When you start to look at your idea of yourself, it’s all layers, like peeling all the layers of an onion until there’s no onion left. You might ask, “Will the true entity of me show up, the sterling spiritual version of me?” And at any moment that you peer beyond the layers, it’s disconcerting, because you keep finding, “The more I look for myself, the more I can’t find myself. I keep peeling through the layers looking for the core of me, and there’s no core.” In a sense, there is a core, but it’s not the core as we think of it. Because there’s still something, or more accurately, there’s still “nothing” that recognizes that there’s nothing. That recognition is consciousness.
Consciousness isn’t a thing. It’s not an entity. It’s not a little core piece of you. It’s that which sees and experiences, and it makes every experience possible. It lights up the world. No consciousness, no experience of the world.
Most of ego’s problematic aspects revolve around a condensed experience of being, where it makes us feel like we are simply a separate entity. A lot of spirituality has to do with unraveling that until we see there’s nothing there. But it’s not true to just say, “There’s nothing,” because there is something. It’s not a thing though; it’s that which lights up the whole universe. We’re all utilizing it right now. It’s perfectly functioning in this moment as much as it will ever function.
The ground of being, sometimes called the Absolute, the Godhead, or Dharmakaya [the body of Truth], in and of itself is unconscious of itself. It’s aware, but it has no awareness of itself. It has no self-consciousness. In fact, we might just call it Awareness since there’s really nothing to it in a conventional sense. It’s a domain of pure infinite potentiality.
If you imagine what pure infinite potentiality would look like, it wouldn’t look like anything, because it hasn’t become anything yet. So it would be like an abyss of nothing, but not your ordinary nothing—the potentiality of all existence, like supernovas and galaxies and universes. We’re talking about a lot of potentiality, including the potentiality for human beings to develop self-consciousness.
This Absolute that’s aware, but not self-aware, uses the human being’s consciousness to become self-aware. It’s conscious, but it’s not self-conscious. It needs consciousness to light it up, so it becomes self-aware. And that’s a moment of awakening. If awakening penetrates to that depth, it’s the absolute depth of being, which you could say is the absolute totality of the psyche becoming conscious of itself: I AM.
The deepest domain of your psyche, the most unconscious domain of your psyche, needs consciousness to become self-aware—hence the spiritual impulse. It comes and gets you. Then we attach our agenda to it, like “I hope this makes me feel better, and makes my life more complete.” And that’s fine. It will use that, too. It’s understandable that we add on our human hopes not to suffer so much. But this impulse actually originates beyond the pleasure principle. It’s about something else.
The journey is actually in both directions. We need the divine, and it needs us every bit as much as we need it. It needs the consciousness. That’s basically what spirituality is: You’re making conscious the domains of human experience that are generally unconscious. That’s why you feel the pull, and you don’t know where it is coming from or where is it going. You wonder, “Why do I care about all this?” It means it’s coming from a domain of your being or your psyche that’s unconscious to you. You’re just conscious of the pull or the yearning. That yearning is not just yours; it actually originates from its completion.
So when we go into that deep domain, some dimension of consciousness comes in, and all of a sudden it’s like the lights come on. It’s awake, and when it’s awake, all the yearning ceases. The seeking ceases. The seeker ceases. It all just drops away, because it’s been satisfied. It's not so much the human that's been satisfied; that dimension of consciousness has been satisfied. Of course, then they go together. You recognize it’s all the same thing, because in that dimension, we realize that what we call the unconscious is far vaster than we think it is. The unconscious in this dimension is connected with all of existence. That’s why when you get to a sufficient depth, you experience “I am That.” And “That” means everything from a teacup to every star that you see in the sky. It’s a direct experience of being.
© Adyashanti 2018
Awakening, at least initially, is often a kind of transcending of the human dimension of being. Body, mind, ego—all of that is transcended. And that’s necessary, because it’s not our egos that wake up. We have to be able to sort of leave them behind. But also, we do have a body and a mind and a human life that’s in time and space, and it’s always in a process of becoming.
To our ego mind it’s hard to imagine “becoming” that has no search for completion in it, no sense of angst or unworthiness. But it’s actually happening all around us. Everything in nature is in the process of becoming, but it’s not in a rush to get there. When a pine tree is a seed, in a certain sense it’s complete. It contains the entire pine tree within the seed. In fact, in a way, it contains all pine trees within the seed. It’s totally complete; nothing is left out. The potentials for roots and trunks and branches and pine needles are all present. A hundred-and-fifty-foot-tall pine tree is innate in a single little seed.
If that seed had its own version of a spiritual awakening, it would feel that completeness, that it didn’t have to become anything other than it was. That’s a huge thing for a human being to experience. Simultaneously, if the conditions are right, the seed starts to sprout and put down roots. It grows a trunk and stretches out its branches and needles to the sun, and basically unfolds its potential. Through the whole life of the tree, it’s endlessly unfolding its potential, until its life is exhausted and it becomes fertilizer for the next seed.
