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, 2019
© 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
Excerpted from “The World of Interrelatedness,” April 10, 2019 ~ Garrison, NY
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.
© Adyashanti 2019
Excerpted from Adyashanti's London Meeting, August 18, 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.
© 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
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