Interview with Paula Marvelly: Contemplating the Nature of Experience
Paula Marvelly: Could you give a short factual biography of your life up to the age of 16?
Rupert Spira: I come from a large, close family. Both my parents are kind and loving and gave everything they could, in their very different ways, to their children. My childhood was essentially happy and free.
My parents separated when I was six and we lived with my mother in Hampshire. However, I also saw a lot of my father. My mother is eccentric, artistic and has a deep interest in spiritual matters; my father more measured and conventional. I learned a lot from both of them.
At 16, you say you started to meditate. Was there something specific – an event perhaps – that precipitated such a thing?
At the age of 15 I became disenchanted with the life towards which my scientific education was preparing me. At the same time I saw an exhibition of the work of Michael Cardew, which stirred my imagination beyond anything it had previously encountered. I also started to read Rumi and Shankaracharya which awakened the sense of a completely new possibility within me.
You say you started to read Rumi, Gurdjieff, Ouspensky ,Krishnamurti, Ramana Maharshi, Nisargadatta Maharaj and Shankracharya, amongst others. What was it in their words that you resonated with?
Somehow, I had the deep intuition that was I was reading was true. Their words resonated deeply within me and kindled an intense desire to know for myself what they were speaking of.
You say you wanted to make a career in science but felt it wasn’t the right way to go. Why was that? What is it about science that you felt didn’t appeal to you?
It wasn’t so much a rejection of science as an attraction towards art. Art seemed to engage my whole being, not just my intellect. I felt that art provided the means to explore and the express the deepest realms of experience in a way that science could not.
You went to art school – was there any particular discipline that inspired you – pottery and ceramics presumably – and why?
I first saw Michael Cardew’s work and, later on, pieces from the early ceramic traditions of China, Korea, Japan and Persia. At the time my response was instinctive and inarticulate, just an unmistakable ‘Yes’ from the depths of my being.
These objects were like condensations of intelligence, love and beauty. I would spend hours in museums looking at them. At times I would feel my body dissolving in front of them. It was exactly the same experience that I had many years later with my teacher in satsang.
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You spent a number of years at the Study Society, which was set up by Dr Francis Roles, under guidance of HH Shantanand Saraswati, the Shankaracharya of the North. What philosophy/teaching did you learn there and how was that helpful?
When I arrived at The Study Society the last remnants of Ouspenky’s teaching were being ushered out in favour of the Shankaracharya’s Advaita Vedanta, which was considered to have been the source of Ouspensky’s teaching.
I immersed myself in the teaching and also learnt Gurdjieff’s Movements and the Mevlevi Turning – beautiful, contemplative movement practices.
These teachings were my home – I lived in them and they lived in me.
After leaving art school, you worked as an artist to make a living. You say you believed that beauty was linked to spirituality and it was a way in which you could bring that concept to life. It reminds me of Keats’ lines:
Beauty is truth, truth beauty – that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.
Could you expand on that?
Our apparently objective experience consists of thoughts, sensations and perceptions – that is, the mind, body and world.
When awareness ‘takes the shape’ of thinking, it seems to become a thought. When it ‘takes the shape’ of sensing, it seems to become a body and when it ‘takes the shape’ of perceiving, it seems to become an object, other or world.
When thinking comes to an end, the apparently objective part of it (the thought part) disappears but its substance, awareness, remains. In that timeless moment (timeless because the mind is not present) awareness tastes itself as it is, unmediated through the apparent objectivity of thought. This experience is known as understanding.
When sensing comes to an end, the apparently objective part of it (the sensation or body part) disappears but its substance, awareness, remains, knowing itself as love or happiness.
And when perceiving comes to an end, the object, other or world disappears but their substance, awareness, remains, knowing itself as it is, unveiled by the appearance of objects. That is the experience known as beauty.
In other words, understanding, love, happiness and beauty are all different names for one and the same experience, the presence of awareness, the knowing of our own being.
The paths through understanding and love (the paths of Jnana and Bhakti) are well documented but the path through perceiving is less often mentioned. The path of perceiving or the Way of beauty is the way of the artist.
It is a path through which it becomes clear, and the means through which it is expressed, that the substance of all perceptions is made out of awareness.
Although allseeming objects are made out of awareness, it is not, at a relative level, the functionof all objects to reveal this. For instance, the purpose of a kettle is to boil water, not to reveal the true nature of experience.
