Dr. Robert Saltzman

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Two new interviews with Nonduality Magazine. The first concerns the question of spiritual teachers charging money to pass on teachings which they received for free: Dana

And the second, a discussion about celibacy and its possible role in spirituality: Celibacy

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When you say the flower does not really exist, that is nihilism.

When you say that "you" will last forever, that is idealism.

Of the many sitting with Siddhartha Gautama,

the Buddha, the Awakened One,

Only Mahakasyapa saw the flower freshly,

a once upon a once,

a never before, and never again.

Mahakasyapa required nothing from the Buddha.

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In each moment everything is exactly as it is. Nothing is hidden or esoteric, so there is nothing to attain or realize.

Mind or awareness (two words for the same thing) is like a mirror which reflects all objects equally. Awareness is not an personal ability, but a light which illuminates all objects--including "myself"--equally, effortlessly, and choicelessly. As such, mind is totally hospitable to whatever arises, and fears nothing.

Maintain an attitude of acceptance and openness to whatever arises: people, situations, thoughts, feelings, and emotions. Simply avoid centering upon or withdrawing into the idea of "myself," and the infinite openness of mind will be apparent. This is freedom.

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Dharma talk, Todos Santos, Mexico, February, 2013--Mind Is Like a Mirror.

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Dharma talk, Todos Santos, Mexico, March, 2013--The Mind of Hospitality.

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Play video: Robert Saltzman and Robert K. Hall discuss "What Are You Seeking"

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Excerpt from a reply to a personal message:

But as to your main question regarding so-called free will: The illusion of free will certainly exists. It seems, for example, that I can choose to move my hand "at will." But then the question arises as to what motivated me to make such a "choice." What, in other words, made me "want" to move my hand? The "wants," apparently, are the coming to consciou...sness of processes which are entirely unconscious until they express themselves as desires, fears, aversions, etc. So where is the "choice" in that.

When, for example, did you decide to fear snakes? Fear of snakes is an irrational fear, having nothing to do with their venomous abilities, for even on Long Island, where I grew up, and where there are no venomous snakes at all, many people are terrified of snakes, and kill them if they can. Could you reasonably say that anyone of those people "chose" to kill a snake?

I find this matter perfectly clear, but I understand that for others there seems to be a conflict between personal experience, religious doctrine, and cultural norms on the one hand, and the understanding (for me an understanding, but for you, apparently, only a concept) that nothing is ever freely chosen. That conflict is arises, it seems to me, from mistaking two very different levels of being. One level is our apparent individual life, as, for example, in the phrase, "His life, which had been filled with such great hopes of success, increasingly seemed a disappointing failure." [I have no idea where that example came from. I found myself typing it. I did not "choose" that image of disappointment and failure. It came on its own like all images.]

If life is viewed that way, as in "there is an 'I' who 'has' a life," (and must manage it), one will obviously be living in a realm of ambitions, tactics, decisions, choices, etc. If that is where you find yourself, do your best, I say, to make the best possible decisions, and to be comfortable with them. If that is where you find yourself habitually, discussions about whether free will exists or not will not help you at all in my experience. I recommend instead try to get to the root of the feeling "I am."

But there is another level of being, entirely different from that one. On this level, I do not "have" a life, I am life--an expression of life--just as a tree or a fish is life. I did not ask to be here. I don't know why I am here. I know nothing whatsoever about any purpose to living, nor about "God," karma, afterlife, the meaning of dreams, etc, etc, etc. On this level, no one chooses anything. One simply does what is necessary as best one can, and that is always apparent. There are no mistakes, or "bad choices." What is, simply is, and must be the way it is.

I don't know if this helps. My best advice is to stop trying to figure this stuff out.

In each moment everything is exactly as it is. Nothing is hidden or esoteric, so there is nothing to attain or realize.


