Be Empty

The Teachings of Sri Tirtha Lal Mahanandhar

Another Book of Nothing          Chapters 30 - 36:        

Reflections on having no head        Practice makes perfect       Chains of gold       Raining in my heart          Letting go         

                                                                                            Box of tricks          And in the end       

                   <back                   contents                   


Reflections on having no head

When it comes to different perspectives, Douglas Harding, the author of On Having No Head, says that where our head should be, there is, as it were, an empty space, which is in fact where the whole universe happens - the vision of which is habitually obscured by our own, much smaller, self-centric world based on identity with being an individual entity separate from everything else. This moment of realisation happened to him as he was walking in the high Himalayas when he was was so completely overcome at the sight of the awesome beauty of the majestic, snow-covered mountains and valleys that it seemed to him that his consciousness of having a head disappeared as his awareness was completely absorbed by the wondrous display all around him.

By-passing the intellect, thoughts, imagination and belief, he tells us to simply rest solely in awareness just as it is. Through our senses we contain the universe. Through our eyes and ears we see and hear it; through our tongue we taste whatever is given; and through our nose, we smell it. We touch creation on all sides and in our hearts and minds we feel and think it - all in the space and capacity which we are but do not see, behind our eyes between our ears, in the vast emptiness of 'mind' that none of our senses can perceive, yet where everything is in fact perceived - perpetually open and always clear.

He invites us to point our finger right back at our physical 'self' and to see what exactly it is that we are pointing at - what and where exactly do we understand that self to be? There must be something here, but what can I see? I see my finger pointing directly into my eyes - pointing directly at 'me' - pointing through my face, as it were, to what seems like an empty space, yet where surely I must be - the one looking, watching my finger pointing - but at what? There is nothing to see here other than that which happens to be filling our consciousness at the time. In the absence of reifying and elaborating what we see with thoughts, feelings and opinions in the mind - and even then - where or what is the subject other than the pure fact of awareness itself? Thus he tells us to open our minds and simply accept the totality of the world in the place where we perceive it - where we view the impressions received by our senses  and where it really happens - a space that has no limits, yet apparently situated here on our shoulders where normally we believe a head to be. 

Here, where the finger points, is an emptiness that can never be filled, yet which contains all that can ever be; an awareness that is right now spontaneously manifesting through consciousness as the existence of everything in the vast space that is itself the 'screen' of the mind. Thus we are full and complete in every moment, regardless of time - a truly infinite capacity - and in every moment, creation, including 'us', is being spontaneously born anew in the infinite awareness that we seem to be - the vast and indefinable emptiness that yet remains pristinely untouched by the coming and going of any of this amazing and utterly magical display of worlds within worlds within worlds.

                  Like an empty vessel in space (the knower of Truth) 

                  is empty both within and without, 

                  while at the same time he is full within and without 

                  like a vessel immersed in the ocean.

                  Yoga Vasishtha

Without moving our head, if we look sideways to our left and right, or up and down to what lies above or below, our vision can only extend so far in any direction before it reaches the edge of the 'screen' upon which the world that we see is displayed - the limits of our sight where we encounter the mysterious emptiness of our invisible ‘head’ - then what can we see? Nothingness, no dark or light, just nothing - up, down or to either side. All that empty nothingness behind the 'face' that we think we are, and yet it accommodates all that is and ever will be - everything that appears within our minds and the everything that lies 'out there' before our eyes. An emptiness that is, but can never be seen - and that which we really are.

Visually, as we move through the activities of the day, everything that enters our vision, arises out of the emptiness beyond our sight, and in the same way, disappears out of sight into the same emptiness. As Douglas Harding illustrates, when walking or driving along a road, all the scenery and traffic that appears to be moving towards us, disappears out of sight into the emptiness that is 'us', just as food disappears as it enters our mouth. Thus it is, that everything moves through us, not vice versa!

Even as we read these words, they - and 'we', the reader - are appearing within that emptiness of mind behind our eyes that has always been and always will be. This objective world is without and ‘we’, the subject of it all, are within, yet 'within' is an emptiness filled with without - without a face between them nor anything to divide one from the other - full but totally empty, totally empty but full. Thus whatever appears via our senses or mind as a form in emptiness is in fact nothing else but that emptiness itself, just as reflections are indivisible from the surface of the water, mirror or screen on which they appear, and have no actual 'real' substance of their own. 

                  Just as myriad dreams are subsumed within sleep,

                  being natural manifestations that are empty and without true existence,

                  so too the phenomena of the universe, whether of samsara or nirvana, are embraced by the mind.

                  They manifest within mind, the vast expanse, but have no substance.

                  Just as the entire vast universe has no limit or centre

                  in the expanse of space, but is uninterrupted openness,

                  so, within the expanse of awareness, all that manifests outwardly or inwardly - objects or mind -

                  is subsumed within openness and is naturally manifest and empty.

                  Longchen rabjam, The Precious Treasury of the Way of Abiding

On the other hand, from our relative point of view, it is the forms or reflections that constitute the only visible evidence of that which is empty of any form itself.

                  That which is form is emptiness,

                  That which is emptiness, form.

                  The same is true of feelings,

                  Perceptions, impulses, consciousness.

                  The Buddha, in The Heart Sutra

Physically, we can only ever see ‘half’ the world - that which lies in front of us within the vision of our eyes. Behind us, that which we cannot see is a measureless emptiness. Where is the line that divides the two - the invisible “I”? Thus form and emptiness seem to merge seamlessly and are of one and the same awareness which again, having no form of itself is both the light and the screen on which the phenomenal film of creation is projected moment by moment - spontaneously pure, or as is usually the case, apparently (but never in fact) conditioned, filtered and confused by the illusory continuity of identity we have built upon that non-existent “I” and its memory database of that which no longer in fact exists.

This is our kingdom where nothing is excluded and all exists as one. We only have get ourselves and our filters out of the way, relax our contrivances and open our minds to the suchness of whatever is, just as it is - to know that this is in fact, the totality of what we are.

                  Your enjoyment of the world is never right,

                  til every morning you awake in heaven:

                  see yourself in your father's palace

                  and look upon the skies and the earth

                  and the air as celestial joys,

                  having such a reverend esteem of all,

                  as if you were among the angels.

                    You never enjoy the world aright,

                  til the sea itself floweth in your veins;

                  til you are clothed with the heavens

                  and crowned with the stars

                  and perceive yourself to be the sole heir

                  of the whole world.

                  Til your spirit filleth the whole world

                  and the stars are your jewels;

                  Til you are familiar with the ways of God

                  in all ages as with your walk and table;

                  Til you are intimately acquainted with that shady nothing

                  out of which the world was made;

                  Til you love men so as to desire their happiness,

                  with an equal thirst to the zeal of your own;

                  Til you delight in God for being good to all;

                  You never enjoy the world.

                  Thomas Traherne, 17th Century


Practice makes perfect

There is always the danger, however, that in wanting to know, to understand, to get something, we become jaded and disappointed in our search. Such is the downside of any desire, and a sure sign that we still believe we are someone who needs to get something - something 'out there' - external to that which we are. In actual fact there is nothing we do, can do or try to do, that can make the slightest difference to that which is already and always our uncontrived natural being. Our only problem is in thinking we are 'something else' which is lacking that completeness and which therefore we have to find and somehow acquire to make it our own.

