The Light That I Am, by J.C. Amberchele: A Review


The Light That I Am:
Notes From the Ground of Being

by J.C. Amberchele

Review by Jerry Katz

This collection of interconnected essays, stories, confessions, and teachings is one of the best nonduality books I’ve ever read. Why? It’s INTERESTING. The nondual teaching here is rooted in a soil that we get to feel between our fingers.

Amberchele writes well. Consider the opening lines:

“Whatever idea I’ve had about how things work in this world hasn’t gotten me far, considering that I’ve spent more than twenty years in prison. Most of my beliefs I acquired from my father and from John Wayne, and anything that wasn’t ultra tough and ultra cool was to me ultra embarrassing.”

Few of us have gone that far with our early negative beliefs; however there’s an immediate identification or fascination with the author, at least to some degree. The author essentially says he will probably never be let out of prison: “I was, at times, a thug of the worst sort.”

Amberchele writes with spiritual authority but does not take advantage of the reader through excessive teaching or a parental attitude. Prison is humbling:

“So in the end, I’ll take this prison I find inside of me over the monastery that I don’t because prisons, it seems to me, supply a greater abundance of invitations to return. These taps on the shoulder are not subtle here, and include the entire gamut of negative emotions, fostered by every imaginable desire. Prisons are factories of longing, and I find all of these remarkable reminders – these opportunities – inside of me. And finally, ultimately, I’ll take this prison over a monastery because I have.”

This book is based on the teaching of Douglas Harding and is supported by the teachings of Tony Parsons, Byron Katie, Ramana Maharshi, Wei Wu Wei, and the Diamond Sutra. Many others are quoted or mentioned. Richard Lang writes about visiting Amberchele in prison and it appears that Lang facilitated the publication of his book.

Ultimately, this is a book about the Headless Way of Douglas Harding. Specific exercises are described, often involving practice with fellow prisoners.

The Appendix features the ten Headless Way experiments. They are tricks for getting you to see what you are, what is you, and what is. They are simple, almost childlike experiments, as though it’s show and tell day at school and it’s God’s turn.

Amberchele addresses in depth the possibility that he picked up nonduality and the Headless Way as crutches for avoiding the full weight imposed by the guilt of his criminal acts. The sense is that he may have, but the conclusion is that he doesn’t:

“I am guilty and I know it. I am responsible for this mess I am in and the messes of God knows how many others.”

“As a human, my problems are endless. I cannot fix or redeem myself at the human level; only at the level of Who I Really Am are my problems transformed. Nor is seeing and being this Source the easy way out, considering the profound commitment involved. (Seeing Who I Am is the easiest thing in the world; living from Who I Am is another matter.)”

Amberchele’s early spiritual adventures with LSD introduce the magical couple, Aldo and Bitsy:

“Pure acid puts you down, reduces reality to molecules, lets you know you aren’t in charge, and God help you if you think you are. Bitsy kept saying, ‘Let go, let go,’ and finally I peaked, and at that brief moment I knew all there was to know, ever and forever – and then Aldo and I spent the rest of the day tripping through the forest behind the house, examining, with the greatest of reverence, each leaf, every insect, the living earth beneath our feet.”

LSD is only the opening of a door which is soon blocked by resistances:

“Thus with my fragile social identity, and coupled with my LSD experiences in the ’60s and a growing curiosity about the true nature of things, I was probably a good candidate for awakening. Unfortunately, I resisted with a ferocity that was terribly damaging to myself and others. I was plagued with fear, holding on with whatever semblance of control I could fabricate.”

Through a graceful and gritty journey, we learn about Amberchele’s nondual daughter, his tragic son, prison life, his life before prison, spiritual practice, and hear discerning confessions about the nature of things:

“At my core I am Aware Emptiness, and it is because I am empty that I am able to be filled, because I am no-thing that I am capacity for everything. This is why, wherever I look, to whatever I attend, I am replaced. And the replacement is total. I am not partially empty and partially replaced. I instantly and totally become what I am replaced by, including not only the physical but the mental as well, all the thoughts and feelings that adhere to the objects of the scene. This includes the scenes I call memory, mental imagery, dreams and hallucinations. This is why I am both No-thing and Everything, both Emptiness and Form, but is essential that I not confuse what belongs where or what goes with what. Thoughts and feelings, although seemingly formless, belong to the world of form, adhere to and so define the physical appearances that constitute the world. Ultimately, they are the world. Empty Awareness is free of these things, and because it is free, it welcomes the world, which it then recognizes as itself! There is no separation, and at the same time, no confusion.”

Few present the teaching of nonduality as interestingly as Amberchele. This book will likely make an impact on you. At the least, you’ll enjoy the writings a lot.

The Light That I Am:
Notes From the Ground of Being

by J.C. Amberchele

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One thought on “The Light That I Am, by J.C. Amberchele: A Review

  1. Pingback: the light that I am « this unlit light

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