Essays with Allan Ajaya
Scarcity and Abundance
©2011 Swami Ajaya, PhD
The Experience of Scarcity
There is a natural rhythm between times of seeking to obtain what is needed and times of fulfillment. When an infant or an animal has met its need for sustenance it experiences satiation, which may last for some time. A lion that has made a kill will not prey on another animal even if it is an easy target. In contemporary society this rhythm has been disrupted. Many people are not able to sustain the experience of contentment, and remain in the seeking mode most of the time.
If we function from the premise that we are lacking, our lives are devoted to attaining what we believe we lack. Trying to acquire what we think we need takes up most of our time. Soon after we get what we have been pursuing, our attention turns to chasing another object or experience. There is no end to the variety of what we seek in order to feel complete. For many of us a lasting sense of satisfaction is rare. Our current economic system fosters this sense of incompleteness and need, to keep up production and consumption.
Ghosts are archetypal representations. They are archetypal representations of this way of being. The ghost has been separated from what it craves because of the demise of its body. Unable to become embodied, the ghost remains an apparition; it cannot join the embodied world. It is unable to make physical contact with the objects and people of this world. Its efforts to connect lead to pangs of unfulfilled longing. As the ghost reaches out, its sense of emotional distance from what it is seeking increases.
Like ghosts, we have been separated from the ground of our being, from what is substantial, from that which does not come and go. We reach out for physical objects, attainments, and for others in order to feel fulfilled; however these things reveal themselves to be illusory, and do not offer lasting satisfaction. Like the ghost we continue to long for that which we do not know how to realize. Let’s consider how this sense of chronic restlessness came about.
Early in our development, most of us learned to split the world into “me” and “not me”. This distinction proved to be useful, because it established a circumscribed territory that you could learn to maintain. You could learn to feed, clothe and provide for what you considered to be yourself. Those who do not differentiate between themselves and others usually do not function well in our shared “reality”. They are unable to take care of themselves in our complex society.
You may think that the distinction or boundary between yourself and others is obvious. Actually, we all experience some bewilderment about what constitutes “me” and what is “not-me.” Each of us gets into difficulty at times by not making such clear distinctions or boundaries between oneself and others and encroaching on another person’s sense of who they are. For example, the father who expects his son to be like him, or to achieve what the father has failed to achieve, is delineating himself in a way that appropriates his son’s sense of himself. Most conflicts and wars between individuals, communities, and nations are started by such expansive self-concepts.
Psychiatrists and psychologists have cataloged the various ways that we become confused in attempting to distinguish between ourselves and others under the heading of psychological disorders. If an individual does not follow the norms in partitioning the world into me and not me, that person is considered to be pathological. Variation from the norm is not acceptable to the society at large. Attachment disorder, borderline personality disorder, schizophrenic, and autistic, are some of the pejorative labels applied to those who do not partition the world into me and not me in the way that most of us do.
Dividing the world into not-me, and me while useful for certain purposes, can also be dysfunctional. When we take this division to be real rather than a sometimes-useful way of performing, we become trapped. Living as though we are really split from what we have defined as outside of ourselves engenders a desperate sense of incompleteness and alienation. Existentialists like Camus, Sartre, Dostoyevsky, and Kafka have portrayed these consequences in the extreme. A rigid distinction between not-me and me can lead to psychological disturbances such as anxiety, paranoia, or depression.
Most of us try to compensate for the sense of emptiness and incompleteness that we have created by our self-definitions. We seek to complete ourselves with a tantalizing object, person or experience. These are mirages that are alluring but turn out to be insubstantial. They cannot satisfy in any lasting way because we have projected our ideals onto them and sooner or later they reveal themselves for what they are. We may convince ourselves that we can actually possess or merge with the object of our desire. This may produce a temporary illusion of relief. Eventually we will find ourselves bereft and seek out something new to incorporate or fuse with.
What a strange cycle we have created! First we separate ourselves from everything. Then, we take that separation as real. Next, we desperately try to fuse with an idealized
object that we took to be separate.
We believe that if only we find the right person, object or experience to mingle with, we will finally be satisfied. Sometimes our attempt to break out of the boundaries that we have created takes the form of trying to draw what is regarded as other to us and incorporate it; or in our endeavor to overcome our sense of isolation we allow ourselves to be taken over by the other. This leads to the establishment of cults. In either case we remain under the spell of our dreamed-up object of fulfillment. We live under the false promise that if we get or give ourselves over to what we idealize we will be fulfilled. In reality the contracted self is not really able to merge with its fetishized object. Instead, it bumps up against it and more often than not, friction or bruising eventually results followed by repulsion. Then the cycle is repeated with the same or another person or object.
