“Once you recognize the bright sun of awakened awareness, practising mindfulness can seem like shining a flashlight at midday in the hopes that it will make things brighter.” (1)
This post is about modern non-dual traditions and what I have learned from them in recent years. They have inspired me to practice a Druidry that recognises a ‘beyond mindfulness’ dimension of experience, in Western Mysteries tradition sometimes referred to as ‘causal’.
Stephan Bodian is a former Zen monk who went on to become a psychotherapist, mindfulness teacher, and a teacher in the Direct Path tradition founded by Shri Atmananda Krishna Menon. He says: “the act of being mindful is a portal to a deeper, enduring awareness that can’t be manufactured or practised. This deeper awareness is already functioning, whether we know it or not. Indeed, it is our natural state of spontaneous presence, without which there would be no experience at all. Instead of cultivating it like a talent or strengthening it like a muscle, we just need to recognize it and return to it”.
In my own inquiry, my ‘at-homeness in the flowing moment’ came out working with resources developed by Direct Path teachers. I am now integrating this realisation into my Druid practice, supported by the modern tradition’s naming of a causal dimension in experience, akin to “our natural state of spontaneous presence”. It underlies both the physical and psychic levels. It is our original nature. It does not obscure or invalidate the stress and turbulence we find in the physical and psychic realms. It is not even a domain of peace, happiness, and love when understood as desired personal states. But it can act as an internal place of safety in difficult times.
In my awen work I am looking at pathways between the three dimensions, and what can be brought from the causal and psychic dimensions into the physical for both personal and collective wellbeing. For much of my contemplative inquiry I have looked at the link between the causal and physical dimensions of experience (the latter including world, body, feelings, thoughts and everyday self-sense) whilst relatively neglecting the psychic realm. I am changing and re-balancing this now, so as better to walk between these worlds.
(1) Stephan Bodian Beyond Mindfulness: The Direct Approach to Peace, Happiness, and Love Oakland, CA: New Harbinger, 2017
“I am no longer your Master, because you have drunk, and become drunken, from the same bubbling source from which I spring.” From Saying 13, Gospel of Thomas (1).
In the Gospel of Thomas, Yeshua begins to treat Thomas as his peer. Asked by Yeshua “to what would you compare me?”, Thomas has replied, “Master, my mouth could never utter what you are like”. This reply contrasts sharply with Peter’s “you are like a righteous angel” and Matthew’s “you are like a wise philosopher”. Thomas has understood. He has dropped all his presuppositions and expectations. He has been able to meet Yeshua in living presence, at source. Whoever wrote this text is asking us to emulate Thomas, and therefore his teacher Yeshua. We all come from the same bubbling source, and are invited both to recognise this and live from the place of recognition. Peter and Matthew may remain constrained by limiting traditional narratives, but Thomas has understood, and two other disciples, Salome and Mary, are portrayed as being on the way.
Recently re-reading this story, I was moved by the force of the words ‘bubbling source from which I spring’. I am grateful to Jean-Yves LeLoup’s translation for this, because the standard academic translation speaks of the “bubbling spring that I have tended” (2), which for me lacks power in comparison. ‘Bubbling source from which I spring’ exactly describes my felt sense of ‘living presence’, recognising it in myself. In my formal practice, I work within a circle framework and I quickly grasped that it should be recognised as the power at the centre. Liturgically, I now greet it is ‘the bubbling source from which I spring and heart of living presence’. This feels right and good. It helps that ‘bubbling source’ is not specifically a water image in this translation. I am free to experience it internally, through my act of recognition, as a shift in energy and attention.
I feel as if I have integrated, or perhaps re-integrated, a depth dimension into the practice, and it feels richer. Since the Winter Solstice I have been closely following the wheel of the year. It represents the inheritance and continuing life of my Druidry. In many ways this is a naturalistic undertaking. But I am now powerfully reminded that my existing commitment to the flowing moment as my true home, and out of which these recent insights came, is not simply about living a slowed down time in a conventionally naturalistic sense. It is that – but it also allows the taste of timelessness and the sense of a primordial nature. The Thomas text reminds me of it. That I can recognise it is also partly thanks to my work in recent years with the practices of the Headless Way (3), the Direct Path (4,5), and Jeff Foster’s community (6). Ultimately this primordial nature is no-thing, but as no-thing it becomes everything, I discover a ‘bubbling source’. I seem to have reached a point where I can both integrate this learning and keep simple. Indeed the one seems to lead to the other. I am grateful that it is so.