Dear Robert,

I never posted very much, but I am a member of the Awaken To True Nature group you started. I read it every day, and enjoyed pretty much everything you wrote there. You quit the group, but I understand that you are taking questions on your timeline. I have two questions. First, why did you leave ATTN? Second, I keep hearing people say the the world is not real. So, if the world is not real, it must be not real in comparison to something that actually is real. In your opinion, is there something that is more real than this world?


The group was an experiment of mine, a kind of art project really, focused on creation of and evolution of an ethos of open-minded, open-hearted investigation of actual experiences. To begin, I invited a few people who I thought would be up for that and up TO that. As the group grew in size, maintaining that specific ethos began to require a lot of effort and intentional suffering on my part. There was a pretty good run of several months during which I felt that my idea had evolved usefully, and that useful work was being accomplished. Then. . . I suppose I just got tired of the debaters, the clever ones, and the ones just looking to kill time. I know that many enjoyed the group. I have received a number of messages about it. I wish you well, all members of ATTN.

Part of the problem, as I experienced it, is that Facebook itself has produced an entire class of "spiritual" show-offs who imagine they have inside information, like to argue, and imagine that debate and discussion should aim at defeating (as if that were even possible), or one-upping someone who thinks differently. Not by my lights. For me, discussion and airing of views is a means of investigation, but that only works if parties to the conversation are ready, willing, and able to drop their beliefs at the door so as to approach questions afresh--"beginner's mind" this has been called.

Long story short, I am done with Facebook groups.

As for your second question, I'll begin with the story of the student who, trying to impress the master, was ranting about "reality," and about his "deep discovery" that the entire waking life was nothing more than a dream--not very different from sleeping life. After hearing all the warmed-over misapprehended Vedanta he could stand to hear, the teacher took his student by the shoulders, and delivered a swift kick right to the guy's shin.

"Ow, ow, ow," cried the student. "Why did you do that?"

"How's that for 'reality?'" replied the teacher.

I am not into kicking anyone (except figuratively perhaps), so the last time someone tried that "not real" stuff on me--even quoting some imagined "awakened master," as authoritative "evidence'--I just asked him if he would prefer rice and vegetables for dinner, or would dog shit from the gutter do just as well.

That said, in a sense at least we ARE dreaming the world because our perceptions depend (at least) upon the kind of nervous system which is doing the perceiving + the type of enculturation of that nervous system + the individual experiences which condition that nervous system. So at best we see "a" world, not "the" world. There may be other factors beyond our ken which are involved, but we do not KNOW what they are. When claims are made, then you have religion, which is belief in authority, not knowing.

When we look at the world, we actually don't know WHAT it is or isn't. We do know that other sentient beings also have world-pictures of their own, and that these are very different from the human ones.

For example, to a butterfly which has eyesight in the ultra-violet part of the energy spectrum, a flower garden perhaps appears as a series of targets with their centers glowing like homing beacons. Actually, we don't know WHAT it is like to be a butterfly. We know what it is like to be human, and that is ALL we know. That is all the guru knows too. That is all the guru knows too. That is all the guru--claims to the contrary notwithstanding--knows too.

We do not know what any of this is, where it came from, what it means, etc. The main problem with "spirituality" is that its followers too often aim at "knowing" what cannot BE known, and fantasize imaginary past "knowers" (think Ramana Maharshi, for example) who in this kind of fairy-tale had attained "perfect knowledge."

Once that fantasy takes root, a project immediately arises: All "I" have to do is convince myself somehow that this world is unreal, and voila, the work is done.

Time for a kick to the shins. LOL

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TODOS SANTOS doctor robert saltzman TODOS SANTOS counseling psychotherapy

Q&A With Dr. Robert Saltzman About Spiritual Teaching and Nonduality, Conducted by Jerry Katz

The following is a reply to a question from someone who has been following the teachings of Ramana Maharshi and Nisargadatta, both of whom advised concentration on the feeling "I AM" as a means to obtain "realization." My questioner said that some recent criticism of her practice from another so-called "teacher" had shaken her faith in her practice, leaving her confused and upset.

