all present. A hundred-and-fifty-foot-tall pine tree is innate in a single little seed.
If that seed had its own version of a spiritual awakening, it would feel that completeness, that it didn’t have to become anything other than it was. That’s a huge thing for a human being to experience. Simultaneously, if the conditions are right, the seed starts to sprout and put down roots. It grows a trunk and stretches out its branches and needles to the sun, and basically unfolds its potential. Through the whole life of the tree, it’s endlessly unfolding its potential, until its life is exhausted and it becomes fertilizer for the next seed.
That’s one of the examples I like to use where you can actually have both of these things happening: always unfolding your potential and always unfolding your completion, once we realize what’s always and already whole. And it’s not just a personal thing. It’s not the ego that has that realization; it’s true nature as such, so it’s the true nature of all beings and all things. As it is said that the Buddha proclaimed when he awoke, “I and all beings everywhere have simultaneously realized the great liberation.”
Of course, if he was saying that from the ego perspective or even the rational perspective, it makes no sense. Just because this guy Buddha sitting under the tree had his great enlightenment doesn’t mean that somebody around the corner all of a sudden popped into enlightenment also. But the true nature of me is the true nature of you, and the true nature of you is the true nature of the universe. And when true nature awakens through an individual expression, it’s true nature as such that awakens. So that’s the feeling, and that’s important, because it’s not only important for us to discover our wholeness and completion, but that we also perceive it in others. If it’s a real realization, it will be true nature that’s awake—not “my” true nature, in terms of just me. It has that quality, too, because there’s still an individual there in a certain sense. But the gift has to be seen everywhere.
Seeing the true nature of everyone and everything is an immensely beautiful thing to behold, and wonderfully confounding when you behold the true nature of somebody or something you really don’t like. “Really? Wow!” It doesn’t mean that you suddenly agree with the person you dislike. You can still disagree, but it’s different to disagree and just see your version of their wrongness, or disagree and see that they are also an expression of true nature—potentially a conscious one, potentially an unconscious one.
Even though it’s just mere understanding, it’s kind of nice every once in a while to remind yourself that you can’t be other than you are, and there’s completion from the very beginning. Even when we’re confused and searching and struggling, that’s also true nature. That’s like the seed sprouting and pushing away the grains of soil as it makes its way to the surface sunlight. You can feel that pushing through happening sometimes; that itself is an expression of true nature. So the yearning and the search is an expression of true nature. And it’s not a bad thing to contemplate, especially if you’re having a difficult time. You don’t somehow stop becoming what you really are when you’re struggling.
It all starts from the simplest standpoint, the simplest thing. As I say, often when it comes to your spiritual practice, whatever that is, the simpler and more one-pointed the better. The usefulness of an application is how much can be condensed into its most simple form. It’s like a physicist trying to come up with an equation that takes the greatest amount of information and condenses it into the most simple expression possible. That was the genius of E=mc2. The amount of information that it contained was almost unimaginable, as well as its beauty. Certainly for someone like Einstein this was clearly a big part of his motivation. Such discoveries were mathematical and spiritual discoveries at the same time.
So when you condense the immensity of true nature down into a really simple application, you want something that contains as much wisdom and vision and love as possible in its most simplified, practical form. Often I’ll say simply, “Abide as awareness.” Just that. Keep it simple.
From Adyashanti's Mount Madonna Retreat, 2019
© Adyashanti 2019
What we think of as spirituality is not limited to what we think spirituality is. Spirituality is innate to being. It’s to be involved in the enigma of being. It’s to crack that nut, to open up that mystery. I think so much of deeper spirituality begins when we finally have the maturity, whether it comes at five years old or ninety-five years old, when we have whatever it is that causes us to recognize how deeply and profoundly we are a mystery unto ourselves. You have to have a little gap in your constant judging and condemning of yourself to feel the mystery of yourself. You have to suspend judgment for a moment. It’s a very unique and pivotal point in someone’s life. This is the contemplative endeavor. It’s diving into the mystery of being.
Meditation, whether it’s done in a meditation hall or while you’re sitting on a porch in your front yard, is actually entering experientially into that enigma of being—not just to think about it and philosophize about it, but to actually enter into it. It’s not very far to connect with the mystery of being. It’s right there under the surface. When I started to notice all of this in my twenties, it was a weird thing, because when you get involved with spirituality, you get all these ideas of what a spiritual person is, and I didn’t seem to fit the model. The model of a spiritual person didn’t seem to be a highly competitive athlete who would run over your grandmother to win the next race. That’s not in the sacred scriptures. Someone like that does not receive the deeper spiritual insights, you might think.
The nice thing is that when you’re young, sometimes you don’t even put spirituality in a category. It’s not spirituality, it’s just life. Sometimes life shows up in an odd way, and all of a sudden your experience of it is very different. Maybe you feel deeply connected, or you seem to disappear into nothingness, or you seem to have a moment of connection with God that’s unusually profound and touching and life changing. Or maybe you sink into some spontaneous samadhi where you lose all connection to your senses, and everything disappears, and you’re like a point of consciousness. There are many, many different ways that the deeper dimension of being shows up.
I think it’s useful to think of spirituality in the most natural possible terms. Spirituality is just natural to a human being. It’s even natural to atheists. If you could listen to scientist Carl Sagan in his mystical awe of the cosmos, it was like listening to a mystic half the time, in rapt awe of the beauty of existence. He was a scientific materialist, but that was his doorway into experience, connection, and awe. He was somebody who didn’t believe in God, but he had a deep experience. Clearly his investigations brought him into something akin to a kind of religious or spiritual awe.
I mention naturalness because the sense of the naturalness of true nature or awakening to true nature is not just religious, and it’s not just spiritual. You can even have atheists who are deeply participating in a way of being that connects them to a greater dimension of being. So clearly, this is something that’s innate in all of us. And if we would just go immediately to whatever our felt sense of our own mystery of being is, just to dip for a moment underneath the evaluations, the ideas, and the judgments of being, it doesn’t take much attention—a moment, really—to connect with the sense of being this extraordinary, conscious mystery.
Of course, we don’t want to just leave it at that. There’s something deeper in us that wants more than simply to leave it all as a mystery. I’m suggesting that that’s the entry point. If you forget that entry point, you can do decades of meditation looking for something that’s actually completely innate. And so in the old, universal teachings among the esoteric inner dimensions of most spiritualities, the suggestion is to just go into that place where everything is an unknown.
Open to the unknown. Experience the unknown. Just stop for a second. There’s so much about you that’s unknown to you, it’s mind-boggling. What is it that’s walking, living and breathing, wanting what you want and not wanting what you don’t want? What is it that wants God or awakening or enlightenment, or just a little more peace and happiness in a troubled life? Every time we say “I,” what do we actually mean? We’re giving voice to something that’s immense, and the capabilities are astonishing.
From The Quiet Dimension of Being
© Adyashanti 2019
We revere the great divine individuals, but we are terrified of being one ourselves, and so we try to copy them. Buddhists try to be Buddha, Christians try to be Christ, Muslims try to be Mohammed, and so it goes, as if by copying a divine individual we will become one. The problem is this: There’s only one Buddha, one Christ, one Mohammed, one Ramana, one Nisargadatta. There was nobody quite like them before and there will be nobody quite like them afterward. So all of the relentless effort to try to be like any divine individual is delusion in its highest.
We all have an instinct toward true individuality. This is the challenge, the instinct that is a part of everyone: “Why can’t I just be myself—freely, easily, smoothly, unselfconsciously, unapologetically?” We go along worshipping the divine individuals in some conscious or unconscious effort to copy them. But the thing that made them what they are is they didn’t have a mind to copy anybody, to be like anybody.
That’s what the symbol of Buddha under the bodhi tree really means. It means someone who was sitting down in his aloneness, not trying to be like someone or something else, but being completely true to his own yearning, his own search. It took him a long time and a lot of spiritual practice to purge hundreds of generations of conditioning out of his system so that he could finally sit under that tree. He could finally embody his aloneness, and we revere him for doing so.
What would it be like to divest yourself of this immensity of human conditioning? Some conditioning is very useful. If it wasn’t for conditioning we wouldn’t be here, and our hearts wouldn’t be beating; they’re conditioned to do so. That’s the conditioning of our biology that over millions of years has evolved so that mostly we run on automatic.
What we’re dealing with is more of a psychological conditioning, that once it gets set in your system you become afraid of your own aloneness, mostly because it’s so unimaginably unknown. Who would you be if somehow all that unnecessary psychological conditioning was to drop out of your system? It’s unimaginable, of course, until it happens. But something like that is exactly what happens to anybody who rediscovers what I’m calling divine individuality. I say “divine individuality” not to make it sound spiritual or to put it into some hierarchy, but because I don’t want to confuse it with what we often think of as individuality, which is pretty constrained.
You can wake up from your form, from your humanity, from your body and mind. You can quite literally wake up and out of all your identifications, your grasping onto form and memory, all of it right down to gender and race. It’s not because they don’t exist—they do exist—but they don’t actually define our essential being. You can have this wonderful waking up out of all of that constraint and feel the great freedom and the inherent feeling of truthfulness about it. When it happens, it’s self-confirming. So that’s one-half of awakening. That’s one kind of freedom—but you can wake up from that and still have many of the overly constraining impulses happening in the body and mind that you just woke up from.
There’s another side of awakening which isn’t just waking up from form, body, and the identifications of the mind—it’s getting that awakening down and through all of that, and that’s like a clearinghouse. That’s the difference between someone who’s had an awakening and ultimately someone who has discovered their divine individuality. It’s not just the waking up from body and mind, but awakening all through it. In order to really do that, there has to be a deep embrace of one’s aloneness. It doesn’t mean what we conventionally think of as aloneness, which is an association with loneliness. You can contemplate it in a quiet way that starts as a sort of intuition of really letting yourself embody your aloneness.
Inquiry is one of the tools we use to dislodge our rigid adherence to unnecessary beliefs, opinions, and ideas. It‘s not the belief, the opinion, or the idea itself that‘s the problem. The problem is finding an identity in the point of view and then being attached to the point of view—becoming a rock in a world that only works in fluids. Life is fluid, it‘s moving, it‘s changing. So if we didn‘t derive identity through our ideas, beliefs, opinions, and our points of view, then we would be fluid. We wouldn’t feel threatened if somebody disagreed with us.
As you see through beliefs, you start to embody your own nonseparate individuality, because we are all one. At the ground of being there’s a sameness, an interconnectedness with all beings and all life. When we sense that in life, we feel at home in the world. If we look at a tree, a cloud, the sky—you see it’s all just various forms of life, but those forms are totally unique. They’re individual without being separate from life. Their individuality, their uniqueness, doesn’t separate them; it doesn’t confer otherness upon them. It’s just what life does—it’s unique in all its expressions. That’s what you feel as the desire to be free. At first you want to be free from yourself to some extent, but there’s also the instinct to be free from within yourself.
As a teacher, I’ve never wanted to try to create copies of myself. I think one of me is plenty. I hope what we’re all doing here is to find our unity, yes, but also to find the way that unity shows up called “your life,” and to let go into that aloneness enough to find it. Because then something in you is finally deeply at home in your own skin, and as a benefit to the world, people like that tend to allow other people to be their own unique expressions of being. They don’t demand that people go around agreeing with them or being like them. It’s a gift that we can give each other.