The ghost archetype offers us a mirror so that we can see ourselves as we are in this contracted state. The resolution of our craving will not be found by reaching for something that is apparently other, any more than the ghost is fulfilled by trying to make contact with what it desperately seeks outside of itself. As long as we continually seek what we believe will satisfy us, we remain starving, vacuous, and ephemeral, unaware of what really sustains and satisfies.
In contrast to ghost’s experience, our worldly life seems more fulfilling. We contact the world through our five senses and can be perceived by others. Yet we still feel separate from all that is outside of our self-created boundary. We consider this experience of separation to be normal, but what if the split that we are starting from is merely a sometimes useful “as if,” rather than anything real?
There is another way of being in which we are not encumbered by the “me/not-me” presumption and the melodramas it engenders. Here, we give up all seeking and open to what is already present, here and now. We meet the apparent other for what he/she/it is, rather than as something to complete us. From here we realize that living through the contracted self has been a ghostly existence in which we were cut off from real sustenance. What seemed to be substantial turns out to be an absence of what is really of substance.
Some teachers, who claim to have discovered the secret of well being, assert that we can turn our life around by envisioning what we really want. They fail to recognize, however, that what we are seeking may be far less than what is possible. What we get is limited by what we are seeking. There is a saying: “when a thief meets a wise man he only sees the wise mans pockets”. Seeking or asking for some particular outcome reflects narrow assumptions about who and what we are and need.
If we turn our attention towards our inner experience we may become aware of the desperation that drives the contracted self to grasp, hold onto, control, or be taken over by that from which it feels separate. As we become more aware of how uncomfortable this way of constructing our experience is, it begins to lose its power over us. We gradually free ourselves from chasing illusions. We cease using the present moment to get what we want. This eventually brings us into a way of being in which we are seeking nothing, expecting nothing. It is here that the unexpected comes forth. It comes upon us only when we are not anticipating. For when we give up all striving, the unknown is revealed.
Ask and You Will Receive
When one feels incomplete, unsatisfied, or unfulfilled his quest for fulfillment may take different forms. We have been exploring seeking and its origins. Seeking and asking are distinct ways of attempting to arrive at what is lacking. Seeking relies primarily on oneself; asking relies on that which transcends the capability of the contracted self.
There are two kinds of asking. The first seeks a particular outcome. It is “asking for.” The second kind of asking is more curious. It does not ask for anything particular. It asks with wonderment. It asks, “What is this?” As we evolve, our asking becomes free of wanting an outcome; and instead our attention turns to the wonder of the asking itself. At that time we lose ourselves in asking; we also find ourselves in asking. We let go of our false identification with someone in need, and we discover our openness to wonder.
Prayer is a form of asking. Instead of relying on himself to attain what he believes he needs, the supplicant uses prayer so that a higher power will intercede to help him attain what is wished for. Most people pray to get what they want. One may pray to obtain what he believes he needs. This may be wealth, power, success in his endeavor, or he may pray for assistance in overcoming weaknesses in his personality. One may also pray for Self Realization.
As we move out of the me/not-me distinction and become more aware of our interdependence, the nature of prayer goes through a transition. It becomes an acknowledgment and exploration of our participation in all that is. Asking turns away from seeking a desired something. One is already feeling interconnected, and appreciative of what is rather than separated from something that is desired or needed. He/she is discovering that all belief in separation is a delusion. That which had been projected outward as separate is recognized as the expression of one’s own being. Prayer turns from a plea that my will be done to a surrender of egoistic concerns in the acknowledgement: "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done.” Here, “Thy” is not someone or something other; it is the inclusive ground of being.
Those who engage in such prayer with a sense that “thy” can be defined, are merely projecting their own image on the ineffable. The ultimate mystery of being is beyond conception or perception; it is unnamable and beyond imagining. It is beyond belief. “Thy,” remains always unknown, ever being revealed as one opens to the wonder of being. This ongoing revelation is accompanied by jubilation.
Prayer now becomes an expression of gratitude. Instead of asking for something one asks in awe, "What is this that is being revealed?" This is the essential question, which may also be phrased as, "What am I?" It is not a question posed by the ego-mind. It is an experiential question that participates in the unfolding discovery. "What is this?", asked as an experiential inquiry without a predisposition to find any particular answer, unfolds an unfilled space in which revealing occurs. What was formerly considered an inner emptiness to be filled by external objects is now revealed as the space through which the transcendent mystery is expressing itself.
Being empty of desire and beliefs allows abundance to flow forth. Emptiness and abundance are two aspects of one mystery. In our emptiness we are filled with the mysterious, the unknown. We naturally respond with gratitude and wonder, which in turn invites more to be revealed. Thus, we find ourselves in a love relationship between our disappearing sense of who we have known ourselves to be, and the wonder of what is being revealed.
