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.


Biostasis And The Need For Certainty

We humans tend towards physical biostasis*; that is what keeps the body alive. We work also, both consciously and subconsciously, towards psychological biostasis. How do I know that? That faculty in the human being is what made my work as a psychotherapist possible, so I have observed the power of it first-hand.

That tendency is what keeps us from "going mad," or "freaking out" (call it what you will--shrinks favor "decompensating"), when presented with information that "myself" finds intolerable.

But myself--meaning my body, my desires, my hopes and fears, and my "understanding" (whether that is called "knowing" or "feeling") will all die, all come to an end.

Once a belief in a "myself" that is separate from that process of birth/unfoldment/death becomes part of the biostasis of a particular person--and this must include the belief that the myself with talents, desires, etc never existed in the first place and so is immune to death--the evidence for it will certainly "taste good," and any casting of doubt upon this now vital (and tasty) constituent of ones biostasis will be dealt with my any means necessary. The various means can be found in the list of defense mechanisms in Wickipedia.

*Biostasis is the ability of an organism to tolerate environmental changes without having to actively adapt to them.

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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Q&A With Dr. Robert Saltzman About Spiritual Teaching and Nonduality, Conducted by Jerry Katz, 2011

JK: What is the role of a spiritual teacher?


RS: I would say that the role of the spiritual teacher is to address the needs of a seeker who approaches the teacher searching for a pathway towards imagined or fantasized self-transcendence. Let me explain.


Sixty years ago, the great psychologist, Abraham Maslow, devised a hierarchy of human needs, which ranked those needs according to urgency. For example, the first and most urgent need is to breath, so an air supply is the number one need for any living being. Once I am OK breathing, I may feel thirst, so water is second, but I will not even feel thirsty if I am gasping for air. That's why this is a hierarchy. Eventually, Maslow's scheme came to be represented as a pyramid of five levels, each of which had to be fulfilled, at least partially, before the next level could be fulfilled.


Level one concerned satisfying physiological needs---first air, then water, and then food—certainly the big three. And then clothing, shelter, and sex. Physiological.


Level two concerned Safety and Security needs-- my physical security, my health needs, my desires for a predictable environment--things like that.


If I could arrange sufficient security and safety, I could begin to deal with level 3, my social needs—my needs for friendship, intimacy, family, self-respect and the respect of others.


Level 4, according to Maslow, concerned the need for self-actualization, the desire to become more and more what one is, to become everything that one is capable of becoming. What Carl Jung called individuation, or Heinz Kohut, another great psychologist, called fulfilling the inherent program of the self.


Up to this point, all these needs are egoic needs. And it is important to recognize that they are real needs—many of them urgent, and the rest at least important. I emphasize this, Jerry, because so many people in spirituality circles attempt to rid themselves of ego, but it is ego which pursues and achieves those urgent and important needs. By my lights, not only is eliminating ego impossible, but the attempt is counterproductive to spiritual awakening, the entire proposition in which such seekers imagine they are involved. When awake, it is not that ego is missing, but that the light of reality—of what really is and what we really are—simply outshines it. Ego is still there, and still functions when necessary, but ego no longer calls the tune. As Vedanta has it, the horse, which was wandering loose and frightened, now has a rider.


But then, having fulfilled many needs, I may begin feel a sense of dissatisfaction. Up until now, I have been ascending the pyramid, and attaining each new level, fulfilling each new need, felt good. There was more freedom, wider horizons. But now, having reached the top, apparently, there is nowhere else to go, and I am not happy, or, if I feel happy, I fear that I will lose that happiness at any moment. Above all, I know that I must die, and this will be the loss of everything.

This is what the Buddha called dukkah, the sense that living is like riding in a cart which has a flat spot on one of its wheels. Things seem to go along fine for a while, but then the flat spot comes around again, the cart lurches, and I remember that, although I may have achieved a lot, and perhaps I even have a lot, still I suffer, and I see no way to fix that. I have tried to end my suffering by seeking all kinds of things: possessions, reputation, sexual enjoyment—everything I can imagine—but still all is not well. This is how we arrive at level 5, which Maslow called the drive for self-transcendence, and which is the level which looks for spiritual teaching.


JK: Question: then what is self-transcendence?


