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After a lifetime of spiritual seeking, Nirmala met his teacher, Neelam, a devotee of H.W.L. Poonja (Papaji). After experiencing a profound spiritual awakening in India, he has been offering satsang (gatherings for the truth) in the U.S. and internationally since 1998. Nirmala offers a unique vision and a gentle, compassionate approach, which adds to this rich tradition of inquiry into our true nature. He is the author of several books, including Nothing Personal: Seeing Beyond the Illusion of a Separate Self and Living from the Heart. More information and FREE downloads of several of his books are available at: Endless Satsang -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Spiritual teachings suggest that there is no doer, that there is no separate self that is the source of our actions. This teaching is the source of much confusion, as it is contrary to our experience. It seems that there is a doer and that “I” am the doer: “I” get up in the morning, “I” walk the dog, and “I” drive to work. How do these things happen if there is no doer? And if there is no doer, then what do I do? How do I live my life if there is no one here to live it? What do I do if there is no doer?
This confusion exists because spiritual teachings point to something that doesn’t exist in the usual way. The nature of reality can’t be described or explained with words, and it can’t be experienced through the ordinary senses. In speaking about something that can’t be spoken about, the easiest approach is often to use negation. If you can’t speak directly about something, then you are left with saying what it is not.
So spiritual teachings contain a lot of negation: There is no self. There is no doer. The world is an illusion. Not this. Not that. Negation can be effective in pointing us away from false ideas about the ultimate truth of things, and it can encourage us to look within to see the falseness of the idea of a “me.” If you take a moment to look for yourself, you will see that there is nothing you can identify as a separate self. So, in this sense, it is accurate to say that there is no self and no doer.
However, the mind can’t conceive of or even really experience nothing. If you are experiencing something, then that is by definition not nothing. So when the mind is pointed to nothing or to the absence of a self or a doer, it makes a picture or concept of nothing and thinks about that. If we are told there is no doer, the mind makes a picture of the absence of somebody, something like an empty chair or a broom sweeping by itself.
Again, this contradicts our actual experience. There is something in the chair when I sit down in it. The broom only sweeps when I pick it up and start sweeping. So there is obviously a distortion or inaccuracy in the approach of negation. While it does evoke a certain experience of emptiness that can be spacious and restful, it doesn’t capture the totality of reality. It leaves out our real world experience.
Everything happens within you. Nothing ever happens to you. You are
the nondual consciousness that is experiencing the words on this page,
and yet that consciousness is so empty and spacious that nothing ever
happens to it. Just as a thunderstorm passes through the sky but does
not happen to the sky, every thought, feeling, desire, sensation and
event happens in awareness, but does not happen to it.
This is more obvious when it comes to an external event that doesn't
take place near you. A bird flying high above you or the distant sound
of traffic obviously happens within the field of awareness, but it
doesn't feel like these events happen to you. Yet if that bird flew
right in front of your face, or that traffic was slowing you down on
the highway, there is a tendency to think something is happening to
you. And anything that arises within your own body and mind feels even
more like something that happens to you. If a strong experience of fear
or desire or confusion arises, we tend to think it has happened to us
instead of within us.
The sky is unharmed by the thunderstorm, and that is why we would
say the storm happened in the sky instead of to the sky. What about
your experiences, thoughts, feelings, and desires? Do they harm your
awareness? Or do they eventually pass like a summer raincloud? Is your
awareness damaged by them, or is awareness still empty and awake,
awaiting the next experience after a sensation, feeling, or thought
Recently, a teacher and friend made a simple comment that the soul is the sum total of all of our experiences. It struck me how this meant every experience adds to our soul and there is no experience that can detract from it. If the soul is just that, the sum total of our experience, and not some special spiritual identity structure within Being, then there is no way you can lose—or gain—your soul. It is just here as the totality of everything that you have ever experienced, and it is always being added to by this moment’s experience. No experience ever subtracts from it.
Since we share experience with many other souls, that would mean that our souls overlap. Anywhere our experience overlaps, our souls would also overlap. And since we overlap with so many other souls, ultimately all souls are connected through this sharing of experience. Whenever a particular soul has a profound experience of awakened consciousness, their experience of the totality of consciousness by definition includes all experiences and all the apparent souls out there.
Every experience is actually an experience of self-realization, awakening or enlightenment. In each and every experience we are realizing a capacity or aspect of our soul, and by extension an aspect of our ultimate nature as Being. Since ultimately all there is, is Being, every experience is an experience of Being. Every experience adds to the totality of our understanding and realization of our true nature. There is no other possibility.
Consider the miracle of a flower. What is it that causes a plant to
flower? Does sunshine cause a plant to flower? Does lots of water? Or
is it good soil? Maybe all of these together? Or is there really
something more subtle in the nature of the flower itself that causes it
to flower? Is it something in the DNA of the plant? Does that mean the
whole process of evolution over eons of time is involved? What other
factors might cause the flowering? Does gravity play a part? The season
and the temperature? The quality of the light? (Some plants will not
flower under glass or artificial light.) What about animals that eat
the fruit and spread the plant? Or the birds or bees that pollinate the
flower? Do they cause the subsequent flowering of the newly established
plants? Are there even subtler influences? What about presence and
love? The intention and attention of a gardener? And is the existence
of the world of form itself necessary for a plant to flower? And what
about consciousness? Is there an ultimate force that directs the
creation and unfolding of all expressions of form that is behind the
appearance of a rose or a daisy?
What if it is a combination of all of the things mentioned? And also
what if they have to all be in the right proportion? Is that proportion
different for every species of plant? Some plants need lots of water or
light to flower. Others will die with too much water or light. There is
a unique formula that is involved with the appearance of the simplest
apple blossom and the most complex orchid.