Nothing need be done to bring about this revelation. In fact any attempt to do or achieve anything temporarily brings the process to a halt. All that is required is that we remain open to wonder, rather than attempting to attain the goals of the contracted self. Since there is nothing to be done but remain in openness, the unfolding is experienced as grace. What is already and always present comes forth naturally and inevitably when one is no longer filling up the space in the moment with one's preoccupations. It is freely given and received.
From Comparison to Incomparable Being
The Great Way is not difficult
if you are not attached to preferences
When like and dislike are absent
the Real is obvious, clear and undisguised
Even the slightest personal preference
and your whole world becomes divided
Seng – Ts’an
Third Zen Patriarch
The distinction between “me and not-me” is one of the fundamental splits that we have created. Others include good and evil, better and worse, pleasure and pain, inside and outside, full and empty, more and less, like and dislike, beautiful and ugly, ours and theirs, and, yes even scarcity and abundance. These divisions engender an apparent world of comparisons, contrasts, and measurement. We usually prefer one side of a division and try to distance ourselves from the other.
The fall from incomparable grace into the world of comparison is depicted in the Book of Genesis in the Bible. Human beings were cast out of the Garden of Eden when we began to evaluate experiences as good or evil, desirable or undesirable. This way of approaching life qualifies all of our experiences, and creates divisiveness. We live a split existence. We separate ourselves from what we experience in the process of evaluating it. We also split the world into what is acceptable and what is to be rejected. We identify with one side of the split and experience the other as foreign. These apparent divisions form this complex existence in which we find ourselves. We remain ensnared in the divisiveness of these distinctions and the melodramas that they engender.
The evolution of consciousness may be understood as releasing ourselves from our entanglement in the myriad divisions that appear to exist. Each way of being contains the seed of its polar opposite, and that seed eventually bursts forth and expresses itself. When we identify with any way of being or belief, we will find ourselves confronted by opposition outside and within ourselves. We may do battle with it or be taken over by it, but we cannot escape it. As we question the assumptions and beliefs that have aligned us with one side of an apparent rift, we discover that these divisions are expressions of two sides of a polarity that sustain and dance with one another. When we become aware that we are occupying a position in a complementarity, we have already begun the process of disengaging with that position; then the complimentary position becomes more acceptable and integrated instead of being our adversary. Each time we learn to embrace and embody both sides of an apparent dichotomy, the illusions and dramas fall away and we find ourselves in integrated consciousness.
There is a broader awareness from which we can experience the interplay of opposites. In this awareness we disengage from all polarized positions. We are no longer immersed in the drama created by these complimentary qualities. Franklin Merrell-Wolff asserts that awakening consists of the ever more encompassing transcendence of all polarities.
No branch of any duality is real by itself. It is the separation
of one or the other phase of inter-dependent dualities that results
in…illusion or Maya….Awakening is the reintegration for the
Individual consciousness of the inseparable parts that have
been, apparently, divided.1
He asked Life: “What will you give me?”
Life answered: “I will give you every opportunity.”
We saw earlier how we seek to fill our emptiness, find completion by attaining what we lack and realize that this endeavor can never bring lasting satisfaction. We are fulfilled when we release ourselves from the idea that we are incomplete and that what is currently being experienced is insufficient. We do not experience struggle in life because there is scarcity. More is being continually offered than we can possibly absorb! Our difficulty comes from not being receptive to what is offered. Abundance is always flowing forth. It is hidden in plain sight. It is our preoccupation with certain wants that detracts us from recognizing this cornucopia of plenty. When we are living in the world of dualities, scarcity or abundance seems to depend on not having what is wanted (scarcity) or on having as much or more than we want (abundance). This sort of abundance comes and goes. The experience of enduring abundance does not depend on our external condition; it always (all ways) flows forth in unconditional being. It has no beginning or end; it is timeless. True abundance is free of any dependence on conditions. It is beyond relative abundance and scarcity.
In the Hindu tradition, the goddess Lakshmi brings forth overflowing abundance. Many Hindus pray to Lakshmi, asking her to grant them what they are seeking: perhaps a marriage partner or a child. But Lakshmi’s most sincere devotees do not ask anything of her. They surrender all their wants at her feet. In surrendering to her, they enter the realm of Lakshmi. Having no wants, they open to the surfeit of ever flowing abundance, which she embodies.