RS: Well, that is Maslow's term, not mine, and it is not one I would use. I would prefer to call the fifth level of the pyramid the need for spiritual awakening, which does not really involve transcendence, but simply seeing things are they really are.



JK: Question: then what is spiitual awakening?


RS: That's a big question, Jerry, but in simplest terms, spiritual awakening happens whenever I see through the illusion that I am somehow separate from life, so that there is a "me" which has a life, or lives a life. When awake, we understand that we are life, which is a total mystery, completely beyond any possibility of description or explanation.


JK: Beyond saying that we are life, what is the heart of what you teach?


RS: The source of all psychological suffering, fear, dissatisfaction, yearning—all of that--and the source of all seeking, whether is is seeking for pleasure, status, fame, wealth--the so-called material desires--or whether is is seeking for spiritual knowledge and so-called "enlightenment," all that seeking arises from a basic misidentification which sees the body and its attendent autobiography as a "myself" which has an existence separate from the the imagined outside world. But the self is not the body, nor any history, it is rather a silent, empty awareness which belongs to nobody, and which is neither attached to nor defined by any fixed point of view at all.

As a result of this misidentification, we live in an invisible cage called "myself," and the limitations of that cage are the principal source of what we experience as problems in living. The great irony of this situation is that most of us struggle mightily to keep the bars of the cage in good repair, while trying to avoid any suggestion that the cage even exists. I see that the cage called myself is nothing solid at all, but an imaginary construction based on a misunderstanding of who and what myself is. Since that is the case, if one really desires freedom—and one must desire it more than anything else, otherwise one does not really desire freedom--one needs to clear up the misunderstanding by seeing things as they really are.


JK: How do you achieve communicating the heart of what you teach?


RS: That's always the chief question, Jerry, isn't it? How? How do I live? How do I cope with this pain? How do I find love? How do I awaken to reality? How do I teach? The most honest answer is "I don't know, and no one else does either," because the question is really the wrong question. As Krishnamurti, one of my great teachers I never met, put this, "There is no how to be free."

I sit with people, I talk with people. In the course of those conversations, some of them awaken to a greater freedom, and some don't. This process is not any kind of fixed method at all, but a deep listening which hears the distress of the seeker, and responds to it improvisationally, spontaneously, in the very moment, with no preconceived formula or theory of my own, and nothing fixed, nothing doctrinaire to teach or impart.

Since we live in a world of words and relativity, this work necessarily takes place on different levels. The most easily explained level is what could be called philosophical. This conversation, for example, is being carried out on that level. The ask dr robert website, and the Dr. Robert Forum function on that level too. That work attempts to raise awareness of the limitations and pain of self-misidentification--to point to the bars of the cage, that is, to indicate what the bars of the cage called "myself" consist of, and to deal with fears about what it would be like if those bars suddenly went missing. Since that kind of expression is limited to language, all it can ever be is philosophical. However, and to my great surprise, even that level of discourse seems to be stimulating awakening in people who are ready to awaken. The work that goes on in my consulting room can be deeper and more comprehensive. The same kind of philosophical elements are part of it, but there are other levels entirely, levels which can only be accessed in a face to face situation. For example, there is a sense of presence that the person called "Robert" seems to embody (and forgive me for referring to myself in the third person, it just feels appropriate in this context). A sense of presence—always someone home—never not present—available--awake--not lost in dreams—unhurried--undefended--comprehensive--I don't know how to put that sense of presence any better into words. I do not intentionally create such a presence, and I do not take credit for it, but often people comment on it, and I can feel it from the inside out, if that makes sense. And I remember feeling that way about Walter, my teacher. He just seemed different somehow from anyone else I knew. Calmer, steadier, indestructible really, deeply compassionate without trying to be compassionate—I am tempted to say realer.

And then there is the ability to hold and contain whatever the seeker might feel, say, or do. No fear, no desire. Nothing to prove, nothing to defend. No fixed point of view at all. Just awareness sitting there listening, hearing, and understanding. I once saw myself doing this work on videotape, and I was impressed. That could sound like some kind of ego trip, I guess, but it really isn't. It's nothing, I personally, am doing, Jerry. It's just what happens when the fear and the desire go away. We become impersonal and open to whatever arises without needing to judge it, name it, pursue it, or protect against it. And often people sitting in such an ambiance find themselves relaxing deeply, and opening to new possibilities within themselves. These are just words, and I am sorry for that, but words are all we have at this point.




