Good evening to you and welcome to Discovery. My name is Barbara O’Shuller, and my guest is Douglas Harding, an Englishman who is here in this area to speak among other things about the fine art of living free from stress. He is a speaker, an architect, author, and teacher.
Welcome. (Laughter) Welcome to you, if I may say that.
You certainly may.
Welcome to you in my space. Yes.
You’ve got some very provocative titles for your books, and I am going to share them first off, and then maybe ask you to talk about them. On Having No Head, is one. All of these are published by Penguin Arcana. Zen and the Rediscovery of the Obvious, that’s all one book, The Little Book of Life and Death, Head Off Stress, and a novel, The Trial of the Man Who Said He was God. Wonderful titles.
Provocative, I think.
Very provocative. Let’s start with number four, the novel that hasn’t come out yet, The Trial of the Man Who Said He was God. Who is this man and why did he say he was God?
Well, it’s a blasphemy trial, in the year 2003. It’s, I suppose, almost like science fiction in a way. And here’s this chap who says that nearer to him than all else, at the very center of his life, is the origin of the world, is the indwelling spirit, reality, God – many names. It could be Buddha-nature, could be the kingdom of heaven, or whatever, and that is central in his life.
And that he himself is very real, as a person, as a man, but that man is peripheral to that center. So the human part of him is not central. The human part is there, and for instance, and in particular, what he sees in the mirror is his human face and human personality. And that is what other people pick up. It’s out there, it’s about a meter or two away from the center, and that’s where he keeps his humanity, and that is on show for other people. They are receiving it. That’s where they hold their cameras to photograph him. That’s where he finds that guy, in my case Douglas – why, he is there in the mirror. And this man who is on trial for blasphemy is saying who he really, really, really is, this indwelling deity or reality, spirit, essence. That that is who he really, really is, and that’s the center of his life.
The whole art of life is to go there, stay there, because you never came out of it anyway. It’s where you belong; it’s home. And he says that this is deeply traditional, and it’s what all the great religions are saying at the very heart of the heart of the heart of them. And he is saying that those people who are trying him for blasphemy in the year 2003, why, they are the blasphemers because what they are doing is to put the guy in the mirror – that they see in the mirror – they turn that person around and bring him forward and put that person at the center of their world. And this is blasphemy because the center of your world, the world of everyone, the center of being, the right center, where we are, is in fact the reality we come from, our source. So that is what the trial is about, and it’s what the first book is about On Having No Head, you see. Instead of a head here, a meatball, which I am supposed to be looking out of, why, when I look here, you see, I’m looking at you Barbara now, and I don’t find anything in your way. I find the meatball is non-existent here, and I am space for Barbara, which is a great improvement, I can say, on what people told me was here.
Hmm. Who is putting him on trial? Where is this taking place in 2003?
Well, I don’t tell you where it is taking place, but I guess it is Great Britain, somewhere.
Aren’t we enlightened enough now, and hopefully will be in 2003, not to be putting people on trial for discovering their own divinity?
Well, you see, the issue of blasphemy is a very important one. Some people have said it’s the great issue of the last part of the century. I mean, Salman Rushdie, you see, had been under threat of annihilation, under threat of being polished off . . . .
Still is. I saw something in the paper today.
And still is. Yes. And there is a great deal in the world, I mean, no doubt not so much in this country or in Great Britain, but in the world; this is a very alive issue. And people are being jailed and even polished off, even executed, now, on account of this – of alleged blasphemy. So it is a very real issue. But the point is not really, the book is not to put in a plea for tolerance and a liberal, open view about these things. That is not the point. The point is that this trial taking place in the future – it’s an account of the trial, you see – this trial is a peg on which to hang the doctrine, the teaching, the experience which my whole life is about, which is seeing who you really, really are at center. And when he defends himself against 27 witnesses, you see, it comes out what he is saying, and he is answering the people who say he is talking nonsense. So, I think it is an excellent peg on which to hang what I have to say.
Well, let’s go back to the first book, On Having No Head, and maybe explore through that some of what you are all about.
I think that is a good idea, Barbara. So, what would you like me to do? Tell you what it’s all about?
Well, I certainly want you to tell me what it is all about, but maybe what we should do, is go back a little further and find out how you found out about what it’s all about. As in who are you, and what is your experience?
Yes, well that is a good starting point, isn’t it? Well, I am English, I am 83, they tell me, and somewhat long in the tooth, if I have any teeth to be long in! And I was an architect, but all my life, since youth really, my passion has not been architecture at all. I earned my living at it, but my passion is to find out who I really, really, really am. The issue of my identity has been what makes me tick all along. I find it absolutely fascinating, and there are many reasons why I think this is the great issue of my life and should be of other people’s lives – our true identity. The reasons I have, which you might like me to mention, for looking at this, rather than being nose to the grindstone doing architecture – why, I earned my living at architecture – but this is my passion. Who am I? Who is this architect?
My reasons for looking into this matter were that I was such a terrible mess. I mean as a young man, I really was incredibly shy, uptight, stressed, and socially very badly adjusted, and lots of problems like that. So that was a reason for looking to see, to find a cure for this condition. And the great religious traditions have said, the cure is central in my life. The cure of my problem is to see, Barbara, who has the problem. The cure of my problem, I don’t care what the problem is, is to see who has the problem.
That’s a tricky one, isn’t it?
I had terrible problems and I had to see, therefore, who had the problem. But I think my main reason, apart from being a mess, which is a good reason, my main reason I think . .
That’s a good starting place.
Well, my main reason was not that really. My main reason was gratitude and surprise, at having happened. I think people . . .
At having happened at all?
