Sunday, March 28, 2010

Book Review

There are numerous translations of Lao Tzu's "Tao Te Ching." Every time I come across one that I haven't read, I go to straight to verse 25 to see how it is rendered. No translation, in my view, has excelled Stephen Mitchell's Tao Te Ching: An Illustrated Journey (Francis Lincoln Publishers /1988 /$10.17 paper from Amazon). For Mitchell's interpretation of the aforementioned verse reads, in part:

There was something formless and perfect
before the universe was born.
It is serene. Empty.
Solitary. Unchanging.
Infinite. Eternally present.
It is the mother of the universe.
For the lack of a better name,
I call it the Tao.

Here are just a three salutary things to consider from the above: "Formless and perfect" points precisely to what awareness is; its being "the mother of the universe" tells us that form arises from the formless, and yet, remains unchanged and "eternally present"; and a plethora of nondual exegeses and dissertations could readily be done on that sumptuous and pause-worthy "For the lack of a better name..."

Like the earlier Harper & Row edition of this work, this volume contains Mitchell's concise and informative Foreword, in which he covers everything from Lao Tzu himself (about whom "all that has come down to us is highly suspect") and the classic manual's style to Mitchell's translation method (he worked from Paul Carus's literal version and "consulted dozens of translations into English, German, and French") and the proper way to pronounced the title ("more or less,
Dow Deh Jing").

Dr. Stephen Little, the Pritzker Curator of Asian Art at the Art Institute of Chicago, selected the artwork. In addition to providing a "visual foil to the text," he judiciously chose not only paintings from practicing Taoists, but he selected works that were "direct expressions of Taoist belief" and which "symbolically depicts the emptiness that characterizes the Tao itself." I was particularly moved by "Listening to the Bamboo," [Verse 20] by Wen Cheng-ming (1470-1559), and "Immortal's Dwelling Among Plum Trees," [Verses 46-47], by Ch'ien Tu (1763-1844).

But nearly all of the paintings are imbued with a beautiful and near-palpable clarity. And this, of course, relates to the Tao itself, which "answers without speaking a word/arrives without being summoned."

Tao Te Ching: An Illustrated Journey can be purchased either from Amazon or directly from the publisher at:

Monday, March 22, 2010

Q&A: Precisely That

Rodney: And how, pray, is everything in Nottingham (UK)?

Questioner: Here, at last, we are getting a bit of sun. It's great to feel that tinge of warmth on the skin, even it is still cold. Right now, I'm looking out onto a beautiful blue sky, and marveling at life and the world.

Rodney: While sipping your red bush tea?

Q: Orange juice, actually. I wish you were here to join me.

Rodney: That would be lovely! Thank you.

Q: I'm continuing read John Wheeler's Awakening to the Natural State, which I'm over half way through. What fine writing it is. I've been paused several times so far. What precisely hits home is the message that this awareness is what I am. As you said, that it's about seeing Self as yourself. There is something so powerful about that, tears come up even just writing it.

Rodney: Which is perfectly fine. We've touched on this before, but I want to reiterate that the tears are of no concern (provided you have no related medical issues). It is simply your body's response to an intuitive understanding of who and what you genuinely are. While that recognition is not yet pristine, there is a physical response nonetheless. Not everyone will experience tears, of course. Everyone is completely different.

Q: Yes, now I see that there is absolutely nothing wrong with this. Actually, when that kind of pause or emotional release happens these days, there is often a sense of "a coming through" into something vast and loving. I've put different labels on it, sometimes calling it Beauty, and sometimes God.

Rodney: The actual seeing or understanding has no sense of "coming through" at all. But I understand what you're getting at. However, you are completely on-target in sensing that awareness is a spaciousness that is, at once, attributeless and loving. And yes, the labels don't matter in the least. Whether you call it God, Beauty, Shiva, Brahman, Buddha-nature, Divine Spirit, etc, awareness just keeps on keeping on: Being both nothing and everything. All I would suggest is that whatever term you use, know that it is only pointer to your luminant and inexpressible Self.

