Suzanne Segal Interview

Suzanne Segal interview from The Awakening West

Suzanne referred to the body-mind as “circuitry” that has been created so that the Vastness can experience the ecstasy of Itself in a way it could not without it. Suzanne exuded this ecstasy with a child-like delight and wonder, full of exclamations such as, “It’s so Awesome!” The circuitry called Suzanne Segal shined radiant with the love and beauty of the Vastness we all are. As she could only see others as That, and nothing else, this Vastness was often brought foreground in the awareness of those who were fortunate enough to be in her presence. We are two of those fortunate few who were able to be with Suzanne during the six months of her life that she was such a powerful expression of this Vastness. She was like a blazing comet that shone so brightly for this short period of time, then was gone. This interview was done in 1996 and Suzanne left her body on April 1, 1997, April Fools Day. It was important to her that the messages her powerful life experience was meant to convey become known. She told her story in her book, Collision With The Infinite, and we are happy to share her message further here. Suzanne referred to herself as a “describer,” rather than a teacher, and related to others as her buddies. Calling us her “buddies in the Vastness,” she emphasized that we are all in this together as “co-describers” of the incredible miracle of life and its unfolding awakening. Suzanne offered no teaching, no practice, only descriptions of her remarkable seeing of the Truth of what is.

Suzanne’s life is an example of how an awakening can occur spontaneously, and without even understanding what had happened for as long as ten years. She often told us that she wanted her experience to give the Western world an important message that the mind can have an extremely strong reaction to that which it cannot understand. And that those reactions, such as fear, do not mean for an instant that we are not the Vastness. She wanted her life to convey that everything is here in this Vastness, nothing is excluded, and that everything is as it is. We will always fondly remember the blissful walks on the beach we had with Suzanne, and weekly group meetings where she shared her experience. Lynn Marie shared several paragraphs of this introduction at her memorial, which took place at Stinson Beach, north of San Francisco, where her ashes were returned to the ocean she loved so much.


JLW: Suzanne, we’d like to begin by asking how you see yourself; who are you?

SUZANNE: I’ll give you the straight answer here. There is only one answer that I can give you. I am the Infinite–no personal reference point–the substance of everything; I am the Vastness that is everyone and everything. And, I must add here, never for a moment does the awareness of that Infinite substance that is everything ever move out of the foreground of awareness whether there is waking, dreaming or sleeping states of consciousness occurring in the circuitry. There is no where for it to go. Where could it go? It is constant, every moment experience.

JLW: That is a powerful answer. . . How did this experience come about for you?

SUZANNE: Fourteen years ago, when I was four months pregnant with my daughter, I was standing at a bus stop in Paris, France. In one moment, everything that I had ever taken to be my personal self completely disappeared. It was just gone. As I waited for the bus to approach, something in consciousness was loosening somehow. And when it got there–I am sure it had nothing to do with the bus driving up–this reference point of an “I,” a someone that everything was about and that everything that occurred in life was structured around, was gone. It was like a switch had been turned off. And it was never to turn on again. The first response that the mind had to this completely ungraspable experience was absolute terror; but that terror never changed the experience for a moment. In other words that terror never got the reference point back again. There was no personal self, but nothing stopped; the functions continued to function just as before. In fact, better than before. Speaking was still speaking and walking was still walking. I even went to graduate school and got a Ph.D. I experienced this fear for ten years. During this time, I consulted a lot of psychotherapists because it seemed like something I needed to be cured of. Every single one of these therapists considered this to be a problem. And they all had a diagnosis for it. They couldn’t quite understand how it could be that there was such great functioning occurring, but they took the fact that there was a lot of fear to be a sign that this was a problem. Towards the end of the ten years, there was a clear awareness that this was not something that was going to go away. It was time to start investigating other possible descriptions of what this was. It was time to investigate it with people who maybe knew more about it than Western psychotherapists. I started reading spiritual books and I came across a description of something that was exactly what I had been experiencing. It was an interview with Jean Klein, an Advaita teacher, and he was saying that there is no personal I, that it doesn’t exist. He was saying that there is nothing wrong with this; it is the naturally occurring human state. I also found a Zen teacher up in Northern California who told me that I was seeing with the eyes of the ancients; his assurances that the fear reaction was just a season and that spring would come were very helpful. In talking to him, it became very clear that everything is there, too. I saw that the presence of fear meant only one thing–it meant that fear was present. And that was it. Shortly after realizing this, I had the experience while driving that I was driving through myself to get to someplace that I already was, because in fact I was everywhere. I wasn’t going any place because I was already everywhere. There was a shift from no personal self, no “me,” to seeing that this experience of no personal self was actually the substance of everything. That is when the springtime began with the quality of joyfulness to it. What I can describe about what is being experienced currently, is residing in the Infinite within which the Infinite resides. There is no end point in all this. We are talking about the Vastness. It is very large. It continues to show Itself and show Itself.

JLW: Initially, you thought something was wrong and now you have discovered that what you are experiencing could be called enlightenment or awakening. Is this how you see it now?

SUZANNE: I have tended not to call this enlightenment and to call it only the “naturally occurring human state,” because this is who everyone is. The most obvious thing to this view of the Vastness is that it is who everyone is. And so to call IT something like “enlightenment” or “awakening” Swell, maybe. The Infinite does become something that is forefront in the awareness, so I guess you could call it a “waking up” to That. But it is not like you become something else once you see That. It is who you are. It is always who you have been. So, it is the seeing of what you have always been.

JLW: Could you say then that awakening is a shift from not seeing who we have always been to recognizing That?

SUZANNE: Okay, but that recognition doesn’t change who you really are, ever. You have always been That. And yes, there is a way that the Vastness Itself can perceive Itself so directly, without any fogging or shading or taking anything else to be who you are. I guess you could call it a waking up, but what seems most important to convey is that this is who everyone is all the time, whether the direct awareness of it is there or not.

JLW: Do you have any suggestions or recommendations for others who are experiencing the desire for this recognition? What can one do in order to have this experience?

SUZANNE: These “doing” questions are the ones that I have wanted to address the most, particularly in this Western culture which is so strongly based on doing in order to accomplish something. From the point of view of the Vastness, doing something is slightly absurd. First of all, who would be doing the doing? And secondly, That which is doing has always been doing, and will spontaneously continue to do. The only answer the Vastness has been able to come up with in terms of anything resembling an answer to this question would be to see things for what they are.

JLW: Could you please elaborate what that means?

SUZANNE: Seeing things for what they are means purely that. The Vastness that we all are is like an ocean that exists in relation to everything–as the Infinite noticing of everything being just what it is–Itself included. It sees thoughts for thoughts and feelings for feelings and sensations for sensations. There is never a desire or request that anything be anything but what it is. The Vastness knows that everything is there just as it is, so the desire for something to go away, or be something different doesn’t occur. Let me get real specific in terms of what we were talking about. A few minutes before we started taping, we spoke about the “I” construct that passes itself off as who you are, as your reference point. From the view of the Infinite, of the Vastness, that construct is seen for what it is–a construct, an idea. And an idea can only be what it is; it can only be an idea. When an idea is seen for what it is, there is a way that it empties itself of what it appeared to be full of–some defining determinant of who you are. And when the perception is emptied and seen as what it is–just a concept, a construct, an idea–it ceases to act as any sort of compelling screening of this Infinite Presence which you actually are. This seeing things for what they are is occurring all the time. That’s another thing that doesn’t just start at some point.