At having happened at all. I needn’t have happened, you see. But I am so pleased to have happened! And I think it’s a miserable, horrible, chicken-hearted thing to go through life never asking, “Who is going through life?” And taking everybody’s word, Barbara, but my own word.
Look, I’ve got inside information which is denied to everyone because nobody can come here and be where I am any more than anyone can go where you are and be you. And here I have information about who I am, first-hand information, and I find, when I really look here and dare to be my own authority, and look at where I am coming from, I find I am exactly the opposite, but exactly the opposite, of what I have been advertised to be, or what people tell me I am, or what language tells me I am. I find I am the exact opposite, and my troubles, my stress, my agony, my anguish came, very largely I think, I’m sure, from lying about who I am, taking everybody’s word for what I am, and not daring to have a look for myself. And nobody can tell me what it is like here but me because nobody is here. Everybody is too far away. They are about a foot, at least a foot or two away, aren’t they? A meter away. And I have inside information. And when I dare to look here, which I did and do, I find that everything is the exact opposite of what I had supposed, and what society tells me.
And you suggest that language gets in our way of this?
Yes. Let me give you an example of this. An absolutely hot, stop press instance now, I would say, straight from the shoulder, so to speak. Well, here in front of me is my new friend who I met 10 minutes ago called Barbara. And there she is, and here in front of this mike here is someone taking Barbara in, in receipt of Barbara, you see. Well, I find that society and language tell me that Barbara and I are in a symmetrical relationship and face-to-face. And that there is something here called a head, a face – a meatball I call it! – there is something here in receipt of her. And we are in a symmetrical relationship and it’s a face-to-face situation.
I find this absolute utter and total nonsense and that I am busted wide open for Barbara at this time, and there is nothing in Barbara’s way. And we are not face-to-face. There is a face there, Barbara’s face, and Douglas’s absence of face here, which is in receipt of her.
So, I have nothing, thank God, to keep Barbara out with, and the only face I have at this time is a charming lady’s face about half a century younger than Douglas’s face (when I see Douglas’s face in the mirror). I am busted wide open for you, and it’s true! But if you say, “Well Douglas, you are a crazy man, of course there is something here, but you can’t see it,” I swear to you, there is nothing here and, Barbara, if you don’t . . . .
There is nothing here either is there?
Well, that’s for you to say! Well you see, if you say, “Douglas you are a crazy man. There is something here,” I say, “All right Barbara, come and see.” And you see, Barbara, if you were to come up to me now, I suppose we are about 4 ft 6 apart now, aren’t we – 5 feet apart – and if you want to take a picture of Douglas, why, you would take it there. There you get the top half of him, probably. If you came half way, a couple of feet, you would get his face, wouldn’t you?
And then if you came here to 6 inches with your camera, you would get a picture of his nose, or an eye, or lips. And then you would have to start putting sophisticated lenses on, even exchange your optical microscope for an electron microscope, and then your pictures – but pictures – would be of tissues, of cells, molecules, atoms. Well atoms are nearly all empty space.
And you come in, even leaving atoms behind, to particles, and even God knows what they are or even where they are, or even when they are, I mean, they are so absent, aren’t they? So, I complete the story and I say, “I have come all the way up to this place and I have lost Douglas, and instead, I’ve lost Douglas, a decaying, old, 83-year-old, stale meatball, and I have now there in front of me a much younger (and I almost said, more delicious . . . [laughter]) on your shoulders,” so you see!
And I find this hilarious. I find it lubricates personal relationships, and it’s an instance of many, many things. Only one instance of the ways society and language con us into denying who we really, really, really are. And when I look here and see who I really, really am, as I am doing at this moment, I am capacity, aware capacity. I am space which is infinite space, every which way, for it is awake space, an unbounded space for the world, at this time, (Barbara representing the world) for Barbara to happen in. And I find this delightful. It removes fear from my life, it removes stress, and I just enjoy life this way.
What a wonderful perspective!
You can see, it’s true, isn’t it?
And we are trading faces, aren’t we?
Yes, it’s wonderful.
Yes, it is wonderful. It really is wonderful. Yes. We are trading faces. You see, the thing is – this is very important, Barbara – we are built not for confrontation; we are built for loving. Now I am not talking about the feeling of love. I am talking about the set up in which love is possible. In which love flourishes. And I say, in the real world when we dare to have a look and question language and social conditioning, in the real world, we are incredibly blessed, and we are built for loving. We are built open for one another.
And society runs on the face-to-face model of confrontation in all languages as face to face, visage á visage, face á face, and in all languages it’s a symmetry. And this is a lie. It’s not true. You see two other people, they are face-to-face, but it is never true of oneself, vis-á-vis someone over there.
So, it is just a totally different way of life. But this is only one instance of the difference between who I find myself to be here, and who my language, and society, and parents, and teachers, bless their hearts, told me was here. So, what I do in all these books, in all my meetings with people, is to go round and say, “Dare to look for yourself at what you are looking out of, and you will find that you are this immense, immortal, imperishable, awake capacity for the world. And this is the heart of all the great religions.
Hmm. Douglas, let’s talk about more lies. Tell me some more lies.
Yes. I will tell you another lie. Jeff and I drove here from San Francisco. No, well, from Santa Cruz actually. Did we move or did the country move? The question is, if we look at which moved, the country or the car? And you see, when we are very, very little, we sit in the car and we tell the truth. And the telegraph poles go rushing by and the buildings turn; and the whole scenes are ballets and the whole scene dances; and this is the truth. And then we grow up and we set it out differently and our story is that the world grinds to a halt and we move along the freeway.
