35. Why Do You Not Understand?
From a Facebook discussion group:
Q: Talk about it all we want, we will never achieve it through words but we keep trying. Robert doesn’t allow himself to get pulled into those states that lots of us have found intriguing, beautiful distractions from what is always already present. He just keeps pointing in that direction a million different ways. I hope it does not sound like I am talking for him. Really this is my everyday experience for a year in this group.
A: It did not sound as if you were talking for me. You do just fine talking for yourself. There is no essential difference between me and anyone else. If “Robert” seems a bit different, that is not due to some state I am in, but only that I have no interest in the kinds of transcendent states or realizations that others seem to desire and try to cultivate.
Since each moment is unique, containing its own suchness—its own essential never-to-be-repeated nature—there is nothing “spiritual” apart from each moment to be attained. Without trying to cultivate anything, I feel gratitude for being here at all.
When I look out the window, I don’t have to ask myself if it is day or night. I just know. That knowing without trying is “myself.” It’s the same for any and all perceptions, feelings, and thoughts; they are known immediately without having to try to know them, including the feeling of self-awareness. When I say immediately, I mean without mediation — without the intercession of a middleman who must make efforts to perceive, feel, or think. Noticing this effortless immediacy requires no belief or faith in anything.
Others talk quite differently about what myself is, including much speculation about a super-conscious, all-encompassing, “greater reality,” whether they call it God or use different jargon. The existence of that supposed “reality” is demonstrated or even proven, they claim, by their personal experiences, or else by expert testimony such as scripture or the words of “self-realized masters.” I am not saying those ideas are false. I just never go there. I have no interest in that.
Where it all comes from, what it all means, where it’s all headed—questions without factual answers—are, to me, questions without interest. I rarely think about such matters unless someone brings them up by asking my views directly. Then I reply without thinking at all. The words just come, from where, I know not. Those words are not my words. I did not make them. I have no idea what I might say next. I am not afraid to appear foolish or ignorant. I have nothing to prove to myself or anyone else.
Naturally, like most of us humans—and some other kinds of animals, apparently—I feel gratified when seen, heard, and understood, but I am not aiming at that gratification. I am not aiming at anything.
While working as a psychotherapist, I had to monitor and filter words before delivering them. That is an acquired conversational art therapists call “one foot in and one foot out.” I became skilled at it, but that is a role one plays, and such role-playing is strenuous, requiring splitting off part of oneself to play the role of the controller by narrowing the field of attention small enough so that a manufactured state, “in control,” can be sustained within that limited field—sustained in imagination, of course. No one is really in control of anything.
Now, having retired from that work, with no need for such role-playing, I just say what I say, and filter nothing. If I am amused by myself or by you, I consider myself fortunate. If my words seem helpful to you, I’m glad to hear it, but that was not my aim either. Mine is a voice not of instruction or authority, but of self-expression.
Thoughts arise and are known, but I do not call them “my thoughts.” That flowing stream means nothing much to me unless a particular thought happens to touch upon some specific necessity. Then, if a thought demands action, action inevitably occurs. Otherwise thoughts are like birds that pass quickly through the sky, leaving no tracks. The sky remains clear.
Just as nature abhors a vacuum, there will always be the next thought, the next emotion, the next perception. They don’t necessarily mean anything except that you are alive.
Q: Sir, I want to ask for your confirmation that a knowing is always present at any given moment, and that no thought ever passes without this knowingness. I have been told that nothing ever happens without the knowingness.
Does that mean that I should see myself as the knowingness and watch the mind’s play without getting attached to it? Should I see and understand this world as a play of beliefs so that while thoughts may disturb, it can be seen that I am not that? Is that enlightenment?
Can it be seen that every thought that seems to hurt is only my ego getting hurt, and that I am not ego, but I am that which must watch ego without reacting? Is that enlightenment? The knowingness passes this question to you for clarification in the light of your understanding. Thank you, sir.
A: The apparent space in which perceptions, feelings, and thoughts seem to arise could be called “knowingness,” as you refer to it, or “awareness,” but I am not sure that awareness can be so easily separated from the apparent content of awareness that changes constantly.
What if awareness and the content of awareness, which in your question you have separated, is really one and the same thing—the same process? What if any attempt to separate out thought from thinker, perception from perceiver, or feeling from feeler is doomed to succeed only in imagination?
To ask this in another way, how is the knower different from knowing or from the known? Is there a difference? What if knower, knowing, and known are not three distinct items, but one and the same happening just called by different names depending upon point of view? What if knower, knowing, and knowncannot be separated or distinguished from one another at all?
There are people who say that the so-called “apparent world” exists only as a dream, and that “enlightenment” means seeing the dream as a dream. I’m not on board with that.