JLW: There is a shift in identity though, or a dropping of this “I” construct. . . Something happened for you.

SUZANNE: Something happens. It seems like most of this occurs within the mind. In the Western culture, which I am most familiar with, the mind is trained to adopt a personal construct as the reference point. It just believes that there is a personal doer. It’s made to believe that you have to “make something of yourself.” The Western mind believes that you have to be a certain way and you have to figure out how your life is going to go in order for it to be successful, in order for it to happen the way you want it to. Everything that you hear in the culture, in Western psychology in particular, is all based on the assumption that there is a personal doer that has to be the best one it could possibly be. So there is all this work that is brought to bear on it. It is like the work on the mind that is asked to happen within the mind. The mind has to go in and look at itself and try to see how it needs to be changed around, how the furniture needs to be moved around in the house of itself.

JLW: And instead of trying to change the mind, your recommendation is to just notice, “Oh, it’s the mind.” Something like this?

SUZANNE: That is what the mind says, “Oh, it’s the mind.” The view of the eyes of the Vastness is hard to describe as it is brought to bear on anything because it isn’t perceived through the mind. And it isn’t perceived through the perceptual apparatus of the circuitry. The view of the Vastness, the eyes of the Vastness, exist within the Vastness Itself. It has its own sense organ that permeates it and exists at every point in it that is always seeing things for being what they are and seeing Itself for what it is. And yet, it does seem that what happened when I was standing at that bus stop included the mind, and its circuitry became a participating portion of that sense organ of the Vastness. It’s like the mind and circuitry joined into the sphere of the Vastness. Another way to describe this is that the way the mind and circuitry are always permeated with the sense organ of the Vastness must have come foreground and then that took over as the main perceptual stance or position, a position of placeless origin.

JLW: Suzanne, does it seem to you that more human beings are awakening to this Vastness at this time in the Western world?

SUZANNE: Yes. Isn’t it great! It seems that a large amount of folks now are opening to this. You have to remember though that we’re talking about the San Francisco Bay Area here, which seems to have a higher concentration of folks who have this interest. The Vastness does carry a very strong, non-personal desire to know Itself. It does appear to be the real purpose of human life, for the human circuitry to participate in the sense organ of the Vastness. And that does seem to be happening. There are people who have come to talk with me who have spoken about their lives joining into that sense organ of the Vastness in a conscious way.

LML: It does seem like there is more interest in this. I know that in the seventies when I first studied transpersonal psychology and meditation, enlightenment was something that wasn’t even being considered. Now, people are seeking and experiencing this.

SUZANNE: Yeah, it’s really wonderful. I can’t possibly convey how totally, ecstatically, joyful it is for the Vastness to move in Itself like this, when awareness of Itself is carried through the human circuitry. It is just amazing!

LML: Are you saying there is a joy in it moving unobstructed, consciously?

SUZANNE: Well, it is always moving unobstructed. The joy is when this is expressed and received in the foreground of the Vastness. It really is amazing. And, sometimes people say to me, “I don’t want to give up the personal because I really feel attached to the personal. It really seems that that is where I feel the most feeling, and depth and falling in love, etc. How could I give that up?” The folks that are very involved in studying with Hamid Almaass are very big on deepening and developing the personal. They are the ones that have said to me most directly, “I don’t want to give up the personal. I don’t know what you are talking about. Why would I want to give it up?” What I tell them is that it was never there to begin with. And anything that feels like a personal kind of joy pales in comparison to the joy that is experienced when the eyes of the Vastness are the only thing that is being seen through all the time. These eyes exist in the Infinite, at every point in it. There is a joy that is not personal–you almost have to find another word for it because it transcends the category of personal joy–it is so constant and so extreme. It is in everything, everything; it doesn’t have to be just certain things that reveal this joy, it’s everything.

JLW: It’s just the innate delight of being.

LML: And outside of that awareness there is suffering. Identification with the personal always involves suffering, even with what people call happiness.

SUZANNE: Identification and taking something to be other than what it is–seeing it as something that is not the Vastness, or as something that is not good, or not desirable. There is one way to end suffering and that is for everything to be seen for what it is, because then we don’t ask that something be different in order for suffering to stop.

JLW: So, seeing something for what it is implies seeing with the eyes of the Vastness.

SUZANNE: That is correct.

JLW: Thus, the way to end suffering is to. . .

SUZANNE: . . . see with the eyes of the Vastness.

JLW: People are going to read this and out of their deep yearning, they may try to apply it and wonder. . .

SUZANNE: “How am I going to do this?”

JLW: Yes, how does one shift from seeing through the personal eyes to seeing through the eyes of the Vastness?

SUZANNE: Your question is contrary to how the Vastness actually exists, which is that it is always perceiving things for what they are from within Itself. The implication that one should figure out what to do in order to see with the eyes of the Vastness implies that that isn’t already constantly occurring, and you have to do something to connect with that. I have always hesitated to say, “do this or do that.” I say only “see with the eyes of the Vastness,” which is already happening, because this leaves the mind confounded about what to do.

JLW: When the mind is confounded, it is stopped, and there is an openness.

SUZANNE: I am not necessarily aiming for the mind to be stopped. I guess the aim would be for the mind to recognize that it doesn’t know. The mind needs to see that there is nothing for it to do. It is not the doer and it doesn’t have to find the correct position. It’s like, That which has been happening all the time and which has always been the doer, finally shows Itself to Itself for what it is.

LML: So, that showing Itself to Itself just happens?

SUZANNE: It just happens and it is always happening. There is this wave of constancy of the Vastness perceiving Itself that is always going on and the mind can say, “How am I going to do that? How am I going to perceive that? How am I going to perceive that wave of perception that is always perceiving itself? How am I going to connect with it? What can I do in order to see with those eyes that are seeing all the time?”

LML: All of those questions are just thoughts in the mind.

SUZANNE: Exactly! So there, you just saw it for what it is–just thoughts. In seeing things for what they are, the Vastness is doing the very thing that the mind tries to figure out how to do.

LML: The mind didn’t see that? Something beyond the mind saw that?

SUZANNE: Yeah! The mind didn’t see that. So, how do you try to explain this in a practice, right? If I gave a practice, it would be colluding with that same construct that passes itself off as the doer.

LML: Are you saying that spiritual practices can perpetuate the construct of a doer?

SUZANNE: Spiritual practices imply that something has to be done in order to become the Vastness or in order to see that the Vastness has always been the doer. That is part of what I think this life of Suzanne has just been arranged to convey–that this is always who everyone is, nothing changes. This is always who the doer has been. It is seeing itself all the time, in every moment.