(1) The Gospel of Thomas: the Gnostic Wisdom of Jesus (Translation from the Coptic, introduction and commentary by Jean-Yves LeLoup. English translation by Joseph Rowe. Foreword by Jacob Needleman). Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions, 2005
(2) The Gospel of Thomas: the Hidden Sayings of Jesus (New translation with introduction and notes by Marvin Meyer. Interpretation by Harold Bloom). San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 1992
At this strange moment in my life, I want to make my contemplative work more focused and integrated. Communing with the image above led to a deepening, related to the experience of ‘living presence’, and reported in a recent post (1). The process of writing that post has prompted further developments. One of them is a renewal of engagement with ancient wisdom writing.
My favourite books in this genre are the Tao Te Ching (2) and the Gospel of Thomas (3). My work with them has two aspects. One is to understand their cultural contexts, assisted by editors and commentators and further reading. The other is my direct response to the sayings. I am currently focusing on Thomas because some it its sayings influence my practice. Below I summarise contextual information. Each of my next two posts will cover a specific saying.
As a text, Thomas has more resemblance to ancient Jewish Wisdom literature (Proverbs, Ecclesiastes/Sirach) than either the canonical gospels or most Gnostic literature. Numbers of the sayings do also appear in Matthew, Mark and Luke, and Jesus/Yeshua defends Mary Magdalene against Peter – a common Gnostic trope. So there is some relationship with the canonical and Gnostic literatures. But there is no biographical information and no presentation of the teacher as a saviour from a super-celestial realm. There is no sense of the material world as a fallen or evil creation whether undermined by a cosmic adversary or ruled by a false god. Indeed there is no sense of the ‘kingdom of heaven’ being somewhere else at all: rather, it is “spread out over the whole earth, and people do not see it” – Saying 113 (1). Thomas can be seen as Gnostic in its sense of self-knowledge (gnosis) as transformational and because the individual is asked to identify with Jesus rather than ‘believe in’ him (4). The text is about self-transformation through a wisdom teaching that points us to our true nature. This makes it very different in cosmology and emphasis from the Gnostic movement that coalesced in the decades after Thomas was written.
Thomas was probably written in Edessa (now Urfa, a city of two million people in south east Turkey, close to the Syrian border), with the Coptic Nag Hammadi version (our only complete copy) a translation from a Greek or possibly Aramaic original (4). At the time of writing, thought to be the middle of the second century C.E., it was the capital of a Roman satellite state, not counted as within the borders of the empire. It rivalled Alexandria as a centre for book production, but had a different cultural feel – ascetic, contemplative and devotional, less concerned with creative myth-making. Christianities influenced by a Thomas tradition (though not necessarily this text) looked east and for many centuries flourished in the Middle East, Central Asia, China and India. In contrast to Europe, they were not religions of power and had to negotiate with other faiths – leading to significant cross-pollination in ways unimaginable in Constantinople or Rome. For example, they are said to have been an influence on Islamic Sufism, and as late as the thirteenth century, Rumi enjoyed good relations with a local Nestorian monastery (5). These eastern churches have stood by a view of theosis, full participation in the life of God. This is understood to have three stages: first, the purgative way, purification, katharsis; second, illumination, the illuminative way, the contemplative vision of God, theoria; and third, sainthood, the unitive way, theosis.
Essentially, this is a gradual path non-dualism. The Gospel of Thomas itself reads to me like a direct path non-dualism, as it does to other people at the present time – like Douglas Harding (6) and Francis Lucille. However I wouldn’t want to go too far in appropriating this ancient text for the purposes of a modern movement. It should be met, as far as possible, as what it is. I am concerned to respect and respond to it. I don’t need to agree with it or (worse) to make it agree with me.