Well, what happens, Barbara, to all that motion? All the dance in the world, all that motion, what happens to it? I say it comes in here, and I lose my inner tranquility. Now I say, now let me tell the truth, restore the commotion to the world where it belongs, I find my inner peace and the world dances. And this is evidence of who I really, really, really am, the indwelling deity, the reality that we are never moved.
Aristotle said, “God is the unmoved mover of the world.” Well, when you get in your car, get a hold of the wheel and see, first of all you notice the driver doesn’t have a head. You know, if you had a video camera here – and when people want to sell you a car, frequently they show it like this – a headless driver, feet on the controls, hands on the wheel, and there I am a headless driver and the whole scene is moving through me. And so, if we dare to look, we find the one here never moved an inch. Who you really, really, really are never moved. Yet another example.
So let us talk about The Little Book of Life and Death. What is this death stuff all about if we are immortal and full of this, this grandeur of the universe?
Yes. Well, the one I see in the mirror, Barbara, is dying, has been dying for 83 years, hasn’t he? I mean, he gets older every time I look in the mirror and that is my death certificate; that is the one who is dying. And what we do is bring that one in the mirror where he belongs, you see, turn him around and put him here, and this is a kind of suicide really. He belongs there in the mirror, over there in other people. If I take that picture in the mirror and try and bring it here, it disappears as I bring it here. In order to find my face again, I have to put it out there, but when I look here at this clarity, this place, there is nothing here to perish. Nothing here to perish. So, it is the case of coming home, seeing there is nothing here to perish. As simple as that.
Who I am, who I am, is imperishable. The shelf life of that chap out there, what is it? Short. The shelf life of the one here is infinite, it is not biodegradable, is it?
So, what do you talk about in The Little Book of Life and Death? What kind of . . . .
I talk about that. The point is, where is death? Where is life and where is death? Well, let me put it like this. Every thing perishes. Every thing perishes. An atom will perish, a particle will perish, people perish, even stars, planets, galaxies perish. Everything perishes – has births and death. Galaxies last a long time, particles, very little time. But every thing perishes.
About the thing here? No, I am not a thing here. Here is no thing, therefore it’s imperishable. And I look here, I find no thing to perish. It’s as simple as that.
And this agrees so much with what, for instance, St. Paul said. He asked the questions, “Oh death, where is your sting? Oh grave, where is your victory?” Well, it’s there. We now answer the apostle, death is there and not here.
So, death cannot get to me. This place is free of every thing, visibly, Barbara, empty, open, speckless. Therefore, it cannot perish because there is nothing there to perish.
And this again agrees with the teaching of all the great traditions, which say that we really, really are at the center, the imperishable origin of the world, not a product of the world.
Yes. Can we track with you from that young man who was having a hard time of it and beginning the journey of discovering these things? And maybe if you talk a little bit about your journey early on and how you developed these concepts, the understanding of the lies, and beginning to put the truth of the world back into place?
Well, I happened to notice (and it was very surprising) that where I was, was open to the world. I happened to be walking in the Himalayas at the time, but that had nothing to do with it really. I just happened to notice, looking out my body, I saw my legs there, and my hands and arms, my chest, and so on. Everything came to a stop here, you see, above my shoulders. On my shoulders, let’s say, was the whole scene. And I was enlarged. I was the scene; I was the Himalayas. I was Everest, and all that and I was full of that scene. And there was nothing here in the way. I am not telling you I don’t have a head. Of course I have a head, of course I have a brain, and all that stuff, eyes and so on. But I don’t have them here. I have them over there in your camera, in other people, in my mirror, and they are there. And here is the absence of all that.
This is after all deeply traditional. You take Tennyson, he says, “Nearer is He . . .” (He is talking about God, you see.) “Nearer is He than breathing, closer than hands and feet.” In the Koran . . .
Mohammed says, “Allah is nearer to me than my own neck vein.”
Well, I believe that that’s it. Eckhart, a great, great Christian, philosopher, mystic of the 13th, 14th century, preached a sermon, a delightfully brief sermon, “God’s in. I’m out. God’s in. I’m out.”
“God’s in. I’m out.”
“God’s in, I’m out.” That’s the whole thing. I mean, God is nearer to me than Douglas is, you see. I mean, Douglas is around. Douglas is important to me. You know, there he is. He’s what I give to other people, or what I inflict on other people, you see. But who I really, really, really am here, visibly, is this one.
And this is common, not only to the great religions but, I think, the great poets of the world – well, Tennyson for a start. Perhaps not the greatest but what about Shakespeare? Shakespeare is onto this absolutely. In Measure for Measure, he’s got lines like this, which you will remember. “Man, proud man, dressed in a little brief authority, most ignorant of what is most assured, his glassy essence like an angry ape, plays such tricks before high heaven as make the angels weep.” So, what Shakespeare is saying, is, Barbara, that we have a choice. You know, we either perceive what is so evident, what is so on show – our glassy essence, this space here – either we perceive that, enjoy that, live from that, or we are in terrible danger of behaving like angry apes.
Now that is strong stuff, isn’t it?
Sounds appropriate. When you were in the Himalayas, did you have any other experiences that helped to contribute to this understanding?
No, I think that this is so radical nothing will compete with it. I mean, this is the heart of the heart of the matter, isn’t it? I mean, everything else flows from that. But I do say this, that having seen this curious thing, you know, being headless, what should I say – enjoy that, live from that and all the other things shall come.
And you see, also, I found – this is rather interesting – I found that I could share this with nobody. People either thought I was extremely profound, mystical, symbolical, and impenetrable, or they thought I was just raving mad, you see. So I failed to share this with people. And for eighteen years I never was sure I shared it with anybody.