                  The stupid man does not attain Godhead because he wants to become it, 

                  while the wise man enjoys the Supreme Godhead without even wanting it.

                  The Ashtavakra Gita

We forget that it is only upon becoming disabused of the reality of this mirage of individual existence that realisation can occur - the realisation that in fact there exists no such being to become realised! In The Sutra of Complete Enlightenment, the Buddha says:

                  It is not enlightenment that thwarts their entering; 

                  rather, it is the idea that ‘there is one who can enter.

                  …  (the idea of) 'attaining’ illumination and realisation is a hindrance

                  …  (because) when the hindrances have been eliminated, there is no eliminator.

                 The teachings of the sutras are like the finger that points to the moon. 

                 When one sees the moon, one realizes that the finger is not the moon.

Sri Ramakrishna likened the fate of the mind that wants to fathom ultimate Reality to that of a salt doll that dissolves when it walks into the ocean to gauge its depth.

So the process is one of losing, not gaining something! As this assumed identity with our ephemeral self and the ignorance in which we cling to ‘me and mine’ diminishes, the knowledge of what really is, the one universal Self, the One that is all this, shines just as it is. 

Sri Tirtha Lal Mahanandhar has said in 'Bed Crow': "You will laugh at your own past actions when you realise that for fear of your own pure light you were covering yourself - first with the thick black blanket of ignorance, and after with the delaine (veil) of practice - for fear of death...  But in fact the reality is this, that truth requires nothing. No objects are required to see the truth and to be the real one. The moment you are empty, the moment you put aside both your blanket and delaine you will realise you are nothing else but that pure light."

Again, the Buddha says in the following excerpts from The Sutra of Complete Enlightenment:

                  This ignorance has no real substance. It is like a person in a dream. 

                  Though the person exists in the dream, 

                  when the dreamer awakens, there is nothing that can be grasped. 

                  Like an illusory flower in the sky that vanishes into empty space, 

                  one cannot say that there is a fixed place from which it vanishes. 

                  Why? Because there is no place from which it arises! 

                  Amidst the unarisen, all sentient beings deludedly perceive birth and extinction. 

                  Hence this is called the turning wheel of birth and death.


                  ... There is no place where illusions vanish, 

                  and there is no attainment in accomplishing the Buddha Path, 

                  for the intrinsic nature is already wholly complete.


                  ... When the mind is able to illuminate and perceive enlightenment, it is but a defilement, 

                  because both perceiver and perceived are not apart from defilement. 

                  After ice melts in hot water, there is no ice to be aware of its melting. 

                  The perception of the existence of the self enlightening itself is also like this.


So how then should we practise? What path should we follow? If our present notion of reality indicates that we are indeed someone who wants to seek and find the truth of existence – what can we do? The great Sufi, Rumi answers:

                  Little by little, wean yourself.
                  This is the gist of what I have to say.
                  From an embryo, whose nourishment comes in the blood,
                  move to an infant drinking milk,
                  to a searcher after wisdom,
                  to a hunter of more invisible game

Understanding there is absolutely nothing to 'get', our only option is to lose, or dis-identify with, what we appear to have. There may be so many different ways for this to come about - and importantly, everything in the final analysis depends on the ‘ripeness’ of our souls, or the grace of God, because enlightenment cannot be made to happen - but inasmuch as the seat of our apparent identity, albeit based on the concept of a sensory bodily existence, lies in the mind, dividing what is one into two as 'I' and everything else, and which manifests in the first instance as thought, it is only our apparently symbiotic identity with that which we have to lose. What remains is 'mind' in name only, there being nothing left to 'wear' any label at all.

                  The mind indeed is of the form of space. 

                  The mind indeed is omnifaced. 

                  The mind is the past. The mind is all. 

                  But in reality there is no mind.

                  The Avadhuta Gita

Of all the billions and trillions of thoughts we have entertained in all our waking days, and continue to do so, constantly mesmerised by their hypnotic presence and their never-ending saga of a self, how many have really been important or significant in any way? As in sifting sand for gems or specks of gold, the overwhelming majority are completely irrelevant and meaningless grit that could be thrown away without the slightest loss.

Again, all our thoughts either concern the past, which is gone forever, or the future that is essentially unknown, and even in the present, they oscillate between these two - building on a previous perception and speculating on the next, puttering on, invisible to all but our minds in which they appear and linger for a while before disappearing into the emptiness whence they came, such that as the Buddha says, 

                  The past mind cannot be grasped; neither can the present mind or the future mind.

If we could but hear them, all our thoughts and those of everyone around us would be like the deafening buzzing of countless bees, but in fact thoughts themselves are completely silent! It is not exactly that we hear them as we hear sounds and yet we certainly 'listen' to them! So what exactly are these mental phenomena - these instantly intelligible ideas, reflections and deliberations - if they have no tangible, visible or audible form? As such, they are similar to dream-stuff, yet we never let go of this endless chatter, as if our very survival is at stake! So strong is this primal habit that, as Ramakrishna said, we are like fisherwomen who cannot sleep without the smell of fish!

                  Like a man caught in quicksands
                  Thrashing and struggling about,
                  So beings drown
                  In the mess of their own thoughts.


Mind however, as far as we are consciously aware, not only registers and interprets data received via the senses and possesses the faculty of continuous thinking, but also has the intellectual capacity of observing and discriminating between different thoughts and indeed, the power of directing the mind and deciding what to continue thinking about - or not! Thus it is that most techniques of meditation and spiritual practice, by whatever means, centre on enhancing this ability to tame or direct the mind - with the ultimate aim, in fact, of divesting it of its contents - and in this effort lies the potential for quite a power-shifting change. In contrast to simply being a passenger in the boat, or mentally running wherever the horses of our senses take us, we endeavour to assume the responsibility deciding what to think, or not to think.

Whatever form of practice we choose to follow, whether it be praise or prayer, contemplation or meditation, love or intellectual exploration, or a combination of some of these or all, we are consciously attempting to direct our mind. To the extent to which it gives us pleasure and happiness, it is effortless and easy – as in listening to music, for instance. In our attempts to delve deeper and deal with its apparently autonomous activity, however, we may find ourselves something like a mongoose with a stone tied to its tail, as seen in village India whereby its continued vigilance in protecting the house from snakes is ensured because whenever it tries to climb up into its hole in the wall, the weight of the stone drags it down again.

Meditation is just like this. Within seconds of resolving to direct the mind to a single object or emptiness, it will be off shopping downtown or otherwise reeling out one thought after another. Even in ‘objectless’ meditation where our aim is simply to observe or disassociate ourselves from thoughts that come and go, we find ourselves riding off with them in no time. As for ‘stopping the mind’, one may as well try to stop the sun from shining, yet try we do. Realising our distraction, we resolve again to follow our will, and again the same thing happens - and again, and again! Thus the mind is often likened to a monkey that cannot sit still and must always be jumping here and there - but having feet as adaptable as hands, you can separate it from one branch only to find it clinging to another! Even with the slightest practice, the tenacity of our habitual thinking will become all too evident, but this attempt to detach ourselves from it is what is commonly known as meditation.

In doing this we are not trying to ‘get’ something, but we are cultivating bit by bit the extra-ordinary notion that we are something other than thought. What that is, of course, defies identification or any attempt at definition, being the negation of all we know, and so we call it emptiness or Self, Buddha, or God by any other name.

