That I am (Teisho 1002 – 2005)

Nisargadatta: “Consciousness does not shine by itself, it shines by a light beyond it.”

As was said in the last posting, the question ‘Who am I?’ is not a straightforward question. In other words, one has to question the question itself. What is it asking? It is easy just to take the question and ask it, as though one were asking ‘What is a tree?’ ‘What is a flower?’ ‘A house?’ When we ask these questions we want information that can be integrated within a network of information. We question with our conscious mind, which is a network of information, a conceptual and verbal structure. As long as we are asking the question ‘Who am I?’ with the conscious mind, as long as we are trying to fit ‘I am’ into our overall pattern of knowledge, we are chasing a chimera, a dream.

You must allow the question to come. It is a question that must come from upstream of the conscious mind. A problem with the question is that the ‘What is’ suggests that there is ‘something’ and fits it into the thingness category. It would be truer to say that I am is ongoing. Dogen said that Buddha nature is impermanent; it goes on: I am in the zendo, I am on the walkway, I am in the kitchen. The ‘I am’ is not fixed and stable, it is not something. Another problem is of course that if we are dealing with ‘not something’, then we feel we are dealing with ‘nothing’. So often people try to look into nothingness, an absence, a no-thingness; but all the time they are looking out, where it should be rather ‘looking through’.

‘I am’ is the light beyond consciousness. What is this beyond then? It means the conscious mind is thoroughly infused by ‘I am’. A mirror is ‘beyond’ what is reflected in it. The reflections do not reflect themselves, they are reflected by a light beyond them, by the mirror. This room is not lit up by itself, it is lit up by daylight. Daylight is beyond the room, but it thoroughly infuses the room.

Nisargadatta: “Having seen the dreamlike quality of consciousness, look for the light by which it appears, which gives it being.” Consciousness has no reality of its own.

When one is asking ‘Who am I?’ we must look in the direction of awareness, not for a viewpoint; not for something which sees, but the process of seeing itself. Knowing gives being to all, because knowing is being. But knowing and being are not the same; form is emptiness, emptiness is form..

Nisargadatta: “There is the content of consciousness as well as the awareness of it.”

There is what I know and that I know. They are quite different. ‘That I know’ lies beyond ‘what I know’, although ‘what I know’ is thoroughly infused by it.

At the moment, I am sitting in the zendo. We look on a statement like this as fact. It has, we feel, its own truth, own reality, this is how it is. But reality depends on that I know. Not on what I know – ‘I am sitting in this zendo’ has no substance without ‘that I know’. ‘What I know’ changes constantly. From young boy, to young man, to a middle-aged man. That I know is unchanging. However anxious I may be, tormented, dispirited or sad, it all takes its reality from ‘that I am’, ‘that I know’. ‘That I know’ is unconditional and timeless. ‘That I am’ is the same in a young boy, a young man, a middle aged man, an old man, and a dying man.

Ultimately I cannot know that I know. Knowing is all, I cannot get away from it in order to know it. But that I know always has content.

There is a shift necessary. A leap from what I know, what I am, to that I am. Forget the known, but remember that you are the knowing. Don’t be all the time immersed in and identified with your experiences. We look on experience as the cause of our suffering, but experience is the result of our suffering. Remember you are beyond the experiencer, ever unborn and deathless. It is what I am that is born and dies, and in a lifetime there are many births and deaths.

What was your face before your parents were born? i.e. let go of all you are, before what you are had any shape or form. That I am has no shape, no beginning and no end. Take away the ‘what’ and you do not have nothing. In remembering that you are beyond experience, the quality of pure knowing will emerge, the light of unconditional awareness.

The only reality is that I am.

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All Beings are Buddha

The verse on the Faith Mind in the chant booklet is rather long, but it is saying the same thing over and over in different ways: “don’t discriminate – awakening is going beyond is and is not.”

But how? We are given koans to work with, a question to ask. And immediately start looking for an answer. But it is the question that has the possibility of leading to the truth.