JLW: I am having a reaction to what you are saying. For myself, and for many others, life has been so difficult at times. There is a lot of suffering in this world. So, I’m thinking, “Yeah, so the Vastness is having a great time perceiving Itself as the Vastness, but what about the tumult of suffering that is occurring in the mind and is identified as me by the mind?” I look at the world and I see that so much of the suffering is a result of the ignorance, fear and greed that this confusion perpetuates.

SUZANNE: The truth of this life is interested in showing everyone that things are what they are and that is the relieving of suffering. You don’t have to make something look different in the world in order for suffering to be relieved. It is that which everyone is, seeing everything for what it is, that makes it impossible for anything to be seen as suffering. It is simply and completely what it is; it is going on all the time, John.

JLW: It’s as if I get it and I don’t get it. . . maybe it is just the mind reacting in the face of something it can’t understand.

SUZANNE: As you have heard me say many times, the mind has a very strong reaction to this which it can’t grasp, and which is basically structured in a mystery that is so completely confounding.

JLW: Yes, the mind exists within the Vastness, so how could the mind comprehend it? This, I understand. There is that understanding. All I can do is surrender and see that here I am actually knowing nothing.

SUZANNE: This culture is really not hot on knowing nothing. It wants everybody to know as much as possible. The highest accomplishment in this culture is knowing, “I know this, I know that.” You get tested on all of it too! I want to comment on what you said about both knowing and not knowing simultaneously. You know that you don’t know and you know that the Vastness is experiencing Itself. These two experiences are going on simultaneously, seeing the construct of the “I,” the personal reference point, and seeing that it is empty of what it was taken to be full of. Simultaneity is very much the experience of the Vastness perceiving Itself, by the way, because that is what is always occurring.

JLW: There is the arising of appearances, which actually do appear, and there is also the recognition that there is nothing really there. The emptiness I am is what they are made of.

SUZANNE: Exactly. That’s it! That is a description of it. You come to know that this apparent duality doesn’t exist, but there is also the simultaneity of diverse things appearing which are all made of the same substance. This does not imply duality; everything is there too.

JLW: Suzanne, we’d like to address one of the main fears people have about awakening to the Vastness they are, which is that they will not be able to function well in the world.

SUZANNE: Oh I know. That is the main fear. That was the main fear that I had for ten years. “How am I going to get anything done when there is no one here to do it?” “If there is no one here to do, how is anything going to get accomplished?” Then it became so clear that that which had always been doing had always been taking care of everything. So, nothing really changed. [laughter] There is the appearance of, “Oh, this is the next thing to do, and the next thing to do,” and it is not like somebody has to be brought to bear to accomplish any doing or any decision. There is never anything that looks like weighing pros and cons, or figuring out the best way to go because this all comes out of that which tries to imagine or construct how things should be. The real doer is so unimaginable, so completely mysterious. Everything that has been calculated as the next thing to happen is calculated in that mystery. If it waited for the mind to figure out what the next thing to do was, then, well, I don’t think we would have what is naturally occurring as the planet and its seasons. If everything waited for the mind, do you think that we would have all these trees and sky and planets and stars and human bodies? It would really be a bummer if it waited for the mind to imagine it, in order for it to be there. So, doing and accomplishing continues as before, and as a matter of fact, is even more fully accomplished, even more fully doing. There is not ever a screen or a question of how things are going to happen; they just happen.

JLW: From the perspective of no personal “I,” how do you experience relationship with others.

SUZANNE: Relationship with others, of course, we have to talk about that, right? Everything that arises, arises for a completely non-personal purpose. So, relationship is no longer something that we can call “personal.” I don’t ever experience myself relating to another, and what I am always relating to is the Vastness that everybody is. It is just obvious for me that everyone is that Vastness. It is relating to Itself. Now, there happen to be different flavors of relationship with different people. I just have to say that it is calculated in the mystery to be whatever is necessary to serve that non-personal desire of the Vastness to know Itself.

JLW: Is it true that relationships are always serving that non-personal desire of the Vastness to know Itself?

SUZANNE: Yes. Just as it is true that there has never been a personal doer, that has always been true.

JLW: Well, this issue of a personal doer leads into the next question. . . Do spiritual practices assist in recognizing this natural state of every human being?

SUZANNE: I haven’t found one yet! There are people who have been pretty upset about my saying that I don’t see any techniques or practices to do. They believe that I am saying it is equal if somebody goes out and murders fifty people or they sit and meditate. I am not saying that at all. I know That which every one is, and the Vastness is completely trustworthy in what it does. I don’t know how this happened to me; I was standing at a bus stop. Yes, I did eight years of transcendental meditation, from the time I was seventeen. But I also did this practice when I was a child of sitting and saying my name until I saw that that name didn’t refer to anyone and the personal self disappeared. I would do that when I was five, six, seven years old. I don’t know if these practices did something or not. I don’t know if there is a technique to bring this about. The implication is that a technique is needed to bring about something that wouldn’t be brought about unless you did that technique. That is just not how I see things. I see this as always occurring, that no one changes when what is, is seen to be what it is. I also think that meditation is fine, but who is it that would stop the mind? And, stopping the mind is something that is not required, because the Vastness doesn’t use the mind to perceive itself. Also, the “I” that would be brought to bear to try to make the mind stop doesn’t really exist. If it is obvious to meditate, then that is what you are going to be doing. If it is obvious to not do that, then it is obvious to not do that. Again, I see how trustworthy the Vastness is, and it shows Itself in this obviousness all the time. You don’t need any reasons for living by what is obvious. This is just what you do. You meditate, you don’t meditate. If you are doing your personal growth work, you are doing that. Of course, seeing it for what it is would be kind of nice.

LML: It seems that the non-personal desire for the Vastness to know Itself would just make it obvious to each person to do certain things that somehow are part of the unfolding–and it could be anything.

SUZANNE: That’s right. It can be anything, and it can be different for different people.

LML: In the West, many people do psychotherapy when they are suffering. I am interested in your work as a therapist from this awakened perspective.

SUZANNE: I’ve actually started a couple of groups for psychotherapists to try to convey the view of the Vastness, and that freedom is what every person who comes in to see me is after. Psychotherapy has traditionally formed very rigid views about how people are supposed to be if they are healthy. People have been pathologized because certain things happen to arise, and the smallness of the acceptable range is so unhelpful that many people end up feeling worse about themselves after engaging in therapy than they did before they started. Therapy in the traditional sense is structured around an idea of an “I” that has to be presented in the best possible way. So, I do a lot of investigating with people about who they take themselves to be; how they got those ideas about themselves; which ideas end up passing themselves off the most compellingly for the Truth; recognizing fear for what it is; and really pulling the plug on this whole campaign to have people live by ideas and ending up with the belief that those ideas are who they are. What’s naturally occurring is helping people to see these ideas that have made up their identity for what they are–ideas.

JLW: Are there any other questions you are frequently asked that should be included here?