All our problems, suffering and pain belong to the realm of thought, and the less we come to identify with it, the happier we can be. In becoming nothing, nothing is lost and everything is gained. The less we are, the more we can be.

                  Virtuous man, all sentient beings since beginningless time 

                  have deludedly conceived ‘self’ and that which grasps on to the self; 

                  never have they known the succession of arising and perishing thoughts! 

                  Therefore, they give rise to love and hatred and indulge in the five desires.

                  If they meet a good teacher who guides them 

                  to awaken to the nature of pure Complete Enlightenment 

                  and to recognize these arising and perishing thoughts, 

                  they will understand that it is the very nature of such rising thoughts 

                  that causes toils and anxieties in their lives.

                  The Buddha in The Sutra of complete Enlightenment

Gradually, or indeed spontaneously, our whole sense of being may change as the grip of ‘thought identity’ becomes diluted as it were, and we accept the idea of emptiness or nothingness as our permanent and ever-abiding Self, being the basis and reality of our existence vis-à-vis our endlessly variable thoughts, and that this is indeed the only effective alternative to impermanence and pain.

We can try to contemplate, and abide in, the actuality of emptiness, the vast and empty space that is our mind when free of any conceptualisation, resisting all attempts to frame or otherwise define it within any limits - or we can simply practise refusing to elaborate or flow with the constant stream of thoughts, observing the random flotsam of mental objects - the bits and pieces, each isolated in its limited and compounded shape and form and therefore by definition, having a transitory, short-lived and essentially unreal existence - floating in 'us' a 'mind' of infinite and timeless space. Again, we can try to constrain our wayward mind by focussing and fixing our attention as continuously as possible on a single point or image, as for instance say, the feet of our chosen Deity, taking advantage of this haven and ultimate place of rest when assailed by an unrelenting storm of recalcitrant thoughts - perhaps honing our concentration by constantly chanting a mantra or by maintaining an attitude of continuous surrender or prayer.

Habituating the mind to focus and concentrate with an attitude of complete surrender and unquestioning devotion to the divine, whether with form or without, has the effect of cultivating an outlook of perfect equanimity and acceptance of everything just as it is without any judgement, reification or categorising opinion. This in turn means that when there is thus nothing to think about or distinguish between one object and another, only the basic suchness of pure, unembellished perception remains. 

                  Even here is the mortal plane conquered

                  by those whose mind is established in equanimity;

                  since the Absolute is free from blemish and equanimous,

                  hence they are established in the Eternal.

                  The Bhagavad Gita 5:19

With consistent practice in the absence of any reification or peripheral thinking - when the attention is drawn to focus on any object at all - without a single elaborating thought - it becomes no more than an image or reflection in the mirror of the naked awareness which perceives it - which itself, having no distinguishing characteristics or connection in regard to whatever reflections may appear within it, is pure and pristine emptiness. Thus the essential nature of both subject and object are seen as being of one 'taste' - that of basic space or emptiness. In meditation then, the appearance of any reflections in the mind - thoughts, feelings and perceptions - in the absence of any reification become momentary indicators of, and non-different from that emptiness itself. 

                  Given the unchanging, spontaneously present nature of phenomena,

                  if you look again and again with self-knowing awareness,

                  free of any complicating conceptual framework,

                  you will see that there is nothing to look at.

                  Nothing to look at - this is the view of omnipresent awareness.

                  Longchen Rabjam, The Precious Treasury of the Basic Space of Phenomena

In whichever way we practise, we are beginning to dissolve the chains that bind us and opening up, little by little, to a space that perhaps we never knew was there, which has no ‘me and mine’, yet which is the core of our being - the ground, basis and only reality of all.

And what a magic space it is! Over time, as our concentration and meditative absorption grows, as our rate of oscillation between ‘something’ and nothing slows down, we begin to understand there are in fact gaps in the circle of fire - that these speeding, whirling, apparently endless thoughts neither imprison nor define us, and the recognition begins to dawn on us that our true nature is the complete freedom and boundless, infinite nature of space itself.

Indeed, there is no circle of fire! There is only ever one source of light, which, in a state of apparently incessant motion or vibration, like the rapid succession of frames projected in a movie, seems to create a picture of which the continuity and cohesion are assumed by means of an afterglow, a momentary residue upon which we build our memory and construct a story.

                  In the immensity of consciousness a light appears, 

                  a tiny point that moves rapidly and traces shapes, 

                  thoughts and feelings, concepts and ideas, like the pen writing on paper. 

                  And the ink that leaves a trace is memory. 

                  You are that tiny point and by your movement the world is ever re-created. 

                  Stop moving and there will be no world. 

                  Look within and you will find that the point of light is the reflection 

                  of the immensity of light in the body, as the sense 'I am'. 

                  There is only light, all else appears.

                   Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj

That light which, shining in our hearts, grows in radiance when we love, is the same light which projects, sustains and permeates all.

We have been trapped, and like the monkey grasping a handful of nuts in a jar and being unwilling to let them go, is unable to withdraw its hand, we only have to let go of this notion that we are our thinking and that our thinking is us...


Chains of gold

                      Know, slave is slave, caressed or whipped, not free;
                   For fetters, though of gold, are not less strong to bind.

                   Swami Vivekananda, The Song of the Sannyasin

                   From the consummate and ultimate perspective of the definitive heart essence,

                   chains of gold and ropes are equally binding.

                   Likewise, the spiritual and nonspiritual bind the mind equally.

                   Just as light and dark clouds are equally obstructing,

                   Positive and negative actions equally obscure awareness.

                      Longchen Rabjam, The Precious Treasury of the Way of Abiding

It is in the nature of things that the more they are denied the more attractive they become. The more we try to stop or resist listening to our thoughts the more enticing they can become. When Tom stops chasing Jerry, Jerry starts chasing Tom! Once we step upon the path of freedom and begin to reject the dominance of thought, the more it seems to strive to become our ‘friend’, offering us feelings of joy, insights and gems of wisdom, knowledge and understanding.

This is all to the good provided we remain aware and maintain our balance. In extreme cases, it is said that we may even find new powers and gifts at our disposal, or even find things within our grasp that we have longed for but could never attain – anything to keep us in the game, identified with individuality and selfish gain.

There is a story of two aspiring sadhus who met again after a gap of 20 years. Enquiring of each other what they had attained, one revealed that he had mastered the ability to walk on water. “Really?” said the other, “Have you spent the last twenty years discovering how to save a couple of cents on the ferry?”

Another story tells of a poor woodcutter who, seeking advice from a holy man was told, “Go forward”. Next day, as he went into the forest remembering these words, he decided to go further than usual, and came across a golden coin. Pleased as he was, he reasoned, “The holy man said ‘Go forward’, so perhaps I shouldn’t stop now”. Thus he went on and on, finding greater riches the further he went.

Even so, we begin seeking nothing by renouncing thought and every whim that would make us believe we are ‘something’. This is all we have to do, and go on doing - there is no stopping place - no place to call our home.

As Jesus said...

                  The foxes have holes, and the birds of the sky have nests, 

                  but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.

                     Gospel of St.Luke 9:58

The Buddha...

                  So, Subhuti, all the bodhisattva mahasattvas 

                  should give rise to a pure and clear intention in this spirit. 

