What is the Actual Substance of Thought?

The great sage Ramana Maharshi said:

“The mind is a bundle of thoughts. The thoughts arise because there is the thinker. The thinker is the ego. The ego, if sought, will automatically vanish. Reality is simply the loss of the ego. Dissolve the ego by seeking its identity. Because ego is not an entity, it will automatically vanish and reality will shine forth by itself. This is the direct method, whereas all other methods are done only retaining the attachment to the idea of the ego.”

The disciplined practice of searching for the separate self, or ego, is only complicated when we give in to our strong conditioning to attach to our thought energy in the search. We learn we can’t do anything about this strong conditioning, it will endlessly arise along with thought energy again and again, like the never ending waves on the surface of the ocean. If we’re willing to watch the waves of thought energy, the waves of sensations, arise and dissolve by themselves, we can’t help but begin to become aware of the alive presence of the ocean itself, our actual being.

Nisargadatta was asked: “If the ultimate itself has always been what I am, why am I not aware of it?” His reply was “Because you are attached to the idea that the awareness looking out of your eyes right now isn’t the ultimate itself.” What is the actual substance of the idea that our true identity is perceivable, describable, and can be limited and confined? Allowing our thought energy to dissolve is a powerful reminder that our actual being is nothing the can be grasped, that we are not anything that can be captured as an object of thought. So it’s said that enlightenment is the merely the end of error, the error of attaching to thoughts about ourselves as real.

One practice that I’ve found helpful is to imagine awareness as a serene ocean, absorbing the restless mind energy, allowing it to relax. Thoughts then drift of their of their own accord to the stillness within. This practice will allow us to find gaps in the stream of thoughts. What could the actual substance of these gaps in thought energy be other than our real being? What could the actual substance of thought energy be, that it could create something that isn’t timelessly there, free of all ideas of gaps? What is the actual substance of thought that could disturb our timeless, boundless serenity?


Receiving Her Touch

From the teachings of Anandamayi Ma

Who can tell at what moment the flame of illumination will blaze forth? For this reason, continue your efforts ceaselessly without flagging. Gradually you will get more and more deeply absorbed in Him – He and He alone will preoccupy your thoughts and feelings. For the mind ever seeks that which gives it proper sustenance, and this can’t be provided by anything other than the Supreme Being Himself. (She uses the words He, His, Him, referring to Brahma, God, the ONE source of all creation.) Then you will be carried away by the current that leads to your Self. (In this context, current refers to the living flow of human experience, feeling, seeing, hearing, and thinking.) This current is all that is, it is the continual flow of our true nature.

You will discover that the more you delight in the inner life, the less you feel drawn to external things. In consequence the mind becomes so well nourished with the right kind of food, that at any moment the realization of its identity with the Self may occur. After genuine contemplation, worldly pleasures become unalluring, dull, entirely savorless. This doesn’t imply anger at or aversion to anything of the world; when the deeply penetrating spirit of unattachment becomes a living inspiration, one begins to discriminate as to the true nature of the world, until finally, with the glowing certainty of direct perception, the knowledge of its illusory nature arises. All sensory experiences, as well as our ideas of being a separate self, are realized to be sparkling bubbles arising and dissolving on the surface of the current of our true nature.

Everything becomes smooth once the blessing of His touch has been felt. It is just as when bathing in a river, one at first swims by one’s own strength; but once caught in the current, whether a good swimmer or not, one is simply carried away. When intense interest in the supreme quest awakens, ever more time and attention will be given to religious thought, religious philosophy, the remembrance of God as immanent in all creation, until thereby all resistance is allowed to dissolve.

Suppose some people go to bathe in the sea and make up their minds to swim ahead of everyone else; consequently they will have to look back. But for him whose one and only goal is the ocean itself, no one has remained for whose sake he looks back or is concerned; (transcend and include, not exclude concern for others) and then, what is to be, will be.

Give yourself up to the wave, and you will be absorbed by the current; having dived into the sea, you do not return anymore (Attachments to the sense of a separate self just continually fall away). The Eternal Himself is the wave that floods the shore, so that you may be carried away. Those who can surrender themselves to this aim will be accepted by Him.