However, there is one category of objects, which, are made specifically with the intention of revealing the true nature of experience and such an object is what we call a work of art.
The function of a work of art is not simply to point towards, but actually to revealthe true nature of experience. As Cezanne said, to ‘give us a taste of Eternity’.
Like the words of the teaching, such objects come pregnant with their origin, the silence and love from which they originate and, as such, are tremendously powerful.
So, beauty is the experience through which we come to know and feel that all seeming things are made out of that which knows them.
Keats was right. ‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty’.The experience of Truth and beauty are one and the same experience.
‘That is all ye know on earth’. The mind (which is the expression of Truth) and the world (which is the expression of beauty) are one. That is, the apparent ‘knower’ and the apparently ‘known’ are one. Whether we recognize it or not, this is always our experience.
It is, as Keats says, ‘all ye know on earth’ – the knowing of our own being in and as all seeming things – ‘and all ye need to know’. Yes, this knowledge alone, if deeply considered and made one’s own and subsequently applied to all circumstances, is all that is required to lead a sane, happy and loving life. Keats was rather more economical with his words than I am!
The great artists of the past, of whom Keats was one, were perhaps the vehicles through which this knowledge was communicated most powerfully in our culture but it is not their provenance alone.
This experiential knowledge of the true nature of experience is, in fact, known by all but sometimes seemingly forgotten. However, it is never far from the surface and even in popular culture – music, fashion, and so on – we see this same longing for love, beauty and happiness, all of which are simply variations of our longing to return to the true nature of our most intimate being.
When this love, beauty and happiness is seemingly veiled by the appearance of the ‘I’ entity, it cries out all the more loudly. All around us in our culture we hear these ‘love cries’ all desperately searching in the wrong place for what lies at their heart.
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For myself, I attended the sister school of the Study Society, called the School of Economic Science, where beauty was also exulted. Inasmuch as I agree that beauty is a means by which the heart may be opened, I wonder if it is at the exclusion of other parts of life that are very ‘unbeautiful’. On a day-to-day level, the cult of physical perfection is effectively distorting people’s attitudes to their own and other people’s bodies and causing a great deal of suffering. As a woman, I feel forever judged by my physical appearance.
The cult of physical perfection is a pale reflection and a misinterpretation of our innate knowing of beauty. When we forget about the presence of awareness, beauty is relegated to the status of an object, in just the same way that when awareness is seemingly forgotten, the self, other, object and world seem to become real.
If beauty is considered to be a property of objects then it will be considered to be just the opposite of ugliness. Even in some expressions of contemporary advaita this is sometimes misunderstood and in these expressions of the teaching, beauty is reduced to an objective experience that is considered to be just one more ‘appearance within awareness’.
But it is not. Beauty is another name for awareness, the knowing of our own being.
And likewise when we love another, it is truly the self in the ‘other’ that is loved. And it is the self that loves. That is, the self is the lover andthe beloved. In other words it is love itself, with no other. That is what love is – the absence of the apparent other. We all know that experience of dissolving in love. All that keeps us separate and apart is dissolved and that dissolution, even in common parlance, is known as love. Of course when the mind returns, it appropriates the non-objective and timeless experience of love and creates out of it a ‘lover’ and a ‘beloved’ and then wonders why the experience of love itself has seemed to disappear!
So, beauty and love are one and the same experience. It is only in our culture where this has been overlooked that they have been reduced to objects. The cult of physical perfection you refer to springs from this misunderstanding although there is still a flame of recognition of the true nature of beauty and love that burns at its heart.
Shakespeare knew this well: ‘All things seem but cannot Be. Beauty brags but ’tis not She.’
All things seem to have an existence of their own, separate and independent of awareness, but do not. The ‘Isness’ of an apparent object belongs to awareness alone.
‘Beauty brags,’ that is, the beauty (with a small ‘b’) that seems to belong to the object ‘brags,’ pretends to be the real thing, draws attention to the object, ‘but ’tis not She,’ that is, ’tis not She, the true love of our hearts, objectless beauty itself.
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During this period, you say that you had a model of the truth and then there was living a life (relationships, having a family, earning an income, and so on). Effectively, there was a split between them. Can you expand?
My models were the great sages of previous eras and foreign cultures such as Ramana Maharshi, Nisargadatta and Rumi and for a while I mistook the cultural expressions of their understanding for the truth itself.