That’s one of the examples I like to use where you can actually have both of these things happening: always unfolding your potential and always unfolding your completion, once we realize what’s always and already whole. And it’s not just a personal thing. It’s not the ego that has that realization; it’s true nature as such, so it’s the true nature of all beings and all things. As it is said that the Buddha proclaimed when he awoke, “I and all beings everywhere have simultaneously realized the great liberation.”
Of course, if he was saying that from the ego perspective or even the rational perspective, it makes no sense. Just because this guy Buddha sitting under the tree had his great enlightenment doesn’t mean that somebody around the corner all of a sudden popped into enlightenment also. But the true nature of me is the true nature of you, and the true nature of you is the true nature of the universe. And when true nature awakens through an individual expression, it’s true nature as such that awakens. So that’s the feeling, and that’s important, because it’s not only important for us to discover our wholeness and completion, but that we also perceive it in others. If it’s a real realization, it will be true nature that’s awake—not “my” true nature, in terms of just me. It has that quality, too, because there’s still an individual there in a certain sense. But the gift has to be seen everywhere.
Seeing the true nature of everyone and everything is an immensely beautiful thing to behold, and wonderfully confounding when you behold the true nature of somebody or something you really don’t like. “Really? Wow!” It doesn’t mean that you suddenly agree with the person you dislike. You can still disagree, but it’s different to disagree and just see your version of their wrongness, or disagree and see that they are also an expression of true nature—potentially a conscious one, potentially an unconscious one.
Even though it’s just mere understanding, it’s kind of nice every once in a while to remind yourself that you can’t be other than you are, and there’s completion from the very beginning. Even when we’re confused and searching and struggling, that’s also true nature. That’s like the seed sprouting and pushing away the grains of soil as it makes its way to the surface sunlight. You can feel that pushing through happening sometimes; that itself is an expression of true nature. So the yearning and the search is an expression of true nature. And it’s not a bad thing to contemplate, especially if you’re having a difficult time. You don’t somehow stop becoming what you really are when you’re struggling.
It all starts from the simplest standpoint, the simplest thing. As I say, often when it comes to your spiritual practice, whatever that is, the simpler and more one-pointed the better. The usefulness of an application is how much can be condensed into its most simple form. It’s like a physicist trying to come up with an equation that takes the greatest amount of information and condenses it into the most simple expression possible. That was the genius of E=mc2. The amount of information that it contained was almost unimaginable, as well as its beauty. Certainly for someone like Einstein this was clearly a big part of his motivation. Such discoveries were mathematical and spiritual discoveries at the same time.
So when you condense the immensity of true nature down into a really simple application, you want something that contains as much wisdom and vision and love as possible in its most simplified, practical form. Often I’ll say simply, “Abide as awareness.” Just that. Keep it simple.
From Adyashanti's Mount Madonna Retreat, 2019
© Adyashanti 2019
What we think of as spirituality is not limited to what we think spirituality is. Spirituality is innate to being. It’s to be involved in the enigma of being. It’s to crack that nut, to open up that mystery. I think so much of deeper spirituality begins when we finally have the maturity, whether it comes at five years old or ninety-five years old, when we have whatever it is that causes us to recognize how deeply and profoundly we are a mystery unto ourselves. You have to have a little gap in your constant judging and condemning of yourself to feel the mystery of yourself. You have to suspend judgment for a moment. It’s a very unique and pivotal point in someone’s life. This is the contemplative endeavor. It’s diving into the mystery of being.
Meditation, whether it’s done in a meditation hall or while you’re sitting on a porch in your front yard, is actually entering experientially into that enigma of being—not just to think about it and philosophize about it, but to actually enter into it. It’s not very far to connect with the mystery of being. It’s right there under the surface. When I started to notice all of this in my twenties, it was a weird thing, because when you get involved with spirituality, you get all these ideas of what a spiritual person is, and I didn’t seem to fit the model. The model of a spiritual person didn’t seem to be a highly competitive athlete who would run over your grandmother to win the next race. That’s not in the sacred scriptures. Someone like that does not receive the deeper spiritual insights, you might think.
The nice thing is that when you’re young, sometimes you don’t even put spirituality in a category. It’s not spirituality, it’s just life. Sometimes life shows up in an odd way, and all of a sudden your experience of it is very different. Maybe you feel deeply connected, or you seem to disappear into nothingness, or you seem to have a moment of connection with God that’s unusually profound and touching and life changing. Or maybe you sink into some spontaneous samadhi where you lose all connection to your senses, and everything disappears, and you’re like a point of consciousness. There are many, many different ways that the deeper dimension of being shows up.
I think it’s useful to think of spirituality in the most natural possible terms. Spirituality is just natural to a human being. It’s even natural to atheists. If you could listen to scientist Carl Sagan in his mystical awe of the cosmos, it was like listening to a mystic half the time, in rapt awe of the beauty of existence. He was a scientific materialist, but that was his doorway into experience, connection, and awe. He was somebody who didn’t believe in God, but he had a deep experience. Clearly his investigations brought him into something akin to a kind of religious or spiritual awe.