But if your attention remains directed towards the shore, you cannot proceed – after bathing you will return home. If your aim is the Supreme, the Ultimate, you will be led on by the movement of your true nature. There are waves that carry away, and waves that pull back. Those who can give themselves up, will be taken by Him. In the guise of the wave (sometimes in the wave of deep grief, sometimes in the wave of deep joy) He holds out his hand and calls you, come, Come, COME!



 Every aspect of our lives is space. We have never been

anything other than vast, boundless, open space. 


As a young man I would engage my friends in long philosophical discussions about the nature of existence. We hammered out philosophies about how we can know what we know. How could we know anything at all?  We finally came to the conclusion that everything boils down to space or awareness, or presence.  When we ask, “Presence or awareness of what?”, or “What is presence or awareness?” we find they cannot be distinguished from space.  These are all terms for one mysterious being.

The great 13th Century Soto Zen master Dogen said traps and cages spring open when you realize there is only dharma here. There is only this moment.  There is only this seeing, this hearing, only the vast fullness and spaciousness of our lives right here and now.  Trungpa Rinpoche said all of our problems arise from our fundamental fear of open space.

Ordinarily we think of space as vacant or dead, with the phenomenal world appearing within this vacancy.  But nothing exists inside space. Things exist as a manifestation of space. The substance of the phenomenal world is the substance of space. This may be easier to intuit if you substitute awareness or consciousness for space. Every manifestation of the phenomenal world is an expression of awareness. The mysterious substance of phenomena is saturated with the mysterious substance of awareness. Every aspect of our lives is nothing but space. We have never been anything other than vast, boundless, open space.  This is obvious when we take the time to investigate truth.

Space allows everything to be as is, friendly and accepting of all its manifestations which we call life.  Space supports and nurtures us in the form of earth, sun, and our parents when we were young.  Yet space is beyond any concept. A powerful way to deepen our inquiry into reality is to imagine how far outer space extends into the cosmos.  This search led me to hypothesize that we find space to be so vast that we’re impelled to try and limit it.  Where do we get this impulse? What impels us to separate, control or measure the vastness by drawing imaginary boundaries?  Alan Watts once asked, “Does a ventriloquist only want to have dinner with his dummy?” However incomprehensible the universe, perhaps separate autonomous beings seem to exist simply because it’s no fun to eat dinner alone.

Contemplative practice can help us plumb the deep question we may have forgotten to ask because of our fear.  Is there a reason we fear space?  We can ask why we are attached to our imaginary reference points–those we create to escape our insecurities.  A powerful aid to our inquiry is to attend to our emotions, whether they are joy, pain, anxiety, fear or elation. By paying attention to what is, we free ourselves from the constructs and boundaries of our crippling habits.

Why does this happen?  By paying attention, we allow natural spaciousness to manifest.  Suddenly, more space surrounds our emotions, and we turn our awareness to them, unbinding our attempts to grasp or manipulate.  Trungpa Rinpoche said “while drinking a cup of tea, we might make the shocking discovery that we are doing it in a vacuum.  In fact, as entities, we are not even drinking the tea! The hollowness of space is drinking the tea.  When we pull on our skirt or our pants, we are dressing space. To put on makeup is to make up space.”

So meditation practice allows us to let go of our rigid attachment to ideas.  Then mindfulness in daily life can help us see we’re acting in a vacuum.  Our precious reference points in space are dissolved. Space holds us totally and unconditionally in that realization.  Perhaps we cannot clearly see there is no need to hold on to anything until first we realize there is nothing to hold onto.

So why wait for the conditions of our lives to improve? Are we waiting for some image of what realization is, or what true nature might be?  Freedom cannot be tethered by any image, feeling, sound or thought.  It is enough to dwell in spaciousness with our wholehearted devotional spirit. It is enough to surrender our self-consciousness to it, to appreciate and enjoy it.  When we are stable in this practice, we will feel more energy for our work in the world to help others along the way.