(teisho 983 – 2005)

What kind of question is it we are asking? We do not ask it to get information or knowledge.

But what other type of question can there be? A question means that one seeks an answer, and an answer surely adds something to one’s repertoire of knowledge.

The question “Who is it that asks the question… Who am I?” moves us right out of that realm. What can prompt that question if it is not knowledge that is being saught? What are you expecting of this question?

Everything, anything that you can know or experience, or feel, or sense, is not you. We have a constant experience of the body, day and night, it is always with us, but we are not the body. We provide the experiencing and the body is what is experienced. Or the world is what is experienced. A mirror is unaffected by any of its reflections, totally untouched, and in the same way, we are totally untouched by experience. No matter how terrible, how grueling, how anguished. Each one of us has passed through extremely difficult times in our lives, and yet, that too has passed. It is seeing we cannot be touched.

It is the constant discerning of what you are not that is called for. Anything that comes up is not you. It is seeing that intrinsically one is untouched by whatever comes up. It is not a question of purifying the mind, but of seeing that the mind is inherently pure. This untouched quality is what is meant by discerning. A thought comes up, there is knowing that thought, the thought goes away and it leaves no trace. A memory comes up, it stays for a while, it goes away, it leaves no trace.

Nisargadatta: “What you are you already are. If you can let the truth of that statement come home to you, nothing more needs to be done.” This is home. You are home now. What you are, you already are.

Nisargadatta: “By knowing what you are not, you are free of it and remain in your own natural state. It all happens spontaneously and effortlessly. The effort of practice comes out of the contradictory nature of the personality. It is nothing other than the personality wrestling with the personality. Eventually the personality exhausts itself, with the exhaustion comes melting, and with the melting ‘I am’ appears spontaneously, without effort.”

You discover that there is nothing to discover. True awakening is to see that there is nothing to discover. People think awakening is going to enhance one’s state, but it is not like that. True awakening is finally letting go of the expectation of some heightened state; the expectation of total release and peace from the conflicts of the personality. Waking up is to see that everything from the beginning is completely OK. It is and always has been and always will be OK. This is what is meant when we chant: “From the beginning all beings are Buddha.”

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Teisho as Dokusan. (Teisho 1314 – 2013)

After Albert’s death, I received many emails and cards from members expressing their love and appreciation for him and the work he had done and, in addition, expressing their wish to help keep the Centre going. The best way to do this is to do zazen. As the Sixth Patriarch said to his students on the day he died: “Live as though I were still here. Do zazen together. When I am gone, just practice correctly according to the Teaching, just as you did during my days with you. Remember, even were I to remain in this world, if you do not follow my teaching my presence among you would be pointless.”

Some people are concerned about dokusan, Albert not being here to give it. Yet, when I listen to his teishos, it is as though I am hearing what is being said in the dokusan room. He says it in one way, he says it in another, but always the same thing: how to practice. The following is a direct excerpt from a teisho that could be said in dokusan:

Seeing into the truth, that what you think is the real you is but a shadow, is the basis of the practice. It is the reason that you ask the question ‘What am I?’ The Prajna Paramita deconstructs the whole sense of self: “No eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, mind.” Everything we think of as our own is shown to be empty.

It distresses me when I ask you what you are doing when working on ‘Who am I?’ and you have no idea. Look into that which you think you are, directly at that; it is that which sustains you from the moment you get up in the morning until the time you go to sleep; it is that sense of being, of being a person, someone. I see, I hear, I walk, I talk. So what is this? What do you think you are? You are not what you think you are, but that does not mean to say that you don’t think you are it.

Practice must be a 24-hour job, it isn’t a 9 to5 job. The practice is not only the zazen on the mat, the practice is full-time and that will only be possible if you have the urgent need for the practice to be full-time because you are convinced that the way you are living at the moment is unsatisfactory and constantly causing suffering.

You are getting older, and you are going to get older yet. This is the time when you are really facing it and you need to face it more directly. Now, what is it?

You think there is the question, and over there somewhere is the answer. But it is not like that, the question is already the answer.