I mention naturalness because the sense of the naturalness of true nature or awakening to true nature is not just religious, and it’s not just spiritual. You can even have atheists who are deeply participating in a way of being that connects them to a greater dimension of being. So clearly, this is something that’s innate in all of us. And if we would just go immediately to whatever our felt sense of our own mystery of being is, just to dip for a moment underneath the evaluations, the ideas, and the judgments of being, it doesn’t take much attention—a moment, really—to connect with the sense of being this extraordinary, conscious mystery.
Of course, we don’t want to just leave it at that. There’s something deeper in us that wants more than simply to leave it all as a mystery. I’m suggesting that that’s the entry point. If you forget that entry point, you can do decades of meditation looking for something that’s actually completely innate. And so in the old, universal teachings among the esoteric inner dimensions of most spiritualities, the suggestion is to just go into that place where everything is an unknown.
Open to the unknown. Experience the unknown. Just stop for a second. There’s so much about you that’s unknown to you, it’s mind-boggling. What is it that’s walking, living and breathing, wanting what you want and not wanting what you don’t want? What is it that wants God or awakening or enlightenment, or just a little more peace and happiness in a troubled life? Every time we say “I,” what do we actually mean? We’re giving voice to something that’s immense, and the capabilities are astonishing.
From The Quiet Dimension of Being, 2019
© Adyashanti 2019
When we are paying attention, we have a natural sense of awe. We are all here on this tiny planet floating in an immense and expanding sea of time and space. We are barely a pinprick, yet we are conscious beings. As far as we can look in this space, we can see a lot of things, but we have not encountered another intelligence with abilities that are like or beyond those of humans, at least not yet.
Of all the places we could be, of all the beings we could be, it is remarkable that in a certain sense we are the eyes and ears and the contemplating ability of the universe. Consciousness gives us this unique facility, not only to be aware, but also to be aware that we are aware. We can reflect on reflecting on things, and so what is happening is that the cosmos is reflecting upon itself. When we look at incredible mystery, spiritual awakening, or revelation itself, it will show that we—in the deepest sense of things—are the mystery that we are looking at.
The spiritual impulse—the impulse that motivates, drives, and inspires us to awaken to the deeper nature of reality—has a human element. In other words, as human beings we want whatever we want from that realization, whether that’s happiness or love or a relief from suffering. But the real drive of awakening lies within life itself. This agenda is bigger than the human one: it is life or existence seeking to be conscious of itself and to know itself. If my talking about this ability of consciousness to recognize itself sounds a little too cosmic, you have my sympathies, but if you are quiet for a moment you will find that there is the simple sense of being—the sense of “I exist” even before you form the words “I exist.” Even before thought defines that sense of being, there is a sense of existing and a sense of knowing that you exist. That is consciousness and what consciousness makes us capable of. . . .
Part of what gives any spiritual discipline its power is our ability to look in a precise way, not in a haphazard way. What is the nature of my being? Where is this self? What is it exactly? Does it exist? If I am not a self, then what am I? These questions are not meant to have quick answers; they are meant to open your mind and open consciousness so that you can experience both mind and consciousness more directly and intimately. No matter where we look—from the biggest of the biggest to the smallest of the smallest—if we are paying attention, we cannot help but experience the awe and wonder of existence, and the awe and wonder of existence is what drives spiritual yearning. In a deeper sense, life’s inherent inclination is to become fully conscious of itself: the feeling that you have of yearning or being driven spiritually is a desire that belongs to life itself wanting to be conscious of itself—to be fully awake and fully present. This is where the spiritual impulse is derived, from a place that is even deeper than our personal concern, deeper than what we hope for or what we want from our spirituality.
In other words, there is another game being played out on a completely different scale, and that is by life itself, by this immensity seeking to become as self-aware as it can. That is your connection to the mystery, and that is the origin of cosmic curiosity, whether it is curiosity about the vast scale of the cosmos that we find ourselves in or about the vast scale of the consciousness that we are. To engage with these things is so important; it is the reason why every form of deep spirituality emphasizes the ability to pay attention, to not walk through life on automatic pilot. One of the greatest potentials of spiritual practice, if we are doing it right, is that it takes us out of automatic pilot mode. It makes us conscious and aware of what is going on, of who we are, of what we are, and of how remarkable and unfathomable this world is and our being is. Consciousness itself is amazing—how it comes to life and how there is a consciousness of anything. That there is a consciousness of consciousness is mind-boggling.
Right down to the most ordinary events in life, everything is much more extraordinary than we give it credit for. To engage with the true nature of ourselves—with the mysterious and overwhelming quality of existence—requires us to pay attention, to be present, and to not sleepwalk through the next moment and the next day and the next week and the next year. It requires us to endeavor to bring even a deeper sense of consciousness and awareness to each moment. When we do, the quality of our consciousness itself transforms our whole being.
It is an incredible experience to go outside, look up at the sky, and contemplate the overwhelmingly vast distances that make up this universe that we find ourselves part of and that we discover ourselves to be the consciousness of. When we are contemplating the universe, we are the universe contemplating itself, and that may be the most wondrous and extraordinarily profound aspect of our whole life.