Opening to Reality

Trungpa Rinpoche was once asked, “What is Enlightenment?” His response was “The vast sky becomes a big blue pancake and falls on your head.” I hadn’t ever been able to fully relate to this expression; there was an air finality to it for me, a sense of wiping out all experience, wiping out all existence. Of course this is nothing more than mere imaginings in my mind.

When I imagine this, a strong sense of aliveness always remains, after the big thud. This peaceful loving aliveness reveals the mere imaginings of all our minds. The life current animating our mind and body is always here before imagining, during expressions of our imaginings, and remains after our imaginings, after all personal experience dissolves. This life force is the only reality our mind and body are, and it remains unaffected by all experience, of past, present, and future. Our living presence is what has always been here and now; it’s the changeless reality that is our innermost lover, our innermost teacher. It reveals its complete saturation of ideas of inside and outside which we will intimately experience if we don’t try to interfere by moving towards or away based on desire and fear.

On revisiting Trungpa’s expression without clinging to any ideas about it, I start to experience a gentle caressing descent of the blue sky that transforms into a gentle rain. The rain dissolves and there is just a vast absence of images between my shoulders where we imagine our head is. The flowing current of our living presence will naturally permeate the empty space between our shoulders with alive fullness, if we allow our resistance to the flow to dissolve. We first need to become aware of our desires and fears conditioning us to rigidly armor and defend our personal identities, so we can feel safe located and enclosed in our bodies.

We can allow the expression of our true self, we can allow a wholehearted  experience of our life force always arriving now as ever new experiences. We can allow it, because ultimately we are completely powerless to prevent it. This is actually everyone’s experience when we’re willing to look through and beyond the conceptual haze of our opinions. When the thinking mind is realized to be empty of any actual content, thinking is realized to be like typing on a typewriter with the ribbon removed. When we clearly see with direct perception that our minds are empty, our hearts naturally blissfully open. As we begin to realize we are a tool for our actual living presence to spread peace and love, we begin to realize we have never been anything else, and nothing else has ever really been happening.



From Zen Master Ryokan

A COLD night–sitting alone in my empty room

Filled only with incense smoke.

Outside, a bamboo grove of a hundred trees;

On the bed, several volumes of poetry.

The moon shines through the top of the window,

And the entire neighborhood is still except for

the cry of insects.

Looking at this scene, boundless emotion,

But not one word.




Do We Choose Our Thoughts?

When my attention is drawn to the thinking mind, I often am amazed anew that we spend our lives with an endless stream of thoughts swirling around us that we normally imagine originate somewhere inside our heads, and are almost always totally ignoring the fact that we have no idea what this stream of thought really is. We can say they are fleeting images of letters, words, or other physical objects. We can say they are alive, because they are manifested by our living presence. But these last two sentences are just more thoughts, and thoughts don’t tell us what anything actually is, including our selves. What is clear is that because of our ignorance, because of our ignoring that we don’t know what thought is, we continually attempt to grasp onto this thought stream and imagine that we can control our experience by continually attempting to control our thoughts.

So an interesting question for spiritual inquiry is to ask who or what chooses our thoughts? Our normal waking consciousness consists of seeing objects, hearing sounds, feeling sensations, and thinking thoughts. What is our actual experience of the thinker? Is the thinker the chooser? Can we find an actual entity, either inside or outside of our head that thinks our thoughts? If we’re willing to ask this question from a deep enough place to stay with our actual experience of a series of thoughts arising and disappearing, we realize the imagined entity we label the thinker is nothing more than another thought in a series of thoughts.

Try staying still for a few moments and notice the successive thoughts arising and dissolving. If you’ve been practicing contemplation for awhile, it’s probably easy to notice a gap between thoughts. Where is the actual chooser of the next thought in that gap between thoughts? The thought of being the chooser is simply another thought in the series of thoughts produced after you read the sentence, ‘where is the chooser in the gap between thoughts?’

