Excerpt from The way of Nothing
All about Nothing
I truly attained nothing from complete, unexcelled Enlightenment. —Buddha
It seems strange that there can be any information about nothing. After all, the very word means the absence of anything at all. What can you say or write about the absence of anything? Discussing it would seem to destroy nothing by making it something again. Yet instead of saying nothing or having no writing on these pages, we are going to use one concept to destroy all the other concepts.
If it helps, visualise all these pages as blank as you read them; this will remind you that there is a greater teaching behind these words appearing. This is what is meant by no teaching, no student, no teacher. We are not ignoring them but pointing to nothingness, which dissolves the teacher, student, and teaching.
Reportedly, Ramana Maharishi sat in silence for many years while people came to visit him on Arunachala Mountain. Later on he said that his teaching was the silence. If that did not do the trick for a student, he would say, “All there is, is consciousness.” If the student was still puzzled, he would start gabbing away about this and that. Many books have been written about Ramana Maharishi, who taught silence or nothingness as the ultimate teaching. He himself never wrote a book.
Anything we can think of automatically negates what the word “nothing” represents. In other words, the pointer is not the point, the object is not the subject, and the thing is not the no- thing. What we are attempting to describe here is the point, which remains obvious even while it seems elusive because of our own habit of thinking too much. Make no mistake—nothing is a funny subject that probably is best understood through laughter.
Regardless of how this silence is explored in this material or in others, there is a resonance beyond the concepts presented. The role that oneness plays is to chip away at the subtleties of conceptualisation to the heart of it all. Liberation happens through resonance or a readiness that no one can force. I liken it to a kind of maturity or ripeness in the seeker. By seeker, I am referring to someone seeking God, enlightenment, freedom, peace, joy, or harmony.
Even after liberation, this receptivity to oneness remains, but not as something to understand or figure out. The nothingness itself is seen in everything because it is the subject of everything.
It is impossible to describe what nothing is, yet words and ideas such as those presented here come out of this nothingness as if it is attempting to describe itself. What the word represents is all that is. At the same time, what the word points to is obvious and does not need explanation. So what is the point in repeating concepts about nothing at all?
The point is to point to the place of no point and no journey to nowhere or what is called nothing. It is a hopeless quest for the separate individual (you), yet beyond the words and labels is what is. My hope is to demonstrate that this hopeless quest for you is the cover story for what is actually aliveness and wonder beyond imagination.
This authority of nothingness stands on its own and reveals what is without reason or purpose but simply for the love of what it is. This is a paradox for the mind of an individual who seeks to know and understand that which is always just out of reach. In fact, it is hopeless because the you that you think you are never actually gets there. You may discover this good news sooner than you think. In truth, it is always there before you think about it anyway.
When we refer to the self and our true nature as eternal, infinite, magnificent, and divine (fill in your own big words), we create a sense that the hugeness of what we are is beyond our ability to achieve. You may ask, “How can little ol’ me with all my problems find that bigness within?” While we may be this infinite bigness, our seeking of it as an object can put us in an impossible position. When you seek the divine, something is always missing. We can undertake a tiresome and often painful spiritual quest leading to extreme highs and lows. Welcome to duality!
This bipolar quality is very common in the quest. Seekers will sometimes take extreme measures to get the peace they want. This thirst for peace is understandable because it is well worth it. Anyone who has tasted the sublime peace of silence knows that it is undeniably delicious. It becomes an addiction, however, when we misunderstand the origin of peace. Peace is assumed to be an object just like the divine. It is the drug of choice for the spiritual addict. Give me some of that bliss to stop the suffering and craving!
What makes the quest worse is that the glimpses of the divine coming though meditation, contemplation, or just dumb luck torture us after we’ve experienced them. “How can I stay in that peace and stillness?” we might ask. “Perhaps I will try harder to let go!”
This craziness can end in freedom, especially under the guidance of a teacher, but there are no guarantees. But you do not need to become a “bipolar bear.” For some, an understanding of what is true is enough for liberation to occur, but it is not my place to predict what may or may not happen. I only aim to keep coming back to nothing at all so that we can see what happens.
