26 May 2012

Most of us begin our spiritual search early in life. Yet even if we started when we were 10 or 11, we were already well-indoctrinated by parents, culture and school into conventionality. We rapidly learned conventional speech and ways of questioning. We knew what kind of words and ideas were acceptable, and which were not. We learned political correctness. We knew what concepts, ideas and thought patterns, as well as behaviors were accepted by our parents, peers, and school, as well as what kinds of friends we should have.

By the time or 18, we are fully indoctrinated with a set of values concerning family, children, career, education, politics, consumer behaviors, and some variant of the "American dream," which we attempt to live out.

A few of us, even at an early age, see through these images, concepts and accepted behaviors, and see them as utterly arbitrary and "unreal." We become rebellious. We question religion, the politics our parents accepted, our political system, our capitalist economy, our ideas of God, Christ, and spiritual teacher in the form of the pastor, and begin exploring alternatives using our mind, because we are taught that the mind is the way to know truth and oneself.

When Plato talked about knowing one’s self, it was through reason and rationality, questioning accepted beliefs through use of thinking and the mind.  His was not knowing oneself as Ramana or Robert Adams talked about, as a direct experience of foundational states of consciousness.

Thus the first spiritual breakout for most of us is almost entirely of the mind. We explore Vedanta, Buddhism, mystical Christianity, Taoism, Sufism, depth psychology, psychoanalysis, bioenergetics, hatha yoga, and vegetarianism, in a vain attempt to cut an original path for our own truth.

But if we are smart enough, and self-aware enough, after a while we recognize we're still following our mind which is seeking freedom from the known by opening doors to new conceptual schemes, new behaviors, new religions, new spiritual teachers, and new politics, and we find we are not gaining freedom, but just changing our jail cells’ furniture. We recognize that the mind is not the tool by which we can find freedom. The mind can only find novelty and excitement, which gives an appearance of “new,” but there's no real living-transformation by adopting new sets of concepts. Indeed, there has only been a move to different rooms in the same conceptual prison, or even just changing the furniture.

Many people do this into their 50s and 60s before they recognize that the mind is not the way to freedom, that the mind only engages in concepts, and there are billions, and billions, and billions of concepts bandied about by philosophers, scientists, engineers, politicians, school teachers and spiritual teachers since time immemorial, and none of these conceptual structures yield freedom.

Eventually we run into spiritual teachers or teachings that say the mind is not the way, that "the way" lies in dropping the mind, or transcend mind, living in emptiness, or living in and from the heart.

Yet these are really two very different ways. One implies a search for ultimate truth lying outside of concepts, which involves an exploration of "beingness" with its containers of various types of Void and “states.” The other implies a path of love, loving one another, a guru, a spouse, lover, and ultimately loving one's own Self. Each path has its own separate pitfalls and difficulties, as well as milestones and potential progressions.

The search for truth, ultimate truth, within the various types of voids, and states of knowing and unknowing, can become very dry and easily stalled due to lack of motivation, and a drying out of the will to persevere. The other path, of love, can and will activate all kinds of emotional states which can be both enthralling, but also frightening and destructive, leading to all kinds of distracting stoppages.

The path of the void, or of seeking truth, generally leads one away from the world, while the path of love maintains that involvement in the world, so much so, that direct observation or realization of the Self may be delayed.

We also have to understand that the ties of the mind are very deep and subtle. We may free ourselves from fundamentalist Christianity, or fundamentalist Buddhism, or Muhammadanism, but we may not free ourselves from family values, where some variant of the American dream, including even the becoming an academic, or professional such as a doctor, psychiatrist, psychotherapist, engineer, professor, or a professional questioner such as a scientist.

We deep down recognize that escape from the conventional often means ostracism and rejection by society and crowds of people, leading to a life living at the fringes of society. It is extremely hard to escape from family values and conventionality of behaviors and then to lead a life of luxury or ease. This deters many from really opting for an "authentic" lifestyle of living out of oneself as opposed to conventions.

Those whose behaviors fall outside of the norm are often shunned, because people find them embarrassing or challenging because they are caught still in conventionality.

Can you imagine inviting Nisargadatta to dinner with your conventional friends? How many would find his behaviors embarrassing, and thus reflecting poorly on you within your group of friends or family? Conventionality and properness, as well as propriety become stumbling blocks to freedom.

So, I have constantly taught people how to obtain freedom, either by going within and abiding in the I sense, or to question all of their assumptions concerning conventionality, conventional behaviors, conventional aspirations, the American dream, ideas of marriage, sex, family, material success, as well as all the ideas we have about gurus and spirituality.

Living from the heart, or living without the mind, requires dropping all conventionality, all concepts, and just being open to whatever is presenting itself to you in the moment. Any concept or idea will prevent you from seeing who you are as well as who is the "other."

(Note: Beware even of this, because this too is a concept, but one meant asa "pointer," to bring freedom.)

As Robert said, "your mind is not your friend." Yet most people accept spirituality as a progressive exploration of spiritual concepts, as opposed to dropping the mind and seeing oneself directly without the intervention of thinking, the mind or concepts.