SUZANNE: Well, there is one thing that I think people hesitate to ask. They want to ask, but they don’t. It was contained, perhaps in your question about relationships. There are many ideas about what relationships look like or are supposed to look like once the Vastness is constantly being seen for what it is in everything. Nothing goes according to any ideas about how anything is supposed to look. There are many spiritual systems and traditions that say you should only live like this, you should only eat these things, you should dress like this, you should be celibate, you should this and this and this. They’re saying that if you are seeing with the eyes of the Vastness this is what your life will look like. One of the most important things that I think my life has been put here to convey to the West is that it doesn’t look a certain way, that everything is there, too. Most of the spiritual traditions say, “If there is fear there, then she doesn’t have it or this is not the Vastness because fear is there.” The presence of the fear never for a minute brought back a personal reference point. It never for a minute obstructed the view of the Vastness for Itself.

LML: What a statement that is making!

SUZANNE: That seems to be what this life is meant to convey. That everything is there too, and it is what it is. This means that looking for life to be a certain way comes completely out of the mind and its ideas of how things are supposed to be. That ten years of fear that I went through actually was the most important time for what this life is trying to convey to people in the West.

LML: Because the fear didn’t change the recognition that there was no personal reference point.

SUZANNE: That’s right. From that bus stop time onward it was clear that there had never been a personal reference point–absolutely no personal reference point at any moment.

LML: Could you say that you were believing the fear, and not seeing it for what it was?

SUZANNE: Yeah, okay, and that was the training in seeing the sphere of the mind and how things are taken for something else within the mind. It still didn’t create a reference point. When I say, everything is there, too, I mean everything is there, too. Mind is there doing its interpretations, doing its fear about what something means, and trying to understand what it all is.

LML: So, you are saying that all of that was there, but still there was no “me,” no reference point.

SUZANNE: No reference point. And there were so many years of that. Who knows what would have happened if there had been more years without somebody saying, “Yes, I know what this experience is.” A big part of that change of season came from mind realizing that it couldn’t grasp what was occurring, it was too mysterious.

LML: The mind just went to the end of its road where there was nowhere else for it to go.

SUZANNE: Yes. And the mind couldn’t actually gather any evidence for the fear being justified. Functioning was going on just fine, everything was happening, it was all unfolding, one thing would happen then the next thing would happen, then the next thing. The mind wasn’t required to make decisions about how things were going to be.

LML: So, the mind wasn’t needed for what it previously thought it was necessary for. It was seen to not be the central doer.

SUZANNE: Yes. I think that is the most important thing that this life is conveying. There has never been a personal doer. The seeing that there is no personal doer is not when it starts that there is no personal doer. This gets into something that I actually want to convey. This is the kind of thing you want to mention, that seeing everything is being done by a non-personal doer is not the same as nothing being done. The obvious will still always be showing itself. It is really ultimately unavoidable to live by the obvious because it is always showing itself.

JLW: I think we are complete; this has been wonderful.

SUZANNE: It was nice.

JLW: It was fun being with you.

SUZANNE: That’s another one of those things that this life is to convey–this is fun! It’s not all serious and it doesn’t have to be a certain way. That is just not so. I’ll say it again and again; everything is there too. It always has been. You cannot say that because something is arising it means that the Vastness isn’t vast, or it means that it is not made of the Vastness.

The Awakening West is a book containing interviews with several contemporary spiritual teachers.

Something for Nothing

“Something for Nothing” an article by Bob Fergeson

We are what we do, not what we think we do.”
“The fact that you don’t act means you don’t have conviction.” – Richard Rose

I’ve found as I get older that some of the seekers I meet are getting long in the tooth too, and suffer from a lack of conviction(inability to act) brought on by a combination of age and success in life. They have time and money relative to their youth, but are reluctant to use them towards their spiritual path. Perhaps this is not done consciously, but could be that a life-time of work and struggle, not only in the outer world but also in the realm of personality, vanity and ego along with the effects of aging, have left them almost unable to act any other way. The strange thing about them is their “conviction” of commitment to the spiritual path, and the simultaneous lack of ability to act in that direction.

The following is a list of characteristics peculiar to this type of fellow and some questions for him in the hope he will see, and resolve, his paradox:

You have heard that all is One and there’s nothing to be done, and have used this to cleverly rationalize your inability to act towards spiritual work.

You have heard that one must work on oneself even while going about daily activities, but have used this too as a rationalization to avoid actual involvement in spiritual work, especially with others.

You find the view pleasing from resting high on the shoulders of those seekers who have gone before. Why do you refuse to carry someone yourself, to continue the chain?

Your spiritual work consists mainly of reading and ruminating, along with some so-called self-observation while going about your business. Seldom does it involve actual work, even less work with others, and never work for the Work.

Your comfort zone has been made secure by years of effort. Do you think you will make the trip within to the Truth by this continued comfort, both mental/emotional and physical?

Any suggestion of change is met with cleverness, for you have become averse to anything that might rock the ego from it’s throne. This vanity of being always right even extends to your ideas about the ego itself, as evidenced in your insistence that you will ‘destroy the ego’, thus entering further into dichotomy.

Most of this occurs because of a deep-seated vanity that you are special, and thus have no need to involve yourself with the struggles of the less fortunate.

When facing confrontation about your lack of action, you put on a polite yet knowing smile. Your sense of superiority carries over into spiritual work, and is defended by very subtle yet effective masks.

You gravitate towards those that flatter your vanity, and if the going gets tough, you get gone.

This vanity is your biggest block, and keeps you from your inner self, though you think just the opposite.

When your superior attitude is pointed out, it is rationalized by declaring that underneath you still suffer from a feeling of inferiority. While this may be true, it is seldom worked on, and never resolved.

If a meeting or retreat is attended, it’s usually only once, for if there is no immediate profit from it, you feel there is no reason to go again.

The idea of work being profitable only after years of constant effort has somehow slipped your mind. Possibly because your vanity says you have ‘been there, done that’, now it’s time to relax and reap the rewards.

You have found in business how to work smarter rather than harder and this gives you an edge over the competition, but what is it you actually do with this new found time?

You expect teachers and fellow students to cater to your schedule and seem to have no sense of how much actual work and effort they have sent your way.

Do you have an understanding that they are actually working, in actions as well as words, to get you to do the same?

Do you think you could reverse the habit of feeling you deserve something for nothing, and start paying, with your actions, for what you take from teachers and fellow seekers?

Something for nothing is a valid method of work, but only if it involves between-ness. You trade your “something,” the vanity of the ego and its suffering, for the inner self, which knows its own nothing-ness.

Value of Headlessness

On the Value of Headlessness

Recently, a friend asked my opinion on the value of Douglas Harding’s work. Specifically, how could a method relying on perception be an “experience” of the Absolute? In other words, what is the ultimate validity of an experience that occurs through the body? Is such an experience an artifact of the body, and therefore destined to vanish with the death of the body?