From Adyashanti's Kanuga Retreat, 2018
© Adyashanti 2018
When we think of interrelatedness, we usually think of big or small things that are in relationship with one another. However, the way I’m using the word is not like that. I’m not denying that, but there is something deeper than that. Things are actually nothing but interrelatedness itself.
It’s really hard for a human mind to think that a thing could be nothing but interrelatedness, that interrelatedness itself ends up to be what things actually are. In this sense, things end up to be no-things, and no-things end up to be all things. So when we hear words like no-thing or nothingness, we shouldn’t try to understand that conventionally. In its truest sense, nothingness doesn’t have much to do with nothing. It has to do with interrelationship or interrelatedness.
And so it is with each of us. When you look inside for your true being, you might say, “Okay, exactly, precisely, what is this thing called ‘me’? What actually is it?” The more you look for it, the more you can’t find it. The reason you can’t find it is because it is nothing but interrelatedness. There’s no substance. There’s no thought, idea, or image to grasp. In that sense, it’s empty, but not empty in the sense of being nonexistent. It’s empty in the sense of being unexpected or inconceivable.
When you feel love or fall in love, that’s a very real feeling to you, and yet you can’t see it, you can’t weigh it; it doesn’t have any objective sort of existence. Nonetheless, we treat it as more real than the things we consider to be real—certainly as more important. Most people, if they feel love, their love feels more important to them than the solidity of their toaster. The love has no solidity to it at all. It has no objective tangibility to it, and yet, it’s something that one could orient their whole life around.
The Buddha used to talk about the thusness or suchness of each moment. It means not just each moment, but the thusness or suchness of each apparent thing that we perceive. So when I say being, this is the sense I’m using it in, a similar way that the Buddha used the thusness or suchness of something. When we perceive the thusness or suchness of something, we’re actually perceiving it as being nothing but interrelatedness itself. So this ordinary moment, with nothing particularly unusual about it, is being awareness, and awareness itself is interrelatedness. It’s not like interrelatedness is aware; it’s more like interrelatedness is. It’s not that the interrelatedness is that which is aware—it’s that the interrelatedness is awareness.
This is probably the fundamental barrier that any of us will bump into in spirituality: the barrier between awareness and the objects of awareness. The fundamental duality is that there is this world of things, and then there’s seeing and experiencing this world of things, and somehow those two are different. One of the great misunderstandings about unity is the belief that it reduces the world to a sort of homogenized “goo” of agreement. Actually, in some ways it’s almost the opposite. It frees the uniqueness in you, and it frees you to allow the uniqueness in others. Uniqueness flourishes when we see the unity of things. It doesn’t get flattened out—just the opposite. You just stop arguing with the difference that isn’t like yours.
When you have two viewpoints that are open to interrelating, almost always something will arise if you stick with it long enough, if you’re sincere, if you’re openhearted, if you actually want the truth more than you want to win or be right. Eventually something will bubble up from that engagement that’s truer than either one began with. If you have two people who are openhearted and see the truth and usefulness, even the utility, of really relating, they’ll see that, and both people walk away feeling like “Gosh, I feel good about that, like we both win because we both discovered more than we started with.”
The unity of things isn’t that there are no differences. It isn’t that a tree doesn’t look different than the sky, or behave differently than the sky, or have a different kind of life than the sky. The unity is that a tree—an object—is nothing but interrelatedness. The sky is nothing but interrelatedness, and the awareness of things is itself nothing but interrelatedness. That’s an explanation that is coming from a way of perceiving. That’s what enlightenment really is: seeing that the seeing and what one is aware of are one simultaneous arising. It’s an arising that’s always flowing because interrelatedness isn’t static—it’s ever flowing.
That’s why I’m always saying that this is really about a kind of vision, not in the sense of having visions, but the quality of our vision, the quality of our perception when we can perceive without the dualistic filter. What seems to be this impenetrable sort of barrier between us and things, us and the world, us and each other, is fundamentally between our consciousness and what consciousness is conscious of. That seemingly basic and immovable sense that there is a fundamental difference, a fundamental separation, is what’s really dispelled when our insight gets deep enough.
At the deepest level, the most fundamental level, interrelationship is just that—it’s interrelating. It’s not things interrelating. Things end up to be themselves interrelatedness. When vision becomes clear, that’s what we perceive. The world becomes not a world of things, but of interrelatedness.
Excerpted from “The World of Interrelatedness,” April 10, 2019 ~ Garrison, NY
© Adyashanti 2019
When we turn within, it’s not just as simple as “I turn within, I meditate and get a little calmer, I’m more mindful, and maybe I become less reactive. Maybe my heart is more available.” I don’t mean to devalue that because it’s a worthy thing. It even has a nobility—but not only so that we have more benevolent ideas and behave more compassionately. There is a more significant turning within. This turning within, in its deepest sense, is when we start to peer underneath our most fundamental ideas. And of course, the ideas that are most fundamental to us are our ideas about ourselves.
We each come in with our own coloring of uniqueness. That’s the beauty of existence. That’s the energy of life expressing itself in all of its uniqueness and diversity while at the same time being life. But when something in us comes alive enough, we start to look underneath those ideas and have the associated feelings, because this isn’t all ideas. Some of the feelings have incredible emotional energy behind them. That’s a different matter. We tend to think of what’s real as what we think or feel, and if what we think and feel line up and are the same thing, that’s something that’s hard to see through—for any of us.
My mother used to say that when you go to a retreat it’s like going to a “Buddha boot camp,” because traditional Zen is very disciplined. I didn’t always like spiritual boot camp, but my intuition knew that it was pretty good for me, so I kept at it until I stopped chasing what somebody promised me or what I read in a book or heard in a talk. I started responding to the unique way that I was being called to that which I cared for deeply, even though I didn’t quite know what it was—a yearning to be in touch with the unique but very real and visceral quality of what motivated my spiritual life. That’s the call.
I realized that where I didn’t have it clearly defined in my mind, I had to go to its source, and we come back to this source—the generative source of being. That’s the discovery that’s there for all of us. And since it’s innate, it’s not necessarily like we earn it or deserve it. It’s perfectly virtuous trying to be a decent human being—decent human beings are nice to be around. They’re more benign. But there’s something more intrinsic even than that.
Yearning often feels like we’re yearning for something because we don’t have it—why would we yearn for something that we have? That we yearn for something we’re not conscious of doesn’t mean we don’t have it, and it doesn’t even mean we aren’t it in our deepest being. Things aren’t always as logically simple as we imagine. It’s useful at least to hold as a possibility that our yearning actually comes from a fullness that we may not be fully conscious of, that it may be coming from that which we are seeking. Often we can be yearning for something that somewhere inside us we don’t really believe could blossom in an ordinary human being. And what I’ve seen is when someone starts to let go of that idea, everything becomes possible for that person.
One day I saw myself sliding back down the trajectory of my yearning to where it came from. I traced it, not with my mind, but with my intuition and sense and feeling, and I sort of felt my way back into that place where it came from. The surprise of all surprises was that the yearning came from the fullness of what I was looking for.
There’s an idea in Zen that I didn’t understand for quite a while, which is that the yearning for enlightenment is the first arising of enlightenment in your experience. It’s like saying your yearning for God comes from God inside of you. It’s the first evidence of the divine presence in you. It doesn’t feel like it because it’s a yearning, but our spiritual yearning or orientation is the first evidence that our deepest and truest nature is breaking through into consciousness. Of course we don’t feel that when we first feel our yearning.
“I don’t know” becomes the doorway, whether it’s “I don’t know who I am” or “I don’t know who God is.” You don’t just think it, but you start to feel it, and you don’t push against it. You don’t grasp for more knowledge. You just let yourself not know, and feel it. It’s a relief when you’re not resisting it, like Ahh, I can breathe again! Sometimes it’s the time just to rest in that place, even before our questions. Questions are relevant, but sometimes it’s the time just to pay attention to that space, that consciousness that’s there before we ever have a question, and after we have a question. Then the trajectory of the spiritual instinct itself takes us that next little step.
Excerpted from Adyashanti’s London Meeting, August 18, 2019
© Adyashanti 2019
Excerpted from “The Great Expanse of Darkness,” May 23, 2019 ~ Tahoe City, CA
The Sandokai is a fundamental scripture that is chanted in Zen monasteries and temples throughout the world. “San” means “many,” “do” means “sameness” or “oneness,” and “kai” means to shake hands, as in friendship. So, it’s the many things and the One in relationship, which is a way of depicting true nature, or reality. It was written by a Zen master, Sekito Kisen, in the eighth century.
One of the themes that runs through the Sandokai is the theme of light and dark. In the West, we have a relatively surface understanding of light and dark. The light is thought of as good, and the dark is bad or evil, but that’s not the way it is used in the Sandokai. Sekito uses the sense of the dark for the great reality, that great unknown terrain where all things are unified, where they all come together in a single source. And light is being used as the light of our consciousness, which sees differences. When you open your eyes, a tree looks different from a rock, and the sky looks different from the ground. It’s the light of consciousness that discriminates. Mostly the light forgets the dark and gets stuck in its immediate perceptions of difference. It loses the sense of the source, where all things come together.
When you’re paying deep attention, you see that the dark is a metaphor for quiet, the silence, or the great ground of being. You see that all things and all experiences arise out of that dark. A thought simply appears. A feeling simply appears. Where it appears from, you don’t know. It comes seemingly out of nowhere, the great expanse of pure unmanifest potentiality. When you’re just sitting there attending to your own experience, each moment of experience simply arises, and then it passes and disappears into the dark.
The wonderful thing about Sekito is that his vision, his enlightenment, went deep enough to not be attached to either the source—the One—or the many. Of course, whenever we see and experience an aspect, a facet, of the jewel of enlightenment, we’re touching upon the whole diamond. In just the same way, when we have a realization experience, some facet of reality is revealed to us, and each facet feels totally complete. We’re filled with a kind of confidence of that completeness. And yet, there are high-level delusions, even in deep states of realization, or enlightenment. It takes quite a bit of real vision to see that and not get hung up on some of the high-level delusions that are innate in various forms of awakening.
One of those high-level delusions is that, because each facet of reality feels so complete, we may not allow any other facets of reality into our view; we may think they’re simply illusions. When you have an experience of the One—the all-encompassing ground of being—the world of diversity can look, at least for a while, like a flimsy illusion. It’s easy to conclude that the source, the ground, is real but the rest isn’t. It is real, it is the ground, it is the fundamental source, but each distinct expression is also a complete expression of the source, and so each thing is itself the great totality.
In essence, as Sekito would remind us in his sutra, we live in two worlds. One is the sort of pinprick of the known terrain of our life. What our light of consciousness recognizes, sees, and imagines that it knows is this small terrain of life that’s illuminated by what we think we know. The other is the world of the absolute, that immensity of existence that lies outside of what we’re conscious of—that which is generating our experiences and also our thoughts that just come out of the dark.
