- by Andrew Cohen
heart of the spiritual life ultimately consists of two fundamental
experiences: meditation and contemplation.
Meditation is the experience of being. When we experience meditationwhether
we are practicing it or simply experiencing the spontaneous flow
of meditation within ourselvesmeditation is the experience of being
beyond the mind. The experience of meditation, when it is spontaneous,
effortless and deep, is often quite a revelation. Indeed, when we
are able to experience who and what we are outside of and beyond
the movement of the mind, we discover a depth of self that is profound.
And in those moments we experience a dynamic freedom from everything
that we have ever known. You see, most of the time we are mechanically
identifying with one thought after another, and because of that
our emotional experience is often one of suffocation and limitation.
But when we experience consciousness free from the movement of mind,
it is always the experience of extraordinary liberation.
Contemplation is the pursuit of truth. The pursuit of truth means
that the individual endeavors to find out for themselves: what is
the difference between truth and falsehood? If we look around at
the world we live in, we will find that it is a very rare individual
who is interested in what is true. In fact, most of us simply assume
that we already know. We have all absorbed countless unquestioned
ideas from the world around us and from the culture that we live
in. And it takes tremendous courage and a rare intensity of interest
to be able to independently question ideas that we already have
in order to find out directly for ourselves what is true.
So in the experience of meditation, we leave the mind alone. We
allow ourselves to experience being, free from the influence of
thought. While in the practice of contemplation, which is the intense,
focused, one-pointed pursuit of truth, we do use the mind. In contemplation
we use thought in order to help us discriminate between truth and
But in order to be able to practice the art of contemplation, the
art of discrimination, first we have to learn how to meditate. First
we have to learn how to experience being beyond the mind. Its very
difficult to practice the art of contemplation if we have not yet
discovered that infinite space that lies beyond the mind.
Letting Everything Be as It Is
The most direct way to experience meditation is simply to let everything
be as it is. Just let everything be as it isover and over and over
Now the minute we try to let everything be as it is, what we discover
is that we dont want to do it. And the reason for this is that
we are so compulsively fascinated with the contents of our own mindour
likes, our dislikes and all of our worries. And because of this,
our mind, when we begin to look closely at it, often appears to
be tormenting us. But if we want to be free we will find the strength
to be disinterested in the contents of our own mind. If we want
to be free we will find the courage to simply let everything be
as it is. You see, to let everything be as it is, all we have to
do is resist the temptation not to let everything be as it is. This
is the great challenge that the meditator struggles with.
Of course there are different approaches to meditation. Some approaches
are meant to help distract us from the movement of the mind. But
if we want to look very deeply into life, we shouldnt distract
ourselves. We should simply let everything be as it is. And as we
let everything be as it is and continue to let everything be as
it is, the mind will begin to slow down. It will fall away from
the center of consciousness and we will discover space. Infinite
space. And in that space there is depth, extraordinary depth. And
in that depth we will discover peace, bliss and joy because finally
we want nothing.
When the mind is busy we always want something. Its an endless
torment. But when the mind moves away from the center of consciousness
we begin to feel the intense peace of letting everything be as it
is. And when we experience this very deep peace, we discover the
secret of Enlightenment. Its the secret that the Buddha was speaking
about. We find our greatest happiness, greatest joy and deepest
fulfillment when we want nothing.
Most of us live a life of almost unending tyranny. And that tyranny
is caused by the presence of ceaseless wanting. The truth is, there
is no object that we can possess in this world that can give us
lasting peace and perfect contentment. It simply does not exist.
And only when we experience very deep meditation, which is the conscious
experience of wanting nothing, will this perennial truth begin to
dawn. If we are serious, eventually it will become unavoidably clear
that the fundamental cause of our misery is the constant seeking
for contentment outside of ourselves. So the ultimate act of renunciation,
which is the direct path to Liberation, is simply the willingness
to give up this endless seeking for gratification outside of our
own self. This is the secret of Enlightenment, and it can be discovered
through the deep and profound experience of meditation.
Now as I said, in order to practice contemplation we first need
to be able to experience very deep and profound meditation. Because
in order to learn how to use the mind in the right way, we have
to first be able to put the mind down. You see, most of us are so
compulsively distracted by the movement of mind that the mind and
its movement is all that we see. And when the movement of mind is
all that we see, it will be impossible for us to have any objectivity
in relationship to that movement. It is the discovery of the SPACE
that we experience in meditation that makes it possible to see the
mind from outside the mind, to see the mind from beyond the mind.
The experiential discovery of that space reveals a completely new
perspective in relationship to the mind and its movement that is
liberatingly objective instead of suffocatingly subjective.
Once we become firmly established in the experience of meditationwhen
we know what it is to leave the mind alone, to let everything be
as it isthen and only then can we begin to use the mind with an
objectivity that is profound, an objectivity that will enable us
to see what is true.
Am I & How Shall I Live?