I think it is relatively easy to drop the mind when it comes to our spiritual search. That is, through meditation and repetitive hearing that the mind is not the way, that through the mind one cannot find freedom, one gradually really begins to practice meditation and attains an empty mind rather quickly. 

However, my experience is that most people encapsulate this empty mind to a small part of their lives, and no-mind, becoming nothing, does not extend outwards to family or their everyday life, because it would cause problems. Becoming unconventional is risky. Even Robert held back some of his teachings about Consciousness, saying, “If I told them the entire truth, I would be stoned.”

It is if for some, their spiritual life is totally separated and disjointed from their everyday life. We may be very spiritual in our meditation and getting rid of spiritual concepts like karma, reincarnation, guru, the void, emptiness, the self, and yet very prosaic and conventional when it comes to pursuing our everyday life with our three children, worn-out marriage, and unexciting career as a doctor, lawyer, Indian chief, executive, editor, or teacher. There, we swallow our tongue so to speak, and accept this as the bed we made for ourselves, and continue to plug away, while finding more freedom through meditation and freedom from spiritual concepts, but carefully avoiding letting this freedom from spoiling our conventional life style.

When it comes to questions of breakup or divorce, quitting our jobs and starting a new career, dropping out of college, and just leaping into an unknown future, we find this is an entirely different and much larger ball of wax. 

The escape from the trap of spiritual teachings is entirely less traumatic than escaping from a dead marriage, a dead-end career that we have spent 20 years in, or even changing our politics from conservative to liberal, and actually making a commitment to getting involved there, or in animal rescue, or some other new endeavor entirely, because this involves actually walking the talk, as opposed to merely meditating and thinking about the talk. Actions speak much larger than words, concepts, or meditative peace.

I think all good teachers try to think of ways to get their students to break out of their conventionality as well as to experience one's own sense of self and to love oneself. Robert would "cook" us by creating real-life situations where our feelings would be hurt, or concepts about living would be challenged. Many people left him and the sangha rather than face these feelings. Few stayed to participate in their own deconstruction.

Other teachers, such as Siddharameshwar, focused only on meditation on the I-thought, or I-feeling, promoting a progressive penetration through the concepts of the mind, as well as other levels of mind, such that they found the void, or they found the Self.

But what then? Unless that discovery was applied to the student’s everyday life, they were still a very conventional person, leading a very conventional life, and therefore a very unfree life.

Unlike most spiritual teachers, I think it is just as important to escape from the conceptual conventionality of everyday life, family, career, politics, etc., and to go beyond them entirely, than it is to escape from the "spiritual" beliefs that we are human beings based in bodies and minds, as opposed to being something entirely beyond. As long as one has the conventional belief of being a human, in a body, in a career, one cannot possibly do the full escape into the unknown and into the Self.

Those teachers living outside of conventionality are often referred to as “avadhuts.” One very famous and recent avadhut was Rajneesh. In a sense, Nisargadatta was also an avadhut who challenged all of the students to shed all of their concepts, but who himself continued to lead a conventional life.

Personally, I feel that sarcasm, humor, especially dark humor or sarcastic humor, direct criticism, as well as courses and expositions that emphasize critical thinking, can be as helpful as long periods of dry meditation in freeing oneself from the conventional, whether of conventional religion, a conventional life, the American dream, political persuasions, or Facebook political correctness.

I think comedians like Lewis Black, Bill Maher, George Carlin, Jon Stuart, and many others, provide a bit of effective antidote to those immersed in the American dream, conventional religion, and conventional careers.

These men help deconstruct the conventionality we are immersed in, and helpless us breakout from imprisoning molds. Lewis Black states that his mother has a black belt in sarcasm, and his routines drip with such sarcasm, which can be utterly unfettering.

This is why I teach as I do, with heavy sarcasm and profanity. I desperately want people to break out of conventional mindsets and behaviors which they do not even see let alone recognize as a trap, a hindrance to freedom. This kind of freedom is far more important for the future of mankind, than for the isolated individual to gain complete release from the fetters of mind and flesh in a great Satori. When such one gains freedom and great enlightenment, he or she becomes freed, but then what? What about the rest of mankind? Are they not struggling under conventionality imposed by the Catholic Church, by born-again Christianity, by Christian morality, by Buddhist morality, by sharia law, by Jewish folklore in the form of the Old Testament, and all kinds of “political correctness?”

Is not a large portion of the population United States gripped by a very conservative mentality, supposedly Christian, but heavily subscribing to getting government out of welfare, child support, education, and healthcare, and turning all of these responsibilities over to the family or to "private enterprise," and companies with a profit motive? How do we help these people?

How do we help people who kill others, such as soldiers long indoctrinated by training and their governments into accepting killing for the sake of God and country, escape this mindset? How do we help butchers and slaughterhouse workers, as well as consumers to understand that killing sentient beings for meat, for other byproducts of their dead bodies, is repugnant and an offense to the self?

Personally, I think all these tools of humor, sarcasm, spiritual "cooking," as well as meditation and self inquiry, need to be applied to help as many people as possible escape from the traps of their minds, escape from peer pressure, escape from the American dream into a life of living from the heart, living from love and in love, and thereby finding freedom and happiness.

