Questions for Awakening

What does it mean to awaken spiritually? Should it be a struggle to “get there” and take years of spiritual practice? Or is it pre-existing and so obvious you will laugh hysterically when you recognize it?   These are the opposite opinions of teachers who invite you into their perspective of self-realization. Spiritual seeking invitIMG_1375es you into a world of many paradoxes. Partly it is because awakening itself happens in many ways, as unique to each of us as the varieties of our faces.

You are already what you are seeking, say many pundits. Just Stop. See what is here right now! If only our thoughts were not so full of limitations and our emotions so plugged up by a sense of inadequacy, desire, resistance and discouragement, we could notice that underneath it all is a simple awakened state of presence that has no argument with life as it is. We are what we seek. When we give up all efforts at self-improvement, and simply trust our intrinsic value, we find that underneath all this efforting is a simple beingness that enjoys the experience of living without any attempt to make us better. Like the lotus this part of us is not rooted in our stories but springs from a spontaneous universal impulse toward life.

So how can we be free and awake and enlightened already when we feel rotten much of the time! What is this mystery that no one seems able to describe? Is it something you must discipline yourself to find and make sacrifices to accomplish? Or is it a realization you just fall into through an act of grace?

Of course we, in our human incarnation, have many arguments with life – our personal life may have loss and suffering, physical and emotional pain. We sometimes feel like lost children, seeking to find our way home. Even if we are well physically and emotionally, it is clear that many other people we share the planet with are suffering because of the inhumanity of man, or the vagaries of fate. And sensing we are One, we all share the suffering of all. Minds can be obsessed and overwhelmed by the challenges of incarnation, and any thought about anyone can trigger suffering. If only we realized we are not our minds, and our thoughts are only neurons firing away to keep us preoccupied and motivated to hold on to our separation.

There are many qualities of mind. One is the working aspect of mind, useful to help us remember how to do tasks, and figure out relative solutions. There is the speculative and inventive mind that wants to know answers and helps humanity evolve. There is memory, which keeps us identified with the sense of a separate self. And there is the catastrophic mind that worries continually about the past and future. Where do you hang out most of the time? Does it serve your life?

And most importantly, are any of these tasks reflective of what you really are, or only facets of your human experience?

You did not come into the world with all these activities of mind – you grew into them. They developed the way a seed grows into a tree, and like the tree, there is a lifespan and it will eventually fade away. Like the winds that can bend a tree, your emotions flavor the way you evolve, and the view you have of yourself and the world.

What if for only a few moments you could drop all the activity of mind, and see if there is something underneath that is more eternal than the world your mind presents? What if there is a radiance in the cells of your body, or a knowing deep in the chest, or an energy that thrives on being alive – all functioning without the activities of thought? You might find all of this below the neck, in the experience of your body. You might find it in stillness. Just for a moment release all the mind from its work of holding you together and see what else is here now, having no arguments with life. You can fall now into this knowing, or you can struggle for a lifetime to touch a glimpse of it. Either way it is a great and humbling gift that will change the perspective looking out of your eyes. It will open you to understanding, compassion and expression in a new way. Nothing in the world will change, but you will relax within it and follow a new rhythm in your relationship to it.



What is Spiritual Freedom?

spiritual-awakeningThe way to become free is to recognize the freedom that already exists. Once the pure essence of being or presence is remembered and lived the mental conflicts of worthiness, desire, disappointment, guilt, depression, irritation etc. fall away because they are seen as irrelevant. The True Nature knows none of these because it knows itself as the All or the Source, or the presence of consciousness.

Many people have a touch of this realization of Oneness and turn away from it because of fear that  arises when there seems to be no ground on which to stand. Separateness feels essential to the ego structure and bounces back readily.     The sense of Oneness is not recognized in mainstream cultures that emphasize owning the uniqueness of the separate sense of self. These teachings are not saying that the body does not exist or that at the relative level there are no guidelines for living. They point to the inclusiveness and divinity of All, that everything of creation made of the five elements is Brahman (the One Indefinable Source). Existence as form is not the problem; exclusive identification with a separate form, and the beliefs that arise within it, is what keeps us blind to what we truly are, and in conflict with reality. Vedantic scriptures point to the essence, vastness and inclusivity of what we truly are, and that the world of forms is not the Truth it appears to be.