You would think that the more effort we put toward achieving our highest desire (such as enlightenment), the happier we would be. But often the reverse is true. We never get there because what we are seeking is an object or notion in our heads. Some of us treasure these notions more than anything, which can make the path to freedom seem insurmountable. Getting fed up with our notions can also lead to freedom, but again there is no way to be sure if this will work.
The reason this quest for enlightenment is hopeless is that you cannot be an accurate gauge or guide to your own freedom! This is probably the most important concept in the book. In other words, you cannot do it yourself. If it does happen, it will happen without you! If you think you are going to get any special secrets from me, sorry, I don’t have any. All I can do is entice you to see that you are already free. Is this a paradox? Yes and no.
Listen; what you think of as you is not capable of attaining anything. This you is not the subject but an imposter pretending to be the subject. What you think you are is really an object. You are a lovely, sexy object, I agree, but still an object. In the pure subjectivity of the infinite, an object can only come and go or not come at all. Liberation comes from seeing this you as an object. Seeing this is understanding that you never have left what is or what you truly are. This is the non-duality of the real you.
The spiritual quest can be painful because of a simple misunderstanding. Conceptualising our true nature and seeking out this concept as a goal is painful. Obviously, our nature itself is unmoved and untouched by this dilemma, which can be solved by simple clarity. Clarity happens naturally during the explo- ration of the divine. As we approach the space of no-mind without concepts and without you, we begin to discern the real from the false. This discernment can take decades, years, or an instant, but the sole purpose of talking about nothingness, if there is one, is to provide a soil in which easiness and simplicity flourish so we can see the infinite as it is. You and I have no control over how long the process takes because there is no separate you or I. There is only the mystery of nothingness, some laughter, and hopefully a lot of “I don’t know.” The more you don’t know, the better.
Ask yourself: “What am I?” If you say, “I am infinite or free or God,” is that not just a concept? Of course if you think you are nothing, that is also a concept. No matter what you come up with, anything you can know about yourself is only another idea. The only real and honest answer the mind can come up with is, “I don’t know.” Even if I am talking to an enlightened sage, you still do not know what you are because it is beyond ideas and concepts. It is unknown, unborn, and alive. It is the knowingness without someone there to know. You can speak with authority and say, “I am this,” or “it is this” but that is coming out of nothingness, without you there to claim anything specific as belonging to you.
The concept of nothing is the closest I can come to describing the nature of self. I chose it on purpose because it is not a foundation for more concepts. It is designed to dissolve, leaving only what is alive underneath the labels. This nothingness is concept-free and ultimately it is everything you seek, no matter what the form is. It is the highest joy, the highest attainment you seek through spiritual or material means. It is the secret treasure that is all that is here in this reality. Only the fascination with anything else seems to obscure it.
The beautiful thing is that if you are willing to give this still, silent nothingness a chance, you will get everything your heart desires and more. This process will not look like you want it to, but it will be greater than you can imagine. The aliveness of what is, is self-sufficient and needs nothing added to it. The hard truth is that life works much better without you. All you can do is get in the way, and indeed this is all that ever seems to happen. This is the cosmic joke, which is not very funny, at least until you disappear into nothingness and laugh for no reason at all—that is the divine comedy.
Liberation is not an attainment but the simple abiding in the unborn and eternal nature of your essence. In this essence you are infinitely bigger than you can imagine yet also much smaller, so small, in fact, that you might dissolve. Without you there, there is the discovery of what is left. This step is natural and effortless, as you will see, and no amount of thought will bring you there. I’m not saying don’t think about it, even though that would be wasting time. We can meditate and use our favourite tools and techniques, but what happens is in the hands of God, Buddha, or Baby Jesus (in other words, nobody’s hands).
The magic is that often when things don’t go the way we want them to and we are completely frustrated, our grip on identity will loosen. However you look at it, the result is inevitable because everything happening now is happening in and as nothingness. Good luck with the discovery!
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