If you have the experience like I just had, of having the thought ‘I’ve found the chooser’, the chooser thought just appears in retrospect as the next thought in the series. We are continually fooling ourselves when the chooser thought takes responsibility for being the initiator and enjoyer of our thoughts. Our actual experience of a succession of thoughts is that the chooser isn’t there in the gap between thoughts. The chooser is just a thought saying I was there choosing between thoughts, but the chooser thought only appears later as a subsequent thought. The thought of being the chooser isn’t choosing anything, it’s just the expression of the thought of being the chooser. It’s the clown that takes the bow, claiming responsibility for thinking and choosing the thoughts after the fact. The sense of being a separate self, being a separate entity, being a separate thinking person, is that chooser thought.

This type of discussion can be difficult to digest, and one big reason can be that it gives us a sense of being totally determined by some impersonal mechanical process. Some of you may have had the recent experience of changing a password or opening a new account online and presented with a task that starts with the phrase ‘I am not a robot’. We don’t like to think that we’re programmed and have no choice in our experience which of course includes the choice of our thoughts. So we’re uncomfortable with just the suggestion that our experiences might be predetermined in a mechanical conditioned process, and particularly uncomfortable with the notion that we don’t possess free will. So we sometimes have a feeling like our innate love of freedom is being curtailed and we feel rebellious.

Our feeling rebellious is an expression of our love for freedom. We love the idea of freedom because deep down we sense that our actual being is totally free. The idea of there being a controller or a container of self limiting us is just another thought. Our real being isn’t the result of any fixed, regulated, definable, or confined system; it is simply infinite ever present awareness freely expressing itself as our life. But the separate self idea doesn’t possess freedom; there is free will, although there is no my free will. The truth of our actual being is the potential to realize infinite possibilities, including the realization of our true identity. Our true identity is the spiritual life force expressing the timeless joy of boundless freedom.


The Screen of Awareness

Yogananda once said: “Just like images on the screen of a motion picture, so is everything made of shadows and light. That’s what we are, light and shadows of the Lord, nothing more than that. There’s one purpose; to realize that the beam is you.” He means the light of awareness itself, that which is now looking out from our eyes, is our true identity. The particulars of our experience, sensations, thoughts, sights, and sounds, are mere reflections on this screen of awareness. They have no substance apart from this light of awareness, this screen of awareness itself.

To try and help clarify this, imagine if our attention was drawn to the screen you’re now reading from, we would experience the uncanny sensation of suddenly becoming aware of something we simultaneously realize is so obvious as to require no mention. And yet at the moment when the screen is indicated, we seem to experience something new.

We have the strangely familiar experience of becoming aware of something which we were in fact already aware of. We become aware of being aware of the screen. The screen is not a new experience that is created by this indication. However, our awareness of the screen seems to be a new experience.

Now, what about our awareness itself, which we all share by the way, that is aware of the screen? Is it not always present behind and within every experience, just as the screen is present and within the words on this screen? And when our attention is drawn to it, do we not have the same strange feeling of having been made aware of something that we were in fact always aware of, but had not noticed? We become aware of awareness itself.

Is this awareness not the most intimate and obvious fact of our experience, essential to and yet independent of the particular qualities of each experience itself, in the same way that the screen is the most obvious fact of the words on it, essential to and independent of each word? Is this awareness itself not the support and the substance of every experience, in the same way that the screen is the support and substance of every word?

Does anything new need to be added to the screen in order for it to be seen? Does anything new need to be added to our current experience in order for us to become aware of the awareness that is its support and substance?

When we return to the words, having noticed the screen, do we lose sight of the screen? Do we not now see the two, the apparent two, simultaneously as one? And did we not always already experience them as one, without realizing it?

Likewise, having noticed the awareness behind and within each experience, do we lose sight of our awareness itself when we return the focus of our attention to the objective aspect of experience? Do we not now see the two, the apparent two, Awareness and its object, simultaneously as one? And has it not always been so?

Do the words themselves affect the screen? Does it matter to the screen what is said in the words? Does the content of each experience affect the awareness in which, and as which it is expressed? Every word on the screen is in fact only made of the substance of the screen itself. They only express the nature of the screen, although they may attempt to describe the stars.