Emotional pain and suffering are experienced in the delusion of estrangement that exists for the contracted self. When we release our constrictions we open to a realm of unbounded giving forth, a fountain at the center of the universe from which all energies pour into the world. This is the often-sought fountain of youth. It is Bethesda, the healing fountain that emanates as grace when we open the floodgates that separate us from the unknown. Whenever and wherever we are open, it floods forth with more than can be held. It may flow as love or knowledge. This is how Merrell-Wolff describes his experience of overflowing revelations:
“These days I am facing the problem of embarrassment of riches. It seems I have a very peculiar gold mine. As the mine- car comes forth each morning it brings a load of Gold Nuggets---ideas rich in the power of clarification…. Always I am unable to gather and store them in this vault of expression….”2
I was fortunate in having an exemplary experience of abundance that helped me to realize that abundance is an archetypal realm that we can partake of. The archetype of abundance transcends the relative world in which we usually reside. Many of us strive to attain prominence or success in some aspect of life, to be honored in a quarter of our existence that is significant to us. Most of us rarely touch on such experiences; at best we vicariously have a taste of what it is like to excel when we identify with a super star or great leader at the height of their attainment. Once, after ingesting LSD, I entered a realm that is the essence of attainment. I found myself receiving all accolades that I could imagine. I was in the moment of being raised up as the champion in every field of life simultaneously. My attention would turn to sports and I was being greeted at home plate after hitting a home run that wins the World Series, and simultaneously in scoring the wining touchdown. My awareness shifted slightly and I was I found myself also being elected to the highest office in the land. All desires to attain and be celebrated for excellence were being fulfilled all at once in every aspect of life. In this state all desire to be celebrated for my attainment were satisfied in one instant. Following that experience the need for glory has vanished.
External attainments in the relative world may bring us a taste of abundance. However, paradoxically though it may seem, knowing unqualified abundance is a grace that comes to us when we are free from the desire to attain. Only then do we find ourselves in the midst of and being a surfeit of abundance that can never give all of itself away.
Whatever we possess impoverishes us. As long as we find security in what we acquire, whether an object, achievement, or knowledge, we are too caught up maintaining that proprietorship to be all that we cannot grasp. Our difficulty lies in being so preoccupied holding onto our assets that we do not appreciate what is as freely given as sunshine and fresh air. Abundance remains unseen by the contracted self, which is so focused on its goals that it remains unaware of what is already here. If your hands or mind are full with what you have acquired how can you receive something that may be of even greater worth? Whatever we most cling to for security must be surrendered to allow space for something more.
Our identity as a contracted self is created through what we resist as much as what we believe is ours. Overflowing abundance always exists. Though we erect all sorts of barriers to experiencing it, it is like a river that flows through us even when we do not realize it. When we recognize and feel into our resistance to what is, and allow it to dissipate, no barriers remain to being the abundance that underlies existence.
Hide and SeekWe value what appears to be scarce, and take for granted or perhaps don’t even notice what is ever present. Whatever is abundant and freely given, is not respected by the ego-mind. One must experience its scarcity for something to be appreciated or even seen. What is freely and continuously given is the hardest to distinguish. As long as fresh air and unpolluted drinking water are freely and abundantly available, we do not give them much attention. When they become scarce, we take notice and place a higher value on them. Abundance pervades our existence. It is so omnipresent that it remains unrecognized. Beyond even abundance is the unalloyed awareness in which abundance flows. This is even more difficult to discern.
How can unconditioned abundance make itself known? Paradoxically, by its seeming absence! Since what is freely given is not seen (and thus not valued), abundance and other universal qualities make themselves scarce in order to be sought out as something that is apparently absent. Like the moon, which seems to disappear behind clouds, ever-present abundance is often obscured from our view and only the dark clouds of apparent scarcity are seen. This is the metaphysical game of hide and seek. The essential quality, in this case abundance, becomes hidden so we seek it out. Our pursuit sharpens our investigative ability. It leads us to discern various adumbrated, partial expressions of the sought after quality. When we become aware that a manifestation of abundance we are encountering is incomplete or impermanent we search further for its more complete expression. We will not be satisfied until we reach the source of this eternal spring. In this quest our awareness becomes ever more comprehensive. At some point we recognize that what we have been seeking not distinct from what already is, here and now.
When we experience the apparent loss of that essential facet of manifestation, we first search for what seems to be missing in the material world. Our attention goes out to those forms that entice us with the promise of filling the emptiness that we are experiencing. As long as these promising attractions (and the frightening spectacles that express its complete absence) captivate us, we will be pulled here and there into emotionally charged dramas that seem very real and compelling. We will identify ourselves as the protagonist in these dramas and cease to recognize ourselves as awareness. Our attention will shift from one concern or preoccupation to another, which creates a sense of time streaming by. In this tumult, underlying pervasive qualities such as timelessness and abundance remain unseen and unknown. During our quest, we may catch glimpses of abundance in an adumbrated form. Perhaps we will experience times of material wealth or success, followed by times of impoverishment. However the emergence of unconditional abundance has not yet occurred.