I felt that I had to turn away from the world in order to access this truth. This attitude is enshrined in some traditional teachings. For many of us, the belief and feeling that it is ‘I,’ body/mind that knows the world, is initially replaced by the experiential understanding that ‘I’ is the witnessing awareness that is aware of the body/mind/world.
In order to see this clearly, it may be necessary to temporarily place the body/mind/world at a seeming distance, as it were, in order to establish experientially that we are the witness and not the witnessed. For many people and I was one, this position of the witness is an important step and establishes the presence and the primacy of awareness.
This position is enshrined in some monastic traditions where the world and even the body are denied in order to focus on the presence of awareness.
However, in this position there is still a subtle presumption of duality between the perceiving ‘I’ of awareness and the perceived object, other or world. This distinction is sometimes naturally dissolved over time or may dissolve as a result of further exploration of experience. Either way, the result is the utter saturation of the body/mind/world with awareness (in fact, it was always thus but is now known and felt to be so) in which the body, mind and world are no longer believed and felt to be dangerous or threatening and can again be fully embraced.
Why did you leave The Study Society? You mention you felt like something was missing.
Yes, there was still a distance. I couldn’t completely make the teaching my own, so to speak.
And then you met Francis Lucille. How did he help you?
Something about our encounter made it clear that what I am is ever-present and without limits or location. As a side effect of this discovery, the ‘me’ that was looking for help was found to be non-existent.
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Would you say that you are self-realized/enlightened, for want of a better expression?
Both the answer ‘Yes,’ and the answer ‘No,’ would presume the presence of one that may or may not be enlightened. In the absence of such a one, only the Light that enlightens all seeming things remains. In fact, it does not ‘remain’ in time. It is realized to be the ever-present reality of all experience. It is experience.
What does it mean to be self-realized/enlightened?
These words can be used with different meanings. The meanings with which I use them are as follows:
To be enlightened means to know oneself as awareness and to know that this awareness is ever-present and without limit or location.
To be self-realized means to think, feel and act in line with that experiential understanding.
Enlightenment is instantaneous although it may not be immediate. Self-realization takes apparent time and involves the gradual dissolution of all the old habits of thinking, feeling, acting and relating on behalf of a separate entity and, as a result, the realignment of the mind, body and world with the experiential understanding of our self, awareness, as the sole witness and substance of all seeming things.
Why aren’t I self-realized/enlightened?
Because of that very question. With that question you presume yourself to be an entity that is other than and separate from the light of awareness. This presumption is known as the ‘person’ or the ‘separate entity’ and seems to veil the love and happiness that are inherent in awareness’ knowing of its own being.
This apparent veiling of happiness is synonymous with the search for enlightenment or the feeling of being unenlightened. That search is what the separate entity is, not what it does.
Once we have imagined ourself to be such an entity, the search for happiness in the objects of the mind, the body and the world is inevitable. If we believe and feel ourself to be such an entity and believe at the same time that we are not in search, we are simply deluding ourself. We have simply buried the subtle rejection of the now, which is another name for the search, under a new belief in non-duality.
However, sooner or later this search comes to an end, in most cases, as a result of suffering and enquiry. At this point, we may, as it were, turn round and question the very one who is in search only to find it to be utterly non-existent. In its place, where we are expecting to find the ‘I’ of the separate self, find only the ‘I’ of awareness.
It is inevitable that the search up until this point will seem to have been undertaken by the separate entity we believe and feel ourself to be. However, even if we provisionally credit the apparently separate entity with this activity, it does no more than this. In fact, in reality it doesn’t even do this. What can a non-existent entity do? However, we should be wary of buying the ‘there is nothing to do’ belief while the feeling of separation is still present.
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How is self-realization/enlightenment attained?
In order to think that enlightenment can be attained we first have to believe that it has been lost. Once enlightenment is believed to have been lost we will, by definition, consider ourself to be a separate entity on an inevitable search for happiness. This search revolves around the separate entity we consider ourself to be and who is felt to be unhappy. Therefore, in such a case, the very best thing we can do is to turn towards this unhappy self that is longing for happiness. When we turn towards this ‘I’ that we intimately know ourself to be, we do not find a separate entity. We find awareness, presence. And what is it that finds awareness? Awareness is the only one present ‘there,’ capable of being aware of awareness.