This is a valid question and one I asked when first exposed to a Harding workshop. If it takes my eyes to see I have no head (that I am the space in which all occurs), then what will I be when I have no eyes? How will I know of my spaciousness? Of course, Harding has developed experiments for the blind, but still the experiments rely on the senses.

This line of thought leads to the question, “What technique does not utilize the body?” Everything we do is accomplished through the medium of the body. Every experience requires a body, a mind, an “I” in order to be known.

Therefore, I do not equate the experience of Harding’s Seeing of Headlessness with the Absolute/Final Realization/God/Truth. However, the Seeing is a doorway to an experience that is not an experience. All doors are formed of the body and mind. All doors are of the human dimension. Yet where does a door lead? A door leads to another place; in this case, a place that is not a place at all. A door leads out, away, and beyond. The body may recognize that which is beyond itself. The body may stand at the edge of the void, and come to accept that it is not the All, that the body is but a tiny thing and that home is through the door.

For some, the body may not accept so easily. Harding’s experiments may instill the Great Doubt that haunts the body. With the Great Doubt comes the great search and with great honesty may come the undeniable presence of truth. The body is carried kicking and screaming, by the mechanism of one’s lifestyle and an uncontrived acceptance, into Headlessness.

I now recognize that I have no head and that where I had a head is now infinite depth — a depth that leads to utter silence and dark waters upon which no thing moves. Painted upon this is the world of experience and of all things — which are but a part of me. Do not take my word. As Harding says, “Look for yourself.”

Douglas Harding Experiments

Here are three imitation Douglas Harding experiments:

The Point That Doesn’t Exist
An experiment in headlessness by Shawn Nevins

Recently, a friend shared some of Douglas Harding’s experiments in headlessness. In one classic experiment, we pointed to a wall, then the floor, our feet, knees, stomach, chest, then pointed to the space out of which we were looking. If you are honest about what you see when you point at the place where you assume there is a head, you may be surprised by the change in perspective.

After the experiment, I somewhat absentmindedly pointed to the wall again, then — skipping the intervening steps — rotated my finger 180 degrees. I was immediately struck by the evidence presented by this simple movement: where was the point at which the first-person view (awareness) ended and “the other” or “the wall” began?

This experiment works best for those who have already experienced some of Harding’s experiments. Here it is in detail:
1. Point at a wall or any other object. Notice that the object seems to be “out there,” a thing apart from you.
Douglas Harding experiments2. Next, slowly rotate your finger 180 degrees till you are pointing at that space from which you look out. That feature-less, all-encompassing space. Who you are at center, as Douglas would say.

3. Finally, slowly rotate your finger back toward the wall. Watch very carefully and try to locate the point at which the “other” begins. Try to find the point at which you are no longer pointing at awareness, but are instead pointing at something else. Is it when you are not pointing at the “center” of your center? Is it when you point ten degrees off of dead center? twenty degrees? twenty-seven degrees?

Is there “the other” or does the first-person awareness extend outward and encompass all things? Try as you might, can you ever find where “you” ends and “other” begins? Isn’t pointing outward the same experience as pointing in?

Here is an extension to this experiment provided by a reader:

I followed your link to your discussion of Douglas Harding about pointing at the wall and then at– well, at what? I liked your suggestion to gradually move the finger that is pointing at your own face and see where it changes from pointing at “me” to pointing at “other.” When I was pointing the finger at my face, it was as if, in order for this to make sense, my consciousness had to re-locate to my finger so that my face could become “other.”

Then I did something weird… and I’d like to add this mind-blowing suggestion to this sequence: while pointing at your own face, get a real sense of being the finger pointing at that which seems to be “you.” Then with your other hand, point at the wall. You now have one hand pointing at your face and one hand pointing at the wall. Where in this are you? Is your awareness now located in your two hands?

Behind and Beyond
Another experiment in headlessness

Some friends and I had a retreat that included several of Douglas Harding’s experiments. I don’t know the name of the experiment, but it’s the one where each person draws their self from first person perspective. You draw exactly what you see of your self (not what you imagine) and all wind up with a headless drawing like (or somewhat like) this:


Next, we stood in a circle and each person placed their drawing in the circle, the drawing’s feet facing outward and the headless portion facing inward. What you discover is a representation of the Atman and Brahman: people emanating from the Void; sharing a common source. It is a powerful experiment, yet one we modified in two ways.

First, everyone turned around so we were still in a circle, but facing outward. We combined this with the inward pointing finger: looking inward, pointing at our true self, what was behind us but shared space? It was viscerally real, like experiencing Wren-Lewis’ description of the back of his head being sawn off and open to the dazzling dark.

Next, someone suggested we reverse the pictures so the feet faced inward and the headless portion faced outward. The people in the circle once again faced inward. For some, this variation was more suggestive of the true state of things. “Nothingness sitting on top of a body dropping out of a Void,” is how one friend described it.

These modifications of Harding’s work were not planned, inspiration just appeared in an open, playful mood and we “gave it a try.” I suggest others do the same, and keep sharing.

Heads Everywhere and Nowhere
A further experiment in headlessness

For some time, I couldn’t reconcile Harding’s teachings with the fact that I could feel my head. It seemed pretty obvious, on present evidence as Harding would say, that something was sitting on top of my shoulders. When doing Harding’s spectacles experiment, for example, the spectacles would eventually collide with something solid which seemed to be a head. Here’s an experiment for those of you who share my hard-headedness.

1. Close your eyes.

2. Hold out your left hand and make a fist. Focus attention on your fist. Now touch it with your other hand. Feel free to explore with your sense of touch.

3. Now touch the arm or seat of your chair. Give it a good feel.

4. Now touch your supposed head. Is there any difference in where these three feelings (touch experiences) occur? Is your head any more at the center of your being than the arm of your chair or your fist?

5. The evidence suggests to me that all these feelings occur in the same space. I either claim all touch experiences as my head or none of them. I’m either multi-headed or headless.

6. Just reading this won’t make any sense. You have to do the experiment.

Harding headlessness

Alexander Smit recalls Nisargadatta Maharaj

An Interview with Alexander Smit recalling Nisargadatta Maharaj

September 1988. Location: the kitchen of Alexander Smit’s house on the Prinsengracht in Amsterdam.

We were busy going over the translation of THE NECTAR OF THE LORD’S FEET (Dutch title SELF-REALIZATION) by his Spiritual master Nisargadatta Maharaj and he wanted to do an ‘interview ‘for a change, as a sort of practice. The interview has survived a computer crash, break-in and theft, because luckily I had typed it out and printed the tape previously. I have preserved this as a treasure for years. Until now.

Alexander met Nisargadatta Maharaj in September of 1978. In the beginning of September of that year Jacques Lewenstein had been in India and come back with the book I AM THAT and tapes of Nisargadatta.