For me, “enlightenment”—or, as I prefer to call it, “awakening”—is not about separating myself from the world of perceptions, feelings, and thoughts, nor about regarding what is seen, felt, and thought as “only a dream,” but about the liberty to participate fully and whole-heartedly in the everyday world of ordinary events while comprehending the essential emptiness and impermanency of “myself” at the same time.
I am not interested in managing disturbing thoughts by telling myself that I am not that, as you asked. From my perspective, thoughts and thinker are two words for the same happening—the same flow. In my experience, there are no thoughts without a thinker, nor a thinker without thoughts. Thought and thinker cannot be separated at all. So if there is a disturbing thought, the disturbance is me.
That said, thoughts and thinking are fleeting and evanescent, so in the very next moment, the “disturbance-me”—who is, after all, simply comprised of thoughts and thinking, feelings and feeling, and the like, and has no actual separate identity apart from thoughts and thinking—could be replaced by a “compassion-me.” One moment disturbed and blinded, the next moment untroubled and comprehensive. One never knows what might happen next.
This unity or mutually co-dependent emergence of thoughts, thinking, and thinker can be confusing and difficult to understand, I know. And the greatest impediment to recognizing and comprehending that co-dependent mutuality is rooted in the desire for self-permanency—the desire for a separate existence as the unchanging center of an ever-changing universe.
That desire is the subtext of your question. If one can see the futility of that desire — see, I mean, that everything is flowing and changing constantly, including myself, and that nothing, including myself, stands apart from the flow — the confusion may clear up. Does that help?
Q: Yes, sir. I am nothing but the reaction of a bundle of thoughts, and you have just cleared up one of those thoughts, but tell me this. Does understanding mean seeing clearly what is and choosing your response?
A: I was not saying that you are a reaction. I was saying that thoughts and thinker are not two separate items. They are one and the same flow. Any reaction is just more thought.
The notion of a “myself” that has thoughts or could react to thoughts is a false understanding, I am saying. That mistaken view engenders a sense of separation, or duality, where no separation actually exists. In that duality arises fear—fear of what might be thought, felt or otherwise experienced next. Do you see that? Seeing duality where there is none creates fear.
When thinker is set apart from thought and thinking, fear arises inherently. Then, as an antidote to that fear, the possibility of becoming “enlightened” seems highly desirable. So setting thinker apart from thought creates fear, which feels disturbing as you said, and also creates an imagined escape from fear — the fantasy of “enlightenment.”
Splitting off thinker from thought and promoting the now separate “thinker” to a position of superiority over thoughts and feelings allows the creation of a so-called observer, which is the “entity” that is going to become “enlightened.” I say so-called observer advisedly; it does not exist except as just another thought—an habitual, repetitive thought. Who, after all, is observing the observer? And who is observing the observer of the observer?
Now, according to the scheme underlying your questions, this newly split-off observer will “attain” enlightenment, not by seeing and understanding the false duality between thinker and thought, which would heal the split that gave rise to fear in the first place, but by enlarging the split, by increasing the sense of duality to its absolute maximum.
When “enlightened,” so goes the tale, not only am I superior to thoughts, which I have, but now, as a jnani — an enlightened one — I’ve really made the grade. As a “self-realized being”, I don’t need to mess around with thoughts at all. I have “seen that I am not that.” That “self-realized being” is just another thought never occurs to me. This is not enlightenment, but delusion, and because you think that I, Robert, “know something,” you have asked me to “confirm” that delusion.
You asked if “understanding means seeing clearly what is and choosing your response.” I wonder if you see that this question implies the same issues of fear and splitting that I have just addressed. No, I would not say that understanding means choosing. I’d say that understanding means comprehending that one might have the feeling of choosing, but not the power actually to choose.
There is no entity, no little “decider” in my head that stands apart from the incessant stream of perceptions, feelings, and thoughts, to be choosing anything. That imagined entity—the little decider that some people imagine is the “real me”—is not real at all, but a ghost in the machine.
No one has thoughts. No one stands apart from thoughts to have them. Without perceiving, feeling and thinking, “myself” does not exist. We are perceptions, feelings and thoughts. Don’t take my word for this. Look into it. Instead of asking me to confirm your second-hand ideas, throw those ideas away and make your own living.
The attempt to stand apart as a permanent observer, decider, and chooser is not enlightenment at all, I say, but a fool’s errand abetted by tradition and dogma.
As for “seeing clearly,” that requires a freshness of vision in each moment, free, insofar as possible, of overlaid beliefs and doctrines. One can learn spiritual dogma easily. It’s already written down, cut and dried. One cannot, however, choose to understand any more than one can choose to fall in love. You cannot attain self-knowledge by willing it, nor by listening to traditional explanations.
You get what you get when you get it. When I say these things, some people understand, and some don’t. No one controls that either.
That reminds me of the story of the teacher who pointed to a spot on the ground in front of him, and said to his student, “See?”
“Yes,” said the student. “I see.”
”Well then,” replied the teacher. “If I see and you see, why do you not understand?”