Here is another direct excerpt from the teisho, that could be said in dokusan:

Nisargadatta says that the value of regular meditation is that it takes you away from your daily routine and reminds you that you are not what you believe yourself to be.

Is this what meditation does for you? Or are you just sitting there dozing, waiting for the bell to ring?

When you are working on “Who am I?” you must just allow the truth to reveal itself; not look for the truth, but just allowing. You must lend yourself to what is revealed, however difficult that may be. When you see into the non thingness of things, there is a recoil. One must nevertheless go forward for that is the moment when possibility becomes actuality.

The preparation is gradual. Change is sudden and complete. You need patience and courage. The trouble with most people is that they are in a hurry; they haven’t got the patience to let the flower bloom. Your problem is that you are not fully convinced. You would like what I say to be true, but are not convinced. Look at these doubts, find out what they are, what underlies them.

I doubt students would have got such a full explanation in dokusan; that is the benefit of teisho over dokusan. As he says elsewhere, you have to take his words as windows, look through them to the vista beyond. Words cannot say it, but then neither can silence.

Jean Low

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Pain (teisho 972, 2005)

When I wrote that Albert’s death was an opportunity, I realized that this applied to me as much as any one else. When I just wanted to sit down and wail, I looked at my life and asked myself: What more do I want? Albert and I had had 65 good years together. I thought about the physical pain Albert had dealt with without any complaint, and decided I would try to deal with this pain in the same way. After all, he tells us how to deal with it in his teishos. I followed what he said about pain and, as he says, it doesn’t take the pain away, but one has a different reaction to it. It is no good just listening to what he says, we have to apply it to our lives.

I met one of our neighbors in the street and he commiserated with me on Albert’s death. We talked a bit, and as he was going, he said, “you look good”. It was almost an accusation… but I am sure Albert is only too pleased that I am at last listening and really working on myself. They say it takes pain and suffering to push you to it.


The question of pain always comes up during a sesshin. First of all, there is the physical pain of sitting. We are not used to the position, or to sitting for long periods of time. In addition, we are told not to move. Then there is another kind of pain, which is the pain of nothing happening. The mind rushes around, but nothing happens. It is a feeling of intense spiritual pain. There is then another pain: during sesshin we have little personal space, either in the zendo or in the bedroom and, in addition the discipline, this can after a while become irritating. We feel humiliated.

We identify ourselves with the pain. We say, ‘I hurt’. I am something, and that something is pain. We have separated ourselves from ourselves, and the pain therefore increases.

Nisargadatta says, “Do not pursue pleasure and shun pain. Accept both as they come, enjoy both while they last; let them go as they must.”

Enjoy pain? How can one enjoy pain?

Nisargadatta: “The bliss is in the awareness of it, of not shrinking or turning from it. All happiness comes from awareness.” But there are different ways of being aware. The normal way we are aware of pain is that we are identified with it. In other words, the pain is uppermost. ‘I hurt’ is what is most evident. It is useful in so far as one believes one has to be something, because it intensifies the sense of self. It is essential to get beyond the belief “I am something”.

It is the pain of ‘I hurt’ with which we must come to terms. The way to do this is just to be aware of the pain. It is no longer ‘I hurt’, or ‘my being is hurt’, or ‘I am something and that something is pain’. Now, it is just the feeling ‘there is pain’. This does not relieve the pain, but now one is no longer trying to get rid of the pain. The pain may increase or decrease, but this is no longer the center of interest. The main condition is one of peace, of the correctness of what is. There is a dissolving and melting, a yielding. If we remain with it, there is a letting go of the identification and, instead of the pain being uppermost, it is now seen against a background of awareness. Awareness is now predominant. The sense of ‘I hurt’ is very constrictive and tense, but when awareness is predominant there is a sense of space, of openness. As Nisargadatta says, “All happiness comes from awareness. Your true nature is happiness, awareness is peace and happiness. Acceptance of pain, non-resistance, courage and endurance, these open deep and perennial sources of true happiness and bliss. The happiness of being, the bliss of being. Not being yourself, just being.”