The saying I want to look at in my next post is:
“I am no longer your Master, because you have drunk, and become drunken, from the same bubbling source from which I spring.” (from Saying 13)
In the following post, I will turn to:
“Yeshua said: when you bring forth that within you, then that will save you; if you do not, then that will kill you.” (Saying 70)
(2) Lao Tzu Tao Te Ching: A Book about the Way and the Power of the Way (A new English version by Ursual K. Le Guin with the collaboration of J. P. Seaton, Professor of Chinese, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill) Boston & London: Shambhala, 1998
(3) The Gospel of Thomas: the Gnostic Wisdom of Jesus (Translation from the Coptic, introduction and commentary by Jean-Yves LeLoup. English translation by Joseph Rowe. Foreword by Jacob Needleman) Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions, 2005
(4) Nicola Denzey Lewis Introduction to ‘Gnosticism’: Ancient Voices, Christian Worlds New York & Oxford: OUP, 2013
(5) Philip Jenkins The Lost History of Christianity: The Thousand-Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa and Asia – and How It Died HarperCollins e-books, 2008
(6) Douglas Harding A Jesus for Our Time. Chapter 14 in Look for Yourself: the Science and Art of Self-Realisation London: The Shollond Trust 2015 (first published the The Head Exchange in 1996)
This post summarises where I stand philosophically at this stage of my inquiry, and how my stance affects my practice. When investigating the Direct Path (1) I realised that one possible destination might be a radical scepticism about everything. Awakening to Awareness as ultimate ground of being is not the inevitable end point. The only Direct Path teacher who publicly discusses this is Greg Goode (2), who says: “Over the years, I had studied many philosophies and paths. I was aware of a variety of vocabularies. And now, unless I was explicitly playing the role of a direct path participant, none of these vocabularies seemed preferable in terms of truth or accuracy. When I was left to myself, experience didn’t show up as anything at all. There was nothing strictly true or strictly false to say about it”.
Goode reports a sense of confirmation on reading a privately circulated document attributed to Shri Atamananda Krishna Menon, founder of the Direct Path. According to Greg Goode, the gist is “that we can’t say anything at all … everything is paradoxical. We can’t even say that it’s consciousness or that anything exists! It’s a joyful, effusive case of saying without saying!” It helped Goode to get to his final position of ‘joyful irony’, which I have discussed in an earlier post. (3). His key point is that “the joyful ironist has found loving, open-hearted happiness without dogmatism”. For this to work “the joy and the irony must work together. If you’re joyful without being ironic, you’ll still have attachments to your own views of things. And if you’re ironic without being joyful, you may be bitter, cynical, sarcastic and pessimistic. Heartfelt wisdom includes both sides. Joy adds love to irony. Irony adds clarity to joy.” (2)
This sounds almost postmodern, but in fact echoes an ancient wisdom. Philip Carr-Gomm (4) shows its presence in Jain ethics, grounded in the three principles: ahimsa, aparigraha and anekant. Ahimsa is the doctrine of harmlessness or non-violence. Aparigraha is the doctrine of non-attachment, non-possessiveness or non-acquisition, Anekant is a doctrine of many-sidedness, multiple viewpoints, non-absolutism or non-one-sidedness. The three principles can be seen as completing each other, with non-absolutism as an intellectual aspect of non-violence and non-attachment, and hence a virtue.
Pyrrho of Elis, a Greek philosopher of the fourth century BCE, probably met both Jains and Buddhists, when accompanying Alexander ‘the Great’ to India. Indian influence is certainly evident the school of philosophy he created on his return home. In Greek culture this school was treated as a form of Scepticism, but unlike other Sceptics, Pyrrhonists “neither made truth claims nor denied the possibility of making them. Instead, they cultivated a deeply embedded attitude of suspension of judgement (epoche), allowing possibilities to stand open within the process of continuing inquiry. Such a turning away from the drive for intellectual closure enables peace of mind (ataraxia) in our engagement with the richness and diversity of experience” (5). This teaching seems to combine the Jain view of non-absolutism and the Buddhist view of equanimity and freedom from dukka, (suffering or dis-ease).