Here is what I told her:

At a certain point, advice and words from anyone--Nisargadatta, Ramana, or the man in the moon--cease to have meaning. Those words may have served as a pointer along the way, and that's fine, but sooner or later you will have to forget ALL those words and go it alone. This is why it is said that if you meet the Buddha in the road, kill him.

If you do not kill the Buddha, you will remain forever a disciple and never actually find the ground of your OWN being, which has nothing to do with words, no matter how good those words sound or how many people repeat them. That ground is here right now. What you seek is what you already are, and does not have any relation to how Nisargadatta lived or how Ramana Maharshi lived. They were not "gods," but ordinary human beings just like you. Nisargadatta liked sex and cigarettes, and died of throat cancer.

In the beginning, the words from those guys may have encouraged and inspired you, and that's fine, but if you cling too long to a teaching, any teaching, it will blind you to your OWN life, your OWN being, your OWN truth.

If I point at the moon, my dog will look at my finger and not even see the moon. Why? Because the dog is attached to me, and loves everything I do. The dog sees me as if I were an all-powerful, all-knowing "God." Perhaps you feel that way about Nisargardatta or Ramana Maharshi. If you do, it is time to kill them as role models. When I say "kill" them, I do not mean any disrespect. You will continue to feel grateful to them for helping to bring you to this moment, but, if you want freedom, you must find that freedom within YOURSELF without reference to anyone else's opinions or teachings. (Only YOU can know if you really want freedom or not. Many claim they do, but most who claim to want freedom do not want freedom, but only want to feel better or happier.) As long as one clings to anything--teachings, teachers, religions, practices--whatever--there IS no freedom. Clinging and freedom do not go together, and cannot exist in the same mind.

If I give you a glass of water to drink, and you take a sip, you do not have to ASK yourself if the water is warm or cold. You just KNOW. That "just knowing without trying" is what I call "choiceless awareness." It is present at all times and in all situations. Within or upon that choiceless awareness (which you do not have to try to summon up or create) arises everything that you see, feel, think, perceive, or come to know in any way at all.

If you have a thought, that thought is an impression upon choiceless awareness. If you feel an emotion, that feeling is an impression upon choiceless awareness. Your body image and your sense of selfhood are impressions upon choiceless awareness. All of this happens instantaneously, automatically, and without any trying. In fact, it cannot be controlled. If you have ever sat in so-called "meditation," you soon became aware that your thoughts were not chosen at all, but simply arose on their own. Those thoughts arose upon choiceless awareness which is present whether you are sitting on a cushion or having an orgasm.

That choiceless awareness IS you. It is not yours to control, but simply is, simply exists. What you more ordinarily think of as "me" is a collection of feelings, thoughts, autobiographical fictions, etc. which are part of "story you tell yourself" about "me," but all of that arises and is known as an impression upon choiceless awareness. The "story you tell yourself" is NOT "you," not the real you, but an habitual, repetitive story--a habit. "You"--the real you--are the awareness which is present constantly without anyone's trying, and beyond anyone's ability to control. That is why I call it "CHOICELESS awareness."

Now, "I AM" is not a fact, it is a thought, an idea. Advising someone to practice remembering "I AM" is a pointer, and for you that pointer has worked well. It has brought you to this point. It worked by reminding you that you have a life at all, that you actually exist. Now it is time to let that procedure go. You may need a raft to cross a river, but when you arrive at the other side, you put the raft down and walk on. If you insist on bringing the raft with you, you will not be able to walk freely. Now it is time to walk freely.

As soon as you see that awareness is choiceless, is always present, and requires no trying, you will begin walking without that "I AM" raft you no longer need. You have crossed the river. On this side of the river, the only "work" is to allow whatever arises in or upon choiceless awareness to be there for its moment, and to pass away again. There is no permanency in any of those arisings. Even the story called "myself" is only a brief appearance upon the choiceless awareness
which is here now, and always was, from the moment of birth. When the "me" in the story I tell myself understands this, freedom, without trying, simply is.