But I did in the middle of that time have a very comforting thing because I discovered the early Zen Masters of the 8th and 9th centuries in China. And they were saying that the whole art of life— they called it Enlightenment, a word I hate but still they called it satori or Enlightenment – the whole art of life and the cure for our troubles and the answer to our problems is to see our true face. And this is called our original face.
Well I say, I have two faces, the acquired one I see in the mirror, and the original one here. And the original one is the face of God or the Buddha-nature or whatever, the true face we have which is an infinite, imperishable, perfect capacity for what was given. Now the one in the mirror is the acquired face and that one we put here illegitimately because, in fact, it belongs there and not here. And when we are very miserable, Barbara, you see, we haven’t been taken for a ride, we haven’t been conned, we haven’t come under the influence of language and so forth. And every mum and some dads know that the one in the mirror there, is for a little child, a baby, a friend, never oneself. A long process of indoctrination and you get the kid – and you must do, to join the club, this is what is necessary – to get the kid to agree that that is my face. It’s not natural. It’s an acquired thing. And when we are very, very little, we are honest, you see, we are busted wide open. This is the charm of children that they are they are busted wide open for the world.
Seeing is an acquired thing isn’t it, period? Seeing, understanding the world through sight, we learn that don’t we?
Yes, we do but I am talking about something which so basic. Are we coming from a thing, which is a perishing, limited, small, decaying, ageing thing, solid, opaque, small, and very, very brief? Come on. Or are we coming from the imperishable capacity that contains the world?
So what happens to this awareness of the imperishable capacity after the perishable part dissolves?
Well, it is really not quite a proper question, if I may say so? Because it is timeless, you see. And after and before don’t quite apply. And where we are coming from is timeless and where there is no thing, no change. I mean there is no change. There is no way of registering time, and if there is no way of registering time, why, hey ho, there is no time!
Anyway, I have a little experiment here, you see, which I do and people think it’s idiotic but I find it very true. You see, I look at the time now, and I look at the time in the studio here, and it’s twenty to eight in Carmel, or Monterey, whichever it is. It is twenty to eight in England now, where I have come from – another time. And in Tokyo, another time. Each place has got its own time. Well, what’s the time here, right where I am, this side of the microphone? What’s the time right here, no distance from me?
Now I’ve got my watch here, and it says the time out there is, a couple of feet away, no, a foot away, is 7:39. And I bring my watch up, you know, gradually, and gosh, at an inch away, I’m not sure what time it is. And half an inch, even the watch is going! And at no distance there is no time to register.
So you see, who you really, really, really are, this one never moved, Barbara. It, she, or he, God – excuse the term, I like that term – he is who you really, really, really are, and he never moved, and he has no boundaries. He is speckless, and he is faceless, and contains the whole world. And this is where you are coming from, and it is absolutely timeless.
Most of us, I think, worry about when the perishable part is no longer contained in the form that we so preferred, what happens to memory and what happens to this continuity that we feel that we would like to call Douglas, or Barbara, or Jeff?
Yes. Well, quite right. Emily Brontë wrote a rather famous and splendid poem called “Last Lines.” And she said a true thing, I think. “When suns and universes cease to be, every existence will exist in thee.” In other words, in the timeless, is a kind of freezer, which prevents things from perishing, you see. It contains perishable things. And, Barbara, you see, the content of the timeless will never recover from containing Barbara, or even Douglas. You are established there in the timeless. And I would say, I am not professing to understand this. Presently, I shall know more about it from direct experience!
[Laughter.] We are talking with Douglas Harding on KAZU 90.3. This is Discovery. So, we have gone through The Little Book of Life and Death, and On Having No Head, and we started with your novel that is not published yet, The Trial of the Man Who Said He was God. Let’s talk about Head Off Stress. The world is full of stress, probably because we are still believing all these lies.
Well, I think that might be so partly, Barbara. But I think the situation is this – things are built on stress, they run on stress. Our cars run on gas. I mean, things are held together by stress. Stress is a good thing there because it holds things together and prevents them falling apart. What is stress but a system of complementary pressures, forces, isn’t it.?
And the whole world runs on stress. And it is a good thing and a necessary thing. The world is a stress system. What we do is to get out there, imagine ourselves out there, involved in that stress world. And of course, we take on stress and it gives us a hard time because we are not essentially – who we really, really, really are – is not only not out there, subject to stress, but is absolutely and totally free of stress from where we are at the center. And the one you are really looking out of, Barbara, at this time, is unstressable.
So, if you want to be hot you go to the Equator, if you want to be cool, you go to the North Pole, and if you want to be unstressed, you come home to the place you have never left, because nothing is there to be stressed. It’s as simple as that. And it’s a case of coming home, coming home, to the place you have never left, the place you are looking out of, and seeing there is nothing there to be stressed.
And you can come home on any ticket. Any ticket home is a good ticket, and I can point to this place. And we shall be doing some experiments like that in our workshop here, or in Santa Cruz rather. And we can point to this place we are looking out of, we can see when we put on our glasses – two lenses – we put on our glasses, and we see we are looking not out of two pupils in a meatball, we are looking out of one enormous frameless window. And not in our own direct experience are two little pupils. Well, that is coming home from the stress world to the world where there is nothing to be stressed. So, if you want to be free of stress, go where there isn’t any, and that is right where you are.
Mm. Let’s talk a little more about what people will be experiencing in the workshop. What is a workshop with Douglas Harding?