By being present to yourself in your daily life, with alert interest – with the intention to understand rather than to judge, in full acceptance of whatever may emerge, you encourage the deep to come to the surface and enrich your life and consciousness with its captive energy.

“Dharma gates without number, I vow to penetrate” – this is what we are vowing: that we will be present, we will be there, we will be open. And whatever comes, we will see that as another opportunity, another challenge, another way by which we can open up to the light of purity and strength which is our true nature.

Note: Albert had plenty of opportunity to work with pain in the last years of his life. The last bout started when he decided he would have to get a second hip replacement. When he saw the surgeon and she saw the ‘photos’ of his hip, she exclaimed that she could not understand how he had lived with the pain – the femur was almost completely worn away. She put him near the head of her list for an immediate operation. This was a success, even though it left him with one leg half an inch shorter than the other because of the worn away femur. However, a few days later, all the attention left his hip to go to his lungs, which were collapsing. So, there were none of the usual post hip operation exercises. All attention was on his lungs. He was moved to the lung ward, put on oxygen while they tried to discover what had caused this collapse. He had never had trouble with his lungs before – I can confirm this, from having tried to keep up with him while walking on our holidays in Cornwall and cycling in France. It seemed to have been caused by one of the medications he was on for his heart. After six weeks he was allowed to come home, with oxygen.
In addition to his hip he had slipped discs in the spine and spinal stenosis, which also gave a great deal of pain. He could no longer walk around, but had to rely on an electric wheelchair for movement. Finally, when he was able to come off the oxygen and off the cortisone which had cleared up his lungs, I was overjoyed. But then, he fell and hit his head and was back in hospital.
He was not to come home again.
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Happiness (based on Teisho 1047, 2006)

We hear so much about suffering that I was rather surprised to hear on one of Albert’s teishos that “awakening and happiness are the same.” In fact it brought me up short and stayed with me, filling me with happiness. By happiness, I mean that feeling of relaxed openness. In this state, one could face and deal with anything. Of course, it did not last very long, but the memory of those words has stayed with me, making me understand at last just what it is I want. Happiness.

Such an ordinary word, not grand at all. Surely all this work is not just for happiness? …but then the teisho goes on to explore this word in depth. As is often the case, it is an exploration and elaboration of some of Nisargadatta’s statements.

Nisargadatta makes very clear that he is not talking about pleasure when he refers to happiness: The difference between happiness and pleasure, he says, is that pleasure depends on things, happiness does not. We “get” pleasure, we never say we “are” pleasure – but we say we are happy. This indicates the vast difference between the two.

Happiness is a bit like silence, silence is always here. Noise does not overcome silence. When there is noise, silence does not disappear. In the same way, happiness is always present. Pain does not do away with happiness.

This last sentence takes some digesting: is it true? One has to examine once again what one means by the use of this word happiness, and remember to disassociate it from pleasure. I think the main word to associate with happiness is “openness”. So much of the time we are tense, resisting things because we “don’t like” them, shutting ourselves off from this and that. We have certain ideas, “beliefs” Nisargadatta calls them, about things, about what reaction certain situations call for. He says these beliefs make our world; certainly they make our life. If we can let go of these beliefs and open ourselves, we may be surprised to find that we don’t actually have to react as we do. As long as we believe we need things to make us happy, we will believe that in their absence we must be miserable. Certain people, certain situations, certain circumstances can all be classed as “things” that we believe we need to make us happy.

It is stated that happiness is our true nature; that there is being, knowing and feeling, and that the fundamental feeling is happiness. If we can see that happiness is fundamental, then we will be less inclined to reach outside when we ask “Who am I?” or “What is it all about?” When we want the ultimate we reach out, for the mind to get beyond itself. If we can see that happiness is already present, that “being” is being happy, that “knowing” is knowing happiness; that “being”, “knowing” and “happiness” are one, that they come from one common source which lies beyond it all, then we will be more inclined to allow what is to come up, to reveal itself.