Simultaneous with this self-recognition comes the recognition that awareness is, in fact, always only knowing its own self and at this point we can truly say that there is never any ignorance.
However, until this recognition has taken place it would be more honest to recognise that we feel ourself to be a person on an inevitable search of happiness. As this apparent person we turn round, as it were, towards the source of our being and, like a moth flying into the flame we, this imaginary entity, seems to dissolve in it.
Only then do we realize that there was never an entity to begin with. Then it is clear that there was no one who turned round towards the source of their being. There was always only presence, seemingly veiling itself with the belief in separation and seemingly unveiling itself with the recognition of its true nature, but never, in fact, for a moment knowing or being anything other than its own self.
Is a teacher necessary?
In almost all cases, yes.
For most people, the identity is so intimately and exclusively associated with a body and a mind, that the help of a friend in pointing out our true identity as awareness, is necessary.
Even for those apparent ones who spontaneously awaken to their true nature without the help of a friend or teacher, the presence of such a friend after this non-objective recognition of our true nature, will greatly facilitate the realignment of the mind, body and world with this new perspective.
How do you regard the people who come to your meetings and what can they expect to get from you?
I see them as I see myself, that is, as awareness. What can they expect? They can expect to be seen and treated as awareness, not as a separate entity. This may or may not involve conversation, but that is not really important.
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Do you consider that your teaching is the same as traditional Advaita, Neo Advaita, the Direct Path or something else?
In all these paths or teachings the love and understanding that is inherent in the knowing of our own being, is present. How it is expressed varies enormously from one case to another. I identify myself with the love and understanding that is at the heart of all true teachings, not with any particular form or expression.
Whatever I hear or see that comes from this love and understanding, irrespective of the form in which it is delivered, melts my heart over and over again.
How do you go about teaching what you teach?
If I am taking a meeting I sit in silence and wait for the first thoughts to appear, usually in the form of a short contemplation on the nature of experience.
If a question is asked I go in my imagination to the heart of the question. I become the question. I offer this question to my experience and respond from there.
It is the same with written responses. I feel the question deeply and respond from experience.
What do you tell your students to do (practices, mental preparation, meditation, and so on)?
I do not have a prescription, formula or set practice. However, broadly speaking there are two aspects: firstly, to notice that what we are, is awareness, that is, to notice that ‘I’ is both ever-present and aware, without limit or location, and secondly that this awareness is the not just the witness but also simultaneously, the substance of all seeming things.
The belief and the feeling that we are something other than awareness, that is, a separate independent entity, seems to veil this knowing of our own being and, as a result, veils the peace, happiness and love that reside there. In our meetings we first know ourself as impersonal, ever-present awareness and, taking our stand as that, proceed to investigate and explore the beliefs and feelings that suggest otherwise.
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Will these practices lead them to self-realization/enlightenment?
No activity (or lack of activity) of the mind will bring about enlightenment. The best the mind can do is to explore its own belief systems and come to the conclusion that it knows nothing about reality although, at the same time, it is an expression of it.
When this is clearly seen the mind comes effortlessly and spontaneously to an end and in that moment we find ourself open, available, unknowing and present.
In this openness there is no waiting and no expectation because the mind is not present. There is simply being or presence. And whatever it is that knows this presence is presence itself. That is the only ‘one’ present ‘there’ to know itself. That is, there is only presence knowing its own being. It knows itself.
When the mind returns it claims credit for this non-objective taste of our own being and starts to devise all sorts of methods and practices to experience again the happiness and peace that were felt in its absence.
So, at a verbal level the teaching addresses these erroneous beliefs and feelings – erroneous in the sense that they revolve around a fictitious entity. This involves an investigation of the belief of being a separate entity at the level of the mind and an exploration of both the ‘me’ feeling at the level of the body and the ‘not me’ feeling at the level of the world. That is, it is an exploration of the true nature of reality in all realms of experience.
However, this is not undertaken in order to bring about a result, but rather simply to see clearly the nature of experience.
If we think we are a person, we will inevitably feel that this silence was brought about by an activity of the mind. However, later on it becomes clear that the mind did nothing. Presence projects the mind and presence withdraws the mind.
To begin with it seems as if presence only knows its own being when the mind is not present. Later on it becomes clear that presence is always only knowing its own self.
