What inspired you to go to India?
An inner need, an urge to find peace, to find the center where you are simply yourself—free from all stimulation. All that I’d read about traditional India, especially ancient India, led me to feel that present-day India might still reflect the ancient wisdom, that it might be a society centered in truth. Of course it’s dangerous to think you can adopt another culture, but my going to India was not in search of a new belief, religion or culture. I was aware that I would not find what I was looking for by assuming a new way of living or point of view. From the beginning I was convinced that there is a core of being which is independent of all society, and I felt the urge to explore this conviction.
So you were not looking for a teacher?
No, I was not looking for anything specific but, arriving in India, in a completely new environment, I was left with no referenced to anything in my previous experienced. In this suspension of evaluation, I was catapulted into an openness, a receptivity to everything. And I was astonished to meet so soon the man who later became my teacher. You can’t look for a teacher. The teacher finds you in your awareness.
This inner need, the eagerness for freedom—must it be very strong?
The urge to freedom must be tremendous. But it cannot be learned or acquired. It comes through self-inquiry. In self-inquiry there appears a fore-feeling, an intimation of reality, and it is this fore-feeling which brings up a tremendous ardour. It can make you sleepless!
When you inquire, you may first feel a lack. You may not know what kind of lack it is and you will go in many directions in the hope of filling it. As each direction is attained there may be a moment when there’s no longer a lack and the desire it brings. For a moment you are in peace. But because you are not aware of this desirelessness, you fixate on the object, the so-called cause of your satisfaction, and of course eventually it loses its charm and once again you are hungry. You will travel down many of these dead-ends, like a hunting dog who cannot find the scent and runs around frantically. But these cul-de-sacs of experience bring you to a kind of maturity, because inevitably you will question more deeply all the happening and their transience. It’s a process of elimination. You must inquire, inquire like a scientist, into your life. Take note that whenever you attain what you want you are in desirelessness itself where the initial object, the supposed cause of your desirelessness, is not present. See that this desirelessness is really causeless and it is you who are attributing causes to it.
At a certain point of maturity, you will suddenly be attracted by the scent of reality and your running around in all directions, your dispersion, will cease. Spontaneously, you will be oriented. Your whole perspective will change. The scent lures you and gives you a fore-taste of reality, the fore-feeling, and this brings up the tremendous urge we spoke of.
Would you speak ore about this fore-feeling? Exactly what is it?
The fore-feeling comes from what is fore-felt. It is the reflection of truth. It is the spontaneous orientation when dispersion becomes one-pointed. The ego becomes more transparent and in this transparency the energy that was fixed by the ego in objects of dispersion is transferred to orientation. When the fore-feeling is there, give your whole heart to it. You must be very alert, very watchful, because the forgetting, which is our conditioning, is very strong.
Did suffering play any part in propelling you into the path?
It depends how you understand suffering. Suffering as an idea, a concept, can never bring you to the knowing of yourself. But the direct perception of suffering is, like all objects, a pointer to your Self. What was important for me were those moments when I faced myself and found a lack of fulfillment; this produced the dynamism to explore more deeply. In a certain way when you really feel this lack without conceptualizing it, it is great suffering—but it is not the kind of suffering caused by a robbery, losing a job, a broken marriage death, and so on. Of course, these difficulties lift you out of a kind of complacency, a habitual way of living. They wake you up to interrogate, to inquire, to explore, to question suffering itself.
Make suffering an object. In complete surrender to the perception, light comes up. You must understand that by surrender I don’t mean a fatalistic acceptance or a kind of psychological sacrifice. Real surrender is letting go of all ideas and allowing the perception, in this case suffering, to come to you in your openness. You will see that it does not “go away,” as is the case with psychological acceptance—where the energy fixed as suffering is merely shifted to another area—but it comes to blossom within your full attention. You will feel it as free energy, energy that was previously crystallized. Thus, surrender is not a passive state. It is both passive and active, passive in the sense of letting go as with Meister Eckhart’s “Poor Man,” and active in that it is a constant alertness.
Did you practice yoga to come to deeper levels of surrender and alertness?
The word practice generally means habit. We must use it only in the sense of becoming more and more aware of body and mind. We must see that the body is a field of fear, anxiety, defense and aggression. However, the emphasis must not be on the body but on presence, on listening. What is important is to become acquainted with the field of tensions and see that the constantly interfering I-image is not separate from this field but belongs to it. When this is clear, tensions finds no accomplice, the perception is freed, and energy integrates in its totality. The traditional approach is through listening to the body, not mastering it. Dominating the body is violence. But one can sweep the floor or wash the dishes and be in listening. It makes no difference.
Exploring the body brought me to deeper layers of relaxation and this relaxation brought about the cessation of repetitive patterns in the body and mind. In welcoming the body I became more and more aware of the feeling of letting go, so in this way the yoga participated in the fore-feeling of reality. But it only led me to where I no longer emphasized the object, the body, but the ultimate subject. Yoga brings you to a kind of alertness, a tranquility, and a tranquil body reflects a tranquil mind. But of course you can come to the peaceful body-mind without yoga!
If yoga is not in itself the teaching, what is?
The teaching points directly to what is not teachable. The words, the actions, are a crutch and this support gradually loses its concreteness until suddenly one day you find yourself in the non-state which cannot be taught. The formulations are symbols, pointers, and ultimately you do not see the symbol but that to which it points.
When the teaching lost its concreteness for you and there was this shift in emphasis from the object-symbol to the subject, that to which the symbol points, how did your life change?
The old patterns of thinking and acting—of false identification with the body—having lost their concreteness, no longer had any hold. It was that reduction from dispersion to orientation we spoke of a strengthening of the fore-feeling of truth. It became more and more present and less conceptual. This being understanding gave a new direction to my life. Everything was perceived in a new way. I became more discerning, and although I made no voluntary changes, many things that had occupied places in my earlier life just dropped away. I had been lured by names and forms as I strove for having and becoming, but with the orientation of energy there came a new order of values. You must not interpret this as adopting a new morality of any kind. Nothing was added or given up. I just became aware of the “clearness,” sattvas, and a transformation spontaneously followed from this awareness.
My Master explained to me that this light, which seemed to come from outside, was really light reflected by the Self. In my meditations I was visited by this light and attracted by it and it gave me greater clarity in action, thinking and feeling. My way of listening became unconditional, free from past and future. This unconditional listening brought me to a receptive alertness and as I became familiar with this alertness it became free from all expectation, all volition. I felt an establishing in attention, an unfolding in fullness to awareness.
Then a complete change occurred one evening on Marine Drive in Bombay. I was watching flying birds without thought or interpretation, when I was completely taken by them and felt everything happening in myself. In this moment I knew myself consciously. The next morning I knew, in facing the multiplicity of daily life, that being understanding was established. The self-image had completely dissolved and, freed from the conflict and interference of the I-image, all happenings belonged to being awareness, the totality. Life flowed on without the cross-currents of the ego. Psychological memory, like and dislike, attraction and repulsion, had vanished. The constant presence, that we call the Self, was free from repetition, memory, judgment, comparison and appraisal. The center of my being had been spontaneously ejected from time and space into timeless stillness. In this non-state of being, the separation between “you” and “me” vanished completely. Nothing appeared outside. All things belonged in me but I was no longer in them. There was only oneness.
I knew myself in present happening, not as a concept but as a being without localization in time and space. In this non-state there was freedom, full and objectless joy. There was pure thankfulness, thanking without an object. It was not an affective feeling, but a freedom from all affectivity, a coldness close to warmth. My Master had given me an understanding of all this, but now it had become a bright and integrated truth.
From The Ease of Being, Prologue
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