Real happiness is utterly unselfconscious. This is why it is said that the awakened person does not know they are awakened. Awakening and happiness are the same. One comes home to one’s ultimate happiness. That does not mean to say one walks around on a pink cloud – one gets on with life, one gets involved, one works, but the working is no longer to get feedback, praise and admiration: one does it just to do it, one does things for the sheer joy of doing them…there is a natural pleasure in being able to use our abilities. One gives attention to the doing of it, and not to the meaning of it or the end result of it.

Awakening and happiness are the same – what a joyful statement. What encouragement for those of us who are asking “Who am I?” “What is it all about?”

Jean Low

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Everyone is feeling the loss of Albert, wondering how they are going to continue with their practice, how they are going to get answers to their questions, how they will know what to do and not to do. Where they will get inspiration from.

I spoke with someone the other day, she was very upset about all this, felt she had missed her opportunity, didn’t know what to do, how to deal with the pain she was feeling. I have been listening each day to one of Albert’s teishos, and that afternoon I called up one from the very beginning of the list on the computer, an early one. As I listened, it was as though he were addressing directly all the fear and anguish I had heard that morning, directing, guiding.

It was an early teisho, but the message, the teaching was the same as at his last sesshin. It was all there, and not just the written word, all the intonation and energy, the encouragement and persuasion of his voice. This is where we need to turn, to all those teishos made over the years, the same thing said over and over again. We have to learn how to hear what he was saying.

I received many loving messages during his last stay in hospital and after his death. One person said “I will always carry away what he taught me when I had cancer. It was not possible to feel sorry for myself, or even to indulge. He said, ‘This was an opportunity I might never get again!’ What a difference this made to my attitude.”

Imagine you are sitting in dokusan, and you tell him that your teacher has died and left you on your own. What would his answer be? “This is your opportunity, don’t feel sorry for yourself, use it.”

The only way we can learn to hear what he was saying is to clarify the question, give yourself over to it, you have to follow it through. You do not have to try to find the answer, it has been given to you, in all those teishos. Just allow the question, the longing, to flow through you, to flow through your life.

Jean Low

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Ask yourself this question:

The following was written after a conversation Albert and I had one evening.

He was impressing on me the need to ask the question “What was my face before my parents were born?”, And then he said, you don’t have to try to find an answer, just pursue the question; the answer has already been given to you in the Prajna Paramita. This last sentence was said quite casually, no extra emphasis or fan fair. But suddenly the whole world broke into laughter and I could not stop laughing. He did not recite all the Prajna Paramita of course, just “no eye, ear, nose….” I write it all out as a hymn of joy for that moment.

No eye, ear, nose,
Tongue, body, mind;
No colour, sound, smell,
Taste, touch or what the mind
Takes hold of.
Nor even act of sensing.
No ignorance or end of it,
Nor all that comes of ignorance:
No withering, no death,
No end of them.
Nor is there pain, or cause of pain,
Or cease in pain, or noble path
To lead from pain,
Not even wisdom to attain,
Attainment too is emptiness.

“What is my face before my parents were born?”
Go beyond words, go beyond thoughts,
Go right beyond.
Awake, rejoice!

Albert was very disappointed at not being able to get out a blog for you, and so I though I would post this – it is after all what he wants to say to all of us. He is now in hospital again, having fallen and hit his head badly. – Jean Low

Ask yourself this question: “What was my face before my parents were born?”

It is the same question as “What is your true nature?” or “Who am I?” but it is put in a different format; a format that will take you right beyond if your pursue it diligently. It will cut through all the anchor points that hold firmly in place your sense of self, the feeling of who you are. Like Gulliver in the children’s story, tied down by all the tiny strings, unable to move. This question will cut through these strings and set you free.

But you have to really ask it, not just say the words. It doesn’t matter how much force and effort you put into saying the words, that is not enough. You have to follow it through. You do not have to try to find an answer, the answer has already been given to you in the Prajna Paramita; but you cannot hear this answer unless you can really ask the question.

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