Here are a few stanzas from a sacred Vedanta scripture, the Advadhuta Gita of Dattatreya, an extreme Advaita or Nondual text. Avadhuta means a liberated soul who has shaken off worldly attachments. Vedantic scriptures are inspirational for all who wish to directly realize Truth, for they touch us beyond the mind.

“You are not born nor do you die. At no time do you have a body. The scripture declares in many different ways the well-known dictum ‘All is Brahman'”.

“You are (One) who is exterior and interior. You are the auspicious One existing everywhere at all times. Why are you running hither and thither deluded, like an unclean spirit?”

“There is no body made up of five elements; nor is there anyone who is disembodied. All is verily the Self alone. How can there be the three states and the fourth?” (note: refers to waking, sleeping, dreaming and Awakened states)”

“I am not bound, I am not indeed liberated, and I am not different from Brahman. Neither doer nor enjoyer, I am devoid of the distinctions of the pervaded and the pervader.”

“As water when water has been poured into water, has no distinctions, so purusa (soul or essence, consciousness) and prakriti ( nature or forms of appearances, energies) appear nondifferent to me.”

“You verily are Truth, devoid of change, motionless, one of the nature of freedom. You have neither attachment nor aversion. Why do you suffer, seeking the objects of desires?”

“I know that I in every way, is the one indivisible “I” which is self-sustained and full while the five elements, beginning with ether, are empty.”

“The enlightened one is a yogi devoid of yoga and absence of yoga. He is an enjoyer, devoid of enjoyment and absence of enjoyment. Thus he wanders leisurely, filled with the spontaneous joy of his own mind.”

Quotes from Avadhuta Gita of Dattateya, translated by Swami Ashokananda for the Shri Ramakrishna Math.


Awakening Into The Ocean of Consciousness


Sometimes I walk along the cliffs in Santa Cruz and watch   the surfers rising and skimming across the waves. I have never surfed myself  but it seems to me that the skills required above all are attention to the moment and balance. The challenge for surfers and their performances are good metaphors for spiritual awakening.

 Very early Vedantic descriptions of the experience of awakening have included the image of the ocean, saying our consciousness is like the wave that arises from the sea and the ocean is the fullness of our true universal nature. Our individual awareness arises like a wave but never loses its essence as part of the vast consciousness of the whole. Each wave eventually recedes back into the universal whole of the ocean.s required above all are attention to the moment and balance. The challenges for surfers and their performances are good metaphors for spiritual awakening.

Writers have often used the ocean as a metaphor for consciousness, and dreams with ocean imagery often represent to therapists the state of the unconscious, sometimes quiescent and sometimes overwhelming. Once I dreamed of a miniature ship on the sea, that was tipping so that all the passengers were falling off. I reached down and pulled each out of the sea, righted the ship and put them back on it. This represented to me the work of therapy or spiritual guidance. Along with falling into the ocean, it seems that anyone may find something old like a memory, or new like a potential, arising from this great rich all-inclusive presence throbbing with life and possibility.

In Taoist teachings life is akin to a river, flowing into the sea. Significant teachings reflect the need to go with the flow and not try to swim upstream. Through following the natural flow of life harmony may be found. Qigong and Tai Chi help people discover the natural flows in the body and become more in tune with their own vibration. These ancient practices emerged from an inner knowing about the path to human balance and tranquility.

Whatever arises for you in a spiritual process, whether the shaking of energy, flushes of heat, rivulets of pleasure or startling jerks, or even emotional waves of events you prefer to keep repressed, to the extent you can “go with the flow” or “ride the waves” (in modern times) you will find that life and change will go more smoothly. The subtle energy is impulsively helping the body release stress and old conditioning that needs to be seen and released so it can no longer impact consciousness.