There is a way to go beyond these foretastes and allow unqualified abundance into our everyday experience. It begins with being aware in the midst of what is occurring. Initially what is occurring may be our preoccupation with objects, people, beliefs, desires, fears, and reactions to past events. If we let our attention include the sense of awareness itself rather than exclusively focusing on what we are aware of, the tendency to lose ourselves in the contents of awareness will diminish. This allows an opening for more subtle aspects of what is now occurring to be known. Then, even these subtle contents can be recognized as occurring in awareness. We can become increasingly aware of awareness rather than what comes up in awareness, however subtle these occurrences may be. When we abide as awareness, abundance comes out of hiding. It shows itself, shining forth like the Sun on a new morning.
This process of a universal quality such as abundance becoming known, can be better understood by considering the relationship between signal and noise. If you are listening to music on an AM radio station during a thunderstorm the music being transmitted is the signal that you would like to enjoy. The thunderstorm may create erratic, static, sounds that make it difficult to experience the music. A signal is whatever you would like to experience. Noise is what is interfering with that signal.
Imagine that you are trying to locate a faint star in the night sky but you are standing in area illuminated by electric lights. These are brighter than the light coming to you from the star, so the star cannot be seen. In this case, the electric lights are the noise that does not allow the signal (the star) to be distinguished. Diminishing the noise or amplifying the signal would allow you to see the star. The first, could be accomplished by turning off all of the electric lights; the latter, by using a telescope. The best result would come from applying both at the same time.
The star may seem to be invisible. In better circumstances it is dimly seen. In actuality it may be far brighter than our own sun. So it is with such qualities as abundance and awareness. The mind’s preoccupation with the endless variety of glaring attractions and repulsions overwhelm us and obscure the omnipresent ground in which everything exists. Abundance becomes known when we turn down the noise and/or amplify its signal.
Meditation, devotional practices, and appreciative inquiry make this possible. In these practices we turn our attention from attractions, repulsions, and the cacophony of thoughts in the mind (noise). We refine our sensitivity through sustained attention to the background from which happenings arise (signal). In this process, there can be a progressive development toward ever more subtle recognition. What begins as the signal (something that we may initially want to attend to), eventually becomes noise to a finer signal. For example, in noticing what is occurring for you in this moment you may first chose to become aware of sensations in your physical body (signal). Your mind may be easily distracted by unfinished business from the past, and planning for the future (noise). As you continue to experience your present bodily sensations, the vagaries of your mind will diminish because they are not being maintained by your interest in them. You will be more present and aware, here and now, but this is not the end of opening up to the moment. It is only a step in recognizing what is.
The body sensations are masking still more subtle qualities. Having allowed the mind to quiet you can now turn your attention to faint energetic sensations, vibrations, pulsing, or radiance within (the new signal). Tension, heat, cold, pleasure, pain, or other body sensations (now noise) may at first overwhelm these subtle signals. As you continue to experience the awareness in which these bodily sensations arise, the more subtle energies will become more easily accessible. Tensions in the body, sensations of discomfort, and other physical preoccupations (now noise) will eventually settle down, so that the subtle energies can be more easily experienced. In turn these subtle sensations become noise to the experience of even more essential qualities within, such as the quintessence of satisfaction, innocence, joy, or abundance. Through this process, you can progressively open to unalloyed awareness. As you progress, what began as a subtle signal becomes more immediate, apparent and clear. As the noise fades and the signal is amplified, what was at first faint and barely discernable becomes immediately and intensely felt. In this process, you are not merely observing, you are participating in these ever more subtle experiences.
We are easily enticed by myriad alluring and repulsive occurrences. Meditation practices train us to focus attention so that the mind is steadied rather than being swept up in a constant stream of meandering thoughts. One typically focuses attention on a chosen ongoing occurrence, such as a repeated mantra, or the flow of the breath, or he observes what arises in the mind moment by moment. Eventually attention becomes one-pointed.
Ultimately this superbly concentrated attention gives way to participatory, non-intentional awareness that is intimate with whatever is arising in the moment. One is actively engaged in all that is happening. Being awareness is not focused on any one occurrence; it is simultaneously inclusive of all that is.
“Nondual consciousness is not a state of attention….Rather, one experiences a simple lucid openness in which the phenomena of the world appear, and through which experiences…move without obstruction.”3
Nondual consciousness or being awareness is inclusive, whereas the contracted self has isolated itself from all that it believes it is not, and thus functions from a sense of incompleteness. For the most part, our society does not assist us in living from wholeness. Instead, it proposes that what is needed to feel complete is out there for the taking. If you begin with a split, however, no matter how much you attempt to incorporate into yourself you will never feel that what you have is sufficient. You will be like someone who is trying to overcome his feeling of emptiness by eating. His inner hunger will remain, even as he stuffs himself with food. For a person living in the contracted self, no matter how much he has, it is never enough to feel satisfied. J. Paul Getty, once the richest man in the world, continued to live from scarcity even when he had incredibly more money than he could ever spend in his lifetime. He felt that he could not afford to be generous. He was so concerned with how much it cost him each day to have someone stay in his mansion, that he installed a pay phone for his invited guests to use.