What do you think about Ramana’s practice of ‘self-enquiry’?
The natural state is simply to be, without resisting what is by inverting upon an inward self or trying to replace what is by pursuing objects in the world.
However, if we think and feel that we are a separate entity, resisting and searching are unavoidable. In other words, we will be searching for the happiness we believe is missing, rather than simply being.
As such, having deeply tasted the futility of the search for peace or happiness in the objects of the body, mind and world, the very best we can do as this apparent entity is to explore the entity we consider ourself to be, the one who is in search. This enquiry resolves itself in the abidance of our own being.
Thus, self-enquiry is the highest activity that a mind that is still in search can undertake. However, self-enquiry doesn’t end with the discovery that we are impersonal, ever-present awareness. It continues as an impersonal activity that facilitates the realignment of the mind, body and world with the experiential understanding of ourself as impersonal awareness.
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Would you say that a time frame is required for the teaching to mature (as in traditional Advaita and the teacher-guru relationship) or would you say some kind of understanding could arise at any time (as in Neo Advaita and the satsang formula)?
Both! Enlightenment is always instantaneous. In fact, it is timeless, although it may or may not be preceded by a period of investigation.
After the non-objective recognition of our own being, a process takes place in time that re-orchestrates, as it were, the mind, body and world with this new experiential understanding.
If there has been a long period of investigating and exploring these matters prior to the recognition of being, the body and mind may already be well aligned with this experiential understanding so that when this recognition occurs not much adaptation is necessary.
However, if this recognition takes place spontaneously with little or no preparation, the mind and the body may be utterly disorientated by it and may, as a result, require longer to become realigned.
However, there are no rules or formulas. Anything is possible!
How should one lead one’s life if seeking enlightenment?
According to the strength of one’s desire for enlightenment. In fact, everyone is searching for enlightenment, which is simply the search for happiness. Most people search for happiness in the realm of objects, that is, in the realm of the mind, body and world.
Once it has become obvious that happiness does not reside in the realm of objects, all the energies that were previously directed outwards towards them are now gathered and turned towards their source.
At a certain point this becomes all consuming and a great intensity arises in one’s heart.
What it is that ignites this love of truth, I do not know. It is truly a gift of presence.
* * *
So what is consciousness?
Consciousness is the intimacy of our own being. It is referred to as ‘I,’ although this ‘I’ is sometimes mistaken for a body or a mind. It also has many other names, such as, peace, happiness, love and beauty.
It is whatever it is that is seeing these words and experiencing whatever else is being experienced in this and every moment.
Upon investigation it is also found to be just not just the witness of all seeming things but also their substance or essential nature.
At this point we may ask what then are these seeming things, only to realize that they were never present, as such, to begin with.
Now we are left we the understanding that consciousness is all. But what is this ‘all’. There is no ‘all’. There is only consciousness and when this is clear there is no longer a need to conceptualize it, for there is nothing else with which to contrast or differentiate it. Any conceptualization at this stage would be another subtle objectification.
Here we are simply left in silence.
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What do you mean by the following statement:
‘Consciousness veils itself from itself by pretending to limit itself to a separate entity and then forgets that it is pretending…’
If consciousness is all there is, and all there is, is consciousness, how can something that is omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent forget ‘itself’. That sounds like a double-bind/contradictory situation.
Consciousness never truly forgets itself. It never knows anything other than its own being. For this reason, ignorance, that is, the ignoring of the true nature of experience, is said to be an illusion. It never really happens, but only seems to.
To whom does consciousness seem to be absent? To the mind.
It is the mind that rises up (within consciousness and made out of nothing other than consciousness) and imagines that consciousness, which properly pervades allexperience, in fact only pervades one small part of experience, that is, a body.
In other words, the mind imagines that consciousness is limited to and located within the body and with that belief, the ‘I am’ which properly belongs to consciousness alone, seems to become ‘I am the body’.
As a result of this belief that consciousness is limited to a body, everything that is not that body becomes ‘not me’. ‘Not me’ is simply another name for the world. In other words, the world is the name we give to the apparent forgetting of consciousness.
So, from the point of view of consciousness, which is the only true point of view, consciousness is never bound, limited, veiled, forgotten or obscured. However, from the imaginary point of view of the mind, consciousness seems to be lost and found, veiled and unveiled, bound and liberated.