It is your thoughts that cause the most confusion – telling you something is wrong, or you made a mistake, or this should not be happening and will never end. The thinking mind is up against a condition it has never predicted or prepared for. As consciousness brings forth unconscious patterns, in a spontaneous (that is, not intended by you) effort to clear out your old way of imagining who you are and how you ought to be, the thinking mind feels out of control. In some cases a person feels panic because of this loss of control – those who have always forced themselves into a neat and tidy life, organized, self-determined and cautious, may have the greatest challenges. Awakening is messy.

Spiritual awakening opens the mind to great new perspectives, shattering old conceptions about what the world is about and who we have to be to survive. It invites us into a clearing of stuck ideas and emotional cul-de-sacs that may be limiting us in the world. It may arouse energies that are unfamiliar, or cause discomfort in areas of the body that need healing or restructuring. If no one ever told you this could happen you may be stunned, scared or depressed. That is the mind reacting to this unforeseen event of your own transformation.

I have written several essays on my websites ( and ) and in my books to help people understand how to navigate this process, but just as if you were learning to sail or surf on choppy seas, it will take time for you to learn to be present in great sunlight and find the sense of freedom in the wind. I heard once of a Roshi’s wife who said that being enlightened was liked being a “breeze”. Perhaps surfing is also like a breeze, once one has mastered the techniques.

Awakening invites you to relax and be present with what is, to forego judgment and fear, to find the love and compassion and joy of being that exists prior to all the chaos and complexity of thought. Ultimately you feel moments of oneness with the sea, the air, the human experience and the radiant consciousness that holds it all. It is worth the journey, if only you can relax into the waves.

Why the Buddha Laughs


The chubby laughing Buddha is an icon frequently seen in gift shops and not so often represented in the Buddhist teachings, which to many people appear to focus extensively on topics like suffering, emptiness, and stillness.  He may seem a hollow depiction to some, who prefer the solitary images of the Buddha in the Ox-herding pictures, or his image as a teacher, or even the sleeping Buddha, waiting to be awakened into the world.

But I have always loved the laughing Buddha, with a full belly and arms extended in celebration. To me he represents the end of the road, the freedom and fullness of being only what one is, fully present to the great mystery and the great joy of being alive.

Buddha, like Christ, is a symbolic name – both represent the pure essence within, the sense of knowing the completeness of a connection with what is infinite. In Buddhism this infinite source is nameless and without boundary; in Christianity it has come to be called God or the Father and personified in various forms. In Hinduism this infinite Oneness is known as Brahma, but there is no image – only a recognition of something whole, unlimited and the Source of all.

Buddha was known to begin his life as Gautama, a prince, who as a young man became aware of suffering in the world, and spent years seeking a way to end it. This is not so different from the rest of us – wouldn’t we all like to end suffering, and to live in a world that is free of this burden? Yet none of us know how to end it — not in the wider world, not even in ourselves. And because we all carry it we tend to inflict it upon others, and so there is a never-ending cycle in the human experience.

Gautama was born in India, and raised as a believer in Brahma, and in time became a teacher in the lineages of his day. He tried many approaches to transcendence out of suffering, hoping to discover Truth, just as many modern seekers do. Finally he sat under the Bodhi Tree and determined he would not get up until he realized the Truth. And then he awakened! And then he was labeled as Buddha – the awakened one.

The laughing Buddha represents the joyful being within us, released when we see the Truth of what we are, when we penetrate the emptiness, and see through the patterns of suffering that have held our minds for decades. He represents freedom, available to each of us, and the joy of letting go of attachment to personal identity. Many people have reported laughing hysterically for hours after seeing the Truth of pure Being. They laugh because the energy itself is joy. They laugh because the Truth was right in front of them all along. They laugh in relief as the dregs of being a spiritual seeker fall away. They laugh at their little self and how confused he or she has been.

Let the laughing Buddha be your inspiration and your hope. Find Truth within yourself and be willing to laugh at how you have been entangled in a dance that you thought was all there was, and enjoy the freedom of falling out of who you thought you were. And be willing to laugh as well when you return back into life, recognizing your role in the game unfolding before you.