Opening to being awareness begins with a shift in attention from how you would like it to be, to becoming increasingly aware of what is occurring here and now. You may have to begin with experiencing your own sense of scarcity and how it is running your life, noticing your feelings of not having enough. You may become aware of how your sense of insufficiency is leading you to misappropriate what you imagine will make you feel complete. As you continue to experience the felt sense of scarcity without trying to acquire something to take away your uneasiness, the place from which you are experiencing will shift on its own. Your center of experiencing will move from the contracted self to a greater awareness that may include the felt sense of the contracted self.
The seat of awareness is not disturbed by external circumstances or by the ever-changing emotional weather within. It remains satisfied regardless of what the contracted self has or does not have. In this inherent satisfaction, there is no urge to reach out for something to find completion. However, being awareness is neither an observer nor is it non-attached. It does not know about; it knows by being what is known. To the contracted self the term “non-attachment” suggests non-involvement, a kind of dissociation. Being awareness is non-reactive, not because it has separated itself, but because it is all-inclusive. There is no other so there is nothing to observe, cling to, or avoid. Being awareness does not separate itself from any experience. Nothing is separate so nothing is rejected. There is nothing to gain or eliminate. Where would it come from and where would it go?
When all the ghosts turn inward and recognize their completeness
There are no longer ghosts
When all the aliens have been welcomed home
Nothing is alien to you
When all paths have been exhausted
There are no more paths to walk
So you are
With the way
There is nowhere to go
For you are
From Ownership to Liberation
Concurrent with creating the duality “me” and “not-me” the ego-mind parcels out the world into “mine” and “not- mine”. The belief that certain objects and people belong to us develops in early childhood. The toddler becomes possessive and asserts, “This is my toy, my daddy”! He believes that he has an exclusive right to the things that he holds dear. This is a meaningful stage of human development in which the toddler is developing a sense of independence and is dealing with separation anxiety. Although we move on to further developmental accomplishments we each retain this tendency in varying degrees. Acting as though we own things is an attempt to diminish the anxiety of living as the contracted self.
Some societies discourage the sense of personal ownership while others have instituted the right to own. For these societies, personal ownership governs most of the transactions that take place. Western civilization relies on personal ownership to function. It is founded on privileged individuals having the right of ownership. Privilege entitles one to ownership and ownership entitles one to privilege. It is true that many creatures instinctually mark a territory as their own. We humans have extended this territorial instinct to all manner of possessions including other people. Giving up the ownership of slaves was a brutally fought-for expansion in the consciousness of our society, which almost tore it asunder.
Ownership is merely a convention. Social orders share customs about how resources, animals, or people come to be owned. Those customs continue to change over time. Not too long ago the owner of a baseball team also owned the services of each ballplayer until they sold or traded for him. Ballplayers sought and won their partial emancipation. Now they can become “free agents” after several years of service.
When we played Monopoly as children, we practiced following rules to accumulating pretend properties and money. We learned that as the path to winning in the game of life. As adults we learn to participate in more complex games to play ownership in “real life.” How strange and foreboding it must have appeared to indigenous people, when the Europeans arrived in the Americas and began dividing up the land, claiming individual ownership of the parcels. What a contrast to the words of a speech attributed to Chief Seattle:
The earth does not belong to us
We belong to the earth
How can you buy or sell the sky, the warmth of the land?
The idea is strange to us.
One day you will be parted from all the things that you consider to be yours. Who will you be then? Do you really own the things you have appropriated or do they own you? Do they enslave you in maintaining them? Preoccupation with what you possess - whether they are material objects, your body, or your beliefs - does not allow you the freedom to be.
Life is ever flowing. All things come and go, and yet we cling to our beliefs, our body, our identity, our possessions, and our relationships. We say my body, but who is this “I” that the body belongs to? We treat (mistreat) our physical body as though it is the possession of the contracted self. We cling to this possession and dread its loss; we do not let go when it is time to part. We keep a tight grip on all of our possessions in fear that we would be diminished if they were gone. Our desperate attempt to hold onto what is familiar is like trying to swim upstream. We struggle against the ongoing transformation of all things. It is an art to participate in life enthusiastically “even passionately”, and to let go when the time comes for letting go, rather than trying to possess or hold onto what was.
We live in an inverted way. We believe that it is better to possess more: more knowledge, more wealth, more time, more happiness and so on. We are possessive of objects, people, or even beliefs. That which we possess constricts and consumes us.
