To study the self is to forget the self.
To forget the self is to be enlightened by the ten thousand things.
– Eihei Dogen
If one is very fortunate indeed, one comes upon – or is found by – the teachings that match one’s disposition and the teachers or mentors whose expression strikes to the heart while teasing the knots from the mind. The Miriam Louisa character came with a tendency towards contrariness and scepticism, which is probably why she gravitated to teachers who displayed like qualities. It was always evident to me that the ‘blink’ required in order to meet life in its naked suchness was not something to be gained in time. Rather, it was clear that it was something to do with understanding what sabotages this direct engagement. So my teachers were those who deconstructed the spiritual search – and with it the seeker – inviting one to “see for oneself.” I realised early on that I wouldn’t find any help within traditional spiritual institutions since their version of awakening is usually a project in time. Anyway, I’m not a joiner by nature.
I set out on my via negativa at an early age, trying on all kinds of philosophies and practices with enthusiasm and casting them aside –neti neti – equally enthusiastically. Chögyam Trungpa wised me up to “spiritual materialism” in the 70s; Alan Watts followed on, pointing out that whatever is being experienced is none other than ‘IT’ – the unarguable aliveness that one IS. By then I was perfectly primed for the questions put by Jiddu Krishnamurti – “Is there a thinker separate from thought?” “Is there an observer separate from the observed?” “Can consciousness be separated from its content?” It was while teaching at Brockwood Park that I also had the good fortune to engage with David Bohm in formal dialogues as well as private conversations. (About which I have written elsewhere.)
Krishnamurti and Bohm were seminal teachers for me; I also loved the unique style of deconstruction offered by Nisargadatta Maharaj. As it happened though, it took just one tiny paragraph from Wei Wu Wei to land in my brain at exactly the right time for the irreversible ‘blink’ to occur.
I mention this rather august lineage because it explains why the writing of Robert Saltzman strikes not just a chord but an entire symphonic movement for me. He is a mindshifter in the same tradition, a Manjushri for the moment.
We are peers; we were probably reading the same books by Watts and Krishnamurti at the same time during the 70s and 80s. Reading his book, The Ten Thousand Things, is, for me, like feeling my way across a tapestry exquisitely woven from the threads of my own life. I’m not sure that I can adequately express my wonderment and appreciation…
The candor, lucidity and lack of jargon in Robert’s writing are deeply refreshing. I also relish his way with words. He knows how to write. He also knows how to take astonishingly fine photographs, and these are featured throughout the book.
It’s been said that this book will become a classic, which is a pretty good achievement for someone who isn’t claiming to be a teacher and has nothing to gain by its sale. (The book sells for the production price.) He is not peddling enlightenment. He is simply sharing how it feels to be free from all the spiritual fantasies that obscure our seamless engagement with this miraculous thing called life, right now.
[I chose the excerpt below because it addresses the ubiquitous myth that freedom/awakening will deliver some imagined state of eternal happiness… ]
The only relief I know is the freedom one feels when finally the need for certainty comes to an end, replaced by a willingness to allow life to unfold as it does without knowing a damn thing about “cosmic” anything, either pro or con.
When I say “freedom,” I do not mean happiness. Nor do I mean immunity from ordinary human suffering. I mean the equanimity and peace of mind that emerge in the light of the comprehension that in this moment things are as they are and cannot be any different, including what I feel, and how I see and understand myself and the world.
Each of us sees a different world, and what each of us sees is oneself. This does not signify as some people believe that the world is not real. It means that what I see is not the same as what you see. What you see is you, and what I see is me. When this identity of seeing and seer is understood, freedom is obvious, for then there is no stand-in, no alternative, or substitute for the seeing what I see and being what I am in this moment. All I can be is myself, and all I can see is myself.
From my perspective, following a spiritual path, a religion, or a guru serves primarily as a means of avoidance – a way of replacing what one actually is right now with a vision of what one could be. This is the fallacy of becoming. Those who purport to teach methods of “self-realization” or paths to “salvation” are not awake, I say, but hypnotized by fancy ideas they learned from previous epigones. Then, having convinced themselves of their “attainment,” they regurgitate the nonsense they learned to imitate, hypnotizing their followers in the same fashion.
You are what you are here and now. There is no “later,” and there is, I say, no path apart from one’s own suffering, one’s own confusion, and eventually, with luck, one’s own understanding.
– Robert Saltzman, The Ten Thousand Things pp266-267
Robert Saltzman, The Ten Thousand Things
Thank you, Robert, for giving the remaining dead leaves on this gnarled old tree a fatal shake.