Every experience only expresses Awareness or Consciousness, although experience itself is infinitely varied. Awareness or Consciousness is the open mystery expressing every experience.

It is so obvious that it isn’t noticed. It is so close that it cannot be known as an object, and yet is always known just by being itself, by being aware. It is so intimate that every experience, however tiny or vast, is utterly saturated and permeated with its presence.

It is so loving that all things possible to imagine are contained unconditionally within it.

It is so open that it receives all things into itself.

It is so spacious and unlimited that everything is contained within it.

It is so present that every single experience is vibrating with its substance.

There has never been anything other than THIS.



The source knows no distraction

Alan Watts said when we try to find the essence of mind, all we find are objects. When we try to find the essence of objects, all we find is mind. Searching for the essence of mind, we can only come up with ideas that we make into objects of mind, but they are not the mind itself. When we try to find the essence of the objects and notions we use to describe our ideas–including our idea of self–we cannot locate the essence of any of them. Any conceptual label we put onto objects cannot capture what is actually manifesting them.

As I gaze out my window at the trees in the forest, there is a sense of beauty and stillness. Does this sense originate and manifest in the trees or within what I label as my awareness, or is awareness itself manifesting both? Our concepts are produced by this mysterious awareness, the presence that we are, here and now. There is no real way to distinguish who or what produces concepts other than this very same awareness.

The same dilemma appears when we attempt to define concentration. Concentration presupposes not only an object of concentration, but an entity concentrating on an object. In contemplative practice when we try to concentrate, we may ask ‘who is concentrating’? What do we concentrate on? In long years of Zen training I was taught only to follow my breathing. Suzuki Roshi would tell us to follow our breathing until the awareness of our breathing disappeared. What he meant is to follow our breath until all self conscious effort disappears. Or to put it another way, while observing the breath, observe the effort that arises. Ask the question, “What is this effort, really?” If we try to find the essence of our effort, we only find concepts or ideas, what we think it is. Is my effort good enough? Should I be concentrating harder? Am I able to sustain an acceptable level of concentration? And further, what is an acceptable level of concentration?

I never lived up to my own expectations of how well I should be able to concentrate during meditation. Whether it was my breath or some other object like a koan or a concept such as the impermanence of all things, sooner or later my thinking mind would always find a way to do its own thing. My teachers were skillful in pointing out that to the degree I set up standards of concentration, I was creating an idea of myself as someone who potentially possesses special powers of concentration. At the same time, I naturally invented the idea of something external to myself that I needed to concentrate on. Buddha warned that if we conceive of the universal mind as an entity outside of ourselves, as some ideal, we should kill that concept.

So I was caught in an idealistic practice. Long hours of sitting on my cushion brought this idealism more and more clearly into focus, so I was able to see it exactly for what it was. Thus, self-consciousness can become an object of observation. In the process, we slowly learn to let it go. That which observes our effort is not bound by ideas of a separate observing self. Often this observing self is called the witness, the one who observes whatever arises in consciousness as it is–the one who observes consciousness changing into other forms. The witness is fully concentrated on witnessing. There is no effort . There is no intention to be concentrated. There is no idea of concentration, yet the concentration is complete and all-pervasive.

In this sense, concentration means allowing our awareness to move freely. Then we are free of the need to manipulate any object of awareness. The witness is benevolent. It does not judge. It allows our wandering mind to do whatever it damn well pleases. Implicit in this process is the invitation to join in the constant peaceful witnessing. Though we do not have to join per se, we are aware that the witness is there. In fact, to be present is to allow ourselves to join in the witnessing.

Yet it is unwise to make ceaseless witnessing into an object. The thought that we are already completely one with it is also just another idea. But when the effort to resist it stops, suddenly our undivided nature becomes obvious. Students sometimes say to me, “I’m trying to be in the here and now, but it’s difficult.” How wonderful that they begin to realize how difficult it is to try to be in the here and now. Trying to be in the here and now is like trying to see what is looking out from our own eyes. We cannot see what is looking out because we are the looking. In this context, when we know what we are, we are what we know. It is impossible not to be here and now. So when we exert ourselves and make an effort to concentrate in meditation, we disguise our resistance to the focus of awareness.