JK: You’re a teacher in a current world of nonduality which often claims "There is no teacher and nothing to be taught." Would you comment on that.


RS: Well, Jerry, that kind of statement is what academics call "reification," which means treating a concept, which may or may not refer to anything real, as if it were automatically true just because someone can say it. But words, athough they may point to true experience, can never be true experience. "There is no teacher and nothing to be taught," to me feels like a word-game which has very little to do with the actuality of spiritual teaching--of sitting alone, that is, with another human being, responding to the obvious suffering, and the heartfelt questions of that person. Yes, we must communicate in words—not always, of course, recall the story of the Buddha silently holding a flower and one of the monks being instantly enlightened—but usually we must resort to words. But no true experience can be expressed fully in words, no matter how good they are, no matter how well chosen. As Lao Tzu—my all time fave rave, by the way—put this: the Tao which can be spoken is not the real Tao.

So the word "nonduality" does not describe anything really. It is just a word—a finger pointing towards something which perhaps is real, and which perhaps is not. Only an actual experiencer would know if that words points to something real, and, if it does, what that something is. So where does that word, "nonduality," point? Well, that depends on who is using the word, how that person is using it, and how the person who is listening to the word hears it.

The thinking mind is always dualistic. How could it be otherwise when thought itself is based upon measurement, judgment, and comparison? So when thought hears the word "nonduality," which really attempts to point towards "oneness"--to an actual continuing experience of non-division, of being undivided from anything--it immediately juxtaposes against that idea the opposing idea of duality, so that suddenly we have two separate states: duality and not-duality. From a word which attempted to express oneness, thought instantly creates twoness, duality.


To get the flavor of this, suppose I say "I am a therapist and this fellow here is my client." A nonduality enthusiast might accuse me of the sin of dualism, arguing that therapist/client is dualistic thinking. No, I will reply, "your statement is dualistic, because either you are claiming that therapy does not exist at all, which is nonsense, or you are claiming that there are two kinds of therapy, a nondualistic kind which has no therapist and no client, and a dualistic kind that has a therapist and a client." But that distinction is an invention of thought, and it does not exist in my consulting room. When I am doing the work, I am not thinking "I am the therapist, and you are the client." I am simply attending to a conversation taking place in awareness which exists prior to thought, and which does not belong to anyone. In that conversation there is no feeling of twoness, nor of separation. There is no inside or outside. There is nothing to gain and nothing to lose. There is only the conversation, which is unitary and excludes nothing. In the face of that actuality, to say "There is no therapist, and no therapy to be done," although it sounds good, is to create duality where there was none.


Too often the word nonduality is understood as meaning no-duality, implying that there is no duality in life, and if someone experiences any duality, that person is in error or unenlightened. So, according to that view, since there can be no duality in life, there cannot be a teacher or anything to be taught. But claiming that there is no duality in life is clearly wrong. Of course there is duality. A stick is just one stick, but it has two ends. The human race consists of two sexes. A magnet has two poles. Yes, it is just one magnet, but it does have two poles, and that cannot be denied. Look at the present disaster in Japan: there are benign stable elements, and there are deadly radioactive elements, and they are not at all one and the same. How can that be denied? In my understanding, it is vital not only that the experience of duality not be denied, but that it be honored. If it is not honored and understood for what it is, but ignored, or even worse, demeaned, all kinds of harm can occur. For example, my wife has certain needs, both physical and emotional, and so do I. Some of these overlap, and others do not, so there is duality, clearly. Yet we travel together harmoniously, not by ignoring that duality, but by appreciating it for what it is: life. Life itself, of course, is utterly mysterious, unitary, and indivisible. Our points of view do not have to be. When all points of view are allowed, that really would be nonduality.

Actually, in my opinion, Zen deals with this question very much better than the recent enthusiastic preaching of non-duality. From a Zen understanding, one would say "yes, there is no duality, and there also is no non-duality, there is just oneness which is neither duality nor non-duality, but only life. And life must be lived, not made to fit any definition whatsoever. It is not about attaining anything, but simply being.

