is like endless billboards
in the desert
announcing a desert
By opening your mind to nonduality you might live a more effective life
is like endless billboards
in the desert
announcing a desert
Once I got fired from a job and my boss told me to go home. I said, “Could I stop and get a sandwich first?”
Wait, I’m going somewhere with this.
The word “stumbling” is often seen in spiritual teachings. Stumbling implies a vertical presence cropping up in the midst of your horizontal walk. It’s like a bolt of lightning. It’s vertical. Or it is like the descent of a dove. It is nowhere in the vision of the horizontal walk. You have to be struck by it, or struck down by it, or experience the descent, whatever is most meaningful. It — this vertical presence, this bolt of Grace — has to be stumbled upon. You can’t say, “Oh here comes the dove. I’ll let it descend on me, but first I’m gonna stop at Quiznos.”
When you get “fired” from your old life, you pretty much have to head straight “home.” Or perhaps it is suddenly realized you are already there. There’s no stopping for anything on the way.
Here are some people who have talked about stumbling:
“Just keep in mind the feeling ‘I am’, merge in it, till your mind and feeling become one. By repeated attempts you will stumble on the right balance of attention and affection and your mind will be firmly established in the thought-feeling ‘I am’. Whatever you think, say, or do, this sense of immutable and affectionate being remains as the ever-present background of the mind.” Nisargadatta Maharaj
It is by going down into the abyss that we recover the treasures of life. Where you stumble, there lies your treasure.” Joseph Campbell
Emmylou Harris had an album, Stumble Into Grace.
“You don’t find truth as much as you stumble upon it when you have cast away your illusions.” Adyashanti
“I myself do not know how I stumbled into this so how do you expect me to give it to another? My mission, if there is any, is to debunk every statement I have ever made. If you take seriously and try to use or apply what I have said you will be in danger.” U. G. Krishnamurti
“After stumbling, and nearly falling, I stopped, and then, to my delight, I suddenly became the Native American Shaman, Medicine Bear. The change was immediate.” Tyberonn
“Whoever delves into mysticism cannot help but stumble, as it is written: ‘This stumbling block is in your hand.’ You cannot grasp these things unless you stumble over them.” The Essential Kabbalah (last chapter), Daniel C. Matt
How do you know you’ve stumbled? You just know. Let’s put it this way, if you’re stopping for a sandwich on the way to an anticipated stumbling, you’ve got it wrong. Just shut-up and enjoy the sandwich.
Since 1997, starting with the website www3.ns.sympatico.ca/umbada, I’ve been bringing forth a certain brand of nonduality or nondualism. It’s a people’s nonduality because no one is excluded and it doesn’t require academic, religious, guruic, ashramic, or even broad spiritual association.
Four elements describe this nonduality or nondualism, though some will have experienced one, two, or none of the first three.
1. A person experiences a sense, or an intuition, of existence (or God, Truth, reality, etc.). The sense may arise spontaneously, or out of suffering, or out of joy, out of immersion in a spiritual tradition, or out of any number of experiences whether combined or isolated. More mundanely, a person is curious about life and senses there are significant things to be learned.
2. Energized by a deep and persistent valuing of their sense or intuition or inner knowing of existence (or God, Truth, reality, etc.), the person is driven and drawn toward the pursuit of a full understanding or realization of their sense or intuition or inner knowing. More mundanely, a person hungers for all kinds of knowledge, goes to school, studies, reads, observes, develops intellectually and otherwise.
3. The person reaches the end of their journey or pursuit, although they do whatever, for them, is right, and which may include practice and study.
4. The various creative expressions emerging from the life lived within any of the above three phases, or beyond all of them, bear the hallmark of non-separation (sometimes accompanied by the more mystical hallmark of oneness experience). Regardless of whether or not I can associate the creative expression with any of the first three phases, I consider that form of expression one of nonduality. I am likely to bring it to the attention of people. As noted, the hallmark of non-separation is evident in utterances from people who simply recognize reality as nondual, without having gone through any of the first three phases.
No doubt I will be updating this description of a people’s nonduality. Your comments are welcome.
A discussion on the nonduality (or non-nonduality) of Christian contemplative Bernadette Roberts is being held at Nonduality Salon, hosted by YahooGroups. Join the list. New members are moderated. It’s easy to unsub.
To learn about Bernadette Roberts, go to this web page. To get a balanced view, be sure to click on the links to other Bernadette Roberts sites.