As my contemplative inquiry has progressed, I have grown increasingly attracted to the wisdom of this view. I name it as openness, to keep my inquiry process appreciative rather than deconstructive. I have written about it before and this post builds on others. What I notice now is a greater clarity and confidence in this view, reinforcing my stance of At-Homeness in ‘the flowing moment’. Although not perfectly reliable, this At-Homeness is as close as I get to a place of safety. Everything else is uncertain. Everything else can be taken away. I treat ‘flowing moment’ as a simple description of living experience. I find stillness there if I slow down and attend to it. Stillness can be a portal to spontaneous joy and appreciation if I open up and am present to them . It is a good basis for coming back to Earth. From this space I can better connect with other beings, the wider world and the wheel of the year.
(1) A name given to the teachings inspired by Shri Atmananda Krishna Menon (1883 -1959).
(2) Greg Goode After Awareness: The End of the Path Oakland, CA: Non-Duality Press, 2016
(4) Philip Carr-Gomm Seek Teachings Everywhere: Combining Druid Spirituality with Other Traditions Lewes, UK: Oak Tree Press, 2019 (Foreword by Peter Owen Jones)
(5) Arne Naess Scepticism Abingdon: Routledge, 2015 (First published 1968. Scepticism is the last book Arne Naess wrote as an academic philosopher, before going on to devote himself to the development of deep ecology, coining the term ecosophy to describe his stance.)
At this point in my inquiry I want to refine my understanding of ’emptiness’. The Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh is a great help here, in his final commentary on the Prajnaparamita Heart Sutra .
Thich Nhat Hanh discusses Buddha’s teaching that everything is “a manifestation of causes and conditions” and that nothing is permanent or unchanging. This applies to the whole cosmos, and not just to the apparent world. “Whether you call it atman (the soul) or Brahman (ultimate divinity), whether you call it the individual self or the universal self, you cannot find anything there”. Buddha’s teaching was aimed at undermining both of these notions. Nothing has any ‘self-nature’ (we might use the term ‘essence’).
Thich Nhat Hanh pursues this right into the territory of emptiness. “There are still many people who are drawn into thinking that emptiness is the ground of being, the ontological ground of everything. But emptiness, when understood rightly, is the absence of any ontological ground. … We must not be caught by the notion of emptiness as an eternal thing. It cannot be any kind of absolute or ultimate reality. This is why it can be empty. Our notion of emptiness should be removed. It is empty.”
He goes on to say: “the insight of interbeing is that nothing can exist by itself alone, that each thing exists only in relation to everything else … looking from the perspective of space we call emptiness ‘interbeing’; looking from the perspective of time we call it ‘impermanence’ … to be empty is to be alive, to breathe in and breathe out. Emptiness is impermanence; it is change … we should celebrate. … When you have a kernel of corn and entrust it to the soil, you hope it will be a tall corn plant. If there is no impermanence, the kernel of corn will remain a kernel of corn forever and you will never have an ear of corn to eat. Impermanence is crucial to the life of everything”.
This is one side of an age old controversy within spiritualities of Indian origin. In this blog, I have given friendly attention to the other side as well – particularly Direct Path teachers like Rupert Spira and Greg Goode and the Indian influenced Douglas Harding. In the end I don’t make an absolute judgement about it. My Sophian ‘At-Homeness in the flowing moment’ is compatible with both views. But I’m now finding greater energy and aliveness in the framework here presented by Thich Nhat Hanh.
Increasingly, when I do Direct Path exercises I experience a breaking down of assumptions about experience itself, and a tremendous opening out … but no container called ‘Awareness’ to fill a God sized hole. It’s similar for me with the Harding exercises. My experience is broadly the same, but my felt sense has shifted, and my narrative with it. I’m moving away from big picture truth claims about this, because I have become sceptical that exercises like this provide any grounds for them, one way or the other. Rather, I lean in to an evolving personal understanding, always provisional, of my contemplative experiences.