                  When they give rise to this intention, they should not rely on forms, 

                  sounds, smells, tastes, tactile objects, or objects of mind. 

                  They should give rise to an intention with their minds not dwelling anywhere.

                     The Sutra of Complete Enlightenment


                  The mind of the man seeking liberation can find no resting place within, 

                  but the mind of the liberated man is always free from desire 

                  by the very fact of being without a resting place.

                     The Ashtavakra Gita


                  The Avadhuta (unique and free one), alone, pure in evenness of feeling, 

                  abides happily in an empty dwelling place. 

                  Having renounced all, he moves about naked. 

                  He perceives the Absolute, the All, within himself.

                     Dattatreya – The Avadhuta Gita

Such is the state that is known as ‘quiescent stillness’ wherein mental images, thoughts and turbulent emotions are absent - leaving only naked and empty abidance as our true selves. There does come a time however, when the slightest discrimination of any kind is seen to be creating a schism in the Oneness that is all - without any exception. In the final analysis, all things, anything whatsoever, including thoughts and feelings - and everything in the eternal world also - are seen to be of none other than the one single essence of timeless awareness. Observing without bias, preference or any kind of reification – in other words in pure acceptance and absorption in the suchness of everything just as it is – the distinction that defines one thing as different from another disappears, as does the difference between object and subject – and in the absence of any specific or discriminating basis, all is seen as completely uncontrived, undefinable and indescribable emptiness.

                  If you maintain an undistracted state within the uncontrived
                        expanse of being,
                  even engaging in thoughts concerning sense objects is within
                        the scope of the true nature of phenomena.
                  As for that true nature, it is nonconceptual and as spacious
                        as the sky,
                  but if you try to contrive it deliberately and compulsively,
                        it becomes a cage of characteristics.
                  Though you may spend day and night in such meditation,
                        that is the bondage of fixation, pure and simple.

                     Longchen Rabjam, The Precious Treasury of the Basic Space of Phenomena

                     If one holds it to be 'this', it is no longer the experience;
                  What can the network of concepts by intellectual postulation show?
                  The postulates by the mind are the mind's own postulates;
                  Even if by them the primary openness of Being could be shown,
                  Where would be the experience itself, apart from the belief in some finality?

                     Longchen Rabjam, Kindly Bent to Ease Us

Renunciation means non-attachment to identifying with individual selfhood, but not rejection. Rejection is simply the opposite of attachment and both refer to the biases of an individual. In fact, ultimately it is not rejecting anything at all that constitutes renunciation! We do not reject the form of things as they present themselves when seen, including our ‘ego’, thoughts and feelings, which are a part of nature itself no less than the sun and moon and stars, but we reject the colouring of them as good or bad according to the viewpoint of our individuality. Nay, we do not even reject that! Neither should renunciation be seen in terms of looking for something else! As Hui Neng says:

                  To seek enlightenment by separating from this world 

                   is as absurd as to search for a rabbit's horn.

                  ... To take an attitude of neither indifference nor attachment towards all things - 

                  this is what is meant by realizing one's own Essence of Mind for the attainment of Buddhahood.

                  Learned Audience, the mind should be framed in such a way 

                  that it will be independent of external or internal objects, 

                  at liberty to come or go, free from attachment 

                  and thoroughly enlightened without the least beclouding.

                  Erroneous views keep us in defilement while right views keep us from it; 

                  but when we are in a position to discard both of them, 

                  we are then absolutely pure.


Raining in my Heart

I have to admit this writing provides me with a sense of pleasure and purpose, and thereby demonstrates quite clearly that my individuality still depends on the need to be doing something. To exist as purposeless from moment to moment and yet be perfectly content is, for me at least as yet,  a formidable challenge.

                  How can there be happiness, 

                  for one who is burnt inside by the blistering sun 

                  of the pain of things that need doing, 

                  without the rain of the nectar of peace?

                  The Ashtavakra Gita

Still the urge to live and fear of boredom impels us to fill up all the empty spaces as long as we are unable to find enduring satisfaction in emptiness alone.

Nevertheless, this writing itself has become a form of spiritual affirmation for me, presenting in concrete form an ideal that inevitably demands comparison with my daily states of mind.

In common, as I imagine, with most humans gifted or cursed with the faculty of thought, it is on retiring to bed, on the threshold of dream and sleep, that I naturally find myself alone with my thoughts, reflecting, contemplating, extrapolating the topics of the day or moment.

All thoughts have a taste or flavour somewhere in the spectrum between pleasant and unpleasant. Generally, short of the vortex of obsession, ‘good’ thoughts are the hardest to renounce.

So, last night as I lay there lazily ruminating - as the mundane insignificance of my thoughts puttered on - a gentle rain began falling on the roof outside. Feeling bored with the aimless mental dialogue and questioning if this was all there was to entertain my consciousness, I was reminded of my own exhortations to abandon thought and began to cast about for emptiness.

It seems to generally be the case that, like a searchlight, our minds are really only capable of entertaining one particular focus of attention at any given time - even thoughts arrive in single file - so as I turned away from the misty, wispy threads of mental peregrination which up till then had evinced such all-consuming substantiality, to consider what else lay in my field of consciousness, the pitter-patter of the rain, the auditory universe, took centre stage. How to find emptiness with that going on, I thought!

Of course it is the empty spaces that give life to music or any sound, but my tired mind had not the strength of concentration to follow that. Instead, faced only with the two alternatives of listening to my grey thoughts or the rain, the only apparent guests of my consciousness at the time, I resolved to listen to the rain - something usually considered a background of no consequence, but in this instance no less or more so than my thoughts. And so I began to be absorbed in the intricate rhythms of the undulating heavy drops which now I noticed were intermingled with assorted tinklings and the purely spontaneous and natural improvisation of countless rhythms and melodies.

Why, I thought, do we spend so little time appreciating the ever-present objects of our senses, the living universe that exists solely as a backdrop, it seems, to the intense, internal preoccupation we have with our personal story and ambitions? This mental body that we regard as our closest friend is like a ghostly shadow that yet forever dances mischievously in front of us, absorbing all our attention and preventing any real view of where we are.

What a fine thought! What a pertinent image! But what happened to the rain? Hah! I was thinking again and no longer listening to the rain.

Again, listen to the rain. Oh, listen! In a high but muted trill there are frogs chirping madly away, some like a continuous throaty whistle, some with intermittent croaking, some building to a crescendo before plunging abruptly into silence. And still there is the symphony of rain, the sound of breath, the physical movement of my lungs and the movement of air out and in; the resting of my head on the pillow.

Ah, there are so many things going on all the time! But how can one be simultaneously aware of all of them with a mind that can only face in one direction at a time? Surely by having no face at all, by disappearing from the centre, and allowing all to exist as it is.

Douglas Harding’s revelation in the Himalayas was like this. Faced with such stupendous scenery, it was, he said, as if his head had disappeared, leaving everything above his shoulders as a borderless space in which the universe was displayed.

As a boy, seeing the beauty of a flight of pure white cranes against the dark, purple monsoon sky above the emerald green fields of young rice, an ecstatic Sri Ramakrishna lost all sense of body-consciousness.

And yet again, for me, what happened to the rain?

All the great thoughts of mankind, I wonder, - do they come from the edge of emptiness, all the more deep and profound the closer they come from the brink?

