Dogen, the 13th-century Zen master, was once asked what he learned on his trip to Japan. He responded “my eyes are horizontal. my nose is vertical.” In other words, that reality is as obvious as the nose on our faces. So why do we have a hard time seeing it? There are countless pointers and teachings intending to point out our “true nature.”
Paul Hedderman’s insight is that this doesn’t work because these words are heard by the “mental state,” an illusory idea that reality takes itself to be. In this framing, what we are is reality (timeless, unconditioned). But reality takes itself to be a “me” (a limited mental state. A self).
When that happens, the message gets “neutered.” Paul uses the metaphor of a hand in a glove to point this out. In this scenario, reality is the hand, and the glove is the illusory self. The message of non-duality points to the qualities of the hand (smooth, soft, etc) but the message is heard “as the glove.”
The glove’s experience is neither smooth nor soft. So the glove tries to alter its characteristics to match the description it hears. It might purchase expensive lotions or take a scrubber to the leather. All of these actions are futile. No amount of scrubbing is going to make the glove into a hand. The hand is already smooth and soft. All it needs to do is not feel itself through a glove!
The antidote is to tell the hand what it’s not. Pointing out the characteristics of the glove to the hand helps. The hand figures out what it is by seeing what it’s not.
Paul uses quotes from the ancient Chan master Huang Po to reiterate the message. You can’t use the buddha to seek the buddha. You can’t use activity to produce stillness – it will just result in more activity.
Freedom is before the bondage
The tricky thing about pointing this out is that it works counter to our everyday experience of the world. In the metaphor of the hand and the glove, there seems to be an action to take – the hand needs to come out of the glove.
Non-duality is different because the self is illusory. It was a misunderstanding that caused the illusion to be taken as real. Any attempt to take action as the illusory self reinforces the illusion. Freedom comes not as a self (an individual on a journey) but from self (seeing that it’s not real).
The fastest gunslinger is always drawn
The appearance of the self includes a subtle time-traveling trick. When it appears, it claims to have been there all along. Like the clown taking the bow at the circus, it shows up and claims to have thought the thought, felt that feeling, or taken the action.
Ramana Maharishi points this out by saying that the biggest challenge is the presupposing of a non-existent self wanting to seek salvation for the non-existent self. The illusory self arises with the presupposition that it was always there. Now it can claim everything that happens to be it’s doing. It seeks to find an answer to the problem.
Self can’t get out of self
But seeking a way out as the self further reinforces the self. Every exit sign (yoga, meditation, etc) keeps reasserting the existence of a self. When the illusory self hears the story of non-duality it tries to devise a method to get out of self. This is very much like a thief dressing up as a policeman to catch the thief. It can never succeed because it starts from the wrong point.
Losing interest is key
If the self is illusory why are so mesmerized by it? It’s because they seem to be about us or we think they are “my thoughts”. The bondage happens when the “Mine” label is attached to whatever is happening (my car. my wife. my feeling of hurt)
If we saw it as someone else’s thoughts we’d be disinterested. Paul often says “if they were Stanley’s thoughts we’d be bored in a minute” But when they are my thoughts, we bring out the popcorn and settle in.
Many of the thoughts have a hidden pointer to an assumed me. When you look for that me you’ll see it’s just a thought. But by repetition we’ve assumed that to be ourselves.
Carpets have no purpose if you don’t have a floor
Once when Paul was in Turkey on his way to East Asia, he found himself in a rug showroom. The sales people were incredibly enthusiastic but all of their attempts at persuading Paul to buy a rug had no impact. He didn’t have a floor to put the rug on. He was immune to the pitch.
The countless thoughts streaming by have no place to land if the self is seen as illusory. If the self is assumed to exist then they have a place to land. The solution is freedom from the problem. It’s not a solution to the problem.
When reality sees the show and the illusory self, nothing changes. The only difference is you travel lighter through the adventure. The action-figure (the self) continues to struggle and it continues to strive, but reality doesn’t take it personally.
In one satsang someone observed that these practices seem to help the action-figure understand reality. Paul replied that in the story the action-figure may go through these practices and learn something, but in actuality, it has no bearing on reality.