From Adyashanti's book, The Most Important Thing
Published by Sounds True
© Adyashanti 2019
In one sense, part of our question-and-answer sessions is that you shoot your conceptual arrow. It’s like we meet out in a big meadow, and you’re at one end, and I’m at this end. And the Truth is the meadow. The Truth is the space. The Truth is the presence that is permeating the whole thing. But if you don’t get that, then you shoot a conceptual arrow: “This is what I think. This is my question.” And if you shoot a conceptual arrow, I shoot one back. And if we are lucky, both of those arrows meet tip to tip. And if they meet tip to tip in mid-air, they destroy each other.
There is yet another invitation and opportunity: to see the space that’s left when those two concepts mutually destroy each other. And if you don’t get it, then you'll lob another conceptual arrow: “Well, what about this?” And so we just shoot, and we hit tip to tip—boom. Really what it’s about is that mutual destruction of concepts, of viewpoints, of world views. And all that’s left is the consciousness that it’s happening in. That’s the Truth; that’s where all the wisdom is. It's not in your conceptual arrow, and it’s not in mine. Mine is just meant to hit yours.
It’s just like these words—they are not true. They are just meant to hit concepts within you. And maybe they will hit tip to tip and reveal space. Of course, that was there before we ever lobbed the concepts. Before we shot the conceptual arrows, that state of consciousness was there, because that’s what we are shooting the arrows in. The arrows can be many things: They can be our questions. They can be our demand that it should be this way or that way. Whatever it is, we are just shooting it right through consciousness. Consciousness doesn’t care. Innocence doesn’t mind.
But when those concepts hit each other and destroy each other, that’s the welcoming, the opportunity to wake up as that space that all this is happening in. When we see that, we stop putting importance in our conceptual arrows, because we already are what all our concepts are looking for. You already are the space in which the questions come. That space is what you are—that’s the end of it.
So any spiritual talk, any spiritual book, any sutra, is just a conceptual arrow. But what does the mind do? The mind grabs the arrow and thinks the Truth is in the arrow, and it starts to look at it, and it starts to collect them and put them in its little arrow package. When it gets a lot of arrows, it starts to feel safe. It has a lot of ammunition to defend itself against everything. And that’s what happens until it doesn’t. That’s how the mind operates. It’s a collecting of conceptual arrows.
But it doesn't matter how many arrows you have. Life is always shooting another one. And life has better aim than you do. It's always fracturing you. Have you ever noticed? So the blessing is seeing that it's not about what conceptual arrows we have, what conceptual demands we have, what emotional demands we are making upon this moment, whether those are met or unmet. It's really not about that. When we see that, then we stop fracturing ourselves. We stop looking for ourselves in the concepts or even in some emotional experience.
We start to see this innocent state of being that exists prior to all of that. And it's in the middle of all of that as well, and after all of that. That state of being is what you are. That's the awakening that's what you are, because then you don't have a relationship with it anymore. You are not objectifying it somewhere else. Just to let go of your demand for this state of silence, to let go of any demand you might have upon it for just half a second, that's all it takes for it to reveal itself, to wake up.
From Adyashanti's Santa Cruz, CA Meeting, March 2001
© Adyashanti 2001
Strictly speaking, we can’t actually want what liberation is. We can’t want it because we can’t know it—we can’t project an idea onto it. You can’t describe it. I call it pure potentiality. That’s as close as I can get, because a big “void” experience is actually a projected idea of what pure potentiality is. That’s what I call eternity. Pure potentiality is complete nothingness. Because it’s pure and it hasn’t become form, it’s often thought of as a void, but not a void of emptiness because it’s also not spatial. All of our ideas of emptiness and void and big expanses of sky and space are not it either, because all of those are spatial references. It’s not in time and it’s not spatial, so you really can’t say anything about it. You’re stuck in a place of divine ignorance.
Some people have actually called it a state of divine ignorance because you can be something that you can’t know. Meister Eckhart sometimes called it “unknowing knowledge.” Unknowing knowledge is like when that immensity—not the “me,” but that immensity itself—has a recognition, “This is what I am.” But beyond that, it can never know itself more than that, because there’s no experiential quality to it. That’s why I say that the deepest impulse is paradoxically beyond rationality.
As I’ve seen over the years, many people have bumped up against this. They’ve had an experience, dipped their toe in, gone to the other side to some extent, and were pulled back. Usually it’s just an automatic response, a survival instinct. But I guess if you wanted to think of it as a benefit, the benefit is that the nonconceptual knot—the ultimate root of what both ego and self are—that knot lets go. And when that knot is even starting to let go, that’s when you feel like “I’ll be annihilated.” Because when that knot lets go, it’s not a knot anymore, and everything it’s ever known about itself was some version of contractedness. That knot, that contractedness, is just falling out of experience.
This knot lets go throughout one’s whole being, and a tremendous lack of self-consciousness is what comes along with it. You lose your inner world.