But what about the rain? The frogs? Breathing, feeling, and yes - even these very thoughts?

Once we begin to detach ourselves from identification with thoughts, whether they continue to be visible or not is of no consequence. Ego and thought, body and feeling, belong to nature no less than the sun, the moon, the stars and planets, trees and mountains. They all exist in consciousness as the whiteness in milk and blueness in sky and like the changing colours of the day, they come, they go, they pass away.

Sri Ramakrishna used to say that once we’ve climbed the steps of a house to examine the roof, we realize the steps and indeed the whole house are made of the same material. So the whole universe including our thoughts and feelings, if we see them, are all nothing in essence but one and the same nature of God, Self or primal awareness. Automatically it functions, constituting the whole contents of our mind, including the witness thereof. But the emptiness in which these come and go and have such a momentary existence, remains supremely untouched.

Another nameless Sadhu, wandering alone in the foothills of the Himalayas, who used to stop by for a morning visit, had one day taken a small abandoned puppy into his care and had named it ‘Automatic’. “This is Automatic,” he said. “You are automatic, I am automatic - everything is automatic!”

Once we cease to cling to our ideas of love and hatred, seeing all with an equal eye and allowing everything to flow as it will in the magical mirror of consciousness, there exists no contradiction.

                  Shining is My essential nature, 

                  and I am nothing over and beyond that. 

                  When the world shines forth, 

                  it is simply Me that is shining forth.

                  The Ashtavakra Gita


Letting go

Should we then all become monks or nuns? Like sadhus, should we renounce this worldly life so full of care and obstacles forever spinning and pinning us to the walls of life’s events like some all-powerful centrifugal force?

Appearances and forms are but the outer shell. Renouncing this thin crust of our identity is but the beginning, and in comparison to the inner world of attachment to mind and thought, desires and feelings, is of lesser consequence. What if my head is shaved, eyebrows too? What if I wear a simple robe and beg for my body’s sustenance? If my mind is full of thoughts like a black hole absorbing everything within its orbit and letting no light escape, where is my freedom?

It is a choice that in many cultures we are free to make, and I am full of admiration, nay, veneration for those whose outward renunciation is matched by a corresponding detachment within. As a means of escape however, when the mind is still subject to unrequited desires, I worry that such a dichotomy of spirit speaks of a burden of hypocrisy that is just as hard to bear as life in the maelstrom of the world.

                  The mind is the creator of the world; the mind is the individual; 

                  only that which is done by the mind is regarded as done, 

                  not that which is done by the body.

                  Yoga Vasishta Sara

No doubt it is true that the less we are exposed to ‘temptation’ the less we may be bothered by it, but not if we cling to its indulgence in our minds.

There is the famous story that you may have heard of two monks travelling to a distant town. They came to a small river where a woman was waiting, too afraid to venture across. She appealed to the monks, and to the horror of his companion (their order forbidding any bodily contact with women), the other carried her across the stream on his back, and having left her to go her own way on the other side, they walked on. Finally, as they came near to the town, the offended monk could restrain himself no longer and launched into a volley of accusation that the other had committed such a serious violation of the rules. Whereupon the other replied, “Yes, it is true I picked her up and put her down on the other bank, but I see you have been carrying her ever since!”

So the real deal is internal. To be sure, we all need a certain amount of physical discipline to lead a functional existence, and I stand in awe of those who sit continually for hours in meditation and who find abiding peace in such an existence free from external disturbance; however, as Krishna says:

                  Man does not attain freedom from action (culmination of the path of action)

                  without entering upon action; 

                  nor does he reach perfection (culmination of the path of knowledge) 

                  merely by renunciation of action.

                  Surely none can remain inactive even for a moment; 

                  everyone is helplessly driven to action by nature-born qualities.

                  He who outwardly restraining the organs of sense and action, 

                  sits mentally dwelling on objects of senses is called a hypocrite.

                  The Bhagavad Gita, 3:4,5,6

It is often said that to follow the spiritual path of the soul is to become like a lump of clay in the almighty potter’s hands; to be thumped and pressed and pushed, pulled and moulded into the shape required. Living in the world, we are as it were, at the coalface of our likes and dislikes. Where else can we become aware of our fears, our anger and desire? Where else do we find ourselves beating our heads against the obstacles to peace and contentment? Where else can we practice what we preach?

Where else indeed can we realize that, as Gautama Buddha said, “With our thoughts we make the world”? The fact is that as long as we find ourselves bewitched by the nebulous mirror of our thoughts, there is always work to be done.

The root lies in our attachment to thought itself, no doubt, but behind that world of thought it is the strength of our desires and aversions that cement its grip and bind our soul.

                  Even though bondage does not really exist, 

                  it becomes strong through desire for worldly enjoyments; 

                  when this desire subsides bondage becomes weak.                 

                  ... The noble-hearted man whose desires of the heart have come to an end is a liberated man; 

                  it does not matter whether he does or does not practise meditation or perform action.

                  Yoga Vasishtha Sara

Desires are not so easily renounced. In the world we are generally restrained by the norms and expectations of the society in which we live but when this factor is not of overriding importance, it is a moot point whether restraint or indulgence is more successful in laying our demons to rest.

Sri Ramakrishna once said that one does not come to enlightenment without having experienced throughout the course of countless lifetimes everything it is possible to experience. Our normal experience of life, propelled as it is by desires great and small, indicates that experience itself is the greatest teacher of all, and that having experienced the gratification of any desire its attraction and importance to us is often diminished and no longer grips our mind as being such a big deal after all. Then we are largely, if not completely, freed from its clutches.

Psychologists tell us that repressed thoughts only linger and fester, and driven deeper into our subconscious create a disharmony that will inevitably erode the power that would restrain them and erupt, sooner or later, in our conscious lives, often with devastating consequences. To understand this, one only has to look, for example, at the scandals that come to light concerning so many who have outwardly avowed a life of celibacy. In a similar way, there is no point in trying to run away from persistently recurring problems that may be ever so deeply embedded in our conditioning. We can never escape from ourselves. Whatever our karma, we have to face it sooner or later, in this life - or the next.

It is said that ignorance is bliss. What we do not know we don’t entertain in our minds, but in even the simplest communities, isolated and untouched by the Pandora’s box of expression that has been opened to a large extent in many societies today, the human being remains a creature possessed of physical needs, desire and aggression that must be contained to one degree or another in order to maintain the necessary conditions of communal peace and harmony.

It is no doubt true that the more we move towards the light, the more darkness recedes, however it is also a fact that darkness can exert a pull of its own. So what are we to do?

As always it seems to be a question of balance - the middle way, following life but not the force. Where the gratification of persistent desire involves no harm to the happiness or wellbeing of any other being it may well be efficacious to satisfy such yearning if possible, rather than attempt to suppress it or keep it in some private mental compartment of personal fantasy. From the eastern point of view even the slightest desire or aversion retained at death needs must result in a future birth.

                  Arjuna, thinking of whatever object one leaves the body at the time of death, 

                  that and that alone he attains, being ever absorbed in its thought.

                  The Bhagavad-Gita 8:6

In this respect it may well be efficacious to try to clear up any lingering desires so that when our time is up we are literally free to go. On the other hand, what does it matter how many births we experience when, as in a dream, even time itself ultimately has no meaning.