You can be sitting in meditation and all of a sudden you might feel like you’re encountering the dark, which often evokes a kind of fear. Whether the dark is of the exterior world or it’s the interior world, this is the terrain of our actual existence, of what we know and what we don’t know. It is the immensity of existence that is generating the life that we are conscious of. It can be generating your thoughts, your feelings, your reactions, and your dreams.
Where do your dreams come from at night? They come from this immense terrain of your unconscious, which seemingly knows no bounds. And that’s the culmination of the change to “I am not just what I think I am. The world is not what I think it is. It is not contained within the confines of the little piece of terrain that I’m conscious of, whether it’s what I think about myself, what I feel, what I imagine, my past, my history, or my hoped-for future.” All of a sudden you realize, “I’m not defined simply by this tiny terrain of the known. And the great expanse of the unknown is not some menacing, lurking danger outside of me. It’s actually simultaneously what I am—the totality of being itself.”
All revelation is born in the dark. When you let go of clutching onto the certainty of what you know and open your eyes like a newborn, as if for the very first time, you are surprised to find that the world you had imagined to be real was nothing more than a dream, one fabricated assumption after another. By stepping into the long-ignored silence of our aloneness and directing the light of our consciousness beyond the current frontier of our knowing, we allow the great unknown dimensions of life to find us and remain faithful to the work of our yearning.
© Adyashanti 2019
Excerpted from The Most Important Thing: Discovering Truth at the Heart of Life published by Sounds True.
Transformation tends to happen when we stop or something stops us—a tragedy, a difficulty—and we reassess and realize that the way we are going about life must be redefined. Sometimes we will need to redefine our whole identity. This does not just happen to spiritually advanced beings—this is human stuff. These moments occur with some regularity, and if we recognize how important they are, when they come, we can see them as both great challenges and great opportunities. How we respond is important. Do we search for a quick solution, for a quick answer, or for somebody to save us from our insecurity? Or do we find the wherewithal to settle into those moments and meet ourselves? We can lean forward into what is occurring, into the human experience or unresolved quality—whether it is doubt, or fear, or hesitation, or indecision, or whatever our pattern is that causes us to not throw ourselves entirely into that moment.
We never know when these moments are coming. Some are big, and some are much smaller. We should not assume that the small moments are not as important as the big, obvious ones, because attending to the small moments is the way we build a capacity to attend to the big moments of crisis. It is the reason why most spiritual traditions have various ways of getting us to pay attention to our life, even when nothing significant seems to be going on. This comes from an acknowledgment, a realization that vital moments are current in our life and there are decisions being made—consciously or unconsciously—about how we are going to relate to them.
Do you relate to life as an unfolding mystery and an adventure of discovery? An encounter with your immense capacity for wisdom, love, and experiencing life with intimacy and vitality? We have extraordinary abilities as human beings when we begin to recognize the vitality of certain moments and we bring a consciousness to them. These vitality moments happen in our lives with great regularity and are opportunities for awakening and transformation. We must repeatedly embrace the insecurity of these moments and by doing so come to trust them and so ourselves. In these moments, all we need is knowledge of the next step and the willingness to take it. Paradoxically, the knowing of what the next step is arises when we have the capacity to rest in not knowing what the next step is and to recognize this is an intimate part of the process of transformation.
© Adyashanti & Sounds True 2019
Excerpted from “The Immensity of Self,” November 6, 2019 ~ San Jose, CA
What does it mean for the Self—something that’s unlimited, without borders or edges or boundaries—to be embodied in a particular human being? That would mean the human being would have a greater and greater capacity to embody this immensity. It doesn’t mean, however, that the human being is going to be particularly impressive. We always think of enlightened beings in some way as extraordinarily charismatic, glowing human beings. We think if the immensity is being embodied in a human being, it’s going to be so charismatically obvious that you would want to throw yourself at their feet in worship. But that’s not what it really means.
The immensity of being can be deeply embodied in a very humble way, even a very ordinary way. It can be extraordinary and charismatic, but it can also be quite ordinary, something that most people might miss, yet it’s possible that for that being, the immensity of the Self is somehow embodied and expressing itself through them. Because the immensity of being can and does show up as this moment, without it being different or more extraordinary.
There doesn’t seem to be an end to that which is without limit, the Self, to how fully and deeply the unlimited can embody itself and express itself in any human being. There doesn’t seem to be any end to it. How could there be an end to it if being embodied is without limit? This is why at a certain point, we may say, “Okay, this is a fully awakened being.” What does that mean—a human being where the infinite, the unlimited, is completely embodied in a limited human incarnation? How could that be?
There doesn’t seem to be any end to how fully and deeply the Self can be embodied in any human being. At a certain point, the lines we think we’re going to cross and sort of graduate into full enlightenment seem to be what they actually are, which are creations of our egos. Because the ego often thinks in terms of accomplishment: “If I accomplish something—God-realization, enlightenment, full awakening or whatever it is—when I accomplish that, then I will have finally arrived, and then I’ll be okay, and I’ll be fully awake.” The whole thing is egocentric thinking to the extreme.
When we look at it from the standpoint of the Self, if one can do that, then the whole thing is much more “low to the ground.” It’s the endless ways that the unlimited can show up without end: ordinary, extraordinary, everything in between. There’s no graduation. There’s no certificate. Only our egos like to think in terms of end points and graduations because egos want to accomplish things.
This idea of accomplishment is brought into the spiritual realm, and if you’re not careful, you’re still trying to accomplish something. You’re still basically trying to become the person you think you should be. You’re trying to become a good little girl or boy, or the enlightened girl or boy, or whatever. This egoic idea of accomplishment can keep seeping into the spiritual impulse. That’s why the honed, practiced precision of discrimination becomes really handy. And the further you go with all of this, the more important it becomes, because the discriminations become more and more subtle, and the important things become easier to miss.
That’s why it becomes more important to be able to make these subtle discriminations, like discriminating between how the ego relates to the spiritual impulse and how the Self relates to the spiritual impulse. The ego thinks of it as accomplishments and end points and arrivals, but the Self doesn’t look at it that way at all. All of that seems completely remote to the Self because the Self is not going anywhere. It’s not accomplishing anything because it’s not actually becoming more of itself through being totally Self-realized. It doesn’t gain anything. It doesn’t become more of what it already is. But it does become more and more capable of being embodied and expressed through a particular human life—and there’s no end to that. So finish lines and all of those ways of thinking have to be seen through.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t different phases of awakening, different depths of awakening, because there are. The idea that all awakening is the same is ridiculous. Not all awakening is of the same depth. That can vary tremendously. But to touch a little reality is still to touch reality. We don’t want to underestimate the value of any degree of awakening. Any degree of awakening is actually extraordinary. It has an incredible value to it.
Awakening is not extraordinary in the sense that it makes you extraordinary or me extraordinary. That would be just another egocentric orientation. But it’s extraordinary in the sense of the Self, through a particular human being, becoming conscious of itself and embodying itself without end. At some point, that “without end” is no longer resisted. It’s the beautiful thing about it all. “Without end” doesn’t mean you keep endlessly seeking for something more, different, or better. If we’ve had a real awakening, the idea of something more, different, or better doesn’t make any sense. Like I said, if you’ve touched upon reality, you’ve touched upon reality. It’s not about something more, better, or all of those egocentric evaluations. It’s just the endlessness, the unlimitedness, of the Self that you are.
© Adyashanti 2019
Excerpted from “Illuminating Presence,” August 14, 2019 ~ Woldingham, UK
Presence is a mysterious thing in a certain sense, at least when we reflect upon it. When we experience it, it’s not mysterious, but when we reflect upon it, it’s quite strange. We think of presence as a feeling, and in a sense it is a feeling, a tone—the way an environment feels, for instance. But it’s more than a feeling, especially when we start to awaken certain dimensions of presence within ourselves. Then it’s something that’s more immediate. The feeling is a byproduct, but the presence itself is experienced viscerally.
There are two fundamental dimensions of presence. One of them, you could say, is “presence as such.” You can walk into a church and feel the presence of a place of worship. When there has been deep and heartfelt worship or spiritual work going on, you can walk in the door and feel a kind of presence. You can also feel the presence in a negative sense. When something very violent has happened in an area or in a space, if you’re sensitive, you can pick it up. You can feel it in the atmosphere. It’s disquieting, though you may not know why you feel disturbed.
There’s a presence that we all share, a presence of true nature as such, and there’s also a kind of individual signature of presence. It’s almost like your personal essence or soul, as each person has their own quality of presence. There’s not just one quality—there are many facets of how presence can be experienced, and each person has a very distinct experience of presence. They may not be aware of it, but if you’re sensitive, you can sense their presence, whether they’re aware of it or not.
Presence is a doorway. It is the visceral experience of various facets of our true nature. Don’t just be aware like a cold spotlight of awareness. Get the sense of it, the feel of it, viscerally in your body. Feel it, even if it’s subtle. If you have an experience of spaciousness, feel it, sense it, because these things arise first as experiences that we are having, or “I” as a “me” am having. That’s often how we get the little hints of these experiences. The foretaste of presence can be like a vast space of awareness, or it can be experienced as a kind of compassion. In the West, the old word for compassion was agape, selfless love, a love that’s just there. It’s not “I love you,” it’s “loving what is” and having a tender feeling for all beings. That’s a kind of foretaste. By giving attention to these experiences, that distance can collapse or just simply merge, where all of a sudden it’s not “me” experiencing awareness, spaciousness, love, stillness, emptiness, solidity—in a positive sense, it’s “I am those qualities.” Those qualities are a dimension of being.
By sensing something, you’re actually drawing yourself close to it. It’s like the difference between “Oh, hi, how are you doing? I can see you over there.” There’s distance. And then you come a little closer. “Oh, hi, how are you doing, let me shake your hand. Now we’re a little closer. I can feel you a little bit.” And then, “Oh, how are you doing?” and you’re giving a big hug. Now your distance is closing. There’s still distance in the hug, but you’re closer, and the closer you get, the more you sense and feel. You might even feel more of the subtle body about them, but there’s still “you” and “them.” There’s the possibility that there’s actually something closer even than a hug, where you might recognize true nature in them. True nature is, in one sense, an insight, but it’s an insight that comes from a visceral, immediate experience. And that’s just how it is for these foretastes of presence—the spacious, unconditioned nature of awareness. It’s right there. Be close with it. Be intimate.
Entertain the possibility that your own direct experience, whatever it is at any given moment—positive, negative, wonderful, difficult—is not a mistake. It is the way. Showing up for it, whether it’s beautiful or challenging, that’s the way. Always running away from it and towards something else is just a delay. So, maybe we can, all of us, even if we feel like we know this very intimately and truly, even if we know it deeply and have experienced it, maybe we can have an even deeper trust in our own immediate experience.
© Adyashanti 2020
Excerpted from “Innate Knowledge of the Unknown,” November 2, 2019 ~ Oakland, CA
There is a power unlike any other power, force, or energy, when we’re connected deeply with the way our spiritual instinct communicates to us. You usually know it because there’s a kind of intensity about it. It’s an orientation—a spiritual instinct, you might say. When you get connected to how it’s speaking to you, and how you experience it without the veils of what we imagine it should be like, then we come upon a profoundly transformational energy.
