Questioner: It is part of the Indian spiritual tradition that living in the proximity of a sage is conducive to liberation. Why don’t you organise an ashram so that people can live near you?
Nisargadatta: I am available to all. Common roof and food will not make people more welcome. “Living near” does not mean breathing the same air. It means trusting and obeying, not letting the good intentions of the teacher go to waste. Have your teacher always in your heart and remember his instructions – this is real abidance with the true. Physical proximity is least important. Make your entire life an expression of your faith and love for your teacher. That is dwelling with the sage.
teisho 635 – 1998
Nisargadatta asks: If you are still under the influence of the primordial drug, of what use are the superficial cures?
What is this primordial drug? It is of course “I”, “I am something.” One could look upon the Zen Centre as a detox Centre. and sesshin as a detox programme. We have to break this addiction that we have.
During a sesshin the real work is done in the desert. When you have a period when things flow easily it is because of the work you have done earlier.
People feel these times when things flow easily is the real work; but the periods of dryness, when nothing seems to work, when one is so ineffectual, these are the times when real work is being done. We use the word desert, but one can also use the word boredom.
A nobel prize winner for literature gave a commencement address at a college and what he said is very pertinent to what we are looking at here:
“A substantial part of what lies ahead of you is going to be claimed by boredom. The reason I would like to talk to you about it today is that I believe no liberal arts college prepares you for that eventuality. Neither the humanities nor science offers courses in boredom. You will be bored with you work, your spouses, your friends, your lovers, the view from your window, the furniture in your room, your thoughts, yourself. Accordingly you will devise ways of escape. You may change your job, your residence, company, country; you may take up promiscuity, alcohol, travel, cooking lessons or psychoanalysis. Boredom is an invasion of time into your set of values. It puts your existence into its proper perspective, the net result of which is humility. The more you learn about your own size, the more humble and compassionate you become. If it takes paralyzing boredom to bring your insignificance home, then welcome the boredom. What is good about boredom, about anguish and the sense of meaninglessness of your own and everybody else’s existence is that it is not a deception. Try to embrace, or let yourself be embraced by boredom and anguish. Try to endure it as long as you can and then some more. Above all, do not think you have goofed, don’t try to retrace your steps to correct the error. No, believe your pain. Nothing that disturbs you is ever a mistake.”
Why we say working with boredom is so salutary is because it means all the subterfuges that you have used to date have been brought into question. But it is not enough to grit your teeth and hope it will not last too long, you must embrace it. If you are serious with your practice, you must look upon boredom as a kind of medicine you are taking, as an essential and valuable part of the practice. The fact that your practice is ineffectual is not a failure, on the contrary, it is a success. It is because of your seriousness that you have got into this desert. If you were not serious you would not be there. But on the other hand, don’t prolong the process by rejecting it, or rejecting yourself or punishing yourself and looking upon yourself as an inferior practitioner.
It is the inability we have to tolerate ourselves for two minutes that is the real problem. It is in these times that the creative power is mobilized. It is at these times that the true impetus to freedom has a chance to grow.
During a sesshin we keep the blinds drawn, we cover pictures, we put away books and all the things the restless mind can feed upon. We make the place as sterile as we can. You then sit and face the wall. We do our best to keep out sounds and keep any distractions from outside to the absolute minimum. We keep the food as plain as possible. All of this with a view to helping you to get into a state of austerity. This is what the heart of the sesshin is about.
When the mind wanders the personality is searching for anything, it doesn’t matter what it is, in order to get distraction. Each depressing thought that you have, you have given the power to damage you – see it for what it is, a distraction, something taking you away from what you see as barrenness, but which is really the most wonderful opportunity for truth to start emerging. Recognize what is at issue – the sense “I am something” being eroded; and in the erosion it is not that nothing is going to be left behind, but that everything is left behind. It is an illusion that distracted activity gives any kind of pleasure.
One has to examine all the things one takes for granted. And above all what one must examine again and again is the belief in something. How do you get beyond something and nothing?
Nisargadatta: Search, find out, remove and reject every assumption till you reach the living waters and the rock of truth.