As a shorthand, I can talk about the tension between a ‘Oneness’ framing and an ‘interbeing’ framing of what people call non-duality. The difference can seem subtle – and it may be best to use ambiguous, open-ended words like ‘Tao’ and preserve a sense of mystery. But at this turning of the year, ‘interbeing’ is my preferred term. It fits better with the eco-spirituality which I take from my Druid journey, and affirms the relational basis of my Sophian Way.
(1) Thich Nhat Hanh The Other Shore: a New Translation of the Heart Sutra with Commentaries Berkeley, CA: Parallax Press, 2017
This post is built around Dr. Richard Miller’s approach to Yoga Nidra (1) and my response to it. The resource I am working with – a book and a CD – was published in 2005. My concern in writing is with how a “meditative practice for deep relaxation and healing” can also be what one reviewer (2) described as the “perfect tool” for the author’s non-dual teachings. For the recommended practices “require only presence, and as such represent both the path and the goal of non-dual practice.”
The word non-dual is a translation of the Sanskrit advaita, literally ‘not two’. I remember a podcast in which Peter Russell (3), a long-term practitioner and writer in this field, cautioned against a tendency to equate ‘not two’ with ‘one’. He then told an ancient Indian story about the making of clay pots. A potter takes a lump of clay and makes two pots. One clay; two pots. In the Indian tradition, this is a ‘consciousness first’ understanding, and modern versions draw on terms like presence, awareness, ground of being, or true nature to point to our ultimate identity as this consciousness. ‘God’ is also used in this way. The understanding is that we are never separate from this identity, though we may feel separate from it, or forget it, or ‘not believe’ in it. After all, most of our attention is on our individual life in the world with all its pulls, stresses and demands.
Early in his book, Richard Miller describes his first experience of Yoga Nidra:
“Our instructor led us through Shavasana, the traditional yogic pose for inducing deep relaxation while lying completely still on the floor. The instructor expertly guided us into being conscious of sensations throughout our body, as well as to opposing experiences, such as warmth-coolness, agitation-calmness, fear-equanimity, sorrow-joy, and separation-oneness. I was invited to rotate may attention through the sensations elicited by pairs of opposites until I was able to embody these opposing experiences with neither attachment or aversion to what I was experiencing.
“I drove home that evening feeling totally relaxed and expansively present. For the first time in years, I felt free of all conflict, radiantly joyful, and attuned wit the entire universe. I experienced life as being perfect just as it was and felt myself to be a spacious nonlocalized presence. Instead of my usual experience of being in the world, I was having a nonmental experience of the world being within me, similar to experiences I had known as a child”.
Miller’s motivation to continue was “a longing in me to consciously awaken into and fully abide as this sense of presence”. As well as becoming a yoga teacher and psychotherapist he has worked with Direct Path teachings as a student of Jean Klein. He describes the very term Yoga Nidra as a paradox, a play on the words ‘sleep’ and ‘awake’ as it means ‘the sleep of the Yogi’. The implication is that the normal person is asleep to their true nature through all states of consciousness – waking, dreaming and deep sleep – while the Yogi is one who is awake and knows his or her true nature across all states, including sleep. The practice therefore involves both deep relaxation and deep inquiry.
A full practice on Miller’s CD begins with two commitments – one to a form of mindfulness at the edge of sleep where, for the reasons pointed to above, it is OK to ‘fall asleep’ since there is a trust that the process will continue to run at other levels. The second is described as a ‘heartfelt prayer’, articulated as though it has already been fulfilled – for in the absolute, there is only now: Miller gives the example ‘my friend is whole, healed and healthy’. Then the meditation moves through seven stages, the first six of which address specific forms of awareness: body and sensation; breath and energy; feelings and emotions; thoughts, beliefs and images; desire, pleasure and joy; and witness/ego-I. The final stage (sahaj) is our natural state, ‘the awareness of changeless Being’. Each stage provides an opportunity to identify conventionally positive and conventionally negative experiences, and to hold both in a wider embrace. The sixth stage inquires into the very nature of the ‘I’ that believes itself to be a separate witness, enabling the simple being of the final stage. The whole practice lasts about 35 minutes.