Sri Ramakrishna used to say that some great yogis, wishing to ensure their rebirth to continue teaching or who otherwise want to postpone their total and final absorption into the absolute, often deliberately cultivate a desire for some simple thing such as a ring or particular piece of clothing before they die, just to guarantee their return.

However, that being said, once we choose to pursue anything in this world we set ourselves on a path of indeterminate length and price to pay that could possibly entail lifetimes of struggle and suffering (however illusory) as we delve into the labyrinths of success and failure that constitute the game of life - setting a goal without the attainment of which we cannot move on.

Fortunately, if we are armed with some knowledge of this and see it as a means of clearing up the backlog of karmic residue, we are more likely, having tasted the fruit of desire, to move on, less if not completely unencumbered by it. If not, seeking constant and continuing gratification as our only goal, constructing a treadmill of habit that imprisons us and yearning only for more of the same, we may have much to learn before that liberating wisdom dawns.

No matter. We have all of eternity in which to play this game - until its price becomes more than we’re prepared to pay and realise that the cause of all our suffering lies, as the Buddha said, in our craving and desire.

With but a little wisdom however, we may see how trivial many of our wants really are, and that they are not really worth getting upset about. We may realise how basic are our essential needs and how little is required for us to be happy. Possessions and attachment bring with them the fear of loss. Every triumph contains within it the seeds of disaster and every success the shadow of failure. But those desires we water with constant yearning can develop roots so strong they would strangle our soul.

On the night of a clear full moon, the abbot of a local Buddhist monastery in Western Australia sat beneath a tree in the forest talking to a group of people who were on a month long ‘Great Walk’ to the city of Perth to protest against the continued logging of the majestic and pristine virgin forests through which they journeyed. The monk said, “When you reach the city and see the grey concrete, the cars and planes, just don’t forget that these, like everything else, are essentially derived from nature too, to which nothing can be finally be added or taken away. The only question we need to consider is this: how much of all this is really necessary for us to be happy?”


Box of Tricks

Short of sudden enlightenment, the deliberate cultivation of habit can be utilised to further our cause. Over time, the habit of right thinking and recourse to certain ‘tricks’ or practices can become our help and salvation. In Hindu terminology, these methods are known as ‘yogas’ or paths towards union with the Supreme Reality.

From this side of a non-existent but all too apparent barrier, such habits can develop into techniques that switch on automatically, as it were, when faced with negativity or fear, or the sheer mundaneness of everyday thoughts and feelings.

If you have followed the lines of thought presented in these pages, it must be clear that a freely chosen faith and devotion to an image or symbol of God can become a refuge and source of sustenance in the face of the ups and downs of life. Most religions advocate the use of a prayer or invocation, which, true to our nature, we often remember only in times of need, although an exuberance of joy may equally impel our souls to heartfelt praise and gratitude.

In many religions this devotion often comes in the form of chanting a mantra or rosary, a word or phrase which being repeated constantly is sometimes said to be imbued with great power, but it may be as simple as OM, or the name of one’s chosen Deity or God. It may be “I am That” (Soham); it may be “Hail to the Jewel in the Lotus (of my heart)” (Om mani padme hum), or “There is no god but God” (lā ʾilāha ʾillā -llāh),  in Christianity, “Hail Mary” or “Jesus is my saviour”. Such repetitions are often accompanied by counting on a string of beads, rosary or “mala”, “worry beads” or prayer wheels, providing a physical counterpart to the verbal or mental process. The efficacy of such a habit lies in countering and providing an alternative to the process of endless thought and keeping the mind concentrated on the object of devotion.

There is also a sound, the Anahata nada described in as the name given in yogic philosophy to the cosmic sound or the so-called “white noise” that is present everywhere, without being actively made in a way that can be perceived. From Sanskrit, anahata means "un-struck" or "unbeaten," and nada means "to flow." This sound was pointed out to me by Sri Tirtha Lal, soon after I began meditating under his guidance, as a kind of high-pitched continuous electric bell-like sound vibrating at very high speed which I would describe as the 'sound of silence' or the sound the television used to make in the old days when the day's transmission had ended and before the TV was switched off. To be honest, it seemed so familiar that I couldn't be sure that I hadn't heard it before, but Sri Tirtha Lal described it as being spiritually significant and said it could also be used as a focus of meditation. Once noticed, whether we are conscious of it or not, it is always there at varying levels of volume, apparently quite autonomous and completely unaffected by and regardless of one's breathing, heartbeat, physical or mental condition. Although seemingly to be almost commonplace and in itself devoid of any particular meaning or embellishment, if and when discernible it is an easy, accessible and effective alternative to focussing on a visualised object or emptiness, providing a space of constancy and openness in relief from and contrast to the mind's habitual and incessant thinking. 

Then there is the cultivation of love and yearning to see the beloved known as Bhakti Yoga, anticipating of the joy of beholding the object of our devotion to whom we may surrender everything knowing that to be the one God of all. This may include worship and songs of love, praise and adoration, reading and listening to the stories and teaching of our beloved, or silent prayer and meditation; we can direct all our feelings, even anger to God! There is devotion and obeisance to one’s teacher or guru, if one is lucky enough to find one, as the physical manifestation of wisdom and the divine in human form.

                  Of the teacher – even if he be young, illiterate, 

                  or addicted to the enjoyment of sense objects, 

                  even if he be a servant or householder – 

                  none of these should be considered. 

                  Does anyone shun a gem fallen in an impure place?

                  The Avadhuta Gita

                  Just as a steady boat, O Rama, is obtained from a boatman, 

                  so also the method of crossing the ocean of samsara 

                  is learnt by associating with great souls. 

                  The sages are to be approached even if they do not teach. 

                  Even their talks in a light vein contain wisdom.

                  Yoga Vasishta

We can dedicate all our actions to God in a spirit of sacrifice known as Karma Yoga, intent on performing our daily duties to the very best of our ability without concern for personal gratification or the fruit of our action, whether it be a success or failure. In the Yoga Vasishta, Lord Shiva himself gives this masterly advice:

                  The Lord should be worshipped by means of all the enjoyments that the body enjoys, 

                  through eating, drinking, being with one’s consort and other such pleasures. 

                  The Lord should be worshipped with the illnesses one experiences 

                  and with every sort of unhappiness or suffering one experiences. 

                  The Lord should be worshipped with all one’s activities, 

                  including life and death and all of one’s dreams. 

                  The Lord should be worshipped with one’s poverty and prosperity. 

                  The Lord should be worshipped even with fights and quarrels as well as with sports and other pastimes, 

                  and even with the manifestations of the emotions of attraction and aversion.                 

                  ... One should worship the self, without psychological perversion, 

                  with every object that is obtained purely on account of the coincidence of time, place and activity – 

                  whether they are popularly known as good or bad.

                  ... Established in this state of equanimity, 

                  the wise man should experience infinite expansion within himself 

                  while carrying out his natural actions externally without craving or rejection.

                  Yoga Vasishta

There is contemplation, and then there is meditation, the time set aside for concentrating on a single concept, perhaps the feet of our Deity, our inward and outward breaths, the flame of a candle, even the head of a matchstick; being empty or nothing at all, or knowing only that “I am” without any connotations - in an on-going attempt to control or rather detach ourselves from the activity of the mind; to step off the merry-go-round of endless thoughts; to strengthen our power of concentration and “to be still and know that I am God”.