So if there is only life, only this, how can there be a teacher? This seems to be a paradox, and I understand that some of the neo-advaita people enjoy playing around with that kind of paradox, but for me it is not a paradox at all. In my experience, all of us are dreaming. One cannot not be dreaming on some level or another. On awakening from sleep and opening our eyes, we immediately dream the world into existence. My "I-Am-ness" creates the world in its own image. We all do this. It is immediate and unavoidable. When I see this—that my I-Am-ness creates the world—that, in other words, I am always dreaming the world into existence, that is awakening, because, oddly enough, when the dream is seen as a dream, I find myself awake. So if someone's dream—a dream of spiritual awakening--includes a teacher, I may be a teacher for such a person. My dear friend, the Buddhist teacher, Robert Hall, refers to me as a "teacher of nonduality," but I don't walk around feeling like one. When I fill in a form with a line for "occupation," I do not write "spiritual teacher," I write psychologist. Nevertheless, if a seeker comes to me for teaching, which he or she imagines will be spiritual teaching, then I have to deal with that. In other words, speaking as a psychotherapist, if the presenting problem is the illusion of spiritual seeking, then the therapy has to treat that problem. And what is that problem? Well, it is the illusion that there is somewhere else besides the here and now, and that if I could just get there, then I would be awake.

Getting stuck in a nonduality bag is no different from getting stuck in any other doctrine. A doctrine, even it is called nonduality, is simply a fixed way of seeing things--but the essence of freedom is non-attachment to any particular viewpoint—any fixed way of seeing things. In other words, freedom notices that my point of view is constantly dying in each moment and being reborn in the next, and that is perfectly OK.


In fact, being stuck in a nonduality bag carries a particular special danger. If I begin to believe that my point of view is all-embracing and and all-inclusive—so-called "non-duality"--and that any alternative to the way I see things is, by definition, incorrect, or non-existent, then there is no longer any possible escape from that doctrine, that point of view. In Zen, this is called "getting stuck in oneness." If a seeker comes to me for help, the worst thing I can do is to approach that person with such a pre-existing, theoretical, unquestionable doctrine of no-student, no-teacher. Who am I do impose my views upon that person? As a therapist I know very well that imposing views in such a manner is injurious per se, in and of itself, regardless of their content or their supposed value.

The marketplace is filled with spiritual teaching. We are living in a consumerist nightmare, and the spiritual supermarket is open 24 hours a day—it would be open 25 hours a day if that were possible! And in that supermarket is a cadre of nonduality advocates who claim that there is nothing to teach— but how does one distinguish between teaching and advocacy, anyway? If I write a book, can I honestly say the book contains no teaching? Do you see the absurdity? There they are, riding the wave of popularity, dispensing nonduality ideas (and how is dispensing different from teaching, by the way?) to an audience of supposedly non-existent students, as if "nonduality" were a new, super efficient awakening method which cannot be taught and which nobody needs to learn. But nonduality is nothing new at all, as I am sure you know, Jerry. Nonduality is the crux of the entire Tao Te Ching, and the core teaching of the Diamond Sutra and the Heart Sutra, all three very old sources. In other words, the current nonduality teaching seems to be the same old wine in different bottles—in some cases, baby bottles.


I understand how someone who had been a committed seeker, and then somehow snapped out of that delusion and found himself quotation marks "enlightened," might feel excited by that awakening, and feel that perhaps he should write a book about it or begin giving satsangs—and really there is nothing wrong with that either. All of that is just part of life. It's just not where my interest lies, nor that of the people who consult me. If simply being told that they were already "awake" would have done it for them, why would they need to come to see me? From my perspective, "you are already awake, and no one exists anyway" is too simplistic, too conceptual, too dismissive of actual human experience. There is just not enough meat on that bone for my taste. I much prefer the Zen approach: if you try, the very trying will obscure, but if you do not try at all, there is no difference between you and a rock, so what is needed is a non-trying trying.


You see, Jerry, this is why Robert Hall, calls me a contrarian!



JK: Talk about practice: its value and its limitations.


RS: You know, the real practice begins after awakening, and should not be seen as a path or method which can lead to awakening. That said, for a beginner, some period of formal meditation can be valuable if it helps in noticing that one is living in a wind tunnel of perpetual thought, and that none of that is under control by anyone ever. But once that is seen, the idea of a path which must be followed, a set of precepts which defines that path, and a practice which must be followed in order to stay on the imagined-path, tends to allow or even promote putting off into some perfected future that which is only always now or not at all. As Krishnamurti said, "Truth is a pathless land."