By inner world I simply mean that the gaze of consciousness or the gaze of awareness is trying to get us to pay attention. There’s part of consciousness that’s dedicated to what we’re doing, and then there’s a piece of it that is constantly doing a U-turn. It’s looking back inside. It’s always saying, “Well, how am I doing? How do I like this? How is this working out for me?” It’s the thing that refers back. The self is that contracted turn, and what it reflects back on is what we call ego.
So first you see through ego. And then you see through this self-turn. Then what’s inside when there’s no ego (if only temporarily), when it’s very mature, is a totally unified inner experience of being. When it goes to the ground of being, this arc straightens itself out, because what it was looking at is what falls away.
When it falls away, you’re no longer pulled, attracted, obsessed. The arc of consciousness straightens itself out, and then there’s just one thing going on all the time. Because the thing that we were turning in toward was produced by the imaginary qualities of self. We grow out of that just like we grow out of infancy. And when we grow out of that, it just falls away. As far as I can see, that’s why the Buddha used the word “nirvana,” which was like blowing out a candle flame. The definition of his enlightenment experience was something being blown out. It wasn’t the addition of anything, it was the subtraction. Something just stopped happening. And that’s what I call one’s inner world.
When consciousness is straightened out, it’s not like it’s no longer in touch with life—it’s just in touch completely directly. The intermediary falls away. There’s nothing to look at anymore and then you’re very in touch, actually. What you’re in touch with is fluid. There’s something extraordinarily affirmative and affirming about it. It’s far from negative.
Nobody even has to look for it. At some point you’ll start to be drawn in there. It can even happen to people who aren’t spiritual at all. Because in the end, we’re talking about the ground of our being. We’re talking about our truest and real nature. There’s always a thread that’s inclining you in that direction, even when you don’t know you’re being inclined in that direction.
Reality is reality in the sense that it’s not becoming. It’s not changing. In one sense, it’s not evolving. And at the same time, one’s human capacity to embody it is changing and evolving and growing without end. Because we’re actually embodying something that’s the infinite ground of our being, there’s no end to how deeply and fully it can be embodied. And that’s a continuous journey. Even Buddha is still becoming Buddha, but the difference is not becoming in the sense of looking for completion—just the adventure, the endless wondering, “How accurately can this be embodied?” And there’s no endpoint.
We get foretastes of it all along the way, those little moments when you bump into your own nothingness, when you can’t find yourself and yet there you are. There’s nothing to chase. And remember, it’s all good. It’s all natural. There’s really nothing to fear.
From Adyashanti's Tahoe Retreat, May2018
© Adyashanti 2018
Our senses need to become refined, and the way our senses become refined is by starting to live through our senses again. It’s a great spiritual practice—a great human thing, but especially a great spiritual practice—to really be connected to your senses. You go outside and you actually feel the cold or the warmth on your skin. You don’t just take quick note of it and you’re off to the next abstract thought that flows through your brain, but you actually feel the cold or the warmth on your skin.
You really see what you’re looking at. You see it because you’re actually looking at it. We can have our eyes open but not really notice very much. You can look at something without having any of your senses online except vision. It’s almost like a computer looking around: “Okay, I’m taking it in—blue, white, ceiling, floor.” People live most of their life doing something like that. Or you can actually feel and sense what you see. Your sense of seeing and your sense of feeling are now operating in a kind of tandem.
It seems to me that either what evokes this noticing or what actually brings it into operation is the capacity of the heart to experience life in a tremendously deep and intimate way. Of course, it’s easier when you look at a tree or some flowers, something with some beauty to it. If you’re looking at them with any attention at all, you’ll realize it evokes a sense, a feeling. Your vision and the feel of something are operating in one moment. You’ve got at least two of your senses cooperating.
Actually, I think all of the senses are meant to work as a coherent whole. Their original way of operating is where you see and feel and hear and taste and touch things all at once, like the great composer who could not only hear music, but see music in his mind’s eye. How many people see music?
At any moment when all of our senses come together and really start to work as a coherent whole, when they’re all intermingled, they actually create another sense. That sense is what I’m calling the heart. All of a sudden, life is experienced in a very different way. As the great Zen Master Dogen said, “It is to be enlightened by the ten thousand things.” It’s an interesting thing to be enlightened by the ten thousand things—meaning everything. It’s to be enlightened by what you see and hear and taste and touch and feel, to be enlightened by the world.
So this is the awakening of the heart. You can just do whatever you’re doing, look at whatever you’re looking at, and imagine that somehow there’s something in the heart that’s actually part of the process of what you see. You’re seeing from it. You’re looking from it. Immediately it will change your experience. It will become a more intimate experience of being. It really doesn’t matter what you’re doing if you start to do it from the heart.
From Perceiving from the Heart, Oakland, CA, March 2018
© Adyashanti 2018
From the ordinary standpoint, which is where we all start out, spiritual practice has a quality of being a goal-oriented activity. We’re doing it for a particular reason. We’re hoping for a particular result. We hope it will help us to awaken or reveal the truth to us, or help us find peace or freedom. That’s entirely understandable. It’s a way of relating with whatever our spiritual practice is that feels honest. That’s a conventional view of practice, whatever the spiritual practice is.