There’s a way of listening to our spiritual instinct where we don’t leave ourselves in the listening. It’s to be connected or rooted in an intuitive way, into what’s often a very quiet dimension of being. We do need to stay rooted, but there are different ways of being rooted, of being connected. There’s being connected in a way that’s rigid—“My way or the highway”—being so rooted that one is rigid and can’t actually let anything in. A lot of people, when they’re open and they start to listen deeply, stop being deeply rooted and connected within themselves; they’re listening in an abstract way. And then there’s a way of being connected that’s very fluid and dynamic, where we’re actually rooted but open.
In order to come upon that which is really uniting, we just relinquish our grasp. What we relinquish our grasp on isn’t as important—we could say “on everything.” When we start to relinquish our grasp on any particular point of view, what we start to come into as a living experience of being is a very intimate connection with what in spirituality is often called the Unknown. The Unknown is actually a bit more simple, approachable, and available than people think it is. We make some extraordinary fantasy out of the great Unknown, when at least to begin with, the Unknown is right underneath whatever we’re clinging to.
We cling to things in direct proportion to how much doubt they cover over. The things we hold most tightly, we hold tightly because they’re concealing doubt. If there was no doubt, why would anybody hold them tightly? You don’t hold tightly to the idea of being a human being, let’s say. Most people don’t clutch to that particularly tightly. To them it simply seems to be so obvious that they don’t need to clutch to it.
When we begin to open, we begin to experience this potentially wonderful domain of not knowing. If you want to be united really quickly, just come into the domain of not knowing. Or let’s just call it uncertainty: “Maybe I’m not so certain about the things I think I’m pretty certain about.” Maybe a different kind of energy gets in there, a different kind of curiosity: “I’m not so certain.” The Unknown is actually the absolute necessary ground from which to engage in any deep form of spirituality—without that, it’s just a bunch of ideas.
The beginning foundation—even if it doesn’t sound like a foundation—is actually the willingness not to know, or at least the willingness not to be certain. We start to hold things a little more loosely. When we start to hold things less tightly, the veils through which we tend to perceive things just naturally start to settle. If it doesn’t start with some visceral sense of not knowing, we’re not going to get very far.
In our culture, not knowing is not highly valued, but spiritually, it’s one of the highest values there is. When we open ourselves to the mystery of being, that’s always the doorway—whether it’s the mystery of who you are, the mystery of life, the mystery of God, or the mystery of somebody who’s had a kind of spiritual opening and they’re wondering how they can embody it and live from it.
If you’ve never experienced yourself as a living mystery, a mystery unto you, give it a try. It’s actually very pleasant. It’s not the resolution of the question, of course, but it’s much more liberating than someone’s idea of themselves.
The Unknown is the entryway, the doorway. We let ourselves be oriented to the mystery of being—not because it’s a kind of technique, but because until we’ve had any deeper awakening, we don’t actually know. That’s the truth of the matter: until we know, we don’t know. But the way to know is to allow yourself not to know. That’s the paradox.
© Adyashanti 2019
Excerpted from “The Intangible Quality of Being,”
February 12, 2020 ~ San Jose, CA
At the heart of your experience of being right now, there’s an attentiveness—there’s consciousness, and it’s innate. The idea of “you” or “me” being the one who is conscious, that’s an afterthought. It doesn’t exist until we conjure it into being in our minds. If we don’t conjure it into being, or if we just withhold conjuring into being someone who’s attentive, then we can actually come into immediacy, which is an understanding of what it is to be mindful—to be deeply grounded in immediacy. And that’s not quite as simple as people generally think, because “immediate” is before you can think a single thought about it. If you think a thought about it, it’s not immediate anymore—it’s already in the past.
“Immediate” also doesn’t mean you have to stop quickly and try to immediately get hold of something, or otherwise you’re going to lose the immediacy of the moment. The immediacy is also the timeless Now. Immediacy is timeless. It’s not something that lasts for the shortest possible amount of time.
Have you ever noticed there is no succession of “now” moments? There isn’t a now, followed by another now, followed by another now, that you’ve got to grab hold of so you can be in the now moment. By the time you’ve grabbed the now moment, it’s not now anymore, it’s the next moment. That’s not really an accurate understanding of Now. The Now is timeless, and timelessness isn’t like a spiritual fantasy or an image of timelessness. Timelessness is concretely what it says it is—no time.
Everything that ever occurs happens in this timeless Now. Thirty thousand years ago was the timeless Now. Thirty thousand years hence will be the timeless Now. This moment right now is the timeless Now. There’s something about it that’s quite literally timeless. It’s just the open field of Now.
Even the feeling sense of the passage of time is completely subjective. There’s no dependable sense of time going by. Sometimes a 30-minute meditation can seem to stretch out for hours. Or you might have a meditation where it seems like only a couple of moments have gone by and the bell rings, and it’s been 30 or 40 minutes. To the extent you’re totally absorbed in doing something, time goes by very quickly. When you’re doing something you really don’t want to be doing, and you’re not absorbed, time seems to crawl. But that has nothing to do with the Now. Now is timeless. Now doesn’t last any amount of time.
The timeless isn’t something “out there.” It’s the immediate moment experienced from the deepest, most fundamental dimension of being. The most fundamental dimension of being is timeless. It’s a domain of being where it feels like nothing ever happened, because it’s existing in the timeless Now, and so it’s free from time, even as another part of your being can very much experience the passage of time.
The timeless dimension of our being isn’t about having a timeless experience and leaving it at that. We’re talking about the very Ground of being, that from which all other experiences of being issue forth. They all arise from that timeless Ground, immense with potential, because in the end it’s responsible for the entire experience of being. Just think of how multi-layered and complex your experience of being has been throughout your entire life, including all of your perceptions and things you’ve seen, tasted, touched, felt, and all of that issuing forth from this Ground that seems at first to be quite nothing. I suppose that’s why we human beings look past it for so long.
We need to see even spiritual awakening outside of the context that it’s often talked about in terms of just moments—“a revelatory moment when I had an awakening.” That’s important, but we have to see it in a bigger context because that’s not all there is to it. You can say, “Oh, I had that revelatory moment, so I guess I’m awake,” but awakening is only meaningful in any given moment. In any moment, we’re either awake or asleep, and in that moment, it doesn’t care if we were awake yesterday, or a year ago, or even a second ago. What’s relevant now is “How awake am I in this moment?” That’s the only thing that’s really relevant.
The Now isn’t a moment. It’s a timeless happening, and there’s a dimension of spiritual awakening that isn’t defined as a moment. It doesn’t really have a beginning, a middle, and an end. It’s far, far deeper than that.
© Adyashanti 2020
Excerpted from “Full Circle Enlightenment,”
December 5, 2019 ~ Pacific Grove, CA
We have a certain idea of causality: “This happened because of that.” Or “I am the way I am because I was born in this particular family, in this particular culture, and raised in this particular way.” That does have a reality. It’s only an infinitesimally small part of the picture, but it’s the way we tend to live life.
We have this view of how things are caused—the reason anything is the way it is. Take a grain of sand, for example. Conventionally we’d say a grain of sand is there because ocean waves stir up the water, bash against rocks or rub against them at the bottom of the ocean, and particles collide. Occasionally little particles break off and wash up on the shore, and then you have sand. That’s all well and good; there’s obviously a truthfulness to it. But that hardly tells the story.
What does it take for there to be a grain of sand? It takes an earth. It takes colliding tectonic plates, currents, water, wind, exploding stars to make little hurling rocks like earth go into space, and huge suns for them to orbit around and be warm enough so life can form. All of those things depend on other things to exist. It would be an infinite regress to connect all the dots, but basically, without an entire cosmos, there would not be a single grain of sand. So our conventional idea that “this causes that” is rather silly. Actually, the cause of any one event is every other thing that has ever happened throughout all of space and time. Some of the effects are so subtle, so slight, so infinitesimal, that one could not possibly measure them or track them.
This is what interconnectedness really means. It’s not a fanciful spiritual idea. Even people who believe in interconnectedness usually think of it within certain narrow confines. They fail to get the immensity of the interconnectedness of existence. This is part of what spiritual practice is meant to help open our minds to. It doesn’t actually matter beforehand whether you believe it or don’t believe it. It’s best to live as a living, breathing question mark until something is extraordinarily clear.
It also takes a cosmos to create a single human being. Literally every moment is the product, the outcome, of an infinite variety of causes and effects throughout all of space and time. This moment is the outcome of innumerable, untraceable influences. The way that everything “inter-is” is unfathomable. When you really see this, it’s an immense thing to take in, to understand with your blood, bones, and marrow, not just your mind. It’s the release of a tremendous amount of energy. It certainly changes the way one sees the world, oneself, and each other. Then mountains and rivers are no longer mountains and rivers. A mountain includes all of space and time—each thing does, actually—a river, a squirrel scampering across the forest floor, whatever it is. Then our own idea of ourselves as something separate is toast. It cannot survive that seeing.
In spirituality, often there is a suggestion that we look for or come to our truer identity, a truer sense of being. Maybe all of a sudden one day there’s a shift, and we sense ourselves to be something more like awareness. It’s much, much freer to be awareness, to be consciousness, than to be some little idea floating around in consciousness. It’s more expansive. It’s generally filled with more positive feeling. We may think, “Ok, that’s it. I’ve got this whole thing nailed down. I’ve come to a preferable identity now.” That’s good—I’m not discounting that. But there’s more to the story than that.
“The interconnectedness thing” does away with so much blame: “Why did you do that to me?” “Because of everything that ever happened in all of existence.” That’s on a cosmic level. On a human level, even if you know that, it’s entirely appropriate to say, “I’m sorry for doing that to you.” You and I are not isolated pieces—we’re the happening of all that interconnectedness. That opens up an immense number of possibilities and ups the scale of responsibility immensely.
In the end, it’s as if you have one foot in eternity and the other foot in the relative world. In eternity it’s all connected sameness and it’s perfect, even with all of its absolute horror and disaster, as well as its beauty. There’s something that is perfect about it—not as a philosophical statement, but as an experience of being. We think of the Absolute as the unchanging, the undying, the unborn. I call it the domain of pure potentiality at the Ground of being. It’s true and it’s real.
The other side of the Absolute is that this is it, showing up like this. Therefore you, me, the world, and all that’s happening here takes on cosmic value, an infinite significance and unimaginable value in each being. A theistic way of saying that is not to believe, or hope, or anticipate, but to actually see that everything is the face of God. What happens if you really see that? How are you going to move in a world where everything is God? Where sometimes God is clear and sometimes God is confused? Sometimes God shows up in an infinite variety of ways.
Then that true nature has awoken in the human domain. Now mountains are mountains again and rivers are rivers, and they are not—they’re both. It’s like coming full circle. You’re back in ordinary life, right where you started. But of course, the journey changes the experience of it. Now ordinary life and the face of God are the same thing. The whole idea is to be unlimited. It means you can experience yourself as pure consciousness, and you can experience yourself to be an ordinary little sentient being. You can experience yourself to be the totality, and you can experience yourself to be a part of it. But you don’t have to only experience yourself as part, or the totality, or pure consciousness. You can experience yourself as all that at the same time. That’s really the most beautiful thing, when that within us which tries to fixate—“I am this as opposed to that”—when there is no more this and that. You aren’t limited anymore. That’s the freedom where nothing is left out.