At the risk of repeating something which has been heard often, there is the story of the Zen teacher who sees his student sitting in a perfect posture, unmoving for hours: Eventually the teacher cannot stand watching this performance any longer. He picks up a loose floor tile and begins to polish it.

"What are you doing, Master?" ask the student.

"Well," replies the teacher, "I am making a mirror."

"But you will never be able to polish a tile into a mirror," the student says.

"True," replies the teacher, "And you'll never become a Buddha sitting on the floor that way either."


That said, there are a couple of simple, generic practices which might be helpful for almost anyone:


First, just discard all opinions and views as soon as they arise. For example, if you find yourself in a political argument, just shut up. If you really desire to awaken, arguing pro and con will only impede that. Defending opinions and views, no matter how valuable or reasonable they may seem, only hardens the bars of the cage. This even applies to opinions and views which you keep to yourself. As soon as they become apparent, drop them. Drop all views, all conceptions, all likes and dislikes whatsoever, and then notice and embrace the emptiness which remains.


Second, there is the practice of self-remembrance which involves reminding oneself as often as possible that "I AM"--that I exist, in other words--prior to any self-definition, bodily awareness, autobiographical information, etc. Whenever you remember to do it, simply say, and feel, I AM, meaning I exist. This may seem simplistic, but many students have found great value in it. In fact, one person, a long time student of Gangaji who had despaired of ever really "getting it"--experienced a profound awakening while walking alone on the beach, practicing I AM. This is a instruction, that Walter Chappell, my teacher, gave me, and I am happy to pass it along.



JK: You have a very active online life it seems with a website and a forum. Tell us about that.


RS: Back in 2004, I created dr-robert.com simply to serve as a kind of online brochure for my psychotherapy practice. I provided my email address which I imagined would be used by local people looking for therapy, but soon I began receiving letters from afar—from all over the world, in fact--asking for advice. After responding to some of them privately, I hit upon the idea of posting the questions with my replies on the website so that others in similar circumstances might benefit. For reasons which I do not understand, a google search for "ask a psychologist" brought my site right to the top, and soon I was flooded with letters. I replied to as many as possible, and now the site comprises hundreds of questions and replies. That site got half a million visitors last year from all over the world, and looks like reaching a million this year.

Because the requests for help were so overwhelming, completely beyond my capacity to reply, eighteen months ago I launched a second website, the dr. robert forum, where people can post requests for advice, or any other inquiries about psychology, psychotherapy, mental health, or spiritual awakening. My principal idea was that since I could no longer reply personally to all the requests for help, at least questions could be posted for public discussion in an environment which I would try to shape away from triviality and towards serious deliberation. In other words, this was an experiment in the intentional creation a specific cultural enclave on the internet. The experiment is suceeding. The forum has a number of intelligent regular contributors who offer sensitive perspectives, and helpful replies to questions, and I jump in when necessary, and when I have the time.



JK: Tell us about your teacher Walter Chappell.


RS: Meeting Walter was a pivotal moment in my life. His influence is impossible to quantify. Let me describe our first meeting. In those days I had a career as an artist/photographer, and I had just mounted a large show of new work. At the opening, a woman engaged me in conversation, and in the course of that, asked me if I knew Walter Chappell who was a famous and great photographer, and who was living only 20 miles to the south. I had never met Walter, but the following day I went to see him. When I arrived, his girlfriend told me that he was away, but was expected back soon, and that I could wait if I liked. He had a wonderful garden, so waiting was easy. A couple of hours later, Walter arrived, and it happened that he had just gone to see my show. "Well," I asked. "What did you think?" "I think you have a living root," he replied.In my vanity, I felt as if he were belittling me. After all I was in the midst of a hot art career, and my current show was a hit. Later—very much later, actually--I understood that for him those words were simply a nonjudgmental, factual recognition of me as someone who could learn from him, and possibly carry on this work.


A few days later, I returned to see Walter, and our friendship began. He was like no one else I had ever met, or ever have met since for that matter, and he was my one and only spiritual teacher in-the-flesh. Walter's teaching was esoteric in the extreme, including certain practices which I have promised not to discuss. A great deal of what he taught me was not expressed in words at all, but by a combination of showing or modeling awakeness, and of somehow--and I cannot explain this--engendering awakeness in me energetically—projecting into me, I am tempted to say. People tell me that they get something of the kind from me, and I observe that they do, but I cannot explain how it happens with me, any more than I can explain how or what Walter did. It's like a kind of "contact high," but it is not really a high at all--more an emotional state of nonjudgmental openness.