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How do you know that cosmic rays exist? You do NOT know that. Someone told you about them, and you believed it. How do you know that "God" exists? You do NOT know that. How do you know that any of the things that the holy-men, gurus, saints, etc. refer to actually exist? You do NOT know that.

It is this "not-knowing, but believing" that keeps seekers seeking. As soon as one is willing to be in a state of not-knowing, WITHOUT believing anything, seeking ends, and freedom is apparent (so I say, but why should you believe me?)

All of the spiritual chit-chat and the "nonduality" palaver is little more than avoidance of not-knowing. If I really see that I do not know, seeking ends, and "I" cease to exist. The body has its life, which to the body is never a problem, and the mind is free to simply perceive, and carry out basic tasks.

All the "nonduality" chit-chat, although seekers imagine that it is aimed at "realization," is actually a strategy for keeping the "I" alive.

There is nothing to believe or disbelieve in my words here. This is purely personal confession.

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There ARE no answers. There is nothing further to understand. Each moment of awareness is entirely self-standing and completely unconnected to any other. The habitual, autobiographical "myself" labors to connect all the moments together seq uentially like pearls on a string--a narrative about "myself" and my imagined place in the world--but that is a story I tell myself, a habit, a fiction.

Each perceived moment is a point of silence, an instant of stillness, unconnected to anything which ever happened before, and unconnected to anything which one fantasizes will happen later. "Before" and "later," for their part, are features of one particular point of view. Meanwhile, what is, is--a total and complete mystery--while I find myself empty and naked in the now.

Dear Dr. Robert,

I have read your memoir on Awakening along with everything else you have written on your website and discussion board. Your voice is perhaps the clearest and most honest expression of an awakened consciousness that I have found anywhere, so I hope you will be able to help me with my problem. I have been a serious seeker of enlightenment for more than twenty years. I have read everything I could find from Buddhism and Vedanta to the new neo-advaita gurus who simply say that I already am awake and do not need to do anything. I have traveled to India several times, and even found a guru there who demanded complete surrender and total faith in exchange for awakening. I tried to have faith in him, but in the end I could not. I have tried prayer, fasting, vegan diet, yoga, meditation, everything, but find myself stuck at the end of my rope about this. Still, when I read your words, it seems so easy, as if only the smallest distance separates someone like me, a desperate seeker of enlightenment, from someone like you, a realized being and source of wisdom and truth. I wonder if you could possibly explain to me how someone like you sees the world, and how to jump from here where I am to there where you are.

[name withheld by request]


Yes, you are right. Only the smallest difference separates the way you see the world from the way that I see it. In fact, assuming that you enjoy the same normal human nervous system that I do, there is no difference at all between how I see the world and how you see it. The difference, then, does not lie in what I see, but in how I understand and interpret what I see.

In order to illustrate this, I will be using a classic metaphor--the movie and the screen--but it is important to realize at the outset that the metaphor is only a way of looking at this matter, and not "truth." Although the metaphor will suggest that "I" am not the movie which is always changing, but the movie screen which never changes, this is not entirely accurate. In truth, "I" am both the movie and the screen and everything else I ever see, feel, or know. And, as my friend, Balaji Prasad put this, "When everything is in motion, stationary may be relative; change may be relative. . . . The screen and the movie mesh and tangle inextricably and shape each other." Nevertheless, as a starting point for this understanding the movie/screen metaphor seems helpful to many.