© Adyashanti 2019
Excerpted from “The Origin of Everything,”
May 2, 2020 ~ San Jose, CA
There is an incredible spontaneity at the core of all of our experience that we don’t often notice. When we pay deep attention—the heart of real spiritual contemplative practice is paying attention—our thoughts just seem to appear, even the thoughts we have about ourselves, as well as other beings and the world.
We have no consciousness of how we’re beating our heart or exactly how we’re breathing. We don’t have to remember to digest our food well. All that is programmed into our biology, and it’s happening without our conscious knowing of it. What we know is just what breaches the barrier between the unconscious and the conscious. As soon as something from the unconscious breaches the barrier, all of a sudden we’re conscious of it—we recognize the thought.
Everything appears to simply happen, but it’s not as happenstance as that. There is an incredible complexity and intelligence operating underneath it all. Let’s just call it the totality for the sake of the moment—the essential, the essence of us, the essence of this moment. The conscious experiences are the tip of the iceberg, the part of the totality which is right now breaking through that barrier of unconsciousness and becoming conscious. So right now, the totality is there. It’s functioning. We’re aware of whatever part of the totality that has become conscious. A very important part of spirituality is widening that domain of what we’re conscious of, what we’re actually aware of.
There is a kind of realization, a shift of identification, where we experience our self to be the totality. We experience our self to be the very origin, and yet that doesn’t mean that we are suddenly conscious of the infinite interconnections that bring even one moment of experience into being. Those interconnections are too vast. They’re seemingly infinite in a world where everything is connected to everything else. Everything is part of what’s creating every other moment. No mind could track all of those interrelationships happening simultaneously. So even when we experience our self to be the totality in our essence, we’re still struck by the utter and amazing spontaneity of that totality.
Though it sounds quite paradoxical, any movement is actually the movement of stillness. Stillness produces the movement, the movement happens within stillness, and then the movement is resolved in stillness. In a similar way, the words I’m speaking are the origin and then are the totality of consciousness. They come out of that consciousness. They’re an expression of that consciousness.
Many great spiritual teachings and realizers have talked about how in our essence, the unknown is a way of trying to articulate the experience of the totality. Even the totality isn’t tracking every single interconnection every instant. It is being all of that. It is being That.
The potential sacred function of a teaching is to evoke something living in you, something beyond the teaching, something beyond the teacher, something that is a living part of you, a beautiful part of you, a part of us. We start to bring a greater consciousness to bear upon any moment, maybe every moment. We notice a commonality to anything that evokes the sacred—whether it’s a spiritual teaching or a great piece of art, or music, or a walk in nature—which is artistic beyond imagination. The natural world is the greatest work of art that we will ever see or participate in, where we are literally walking, living, and breathing in an unimaginably creative expression of being.
The element that lights it all up, that opens everything up, is our consciousness. It allows us to have the eyes to see the divinity of it all, even in the midst of everything that life is—including the tragedy, the difficulty, and all the negative parts. We don’t need to deny any aspect of existence in order to find this divinity.
Our consciousness, our awareness, has the capacity to see beyond the surface of things. It’s not an abstracted idea of some cosmic eyeball that’s looking at everything. But all of a sudden, our whole body-mind is part of the functioning of consciousness. We don’t just see our environment; we actually sense it, too. We feel it.
Our whole body-minds are actually a sort of sensory organ of the infinite, of true nature. Admittedly, most people do not utilize it that way, because it takes such attention and sensitivity to begin to do so. But nonetheless, this body-mind consciousness is a way that life or the cosmos experiences itself—and that’s extraordinary. Without a body or mind or consciousness to experience itself, the universe would have absolutely no experience of itself whatsoever. In one sense, it wouldn’t exist if it’s not experienced at all.
In spiritual teachings we’re encouraged to wake up from these bodies and minds, to break our identification with them, which is extremely useful and even necessary if we want to have the deepest realization of our true nature, and yet what we’re essentially doing is just breaking the restricted identification with them. That has nothing to do with the usefulness of this incredible organic mechanism of the body, the physical body, the subtle body. This is something of extraordinary value, because through this we are having our experience of life. This is how life is experiencing itself.
© 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
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 book “Sacred Inquiry: Questions That Can Transform Your Life”
Q: After forty years of seeking and searching and practicing and cul-de-sacs and dead ends and moments of enlightening grace, your message is bringing it all together and dismantling it. It’s amazing that it comes to this.
The question: I come from a long legacy of Methodist ministers, and being good seems to have been the whole point of that and most religious teachings. Now I find myself struggling with not knowing whether my impulse to love and serve is more “good ego” or if it is coming from beyond that. My awareness of ego, and uncovering and dismantling it, is becoming quite constant, yet this confusion seems to be yet another of its tricks. How can I tell?
A: Of course there is nothing wrong (and much that is relatively right) with being a good and loving person, unless it becomes an identity. Good and loving acts are a virtue, but being identified with those acts easily becomes a vice. In truth, you are not a good or bad person, you are spirit itself. And although spirit usually gets associated with the good, it is actually far beyond being relatively good or bad.
All relative identities belong to the ego, as in “I am good.” But spirit is simply “I am”—not “I am this or that.” Abide in the felt sense of “I” with no conceptual overlay. True love springs forth from spirit, which is pure “I am.” The “I am” is naturally loving and egoless. Meditate on the sense of “I,” and it will lead you into that state which is the source of “I am.”
Ego is “I am this or that,” while the pure “I” is beyond ego and all definitions. It is without form, either physical or conceptual. It is pure consciousness and presence. By attending to your absolute subjectivity, you awaken as the unseen subject to all experience. The universal sense of the unseen self is the universal “I am,” which is all-encompassing unity and oneness.
And as I have tried to clarify, when both self and Self fall away in the experience of no-self (as in the crucifixion), the ultimate ground of existence is realized, and a new (resurrected) life begins.
The impulse to love and be of service can be coming from your higher nature, or true self. But it could also be coming from the ego which easily forms an identity around being “a good person.” If it is coming from your higher nature, it will flow from a natural abundance of well-being and you will feel no attachment to being viewed as a good or helpful person. If it is tinged with ego, it will be a way that you like to be seen by others, as well as an identity that you like to see yourself as. True nature is beyond being a good or bad person; it is pure being as such, prior to all relative identities.
© Adyashanti 2020
We Are the World, the World Is Us
Q: My question is regarding the welfare of all beings (or compassion) being a part of authentic spiritual impulse or the intention behind entering into spirituality.
My earlier spiritual training had a strong emphasis on service, and service as a path for realization. As I became more serious about spirituality, there was a strong urge to serve. But unknowingly, my ego took over and created an image of I have to serve. When I ventured into full-time service, my ego took a heavy beating, and I saw my whole image of I have to serve shatter in front of me. That was the point when I got introduced to your teachings, and it has helped me to lift myself up.
Based on what I understood from your teachings, the passion or desire for truth is the authentic spiritual impulse, and compassion, feeling for the welfare of the world, peace, etc., would just be byproducts of the true realization. Now I am confused when you bring up compassion and the welfare of the world as part of the authentic spiritual impulse.
A: There is no way to separate truth from the welfare of all, since the revelation of truth reveals that we are the world, the world is us. The whole universe is contained within you. That is not just transcendent truth; it is also experienced as boundless love and compassion. What I’m getting at here is our spiritual motivation. Love for all is an aspect of our true being. If we do not access this, we remain essentially self-centered. Wisdom without love can be callous and harsh. Truth and love are simply two sides of the same coin—they cannot be separated.
I have met many people who have had a partial awakening. They realize some profound truth, but their heart is still essentially closed. They are half awake, and therefore essentially self-centered. This same phenomenon can happen when someone awakens to boundless love but not deep wisdom. Either way, it is like hopping around on one leg. I think it both wise and natural to include all beings within our spiritual motivations, as well as our more personal motivations.
Of course we can build more spiritual-appearing egos around the identity of being selfless and a servant of the good—such identities are as unreal as any other. Nonetheless, an altruistic attitude (without the accompanying ego identity) is conducive to realization and a benefit for all.
The Enlightened View
Q: I find it fairly easy to experience the extraordinary sacredness of the moment when drinking a cup of tea, to be aware of the inherent selflessness of myself when I am alone. The trouble happens when I am confronted with other people’s anger, or pain, or even violence. So many of us in this world live in unstable situations. How do we remain in the moment? How do we experience the extraordinariness of these moments? How do we continue to act from a place of stillness when we are in overwhelming situations occurring in objective reality? How do I act from grace when I see someone I love tangled in their own limiting beliefs? In these situations, I find it very difficult not to react in habitual, often traumatized ways.
A: This is a big and important question, and beyond my ability to answer in the space of an email. I will, however, attempt to make a start. Spirituality is, of course, about much more than having moments of sacredness when in supportive and non-challenging environments, as nice and as enriching as these moments can be. The “goal” (if I may use such a word) of spirituality is to be realized, clear, and fearless enough to meet and respond to the tremendous challenges of life from a revolutionary perspective.
Someone like Jesus had far from an easy life. It was not a life predominately defined by resting in the bliss of being, but of engaging with the sorrows of life from a revolutionary standpoint of wisdom, love, and fearlessness. Being rooted in what he called the kingdom, or the enlightened view, was not for him an end in itself, but rather an inner condition from which to engage with the challenges of life.
To embody any degree of realization requires us to uncover and expose those remaining mental and emotional fixations that inhibit the spontaneous movement of wisdom and love within our lives. For most, this is no small task. It all starts by taking full responsibility for our own inner and outer lives, and noticing the ways in which our own fear, judgment, resentment, and confusion cloud our ability to respond to the challenges of life in a wise and appropriate way.
It has been my observation that many people involved in spirituality are waiting for some great spiritual experience to make everything in their lives clear and solve all of their problems for them. This is a bit of an overstatement but not all that uncommon to varying degrees. Instead of trying to remain in a state of stillness, or peace, or any other state when dealing with the challenges of life, we are better served by seeking to act and respond with wisdom, clarity, and openheartedness.
I suppose that the most direct answer to your question is to go deeper and investigate the causes of fear, anger, jealousy, and control within yourself. Then you will find it more obvious how to respond to these qualities when dealing with others. There is simply no other option than to uproot the causes of human suffering within ourselves if we are to manifest the incredible potential for wisdom and love that lie at the core of our being.
You are the world, the world is you. Now let’s all act on it. And by doing so, we become more and more clear, more wise, and more loving. It is not always easy, but it is the only thing worth doing. And it’s up to each of us to do it.
Excerpted from Adya’s book, Sacred Inquiry
© Adyashanti 2020
Excerpted from Resurrecting Jesus: Embodying the Spirit of a Revolutionary Mystic, published by Sounds True
The Meaning of the Virgin Birth
Theologically, the story of the virgin birth suggests that Jesus descended down to earth from a heavenly state. What is the heavenly state? It is a state that is outside of time. It is a breaking through into eternity. Now, you may have experienced moments up something akin to the heavenly state. There are moments in life when, spontaneously, a door in your consciousness opens and suddenly you see everything from a very different perspective. The doors of perception open and life suddenly takes on the sense of tremendous meaning, even if you can’t communicate what that meaning is. The heavenly state is the context of eternity in which the world resides.