Walter and I traveled together, mounted shows of our photographs together, built darkrooms together, sometimes lived together, and all the while Walter's teaching went on continuously. Any movement in ordinary life became also an occasion for spiritual instruction. For example, the process of building the structure for a darkroom became a kind of metaphor for constructing something spiritually—"erecting it," as Walter would put it--and had to be undertaken with utmost seriousness. Often silence was maintained for hours. Once Walter and I drove from New Mexico to San Diego to show some photographs--including one night sleeping on the bare ground in the Arizona desert--without exchanging a single word except about where to stop for gas and coffee.


His attitude toward me was totally uncompromising and radically demanding. I was expected to "get it," and to make any and all efforts necessary to accomplish that. Any laziness at all in the work of "getting it," was severely criticized, and I might be told that if I really wasn't interested, perhaps I should just leave and stop wasting his time. Of course, I never left, but just tried harder. On the other hand, Walter's eyes were often filled with deep compassion and encouragement, and he knew how to laugh with a wonderful freedom. Lots of the teaching was of the crazy wisdom variety, including intentionally acting out in public in order to expose my conventional hang-ups, insulting other friends, pretending to be drunk when he really wasn't, making a mess of my house—he was wild that way. He knew how to suffer too. He never tried to avoid it, but just took it all in. The two sides of life, the ordinary and the esoteric, were always one and the same for Walter, and became one and the same for me too—a kind of radical non-duality in the midst of life.




JK: How do the roles of psychotherapist and spiritual teacher play out in your life? How much have the roles merged and how much separation do you give them?


RS: If we return to Maslow's hierachy, you will recall that there were five levels. The first two levels, physiological needs, and safety and security needs are the realm of social work. The next two, social and esteem needs, and the need for self-actualization are the realm of psychotherapy, and the final level, what Maslow called self-transcendence, but which I prefer to call awakening, or seeing things as they are, is the realm of spiritual teaching.

It's not that clear cut, of course. Often some movement towards spiritual awakening becomes part of psychotherapy, but it doesn't have to be part of it. Psychotherapy can deal exclusively with perceptions within the illusion of a separate self, and that's OK too. I am comfortable working on any level, but, naturally, I feel gratified and happy if someone actually awakens in the context of our work together, so the arrival of a student who seems ready for that possibility is stimulating to me personally, and tends to call something forth. I am sure Walter felt that when he met me. I believe that is what he meant when he told me I had a living root—that there was a chance I might awaken if he helped me, and that he would enjoy the experience of seeing that happen, if it did.




JK: There are traditional psychotherapists and these days nondual psychotherapists. How does one know which to go to?


RS: I'm not sure what a non-dual psychotherapist is, or how to make that distinction. If a non-dual therapist is someone who believes that the solution to any human problem whatever is simply to awaken spiritually, then I suppose I am not a non-dual therapist. I have already said that there is not enough meat on that particular bone for my taste, and that the ordinary world of apparent duality needs to be honored, not transcended. And, of course, I would advise anyone to come to me! After all, why not?


JK: There is training available for psychotherapists in nondual sensitivity. How do you feel about that? If psychotherapists came to you for such training, how would you approach the challenge?


RS: Perhaps I am missing something here, because I don't really know anything about such training, but I would not see this as a matter of training in non dual sensitivity, whatever that is, but of awakening to nonduality itself. Any psychotherapist must be sensitive. Sensitivity to the client's needs is the bottom line requirement in psychotherapy. But I do not see how someone can be trained to be sensitive to nonduality, or to understand nonduality. That sounds so theoretical and experience distant. You either feel the oneness or you don't. If you feel it, that can become a factor in your work. If you don't feel it, it can't become a factor—no matter how much training you may have had. As I said, I don't know much about this, so I may be missing something. I would be glad to hear more about this if someone cares to write to me.


JK: What does it mean to awaken?


RS: What a question! For me, it means that everything I thought I was is seen as a complete and total delusion of the mind, and what is left is emptiness, silence.




