Archive for September, 2009

The truth of non-duality is not subject to cultural beliefs and ideas.
September 28, 2009

Advaita Post, Volume 10 No 15

See the antiquity
see the openness

Text : East and West – tradition, modernity and openness (Part 1)

In: InZicht – Paths of radical self-inquiry 11 No 3 (September 2009), pg. 4-9

In connection with the theme of this issue, the editors of InZicht magazine asked Douwe Tiemersma some questions about the relationship between East and West.

InZicht: To what extent is there a distinction to be made between the East and the West?

Douwe: When ‘the East’ is mentioned, the expression refers to the traditional cultures of India, China and Japan. The most important spiritual currents in these cultures are Hinduism and Buddhism, Confucianism, Daoism, and Shinto.

‘The West’ refers to the ‘modern’ culture that has developed since 1600 in Western Europe and later elsewhere. Characteristic of this modernity is the view that people can independently come to know the truth about the cosmos and morality (good action) through the use of their own rationality. Therefore no transcendent revelation is needed. Empiricism, intellect and reason stand central in both science and life. The world is an object of research, at a distance from the researcher. Life can be pragmatically arranged according to a rational understanding. Despite this development, a cultural layer of traditional Christianity from the Middle Ages has remained alive, a layer in which transcendence and participation in the universe have been more or less retained. Christianity and modernity have stood in constant interaction. This interaction can also be found between Christianity and so-called post-modernism, within which openings towards that which was important within the Christian tradition can be seen once again.

Western culture has spread over a large proportion of the world, also over the South and East Asian countries. Since then there too has been a constant interplay between tradition and modernity. In regards to that, the current situation in both East and West is not so very different from one another. Secularization in the West might seem more advanced than in the East, but that is, to a large extent, an illusion. Outside of the formal membership in a church in the West, here you see a lot of what you see in the East, where such membership doesn’t exist. And in the ‘spiritual’ East you find roughly the same rainbow of attitudes and orientations as in the West. In this regard they are not significantly different from one another.

Why then was the West looking to the East to find a higher truth?  That was particularly the case in the 70’s.

Radical Freedom

“At the end of the sixties and in the seventies the world suddenly broke open for many people; there was the seeing of a possibility of a much larger existence. There was a general movement which was expressed in many different ways. In psychology there was Alexander Lowen (bio-energetics), Abraham Maslow (self-actualization), Charles Rogers (personal growth), in the social-political field: non-violent resistance (Gandhi among others), economics (Schumacher), politics (the young Marx, Mao, etc.), living together (experiments with living communities, the Hobbit), in ecology (Rachel Carson, The Small Earth), and so on. Books from all these areas were eagerly read, ideas from all quarters discussed and applied. If the government or any other established authority such as the university administration, obstructed, then demonstrations followed. I, too, participated extensively in reading, discussing and campaigning. The importance of innovative policy was very clear to me. Yet the possibilities of consciousness and of being remained the central focus of my interest. An open and self-critical attitude was frequently missing from those involved in the beautiful theoretical discussions as well as in the practice of social and political action. That was also the case with most university students. Existential transcendence, grassroots democracy, ecological living, and so forth appeared to thrive only when it was combined with thorough self-knowledge. Many resorted to using consciousness-expanding drugs. I went the way of yoga and through that I came to India.”

(From: Non-duality – the groundless openness, pg. 32)

Many went to India or started yoga and the reading of eastern philosophy, because they wanted to experience something in regards to the possibility of the realization of an unlimited freedom. This freedom was not considered feasible in western culture with its all dogmas and axioms. The unconditional freedom was sought in part through the crossing of boundaries in behavior and in emotional experience, for example with Bhagavan Rajneesh in Poona. There was, at least in part, a focus on the realization of total freedom through a living insight into the infinite non-duality. With the question of East and West, the important point is that in the East, and not in the West, this radical freedom was taught in a few places and in an authentic way. In India there has always remained, at least since the time of the ancient Upanishads, an ongoing line from teacher to pupil in which the main focus is the realization of the true self as totally free from external and internal conditions. This is the line of Advaita Vedanta in which Ramana Maharshi and Nisargadatta Maharaj (among others) stood. This is a non-duality that relativizes all else and is hardly to be found in the history of the West. You only find it with Meister Eckhardt.

Is the distinction that is made between East and West more than just cultural differences?

Non-duality and its teaching go beyond cultural conditions. The truth of non-duality is not conditioned by cultural beliefs and ideas, for example about men and women, social relationships, or about man and God. To whatever extent people in India may be more religious or spiritual than those in Western countries, it still says nothing about their existential freedom. Precisely those beliefs that are interwoven with religion, are the most difficult to break open. For example, if you believe that your existence is immersed in a cycle of reincarnations (samsara), then you are stuck. The belief that you are a person only, already contains within itself the notion that you are bound by karmic law and that you have a particular place in relation to society, the cosmos and the gods. There were very few who came to seek an authentic teacher for real liberation from that belief. There were Indian people who came to see Nisargadatta Maharaj regularly to hang a flower garland on him. He let them come, but as they left, he said: “Now let’s get down to business.”

(Part 2 appears in the following A.P.)


You should sink so deeply into the silence that there aren’t any forces left focused on restoring the old situation.
September 14, 2009

Advaita Post, Volume 10 No. 14

The eyes – they’re dependent upon your attitude:
Do you see them as belonging to a sheep,
the infinite non-duality,
or both?