The most important part of any spiritual practice is its authenticity, its honesty. And that’s something that’s often missed. The spiritual path is an embodied form of being really true and honest with yourself. That’s not an easy thing to do, especially at the beginning.
To be aware is to be confronted with whatever the reality of your condition is at any particular moment. That can roll off the tongue very easily, but when you go to do it, it can be very challenging to really show up in your life authentically for whatever’s unfolding at that moment. We’re always trying to change what is, or explain it, or justify it, or anything other than a direct encounter with the raw reality of our condition at any given moment.
It’s not easy for human beings to be really honest with themselves. It’s one of the most stringent, demanding practices that there is—to not knowingly, intentionally deceive ourselves or others. Just start with yourself. That’s enough for any given day. It's what needs to be informing our spiritual practice.
Spiritual practice becomes effective and powerful in direct proportion to how true and real and honestly it’s undertaken. That's authenticity. And so much of being honest and real with ourselves is realizing what we don’t know. Knowing that we don’t know takes a lot of honesty. A space opens within the mind and even in the body when we start to know that we don’t know. We open to uncertainty: “I’m not so sure anymore. I don’t know who I am. I don’t know what enlightenment is. I don’t know what God is. I don’t really know much of what I thought I knew.” Sometimes that can be tremendously liberating, when you let go of a painful idea or belief or opinion that was really burdensome. That can be very freeing, just to get that far.
From the standpoint of realization, practice looks very different. Practice is actually an expression of the state of realization. It's an embodied statement. At first, we can see something like meditation as a means to an end: “I hope this helps me get to where I want to get to.” But from a realized perspective, meditation actually becomes an embodied expression of that realization. It’s not the only expression by any means, but it’s one embodied expression. So then the practice and the realization become the same thing.
The underlying attitude that needs to inform our spiritual approach is basic honesty, sincerity, and truthfulness. To whatever extent we can become honest, truthful, and sincere right from the beginning, we’re actually participating in an embodied form of realization. So we can actually utilize aspects of realization far before we’re even realized.
From the viewpoint of realization itself, not only is practice an expression of realization, but it’s also simultaneously a way that realization explores itself, that reality explores itself. Again, it’s not a goal-oriented activity, because realization itself is infinite. Realization itself has no borders. It has no boundaries. Reality can always be realizing more of itself. When it’s reality doing the realizing, there’s no goal. There’s no end. There’s no anxiety. Strictly speaking, there's no seeking, because there’s no goal orientation. How could you make something that has an infinite capacity into a goal? Because if it’s infinite, by definition, you’re not going to get to the goal.
So practice can been seen from this other orientation, the orientation of a deeper realized state. And we can utilize some of that orientation, even if we don’t think we’re realized yet. We can use some of that attitude, you might say. In fact, it’s essential that we do use that attitude, because spiritual practice itself actually isn’t confined to specific spiritual disciplines. That’s another mistaken idea of spiritual practice, that when we're meditating, listening to a talk, or inquiring, we're engaged in a specific spiritual practice. But spiritual practice actually transcends all of those particular forms. It expresses itself through those embodied forms of spiritual practice. The forms are embodied expressions, but what informs all of those forms is something else.
What informs all of those forms of practice is the commitment to realization itself, which goes back to honesty, sincerity, and truthfulness. These are the primary spiritual practices. In that sense, they’re not limited to any particular form. They’re not limited to a time of meditation. You can practice honesty, sincerity, and truthfulness at any moment of your life, in any situation you might be in. Literally, these are the fundamentals of spiritual practice.
From Adyashanti's Authentic Spiritual Practice, UK Retreat, 2018
© Adyashanti 2018
In spiritual realization, if we mistake the first blush, the by-products of first discovery, for that which we’ve discovered, then we remain a kind of immature lover. An immature lover endlessly mistakes love for the experience of falling in love. In the same way, we may remain an immature realizer. We may have realized something, but we can remain in an immature state: “I want it to be this way all the time. I want it to feel like, ‘Oh, my God!’ all the time.” You’re not going to get past the threshold of the doorway of reality doing that. Experience teaches us that, and then we start to let go of it. We move beyond the ego mind into just being what we are.
That matures for a while. And then at some point, there may be a vast expanse of consciousness. It's like being a conscious, awake, alive, vibrant “nothing.” And it's a great nothing to be—a totally ascendant, transcendent experience. But it starts to dawn on you, “Okay, I am the nothing as opposed to everything else. Something doesn’t quite add up. There’s still some division. Maybe this isn’t the entire picture.” Not that you have to throw away what you’ve realized, but maybe there’s more to the picture. “Maybe it’s not just this stark duality that I have going, being the aware, awake nothing of consciousness and the everything of existence, the form of existence. That’s a fundamental duality.”