Part Two - by Andrew Cohen
There are two fundamental spiritual questions: Who am I? and How
shall I live? To find the answer to the first question, we ask the
universe: Who am I? Who am I really? Who am I beyond the mind,
beyond the personality, beyond gender, beyond any fixed notion of
self?Who am I?
The second question that all true seekers want to know the answer
to is: How shall I live? How can I live in a way that makes perfect
sense? How can I live in a way that manifests the spiritual vision
of profound simplicity, dynamic freedom and perfect oneness? All
the questions that have been asked of spiritual masters throughout
history in the end refer to these two questions alone: Who am I?
and How shall I live?
The answer to the first question is found in deep meditation, where
we can experience who we are beyond the mind, beyond the personality.
And when we have a repeated experiential discovery of who we are
beyond the mindwho we are when we want nothing, when we need nothing,
when we know nothingsuddenly or gradually a conviction is born.
A conviction that whispersYes. This is who I really am.
The second spiritual question becomes relevant when our experience
of meditation comes to an end. When weve experienced the peace,
joy, bliss and absolute contentment of wanting nothing at all, and
then the world in all its unrelenting intensity suddenly rushes
inwhat are we going to do? You see, as long as we are breathing
we must ACT. There is no choice in this. And if we want to be free,
we have to be able to respond fully and wholeheartedly to the ultimate
challenge. What is that challenge?
That challenge is being liberated in the world of time and space,
being free in the world of cause and effect, being enlightened in
the world of you and me. This is where the practice of contemplation
comes into the spiritual life.
The Five Fundamental Tenets of Enlightenment
Now Im going to speak about what in my teaching are called The
Five Fundamental Tenets of Enlightenment. They serve as a perfect
foundation for enlightened action in the world of time and space.
Sincere contemplation of these five tenets will enable any seeker
to find out, simply and directly, what the appropriate response
to life is in any given moment if they want to be free more than
Clarity of Intention
The first tenet, Clarity of Intention, states that if we want to
be free, then we have to cultivate the intention to be free to such
a degree that it will always be more powerful than any other desire.
The first tenet tells us that if we want to succeed in liberating
ourselves from fear, ignorance and self-deception, then that desire
for Liberation must always be stronger than any interest in wealth
or worldly fame, more powerful than even our love for our children,
our husband or our wife. Simply put, the first tenet says that our
desire for spiritual freedom must become the most important thing
in our lives. Indeed, for success to be a realistic possibility,
the first tenet tells us that our desire for Liberation has to be
cultivated to such a degree that it alone becomes that which determines
the choices that we make and the actions that we take.
Of course, very few of us want to be free that much, because it
demands such unusual courage. You see, the world we live in insists
that we all conform. But the individual who wants to be free more
than anything else must be unwilling to conform. They must be ready
to stand alone in that which they have recognized is most important.
If we sincerely want to become a liberated person, then we have
to be willing to be independent in a world where so few truly think
The Law of Volitionality
The second tenet, The Law of Volitionality, states that we are not
victims of our experience. You see, most of us, secretly or even
not so secretly, feel victimized simply being alive. The second
tenet tells us that the individual who wants to be free more than
anything else, who wants to be a truly independent, liberated human
being, unconditionally rejects any and all temptations to be a victim.
They unconditionally accept full responsibility for their karma,
for their lot in life, even if they have had a very hard time.
The second tenet tells us that there is only one doer and that doer
is us. It states that it is we and we alone who are making the important
choices. The second tenet tells us that if we want to be free more
than anything else, we have to be willing to take responsibility
for the consequences of everything that has ever happened to us.
It tells us that only then does it become possible to be free from
the pastin this very moment.
Face Everything and Avoid Nothing
The third tenet is very simple. It states that if we want to be
free more than anything else, we have to be willing to face everything
and avoid nothing in every moment. Facing everything and avoiding
nothing is the ultimate spiritual practice. It requires tremendous
courage, unusual sincerity and a powerful commitment. Most of all,
facing everything and avoiding nothing in every moment demands that
we have a VERY BIG HEART. Why? Because it means that we always want
to know the truth, and that we are willing to face everything and
avoid nothing no matter how painful it may be, in order to find
Its very important to realize that in the end, if we are not willing
to face ourselves unconditionally, then there is no doubt that someone
else is going to suffer as a result. This is inevitable.
Simply through this practice, the practice of facing everything
and avoiding nothing, we will cease to act out of ignorance in ways
that cause suffering to other people. Through this practice alone,
we can find our own Liberation.
The Truth of Impersonality
The fourth tenet states that every aspect of our personal experience
is ultimately completely impersonal. It declares that our ignorance
of that fact is the cause of so much of our fear, confusion and
unenlightenment. The fourth tenet tells us that there is only one
human experience, but that everybody believes their experience to
be unique to them alone. When we step back from the compulsive and
habitual personalization of our own experience, it will become shockingly
apparent to us that none of what we experience is ultimately personal.