Joseph Conti, an adjunct instructor in Comparative Religions at California State University, Fullerton, and who recently delivered a paper on Bernadette Roberts’ paradigm at the American Academy of Religions, is on hand for only a few days to answer questions and receive your comments. Conti maintains that Roberts’ work has nothing to do with nondualism. Some people are taking issue with that. Join the discussion at Nonduality Salon, which is one of the oldest, if not the oldest of all the Yahoo groups.
A friend asked whether I had read Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth. She’s currently reading it herself. I said yes. She asked whether I had experienced a shift in consciousness.
The question surprised me. My first response was that I read so much stuff like Tolle’s, and material far more powerful, that there wouldn’t be a shift in consciousness from reading anything.
The question is whether there is ever a shift in consciousness. There is. There are. They include
1. The shift from confusion and disillusionment to the intuition that there is Truth.
2. The shift from the intuition of Truth to the realization that you exist and that the world exists.
3. The shift from the realization of existence to a valuing of existence such that you study your existence — your thought patterns — through spiritual practices.
4. The shift from erratic success in your practice to stability.
5. A shift from stability in practice to effortlessness with practice.
6. A shift from effortlessness to oneness, no attachment, still with practice.
7. A shift from oneness to non-separateness. All arises as mind. No one to practice. The final shift. Sciousness.
8. The world recognized as “this.”
9. Selfless service; the natural playing out of “this.” Steps 8 and 9 describe the disposition of neo-advaita.
The steps are a very abridged version of the Ten Oxherding Pictures. You could awaken directly and apparently spontaneously to any of these steps.
Some would say you experienced the previous steps in former lifetimes. That may be your understanding, but with step 7 the idea is another arising within a mind that is no one’s and gives rise to the apparent truth that there are separate minds. The perception of separate minds gives rise to confusion and disillusionment, which might lead to the first step above: the intuition of something beyond, which is known as Truth, God, Reality… .
by Jonathan Bricklin, editor
A review by Jerry Katz
Eirini Press is a new publisher of nonduality books, filling the niche of the Western contribution. Sciousness is their only title at this time. If Sciousness exemplifies, in both content and design, the quality of their forthcoming books, Eirini Press is positioned for serious success.
Beyond “The Varieties of Religious Experience”
Those who have enjoyed James’s The Varieties of Religious Experience, will discover what James could not talk about in that series of lectures: the truth of “pure experience” or nondual awareness. The following quotation is an example of about how far James could go in “Varieties” toward approaching nonduality:
“It is evident that from the point of view of their psychological mechanism, the classic mysticism and these lower mysticisms spring from the same mental level, from that great subliminal or transmarginal region of which science is beginning to admit the existence, but of which so little is really known.”
“Varieties” was a series of lectures delivered in 1901-1902. In 1890, James first suggested the nonduality thesis but did not develop it until 1904. This book collects James’s nondual writings published during 1904 -1905, with short writings from 1890 and 1912. The intended audience is students, scholars, readers of Western philosophy as well as followers of the literature of nonduality.
If sciousness sounds to you like “suchness,” that’s the point. James recognized that nondual experience knows no “with-suchness,” only suchness, or pure experience, or the essence of Zen. Con-sciousness is suchness accompanied by the sense of “I,” or a “me,” a “myself.” A great effort is made in this book to describe the “I.”
James called his nondualism radical empiricism. His empiricism is radical because it absorbs what is directly experienced and ALL that is directly experienced, including unifying experiences and nondual experience.
He brought ordinary empiricism up to speed by showing that nonseparateness is to be included, along with separateness, along with collectionism and abstraction as part of a description of reality.
In that effort, James brought Rationalism down to earth by showing that nonseparateness, unity, or Truth is not a separate order of reality eventually requiring corrective agencies of unification.
A Definitive Anthology
In Sciousness, Jonathan Bricklin has constructed a definitive anthology that conveys completeness and unity in the presentation of William James’s nondual expression. This work is driven by intellectual argument and is based in James’s confession of nondual knowing. It is elevated by elements of charm and poetry which arise out of the anthology’s design and the writings by all the three authors. Most importantly, this work is founded in Bricklin’s understanding of what nonduality is.
This is mainly a collection of James’s writings. The book opens with its crowning achievement, without which James’s nondual writings on their own would not likely be published for a broad audience of philosophy and spirituality readers. The book’s crown is Bricklin’s article, Sciousness and Con-sciousness, which introduces and analyzes James’s nondual work, making it readily understandable.
The article is followed by six writings by James. The book ends with an article on radical empiricism by Theodore Flournoy, one of the few contemporaries of James who understood and appreciated his thesis, and which served in its day as a crowning (if little known) achievement on behalf of James.