Each human being experiences such moments, in which the doors of eternity part—if only a crack—and you were filled with a sense of awe and joy. When you connect with the infinite mystery of being, you sense the immensity of the potential that’s within it. So this descent from the heavenly state into the world of time and space is very much tied to these moments where our perception opens and we are connected with the transcendent reality.
In the Jesus story, the virgin birth is that moment when the door cracks open and the spirit of Jesus comes down from the eternal. We should always remember that Jesus represents eternal being, that dimension of our own being that is beyond time and space, beyond what we can see and think about and touch. From that perspective, what does it mean that Jesus descends straight from heaven? This is eternal, divine being breaking through the latticework of time—breaking through the structures of our minds, breaking through our belief systems and entering into our consciousness.
Now, Jesus is born of a virgin. What does this virgin birth represent? This image is telling us that Jesus is not born of the pairs of opposites. His is a birth straight from heaven, and heaven is eternal wholeness. The virgin birth of Jesus represents heaven taking physical form here on earth. The birth of your physical form is the product of your mother and father, which are the pairs of opposites. But your deeper nature is eternal and not born from the pairs of opposites. It is timeless, and it is birthed into time and space as soon as you have a human incarnation. So there you are, a human being filled with the mystery of eternal being, filled with the radiance of spirit.
This is what the virgin birth signifies: time and space being opened up and eternity being embodied as a human being. This is you and I, yet we don’t know it. We are eternal, divine beings manifested here and now in our humanity as a particular human being. Our human form comes from the pairs of opposites. The body that feels, the mind that thinks all this comes from the pairs of opposites. Your mother and father got together and produced a baby, a beautiful, incarnated being, and that being is filled and animated by the vitality of divine being. That is the beauty of what the virgin birth signifies if you can read the metaphor.
© Adyashanti 2020
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 Adya’s book, Sacred Inquiry
Be True to What Inspires You
Q: Is it necessary to be in the social world to manifest redeeming love? I have experienced many awakenings during my life, starting at ten years old. I am now seventy. All my life I have been a very dedicated intuitive painter, and painting has led me to my spiritual openings. Now I am not too healthy, so painting is mostly what I do, apart from listening to you. Am I missing something crucial?
A: Love can take an infinite variety of forms—simply to be a loving presence in the world is quite enough. No matter what we are doing or not doing, our state of consciousness affects the whole collective consciousness. Some people will be quite called to active participation in the world, while others will not. There is no right or wrong in it—we are all simply who we are. Each life is unique, and each life contributes simply by being what it is.
When I look at great art, I am inspired and reminded of the sacredness of existence. Michelangelo has been dead for hundreds of years, but he lives and inspires me greatly in his works of art. Our very existence is our contribution to life, no matter what we do or do not do. We are all the products of the whole of existence! Be true to what inspires you; that is your contribution.
I wish you great happiness and health.
What the World Really Needs
Q: I know directly and profoundly that I am nothing. And from that knowing it’s clear, at least intellectually and maybe more deeply, that the multiplicity of appearance is an expression of nothingness. But I still get caught in multiplicity, especially in anger and despair over the havoc we are causing on the planet. It seems to me that until I can hold the facts of resource depletion, species extinction, and climate change in the space of nothingness, the process of awakening is incomplete.
Do I accept that the humanity in me will always be outraged about these things and that there can simultaneously be a knowing of the nothingness of it? Or is there a “place” where there is only abiding in the nothingness of multiplicity? How can I work with this incompleteness and know that I am everything in the way Nisargadatta did?
A: So many people are outraged at the senseless way that we treat each other and this amazing planet that we find ourselves on. Does that outrage solve the immense problems of humanity, or does it fuel them? It seems to me that the world does not need any more outrage than it already has. It does, though, desperately need more love put into action. Perhaps your feelings of outrage are actually originating in a love that you have not yet fully acknowledged and acted upon. Perhaps if you saw how much you truly care and love, and got on with expressing that as best you could, you would not feel outraged and afraid. Love denied turns to anger. Love expressed creates the space and conditions where more love can flower. Love isn’t just a feeling—it is an act of courage.
© Adyashanti 2021
When we are engaging in spiritual practice from the viewpoint of boundless reality, there is no subject and object, no “me” seeking something from practice, and no seeking outside of oneself or outside of the present. I’m stating this in negative terms, but only for the purpose of countering how the ego engages in spiritual practice. The ego’s strategic viewpoint serves as a means of achieving something outside of, or beyond, what is presently given in each moment. Not that the egocentric view of spiritual practice is necessarily wrong, but it is limited and bound by the dualistic outlook that defines its perspective.
I vividly remember being bound by just this sort of dualistic attitude in the early years of my spiritual quest. I very much saw my spiritual practice as a means to an end: namely, to achieve enlightenment. Unbeknownst to me at the time, this strategy simply served to continue to separate me from what I was seeking. As if I were sprinting to the finish line at the end of a marathon, but the faster I sprinted, the faster the finish line receded away from me. It was not until I had thoroughly exhausted myself with my efforts to the point of total collapse, that I realized the elusive goal of awakening was not only exceedingly near, it was exactly no distance away from me at all. In fact, it was the very foundation of my being, and the foundation of all beings.
The awakened condition is not something to be achieved, found, or grasped. It is our natural condition from the very beginning. The reason that we do not experience it is because it is not hidden—which is a very strange idea, but nonetheless true. We also do not experience it because we are simply too identified with and beholden to the egocentric perspective. We therefore engage in spiritual practice from that perspective, even though it is the sole obstruction to the awakening for which we strive. Awakening is not a thing to be perceived—rather, it is clear perception itself. And it is not attained by the ego; it is clear perception becoming conscious of itself.
From the mature ego’s perspective, we are helping true nature realize itself, rather than trying to attain it for ourselves as egos. However, ultimately we are true nature realizing itself in a deeper and deeper way, and in a profoundly human way.
In order to help this realization, our spiritual practice must be very embodied, very earthy and natural. For example, when we meditate, we sit down with our body, reconnect, and bring our mind back to the immediate and concrete aspects of our experience: our posture, our breath, and our senses. These are the material facts of embodied existence, they are not theoretical, abstract or imagined.
The ego is a product of the mind, and it lives predominately in the mind, and in the emotions that are created by the mind’s interpretation of events. Although the ego is profoundly attached to its identification with the body, it is not actually very conscious of the body, as the body is prior to the ego’s interpretations. So even though the ego is profoundly attached to the body, and feels contained within its confines, it lives in a rather disembodied state. A state created and maintained by its attachment to, and identification with, thoughts, ideas, memories, and opinions. And if we are not very careful, the ego will be driving our spiritual practice and doing so within the very limited confines of its personal agenda. Whereas a truly embodied spiritual practice will seek to be connected with the immediate and concrete facts of existence as they exist prior to the ego’s interpretations, desires and demands.
There is a profound paradox that you may have noticed in this teaching. The best way to go beyond identification with the body and the ego, is to attend to the body by being mindfully present to the direct and immediate experience of material existence as it is prior to the ego’s interpretations. This will naturally lead us to developing more and more subtle perception until we can perceive the nondual nature of body, mind, and spirit. Our true nature makes no distinction between the material and the immaterial, between consciousness and the empirical world. To our true nature, these distinctions that the human mind makes are at best sometimes useful, but never ultimately real.
Which is simply to say that there is more dharma in a single leaf on a tree than in all the sutras ever written. There is indeed a reality beyond all material form, but it is on full display in each and every fall of the breath, or heartbeat, or grain of sand on the beach. The world’s greatest spiritual teachings are simply ways of articulating the great reality that lies fully embodied right before our very eyes.
Always and already.
Copyright © 2021 Adyashanti.
A truly spiritual life is a life dedicated to a series of self-transcending commitments. By self-transcending I do not mean self-denying or self-negating, I mean something that is all-inclusive and not ego driven. I also mean something that is for the benefit of all beings. But essentially self-transcending commitments are doorways into all-inclusive reality, the reality of our true nature that is the fabric of our actual existence. In a sense, spiritual practice is the practice of helping true nature realize itself and embody itself as each of our lives as consciously as possible.
I do not intend this to be understood in a theoretical way, because to say that our practice is the practice of helping true nature realize itself is more of a poetic statement. It is something that you feel and intuit more than something that you believe or hold as a concrete fact. It is a way of understanding and approaching spirituality and spiritual practice from a broad and non-egocentric perspective. True nature is our true nature, and it is also something that we are serving and helping, and it is also serving and helping each of us as well. This is the paradox of spiritual practice that is so important to understand. But this understanding can only grow out of practice like a flower grows out of the ground. We cannot truly understand this paradox abstractly in our conceptual mind, it only grows out of the soil of committed spiritual practice. Which is to say that we must do it in order to understand it. Most things in life are like this, you must do them in order to understand them.
You cannot understand what an apple tastes like unless you eat an apple, or what it feels like to create music unless you are a musician, or what if feels like to give birth to a baby until you actually give birth. There is an old saying that expresses this idea in a different way. It says, “Do not judge someone until you walk a mile in their shoes.” I think that our world would be a much kinder and loving place if we all put this into practice. Such a practice is a good example of a self-transcending commitment. It is a good spiritual practice because it is not egocentric, it is wisdom born of actual human experience. This is something that we need to remember, wisdom is always and only born of non-egocentric human experience. Wisdom is not an abstraction, is not a belief, opinion, or reaction; it is born of experience.
Spiritual practice is so important because it is rooted in experience, meaning that it is something that you do. It is a commitment to doing something rather than merely thinking and conceptualizing. This is why we meditate and bring great awareness to each moment of our lives, and question our beliefs, and inquire, and seek to embody our understanding within the context of our daily lives. It is exacting, humbling, joyous and liberating spiritual practice. It is true nature waking up to itself and embodying itself as this very life. It is who and what we are, and it is also what we serve moment to moment through our commitment to being as awake and loving as we can. My teacher said that we are always being, and always becoming Buddha. This is true wisdom, not too attached to always and already being, and not too attached to always becoming. To experience this is to be like an eternal stable mountain that flows like water nourishing the entire earth. This to me is what the spiritual life is.
Copyright © 2021 Adyashanti.
How strange it is to look deeply into one’s true nature. We can all state with certainty, “I am.” That’s the starting point—not “I am this or that,” but simply “I am.” We have all been taught to add onto this sense of “I am” various defining characteristics and evaluations. But these are secondary at best, a collection of conditioned conclusions and evaluations, most of which were inherited from the people and the world around us; put simply, they are nonessential. The “I am” is essential to being self-conscious; it is the quintessential articulation and confession of self-consciousness itself. Everything that gets added unto this primary sense of “I am” obscures one’s essential nature.
Another way to approach the “I am” sense is to simply attend to your immediate sense of being. This is not as simple as it sounds because we are so accustomed to thinking about our experience rather than simply experiencing our experience. This is exactly where good spiritual practice comes in. The essence of any good spiritual practice is to focus on direct experience rather than on what we think about the experience. To focus on the immediate sense of “I am” devoid of all interpretations and evaluations is itself a powerful spiritual practice. The immediate sense of “I am” is like being a simple conscious presence, prior to being a someone or something with a history in time. In fact, with a little practice and willingness to let go of clinging to one’s familiar identity, this simple and immediate sense of “I am” will reveal itself to be the same underlying conscious presence as all other conscious beings.