Well, one of the things I say is don’t believe a word I am saying. You are the authority. You see, we are suffering all of us from indoctrination, from being grievously intimidated, and we allow people to tell us what it is like where we are. Nobody is in a position to tell you what you are like where you are. You are the authority. So, in a workshop I say don’t believe a thing I say, test it. Test it, because you are the authority on who you are. And this workshop is about who you really, really are. And I say who you really, really, really are is unbelievably blessed, splendid, perfect, and the answer to all your problems is who you really, really, really are.
So, we get together in a workshop to do sundry experiments – quite a lot of them – for coming home to the place we’ve never left and finding this blessing, this energy, a freedom which is there for free where we are.
And the workshop normally consists of three or four sections. A spiel, an introductory spiel, rather along the lines of what we are doing here, you see. Then the experiments which are the nitty gritty. They are what count. The words are kind of froth, the experiments are what count. So the first thing is a spiel, saying why we are getting together. The second thing are the experiments, all of them bringing us home to this infinitely neglected treasure in the space where we are coming from. And the third part is – well everyone sees this. I don’t allow anyone not to see it, it’s so obvious, isn’t it? The experiments don’t give you a chance, you’ve got to see it. Everybody gets the point, just as you do. I mean, immediately you got the point. So, in a workshop everybody gets the point. Now what they do with it is another matter.
So we go on then to look at how we live this, which is the great thing. It’s not much use seeing it and then putting it on one side by all the other amusing things we’ve encountered. The workshop addresses the practicality of this and how we keep it alive. And we have questions also.
And I think around that time towards the end, we get on to what for me is really a crucial matter and that is a case of confidence. What horse am I backing in life? Am I backing Douglas who is a loser? Come on, he is a loser, I mean, he is dying. He has been dying for 83 years. He’s a loser. I mean, I am not distressed about that because, I mean, it’s his nature. He is not a winner, and in so far as I trust him, things go wrong. But when I trust who I really, really, really am, where I am coming from – my true nature, my Buddha-nature, or the indwelling Holy Spirit, or the kingdom of heaven, or God, or whatever you like to call this which I really, really am – if I give up my trust, give up my self-confidence in that little guy, and rely on this one, I find I am taken care of, and that things work out. I don’t get what I want but I get what I need. So that is what the workshop is about.
Of course, it is, as you say, simple, a simple thing to see.
And it’s obvious in many ways, but it is not so easy for people to do. Why is it so hard for people to hear what you are saying, or hear what other sages say about this, or what their neighbor says about it, and why is it so difficult for people to implement it? Why does it take many, many years to begin to . . .?
Well, it doesn’t take many . . . it doesn’t take any time to see it, does it? It’s a piece of cake, the most obvious thing in the whole world. We don’t know what obviousness is until we see this. It’s absolutely obvious. All we’ve got to do is turn our attention around 180° from what we are looking at to what we are looking out of. So, it’s absolutely obvious. And to establish it we keep coming back. Every time you come back to the place you never left and dissolve the hallucinated block here, which is hallucination. Why every time you do that it’s easier, you see, it’s easier every time. So, it’s a matter of practice. And the work has to be done. Yes, the work has to be done. And with some people I think it can result fairly soon in being centered. So you are not out to lunch. You are really with yourself. You are centered. Because the normal human condition is to be out to lunch.
But why is the normal human condition to be out to lunch?
Well, because you are in a kind of coma. We are out there, eccentric, looking at ourselves and wondering what other people see. And donating, building up here the image of something. When we are very little, we were centered and all animals are centered. They are living from their space. But as we grow up and join the human club, we are out to lunch. We must join the human club. It’s very important. But the price is too high. The subscription is too high, and I withdraw my subscription. What we are asked to do, when we belong to the human club, is to survey ourselves from about a meter away through other people’s eyes. Well, you can’t do that. And what I am on about is looking at yourself from where you are, and looking at where you are coming from, seeing what you are looking out of, as well as what you are looking at.
Well, if all of this is at the heart of all the great religious traditions . . .
. . .what happened? Why aren’t the religious traditions giving us this insight as clearly as you are giving it?
Well, that is a very good question. I think though it’s at the heart of the great religions. I think that religion becomes contaminated in a thousand ways, and the truth, the initial truth, on which the thing was built, the original vision of this, gets overlaid by churchianity, by priests, by the interests, the power trip. The power trip that each religion does develop, really. Power over people. And so the life and the heart of the great religions is that there are some heretics, like Douglas, who go back to the beginning and look at things as they were originally.
And in my view Christ, Jesus, was on to this absolutely. I mean he talked about the man who looks upon himself only from outside and not also within, makes himself small. And how big are you? And I say if you really look and see who you are, you are worldwide. You are worldwide. We make ourselves small. Barbara, we get shrunk in the wash. And you know, when we were very little, infants, we look kind of small, don’t we? About 2 feet long, really very tiny. But do you think an infant for itself is tiny? The infant for itself has got no boundaries, for sure.
And then when we join the club, we shrink from being worldwide into being a little thing.
Now, is it any wonder that young people become anti-social and angry, and rebellious? Is it any wonder when overnight, they got shrunk from being all things to being just what they look like from outside?
So, what I am on about, you know the whole thing is, I am not what I look like. I am not here at zero inches what I look like at a hundred inches. I am not only unlike that, I am the exact opposite. So I tell you, you are getting what Douglas looks like, I’ve got what Douglas is. And they are totally different. And the great human nonsense is to say, “I am here, what do I look like to you over there!” Which is absolute rubbish, isn’t it?
Yes, quite. What is interesting to me though is that we are willing to shrink, and yet some of us, like you, are unwilling to shrink. And what is the difference? Why are most of us willing to go along with this shrinking process, and every once in a while, somebody says, “No, I won’t do this?”