Sooner or later however, whatever practice or technique we use, it inevitably becomes obvious that we are always 'this', our ever-present 'self' - trying to become 'that' which is 'self'-less! In other words, whatever our intention, we are always trying to 'get' something. What then, in all honesty, can we do, when it is beyond our power to make enlightenment 'happen' by any means whatsoever? We can try to make the way clear by intellectually understanding how things are, by consciously trying to be 'self'-less - the Buddha famously gave his life for others in 500 previous births - and by developing an attitude of devotion and dedication to surrender our 'self' to God or the universal 'Self', yet still, there it is and always will be until the time is right for the fruit to detach itself naturally from the tree and for the 'grace of God' to set us free from ourselves. 

Sri Tirtha Lal Mahanandhar has said that continually seeking to adjust our individual soul to become a perfect mirror-image of the universal soul in a state of perfect acceptance, equanimity and emptiness, is like using a magnifying glass to capture and focus the light and energy of the sun on a piece of paper so that when the image is just right and matches as a perfect replica of the sun itself, it bursts into flame - one and the same as the fire which is the sun itself.

Whichever way, it is our right to believe in our chosen personal imagination more than the so-called reality of this madhouse called the world. However, as long as ego hovers around our every thought and action, laying claim to every conceivable virtue as an embellishment of its name, it may be wise to keep these things a secret from the world.

With repeated practice then, when negative thoughts or fear and insecurity assail us, we may find these habits kicking in, pulling us out of the vortex of a whirlpool of thoughts and feeling, and reminding us of a bigger picture and a vastness and peace like that of a cloudless sky.

Another ‘trick’, if you like, is breath control. Here we discover that mind and breath operate in tandem. Quicker, shorter breaths accompany a racing mind, whereas with a calm mind, breathing is slow and deep. Furthermore, by changing one, we affect the other.

Known as ‘pranayama’, this has been practised in India since time began and is really something of a science. Nevertheless, It is said that in the absence of a qualified teacher we should not play too much with this as it involves the conscious manipulation of an essential bodily function that normally, instinctively, ensures the required amount of oxygen necessary to sustain life itself. However if, as is often the case, you find your mind with a ‘mind of its own’, possessed of such momentum that no amount of effort can restrain it, you may like to try the following simple exercise, in moderation.

Taking a long, slow, deep breath as if your whole upper body consisted of your lungs fill the lower abdomen first, letting it expand like a balloon, then fill the remaining space in the chest cavity until you can’t inhale a single drop of air more, then stop. Hold the breath inside for no more than 7 seconds or repetitions of a mantra say, or name of God - but no longer than is reasonably comfortable, then slowly exhale, emptying first the chest and then the abdomen until not another wisp of air you can exhale. Stop again, holding the air outside, again for the count of up to seven, before repeating the process up to seven times, but no more.

At first it is difficult to breathe so deeply and even more so to do it slowly, but within 2 or 3 cycles it becomes much easier, and with it, thinking slows and a feeling of calmness descends on the mind.

The reason I mention this technique with caution is that I first read about it in the writings of Swami Vivekananda who similarly cautioned thus. There are many other breathing techniques of more complexity which I know nothing about, but as a means to the end of calming the mind, this simple exercise would seem to suffice.

It takes time, practice, and a certain effort to cultivate any of these habits, but as Krishna says in the final Chapter 18 of the Bhagavad-Gita, categorizing everything according to the three “Gunas”, or the moods or qualities of nature, namely: Sattva, the mode of wisdom, beauty and peace, harmony and motiveless action; Rajas, the mode of passion, excitement and motivated action, and Tamas, the mode of dullness and perversely recalcitrant action...

                  That in which one finds enjoyment only through practice 

                  and whereby one reaches the end of all sorrow, 

                  nay, that which appears like poison in the beginning (when the practices are started), 

                  but tastes as nectar in the end, born of placidity of mind brought about by meditation on God, 

                  such a joy is said to be Sattvic. (18:36/37)

                  The joy which is derived from the contact of the senses with their objects, 

                  though appearing like nectar in the beginning, proves to be mischievous like poison in the end. 

                  That is why such a joy is said to be Rajasic. (18:38)

                  The joy which deadens the soul, both in the beginning and in the end, 

                  and which is derived from sleep, indolence and carelessness is said to be Tamasic. (18:39)

The manifestations of these moods are something we can all recognise and with which we are all familiar. Again, concerning knowledge...

                  That by which man sees one imperishable entity in all beings, 

                  undivided among the divided, know that knowledge to be Sattvic. (18:20)

                  And that knowledge which regards the manifold existence of various kinds in all beings as separate, 

                  know that knowledge as partaking of Rajas. (18:21)

                  And that knowledge which clings to one individual, as if it were the whole, which is without reason, 

                  without any real object and of little value, that is declared as Tamasic. (18:22)

Krishna further points out that even Sattva binds the soul through self-identification with happiness and wisdom; Rajas, through attachment to actions and their fruits; and Tamas, through error, sloth and sleep - and that finally all three must be transcended in the search for the Absolute.

                  The nature-born qualities of Sattva, Rajas and Tamas firmly tie the imperishable soul to the body, Arjuna. (14:5)

                  There is no existence here on earth, in the heavens or among the celestials, 

                  or anywhere else in creation, which is free from these three qualities born of matter. (18:40)

                  When the seer does not see any agent other than the three Gunas, 

                  and knows Me, who stand beyond these Gunas, he enters into My Being. (14:19)

Finally, there is what I would call the intellectual practice of the pursuit of knowledge and wisdom, also known as Gyana Yoga, which begins with the simple desire to know and leads us to study the words of the wise. As Krishna says:

                  Even if you are the most sinful of all sinners, 

                  you will cross over all sin by the raft of knowledge. 

                  For, as the blazing fire reduces the fuel to ashes, Arjuna, 

                  even so the fire of knowledge reduces all actions to ashes. (4:36)

                  In this world there is no purifier like knowledge. (4:38)


And in the End

I remember reading the Bhagavad-Gita for the first time, convinced that the secret to life and the universe lay somewhere in those words, understanding so little yet imagining a knowledge I did not possess. Little by little over the years I became familiar with the terminology and concepts, and as fate would have it, Sri Tirtha Lal asked me to read a chapter every day as part of my early practice. Nowadays many of those divine verses resound like echoes in the chamber of my mind, clear as a bell behind the usual detritus, gaining more and more profundity and relevance, and cutting ever deeper with the sharp sword of truth. It is a song of triumph and celebration, such that for me at least, this is indeed the “Song of God”.

Similarly there are so many other books and writings, a few snippets of which l have borrowed to lend authenticity to “Another Book of Nothing”, and which I hope give some justification to the perspectives I have presented here. For me this has been a synopsis of thoughts and musings accumulated over many years reflecting the way in which my own particular individual path has evolved, while at the same time attempting to provide a common basis and rationale for any and every spiritual practice or belief which hopefully serves to strengthen and encourage anyone who happens upon these words in whatever faith they may have. In the process, being prompted by vague memories or wishing to quote original words, I have taken advantage of the Internet where there is little that cannot be found today, and where most of the works I have quoted are available to be downloaded for free.