Alexander: That book came into the hands of Wolter Keers. He was very happy with it, because after the death of Krishna Menon (Wolter’s spiritual master) he had not heard anything so purely advaita. After Wolter had read the book he decided to translate and publish it ‘because this is so extremely good’. Wolter gave me the book immediately and I was very moved by it. Then there was an article in Panorama or The New Revue: GOD HAS NO TEETH. A poorly written story by the young man who did Showroom (TV). There was a life-sized photo of Nisargadatta’s head in it. That was actually my first acquaintance with Nisargadatta. By then Wolter had already told me: ‘I can not do anything more for you. You need someone. But I wouldn’t know who.’ But, when he had read I AM THAT he said: ‘If I can give you a piece of advice, go there immediately.’ And that I did.

What were you seeking?
I was seeking nothing more. I knew everything. But, if you had asked me what I had learned I would have said; I don’t actually know it. There is something essential that I don’t know. There was a sort of blind spot in me that no one knew what do with. Krishnamurti knew nothing that he could say about it. Bhagwan was for us at that time not someone that you would go to, at least for this sort of thing. Da Free John was also not it. Those were the known people at that time. I had a blind spot. And what typifies a blind spot is that you don’t know what it is. You only knew that if you were really honest with yourself, if you really went to the bottom of yourself, that you had not yet solved the riddle.

For the first time in Bombay?
A little staircase going up to an attic room. First came my head, and the first thing that I saw was Mrs. Satprem and Nisargadatta. There were maybe three or four people there. ‘Here I am’, I said. And he said: ‘So, finally you came.’ Yeah, that is what they all say, that I heard later, but for me it was the first time that I heard it. I did have the feeling when I went in that now it was really serious. Now there is no escape possible, Here something is really going to happen. Naturally I had already met many of these people: Krishnamurti, Jean Klein, Wolter, Swami Ranganathananda, Douglas Harding, and also some less well known Indians. I was naturally too young for Ramana Maharshi and Krishna Menon. They died in the fifties. I was 7 or 8 years old then. That is not the age to be busy with these sorts of things. It held also true for us at that time, ‘wait’ for a living master. And I had a very strong feeling that this was the man that I had been looking for. He asked if I were married, what I did, and why I had come to India.

What precisely did you want from him?
Self-realization. I wanted to know how I was put together. I said: ‘I have heard that your are the greatest ego killer who exists. And that is what I want.’ He said: ‘I am not a killer. I am a diamond cutter. You are also a diamond. But you are a raw diamond and you can only be cut by a pure diamond. And that is very precise work, because if that is not done properly then you fall apart into a hundred pieces, and then there is nothing left for you. Do you have any questions?’ I told him that Maurice Frydman was the decisive reason for my coming. Frydman was a friend of Krishnamurti and Frydman was planning to publish all of the earlier work of Krishnamurti at Chetana Publishers in Bombay, And that he had heard from Mr. Dikshit , the publisher, that there was someone in Bombay who he had to meet. (I AM THAT was of course not yet published at that time because Frydman had yet to meet Nisargadatta). Frydman went there with his usual skeptical ideas. He came in there, and within two weeks things became clear to him that had never become clear with Krishnamurti. And I thought then: if it all became clear to Frydman within two weeks, how will it go with me? I told all this to Nisargadatta and he said: ‘That says nothing about me, but everything about Frydman.’ And he also said: ‘People who don’t understand Krishnamurti don’t understand themselves.’ I thought that was beautiful, because all the gurus I knew always ran everyone down. It seemed as if he wanted to help me relax. He didn’t launch any provocations. I was able to relax, because as you can understand it was of course a rather tense situation there. He said; ‘Do you have any questions?’
I said; ‘No.’
‘When are you going to come?’
‘Every day if you allow me.’
‘That’s good. Come just two times every day, mornings and afternoons, for the lectures, and we’ll see how it goes.’
I said: ‘Yes, and I am not leaving until it has become clear.’
He said; ‘That’s good.’

Was that true?
Yes, without a doubt. Because what he did — within two minutes he made it clear, whatever you brought up, that the knowledge you presented was not yours. That it was from a book, or that you had borrowed or stolen it, or that it was fantasy, but that you were actually not capable of having a direct observation, a direct perception, seeing directly, immediately, without a mediator, without self consciousness. And that frightened me terribly, because everything you said was cut down in a brutal way.

What happened with you exactly?
The second day he asked if I had any questions. Then I began to ask a question about reincarnation in a more or less romanticized way. I told that I had always had a connection with India, that when I heard the word ‘India’ for the first time it was shock for me, and that the word ‘yoga’ was like being hit by a bomb when I first heard it on TV, and that the word ‘British India’ was like a dog hearing his boss whistle. And I asked, could it mean that I had lived in India in previous lives? And then he began to curse in Marathi, and to get unbelievably agitated, and that lasted for at least ten minutes. I thought, my god, what’s happening here? The translator was apparently used to it, because he just sat calmly by, and when Maharaj was finished he summarized it all together; ‘Maharaj is asking himself if you are really serious. Yesterday you came and you wanted self-realization, but now you begin with questions that belong in kindergarten’… In this way you were forced to be unbelievably alert. Everything counted heavily. It became clear to me within a few days that I knew absolutely nothing, that all that I knew, all the knowledge that I had gathered was book knowledge, second hand, learned, but that out of myself I knew nothing. I can assure you that this put what was needed into motion. And that’s how it went every day! Whatever I came up with, whether I asked an intelligent question or a dumb question, made absolutely no difference. And one day he asserted this, and the following day he asserted precisely the opposite and the following day he twisted it around one more time even though that was not actually possible. And so it went, until by observation I understood why that was, and that was a really wonderful realization. Why do I try all the time to cram everything into concepts, to try to understand everything in terms of thinking or in the feelings sphere? And, he gave me tips about how I could look at things in another way, thus really looking. And then it became clear to me that it just made no sense to regard yourself — whatever you call yourself, or don’t call yourself — in that way. That was an absolute undermining of the self-consciousness, like a termite eating a chair. At a certain moment it becomes sawdust. It still looks like a chair, but it isn’t a chair anymore.