Awareness is the ever-present blue sky. We hide it with clouds, with rain, with our thoughts and ideas and efforts. How does one describe the sky? We can’t describe the pure focus of witnessing. The witness cannot be acquired or possessed. To witness means to accept the invitation to join in the free, wondrous, and spontaneous exercise of awareness.


I -Thou Relationship


You are loved, all beings are loved


Martin Buber mused at length about the I–Thou relationship in his existential writings. His thesis is that we define our existence by the way we engage in dialogue with each other, with the world, and with God. The I–Thou relationship is an inherent part of any spiritual path—though perhaps not by the same name, as it is an inherent part of being human and living our lives with other beings. In the context of spiritual practice, ‘I’ refers to the idea of a separate self, and ‘Thou’ refers to the infinite mystery of our source. Including both the personal and impersonal, Thou is a personal term.

In the Eastern traditions, the existence of an objectified God or Gods is ever in question, just as is our existence as separate entities. The question is inevitable in Eastern traditions: Is there really any I-Thou relationship between the creator and the created? If we can’t find an actual entity that is either one, if both are merely ideas and neither point to any substantial reality, do they exist?

I was recently reading a New York Times story about the current chaos in the White House. Also on the front page was a story about a Super Nova that astronomers were keeping track of. They estimated that at the peak of this explosion, it was radiating energy 100 million times more powerful than that continuously emitted by our sun. We can’t even begin to fathom the power of our own sun, burning 24/7 for billions of years. We all have some sense of how infinitesimal the transient events of our lives seem compared to the vastness of the cosmos. Our actual being is boundless and includes everything; what are we as separate from our inter being with all beings?

Any of our attempts to answer questions like this about the Mysterium Tremendum with our thinking minds only give rise to more questions. Each of us has the capacity to frame this type of question in a unique way so that we can actually live the spirit of the question in our unique lives. One way I relate to the mystery is to contemplate that the only thing we can know for sure is that we are. We are creatures programmed to make efforts, we make efforts to relate to other people, and are programmed to believe that we do have an I-Thou relationship with them. If we continuously and rigidly try to repress that programming to relate to others, we end up severely depressed. Depression means our energy is ‘pressed down’.

When we contemplate the boundless mystery of a higher power creating and dissolving us and all manifestations in the universe, we can easily realize that we are programmed just as deeply to relate to this power as an I-Thou relationship. If we try to repress this programming in our contemplative practice, trying to bravely face a purely impersonal higher power, we end up unconsciously depressing ourselves. We are then pressing down our energy of wanting to relate to our source with our full being, which includes our very powerful inherent drive to relate to a higher power.

Many people on the contemplative path have told me they feel a strong urge for having a devotional component to their practice, but are held back by the idea of relating to something outside of themselves. When we cling to this idea, we are solidifying and fixating on the idea of an I-Thou relationship; we get stuck in the confines of thinking God, or The Mystery can be located as an object of our thoughts. We repress the urge for devotional I-Thou practice to avoid getting stuck in our ideas about it. This is like throwing out the baby with the bath water.

To make use of devotional contemplative practice with an I-Thou component doesn’t mean to cling to or fixate on the conceptual form of I-Thou. In contemplative practice the I-Thou relationship is the relational aspect of spirit; it is how our actual life force, our energy, relates to our idea of ourselves. This relational aspect includes the energy of thought, like it includes the energy of our heart beat and the energy of our lungs breathing. But in contemplative practice, this relational I-Thou relationship can be an awareness of and witnessing of the energy of thought, without clinging to it, without making any meaning out of it, any more than we do with our breath and heart beat.  If we pray with and offer all of our love as our contemplation, the actual felt energy of the mystery will love us back while dissolving our clinging to anything at all.