For this end I can see an integration of many tools of freedom in a sort of New University of Unlearning, where a whole community seeks freedom on every level, and in that freedom, they end up living from the heart and in love, and living daily in the ecstasy, relief, and silence that results from abandoning the mind and finding the heart. 


  1. Thank you Ed.

    It is interesting that once more, much of what you write corresponds to things that have been very much on my mind lately.

    I found that if I expressed things to friends, family etc which I considered to be challenging but more true to what I feel than what I would have said to make people like and accept me, or fulfill their expectations... they would maybe at first disagree or even reject me because of it, but often after some time I felt they still loved me or maybe loved me even more because of what I said or did.

    Also I'm thinking of totally changing my "career path" from science to something which is more directly involved with helping people and also allows me to work only part time, to have more space for contemplation and whatever life/my heart presents me with...

    Even just mentally embracing the possibility of actually doing it, in spite of all the disappointing others or rejection it would cause, has lead to a feeling of freedom...

  2. OMG, YES, YES, a thousand times YES.

    That coming from someone whose life is in absolute ruins, wrought with visits of intense fear and desolation...and yet, there is laughter.

    I will be OK.

    My God, Thanks Ed.

  3. Ed, brillian piece of writing. Just brilliant!

    Over the past several weeks I have become so disenchanted, so discourged, and so disheartenend trying to make my footprints fit perfectly into those footprints of the 'heroes of the faith' that have gone before me.

    It has always been easier to trust others than to trust myself. The fear of standing alone has been too much to handle.

    Thanks to you, Ed, this is no longer the case, at least for the most part.

    I knew that I had to find what was rest for me, at least for now, as this may change as well.

    This rest has been found in being deeply in love and accepting of whatever I am experiencing in the moment and the continual shock and awe that I experienc while listening to Lewis Black.

    I needed the humor to buffer the confusion, the pain, the fear, the anxiety, and the depression that has been so frequently experienced as life as I have always known it has begun to crumble with greater intensity...

    Again, a brilliant piece of writing.

  4. right,'heavy sarcasm', very good, very natural. the world is bullshit after all. doubting, questioning, anger, disillusion, sarcasm... a kind of neti-neti

    all good signs as far as i'm concerned!

    it's the happy, well adjusted people you wanna stay away from.


  5. What would Sasaki Roshi say to this ? :)

  6. Just remembered one excerpt from Carlin:


  7. This speaks deeply to an inner conflict I have had for years. I'm sure many others have as well. The ideas given by family of working hard for a house and for things are strong and difficult to let go of. If these concepts are not in the forefront (which is required if practice can become serious and comprehensive) how will I be accepted by friends and family? How will I be looked at by society? It seems obvious that they will generally reject not following the same fantasies they have followed their whole lives. I hear others badmouthing people all the time for not doing the things that their values say to do.
    This is a big sticking point for me, and I am glad to hear it discussed. I have not yet found freedom from these concepts nor from wanting to be looked upon favorably by those around me. I still believe strongly in many ideas about myself and find it hard to let them go due to fear and pain.

    Thanks for posting this, Ed.


  8. People that don't admit that life is at least kinda shitty, scare me.

  9. Its only kinda shitty cos you don't see brahman/paramatma in all of it, I mean absolutely all of it. If you could spend just one day accepting completely this truth you will become happier with or without your values or people looking at you favourable. If you saw even the disdain of others, remotely with a dispassion then life would not be as bad as you think.

  10. The last commentor assumes the previous one was not happy. It is easy to see the world as shitty and also be happy. Robert used to say earth was the lowest hell. He saw the sittiness of the world but was happy.

  11. I once knew Robert pretty well, but as a friend, not as a student. My vehicle is that of insight, which progresses along a different and more personal route. I think he knew this about me, actually. It seems to me that you have grasped his teaching pretty thoroughly.

    One of his favorite things to tell me as we talked was, "It's not real!"--Exactly the name of your blog here. :) If I was expressing doubt or distress, "It's not real!!" He had a difficult time speaking because of the Parkinson's, so he'd yell it to make sure he got a clear articulation past the stutter and slur.

    At the time my own path was only beginning, but years later, reflecting back, I have a clearer grasp of a lot of what he would say to me, including, "Your mind is not your friend." Another friend that I met years later, a Monk of the Linji line, liked to tell me, "Are you feeding your parasite again?" By "parasite", he meant "mind".

    I miss Robert. He was an exceptional person and I would have liked to have had the opportunity to learn more from him. But I ended up having to move away and thus fell out of touch. Years later I learned he succumbed to the Parkinson's and I figured that, like the Buddha, his number had been disconnected. A non-returner if I'm not mistaken.

    I just kind of accidentally stumbled upon your blog. Maybe I'll follow it. Some of the poetry I post in my blog is of a Buddhist nature, though I explore a lot of subject matter. I see myself as an animist, actually, of the non-romanticizing non-idealizing variety (I might be the only one). But, you know, it's not real. :) None of it's real.

    Thanks for keeping the memory of Robert alive for me to stumble upon. I've enjoyed perusing some of your posts today.