Q: Your recent blog posting was beautiful. I was particularly touched by the "ocean" paragraph -- that we are both unique waves and utterly a part of the ocean too.

Rodney: I'm happy that it resonated with you.

Q: Another favourite was, "Your opinions, learning and apparent sanctity mean absolutely nothing to Presence" truly made me laugh. I've certainly fallen into the trap of sanctifying my emotions and feelings in the past, no doubt helped along by various self-help notions and therapies.

Rodney: And sanctifying emotions tend to lead to sanctifying deeds. Thus, you have seekers fasting, meditating, punishing themselves, and tossing away their worldly belongings. None of those things is going to help them. Further, and as we have already made clear, presence doesn't care. It absolutely Does Not Care. It is only
witnesses thoughts, emotions, and actions, very much like a mirror, with total impartially. And why are the seekers' deeds foolish? They are foolish because neither overt actions nor ideas can't be used to reach enlightenment. And there are--at the very least--three reasons why that it is case: Awareness cannot be reached (you are already that); spiritually-type actions don't lead to understanding; and there is simply no enlightenment (a term which suggests that there is a separate, individual person who can become enlightened).

Q: Over the past few weeks, as the looking continues, it feels as if I'm buying into my thoughts and feelings less and less. It's clear that there is nothing to be gotten and nowhere to go in thought. I've realised (at least on some innate level) that it is not this "me" that will do the seeing -- that seeing happens, that awareness and aliveness are here, whatever I'm doing about it or not.

Rodney: Yes, much of what you say there is excellent. You are clearly having some solid and perceptive insights into all this. Just be careful not to think that this is something that you can work toward or progress to. It doesn't happen that way. It's not a matter of getting down to X-number of self-identified thoughts and feelings, and suddenly "it" happens. Rather, it's a matter--in this case--of recognizing
how self-identification habitually and readily occurs in our day-to-day living.

Q: On one level, there is this feeling of utter frustration. Whilst on another level, I feel non-duality in my bones. But there is this paragraph in John's book that really struck a chord with me -- "If you are responding to this, then you are ripe and ready, so just follow your heart and your own deeper wisdom and everything will unfold as it is meant to do for you."

Rodney: Any thoughts that you might be having related to frustration and not-seeing are just thoughts and notions that aren't necessarily true. You are looking at and through awareness at this very moment. You just aren't perceiving it fully, that's all. For this knowing, translucent sheerness is
immediately before you and within you. It's largely a matter of naturally pausing your thinking or activities in such a way that the seeing and understanding occurs. It can be recognized in the blink an eye. It is Beauty without bounds, Sweetness eternal. And you, my dear Ms. Nottingham, are precisely That.

Q: That is so lovely. Thank you, my wonderful friend.

Monday, March 15, 2010


Look up to the clear, bracingly blue sky. You are more that than you are your body and your mind.


Awareness is appearing as this and that--that is all that manifestation is. You are this limitless spaciousness from which everything and everyone arises. Thus, there is nothing for you to work toward or strive for. Indeed, such endeavors are fruitless, not to mention laughable.


Dance, chant, and sit because you feel like dancing, chanting, and sitting. Then you are doing them from your heart. You aren't trying to achieve anything. You are simply filled with the spirit, so to speak, even while you are sitting!


You are not your thoughts, emotions, sensations, personality, or state of alertness (consciousness). So what remains? What is it that remains? What is it--
right now--that is so glaringly apparent that it has been completely overlooked for years and years. Ponder this throughout the day whenever there is a natural urge to do so.


Your very
nature is knowingness and clarity. Discover what it is that is already before you.


You can't "take refuge" in Buddha. There is no individual person to do so. Further, your very core is Buddha-nature. You never shift from that, despite any appearances to the contrary. So bring your attention to this living and immediate essence. Even Buddha himself said, "See the truth, and you will see me."


Meditation can certainly help you to relax. But the results are usually short-lived. However, if you enjoy meditation, then by means continue to do it. Just know that it isn't a stepping-stone to knowing your natural state. That can only be recognized when meditation ceases.


