11 Questions

1. What motivates you to teach?

Death. That is the answer. That is the answer to everything it seems. I first asked the question when I was in grade 4. I was 10 years old. When I tried to give an answer at that age, my teacher, Mrs. Peckover (it’s true!) called me “a superstitious fool.” Now I have spent 48 years seeking the answer to this question and recently I realized, I have no more time. Either I speak now, or I choose to remain silent. I felt, based on my experiences, that I have something to say that has value. So I chose to speak.

2. What is your definition of non-duality?

Non-duality is the primary characteristic of reality. This creates a problem, of course, because the conscious mind, in the conventional sense, the mind that is conscious of itself, and through that self-consciousness creates out of itself the whole apparatus of reasoning, is dualistic. Therefore, to say that reality is non-dual or trans-dual is still only partly true. The other half is the dual, which reality also creates! That is the paradox of reality, and it is also the paradox of non-duality. Non-duality posits duality, and at the same time transcends it.

3. What is the cause of suffering?

We suffer because we believe that what we experience is all we are. If we knew that we were more than our suffering we might feel pain, like the patient under the surgeon’s knife (well, perhaps not if he is a good surgeon!), but we would not suffer. We suffer because we believe that our suffering is the entirety of our being, and that gives us pain. Suffering is not pain. Suffering is far more than pain, and far worse.

4. What is self-enquiry?

Self-enquiry (sati) is the beginning of the quest and, paradoxically, it is also the end, because the self awaits us at the beginning and at the end of our journey. Those who state that the self is illusion, that there is no self, in any case, are deluded, because what is the self that asks what is the self? Is it not equally real, i.e., created by reality? It is the hardest realization that the very illusion that we seek to transcend is also real. That is the highest and most difficult realization.

5. Is there a difference between awareness and consciousness?

Yes and no. Yes, awareness and consciousness are all the same thing. And yet mind itself realizes itself in not-mind, that is still mind, but not aware of itself as mind, and that is awareness. Awareness is mind aware of itself immersed in a sea of phenomena, and because it is immersed it has to struggle with itself to become aware and to keep awareness. And yet that awareness is not other than mind itself. Mind itself creates this paradox. Mind itself is the paradox.

6. What advice would you seek someone seeking the self?

I would advise them to read everything, to believe in nothing, to follow no one, and to listen to the self – but not too much! That’s all.

7. Is a living teacher or guru necessary?

Once again I must answer in the non-dual way: yes and no. I would qualify the yes by cautioning you not to believe in the teacher or guru overmuch, for as Robert Thurman points out in his brilliant Youtube video, “Toward American Buddhism” (no longer available on YouTube unfortunately), no teacher or guru is the absolute lama. Every guru needs to take a breath, and is himself (or herself) also an aspirant along the way. There are temptations and delusions that afflict even the most advanced teachers, and one can even learn from them. But in the final analysis one must depend only on the absolute lama, and that can be found in many different incarnations. Is a teacher or guru who is deceased but whose works and spirit lives on not living?

8. Is there such a thing as enlightenment? If so, what is it?

Enlightenment is a fascinating concept, isn’t it? First, it is not a “thing.” Perhaps it is a quality of mind. But it is worth noting that enlightenment itself is a dualistic concept, just as nirvana is the corollary of samsara. The transdual, which is to say, reality itself, is both ignorant and enlightened. Otherwise, nothing would happen! We seek enlightenment because we are unenlightened, and yet we are all real, which is to say, enlightened. Yet we are also mirages, unenlightened. If by enlightenment you mean the realization of the real, then we are all enlightened and unenlightened simultaneously. Enlightened, because we exist. Unenlightened, because we identify our existence with the phenomenal, which is by definition impermanent, a mirage. Enlightenment therefore is a choice, which we make in each moment of our existence.

9. Is there a difference between enlightenment and self-realization?

No matter how much you play around with words, you cannot escape that conclusion that the self, the inherent tendency to differentiation, is inherent in the real. Therefore I do not believe that enlightenment means that the self ceases in any essential sense, although of course if by self you mean “ego” then of course the ego ceases in the realization of the self. But the realization of the self is far deeper than ego.

10. What is the truth of the world?

What is the truth of the mirage? Is it an illusion? No, it attests to a reality outside itself. It is reality? No, it is a mirage. That is the truth of the world.

11. Is there any one thing you can say for certain about the truth?

I can say that the human psyche possesses within itself an ecstatic potentiality that is both ecstatic and non-psychotic. This I know to be true because I have experienced it.