I’ve been looking for an evening practice to complement my morning one. After only a week, it has the right feel, the right format and the right length for me at this point in my life. Over the last three or four years non-duality has become my common sense. During this period I have worked a good deal with the ‘Seeing’ experiments of Douglas Harding’s Headless Way (4) and also with substantial resources from Direct Path teachers Greg Goode (5) and Rupert Spira (6). A non-dual view, as a working assumption, is now both cognitively and experientially well installed.
I don’t have a deep interest in non-dualist metaphysics for its own sake. I am deeply committed to this world and my human life. What I find is that a non-dual model of reality adds to my experience of human life in the world, and cannot be separated from it. I find myself leaning in to this nourishing and illuminating possibility, and committed to commit to living by it. Roger Miller’s Yoga Nidra has met me where I am. I am very grateful for this gentle, life-affirming, and subtle practice, which helps to maintain me on this path.
(1) Richard Miller Yoga Nidra: A Meditative Practice for Deep Relaxation and Holding Boulder, CO: Sounds True, 2005
(2) Stephen Cope, author of Yoga and the Quest for the True Self and The Wisdom Of Yoga
Recently I have noticed a change in my notion of inquiry. I experience, at the same time, both a greater precision and a softening in my understanding of ‘inquiry’. Rupert Spira (1) makes a helpful point.
“This path is sometimes referred
to as self-inquiry or self-investigation. However, these terms – translations
of the Sanskrit term atma vichara – are potentially misleading. They
imply an activity of the mind rather than, as Ramana Maharshi described it, a
sinking or relaxing of the mind into ‘the heart’, that is, into its source of
pure Awareness and Consciousness. The term may, therefore, be more accurately
be described as ‘self-abiding’ or ‘self-resting’, and is the essence of what is
known in various spiritual and religious traditions as prayer, mediation,
self-remembering, Hesychasm in the Greek Orthodox Church, or the practice of
the presence of God in the mystical Christian tradition.”
At the time of writing, I have
three means of heart inquiry by this definition. The first is quintessentially
Sophian – a repetition, synchronised with the breath, of the name Ama-Aima (pronounced
ahh-mah-ahee-mah). In its tradition of origin (2). this Aramaic name for the
Divine Mother brings together Her transcendental and immanent aspects, and the
repetition of the name invokes Her light energy and presence, which is the
light energy and presence of the cosmos. As I breathe the name, entering into
its pulse and vibration, I begin to find that this presence-energy is breathing
me, until the distinctions themselves disappear. I treat this work formally, as
a sacrament or mystery, and part of a daily practice.
The second is Seeing, and the
practices of the Headless Way, described as ‘experiments’ in that family. – see
www.headless.org/. I use a variety of
these practices depending on the circumstances. The advantage of Seeing is that
I can drop into it at any time during the day.
The third is the rawer approach
laid out by Jeff Foster (https://lifewithoutacentre.com/
), which turns the ‘Light of Oneness’, back onto the experience of the
struggling human. It flows from his own journey of “venturing into the darkness
of myself” (3), before “breaking through the veil of dualistic mind to a Light that had been there all along”. Here,
we enter into a loving encounter with whatever experience is happening and finding
a way to accept – not the content of the
experience itself, which may be horrible and need resisting – but the reality
that this is the experience that is happening, the one demanding
attention. Loving attention to our struggles may not stop suffering but can
make them more workable. As with Seeing, I can drop into this meditation at any
time – by slowing down, breathing and just being there, with loving curiosity
and attention. It works with mixed and good experiences too.
I find that a combination of these practices serves me well. Reading, writing and digital media of relevance to the practices support my sense od direction and my understanding.