Introduction and talk on May 28, 2008 in Gouda (part 1): The ego mechanism and liberation

Douwe: When the release and opening don’t happen automatically, it’s of great importance to see precisely what processes are at work in your self-sphere. This looking will continue on subtler and subtler levels if you want the release and opening to become radical. When you look well, you’ll always see the same thing: the tendency to hold on to things and to release them. That holding-on-to is a process of identification: you create an image, a self-image with various elements, and you throw yourself into that limited image. Then you enter into a self-being that’s limited, to a viewpoint that we call: “I experience this, I want that, I don’t want that …”. There is a construction of a special ‘I’ and its special world.

Seeing this ego mechanism is an opening in awareness. You can distinguish this mechanism on increasingly subtler levels: there is the continual return again and again to an ‘I’-position in a world that you are more or less familiar with and that you want to maintain. That’s how it works.  In the silence and the relaxation this tension dissolves.

How is it with yourself?

Visitor: I was completely quiet. That’s totally clear. Yes, but that’s also the case when I return to daily life from Schiermonnikoog [an island off the coast of the Netherlands where weeklong Advaita retreats are held], and then it goes wrong…

Notice your formulation; because precisely there is the restriction we just spoke about: “I came back from Schiermonnikoog”.

It is, in any case, “I” that experiences these things.

Do you see how the ego mechanism works?

As I said: sink right through the ‘I’-silence.

(A mobile phone rings.)

There are all kinds of things that happen when a mobile phone rings like that. Do you notice the ego-mechanism in you? Most people are narrowed down to an ‘I’-person who is focused on the sound and begin judging!

Yes, but ‘sink right through the I-silence’; you can’t really force that, can you?

No, but it surely must happen. Why doesn’t it happen?

Yes, there are resistances which prevent it, I would say.

You will have to see the holding-on mechanism on an even subtler level. Now it’s just a formulation. Why do ‘you’ go back into your daily life, when you have truly sunken into the real silence?

I think that’s precisely the difficulty in daily life. When you sink into the silence, you are in an impersonal realm.

If it’s impersonal, then it’s apparently impersonal. And that’s ok, but only if you don’t return to the old patterns.

But that’s not something which you can decide for yourself?

In the silence there can be a lucidity with the knowledge: this is it.  In that silence there is no ‘I’-person. That has to be affirmed.  The ego process doesn’t need to return. After the retreat week you get onto the boat and then you step into the train … at every moment and with each step, you can realize yourself: once again, how is it? Oh yes: silence. When the clarity remains, no concentration of energy or identification arises, so that there isn’t an ‘I’ contraction any more.

Yes, but that certainly happens…

The only thing that helps is: always return to the clarity, until it stays stable and no limitation occurs there.

You know it: it will have to proceed further in that direction. But you must look: most people are totally ignorant. Apparently that’s the standard situation which most people take for granted.

In that sense there’s a gradation of insight or seeing…

When the ignorance doesn’t break totally open, then you haven’t gained from that gradation. Then you can say once again: I feel it’s necessary to go to another day of silent meditation.

That doesn’t do it…

It depends upon your situation. At a given moment you can be sick and tired of always spinning in the same old circles, and of the thought that later you will have to say: “I’m ninety years old and I need to go on a weeklong silent retreat again”.

But if it doesn’t break through, you surely will.

That’s exactly what it’s about; to investigate the cause of ignorance and what creates the chance to break through the endless cycles.

These ego tendencies can appear within the clarity until the old patterns simply dissolve. If you are really clear in the open silence, without a person, then that’s the basis on which these tendencies, these forces that still function somewhere totally dissolve. Apparently, that happened in the Silent Week [a retreat], because otherwise you wouldn’t have sunk into the silence. You should sink so deeply into the silence that there aren’t any forces any longer focused on restoring the old situation. Staying in ‘the now’ is not sufficient. You should sink through the now, so that the now, with its reference to the past and future, is gone. That self image of yours, it’s a psychological representation of yourself. You create it, and that form also determines your behavior, your way of thinking. It’s much more than just an image. You identify yourself with it, you embody that image. And then you say: I am that, this physical person. And with that you forget who you really are.

Who can you blame for it?

I don’t blame anyone. Of course not. The issue is that at some point the pattern cracks open. That’s what this is about. And this can only come from an incredibly deep pre-personal motivation, so that it really does happen by itself. The only thing you can do is to look there, to be aware of it. I only refer to certain things and say: “Go look. Exactly, there, deeper, deeper. Do you see the deep desire to not remain stuck, a very deep knowledge that that’s not necessary? What does that mean, when you can’t hold on to anything any more?”

Actually it’s already true that you can’t hold on to anything.

Exactly. When you realize that very clearly, then you don’t hold on any more.

Yes, but everyone knows that you can’t hold on to anything.

That’s a pitfall. How many people believe that and still sit there, shaking their heads ‘yes’, but without anything happening?

Illusion has so many faces…

So, you need to be very sharp so that you see through every illusion. Every image is a virtual image. When it arises, you give it a stamp of reality and it receives resistance. Only when you see through that, then the images are neutral and their effect disappears. See in what way these images aren’t neutral. You give them your own living energy. You offer yourself to them. You make an idol of your self image: I am the center of the universe, I am the most important, I think only of myself, I’m always busy with caring only for myself and well, a little for the people I see that are a little like myself.

Yes, that’s the selfishness of the ego.

That’s the structure. Only through insight can you see through it. With understanding and surrender the structure disappears and then there is freedom.

You can certainly say that we should let go, but the ‘I’ doesn’t do that.

That sinking away through everything, that’s surrender.