JK: What are some of the myths about awakening?


RS: The most difficult misunderstanding about awakening is that awakening is some special state which somehow is attained through effort, or by believing something that one has read or heard. That is totally wrong. The emptiness and silence of awareness already exist everywhere and nowhere. Awareness is beyond description, and no person will ever own it or attain it. And awakeness is not any kind of state at all, but prior to any state of mind or body. Any state at all would arise within awareness, and would not alter it in any way at all. States are temporary, transitory, but awareness is eternal. Awakening occurs when the egoic boundaries of a human personality begin to soften, so that the emptiness and silence become apparent. This can be a sudden dramatic awakening, or an apparently gradual awakening, in which little hints--little tastes--of awareness begin to sneak in around the edges of a hypnotic involvement in autobiography. It doesn't matter. Once that process begins, eventually it will lead to the end of egoic misidentification, and the birth of a new identification of "myself" as awareness itself.

Because awakening is not a state or condition, but a kind of cessation of states and conditions, awakening has nothing to do with mystical experiences, faith in anything, transcending anything, belief in anything, knowing anything, thinking anything, doing or not doing anything, learning anything, or becoming anything. It is silence, and it is here right now. Always here right now.


JK: Would you discern between the intense and true desire to awaken and the fashionable intense desire to awaken?


RS: A true desire to awaken has only one goal: to see things, to the extent possible, as they really are. The person with that desire says only this: "I need to know what is true." If he or she asks for a method, it will be "show me how to wake up. Show me how to abandon my false ideas?"


As for the other kind of seeker, the word "fashionable" says everything you need to know. Truth is not really the goal, but only involvement in the latest method or movement. This person has been a shopper in the spiritual supermarket, and now sees nonduality as the best thing in the store. There may be a lot of talk about awakening to nonduality, but at root, the real motive is attainment of some special state or another which will be mine personally—perhaps even yielding narcissistic gratification—something I do, not an impersonal happening, as true awaking always is. In other words, the fashionable one desires to be known as a realizer of so-called "enlightenment," to gain special powers, to know things that other ordinary people cannot know, and perhaps to be empowered to teach or to preach, or to feel permanently high or turned-on. All of those desires are desires for acquistion or status. That kind of seeking--fashionable seeking--is no different in spirit from wanting to own the coolest car, or have the best courtside seats at the basketball game.


JK: You write, “My entire interest is focused upon whatever is arising now, in this very moment.” How can it be otherwise or does it just appear otherwise?


RS: This is a question of context. Jerry. In the absolute sense, you are quite right, it cannot be otherwise, because there is only this, only whatever is arising now. But I wrote those words not in the context of an approach to the absolute, but in reply to a question about theology and doctrine, in which I was trying to say that theology and doctrine are unimportant to me because I am interested in what I see now, not what I might have thought last week, or in some theory I carry around with me. Nevertheless, your question is a good one, and your implication is correct: everything is arising in this moment, and there really is no other. If we simply couple that fact with one other, we will have the entire essence of nonduality, and nothing further need be said: Everything is arising in this moment, and there really is no other, just as you suggest, and I am that.


JK: Well, then, since you mention context, How important is it to put teachings and confession into context?


RS: That depends upon who is doing the teaching and the confessing. I don't mean to be clever, Jerry, but the answer to your question about the importance of context is that it is a question of context. If some so-called "self-realized master," A Da Free John, for example, or Adi Da as he also was called, sits on a stage proclaiming his own divinity to a crowd of disciples, that is one situation, and he will not and does not need to put his teaching, which is also his confession, into any context. You either take it or leave it. But my work has nothing to do with that. I am quite concerned with context. In the context of my consulting room, I do no proclaiming, very little confessing, but mostly just listening. No one has to believe anything about me or if I have (quotation marks) "awakened" or not. The subject rarely arises. If you come to me to discuss your life, we can have that conversation. Simple as that. That is the context. Yes, I will probably be hearing you from an awakened perspective, but you would have no way of knowing that. If you ask me specifically about awakening or spirituality, we can discuss that too, but I will never raise the subject, and, most likely that discussion will be more about you and your experiences than about me.

This interview, on the other hand, which is, after all, an interview about me and my experience, arises in a different context, and, since your interest is nonduality, I am willing to say that I had a rather sudden, dramatic awakening years ago, and that it changed my entire notion of who and what I am—dismembered it really.