Did that lead to self realization?
He kept going on like this, and then there came a moment that I just plain had enough of it. Really just so much … I would not say that I became angry, but a shift took place in me, a shift of the accent on all authorities outside of myself, including Nisargadatta, to an authority inside myself. He was talking, and at a given moment he said ‘nobody’. He said : ‘Naturally there is nobody here who talks.’ That was too much for me. And I said: ‘If you don’t talk then why don’t you shut up then? Why say anything then?’
And it seemed as if that is what had been waiting for. He said: ‘Do you want that I should not talk anymore? That’s good, then I won’t talk anymore and if people want to know something then they can just go to Alexander. From now on there are no more translations, translators don’t have to come anymore, there is no more English spoken. Only Marathi will be spoken, and if people have any problems then they can go to Alexander because he seems to know everything.’ And then began all the trouble with the others, the bootlickers and toadies who insisted that I had to offer my apologies! Not on my life. Yeah, you can’t offer excuses to a nobody, eh?!
And to me he said; ‘And you, you can’t come here anymore.’ And I said: ‘What do you mean I can’t come here anymore. Try and stop me. Have you gone completely crazy? ‘ And the translators were naturally completely upset. They said nothing like this had ever been seen before. And he was angry! Unbelievably angry!. And he threw the presents that I had brought for him at my feet and said: ‘I want nothing from you, Nothing from you I want.’ And that was the breakthrough, because something happened, there was no thinking because I was.. the shift in authority had happened. As I experienced it everything came to me from all sides: logic, understanding, on the one hand the intellect and on the other hand at the same time the heart, feelings and all phenomena, the entire manifest came directly to me from all sides to an absolute center where the whole thing exploded. Bang. After that everything became clear to me.
The next day I went there as usual. There was a lecture, but indeed no English was spoken. I can assure you that the tension could be cut with a knife, because I was the guilty party of course. He wanted to push that down my throat and the translators just went along quietly. There was not even any talking. And the next day, there was not even a lecture. He arrived in a car, and drove away when he saw me and went to a movie… Then I wrote him a letter. Twelve pages. In perfect English. I had someone bring the letter to him. Everything was running over. I wrote everything. And his answer was: let him come tomorrow at 10 o’clock. And he read my letter and said: ´You understood. This confrontation was needed to eliminate that self-consciousness. But you understood completely and I am very happy with your letter and nothing happened.’ Naturally , that cleared the air. He asked if I wanted to stay longer. ‘From this situation that took place on September 21, 1978, I want to be here in love .’ And he said; ‘that is good.’ From that day on I attended all the talks and also translated sometimes, for example when Spaniards, or Frenchmen or Germans came. I was a bit of a helper then.

So actually you apply the same method as he did: the cutting away of the self-consciousness to the bone and letting people see their identities. Was that his method?
Yes. Recognizing the false as false and thereafter letting the truth be born. But the most wonderful thing was, MY basis dilemma, and if I say ‘my’ I mean everyone in a certain sense, is that if at a certain moment you ask yourself: what did I come here for, that seems to be something completely different from what you thought. Everyone has ideas about this question, and I had never suspected in the farthest reaches of my mind that the Realization of it would be something like this. That is the first point. The second is, it appears that a certain point you have the choice of maintaining your self-consciousness out of pride, arrogance, intellect. And the function of the Guru, the skill with which he can close the escapes from the real confrontation was in his case uncommonly great, at least in my case. And for me that was the decisive factor. Because if there had been a chance to ‘escape’, I would certainly have taken it. Like a thief who still tries to get away.

Did he ever say anything about it?
He said that unbelievable courage is needed not to flee. And that my being there had almost given him a heart attack, that he no longer had the strength to tackle cases like mine as he became older. So I have the feeling that I got there at just the right moment. Later he became sick. He said: ‘I have no strength anymore to try to convince people. If you like it, continue to come, maybe you can get something out of it, but I have no strength anymore to convince people like him (and then he pointed to me). I am so grateful to him, because it only showed how great my resistance was. There has to be a proportional force that is just a bit stronger than your strangest and strongest resistance. You need that. It showed how great my resistance was. And it showed how great his strength was, and his skill. For me he was the great Satguru. The fact that he was capable of defeating my most cunning resistance — and I can assure you after having gone into these things for 15 years — my resistance was extremely refined and cunning, was difficult for him even though he knew who he was dealing with. That’s why I had to go to such a difficult person of course. It says everything about me. Just as he said in the beginning that it said everything about Frydman. But I have never seen the skill he had in closing the escape routes of the lies and falsehoods so immensely great anywhere else.
Of course I have not been everywhere, but with Ramana Maharshi you just melted. That was another way. With Krishna Menon the intellect could just not keep it together under the gigantic dismantling, but by Nisargadatta, every escape was doomed to failure. People who came to get something, or people who thought they could bring something stood naked outside the door within five minutes. I saw a great many people there walking away in great terror. At a certain moment I was no longer afraid, because I felt that I had nothing more to lose. So I can’t really say that it was very courageous of me. I can only say that in a certain sense with him I went on the attack. And what was nice about it is that he also valued that. Because, he sent many people away, and these really went and mostly didn’t come back. The he would say: ‘They are cowards. I didn’t send them away, I sent away the part of them that was not acceptable here.’ And if they then returned, completely open, then he would say nothing about it. But during those happenings with me, people forgot that. There was also a doctor, a really fine man, who said; ‘don’t think that he is being brutal with you; you don’t have any idea how much love there is in him to do this with you.’ I said: ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know that.’ Because I didn’t want any commentary from anyone. After all, this is what I had come for! Only the form in which it happened was totally different from what I had expected in my wildest dreams. But again, that says more about me than about Maharaj, and I still think that.

So, his method was thus to let you recognize the false as false, to see through the lies as lies, and to come to truth in this way?
Yes, and that went deeper than I could have ever suspected. The thinking was absolutely helpless. The intellect had no ghost of chance. The heart was also a trap. And that is exactly what happened there. That is everything. And I know that after that day, September 21, 1978, there has never been even a grain of doubt about this question, and the authority, the command, the authenticity, has never left, has never again shifted. There is no authority, neither in this world or in another world, that can thrust me out of the realization. That’s the way it is.

Did Maharaj say that you had to do something after this realization?
I asked: ‘It is all very beautiful, but what now? What do I do with my life? Then he said: ‘You just talk and people will take care of you.’ And that’s the way it has gone.

Did you go visit him often?
Various times. As often as I could I was there every year for two or three months. Until the last time. And when I knew that I would never see him again there was entirely no sadness or anything like that. It was just the way it was. It was fine that way,

Did he do the same with others as he had with you?
Not as intensely and not so persistently.

You get what you give?
Yes, that is so. In a certain sense he did that with everyone, but if someone was very sensitive he approached it in a different way. Naturally it makes difference if an old nun is sitting in front of you, or a rebel like myself, who also looks as if he can take quite a bit. The last time he said; ‘He will be powerful in Europe. He has the knowledge. He will be the source of what I am teaching.’ And then he directed those headlight eyes of his towards me. That is still so wonderful… It is ten years ago now, and it seems like a week. I have learned to value his words in the passage of time. The things I questioned in the past I see becoming manifest now. At first I thought; the way he has put this into words is typical Indian conditioning after all, but the wonder is that all the advice that he gave taught me to hang on to them. I didn’t follow them a few times and that always lead to catastrophes.

For example?
For example he said to me: ‘Don’t challenge the Great Ones. Let them enjoy.’ And I have to admit that I had trouble with that. But knowing my rebellious character — and naturally he saw that immediately — he still had to give me that. And every time that I see that, that aspect of my character wants to express itself, I hear his voice: ‘Don’t challenge the Great Ones.’ He anticipated that. I know that for sure. And in that way he also said a number of things that suddenly made sense. Then I hear him. And Wolter always said: ‘After the realization, the only words that remain with you are the words of your Guru. All your knowledge disappears, but the words of the Guru remain.’ And I can now confirm that that is true, that it is like that.

Was Wolter also a disciple of Nisargadatta?
No, but he was there often.