(1) Rupert Spira Transparent Body, Luminous World: The Tantric Yoga of Sensation and Perception Oxford: Sahaja Publications, 2016
(2) Tau Malachi Gnosis of the Cosmic Christ: a Gnostic Christian Kabbalah Saint Paul, MN: Llewellyn Publications, 2005
(3) Jeff Foster The Joy of True Meditation: Words of Encouragement for Tired Minds and Wild Hearts Salisbury, UK: New Sarum Press, 2019
In the story below (1), Greg Goode explores what he calls literal and non-literal meaning – though I would frame it as a tension between verbal and non-verbal communication. The context is the teaching style of the Direct Path some years ago. Greg himself is a successful student and teacher of the Direct Path and models a demystified and dialogical style of presentation in his own work. I find this type of reflection as a welcome sign of democratization in spiritual inquiry and teaching.
“Back then [in the early 1990’s] satsang was taught by a chosen few, who never got up in front of people without reporting their membership in a spiritual lineage stretching back in a lineage to Ramana Maharsi or Nisargadatta Maharaj. Among satsang students, the most valued goal was to become a teacher. The process of becoming a teacher was surrounded by mystery, celebrity and excitement.
“Imagine attending a satsang the way they were back in the 1990’s: the teacher sits in a plush armchair at the front of the room, while audience members sit on hard folding chairs. On the table next to the teacher is a row of three or four framed photos, showing a progression of spiritual teachers starting with Ramana Maharsi and ending with the very person sitting in the armchair. Imagine the satsang beginning with the teacher saying the following:
“’This is not about me. You may look at me sitting up here in this chair in front and wonder why I am here and you are not. I am just like you. Even though I am up here, and you are not, it doesn’t mean that I am special.
“’I don’t even consider myself to be a teacher. I never wanted to teach. It was my teacher who asked me to teach. He gave me the gift of satsang, and I am here giving it to you.
“’The gift of freedom in satsang is the highest that can be given. It is the most intense form of love and the profoundest happiness imaginable. I wish to share it with you. ‘”
“This is a classic example of non-literal meaning contradicting literal meaning in a way that rhetoricians call apophasis, or ‘affirming by denying (illustrated by the popular phrase ‘if you deny it, you supply it’). When a candidate for political offices says, ‘and I won’t mention my opponent’s financial problems’, you know what’s coming next!
“In our example of the satsang monologue, the literal interpretation of the teacher’s opening statements is that he’s just like his audience members. “But everything else about the situation, from the seating arrangements, to the row of photos, to the teacher’s self-consciousness as a giver of satsang, to his disavowal of teacher status -tells a different story. The teacher’s very first sentence isn’t about the audience or about the official satsang topics of consciousness or enlightenment. It’s about him. He goes on to mention himself a total of thirteen times in eleven sentences. This focus is squarely on him, and, according to the non-literal meaning of his speech, he emerges not the same as the others, but very different indeed. He becomes the teacher who has been specially selected to bear the most precious gift of all. This is a case in which being open to non-literal meaning provides access to a deeper and more subtle understanding of a situation.”
(1) Greg Goode After Awareness: The End of the Path Oakland, CA: Non-Duality Press, 2016 (Non-Duality Press is an imprint of New Harbinger Publications, Inc.)
“There once lived a princess called Sophia who was not only charming and incomparably beautiful, but also (true to her name) the very perfection of wisdom. One day, three suitors arrived at her palace – a brave knight, a love-struck poet and a rude swineherd.” (1)
First, Sophia receives the knight and inquires how many dragons he has slain. The answer is “practically none”, but the knight asserts that his sword is of “finest steel” and he vows to undertake the “immense task” of slaying every dragon in the land – all for the love of Sophia. In so doing, he hopes for her favour and blessing as he sets out on this quest to become worthy of her. Sophia gives him her favour and blessing, and off he goes on his strenuous, challenging and time-consuming adventure.
Second, Sophia receives the poet, who offers his “adoration and the poor songs it inspires”. He hopes that this devotion will win his heart. He asks to remain in the palace, so as not to be too far from the princess, whilst also assuring her that he will not “take advantage of this boon and come too near you”. Sophia tells him how much she values his devotion and offers a pleasant room “from whose windows you will sometimes be able to see me walking in the rose-garden”.
