teisho 589 (1998)
This teisho was given on the first day of a sesshin, but if one is seriously working it applies to every day. When you come to a sesshin you must dedicate yourself entirely to the practice. You must be constantly present. Moment by moment one must keep coming back to the practice.
Nisargadatta is asked: “what is this sense of a separate existence?” Unless you have felt for yourself this separateness of your existence, you cannot really ask the questions ‘Who am I?’ and ‘What is Mu?’ By this we do not mean just the loneliness of one’s life, but rather to feel oneself as something which is itself and apart. Unless one has acknowledged the truth that life is suffering, one will not be motivated to practice in an honest way. If we feel that our suffering is personal, happening just to oneself, and ask why it should happen to me, we can never cut through to the root. The great perseverance that Hakuin says is necessary for practice, comes from our having seen the terror of the situation, that life is indeed suffering. We live our lives as though we are separated, isolated, apart, and this is what leads to the vow to see into the truth; to know for oneself, finally and beyond all doubt, who or what one is.
We have a dualistic understanding, and it is out of this that suffering comes. The only way out is through. By going through you can see who and what you are. Seeking a way out is simply an extension of the dualism, and increases the sense of separateness.
Nisargadatta says: “The sense of separation is a reflection in a separate body of the one reality. In this reflection the unlimited and limited are confused and taken to be the same.” To undo this confusion is the purpose of practice. There is the image of a number of puddles, and each one is reflecting the moon. Each one reflects the moon in its entirety. If there are ten puddles, it is not that each puddle reflects a tenth of the moon. Come home to the truth that there is nothing outside you. You are the moon in its entirety, you can never be separate. But if you try to grasp this totality that you are, if you try to get hold of the moon, you will be faced with constant frustration, inadequacy and insecurity. When Nisargadatta says that the limited and unlimited are confused, he means that we are trying to grasp or understand the unlimited within a limited experience. This is what we call ego. This is the fundamental ignorance. To undo this confusion is the purpose of practice.
It is seeing the illusory nature of the limited. There are no limitations, because there is nothing that can limit you because there is nothing outside of you; there is nothing prior to you. You have not come from somewhere nor are you going somewhere.
The questioner asked: “Does death not undo this confusion?” Nisargadatta replied: “In death only the body dies. Life does not, awareness does not, reality does not. Life is never so alive as after death.” If we use again the illustration of the puddles, the puddles dry up, but the moon is unaffected.
What is there after death? Life and death are not a beginning and end, but the nature of impermanence. As long as I believe there is something outside me, then I can believe that I come from somewhere. When one asks “who am I?” or “what is Mu?” one is investigating this question: what is there outside me? How can I find that which lies outside of me?
Death is the ultimate limit of me. So what is death? When you ask ‘who am I? or ‘What is Mu?’ you are also asking ‘what is death?’ You must not try to find some kind of solace or reassurance in your practice. Don’t use your practice as a barrier against death. If you do you create death, death will be something that is real. With death the brain is no more and all the activities that arise as a consequence of the brain can no longer be. The chief of these is thought. Thought and memory are not knowing, they are modifications of knowing, in the same way that seeing and hearing are modifications.
Nisargadatta says, “Only the unborn is deathless.” Find what it is that never sleeps and never wakes – its pale reflection is our sense of I. ” The sense of I is the limited and unlimited, the weed and the flower.
The questioner asks, ‘how do I find this that never sleeps?’ And Nisargadatta responds: “How do you go about finding anything? It is by keeping your mind and heart on it.” From the beginning to the end of sesshin, keep your heart and mind on it. Ache for it, groan for it, cry for it – but stay with it. “There must be interest and steady remembrance.To remember what needs to be remembered is the secret of success. You come to it through earnestness.” Earnestness is the willingness to pay the price for sincerity. One looks for how one can pay, not how one can reap the harvest. Start from wherever you are, whatever it is; get to know that. “Earnestness will give you the qualifications and the opportunity. What is important is to be free from contradictions. The goal and the way must not be on different levels.” If you want to be perfect you have to start with your imperfection. If you work hard and honestly you will find that the imperfection is the perfection you have been seeking; that the goal and the way are not only on the same level, they are the same substance.
When you see into your true nature you realise that every step of the way was necessary, that nothing was ever out of place. That nothing indeed can ever be out of place. “Tenacity of purpose and honesty in pursuit will bring you to your goal.”