When you attempt to be "mindful" of your thoughts or breathing, you are piling this assumed person onto an already perfect, on-going action. Simply see that there is a
presence of awareness, within you and before you, that automatically witnesses all notions and objects. And it takes no time nor any period of sitting to see this.


This is absolutely key: You are the
spaciousness in which all thoughts and emotions arise. That spa-ciousness is directly in front you! It is hushed, vivid, and featureless. And you are That. Look again. You...Are...That!


Seekers have every right to ask if self-realization is a living reality for you, provided they do so graciously and have a sincere desire to know their true Self. Teachers who shrink from answering this question tend to be those who have not yet recognized their own natural and radiant state, and are attempting to hide this fact from others. But Buddha didn't hesitate to reply to this query. He answered forthrightly, "I am awake." Thus, it is
wise seeker who takes the time to find someone who has truly discovered his or her fundamental presence, which--of course--is awareness itself.


If you ever have the opportunity to converse with someone whose understanding is clear and solid, listen carefully to what the person is saying. Don't be mislead by any apparent ease and casualness in the conversation. For the person, in all likeli-hood, will be pointing to your essence with the whole of his or her being. Periods of indefinable stillness are sure to be present, no matter how lively the talk or conversation. Nisargadatta would occassionally yell at those sitting around him, obviously trying to jar them a little, shake them into seeing the obvious. And yet, even during the sage's shouts and rants, the room--we are told--was sated with the numinous.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Q&A: That Felt-Sense of Knowing

Question: Hi Rodney, I'm a longtime seeker who has come across your pointings and somehow believe that what you are saying is the bare and utter truth.

Rodney: Well, that's a good start, if I may say so! Faith and intuition certainly have their place in nonduality and advaita. But don't take my or anyone's word about anything related to self-knowing. For it's all about seeing this (your fundamental nature) for yourself.

Q: Yes, but there are still several hurdles which I still can't seem to get over. Firstly, the sense of the false me. How can I possibly separate what I believe myself to be, from the reality of me? How can the false me see that there is no me?

Rodney: The "hurdles" you speak about are only apparent. There is absolutely nothing separating you from awareness--except, perhaps, a misunderstanding. So right from the start, don't give any emphasis to what seem to be impediments. For they aren't effectively there.

Q: Okay, I think I see what you mean. I'll be more careful about that in future.

Rodney: Well, don't be overly concerned about it. Just see or intuit the simple truth of that particular issue, i.e., giving credence to blocks that aren't actually there hinders you from seeing what is most definitely present. That's all that needs to be done on that particular matter.

Q: Got ya.

Rodney: As for separating out the "false me" and Reality, that is merely a mental and conceptual-shifting of things which gets you nowhere and is oh-so-tiring. The "false me" (which is merely a thought or idea about yourself) can't know a thing. Only awareness registers the aforementioned; it isn't the other way around.

Q: So it comes from the direction of awareness.

Rodney: Always from the direction of awareness...And as for this understanding itself, you come to it--generally--by either seeing/feeling this presence of awareness within you and before you, or by apperceiving that thoughts, feelings, and the sense of a separate "me" actually appear and disappear into a bare and pristine limitlessness, which is what you truly are. And with this understanding comes a felt-sense of knowing and spaciousness. Awareness is suddenly alive and vibrant. You can almost taste it! It was always there, of course; but you simply hadn't brought your attention to its immediacy and sumptuousness. And by the way, it is your attention that your bring to presence, not some distinct, individual person who is somehow separated from the world and presence.

Q: True understanding sounds really great!

Rodney: It is. But it is also quite ordinary. At bottom, it is a knowing sheerness that is you precisely. But when you think that there is this detached "you" and the world, the world will indeed appear to be separate from you. This is where that ancient tale about the snake and rope is particularly apt. You see what appears to be a snake, so you immediately go into a kind of survival mode. Indeed, you live your entire life this way, as if a snake is the room.

Q: Right, and then life becomes filled with all these fears and tensions.

Rodney: Exactly. But there is no snake, e.g., solidified ego, individual person, or separate world. These are only manifestations in presence. It's part of your functioning as a lived body/mind entity. So when you see the rope as it is, there is no problem. The same goes if you momentarily take the rope for a snake. You simply smile, laugh, and address the matter at hand. It's no big deal.

