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What Are You Looking For?
by Art Ticknor

If you're looking for the truth, as opposed to a comforting fantasy, let's consider together what you're looking for.

Is it a feeling? Are you looking for the experience of positive-only feelings? If so, there may be a condition where that occurs. I think Walt Whitman found it, as did Richard Bucke, who wrote a book about the condition, Cosmic Consciousness. I suspect it's also what Jill Bolte Taylor experienced when a hemorrhagic stroke shut down the left hemisphere of her brain, which she described so eloquently in her Stroke of Insight. I don't know if Taylor's subsequent experience has or will dovetail with Whitman's, but he reported that his cosmic consciousness left after an initial period and, although it returned, it did so less frequently and for shorter durations as he aged. It may have been better than no comfort – or maybe worse, once it had been experienced and then lost – but in any case, it wasn't Perfect Timeless Comfort. And while we often hear people say they'd settle for more comfort (or peace of mind, or love, or security, or certainty, and so on), more is never enough.

Our mentalities could be ranged along a line from feeling-oriented to thought-oriented. If we're predominately feeling oriented, we're most likely looking for the magic elixir to come in the form of feelings. But if we're predominately thought-oriented, then we're probably expecting our efforts to arrive in thought form. If you're not looking for a solution in the domain of feeling, are you looking for a conceptual understanding that will bring Perfect Peace?

If a teacher or a teaching conveys an understanding that seems to satisfy you, how will you know whether what you've found is real or a product of suggestion? When Douglas Harding,[1] whom I have great respect for, would ask: "What do you see when you look back at what you're looking out from?"[2] he was pointing in the direction of final authority. But he then provided a suggested answer: no face, open space, awareness, capacity for the whole world, not a thing separate from everything else, no-thing full of the whole world, and so on. If a teaching brings our beliefs into question, then it's effective. But if we believe we've now seen the truth in a new understanding, we're stuck in a belief that's only relatively true – maybe equally as true as the one it contradicts.

The advaita vedanta or nondual teaching that's currently popular in the US and Europe, sometimes referred to as neo-advaita, has led many of its adherents to a conceptual image of nonduality. The ersatz nature of the attempt at "understanding" the truth of nonduality intellectually is humorously portrayed in a short video titled "The Advaita Trap"[3] using a dialogue supplied by the likeable nonduality teacher Jeff Foster: "There is no I to get anything, and nothing to get … there is nobody here who thinks … there is no beauty, beauty is a concept … there is no past, only the eternal present … there are no problems in this eternal present," and so on. In other words, there's nothing to be done other than to admit that there's nothing to get.

The conviction that seeking is the problem and that the solution is just to admit that there's no one here and nothing to be done represents a windowless corner that the seeker may find himself boxed into. Seeking is the automatic reaction of the mind to feeling a want (i.e., that something is missing or lacking). Trying to think ourselves away from consciously feeling a feeling only complicates the condition.

Truth (1896) Library of Congress bronze door In addition to the intellectual trap that advaita folks can fall into, there's also an emotional advaita trap, which can be expressed in the belief that: "Everything's fine in the present moment." Everything is truly fine in dreamless sleep, but when dreaming or waking consciousness occurs, the dimension of problems – we call it life – manifests. Everything may be truly fine behind or beyond time, but knowing that involves a form of knowing that only occurs beyond the mind's limitation.

You don't have to be an adherent of neo-advaita views to fall into the trap, emotional or intellectual, that seeking is the problem. The seeker of ultimate satisfaction repeatedly finds that what he thought would bring full satisfaction didn't, in fact. Or he intuits that more seeking along the same line won't bring lasting relief. Or he reaches a belief in his own inability to find that which may bring relief. He concludes that seeking is useless, and if he could stop seeking, that would relieve his dissatisfaction. But seeking is a symptom, and suppressing or repressing a symptom isn't likely to cure a disease. Time may cure a malady, but not when time is the malady.

The Truth Will Set You Free

Jesus was reported[4] as saying that the truth will set you free. What kind of truth would he have been referring to? Would it have been objective or subjective?

By objective, we usually mean "mind-independent" – that is, not subject to the judgment of a conscious entity, as in "scientific" evidence, where observations are evident and reproducible. The opposite of objective, or subjective, typically refers to the way things seem to us … opinions or interpretations of experience that vary with the person experiencing them. Plato, however, distinguished between objective knowledge, subjective opinions, and a third form of knowing: subjective knowledge, or true belief.

Self-consciousness – where the mind experiences a thing, an object of consciousness, and automatically infers a self-thing, the experiencer or subject of consciousness – is the "sting of the scorpion," as the Indian guru Nisargadatta Maharaj pointed out. The belief in being a separate thing apart from objects of consciousness, is the induced duality at the root of our existential suffering.

Regardless of the object of your quest – whether it's completion, wholeness, certainty, love, security, or any other of a host of abstract objectives – no object will settle or fully satisfy the heart-mind. No thing, neither tangible nor intangible (thought, feeling) will satisfy the longing. Full, permanent satisfaction can be found only in a new form of knowing or seeing: knowing the knower, or seeing the seer – a type of knowing not limited by relativity. That may be what Plato was referring to as the third form of knowing.

The antidote to duality is not a belief in nonduality. The antidote is love. The path is one of triangulation[5] over opposites, over equally true[6] or false beliefs, which ends when we know what we truly are. Ultimate knowing or seeing is our true nature or being. Ultimate love is true identity.

[1] See Douglas Harding's "tube" experiment in this wonderful excerpt from his "On Having No Head" video.

[2] Douglas Harding's "pointing" experiment

[3] "The Advaita Trap 1: Absolute and Relative Confusion – The Cartoon"

[4] John 8:32 Bible (New International Version): " Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."

[5] See the essay titled "Triangulation" at

[6] True belief is an oxymoron from an absolute perspective. Beliefs are true or false in relation to other beliefs. On the surface, you might expect that the belief: "I'm something beyond consciousness, something that exists when the body is in dreamless sleep, etc." may be a true belief. But it's like a belief in nonduality: The belief and the believer of the belief are mutually contradictory. Nonduality may be absolutely true, but a belief in it is not.



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