However, the mind’s point of view is only a valid point of from its own point of view!
The statement that ‘Consciousness veils itself from itself by pretending to limit itself to a separate entity and then forgets that it is pretending…’ was said to convey this understanding.
* * *
What is reality?
Reality is whatever it is that is real in experience. Reality cannot disappear because that into which it would disappear would have to be more real that it. For instance, gold is the reality of the ring, because (within the limits of the metaphor) the ring can change its name and form and become, for instance, a necklace, but the gold itself remains as it is, unchanged and ever-present.
Similarly, when an apparent object disappears, the substance out of which it was made, remains. The true substance of experience, its reality, does not come and go. It is uncaused (because if it were caused by something, that ‘something’ would have to be more real that it) and is not known by anything other than itself.
From the point of view of the mind, there are names and forms. From the point of view of experience itself, there is only one ever-present reality and that is sometimes called consciousness or awareness, because it is aware and present. However, it is more intimately known as ‘I’.
And what is it that knows consciousness or ‘I’? Consciousness or ‘I’!
In other words, there is nothing other than consciousness or ‘I’ knowing/being itself.
And because there is no possibility of lack or dis-ease in this knowing of itself, it is also known as happiness. Because there is no possibility of agitation within itself, it is also known as peace. And because there is no possibility of another in the knowing of its own being, it is also known as love.
Hence peace, happiness and love, which are simply the names we give to the knowing of being, are the reality of all experience.
There is only That.
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You often talk about the fact that there is only experience. Indeed, the subtitle of your book is ‘Contemplating the Nature of Experience’. Can you expand on that?
All we know is experience. All things possible to be thought, sensed or perceived fall within experience. In other words, all we know of the mind, body or world, is through experience.
Experience goes into the make of everything. The apparent individual, is also, like everything else, only known through experience and, therefore, its essential nature must be identical to the essential nature of everything else that is experienced. What is the essential nature of that experience?
If we go deeply into the essential nature of experience, that is, of our self and of all seeming things, we find only consciousness. That is, consciousness finds itself.
In fact, consciousness is always only knowing/being/loving itself. It is only from the imaginary point of view of an imaginary entity that consciousness seems to be lost and found.
How do we cope with our experience and come to an understanding of reality?
We cope with our experience by exploring it. We do not try to change or manipulate it in any way. We simply look. What is truly there?
In this disinterested but loving contemplation, all the accretions that the dualizing mind superimposes upon our essential experience slowly, in most cases, fall away and the reality of experience is left shining by itself.
However, it is not the mind that understands reality. It is reality that ‘stands under’ the mind giving it its support. It also pervades the mind, giving it its substance and seeming reality, allowing it to be whatever it is from moment to moment.
How do we acquire the knowledge that will enable us to appreciate the nature of reality? Isn’t that knowledge itself dualistic? How is this reconciled?
Knowledge (if by knowledge you mean knowledge in the mind) can never know the nature of reality.
Knowledge is of things, that is, of thoughts, sensations and perceptions. If we go deeply into the essential nature of such knowledge, we find only knowing. And if we go deeply onto the experience of knowing, we find only consciousness.
The ‘I’ that would acquire such knowledge or appreciate the nature of experience, is found to be made only of thinking.
When thinking comes to an end its substance remains, just as the screen remains when the image fades. When thinking reappears it is known to be made only of consciousness, just as the image is known to be made only of the screen.
The image can never know the screen just as thinking can never know consciousness. However, the ‘element’ of knowing or experiencing that pervades all thinking, is consciousness alone. There is no other substance to thinking, sensing or perceiving than that.
* * *
Is there a god? If so, what do you mean by that?
It is not that there isa god. It is rather that God is Isness itself. It is the Isnessof all of all seeming things. And when there are no seeming things apparently present, Isness just remains as it is, pure being.
In order to know that there is being, being must be known. That which knows or is aware of being is being itself. Nothing outside of itself could be present, or could be, with which being could be known. So, being knows itself. It isthe knowing of itself.
Hence knowing and being are one or, more accurately, not two. That is, consciousness and being are not two.
To say it is one, is to say one thing too much.
That which remains when the seeming ‘two’ dissolves is what is known as God. But when the seeming multiplicity and diversity reappear, it is still only God that knows and is known.
There is nothing but God knowing, being and loving its own infinite, eternal being.
