“The point of this teaching is the realisation of total and complete freedom, in which we are free from suffering.”
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This teaching is not new. It can be traced throughout the ages in the heart of spiritual traditions such as Zen, Vedanta, Sufism, Buddhism, Taoism, the teachings of Jesus, and probably many others too.
Throughout the ages this teaching has also occurred spontaneously outside of any tradition, and it continues to do so. Ultimately what it points to cannot be contained by words or concepts. Luckily for us however it can be directly experienced first-hand, and in fact is always and already being directly experienced.
Non-duality, literally meaning ‘not-two’, points to the fact that there is no separation. Most of us believe that we are each separate individual people, but exploring this teaching can reveal that the sense of personal self that most people take for granted is actually an illusion.
It is this illusory sense of personal self that is the root cause of so much mischief, misery and suffering in ourselves and in the world. And when it is seen to be illusory, these problems can be remedied at the root. I call this Freedom.
Seeking and unfulfillment
When you believe in a false sense of personal self there is always an accompanying sense of lack or unfulfillment. No matter what you do, this sense of lack remains, perhaps hidden for some time, but it is there lurking in the undergrowth. Most people seek to end this dissatisfaction through various worldly pursuits, seeking things such as power, position, pleasure, money, sex, new experiences, drugs as well as various other things. Other people turn inwards and become so-called spiritual seekers, seeking to find fulfillment inwardly.
Whilst these pursuits, both worldly and spiritual, can often lead to wonderful things, insights and happiness, it never lasts and eventually the sense of lack and emptiness at the core of it all becomes apparent again.
This is because as long as the central illusion of the personal self is not seen through, the sense of lack continues.
What happens when this teaching is ‘seen’?
Conversely, when it is seen that there is in fact no personal self, the sense of lack and dissatisfaction evaporates, and with it worldly and spiritual seeking both end. This cannot be described, but I like to use the word Freedom.
It is not that you become free – there is just Freedom. Your nature is seen to be Freedom itself, your nature is strength and Freedom, nothing can break you, nothing can phase you, whatever happens is ok.
Things go on just as before, but there is no sense of doership or authorship. It is our natural state. Thoughts happen, no thinker. Feelings come and go by themselves. Choices are made and actions occur, but there is no chooser and no doer. Life lives itself, spontaneously.
It is also seen that this is the way it has always been, namely that you are already free and always have been free: Freedom and no-self are descriptions of the way things are already in your own direct experience, right now.
There are no other hard and fast rules as to what else happens. Often stress, worry, suffering and neurotic patterns of behaviour fall away. Things tend to be seen more clearly allowing life’s challenges to be more effectively and efficiently dealt with. Fear tends to disappear. Death tends to becomes irrelevant.
But all of these also become irrelevant, for when the sense of personal self is seen through, none of these things ultimately matter. It is ok to feel afraid, it is ok to feel sad, it is ok to enjoy, it is ok feel pleasure. Everything is choicelessly allowed. Even resistance and not-allowing may appear to happen, and these are also choicelessly allowed. Feelings tend to be felt more fully as they are not pushed away or repressed due to fear. Ironically we tend to become more sensitive, more loving, more humane, more human.
Without the distorting false sense of authorship at play, our feelings, emotions, thoughts and physiology align with each other, harmonising with each other and the environment they interact with. Free from neuroticism, emotions start to guide and teach us rather than hinder us. The One Natural Intelligence already active in our bodies, minds and the environment starts to unravel itself and function without friction.
Freedom can be seen directly for yourself. In this sense this is evidence-based spirituality. It is scientific in its approach, not reliant on dogma, belief, superstition or creed. When the import of the teaching is seen directly, it is bright and clear; there is no doubt (there is nothing to doubt) and no need for belief.
When all assumptions and beliefs are seen through and fall away, what we are left with is Truth. Freedom is already here, and always has been. The sense of separate self we once believed is seen to have never existed.
Spiritual teachings and practices
Freedom does not require any particular belief or type of practice, although both may be useful along the way. There are specific spiritual teachings and practices that may be of benefit at certain points along your spiritual journey, but ultimately all teachings and practices are limited. Please click here to learn more about how spiritual practices can be utilised in discovering the Freedom-that-already-is.
Spiritual practices (sadhana in Sanskrit) broadly fall into one of two groups: self-knowledge and generating peace. Self-knowledge refers to a direct seeing that the separate self is an illusion; generating peace refers to a process in which the mind becomes calm and the sense of self lessens or temporarily disappears.
These two basic practices work well together and there are many ways they can be performed. The exact optimal method varies from individual to individual and some practices are especially good during daily life whilst others are more suited to formal meditation sessions.
However, as I said previously, all spiritual practices are limited. They are finite actions and therefore they all have finite effects which will eventually fade with time. All actions are finite and no finite action can take you to something that is permanent, ie. an ever-present Freedom.
At some point in your seeking there comes a realisation that even the very concept of a spiritual path or practice is limiting as it simply reinforces and strengthens the illusory sense of self that is trying to get somewhere and improve itself. We don’t need to get somewhere else. We don’t need to improve ourself to be Free. Freedom is always here regardless of what is happening. What sadhana can take you to where you already are? What path can take you to this?