We become preoccupied and lost in the drama of maintaining and holding onto our possessions when in reality a person’s measure is inverse to what he has; it is in how much he gives up. The more we give up, the freer we become, and the more we are able to receive. Then, we open ourselves to all that cannot be possessed. When we give up everything, we are no longer separate from the whole. Nisargadatta states, “I give eternally, because I have nothing. To be nothing, to keep nothing for oneself is the greatest gift, the highest generosity.”4
There is a story about a man from a foreign land who was the ruler's treasurer. In keeping account of the sovereign's wealth he had a strange habit of counting by thirteen instead of in decimals. One day, the ruler asked him why he was using such an unusual counting system. The treasurer replied, “In my language the number thirteen sounds the same as the word ‘yours.’ By counting in thirteens, I am always reminded that this treasure does not belong to me.” As a result of his non-possessiveness, this man was trusted with all of the monarch's wealth. When one recognizes that the wealth of experience that comes his way does not belong to him, he opens to ever-increasing abundance. When one does not seek to possess, grace flows forth.
The Bhagavad Gita teaches that a person opens to Non-dual Consciousness by giving up what he has most relied on. By sacrificing whatever one has identified with, he opens to a more wide-ranging awareness. Those who possess knowledge release themselves from their dependence on knowledge; those who are wealthy offer their wealth.
There is a strong urge in all of us to surrender, but that urge is usually misplaced. The contracted self surrenders to a person or to an ideal. This leads to an inflated sense of oneself through identifying with that person or cause. Many of us are all too eager to surrender to someone who acts as though he is entitled to receive our devotion. Political and spiritual leaders easily steal our loyalty with promises that usually go unfulfilled. When we give away our power to another person he is likely to use that power for his own aggrandizement. The same is true when we surrender to an organization or institution. Our offering may serve to increase the power of the institution and its leaders more than it contributes to the noble cause that organization claims to further.
It is tempting to give up our managing function, to allow ourselves to be directed by a leader or to identify with a group that seems to have more assurance and power than we do as an individual. All too often the dark side of the leader or noble cause reveals itself. Then we feel that we have been had. Instead of surrendering to a person, cause, or organization, we can choose to surrender our fears and preoccupations to a more comprehensive center of organization that is not identified with a particular form. We can open to the ground of our own being not projected onto any external form.
The Ground Of Being
Inquiry into your experience in the moment will reveal a background to whatever object has captured your attention. What if you were to include this background in your awareness? For example, while writing this, as I look at my computer screen I can also become aware of the space around and behind it. Without making the background the object of your awareness, can you include it? Now, is it possible that this background itself has a background? For me now, this may be awareness of being aware of the computer screen and the background. Can you experience this more subtle awareness? If we practice becoming aware of the background of that experience and the background of that background and so on we will come into ever-more primary levels of being. What would it be like to continue this exploration into these ever more subtle backgrounds?
When we give up our identification with what we possess, our beliefs, material objects, body, and so on what is left? You may imagine an absence of what you know to be yourself. This kind of absence is not easily tolerated; we usually escape into business. We avoid unfilled space and time. We fill silence with chatter or with music. What would it be like to dwell in uncluttered presence? Absence is the space through which manifestation occurs; all possibilities exist in it. It is the creative emptiness from which an infinite variety of forms can spring forth.
The wind flows through a canyon, shaped as much by the rock walls, as it is shaping them. Its whispers or howling are given form by the space through which it flows. We may consider the wind to be more powerful than the space created by the rock formations. Is it so? Or is the medium through which any phenomenon or experience flows, supreme? Sometimes the medium is not so apparent. It can hide in absence or pervasiveness. Yet, all that flows through it are its offspring.
As the canyon’s spaces are to the wind, the wind is to a glider or a soaring condor. Its currents provide the way for the bird to glide through vast spaces. In this way each manifestation takes its place in the web of interdependence. It is both that which flows through and that which contains the flowing through.
These days we are preoccupied with using force - forcing our way through as with propeller planes or jet aircraft, motorboats rather than sailboats. We are more concerned with our destination than our intimacy with the space through which we are moving. We often ignore the momentary experience except as it has some utility for our ends. We have gathered knowledge on the physics of propulsion, but the all pervasiveness through which we are moving remains a mystery.
Abundance and timelessness point to the unnamable background through which all apparent forms flow. They are ways that indescribable, Non-dual Consciousness initially expresses itself as manifestation. Abundance is always present; the present is always abundant; abundance is now. When we are absorbed in imagining a past or future, it is as though we exist in a vacuum in which presence is sucked out. The world that we create through our contracted self is an absence, for it is a denial of the effulgence of being.In our self-created illusion of absence there is an experience of scarcity and invariably a tendency to grasp after what we imagine to be withdrawn. Conversely, when we continue opening to what appears to be background, we find ourselves participating in the overflowing abundance of the eternal now.