Is there free will?
Consciousness is freedom itself. The separate entity is non-existent. Therefore there is no entity present who could either have or not have free will.
Experience is too intimate and immediate to admit of one who may stand back and orchestrate it like a conductor, willing, choosing, deciding, and so on. There is no time present for such a one to exist in.
The idea of free will is an inevitable side effect of the belief in a separate entity. If we believe there is a separate entity, we will by definition, whether we know it or not, believe there is free will. If, as this apparent entity, we then believe there is no free will, then that is simply a belief that we superimpose onto our much deeper conviction that we are a separate doer, chooser, decider, and so on.
Once the separate entity is seen clearly to be non-existent, the idea of free will dissolves.
All that is left is the freedom of consciousness.
Do you believe in reincarnation?
I don’t believe in incarnation, let alone reincarnation!
Incarnation is the concept that consciousness was born into and resides in a body. It is never an experience. To believe that concept is ignorance. Unhappiness is the result.
* * *
In your book, you quote Paul Cezanne:
Paul Cézanne said, ‘Everything vanishes, falls apart, doesn’t it? Nature is always the same but nothing in her that appears to us lasts. Our art must render the thrill of her permanence, along with her elements, the appearance of all her changes. It must give us a taste of her Eternity.’
Could you explain what you mean in terms of how that relates to art?
Cezanne is suggesting that our only knowledge of nature is through intermittent sense perceptions. Sense perceptions are fleeting and in that sense the apparent solidity of the world or nature is, in fact, ‘falling apart,’ ‘vanishing’ from moment by moment. The world is our perception of the world and it vanishes as soon as a perception vanishes. It is only a thought that collates a string of imagined perceptions and creates out of them the apparently solid and permanent world, existing in time and space.
However, Cézanne also acknowledges that there is something in nature that is ‘always the same’. Whatever that ‘something’ is cannot be a perception because every perception is unique and intermittent. So he is pointing to the fact that there is something that is ‘always the same’ that runs through, as it were, the experience of intermittent perceptions that we call nature or the world.
Furthermore, Cezanne suggests that this ‘something,’ this ever-present element that runs through all experience, is not just a neutral background but rather that it is a ‘thrill’. That is, it is joyful. He is suggesting that the reality of nature or the world is pure joy, ananda, happiness itself. Cezanne was a pure non-dualist – at least when he was painting!
So, Cezanne is suggesting that the purpose of art is to take nature’s elements, its changing appearances (colours, in his case) and create a form that directly points towards that which is ever-present in our experience.
In fact, he suggests that it is more than just an indication or a pointing. He suggests that art is more intimate than that. He suggests it should give us the taste of the ever-presence or reality of experience, nature’s eternity.
In this way, he acknowledges the power of an object, be that object a word, a painting, a piece of music, whatever, that truly comes from the recognition of the true nature of experience.
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And then how it relates to consciousness.
If we make a deep exploration of our experience we find that whatever it is that is ever-present in the experience of nature is identical to whatever it is that is ever-present in ourself, that we refer to as consciousness.
In other words, it is what I am.
Another aphorism that struck me in your book:
‘Once we see that everything is consciousness… Maya still dances but it is a dance of love not seduction’.
So what, finally, is love?
The appearanceof objects, time, space, and so on, continues but ignorance, that is, the belief that there is something other than the presence of consciousness, ceases. At that moment, the apparent multiplicity and diversity of the world, which once seemed to veil the knowing of our own being, now turns round, as it were, and instead expresses or celebrates it.
Appearances no longer seduce us into believing that duality, separation, objects and others are real in their own right and therefore it is known that they can never threaten us nor be a source of happiness.
Psychological fear and the desire to find happiness and love through objects, activities and relationships, come to an end. As a result, the world is no longer hostile and ‘others’ are no longer a source of love or hurt. There is no longer any aversion towards or manipulation of objects and people and, as such, we can give ourself utterly, intimately, fearlessly, to all experience.
This unreserved giving of our being to all seeming things is known as love.
It is from this understanding that William Blake said. ‘Eternity is in love with the productions of time’.
Love is what remains of experience when all sense of separation, boundary, duality, otherness, and so on, dissolves. At that moment it is realized that it was all that was present to begin with.
Love is simply that which truly is.
This interview was originally featured on Advaita VisioninJune 2010.