This then forms the basis of a transformed relationship with all beings, where our essential sameness becomes the ground of our relatedness with others, even as we have a newfound respect and appreciation for our human differences. The universal “I am” wears an infinite variety of masks that we human beings call our personality. But connecting with the universal “I am” in oneself and in other beings allows us to connect from a universal and essential basis, rather than from being exclusively entranced by surface appearances and conditioned reactions.
The “I am” is a doorway into the essential, the universal, and the sacred. To gain entry into that doorway requires us to step into the realm of not knowing—which is simply to say that we must unknow, or temporarily suspend, everything that we think that we know about ourselves. We must enter into a state of innocent unknowing just prior to all egocentric identification. We must not only think about doing this, or imagine doing it—we must actually do it! We must let go and not know who or what we are. Then, and only then, can we directly sense into the “I am,” the conscious presence which pervades any and all perceptions and experiences. Then we dwell as that conscious presence. The rest of the unfolding will happen by itself, in its own time. Patient persistence is the key.
Eventually, even the “I am” sense will fall away . . . and self-consciousness will dissolve into its source. But for now, let’s not define this source, for there is no substance to the source to grasp hold of. Everywhere the supreme reality is on display, but nowhere can it be grasped. Follow the “I am” to its source, to that dark light that sees but cannot be seen, and knows but cannot be known. When the eye that never sleeps awakens—yes, this is a contradiction to the intellect—the dharma wheel of enlightenment turns everywhere. This, at least, is how it feels and has always felt.
Copyright © 2021 Adyashanti.
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.
(Excerpted from Falling Into Grace: Insights on the End of Suffering)
The real search isn’t a search into tomorrow, or to anywhere other than now. It’s starting to look into the very nature of this moment. In order to do that, you have to “stand in your own two shoes,” as my teacher used to say. What she meant by “standing in your own two shoes” is you have to look clearly into your own experience. Stop trying to have someone else’s experience. Stop chasing freedom or happiness, or even spiritual enlightenment. Stand in your own shoes, and examine closely: What’s happening right here and right now? Is it possible to let go of trying to make anything happen? Even in this moment, there may be some suffering, there may be some unhappiness, but even if there is, is it possible to no longer push against it, to try to get rid of it, to try to get somewhere else?
I understand that our instinct is to move away from what’s not comfortable, to try to get somewhere better, but as my teacher used to say, “You need to take the backward step, not the forward step.” The forward step is always moving ahead, always trying to attain what you want, whether it’s a material possession or inner peace. The forward step is very familiar: seeking and more seeking, striving and more striving, always looking for peace, always looking for happiness, looking for love. To take the backward step means to just turn around, reverse the whole process of looking for satisfaction on the outside, and look at precisely the place where you are standing. See if what you are looking for isn’t already present in your experience.
So, again, to lay the groundwork for awakening, we must first let go of struggling. You let go by acknowledging that the end of struggle is actually present in your experience now. The end of struggle is peace. Even if your ego is struggling, even if you’re trying to figure this out and “do it right,” if you really look, you might just see that struggle is happening within a greater context of peace, within an inner stillness. But if you try to make stillness happen, you’ll miss it. If you try to make peace happen, you’ll miss it. This is more like a process of recognition, giving recognition to a stillness that is naturally present.
We’re not bringing struggle to an end. We’re not trying to not struggle anymore. We’re just noticing that there is a whole other dimension to consciousness that, in this very moment, isn’t struggling, isn’t resentful, isn’t trying to get somewhere. You can literally feel it in your body. You can’t think your way to not struggling. There isn’t a three–point plan of how not to struggle. It’s really a one–point plan: Notice that the peace, this end of struggling, is actually already present.
The process is therefore one of recognition. We recognize that there is peace now, even if your mind is confused. You may see that even when you touch upon peace now, the mind is so conditioned to move away from it that it will try to argue with the basic fact of peace’s existence within you: “I can’t be at peace yet because I have to do this, or that, or this question hasn’t been answered, or that question hasn’t been answered, or so–and–so hasn’t apologized to me.” There are all sorts of ways that the egoic mind can insist that something needs to happen, something needs to change, in order for you to be at peace. But this is part of the dream of the mind. We’re all taught that something needs to change for us to experience true peace and freedom.
Just imagine for a moment that this isn’t true. Even though you may believe that it’s true, just imagine for a moment: What would it be like if you didn’t need to struggle, if you didn’t need to make an effort to find peace and happiness? What would that feel like now? And just take a moment to be quiet and see if peace or stillness is with you in this moment.
© Adyashanti and Sounds True 2010
When you start to look at your idea of yourself, it’s all layers, like peeling all the layers of an onion until there’s no onion left. You might ask, “Will the true entity of me show up, the sterling spiritual version of me?” And at any moment that you peer beyond the layers, it’s disconcerting, because you keep finding, “The more I look for myself, the more I can’t find myself. I keep peeling through the layers looking for the core of me, and there’s no core.” In a sense, there is a core, but it’s not the core as we think of it. Because there’s still something, or more accurately, there’s still “nothing” that recognizes that there’s nothing. That recognition is consciousness.
Consciousness isn’t a thing. It’s not an entity. It’s not a little core piece of you. It’s that which sees and experiences, and it makes every experience possible. It lights up the world. No consciousness, no experience of the world.
Most of ego’s problematic aspects revolve around a condensed experience of being, where it makes us feel like we are simply a separate entity. A lot of spirituality has to do with unraveling that until we see there’s nothing there. But it’s not true to just say, “There’s nothing,” because there is something. It’s not a thing though; it’s that which lights up the whole universe. We’re all utilizing it right now. It’s perfectly functioning in this moment as much as it will ever function.
The ground of being, sometimes called the Absolute, the Godhead, or Dharmakaya [the body of Truth], in and of itself is unconscious of itself. It’s aware, but it has no awareness of itself. It has no self-consciousness. In fact, we might just call it Awareness since there’s really nothing to it in a conventional sense. It’s a domain of pure infinite potentiality.
If you imagine what pure infinite potentiality would look like, it wouldn’t look like anything, because it hasn’t become anything yet. So it would be like an abyss of nothing, but not your ordinary nothing—the potentiality of all existence, like supernovas and galaxies and universes. We’re talking about a lot of potentiality, including the potentiality for human beings to develop self-consciousness.
This Absolute that’s aware, but not self-aware, uses the human being’s consciousness to become self-aware. It’s conscious, but it’s not self-conscious. It needs consciousness to light it up, so it becomes self-aware. And that’s a moment of awakening. If awakening penetrates to that depth, it’s the absolute depth of being, which you could say is the absolute totality of the psyche becoming conscious of itself: I AM.
The deepest domain of your psyche, the most unconscious domain of your psyche, needs consciousness to become self-aware—hence the spiritual impulse. It comes and gets you. Then we attach our agenda to it, like “I hope this makes me feel better, and makes my life more complete.” And that’s fine. It will use that, too. It’s understandable that we add on our human hopes not to suffer so much. But this impulse actually originates beyond the pleasure principle. It’s about something else.
The journey is actually in both directions. We need the divine, and it needs us every bit as much as we need it. It needs the consciousness. That’s basically what spirituality is: You’re making conscious the domains of human experience that are generally unconscious. That’s why you feel the pull, and you don’t know where it is coming from or where is it going. You wonder, “Why do I care about all this?” It means it’s coming from a domain of your being or your psyche that’s unconscious to you. You’re just conscious of the pull or the yearning. That yearning is not just yours; it actually originates from its completion.
So when we go into that deep domain, some dimension of consciousness comes in, and all of a sudden it’s like the lights come on. It’s awake, and when it’s awake, all the yearning ceases. The seeking ceases. The seeker ceases. It all just drops away, because it’s been satisfied. It's not so much the human that's been satisfied; that dimension of consciousness has been satisfied. Of course, then they go together. You recognize it’s all the same thing, because in that dimension, we realize that what we call the unconscious is far vaster than we think it is. The unconscious in this dimension is connected with all of existence. That’s why when you get to a sufficient depth, you experience “I am That.” And “That” means everything from a teacup to every star that you see in the sky. It’s a direct experience of being.
From Adyashanti’s Kanuga Retreat, 2018
© Adyashanti 2018
Excerpted from Adya’s audio course Redemptive Love (Q&A)
Q: I have been sitting with allowing all things to be as they are—my illness, confusion, relationships, etc.—and in that silent acceptance I feel peace. But when I have to actually interact with the world, I can feel myself responding from my conditioned mind and ego. Sitting with the idea of redemptive love when I am alone seems to be easier than when life presents situations asking for my engagement—husband, children, clients, family, etc.
What could I practice in such moments, or what thought can I contemplate to help me move more from a place of authenticity rather than craving to be alone?
A: It is easier to be in a state of acceptance when you are alone and not in relationship with anything other than yourself. But life is nothing but constant relationship: relationship with the environment, people, situations, work, play, as well as with your own inner experience. The question is, “How am I to be in relationship with all of life?” Even if we have experienced the oneness of all existence, the One is still in constant relationship with itself. So, from where inside are we relating to all of the events of life?
In any situation we are either relating from fear or love. If we are trying to control, manipulate, gain power over, dominate, be agreed with, be loved, be right, be a victim, etc., we are relating from fear. And since fear is a very weak force, although it can be experienced very strongly, we are diminished and dominated by it. Fear in all its varied forms is what fuels the dream state of sorrow and violence. Wherever it is motivating action, it is ultimately destructive and life numbing. This is not to say that one should not feel fear, only that to act or relate from fear is destructive. Simply because we feel fear does not mean that we need to act and relate from it. In fact, the more open we are to experiencing fear, the less it controls our actions. Love does not fear fear, because Love is a much stronger force in the world.
The remedy for fear is not courage, it is Love—although courage is sometimes necessary. Love will always conquer fear.
So ask yourself, “What would Love do?”—not your idea of love, which for most people is quite distorted, but the universal reality of love. This is not as complicated as people make it out to be. So don’t refer to your ideas about love, but rather evoke the reality of love by simply asking the question, What would Love do? This question is a deep inquiry, something to really sit with and allow to grow within yourself. You must get underneath your old ideas of what Love is and how it moves in the world. Sit in the silence of the question. Don’t jump to quick answers. And remember that Love is not sentimental or indulgent. Love is fearless, wise, and true, and therefore it is an extremely healing and unifying grace. Love is absolute intimacy and truth in action.
Love is absolute intimacy and truth in action. Remember this and contemplate it until it begins to come alive within you. Love is absolute intimacy and truth in action. Love is the living embodiment of grace.
Although Redemptive Love can be experienced as a healing infusion of grace, it also seeks to be put into action.
© Adyashanti 2014
Excerpted from Adyashanti’s book, The Direct Way
The profound, ungraspable, and invisible Ground of Being is attained by non-attainment, by letting go and letting be. Nothing is added to us; rather, we awaken to our always and already present Ground and source. This source is not apart from anything, and yet it is completely detached. As we connect to this Ground of Being, what we discover is our original innocence wherein every moment feels like a new creation, like something that has never been before.