The pervasiveness of awareness has been likened to the emanation of light. Clear light passes through a faceted diamond and gleams with a variety of spectacular hues as the diamond is turned at different angles. The light takes on a distinct appearance as it reflects through each facet. As the sun descends over a lake, light glimmers in an ever-changing rainbow of breathtaking colors. The light is the same, but it appears in a variety of unique and exhilarating expressions. These are merely reflections of one emanation.
As that which is beyond name and form manifests itself, it appears differently when seen from various positions. From a variety of vantage points, one may attempt to describe the indescribable origin. Seen from different perspectives, the unnamable can appear as truth, unconditional love, freedom, abundance, timelessness or countless other essential or archetypal qualities. However, these are all different reflections of the same source.
The ground of being can appear to be less or more obscured depending on the intent of the one who is experiencing. A person in a fishing boat on the lake may revel in the patterns of ever changing reflections of light, or he may be preoccupied with catching fish and hardly notice that he is in the midst of glory. As we become less identified with our personal concerns, fears, hopes and expectations, the ineffable becomes less obscured. Then we discover and bathe in those reflections that more clearly express the unnamable that underlies the patterns of this world.
The qualities of unconditional being as it manifests in the phenomenal world have been referred to in the Sufi tradition as essential qualities and in Greek philosophy as Platonic ideals. These pure expressions become adumbrated; they increasingly lose their purity as they manifest in ever more dense forms. They are caricatured when experienced through the contracted self.
The contracted self claims dominion over a simulation of these essential qualities. For example, there are two distinct expressions of power. For the contracted self, power is used to subjugate that which is other. We may act as the one in power or as the one who appears to be powerless, or we may engage in a power struggle. In each case we are not free; in one way or another we are subject to power over. This kind of power is caricature of essential power, which we may call “empowerment.”
Essential power is an elemental force that does not reign over anyone. It cannot be appropriated; it cannot belong to a contracted self. It does not control, for it is not power possessed by an individual who is distinct from anyone or anything. It is free from experiences of superiority and inferiority. When we disengage from identification with a contracted self we become empowered. Empowerment is experienced as strength that sponsors all it meets. Empowerment is not relative power. It is the essence of strength or will, but it is not “my will”. It is a presence that spreads out and fills space. It is ever present.
Each Hindu deity can be understood as an expression of archetypal or essential qualities. Ganesha is the personification of empowerment. Before undertaking any endeavor, one makes offerings, prays to, or invokes Ganesha to open the way to success. In contrast to other deities, Ganesha is not portrayed as combative. He does not wield a weapon, nor ride on a powerful animal. He sits calmly, with a big belly, offering sweets. He has an elephant’s head and there is a rat gnawing on a rope at his feet. He is depicted as lighthearted and content. This symbolism shows that the way to success is not through power over. Empowerment comes with generosity of spirit, self confidence, good humor, and the capacity to discern and cut through the fetters that have been holding one back.
When we are identified with the contracted self, we lose awareness of these traits. Remaining ensnared in the conditional realm, we cannot experience essential qualities such as abundance and empowerment. We experience only their crude and pain-causing impersonators. We mistake possessions for abundance and power for empowerment. Our work is to be aware of the contracted self’s craving to possess the crude misrepresentations of these qualities. Such awareness can help in being less identified with these impostors. It can leave an unoccupied space for the essential qualities to express through our being.
It is the radiance of unconditional being that actually penetrates the patterns and structures of the contracted self and loosens the hold those structures have over us. Eventually the radiance of unconditional being flows forth unimpeded. From the perspective of the personal self, this transformation occurs through time, and appears to be a progressive unfolding. This apparent unfolding does not take place through the efforts of the personal self, but through allowing an infusion from unconditional being. This infusion occurs spontaneously when one is not filling the space with beliefs, desires, opinions, preoccupations, and identifications.
Non-dual Consciousness manifests in different guises: it can become visible as empowerment or freedom; it flows forth as grace and as abundance without limit; it is jubilation as well as satisfaction. It is the source of all that is and is not.
Exercises: Answer these questions:
Do I act from scarcity in my life? If so, how?
Do I act from scarcity in relationships? If so, how?
Do act from scarcity in how I earn a living. If so, how?
What would it be like to assume that there is abundance in each of these aspects of my life?
- Franklin Merrell Wolff, Pathways Through To Space, (New York, Julian Press, 1973), p. 138
- ibid. , p. 143
- Judith Blackstone, The Empathic Ground, (Albany, New York, State University Of New York Press, 2007), p. 9
- Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, I AM THAT, (Durham North Carolina, The Acorn Press, 1973), p. 107