JK: A student or seeker might sit with you, perceiving you as awakened and enlightened while perceiving themself as ordinary, limited, and unenlightened. How do you perceive the coupling of youself and the seeker or student?


RS: Very good question. I want to point out that "I" did not awaken, and so "I" am not awakened. Awakening happened suddenly, and, since the imagined "myself" no longer cares to stand in the way of that or to struggle against it, awakening continues to happen. Actually, as I wrote recently, awakening never ends. I know some people find that distinction annoying—the idea that no one awakens and so no one is awakened--as if I am splitting hairs, but the difference is important. If the non-existence of any fixed so-called "awakened person" is not kept in mind, any words on the subject will just add to the burden of confusion for anyone hearing this, and that should be avoided.

But now, so as not to belabor my reply with repeating that point, let us assume, just in conventional language, that someone called Robert is somehow awake. OK. How do I know that? When it first occurred, it was so sudden and dramatic that I simply had no doubt at all. I was shocked and surprised by the utter simplicity of it. It seemed like a joke really. How could it be this simple? This is crazy. I have literally always been here, but just didn't see it. When you have been asleep in bed dreaming, and you wake up to find yourself in your bedroom, do you doubt it? Of course not. That's how I felt. As the Zen people say, when you take a drink of water you don't ask yourself if it is hot or cold, you just know, and I just knew I was awake. This is impossible to put into words. It is utterly obvious, but at the same time shocking and dramatic. And the awakening had immediate repercussions. Suddenly, for example,  the words in  the sacred books made perfect sense to me. Everything which had been puzzling before, and over which I had pondered, now was clear, obvious, and undeniable. "Oh, I thought," for example, "that's why the Buddha said that when he awakened all sentient beings throughout time and space awakened simultaneously. Oh, now I get it." But after that kind of awakening, which is exciting at first, and certainly to a seeker a great relief, like the lifting of a burden which one feared might have to be carried forever, life goes on. Before enlightenment, chopping wood and carrying water, after enlightenment, chopping wood and carrying water, you know?So here I am still doing just what anyone does to get by here on planet Earth. No difference at all. As the Buddhists say, Samsara is Nirvana. So, regarding how I see the coupling of myself and the seeker: I am the seeker, and the seeker is me. Arising together in the very same awareness, we are not separate, but totally connected. If the seeker is not there, the teacher is not there either. "But," you might say, "surely you were sitting there waiting before the seeker arrived for her appointment with you." I understand that point of view, of course, but it is literally not true. Yes, a body, which conventionally is called Robert, was sitting there before the seeker arrived, but that body was not a teacher and was doing no teaching. The teaching began when the seeker asked the first question, and ended when the seeker left. When the teaching began, the body called Robert could be called "teacher," but when the teaching ended, that body no longer could be called teacher, but something else, whatever that body was doing then. Donkey trainer, perhaps, or gardener or cook. This may seem like a quibble or a verbal game, but I assure you it is not. This is the very essence of what I have to share, the very heart of it: non-attachment to any fixed identity or point of view at all.

Yes, when awakening happened, seeking stopped, but not because anyone stopped seeking, but because awakening is just another name for the end of seeking. They are one and the same. Ending seeking is not something that a so-called "awakened person" does, seeking ends when awaking happens, just like dreaming ends when I awaken in my bedroom. This is why the stategy of non-seeking which I hear recommended cannot work. No strategy for awakening can work. A strategy is seeking, only the name has changed.Seeking stopped, not because I decided to stop seeking, not because some teacher told me to stop, but because, seeing that whatever is, is, and cannot be any different--including what I call "myself"--the entire idea of seeking is meaningless. Yes, in the next moment "myself" will be different, but I am not seeking that, because it just happens, and it keeps happening, and it happens regardless of what I think I am doing or not doing. And it happens whether I want it to happen or not. It happens, not because I do it, but because the entire universe is doing it, or because that's the just the way it is, if you like those words better. That's the way the cookie crumbles. The seeker will keep seeking, just like I did, until the seeking stops. I cannot make it stop, and he or she—the seeker—cannot make it stop. It stops when it stops. If someone approaches me respectfully, all I can do is to respond honestly to whatever I am asked. And that's what I do.

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last update: September 29, 2015