Most of us have had this experience: I am sitting in a theater engrossed in a film. If the story grabs me, I may forget entirely that I am watching a movie, so that the experience of one of the characters becomes my experience. When something "good" happens, I am pleased. When something "bad" happens, I suffer. I may find tears of joy on my face, or find my pulse racing in fear. In short, I have identified with that character. Now, suppose that the projector malfunctions, the sound dies away, and instead of the movie, I see the film melting, and then the empty screen, brilliantly lit. The audience groans. The spell is broken. Suddenly I am jolted into remembrance of the actual situation: nothing in the movie, I realize, ever really happened. My feelings and my responses were real enough--the rapid pulse, the tears--but those feelings and responses were based upon a total fantasy. The world of the movie was not a real world at all, but just colors and light dancing upon a screen. In short, when the projector jammed, the fantasy ended, and I awakened to "reality"--the reality of being a person sitting in a theater in which the projector had broken down.

Now, what "I" am in my human life is the screen, not the movie, and I know it. I am that. You, being an "I," just like me, are also the screen, not the movie, but you have forgotten that. You may know it intellectually--given your long background as a seeker, you probably do know it intellectually--but you do not remember it from moment to moment. You go about your life as if the movie were reality. But the movie is not reality. The events in the life-movie constantly change, but the screen upon which they are projected never changes. That screen was there when you were a child, and that same screen is there now. That screen is what we call "awareness," which is an emptiness that can be filled by anything whatever, and which belongs to no one. In or upon that awareness the entire apparent world is arising and disappearing moment by apparent moment.

The objects you see around you, which seem to be "out there" somewhere, are arising within that awareness, and then disappearing. When some object arises in that awareness, we say that we are conscious of it. And, being conscious of it, we imagine that it really exists exactly as consciousness imagines that it exists, but this is a lie. We know from modern science that those seeming objects are not what we imagine them to be, but are really only "patterns of energy," whatever that means. It is the projection of those energy patterns upon the screen of awareness which creates the objects in consciousness, just as the projection of the movie upon the theater screen creates the story in the consciousness of the theater-goer. The very same thing is true regarding other kinds of perceptions which seem to be less like so-called "solid objects." Sounds are not coming from "out there" somewhere, but arise, just like "solid objects," in the absolute emptiness called awareness. That is the point of the Zen koan which asks, "If a tree falls in the forest and there is no one there to witness it, does it make any sound?"

Because projection of energy upon the screen of awareness creates the objects and perceptions of consciousness, we have no idea of what those objects really are. All we ever really know is consciousness, and that is a total mystery. Science tells us that consciousness arises from activity in the brain, but cannot say how. Consciousness is a point of view--an ever changing one--which interprets and understands the objects arising in awareness. And those interpretations are not based upon "reality," but upon a human nervous system (butterflies see a different world entirely), learning, experience, and shared consensual agreement. For example, a nineteenth century photographer once tried to show the photos he had made to his subjects, Alaskan Eskimos, but the Eskimos could not see any portraits; all they saw were abstract patterns of black, white, and grey. They had never learned to interpret a photograph, and so, seeing one for the first time, and having no preexisting idea of how to see it, they could not see it.

If your memory is good, perhaps you can recall being a young child and seeing the world without the preconceptions you now carry with you. Often things appeared "strange," and had to be figured out so that they could be fit into your growing experience of shared "reality." Perhaps that crack in the wall was an insect, or a cloud was only inches from your face--that kind of thing. Later, we learn to reject such interpretations as unreasonable, and our world becomes more and more fixed, static, and logical.

So far, so good. The world "out there" is not really out there at all, but arising within awareness, and we do not know what that world is, but only what we imagine it is. If you get that much, hang on, because now comes the kicker. The very same analysis applies to "myself," which is also an object arising in awareness. I may believe in a "me" that is a kind of fixed center which experiences the world out there, but this is a mistake, an illusion. Yes, it is a widely shared illusion, but that does not make it factual, only widely shared. Everything--objects, perceptions, thoughts, and the feeling of "selfness" itself--is like a movie projected upon the screen of awareness. The movie constantly changes, and is subjected to constant interpretation in consciousness, but the screen remains the same. Untouched, pristine, empty.