Finally, the swineherd bursts in, “admitted by extremely reluctant officials”. He simply blurts out “I want you and nothing else, and I want you now”. Sophia is outraged, comparing him unfavourably with his rivals. She is on the point of throwing him out, when he says: “before you do that, let me tell you something: “your knight is in love with chivalry and dragon hunting, and that’s why he’s happy to wait for you indefinitely. As for your poet, he’s in love with love and his own love-poems, and that’s why he promises to keep a respectful distance. The truth is that both are frightened of you. But true love casts out fear, and I’m not frightened of you, and I claim you right away.”
There is further discussion. Harding’s bold talkative swineherd questions the harmfulness of dragons in and as themselves, as opposed to the way the knight likes to see them. He also says that his devotion surpasses that of the poet, because it is “inseparable from union”. Eventually Sophia agrees to the match, saying: “Marry me now, rude swineherd, and deserve me later”.
This parable favourably contrasts direct path spiritualities with the gradual paths offered by most traditions. It is an affirmation of his own Headless Way (2).
(1) Douglas Harding Sophia’s Three Suitors, Chapter 25 in Look For Yourself: The Science and Art of Self-Realisation London: The Shollond Trust, 2015 (First published by The Head Exchange in 1996)
Greg Goode has been a student and teacher of the Direct Path, a name given to the teachings inspired by Shri Atmananda Krishna Menon (1883 -1959). He describes the path as providing “a strikingly modern way to experience peace and happiness that are unruffled by circumstances” (1).
Goode, who is based in New York, also holds a doctorate in philosophy from the University of Rochester and serves on the board of the peer-reviewed journal Practical Philosophy: Journal of the American Philosopher’s Association. He champions a modern form of radical scepticism based on a combination of eastern and western influences. In the extract below, he talks about the inspiration of the American philosopher and ‘liberal ironist’ Richard Rorty (1931-2007) in his own work.
“For most of his forty-year career, Rorty challenged the ideas of philosophical certainties and metaphysical foundations. … For Rorty, ‘liberals’ are those who wish to avoid cruelty to others and ‘ironists’ are those who face up to how their most cherished beliefs and desires have no objective grounds.
“Rorty’s work in this area spoke deeply to me, so I adapted his political antimetaphysical notion of the liberal ironist for spiritual purposes, conceiving the ‘joyful ironist’. The joyful ironist has found loving, open-hearted happiness without dogmatism. The joy comes from love and happiness, often found as a result of inquiry, insight, or devotion. The ‘irony’ has to do with a radical relationship to conceptuality and language, as explained below.
“Normally, we have a vocabulary (which includes a conceptual scheme) that we feel expresses the truth of things. Rorty calls this ‘our final vocabulary’. For those on a spiritual path, the path itself may become their final vocabulary. For others, their final vocabulary may be popular science. Whatever their final vocabulary, people believe it’s better than other vocabularies at representing reality accurately and correctly. Perhaps they believe it’s grounded or guaranteed by reality itself. A final vocabulary might not even be recognized as a vocabulary by those using it. It might just feel like ‘the truth’. This could be called the metaphysical approach to truth and language.
“In joyful irony, we continue to use language, and we continue to have a final vocabulary, but with a difference. We no longer have a model in which there’s language on one side and reality on the other, and our vocabulary points to reality. In fact, the very idea of a strict dualism between language and reality stops making sense. It’s not that one side creates or reduces to the other. Rather, the idea of drawing a line to separate them loses the sense it had before. The issue no longer has any metaphysical importance. No vocabulary seems as if it does the best job of drawing such a line.
“The joy and the irony must work together. If you’re joyful without being ironic, you’ll still have attachments to your own views of things. And if you’re ironic without being joyful, you may be bitter, cynical, sarcastic and pessimistic. Heartfelt wisdom includes both sides. Joy adds love to irony. Irony adds clarity to joy.”
(1) Greg Goode After Awareness: The End of the Path Oakland, CA: Non-Duality Press, 2016