Thus the anthology is balanced: James’s writings are located centrally, flanked the writings of Bricklin and Flournoy. The entryways of the book consist of the preface, in which Bricklin elegantly delivers the nugget that James prepared the way for quantum theory expositions on nonduality and for Western seekers, students, and teachers of nonduality; and six pages of an Eastern nondual confession by Seng-t’san (Sosan), Third Zen Patriarch. The exit is a quotation by Rilke.
Zen meets William James
The Seng-t’san selection, On Believing in Mind (Hsin-Hsin-Ming), is a bowing to the East prior to the reader’s turning to the West. Most readers and knowers of nonduality will be led into the Western mode of nondual writing through the Eastern description: “All things are the same at their core / but clinging to one and discarding another / Is living in illusion.”
Or is it as simple as a bow and a turn to the West? In this book, East and West are not so separate. The turn is not from East to West, but from an emphasis on Eastern to an emphasis on Western thought and influence. Bricklin points out that D.T. Suzuki alerted his teacher Kitaro Nishida to James’s writing and Nishida used James’s phrase “pure experience” in his scholarly writings intended to bring East and West closer. Suzuki himself is well known as a bringer of Zen to the West. Martha Ramsey has pointed out to me that Zen and Buddhism rode into Western minds and hearts upon literary steeds of Romantic and American Transcendentalist traditions. Bricklin himself extracts the Zen nature of James’s nondual writings and in the process he uses a Zen which itself was probably influenced by William James. That is, a Zen that is perhaps thinly infused by James is brought to today to explain James.
Show me the nonduality
How nondual was William James? That’s what today’s audience wants to know. People today can read a few words and detect whether someone is speaking with authenticity or parroting someone else. Listen and decide for yourself:
“If the passing thought be the directly verifiable existent which no school has hitherto doubted it to be, then that thought is itself the thinker, and psychology need not look beyond.”
“…things and thought are not at all fundamentally heterogeneous, but are made of one and the same stuff, a stuff which one cannot define as such, but only experience, and which one can call, if one wishes, the stuff of experience in general.”
“I believe that consciousness, as it is commonly represented, either as an entity, or as pure activity, but in any case as fluid, unextended, diaphanous, devoid of all content of its own, but directly self-knowing – spiritual, in short -, I believe, I say, that this consciousness is a pure chimera, and that the sum of concrete realities which the word consciousness should cover deserves a quite different description.”
“The instant field of the present is at all times what I call the `pure’ experience. … If the world were then and there to go out like a candle, it would remain truth absolute and objective, for it would be `the last word,’ would have no critic, and no one would ever oppose the thought in it to the reality intended.”
“The instant field of the present is always experience in its `pure’ state, plain unqualified actuality, a simple that, as yet undifferentiated into thing and thought, and only virtually classifiable as objective fact or as someone’s opinion about fact.”
Here James is on verge of refining “pure experience” into “pure silence:”
“Whatever differing contents our minds may eventually fill a place with, the place itself is a numerically identical content of the two minds, a piece of common property in which, through which, and over which they join. The receptacle of certain of our experiences being thus common, the experiences themselves might some day become common also. If that day ever did come, our thoughts would terminate in a complete empirical identity, there would be an end, so far as those experiences went, to our discussions about truth. No points of difference appearing, they would have to count as the same.” Thirteenth century mystic Jnaneshvar (translated by Swami Abhayananda) echoes:
After such a discourse,
That speech is wise
Which drinks deeply of silence.
James’s approach was soft
James did not confess his knowings and leave them at that. Not without lengthy philosophical explanation and demonstration. Rather than simply state the way things are – and he knew – he would soften his confessions with phrases such as, “I believe,” “I conclude,” “I should like to convey,” “I feel,” “I say,” “I am convinced.” If someone uses those phrases today, they are deemed halfway up the mountain, even if they are not. “James theorized about pure experience sciousness more than he described instances of it,” Bricklin writes.
Were James preaching to a congregation, the language would have been different. There is a sense that James wanted to simply be the preacher and tell it the way it is: In this passage he comes close: “I am as confident as I am of anything that, in myself, the stream of thinking (which I recognize emphatically as a phenomenon) is only a careless name for what, when scrutinized, reveals itself to consist chiefly of the stream of my breathing.” Here too: “While still pure, or present, any experience – mine, for example, of what I write about in these very lines – passes for `truth.’ The morrow may reduce it to `opinion.’” However, James asserts that this knowing of `truth’ is valid: “When the whole universe seems only to be making itself valid and to be still incomplete (else why its ceaseless changing?), why, of all things, should knowing be exempt?”
There’s a sense that James wants to leap from declaring his confidence to declaring the truth that he knows. In fact, Bricklin leaps for James – or let’s just say he infers — wonderfully and memorably in his article.