When that interest arises in you, it starts to help. There’s a clutching that you don’t even know is happening. It’s deep in the unconscious. It’s holding on to the new identity of formlessness. There’s a great tendency to want to stay there because it’s a kind of heaven. And you can understand why, because life’s a rough ride sometimes, and then you come into contact with something that’s never been harmed and can’t be harmed ever, and is always there, something that nobody can give you or take away from you. It is such an amazing relief and security to experience something like that. One is not quick to let it go, nor should we be quick to let it go. But it does arise that there may be more to this story.
That curiosity starts to loosen the unconscious holding on to the new identity as formless awareness. It’s not that the formless awareness identity has to go anywhere; it’s just that the clutching at it starts to loosen. And as it loosens, then the witness position relinquishes itself, and the witnessing collapses into the witnessed. When the holding starts to be relinquished, it’s the descending movement. It descends down into the heart. When this descent happens, the heart starts to awaken, and the witness collapses into the witnessed. Then we start perceiving through the heart, seeing through the heart. Then the witness and what is witnessed seem to be one. They’re the same.
It's a grand inclusion and the waking up of a perceptual capacity from the heart that sees the underlying unity of existence. Experientially, it’s like looking up at a tree and feeling as if the tree is seeing itself. Or you look up at the sky and it feels as though the sky is seeing itself. Or you touch something and you feel as though what you’re touching is feeling itself.
There’s no subject-object relationship going on anymore. There’s just one seamless thing, whatever you want to call it. Ramana called it the Self. The Buddhists call it Buddha nature. You could even call it the perception of life experiencing itself. “Oh, I thought I was apart from life. I thought life was something that I was in and trying to negotiate.” That’s the egoic perspective. “And now I see that I’m actually life itself, the whole of it, also appearing as a particular part at the same time.” You get to play both sides.
From Adyashanti's Mount Madonna Retreat, 2018
© Adyashanti 2018
Our primary cause of suffering is that we think deep inside we’re going to win the argument with what is. “What is” may be the world outside you, or you can be sitting all by yourself and you can be at war with yourself, saying, “The way it is, is not the way it should be. I want it to change.”
The problem is, the way you are at any instant is the way it is. That’s reality. Reality rules. It doesn’t change because you or I think it should be different. It’s very simple. And yet, when you really see it, you realize how easy it is to get lost in a literal state of insanity where your mind, your ego, is always telling life: “It’s not the way it should be. I’m not the way I should be. You’re not the way you should be. Something is wrong.”
That sense of wrongness has been around for a long time. But the only thing that’s wrong is that we keep believing there’s something wrong. And when we believe there’s something wrong, we treat the world badly.
You treat yourself badly when you think there’s something wrong with you. The more wrong you feel about yourself, the worse you treat yourself. We’re afraid to let go of that because we think unconsciously, “If we let go of that, then everything would spiral up and out of control. We wouldn’t feed the hungry and we wouldn’t pay attention to the needy and we’d all be self-absorbed. The world needs my argument with it. Otherwise it’s never going to become better.” It’s just insanity.
Where we are, we got here precisely because we argue with what is. And then our hearts close, and our minds close, and the inherent creativity of Spirit shrinks, and our options seem to diminish, and we’re walking in blinders. And the more we have blinders on, the more justified we feel in our reasons to oppose our lives.
At some point, something hits you: “Oh, that’s insane. That’s an argument I can’t win. I can’t win the argument with life. I can’t win the argument with myself. It has no validity to it, none whatsoever.” And then maybe it just starts to collapse.
And isn’t it when the heart opens, when the mind opens, that you and I join with right now? It doesn’t matter how “right now” is. Right now you might feel like a real disaster. You may feel absolutely horrible right now. If you totally join with even that, at the moment you join with it, it’s perfectly fine. It’s the cause of your freedom, just joining with life.
From Adyashanti's Asilomar Retreat, 2010
© Adyashanti 2010
The great spiritual author Alan Watts had a wonderful image. He said when a boat goes through the water, it leaves a wake in the water as it passes through. The way we understand things psychologically would be that the wake actually creates the boat, that the past is what creates the present moment. But of course, we know that the wake isn’t creating the boat; the boat is creating the wake. It’s the present moment that is creating the past. The present moment is what’s knifing through the water and the wake is just the recording of the present moment moving farther and farther into the past.
So if you look at it from that standpoint, the past doesn’t actually create the present even though it seems like the past is what gives us our present experience, which conditions the way we see life. There’s actually another way to see it, and that’s what the spiritual orientation is. The spiritual orientation is rooted in the revelation or the perception that there’s only right here and right now. And even deeper than that is that everything you think and feel and experience right here and right now is not actually the outcome of the past. It’s actually the spontaneous bursting into existence of the present. In a way it’s uncaused.
We’re taught to view life through the orientation that the past creates the present. The “here and now” orientation doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense. And yet, not only in the realm of spirituality, but also in the realm of science and quantum mechanics, we start to see that life actually bursts forth uncaused, seemingly out of nowhere, seemingly out of nothingness. This is what some of our physics and physicists have observed, that the smallest particles of matter actually seem to burst out of nowhere, out of nothingness, and on an even more perplexing level, that our observation of life is what actually brings life into being.