Well, I think it is a mystery; I don’t know the answer. But I think it is connected with the whole origin of the world and of evil, and so on. I think you know, probably the best light we can get on this, is to think of, say, I mean this is like a kind of myth, is think of God, Buddha-nature, reality, with no world, just perfect. God is there for millions and millions of eons and ages just revolving the circle of his own perfections. He is absolutely perfect. Nothing ever happened. And after billions and billions of years, he got bored or she got bored. And what she did was to say, “I’m going to do a terribly difficult thing, a terribly risky thing. I am going to pretend to be three people, Barbara, Jeff, and Douglas, possibly a few more, you see. I am going to pretend to be these different people.” And the result of that was that in order to get the whole thing set up you have to have this illusion thing going, so that people think they are separate from God in their origin.
And so, God set up the thing, playing a game of hide and seek with herself. And this is part of God’s plan that we pretend that we are solid lumps, and we are what we look like. And I say that the great fun of life and the object in life is to come off that and tell the truth.
You say, “Why aren’t many more people on to this?” And that I don’t know. I am doing my best to encourage people; I am doing my little best to encourage people to not only look at this but share it with others.
It’s very easily shareable as we have seen, isn’t it?
Yes. Quite, quite. Who are the most exciting people that you have spent time with in your wonderful 83 years?
Well, I think everybody is of value to me and teaches me. I’ve met many, many teachers and gurus, you and Jeff, now. Everybody teaches me. I am so refreshed by my friends. But perhaps one of the most notable ones I have met . . . well yes, I have had a few friends. I am not going to go name dropping now, but I have had some pretty marvelous friends, and still have. But I think one of the most impressive was Ananda Maya Ma, in Bangalore, in India, who had a vast, vast following of people in north India. And she was onto this. A most beautiful woman.
Yes, somebody was just talking about her last night to me.
She was a very, very beautiful woman. We shared this thing together when I went to see her in India. I think she is one of the most remarkable people I have known. But the people I share it with, like you now, it is as though one has known those people for ever and ever. Because, look, the barriers are down, Barbara, aren’t they?
I mean, when I see who I am – well, look, look now. I have your face, which you have given me out of your generous heart. You have given me your face which you don’t have, and I have it, and I’m looking after it and treasuring it. That’s a wonderful thing to do, to give me your face. Now, what about what is behind that face? What about the consciousness which is the essence of Barbara? Now will I find that by peeking now into your eyes? I won’t! There are not two little hobgoblins of consciousness behind your pupils. But if I want to find the awareness which is Barbara, that essence, that indwelling Godhead, Godhood, I look here, and what I see here – this space, this capacity. It has no laundry marks of Douglas on it, you see. Or Barbara, or Jeff. It will do for you, and it will do for everyone, and it’s infinite as I look here now. I mean, here it is, and it goes on and on for ever and ever and ever. And it has no personal marks on it. And it is awake, boundless, real, and where we are all coming from. So, I now say to you, there is a double intimacy, if you don’t mind my saying so. It is I have your face. I have your appearance there, for which God be praised. And I am your reality. So I have your appearance over there, and here I am your reality. Now that is so different from the confrontation story in the world, isn’t it? So there we are face-to-face, head-on collision. Confrontation.
You have never confronted anyone in your life. This thing we are built, Barbara, for, busted wide open for each other, aren’t we? It’s really marvelous. And when we start telling the truth of who we are, the world is full of blessing.
Yes. You don’t like the word enlightenment, why?
Well, I mean, because, well partly because it’s been made into such an inaccessible, mysterious thing. I say that we are all, all, living from our enlightenment. And here we are, fully established in our enlightenment. All we’ve got to do is not to achieve it but turn around and acknowledge it. And we build up this absurd picture of something which can only be attained by folding your legs into a granny knot for 20 years or I don’t know what, all sorts of things you see. You know, I say, we don’t know what obviousness is until we see who we really are.
Mm. You mention the word evil. What is evil? Why do we perceive evil? What is that all about?
Well, I think evil is the name we give to alienation, separation. And evil is failure to be open. Evil is turning your back on the world. You see here, who I really, really am here is naked and open, exposed to the world. And the little guy in the mirror, Douglas, has turned his back on the world. Now, he must do so. But if that is the whole story, well, that is evil because what he says is keep out. I can see my little chap in the mirror, around who my ego, imagined personality is constellated, around the little guy. Well, he is, by himself, evil in the sense that he says, “Keep out. I’m just announcing myself. I am shutting the world out because I’m a thing. And I am looking after my thing, and I turn my back on the world. I’ve got enough troubles of my own, thank you very much.” But the one here, who I really, really am which is about a meter away from the one in the mirror, the one I really, really am here is open to the world, busted wide open to the world, naked, and taking on the world’s joy and suffering. You see, I think that one of the reasons why we resist this, Barbara, is we really do say, “I’ve got enough problems of my own. I don’t want to be busted wide open like this.”
Yes. I think that’s true. And maybe we should talk about that. What about suffering? Suffering affects – somebody was talking to me the other day about this – and he said, “If I open up and am available to myself and the world, I’ll be receiving all that suffering and pain.” And that is something we consider and maybe you’ve hit it on the head there. That our willingness to be shrunk comes from our unwillingness to be in what we perceive to be close contact with this suffering that’s beyond us.
That’s beautifully put. Yes. You see, I really think that the answer to my anguish is not to separate it from the world and to see who I really, really am, means to take on the suffering of the world. And in Christianity this is a very powerful ingredient of that faith. And in Buddhism, you know, wisdom without compassion is like a bird with one wing, and compassion which is feeling other’s suffering, is essential to wisdom. Inseparable from wisdom. And I think the way I should put it is, coming from who I really, really am, I am naked and open to the suffering of the world and then can go beyond it to what lies at the back of the suffering, the one here who doesn’t separate himself from any of the suffering in the world. To take it on and acknowledge it, is, I think, to find an incredible peace and joy underneath it, somehow.