According to Swami Vivekananda, the Buddha said it is up to each to "work out diligently your own salvation. Each one of you is just what I am." And then: "Believe not because an old book is produced as an authority. Believe not because your father said [you should] believe the same. Believe not because other people like you believe it. Test everything, try everything, and then believe it, and if you find it for the good of many, give it to all." And with these words, the Master passed away.

It seems a miracle, as much as anything is seen to exist here at all - let alone that all our many stories of such apparently intense significance should somehow have been constructed from the impersonal combination of the basic elements of the universe - that such wisdom, proclaiming an ultimate resolution to the enigma of life and existence, stands openly revealed for all to see - and indeed, that such a resolution in fact exists.

The good news is that whether we know or are aware of it or not, there is only one ever-abiding Reality, one super-conscious, all-embracing awareness, of which the appearance of this physical and mental universe of infinite possibilities is but an ephemeral display and which, like a dream on waking, has no permanency nor indeed any actual substance - not the sun, the stars and planets, our lives and deaths, nor anything at all we label as existence. There is but One Reality beyond time or dimension, such that even the labels of emptiness or space, which are perhaps the closest definition we have for the negation of all concepts, cannot apply to That from which they themselves, like us, originate.

The cosmic irony then, if you like, is that for all our joys and suffering and all our efforts to transcend this existence and find enlightenment through various practices, faiths and beliefs, there is nothing in the final analysis that is not already That which we seek, and That alone.

                 Virtuous man, all hindrances are themselves of the nature of ultimate enlightenment. 

                 Having a correct thought or losing it is not different from liberation. 


                 ... Wisdom and stupidity are equally prajna (wisdom). 

                 Ignorance and true suchness are not different realms. 

                 Sila (morality), Samadhi (concentration) and prajna (wisdom) 

                 and the three poisons of greed, anger and delusion are all pure activities.

                 Sentient beings and the world they live in are of one Dharma-nature. 

                 Hells and heavens are all Pure Lands. 

                 Regardless of their distinct natures, all sentient beings have intrinsically accomplished the Buddha Path. 

                 All vexations are ultimate liberation. 

                 The Tathagata’s ocean of wisdom, which encompasses the whole dharmadhatu (the nature of all things), 

                 clearly illuminates all phenomena as empty space. 

                 This is called ‘the Tathagata’s accordance with the nature of enlightenment’.

                 The Buddha, The Sutra of Complete Enlightenment

Here then is the ultimate riddle: to seek without seeking, to renounce without renouncing, and to realise there is in fact no realiser. This can only become fully clear to the enlightened soul – one who no longer sees a snake in the harmless piece of rope and whose whole apparatus of existence that was based on the former belief has been dissolved. Thus Dattatreya sings:

                  The enlightened one is a yogi devoid of yoga and absence of yoga. 

                  He is an enjoyer, devoid of enjoyment or absence of enjoyment. 

                  Thus he wanders leisurely, filled with the spontaneous joy of his own mind.

                  All this is magic, like a mirage in the desert. 

                  Only the Absolute Self, of indivisible and impenetrable form, exists.

                  To all things, from the practice of religious laws and duties to liberation itself, we are completely indifferent. 

                  How can we have anything to do with attachment or detachment? 

                  Only the learned imagine these things.

                  Renounce the world in every way. Renounce renunciation in every way. 

                  Renounce the poison of renunciation and non-renunciation. 

                  The Self is pure, immortal, natural and immutable.

                  There is no state of liberation, no state of bondage, no state of virtue, no state of vice. 

                  There is no state of perfection and no state of destitution. 

                  Why dost thou, who art the identity in all, grieve in thy heart?

                  There is nothing dividing, nothing to be divided. 

                  I have nothing to know, nothing to be known. 

                  How shall I speak of coming and going, my child? 

                  I am free from disease – my form has been extinguished.

                  The Avadhuta Gita

I am tempted to end this writing with some dramatic punch line, but when all is said and done, it can only be something of an anti-climax as there is no way that I can claim, as many of the works I’ve quoted here do, that whoever reads them is guaranteed enlightenment. Thus...

In the Bhagavad-Gita:

                  He who shall study this dialogue of ours, 

                  by him shall I be worshipped through the sacrifice of wisdom. 

                  Such is my mind. 

                  The man who listens to it full of faith and in an uncarping spirit, 

                  freed from evil, even he shall gain the happy worlds of the virtuous. (18:70,71)

Yoga Vasishta:

                  He who constantly listens to this dialogue between Rama and Vasishta is liberated, 

                  whatever be the circumstances of his life, and he attains knowledge of Brahman.

The Avadhuta Gita:

                  This Gita or song is composed by Dattatreya Avadhuta who is the embodiment of bliss. 

                  Whoever reads or hears it has never any rebirth.

And The Sutra of Complete Enlightenment:

                  Virtuous man, if there were a man who, with the purest intentions, 

                  gathered enough of the seven treasures to fill a great chiliocosm (innumerable universes) and gave them all as alms, 

                  he could not be compared to another man who hears the name of this sutra and understands the meaning of a single passage.

So here’s the point. The ‘punch lines’ are spread throughout these great works from beginning to end, sometimes indeed on every line, and each has the potency to trigger greater awareness, higher consciousness and enlightenment to one degree or another. Like a baby kicking from within the womb they goad us to consider the mystery of life itself. When we are truly able to understand even one statement - if the time is right and we have sufficient concentration, developed by practice, to see its ultimate depth - when we are ready, as a ripe fruit, to fall from the tree - each is capable of transporting us from the contemplation of an imminent truth to the immediacy of undiluted Reality itself.

In particular, in these, my latter days, I have to recommend The Treasure Trove of Scriptural Transmission, which is Longchen Rabjam's commentary on his own work, The Precious Treasury of the Basic Space Of Phenomena. Travelling through time to us from the 13th Century, and thanks to Richard Barron's remarkable translation in English of Longchenpa's words, it is as if enlightenment itself is present on nearly every page describing itself, again and again, in such a direct and seemingly personal way that it is as if were being spoken by a living guru. Although clothed in the basic terminology of the Mahayana Dzogchen tradition of India-Tibetan Buddhism, it speaks directly to the heart of existence as a human being, pointing out  space-like timeless awareness as the ultimate reality that abides within everyone yet permeates the whole display of phenomena without any exception or division, such that there is, in fact, nothing else but That. In a similar vein, from a Hindu perspective, is Yoga Vasistha, dating from much the same period, and which, on returning to read the translation by Swami Venkatesananda titled 'The Supreme Yoga' again after many years, I find to be saying exactly the same thing, in essence differing only in the terminology used, and pointing again and again to Supreme Consciousness in words that strike directly to the heart, such as:

                  Consciousness reflecting in consciousness shines as consciousness and exists as consciousness;

                  yet, to one who is ignorant (though considering oneself as wise and rational) there arises the notion

                  that there has come into being and there exists something other than this consciousness.

                  This consciousness is not created, nor does it perish; 

                  it is eternal and the world appearance is superimposed on it,

                  even as waves in relation to the ocean.

The Tibetan Bodhisattva, or God of wisdom, Manjusri, holds in one hand, resting on a lotus flower, a book symbolising spiritual knowledge, and in the other a flaming sword. It is a sword of Truth so sharp that it pierces the heart, severing the very root of ignorance to reveal the absolute emptiness that is the one pure, incorruptible essence and eternal Reality of all that exists - and that there is absolutely nothing whatsoever that is not simply That and That alone. 


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