This is really the deeper meaning of “spontaneous.” Spontaneity means uncaused. It’s not following the laws of causation. At the subatomic level, nothing happens until it’s observed, and as soon as something is observed, the observation itself is what brings it into being. So the observation and what is being observed actually arise spontaneously together.
This may all seem quite abstract. That’s why I like the image of a boat moving through water, because with that image you can see how it’s the present moment that’s creating the past, not the past that’s creating the present moment. Even though that may be hard to grasp, it’s really quite easy to have some rudimentary understanding of this by just imagining a boat going through the water and the simple recognition that it’s the present moment of the boat going through the water that creates the wake. The wake will be the past. That’s where the boat moved through the water, and that’s the signature of the boat moving through the water. But the past does not create the present.
From Adyashanti's True Spiritual Orientation, 2010
© Adyashanti 2010
I’ve been asked many times, “Adya, I’m experiencing this strange sort of fear, like I’m at the door of some void, and it’s just going to swallow me. And somehow I’m strangely, deeply compelled towards it, and absolutely terrified of it, because it feels like it’s going to be the end of me.” It’s very common in doing this kind of deep work that you can run into this.
Ultimately, in the end, we see through self, but at that point, self isn’t a thought and it’s not really a feeling, except for fear. It’s something you can’t identify, like some sort of presence of being that feels extraordinarily threatened. When this really opens up, you quite literally experience the disappearance of everything you know. It seems like the body, the mind, the entire world—all of existence blinks out of existence.
In a certain sense, the most real sense that there can be, you actually do go through a death. It’s not the same thing as a near-death experience—as transformative as those can be—it’s a death experience. It’s the thing we’re afraid of, because you think of your body dying, which is what most people are afraid of. But you’re only afraid of your body dying because you think that you are associated with the body. What is it that’s associated with the body? It’s you.
If you were 100% completely convinced that you survive your body dying, death wouldn’t feel like a threat to you at all. But since the identification runs so deep there, any threat to your body feels like a threat to your life—as a threat to your ideas can feel like a threat to your life. If you let go here, it feels like, “I will cease to be.” This is to experience the death of the entire ego identity. If it really happens all the way through, something doesn’t come back from it. There is an irrevocable change or transformation. The good news is that you aren’t what you feel is going to die. The only way to know that entirely is for it to die.
My hunch is that when the Buddha associated nirvana with extinction and cessation, this is what he was talking about: to yank identity up from the root. Because until then, it is the journey of identity: “I’m me”—whatever your sense of yourself is—“Oh, I’m not, I’m the aware space.” And then you have emotional identities: “I’m this open, wide, loving, benevolent presence. That’s what I am—beautiful.” Or “I am That—everywhere I look, there I am.” Or if you’re a little bit differently oriented, “Everywhere I look, there’s the face of God. Okay, now that is what I am. I’m a son or daughter of God.”
The fear of it is that it is the death of identity, which is almost impossible to contemplate. The journey is that the identity gets more and more transparent and boundless, until finally identity itself falls away. Then the question “What is it that I am?” is no longer there—not because you have an answer, but because identity is no longer relevant.
In conventional language, you may give it a name like “the infinite.” I call it “pure potentiality.” There are different ways the void is talked about, and this is one of them. Pure potentiality would necessarily be void if it’s pure—no manifestation at all—pure potential, pure creative impulse.
That doesn’t mean that you no longer have a personality, that you no longer have human things about you, that you no longer have a certain kind of principle that orients you—you may even call that an identity. But you no longer find self in identity, and so it’s freed up.
When the Buddha says “enlightenment,” one way of articulating it is that it’s the freedom from identity, from having to be or not be anything. Does that mean you no longer experience the oneness, being everything, seeing the face of God, your true being, or Buddha nature in everything? No, that’s still there. Things are still there, but there’s no longer identity in them. I don’t really know how to describe that, because the nature of it is beyond description. You can’t even think about it. It’s the borderline between being and nonbeing.
So this is just part of the journey: awakening at the level of mind, heart awakening to the unity of all things, and each one of these provides more spaciousness and openness. Your sense of yourself gets more and more transparent, therefore there’s less to defend. There’s less necessity to assert yourself in the world, which doesn’t mean you are not an assertive being. You can still be a very assertive being.
How does all that translate down into your human experience? There’s still a human being there. The human being hasn’t started to glow and become incapable of any stupidity. It hasn’t suddenly become God’s shining example of utter perfection. Each dimension of being exists within its own dimension.
In my experience, what it does is it frees these dimensions up so they’re no longer in conflict, and life is no longer about protecting and asserting a kind of ego structure. It’s about something different. There are still other dimensions of our humanness that need attention if we want to be able to function well and have what we’ve realized be able to flow out into all the dimensions of what it is to be a human being.
From Adyashanti’s Omega Institute Retreat, 2017
© Adyashanti 2017
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