Yes, but the journey through to that is such a terrifying one.
Yes, but I think it is even more terrifying if you are in your own little box there, having your personal suffering. You think that the world has chosen you for some really nasty stuff. And there you are full of resentment, suffering your own thing with no way out at all.
And I think the way out is to allow yourself to be invaded by the suffering of others and then your heart will . . . . You see, I talk about losing your head, and when . . . I am talking about literally one is headless. But when one loses one’s head and is busted wide open, instead of this meatball which closes me up, then I find my center of gravity, in fact, does move down. And I lose my head and I find my heart. I find my heart. And one does find, of necessity feels – one doesn’t set it up but I think one does find – that the hurt of the world is one’s own hurt.
But that is vast and deep, isn’t it?
Yes, and I think our blessing lies in that direction.
Can you talk about your own entry into that vast, deep place of suffering?
Well, I don’t think one enters into it to take on suffering. I think, I don’t like suffering any more than anyone else does. I don’t want to suffer any more than I need. But what I need to do is to be truthful and come home to who I really am. And when I see who I really am, which I do now, this clarity, this openness, this exposure to the world, this being full of you, and the scene there, when I see that, I think I take care of the whole thing, suffering and all. And I don’t need to do two, three, or four things, see who I am and then address the suffering of the world. I think the seeing who I am embraces all that. And I think when you see who you are, you will find this happening naturally. Your compassion will be awakened.
What’s the importance of sacrifice? The traditions speak of sacrifice?
Well you see, I think we should not be too gloomy about this because it’s really our natural condition, our sacrifice one for another. Look, the only way I can have your face for now is to disappear as Douglas, isn’t it? And this is death. Douglas dies and is resurrected as Barbara. You see what I mean? And we give our lives for one another, Barbara. This is incredibly beautiful. And all this gloomy sacrifice business is a bind. I think it is something which is so blessed that I give my life for you.
You know, who was it said, Paul I think, “Greater love hath no man than this, than to give his life for a friend.” Well, we give out lives for one another. I give my life for Barbara not because I’m a nice old thing but because I am just truthful, and I am seeing that I am disappearing in your favor. And that is sacrificing Douglas for, well sacrificing the little guy who is perishing for the great one who can never perish. So, what sacrifice? It’s gain, isn’t it, my God?
Yes, ultimate gain.
Douglas, of the traditions that you have studied, which one seemed closest to you, to this heart? Which of the traditions seemed to have less of this crust of inappropriate stuff attached to them? Is it the Zen Buddhist tradition, perhaps?
No, I wouldn’t say so. I think that I would say that, having been brought up in the Christian faith, and for many years, all my early years, deeply in that faith, it’s in my blood. I can’t deny it. I can’t put that on one side for any other faith. But I think that going deeply, deeply into the heart of Christianity I find that many, many insights are shared between that faith and the other faiths. And each moreover, it seems to me that each faith, has a unique contribution to make, so I owe a great deal to Zen, and Zen Buddhism. I owe only slightly less, I think, to Hinduism and some recent Masters like Ramana Maharshi and Nisargadatta. And I owe a very great deal to Sufism and particularly Jalalludin [Rumi]. So yes, I suppose I am rather ecumenical.
But I think the thing is, one can make the mistake of window shopping and going around saying I don’t belong to any of them because they have all got something true to say, and that means you tend not to go deeply into any one of them. And for me, I think it just sticks with me that – and I suppose this is more a gut reaction, or early conditioning, for me it sticks – (this realization is basic to me) that the reality behind the universe is none other than self-giving love.
And it is shown in what I was saying. We are built, all of us are built to this Christ pattern, to give our lives for one another, and we vanish in favor of the one there. And it is so beautiful Barbara. It moves my heart and excites my mind. The vision of this sings, really.
Let’s talk about Jalalludin’s view of this. He is the one in the Sufi tradition that we think of when the word “beloved” is used. That great connection with what we are talking about.
Yes, that’s right.
Maybe you’d care to say some more about him?
Yes, I can give you one or two quotes from him. He says, “Dissolve yourself into nothingness. Become nothingness, nothingness, nothingness.”
He talks a lot about losing your head. “Dissolve your head into nothingness.” He talks a lot about that. One thing he said was, “Become vision, vision, vision. Become vision.”
What did he mean by that?
Become vision. Well, what is looking out of here is vision itself, you know. Vision itself. It is the awake perceiver of the whole world. So, he says, “Lose your head . . . .” Oh, a great deal about headlessness, he’s got. He said, “Heads go rolling like the ball in polo.” “Heads go rolling like the ball in polo.” And he says, seeing into your clarity, your nothingness, is the whole thing.
Did you have a chance to meet Ramana Maharshi?
No, I never did. I was in India when he was alive but I never met him. But I regard him as having had a great influence on my life. And what he said were about three things which I would absolutely take.
First of all, he said, although he didn’t put it quite as neatly as this. He said the answer to your problem, whatever it might be, is to see who has the problem. That’s one. And the second thing he said – it’s easier to see who you are, than it is to become enlightened – it’s easier to see who you are than to see a gooseberry in the palm of your hand. And the third thing, I can’t think of at the moment. But those will do, won’t they?
Yes, those are two good ones.
Those will do. The answer to your problem is to see who has the problem. And the vision of who you are is the most obvious and accessible thing in the world. Oh, the pity, the pity.