I have understood that you find the Living Teaching very important. Is that especially true for Advaita?
The objection to books about Advaita, including the translations of Nisargadatta’s words is that too much knowledge is given in them. That is an objection. People can use this knowledge, and especially the knowledge at the highest level to defend and maintain their self-consciousness. That makes my work more difficult. Knowledge, spiritual knowledge, can, when there is no living master be used again to maintain the ‘I’, the self-consciousness. The mind is tricky, cunning. And I speak out of my own experience! Because Advaita Vedanta, without a good living spiritual master, I repeat, a good one, can become a perfect self contained defense mechanism. It can be a plastic sack that leaks on all sides, but you can’t find the leak. You know that it doesn’t tally, but it looks as if it does tally. That is the danger in Vedanta. Provided there is a good living master available, it can do no harm. But stay away from it if there is no master available! Provided it is well guided Advaita can be brilliant.

Do you mean that people could act from their so called ‘knowing’ as if they are more than the content of their consciousness? That they therefore assume that the content is worthless?
Yes. That is why up to now, I have never wanted to write a book. But, as long as I am alive there are Living Teachings. When I die they can do whatever they want to with it, but as long as I am alive I am there.

To take corrective action?

Do people have a built in defense mechanism?
At the level of the psyche there is a defense mechanism that prevents you from taking in more than you can cope with, but at a higher level sooner or later you have an irrevocable need for a spiritual master who can tell you certain things, who has to explain things because other wise you get stuck. Whoever doesn’t want a living master gets stuck.

Books could lead to people becoming interested and going on a search.
To a good spiritual master of flesh and blood. Living!

Did Nisargadatta foresee that you would manifest as a guru?
I think guru is a rotten word, but he did say: ‘Many people will seek your blessings.’

So you couldn’t do anything else. It happened by itself.
He said; ‘The seed is sown, the seasons do the rest.’

Isn’t that true for everyone?
Yes, but some seeds fall on good soil and something grows, but other seeds don’t grow. Out of million sperms only one reaches the egg.

At Nisargadatta’s bhajans were also sung and certain rituals done, especially for the Indians. Did you also participate in that?
I participated two times. The bhajans I thought, were really special…

What is their goal?
Singing bhajans has a purifying effect on the body, thinking, and feeling, so that the Knowledge can become manifest and finds its place there. I don’t have any need of it, but I see that the singing offers social and emotional solace and thus I am not against it. In addition prasad was distributed and arati done.

What is arati?
A form of ritual in which fire is swung around and camphor is burned. Camphor is the symbol of the ego. That burns and nothing remains of it. Just as in self-realization nothing of the self-consciousness remains. It is a beautiful ritual. It makes you attentive to all kinds of things. The fire is swung at your eye level so what you see may be beautiful, at your ears so that what you hear may be pure, and at your mouth so that what you eat may be pure. It is Hindu symbolism that has become so common in India that it has mostly become flattened out and routine. It has something, as a symbol , but Westerners shouldn’t try it unless they understand the symbolism completely. I find the singing of OM good, that works, that is a law. It works to purify the body, thinking and feeling, so that the Knowing that it is can be manifest and find a place in your life.

Did Nisargadatta follow a certain tradition?
But of course. The Navdath Sampradaya. The tradition of the Nine Gurus. The first was Jnaneshwar (Jnanadeva) from the 13th century, who became realized when he was twenty and also died at that age. Nisargadatta was the ninth.

Are you the tenth?
No. I always call Maharaj ‘the last of the Mohicans’.

Still you always talk about the tradition.
I work following a traditional background, because there lies the experience of a thousand years of instruction. Instruction that works! I have learned to value the Tradition. I am totally non traditional, but in my heart I am a traditionalist. When I talk about ‘the tradition’ I mean the tradition of Advaita so as that became manifest in the Navdath Sampradaya.

What is the importance of tradition?
The importance of a tradition is just as with violin playing, that you have had predecessors who have done it in a certain which you know works. But many traditions have become dead end traditions because they don’t work anymore. That is why you always see renovators like a Buddha, a Krishna, Krishnamurti, Ramana Maharshi in a certain sense, and Bhagwan (Osho) and Nisargadatta. The way Nisargadatta said it is after all quite different from the way his Guru said it, and the way it is here made manifest, is after all also very different then at Nisargadatta’s. It is about the ‘essence’. Just as consciousness is transmitted by means of sex, enlightenment is transmitted by the Guru.

Did Nisargadatta teach you the tradition?
You can’t learn a tradition; you can only become self-realized. And that is what happened. I know what I know. Done.

And then a tradition is born?
Yes, precisely, you say it very well.

We are now busy with book ‘Self-realization. What do you think about that book?
It is no easy book. It is no easy bedside companion.

In one way or another, translating the book has done much for me.
You have been busy with these things for a long time, thus the reading of a relatively direct form of Nisargadatta’s words must have an effect, But even you found it to be a difficult book. The theme of the book — who were you before the conception, before body/thinking/feeling appeared and before the forming of words in the mind — is not simple to say, but by repeated readings, and talking with each other and all kind of other things, a few things have become clear.

It has to be digested?
Yes, especially digesting it is important. You can eat a lot, but it has to be digested.

Did you just see him sometimes in the daytime, like here in the kitchen?
He lived in that house and everyone went to their hotel or family, or to friends, or had lodgings with the translators. Someone always stayed to care for him a bit, but everyone simply went their own way. There was nothing like an ashram in the usual sense, a care institution, a salvation army for seekers. Absolutely not.

How was he between the acts?
Changeable, from extremely friendly to grumbling.

Did you find him to be a nice man?
Never thought about it for a second.

Would you like to be his friend?

That cannot?
No, Odd question.

I don’t agree, you could at least say ‘he is my Guru, but as a human, as a person’… if you at least could still see him as a person.
Just a whopper of a person, but yeah, there are no meaningful words that can be said about it.

I don’t believe that.
Really not.

Did you ever eat with him?

Did you ever listen to music with him?

Did you ever just chat with him about little things?

How was that?
Normal, just like with you.

Did you find that scary?

Never? Also not in the beginning?

Did he have a normal householder’s life?

Was he married?
Yes, he had children.

What kind of a father was he?

What kind of husband was he?
I don’t know because his wife was dead.

Did he have girl friends?

Did he sometimes speak about sex?
No, never.

What did he do in his spare time?
He had no spare time. All his time was spent on the ‘talks’. Or he slept or took walks, or he looked outside, and he smoked a little beedee.

How did he experience being sick?
He didn’t think about it. It’s just something of the body, a little something.

What was his attitude towards women ‘seekers’?
The rule for Indian women was keep your mouth shut and listen. Ask no questions. Unless they were very brave, then he allowed it from time to time and answered them, just as with them men. Western women he just answered, just like with the men. But with Indian women he was very traditional: ‘just keep quiet.’

What did he think about Bhagwan (Osho)?
It varied. It depended who was asking the question.

Now, Ok, you don’t want anymore. I give up.
(laughs and turns of the microphone.)

Interview by Belle Bruins appearing in Amigo, March, 2002