Q: And I guess that speaks to what was going to be my next question. If awareness is everywhere and everything, why do I still feel like a limited entity?

Rodney: Awareness has unlimited aspects. They include thoughts, feelings, consciousness, your physical body, my physical body, the keyboard on which I am typing these words, etc. But a wave is always water. We are always awareness. When a belief of separation is focused upon, it tends to be strengthened. And that's certainly true when it comes the assumption that, among other things, Reality is something that has to garnered or attained. False teachers (and they are profuse) ply their piffle to disparate and non-discerning seekers who are filled with all of these romantic and stereotypic notions of what this understanding truly is. The teachers will tell you, in spectacular terms, that "Enlightenment" (their word, not mine) can be attained--through time even!--by meditation, sitting, silence, mindfulness, yoga, mantras, and/or servitude to them. You may even have some short-term bliss. But that will only be an experience. It won't be your natural state.

Q: I have finally seen through those kinds of teachers! That's why I'm so fully tuned into nonduality.

Rodney: Excellent.

Q: So where do I go from here?

Rodney: The short answer is nowhere. "Here" is where and what you fully are! With that said, just continue to do what you are doing: Reading and listening to the words of credible nondual sages and teachers. And don't just read and listen for information. Allow yourself to be fully "stopped" or paused by what the teacher is pointing to, which--of course--is your true and ever-present state.

Q: Thanks for taking the time to reply, Rodney. I enjoy your writing very much.

R: You're most welcome. Stay in touch, if you are moved to do so.

Monday, March 1, 2010


Ask yourself, "Who am I?" Notice that the very first answer you get is stillness. Stay with That.


You are totally beyond all ideas and notions about yourself. Your opinions, learning, and apparent sanctity mean absolutely nothing to Presence.


At this very second, you are that ultimate, featureless Principle to which all the saints and sages have pointed. You are not your body, mind, or consciousness because all of those things are constantly changing (even as you're scanning these words). See that you are that imperturbable spaciousness that is
immediately before you. It is from this Stillness that thoughts, feelings, and worlds arise.


When it comes to nonduality, don't be afraid to follow your intuition. That, after all, is just another name for your heart.


There is nothing mystical or otherworldly about awareness. It is pure, perfect, vivid, and begin-ningless. It is totally beyond the staggering contents of the innumerable galaxies and any hypothesized multiverses. It's even beyond spirituality. Yet, amazingly, it is the most ordinary of things.


To know thyself is to know that your belief in a separate self is utterly without merit. You are a bright and beautiful wave on the translucent ocean of presence. There is absolutely no other wave like you in this sheer and eternal sea. Not one. Yet, you and the ocean are nothing but awareness. Never, for a second, have you not been this radiant, blue presence. Your depth and loveliness know no bounds. Truly, no description can approach you.


Take advantage of any times when you are naturally calm and quiet. It could be when you are at an art museum, on a natural trail, walking through freshly-fallen snow, or strolling along a beach. Allow for the timeless recognition of your luminous Self
by your Self. See that you are the seeing, the knowing, and the stillness.


Presence is both subtle and vivid, hushed and profound. Yet, it is not an experience; it does not move. What is it, right now, that is present, but does not come and go?


What you are seeking is not in your mind. There is a genuine, timeless
presence of awareness that is within you and before you at this very moment. Allow yourself to be fully paused by the beauty, enormity, and simplicity of this fact and pointer.


There really is no "correct" way to this under-standing. Everyone's personality is different. Some people would be helped by listening to or convers-ing with someone whose understanding clear and without doubt. Others would be aided by the pointers from and comments in nondual/advaitic books, blogs, and Web sites. And even after engaging in those conversations or perusing those readings, the person may leave them with little or no understanding at all. But then the person drives, say, to the car wash. And while sitting in the car-being-washed and pondering what was read or said a short while before, the person--suddenly and
completely--sees the luminous clarity that has always been fully present. Yes, it can happen exactly like that.