Purification and practices after realisation
That said, even when the separate self has been seen to be an illusion, and the Freedom that is already here-now has been fully recognised, various habitual tendencies that were originally contingent upon the belief in separation can continue to persist. These habitual tendencies (vasanas in sanskrit) can continue to compel the apparent individual to seek fulfilment in external objects and result in continued suffering at the psychological and physical level, even though Freedom has already been realised.
There can therefore be an important process of post-realisation integration or practice in which these habitual tendencies or vasanas are rooted out and the habit of the mind to imagine itself to be a separate self is removed. Whilst much of this may happen spontaneously, it has been my experience that pointing this out to seekers even once they have realised ‘no-self’ can be of great benefit in alleviating suffering on the phenomenal level post-realisation.
In fact, it is only once the compulsive vasanas have been rooted out that love, compassion and happiness fully manifest themselves on the phenomenal level. I talk about this more here.
What about unconditional love?
Some people say that when the illusory personal self collapses, what you end up with is Unconditional Love. Yes, it’s true. It is seen that all there is is Love, and this Love is the Freedom I have written about above. However I don’t like to use the words Unconditional Love as I think they are too misleading.
People tend to think of love as being an emotion or feeling, like the feeling of unconditional love a mother may have towards her child. However the Unconditional Love that remains when the self is seen to have never existed is not actually a feeling or emotion at all, so it is not what most people would think of as love.
Having said that, when Freedom is seen, because the self-centered self-referential thought processes tend to drop away, there is a tendency to feel deeper and become more loving and empathetic.
Another way of saying unconditional love is choiceless acceptance. I know this sounds much more dry than love, but it is also more accurate. Things are accepted for what they are without choice. The acceptance part is the love, the choiceless part is the unconditional. You don’t chose to accept, it’s just accepted. This is just another way of saying there is no entity that chooses.
It’s not that you become more loving, although that often happens as the personal self is no longer at play, but choiceless acceptance is just the way things actually already are. It is a description of what is rather than a feeling or way of relating. This choiceless acceptance is the freedom in which everything is choicelessly allowed.
On a relative level love as an emotion or feeling is never unconditional. It always has both causes and limits (and therefore is conditional): you may be stressed, you may be tired, your energies may be directed elsewhere, you may be unwell, you may develop dementia, you may experience severe brain injury (hopefully not!) – all these affect and limit your ability to love someone. Even ‘enlightened people’ need to sleep sometimes, even ‘enlightened people’ have accidents. But the sense of choiceless acceptance, that is Freedom itself, is and always has been here. It is that sense of presence/being/God and timelessness in which and as which everything happens.
Please remember not to cling to the words, especially as they get more lofty, poetic and profound-sounding. All these words are doing is just describing the way things already are in your own ordinary everyday experience. All you have to do is notice the way things already are. The reality of this moment cannot be contained by words, concepts or beliefs. It is way beyond all of that, even though words, concepts and beliefs are part of this moment.
In this sense all conceptual teachings, no matter how useful (and many are useful), are ultimately misleading, for while they attempt to indicate something deeper, the truth they attempt to describe is ultimately indescribable.
This is equally true for what has been written here. Some teachings are more accurate than others, and I hope this teaching presented here is one of the more accurate ones, but even this is ultimately misleading.
For example I have written above that ‘All you have to do is notice the way things already are.’ If this is taken as instructions for spiritual practice it could just reinforce the false sense of self, the ‘I’ that is trying to notice how things already are, in order to become free. In Freedom there is no desire to become free. That very desire is the movement of the imagined self. Somehow, quite mysteriously, this can all be ‘seen choicelessly’, and boom, Freedom. Even saying this is not quite right.
This teaching is alive
This teaching is alive and cannot be suppressed. Throughout the ages it spontaneously emerges both within and outside of so-called spiritual traditions. No beliefs, dogmas, rituals, teachers or practices are necessarily required. It cannot be contained in a system or in certain words or concepts.
There are infinite ways to an infinite God and superficially there are countless unique ways into this realisation. For some it happens suddenly, for others it gradually unfolds. There is no one set teaching, and how this all exactly works is a wonderful mystery.
This teaching is both radical and ordinary
This is a radical message. It is radical because almost the entirety of society and our conditioning is based on the (false) concept of being a separate person who has agency and authorship over their thoughts, feelings and actions.
This message says you are Freedom itself, your nature is strength and Freedom, nothing can break you, nothing can phase you, whatever happens is ok. You, as presence, remain ever-present.
This is just the way things are. You do not need to do anything, you do not need to become freer or become stronger or tougher. You do not need to be more accepting or meditate more (although this will likely benefit you in other ways). There is actually nothing new to even realise or see. These words are just attempting to describe what you already are.
But this is also very ordinary. When this is seen, it just becomes something ordinary, everyday. Nothing particularly special, but in a way the ordinary is already magical and wondrous.
Life goes on, everything goes on as before, by itself, just like digestion. There is no sense of self, but there is also no sense of no-self. Just this, just what is. There is something profoundly beautiful about this. Whatever happens just happens, with nobody to do anything about it.