For example, when two different individuals experience the peace,
joy and bliss of wanting nothing at all, arent they experiencing
the very same peace, joy and bliss? Similarly, when two different
individuals experience fear, anger and lust, in the end arent they
experiencing the very same fear, the very same anger and the very
The fourth tenet says that when we are willing to resist the seemingly
overwhelming temptation to personalize almost everything that we
experience, we will begin to become aware of the universal nature
of our experience, the universal nature of human consciousness.
Who will we be when we no longer habitually and compulsively personalize
our own experience? If we want to be free more than anything else,
thats what we want to discover.
You see, one of the greatest causes of human ignorance, and the
relentless suffering and agony that is its result, is the compulsive
and habitual personalization of that which is not personal but universal.
For the Sake of the Whole
The last tenet of the teaching is the most demanding of all. It
states that to be a truly free human being we have to give up our
materialistic relationship to life. A materialistic relationship
to life is defined as a life lived only for ourselves. It is a life
where we are living only to have for ourselves, only to get for
ourselves. Even Enlightenment we want for ourselves alone.
The last tenet states that if we want to be a liberated human being,
we must come to that point in our own evolution where we are no
longer living for ourselves but are living for the sake of the whole.
It tells us that genuine spirituality always points to the end of
a self-centered, self-serving relationship to life. It makes clear
that the sincere spiritual aspirant must be willing to give up this
terrible habit of living for themselves alone. This is the last
step that needs to be taken by any human being who truly wants to
All human beings want to be free from suffering, all human beings
want to be free from fear. But there is more to the spiritual life
than that. You see, the point of spiritual experience, in fact the
whole point of Enlightenment, is evolution. The evolution of consciousness.
And this evolution occurs when we recognize in a way that is unequivocal
that the whole point of human life is to live for the sake of the
whole. When we realize this we experience intense bliss, because
in this realization there is final Liberation. The most significant
part of spiritual experience is the discovery of why we are here.
And when we discover that the whole point of human existence is
to live for the sake of the whole, all of our questions are answered.
This is the hardest of the tenets. And that is because it demands
everything from us. But it is where true Liberation is found.
Once again, the first tenet is Clarity of Intention. It states that
if one sincerely aspires to achieve Liberation and Enlightenment
in this life, then the desire for that Liberation must be cultivated
in such a way that it will always be stronger than our desire for
The second tenet is The Law of Volitionality. It states that there
is only one doer and that that doer is us. It says that the unconditional
acceptance of that fact makes it possible to take complete responsibility
for the consequences of everything that has ever happened to us.
It tells us that only then does Liberation become possible.
The third tenet is Face Everything and Avoid Nothing. It states
simply that if we want to be free, we have to be willing to face
everything and avoid nothing in every moment. It says that if we
are not willing to face everything and avoid nothing, then it is
inevitable that others will suffer the consequences of our own unwillingness
to be awake. It tells us that facing everything and avoiding nothing
is the ultimate spiritual practice, and that if we want to be free
our Liberation depends upon it.
The fourth tenet is The Truth of Impersonality. It states that every
aspect of our personal experience, when scrutinized closely enough,
will be revealed to be completely impersonal. It says that the discovery
of the ultimately impersonal nature of our personal experience is
the door to direct perception of the universal nature of all human
experience. It tells us that it is through the direct perception
of the universal nature of our own experience that the truth can
The fifth and final tenet is For the Sake of the Whole. It states
that to be truly free we must finally be willing to renounce a relationship
to life that is based on wanting to have everything, including spiritual
experience, for ourselves alone. It says that the whole point of
spiritual experience is evolution. And it tells us that that evolution
occurs, and the true significance of human life is found, when we
cease to live for ourselves but live only for the sake of the whole.
Through the sincere contemplation of these five tenets, the way
to actually live the enlightened visionthe vision of
The End of Duality
As I said, the heart of the spiritual life ultimately consists of
two fundamental experiences: meditation and contemplation.
In the experience of deep meditation, we discover who we are beyond
the mind. And it is in that discovery that we find the answer to the
question, Who am I? The answer is found by giving up all temptation
to struggle, by letting absolutely everything be as it is. Through
simply letting everything be as it is, we will experience SPACEa
vast, expansive emptiness where there is deep, deep peace. This is
a place where nothing ever happened, a place before the universe was
born. When we experience that miraculous depth inside our own self,
we recognize who we really are. In this state of deep and profound
peace, we experience our True Self.
In the practice of contemplation, we deliberately use the mind to
find the answer to the question, How shall I live? We deliberately
and intentionally use the mind in order to be true to the depth of
Self that we have discovered. When we ask the question, How shall
I live?, we want to know how to be true to our True Self, how to be
true to the peace, joy, bliss and perfect contentment that we found
in the experience of deep meditation. If we are sincere, we want there
to be no contradiction between the Self that we experience in meditation
and the self that we are as an individual human being who acts and
reacts in the world of time and space. In a liberated individual these
two different experiences of self merge and become one.
Spiritual practice done in earnest can bring us to a place where the
life that we live, the very human life that we live, is free from
fundamental contradiction, a place where our own personality becomes
a clear expression of that perfect peace that lies deep within us.
from Who Am I? & How Shall I Live? © 1998
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