The limits of philosophy
James called philosophy an “ugly study” since if offered no “sublime and simple” Ultimate Reality. Bricklin says, “James never developed his philosophy of pure experience sciousness beyond brief passages and essays. To do so would have made it ugly.”
William Samuel, who wrote and taught during the 60s-80s, was himself blunt about philosophy: “God would be a sadist if one’s saving grace depended on a detailed knowledge of philosophy. What kind of god would require continual delving into the abstruce and arcane lore of mysticism or metaphysics as a passport to a Reality that is already ONLY and unchallenged?”
The limitlessness of philosophy – direct path
William James offers a direct path nondual teaching. Dennis Waite says in his book Enlightenment, The Path Through the Jungle, that the direct path begins “with one’s own experience, and tests one’s assumptions against the simplicity of this experience in the moment. It examines the world, body and mind, showing through one’s experience how they are nothing other than the awareness, which is the Self.” Self is James’s “pure experience.”
Waite says “The direct-path approach is characterized by an uncompromising, logical approach to the truth (and is) most suitable for those of a philosophical bent.”
Waite quotes Sri Atmananda, a teacher of direct path in its purest form: “(the direct path) is removal of untruth by arguments, leaving over the Truth absolute as the real Self.”
Though I would not call James’s writings the purest direct path teaching, they are historically significant and wondrous to read, considering the the audience for whom they were intended.
In the 60s and 70s, many seekers of spiritual truth learned about mysticism and found affirmation of their nondual intuitions within William James’s book, The Varieties of Religious Expression. Now we can discover that James was a nondualist afterall. Sciousness is a superb anthology, the best possible book imaginable for the discovery of the nondual William James.
by Jonathan Bricklin, editor
I’m reading Dennis Waite’s book, Enlightenment: The Path Through the Jungle, which makes a strong case for traditional advaita studies. Traditional advaita is the long, slow, involved path to enlightenment. It’s one path.
In the world of nonduality, what is there to hang one’s hat on? What path or teacher should one follow?
Consider that you don’t have to do anything other that sit down and do whatever is in front of you waiting to be done. It could be the laundry. That’s a path. The dishes. That’s another path.
An exchange on Seinfeld comes to mind, the episode where Jerry and George are pitching their idea for a TV series to execs at NBC. George states that the shows would be about nothing. The exec at NBC asks George what kinds of stories they’d write for a show that is about “nothing.” George responds by asking the head exec of NBC, “What did you do today?” The exec says, “I got up and came to work.” George says, “That’s a show.” Of course the TV exec comes back with, “Not yet.”
The point is that in your life of nonduality, everything’s a show, everything’s a path. Getting ready to go to work. A conversation. The current book you’re reading. Reading this. That’s your nondual path. There’s absolutely nothing else.
Eventually you will come to see that this intimacy with each event or moment is enriching. It keeps you appreciative, grateful, and focused. But that’s not the goal or the end of it.
At some point you come to sense that there’s an atmosphere in which all this stuff you’re doing plays out. It’s the atmosphere in which laundry is done, in which gratitude happens, in which the moment is experienced, in which you become a more real person, in which you perceive you are awakening, in which your spiritual life plays out.
You suddenly realize that you are that atmosphere. You go back to doing the laundry, the dishes, the nonduality book, but now it’s different. Those events could be said to be happening, but there is no one doing them. Atmosphere is doing them. The sensed atmosphere is awareness.
Back to Seinfeld for a moment. The “nothing” theme in which all of the Seinfeld episodes play out is like the atmosphere I’ve been talking about. It’s the overall awareness of the Seinfeld show. Seinfeld is about nothing, therefore the show can — and did — bring almost anything into play: the placement of a shirt button, the need for a spatula, the crunch of a candy bar. When “nothing” is the backdrop, like a blank movie screen, anything goes.
Understanding the atmosphere of “nothing” or awareness, suddenly everything has great meaning, and not one more than another. It is all awareness, all nothing. So go read a nonduality book. Or do the laundry. It doesn’t matter what you do as long as you realize it plays out in an atmosphere. But you have to truly have that realization, otherwise it does matter.
As far as morality, law, ethics, manners, traditions, and customs, it does matter what we do. That’s because while everything is nothing, it still has a reality which must be respected.
Traditional advaita teaches about that reality in the process of leading you gradually toward enlightenment.
If you don’t want the gradual teaching, if you want more immediate knowledge about action and the atmosphere in which it plays out, read the books of neo-advaita.
For a fuller picture of nonduality as presented in books, read both traditional and neo advaita.