And everyone around him said, “Only you can do it master.” And they put him on a pedestal so high they couldn’t hear a word he said. So sad.
That happens a lot, doesn’t it?
It happens a lot, and it happened very much in his case. I have visited his ashram and people there . . . you know, they can’t see this. And if I go there and say it’s the most obvious thing in the world, look at what your master said, I should probably get my marching orders.
They would chase you out?
I think they would. I think they would a bit. Although I contributed a great deal to their journal, Mountain Path, (but I only did it by quoting him all the time!) which he says it’s available, it’s obvious, and it’s the answer to your problem. And there we are.
Douglas, would you give us a retrospective on, I won’t use the word retrospective, let’s shift it around, about the future of this species who is having a hard time in this shrunken state. How do you feel we are progressing in the last part of the twentieth century? Or not progressing as the case may be?
Going back. Well you see, I think it’s a very fascinating story. And the story began (what was it? a million years ago or five million) when a very smart ape, with a very nice hand for grasping things, and a big forebrain, and so forth, when he became human. And the way he became human was – he saw his face in the water; he saw that specter there, and the specter invaded him. It rushed up his arm and invaded him and parasitized him here. So he took that thing that belongs there in the water, or the mirror (which he probably didn’t have) and he came here, and he became what . . . . He took on what belongs there, a yard away, and he became shrunk. And he joined the human club.
Now five million years is quite a long time to play that game. It is a game and it has produced, gosh, what it has produced including all the equipment in front of me now at this time. It has produced language and everything else. So, it was a very important game. But gosh, I think it’s a game which five million years of, a million years, is long enough. And I think we should now play a different game. And for the last two and a half thousand years there have been people who have been playing a different game and who see what Ramana Maharshi and others are pointing at. And I think the opportunity now, the human race given these communications, given our dire need, given the experiments which we are able to share with people, because they are a breakthrough, Barbara. They are a breakthrough, making this so directly perceptible – given all those things – I think there is a sporting chance, that we shall make it.
I don’t mean that the whole, that everyone shall be “headless,” but this could become the vision of the cutting edge of our race. A sufficient number of leaders or people who are setting the tone and so on should see this. And I think there is a chance. Because we have come through ages of stagnation, ice ages, we are very versatile, a very tough species. And I do think there is a chance. Anyway, I am doing my best to see. And I think that it’s time we played a new game And confrontation is the name of the old game and it doesn’t work and it takes you to hell.
We are talking with Douglas Harding. Oh, my goodness we have come very close to the end of our program. Time goes fast, doesn’t it?
Yes, it does.
People say, “Ninety minutes, that’s an awful long time to talk,” and then it goes by just like that. Gosh, I wanted to ask you about modern psychology, but I don’t think we have enough time to do that. Do you have any . . . .
Quickies on that?
Quickies on psychology?
Well, of course it’s a very impressive achievement, Freud and Jung and all that tribe saying all sorts of incredibly valuable things. But if I imagine that that is going to cure my heart’s anguish, I am mistaken. Psychology is a rainforest in which you can lose yourself immediately [laughter]. I mean, you never come out and you know it’s an endless, endless thing. One thing leading to another. Even Freud himself talked about analysis as interminable or terminable. It is not the cure.
Psychology is for polishing up that little guy in the mirror, Douglas. [Laughter.] And he’s a pretty hopeless case to polish. He won’t take a polish really. [Laughter.] And who I really, really am is upstream of psychology. It’s metaphysics, if you wish. And I think that when you come from who you are, and see who you are – and what should I say – tell the truth, submit to the evidence, have the humility to submit to the evidence, that I think is the best thing you can do for your psychology. And then when you look into – why shouldn’t you? – look into psychological methods and processes, you can award marks for those who got it right [Laughter.] Or at least, didn’t get it right but they didn’t stand in the way of this vision.
How about science?
Well yes of course. You see this is absolutely agreeable to modern science. Look, when you go up to a thing, you lose it, don’t you? I don’t care what you take, any darn thing you like, a book, a person, a hand, anything whatever, you lose it. Now, I go all the way up to myself – I told you about, you know, taking pictures on the way up here . . .
Right. When you get down to the subatomic particles they disappear.
Well sure. That’s right. And I, here, in this place I am pointing at, which is what you perceive as Douglas’s topknot or meatball, here I find no thing whatever. And this is scientifically verifiable because I say, “Come and see.” In other words, to put it more generally, what I am is a function of the distance or range of the observer. Now, looked at from where you are, I am perceived to be a man. Looked at from much further away, I disappear into why the Monterey Peninsula, and America, and the Earth, and the Solar System, and the Galaxy. Or coming nearer I am perceived to be why, a nose, and then tissues and cells and molecules and atoms and so on. So what I am is relative to the view, the position of the viewer.
Now, I view myself from zero centimeters and where I am is where this wonderful indwelling Godhead resides. And it is no thing, imperishable consciousness, awake, and real. Real. Reality. And where I am coming from, and the source of all inspiration and energy. We get so tired hallucinating something here to block it out with.
Yes. Well, I’ve got to say goodbye to you Douglas. I don’t’ want to. I’d like to continue this for another hour or so. But I would like to thank you very much for joining us on Discovery. And thank you Jeff for coming and bringing Douglas. And thank you Douglas.
Thank you, Barbara. It’s very special to be interviewed by someone with whom I immediately shared what I have to share.
Thank you. Thank you.
Here you can listen to the Douglas Harding Monterey Radio Interview.
Here you can find, Who Are We Really?, a video presentation created by one of Douglas’s long time students which illustrates the experiments that Douglas created in order to give us a direct experience of who “we really, really are.”
And here you can find more posts on Douglas Harding.