Friday, January 1, 2016


I hate the words ‘method’ and ‘technique’ -- as well as the 'how' word -- I really do. My use of the word 'how' in the title to this post, clearly implying the supposed need for a method or technique in order to achieve the sought-after end, is intentionally provocative ... not to mention mischievous. Read on.

Some of you will have heard the Zen story that goes like this. A disciple says to the master, ‘I have been four months with you, and you have still given me no method or technique.’ The master says, ‘A method? What on earth would you want a method for?’ The disciple says, ‘To attain inner freedom.’ The master roars with laughter, and then says, ‘You need great skill indeed to set yourself free by means of the trap called a method.’

Unless we empty ourselves of methods and techniques -- all of which are forms of conditioning -- we will never come to know truth. But how does one let go of conditioning, you may ask? Never ask how, because you are then asking for a method, a technique, and all such methods and techniques are nothing but, yes, conditioning. However, it’s even worse than that, as J. Krishnamurti [pictured right] has pointed out:

I think it is very important to understand that any effort made to free oneself from one's conditioning is another form of conditioning. If I try to free myself from Hinduism, or any other ism, I am making that effort in order to achieve what I consider to be a more desirable state; therefore, the motive to change conditions the change. So I must realize my own conditioning and do absolutely nothing. This is very difficult. But I must know for myself that my mind is small, petty, confused, conditioned, and see that any effort to change it is still within the field of that confusion; therefore, any such effort only breeds further confusion.

It’s the old, old story, namely, no effort of the self can remove the self. Don’t try to remove the self. It can’t be done. Indeed, don’t try at all, but rather look, observe … and let. Once you see the folly and illusion of all self-effort, and the futile attempt by one self to remove another self from one’s life (which is the basis of so-called willpower), you will come to know the truth as one. It’s as simple as that. Simple, but not easy. The good news is that the mind can free itself.

Here is a powerful phrase – powerful if you understand its truth -- ‘self is illusion’. The worst delusion of all is the belief in the existence of some supposedly permanent and substantial ‘self’ at the centre of our conscious---or even unconscious---awareness. The ‘self’ does not exist, at least it does not exist in the sense of possessing a separate, independent, unchangeable, material existence of its own. In words attributed to the Buddha, whether 'past, future, or present; internal or external, manifest or subtle ... as it actually is ... "This is not mine. This is not my self. This is not what I am"' (Majjhima Nikaya I, 130).

Ever since we were born we have been accumulating hundreds of ideas, concepts and notions -- not to mention beliefs – about who we are. Most of these ideas, concepts and notions are false. There are, in our mind, layer upon layer of mental and emotional adhesions and accretions. Many of these have come from our parents, our schooling, and religious conditioning. Others have been self-built, as a reaction to life experience. Over time, beginning from the very moment of our birth, sensory perceptions -- especially what we see [including read] and hear -- harden into memories and other thought-forms formed out of aggregates of thought and feeling. In time, the illusion of a separate self emerges. However, the truth is that our mental continuity and sense of identity and existence are simply the result of habit, memory and conditioning.

Hundreds and thousands of separate, ever-changing and ever-so-transient mental occurrences harden into a fairly persistent mental construct of sorts which is no more than a confluence of impermanent components (‘I-moments’ or ‘selves’) cleverly synthesized by the mind in a way which appears to give them a singularity and a separate and independent existence and life of their own. The result is a 'self' -- actually losts and lots of selves. At any one point in time, we mistakenly believe any one or more of these false selves to be the real person that each one of us is. 

Know this. The real person that we are is something other than those selves. You are a person -- a mind-body complex in respect of which both physical characteristics and states of consciousness can be ascribed. Yes, you are much, much more than those hundreds of little, false selves---all those waxing and waning ‘I’s’ and ‘me’s’---with which you tend to identify, in the mistaken belief that they constitute the ‘real me,’ that is, the person that you are. Only the latter is ontologically real. Personal freedom and real personal transformation come when we get real, that is, when we start to think, act and live from our personhood as a person among persons. We need to get our mind off our ‘selves’ and rise above them if we are to get real. And remember this---there is no human problem that is not common to other persons among persons.

Self-discovery and self-knowledge -- not to mention real self-transformation -- begin with the shattering of illusion. Ignorance or non-discrimination -- avidyā in Sanskrit -- is identifying yourself with any one or more of those false selves to which I have referred above. The real ‘I’ is the person that you are. So, the very next time you find yourself – that is, the person that you are – saying something like ‘I am angry’, ‘I am frightened’ or ‘I like [this or that]’, please understand that the person that you are is identifying with one or other of those many false selves to the extent that the false self takes over.

There is, in Hindu philosophy and spirituality, a small book of great wisdom titled Atmabodha (‘Self-Knowledge’), which is attributed to Sankarachara [pictured right] although he was probably not its author. It doesn’t matter for present purposes who was the author; it’s what is contained in the book that is important. The author gives a couple of very simple but useful illustrations:

The reflection of moon in water that is not still gives an impression that the moon is moving because of ignorance.

…       …       …       …

An ignorant person thinks that the moon is moving whereas it is the clouds that are really moving.

Ignorance (avidyā) arises from a lack of discrimination, that is, from not seeing things as they really are.

There is no ‘method’ or ‘technique’ for seeing things as they really are. In order to see things as they really are all you need to do is remove the obstacles to seeing things as they really are. The biggest obstacle is the illusion of self.

Seeing things as they really are. That is what the word vipassanā ('insight meditation' or mindfulness) means. The word is composed of two parts vi, meaning ‘in various ways’, and passanā, meaning seeing. So, vipassanā means ‘seeing in various ways’ as well as seeing things as they really are.

The good news is that the mind can free itself from all of its conditioning. But for that to occur there needs to be a choiceless awareness of the presence of conditioning---that is, no condemnation, no judgment, no analysis, no interpretation, no evaluation, just a ‘total perception’ of life as it unfolds from one moment to the next. That’s where mindfulness comes in, for that is what mindfulness is. It’s all about developing and using what I've referred to elsewhere as a mindful mind of no-mind---that is, an empty mind, a mind that is always open to truth as it unfolds unceasingly, a mind characterised by openness and passive alertness.

Truth --- that is, life, also known as reality -- is never static. It is dynamic. Conditioning, including all belief-systems, is otherwise. A conditioned mind is a closed, conflicted, and divided mind.

Am I suggesting that you make it your New Year’s resolution to start seeing things as they really are? No, I am not. There is no need to ‘resolve’ anything. The very act of making a resolution implies a lack of power to do the thing in the absence of the resolution. Resolutions are nothing other than the imposition of one’s will over one’s thoughts and actions. In order to see things as they really are you simply … look … and observe … perceive … without condemnation, judgment, analysis, interpretation and evaluation. 

Go to it.

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