After using contemplative prayer over the years, I realized I am not really attached to the form, the I and the Thou are not felt as solid or substantial entities. They are only more ephemeral thoughts arising and passing away. This is a way of using the I-Thou relationship, and allowing it to dissolve our attachment to it.

Key for spiritual aspirants in the West is to use devotional practice in a way that is unconditioned by the more fundamentalist and solidified I-Thou relationships of our upbringing, such as “If you forsake God and worship other gods, God will turn upon you and destroy you.” The true I-Thou relationship in the contemplative traditions is a melting of the solid sense of I into intimacy with an unconditionally loving being who knows our hearts from the inside. More and more, we are able to touch that place inside that is love. Ram Dass says: “It is being in love, really being in it, being bathed by love until it saturates your being.”






The Two Truths Doctrine

Two Truths Doctrine

Our evolution as spiritual beings includes successfully living in both the relative and absolute worlds without losing touch with either

When we address the problem of good and evil in the world and relate it to spirituality, what levels of truth may apply, and to what situations? In Buddhism, we speak of the realm of the absolute or the ultimate, the realm where all phenomenal manifestations are intrinsically one. And we speak of the relative, the world of differentiation. Truth is one in the realm of the absolute; truth is relative in the realm of the relative. In the realm of the absolute, everything is completely one with the truth of awareness. Therefore everything manifests this one truth in all its fullness, utterly complete.

In the realm of the relative, the terms good and evil, truth and untruth, are used to help us decide right from wrong, vis a vis coping with the difficulties of life. If we are stuck in the relative world with no access to the ultimate, we are easily bound and confused by our own ideas about right and wrong. We can suffer at the mercy of the desire and fear of our ego. If the ego is left to choose right or wrong, it will always decide on the basis of desire and fear, acting on what it perceives to enhance its own welfare. Even limited access to the absolute allows us to see others as we see ourselves, to walk in another’s shoes. We can see some common ground, perhaps a glimpse of our oneness, and with any problem we can come up with a solution that works best for both parties.

In the realm of the absolute, attachments of the ego are no more important than rain falling from the sky. Both are expressions of the one absolute truth. If the rain stops falling and the stream dries up, that too is merely another manifestation of absolute truth. The same holds true when our brains stop working, our hearts stop and our bodies die. In the realm where all is one, none of these means any more or less than another. We try in secular society, a relative realm, to work for the good of the many, the common good. Those who are predominantly selfish in their actions and who harm others for their own benefit are considered evil.

To mistake the relative for the absolute may be deceptively simple, but it can have huge repercussions. For example, Charles Manson had a saying, “If everything is one, then nothing is wrong.” A more accurate way to say this would be, “Yes, everything is one–absolute realm–and some things are wrong–relative realm.” Both levels exist simultaneously. They arise together. We can hold both in our awareness, and avoid getting stuck in either. Manson was stuck in his fantasies about the absolute, and apparently unaware of his own pathology. This cut him off from any chance to harmonize with the relative world. Unaware of his own dark shadow, he had a maniacal and savage way of acting out his central delusion, that he had a right to destroy anything he disapproved of. One could say he was profoundly confused rather than blindly evil. In the absolute realm, Manson’s confusion in a way was divine confusion. Still it was confusion.

In the absolute realm there is no evil, and Charley is no exception. But in the relative world, he was the epitome of evil and needed to be in prison. Our evolution as spiritual beings includes learning to live on both of these levels at the same time without losing one or the other. As Ken Wilber says, we transcend the relative and include it, we don’t transcend and exclude it. Meditation practice develops our stability as the ground of being, the realm of the absolute. This grounding helps us act from our own perspective while remaining stable in the unlimited perspective of absolute truth. The rigid distinction between the two realms gradually evaporates, while our ability to distinguish between them increases. Our own perspectives are more and more in harmony with the experience of the oneness of all beings. From this higher ground we can clearly perceive the depth of the agonizing pain caused by the Hitlers and Mansons of our race. Thus we learn to use the loving energy of a higher level of universal compassion. We hold the higher and lower levels together, and in this way we act in harmony with both.