From the unawakened point of view--the one from which you say you operate--"I" am the center of everything. I HAVE thoughts, I HAVE feelings, I HAVE perceptions, etc. That "I" seems to be a fixed point, an entity which persists through time, has experiences, and can write an autobiography. But that, I say, is an illusion based on mis-identification, or perhaps delusion would be a better word. And it is not an innocent delusion, but one with extremely painful consequences. If "I" am a fixed point, "I' must be protected at all costs because if the center point is lost, everything is lost. Not only the body--which I think is "me," but which really is simply another object arising in awareness--must be protected, but everything else I imagine I am must be protected as well: my reputation, my self-esteem, my relationships, my beliefs--all of it. And, since I seem to be the fixed center to which the imagined outside world occurs, I experience desires for objects in that imagined world, or I fear them. Sometimes I both desire and fear them simultaneously. All of this is a source--the primary source really--of incredible psychological pain. And the worst pain of all, the deepest fear of all, is that "I" will die.

That fear--the fear that "I" will die--is also an illusion, for the plain fact is that such an "I" is nothing stable at all, but keeps changing from moment to moment, and, as we have just seen, arises continually as an object in awareness just like any other object. In other words, "I' die constantly in every moment, only to be replaced by a new "I." But the unawakened point of view cannot stand that idea—that is why it is called "unawakened"--and so keeps keeps looking for something fixed to which it can cling. Since such a fixed point is purely imaginary and never to be found, the mind suffers constant turmoil which it tries, unceasingly, to assuage or relieve through satisfaction of desires, attachment to beliefs, etc. If the imaginary fixed point is called "Enlightenment," or "Buddhahood," or something high-flown like that, then the seeking for it is called "spiritual seeking," but, call it what you will, it's really just seeking, no different from seeking sex, money, whatever. And this is what you say you have been doing for all these years: trying to escape from what is--empty awareness--by seeking something imaginary. Now, having exhausted yourself in this futile search--"at the end of your rope," as you put it--you write to me asking how to end your search, and how you can find what is real.

It always comes down to the same question: "How?" But there IS no how. You already are that which you seek. That which you seek is what is reading these words. You are, as they say in Zen, "riding a donkey looking for a donkey." I remember once looking all over the house for my eyeglasses, and then finally catching sight of myself in a mirror and seeing that the glasses were sitting on top of my head where they had been all along. That's you right now. That's the millions of different "myselves" which have been seeking "spirituality" all these many years. It really is that simple.

"Well," I can almost hear you saying. "If it is that simple, why can't I just do it?" Because "you" don't do it. There is no "you" who can do it. The "doing" happens by itself, not when someone DOES something, not when some practice MAKES something occur, but when understanding of "I" shifts from the illusion of a fixed center of consciousness called "myself who can do things" to the pristine, endless awareness in which all objects and perceptions, including "myself" arise and then come to consciousness by means of learned interpretation.

Awareness cannot "do" anything. Awareness exists prior to any doing or not doing whatsoever. If this sounds like gibberish, I cannot help that. As Lao Tzu famously said, "The Tao that can be spoken is not the real Tao." But please try to understand that the entire work of awakening can happen—must happen--without any effort on your part, and must happen instantly, suddenly. If and when it does, you will be amazed. You might laugh out loud. You certainly will feel, "This is like a joke. This is too simple. This has always been right here. How could I have missed it? Oh, well, it's just too obvious. That's why I couldn't see it."

By the way, you asked how I see the world. I see it just as you see it. I see the same conventionally accepted consensual reality you see, and "Robert" operates just fine within that illusion when necessary. And that way of seeing is even "real" in a certain sense. It is a real illusion, by which I mean an illusion which was not just cooked up like a cinema presentation, but one which arises naturally and organically by the interplay of inborn survival instincts, the vicissitudes of the nervous system, the necessary organization of society, etc. The difference is that I can see the other view as well. I do see the other view, and I never not see it.

To illustrate this with a visual metaphor, look at the drawing, which can be seen in two different ways, but which many people can see in only one way--until, suddenly, something shifts, and they "get it."

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last update: October 18, 2015