Our Ground of Being is a timeless state. It is a dimension where the mind is emptied of content and renewed moment to moment. Therefore, such a mind dwells in innocence where the present is not filtered and interpreted through the past. The vast collection of human knowledge is available, if needed, but it is no longer a wall between you and what is, as it really is.
Therefore, from the Ground of Being each moment is experienced directly, with no distorting lens of past conditioning and no sense of time. Because it is a timeless state of only the eternal Now, the Ground of Being sees through the eyes of eternity and feels through the constant renewal of the senses. Each moment is as a birth moment, with all its innocence and wonder.
Feel into the silence of the lower belly that is prior to (yet all around) the mind. Notice that silence is the presence of absence.
Although there may be thoughts, the great silence is itself an absence of thought.
Although there may be feelings and sensations, the great silence is itself the absence of feeling and sensation.
Although there may be sounds, the great silence is itself an absence of sounds.
Notice that this absence, this emptiness, is full of presence, full of wonder and awe.
Let yourself intuitively sense the alive presence of this absence.
Do not be afraid, for this great absence is itself infinite potentiality. It is the true source of all.
Rest in this great womb of unknowingness until this unknowingness opens its eyes within you and as you.
Notice that in your Ground of Being you are the shining presence of this absence—absence of self, absence of other, absence of time, absence of sorrow, absence of anxiety.
Notice that this great absence is also total presence, total timeless freedom of Being.
Notice that when you look within yourself, you find that you are beyond nothingness and something-ness.
You are what the mind can never describe or imagine.
This itself is great liberation, a return to and rediscovery of innocence.
Rest in this freedom and ease.
© Adyashanti, Sounds True 2021
Our primary cause of suffering is that we think deep inside we’re going to win the argument with what is. “What is” may be the world outside you, or you can be sitting all by yourself and you can be at war with yourself, saying, “The way it is, is not the way it should be. I want it to change.”
The problem is, the way you are at any instant is the way it is. That’s reality. Reality rules. It doesn’t change because you or I think it should be different. It’s very simple. And yet, when you really see it, you realize how easy it is to get lost in a literal state of insanity where your mind, your ego, is always telling life: “It’s not the way it should be. I’m not the way I should be. You’re not the way you should be. Something is wrong.”
That sense of wrongness has been around for a long time. But the only thing that’s wrong is that we keep believing there’s something wrong. And when we believe there’s something wrong, we treat the world badly.
You treat yourself badly when you think there’s something wrong with you. The more wrong you feel about yourself, the worse you treat yourself. We’re afraid to let go of that because we think unconsciously, “If we let go of that, then everything would spiral up and out of control. We wouldn’t feed the hungry and we wouldn’t pay attention to the needy and we’d all be self-absorbed. The world needs my argument with it. Otherwise it’s never going to become better.” It’s just insanity.
Where we are, we got here precisely because we argue with what is. And then our hearts close, and our minds close, and the inherent creativity of Spirit shrinks, and our options seem to diminish, and we’re walking in blinders. And the more we have blinders on, the more justified we feel in our reasons to oppose our lives.
At some point, something hits you: “Oh, that’s insane. That’s an argument I can’t win. I can’t win the argument with life. I can’t win the argument with myself. It has no validity to it, none whatsoever.” And then maybe it just starts to collapse.
And isn’t it when the heart opens, when the mind opens, that you and I join with right now? It doesn’t matter how “right now” is. Right now you might feel like a real disaster. You may feel absolutely horrible right now. If you totally join with even that, at the moment you join with it, it’s perfectly fine. It’s the cause of your freedom, just joining with life.
From Adyashanti's Asilomar Retreat, 2010
© Adyashanti 2010
Once, at a retreat where I was teaching, a woman came up to the microphone and said, “I feel such immense rage inside me! Even as I’m sitting here at this retreat, where I’m not being disturbed and not being challenged, I just feel so much rage! I look at people, and find myself judging them and being resentful of them for no reason whatsoever. A lot of my life, I’ve walked around feeling really, really angry.”
I could see in her eyes and in the way she held her body that these emotions of rage and anger had really taken over her whole system. What I said was, “I don’t want to talk to you. I want to talk to your rage.”
At first, she looked at me kind of perplexed. She didn’t know what I meant, so I said it again. I said, “I want to speak to the emotion of rage. Tell me how it views life, what it thinks about others. What are its judgments about the most significant people in your life?”
She looked at me with a sense of horror, and she said, “Oh, no! Not that!”
I said, “Yes, yes, yes. That’s what I want to talk to. I want you to give rage a voice. Stop holding yourself as separate from it, stop trying to get rid of it. Just for a moment, let your mind become a reflection of it.”
Fortunately, she had great courage. Because she had suffered so much, she was willing to take a chance, and so she started to speak to me from the emotion of rage. What spilled out were all of her toxic thoughts and ideas, all the ways her mind had formed conclusions about life and the people in her life, many of which were based on some very difficult moments in her upbringing. As I kept encouraging her by saying, “Yes!” and “Tell me more!” and “Tell me more!” she became more and more willing to let this voice of rage speak. As she did, all of the judgment, blaming, and condemning came out of her. Then, after she spoke in this way for a while, a softer voice began to emerge. It was the voice of deep hurt and sorrow. It was a more intimate, less guarded voice. She was literally giving voice to her pain and suffering. And as she did, I began to see exactly why she was suffering so much.
ALLOW YOUR SUFFERING TO SPEAK
Our suffering consists of two components: a mental component and an emotional component. We usually think of these two aspects as separate, but in fact, when we’re in deep states of suffering, we’re usually so overwhelmed by the experience of emotion that we forget and become unconscious of the story in our minds that is creating and maintaining it. So one of the most vital steps in addressing our suffering and moving beyond it is first to summon the courage and willingness to truly experience what we’re feeling and to no longer try to edit what we feel. In order to really allow ourselves to stay with the depth of our emotions, we must cease judging ourselves for whatever comes up.
I invite you to set some time aside—perhaps a half an hour—to allow yourself simply to feel whatever is there: to let any sensation, feeling, or emotion come up without trying to avoid or “solve” it. Simply let whatever is there arise. Get in touch with the kinesthetic feeling of it, of what these experiences are like when you’re not trying to push or explain them away. Just experience the raw energy of the emotion or sensation. You might notice it in your heart or your solar plexus, or in your gut. See if you can identify where the tightness is in your body—not only where the emotion is, but what parts of your body feel rigid. It could be your neck or shoulders or it might be your back. Suffering manifests as emotion—often as deep, painful emotion—and also as tension throughout the body. Suffering also manifests as certain patterns of circular thinking. Once you touch a particular emotion, allow yourself to begin to hear the voice of suffering. To do this, you cannot stand outside the suffering, trying to explain or solve it; you must really sink into the pain, even relax into the suffering so that you can allow the suffering to speak.
Many of us have a great hesitancy to do this, because when suffering speaks, it often has a very shocking voice. It can be quite vicious. This kind of voice is something that most people do not want to believe they have inside them, and yet to move beyond suffering it’s vital that we allow ourselves to experience the totality of it. It’s important that we open all the emotions and all of the thoughts in order to fully experience what is there.
When you notice some emotional hurt within you, allow your mind to speak to you, inside your head. Or you might even speak out loud. Often I’ll suggest to people that they write down what the voice of their suffering says. Try to keep it as short as possible, so that each sentence is contained in and of itself. For example, the voice of suffering might say something like, “I hate the world!” “The world is never fair!” “I never got what I wanted!” “My mother never gave me the love I needed!” and so on. Often, if it’s all kept in your head, it just turns into a big muddle. So the first step in releasing this muddle is to speak or write these voices of suffering.
What you’re looking for is how your suffering, how the particular emotion you are experiencing, actually views your life, views what happened, and views what’s happening now. To do this, you need to get in touch with the story of your suffering. It is through these stories that we maintain our suffering, so we need to speak or write these stories down—even if the stories sound outrageously judgmental or blaming or condemning. If we allow these stories to live underground, in the unconscious mind, all the painful emotions will continue to regenerate.
So now take a moment to allow a piece of your suffering to tell its story. First, name the emotion, then let it speak. What does this emotion think of you? What does it think of others, of your friends, your family? What does it hate most? Why does it appear in any given day? What is underneath these emotions? Let your suffering tell its entire story.
Excerpted from Adyashanti’s book, Falling into Grace, 2011.
© Adyashanti and Sounds True 2011
Winter has come to the Sierra Nevada Mountain range where Mukti and I live, bringing with it snow, cold temperatures, and the unadorned beauty of nature shedding its spring and summer blooms and returning to its winter roots. The aspen trees in the canyon are bare now, having lost all of their yellow and golden fall leaves weeks ago, and the pines in the high country are heavy with glittering cotton candy snow, clutching to the branches and outstretched pine needles. The bears have all gone into hibernation by now, and the deer are quietly making their way down from the high meadows and streams to lower slopes in search of food. And as I shoveled a few feet of newly fallen snow from the steps leading to the front door, I was pulled into the spirit of nature’s winter return all around me.
Each one of us is as much a part of nature and the natural world as hibernating bears, deer on the move, or a cold winter storm moving in over the horizon. And yet even though we insulate ourselves from so many of the ways of nature, we ourselves are nature, and we reflect, in our consciousness, the same rhythms and patterns as the natural world all around us. If you are paying attention, you can feel the pattern of return and restoration during these winter months. You can also feel the natural movement of falling away and surrender that happens each and every winter, as the leaves fall from the trees and the blooms relinquish their petals to the forest floor to become nutrients for the re-emergence of new blooms in the spring. We are of course conditioned to look at new and pretty things, but all of life’s beauty arises from the primordial ground beyond all names and forms. If nothing falls away, there will be no room or energy for the new, the transformational, the life-giving renewal of spirit deep in the heart of everything.
This new year, I will be returning to teaching after a year-long sabbatical. My sabbatical has been a year of continuous return, of withering down to the essential. There is an old Zen saying that goes, “on the withered branch, a flower blooms.” Like all things Zen, great insight is conveyed in the most simple and natural forms of expression and with the minimum of explanation. We all like beautiful flowers, but conveniently dismiss the withered branches from which they arise and express.
The western mind is allured and attached to all things spring and summer, but the roots of wisdom and insight are forged in the withering and return of winter. The sun gods of various religions have always been popular throughout history; they are the charismatic superstars of mythology. But every sun god arises from the primordial ground, where, as Meister Eckhart said, “distinction never gazed.” Winter is itself a metaphor for “where distinction never gazed.” But winter is more than a metaphor, it is a material living expression of life’s return. Winter is the process of life casting off what is no longer essential or life-sustaining, renewing itself by a return to the essential, the core, the root of all that we are.
By joining with the natural movement of winter, and allowing the return of our consciousness to its roots in the primordial, the essential, the unconscious ground of all being, we not only awaken but we also nurture the dynamic and creative aspect of spirit by plunging it into its silent source. A source that can be realized but never turned into the known. So, let us embrace the wintertime of spirituality, and the great return to the essential, and to a mind that is not stuck in its own imagined knowing, thereby always being open to reality as reality.
© Adyashanti 2022
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