When it comes to enlightenment, sometimes it feels like it’s all about figuring out a bunch of strange riddles. Although these riddles have a purpose (no, they’re not just there to confuse us), they can sometimes make our journey toward Awakening into a tangle of frustration.
The key with these riddles is that you are meant to encounter them during certain times of your journey. When you are using books or online writings as your ‘guru’ or guide, these riddles can be presented at very inappropriate times. And many writers mistakenly or unknowingly present these riddles as truths – as descriptors of what ‘reality’ is really like.
If you are using books and online writings as a guide, it’s important for you to understand the nature of these riddles, and to discover how to use them in a manner that will be an aid, rather than a hindrance.
Let’s imagine that we’re sitting in front of a great guru, and she presents us with one of these riddles.
“No effort can bring you to Awakening,” she says. “It is something which is already here.”
What??? When we hear this, our mind starts a process of dissection. We latch on to certain words in the puzzling statement (‘No effort’, ‘already here’), and then try to figure out how they relate to each other.
This is the only way we know how to think (the only way we can think), and thus we enter the puzzle-trap. We think: How can we reach Awakening if we’re not making an effort? If it’s ‘already here’, what use is there in trying to Awaken? Does this mean I should just sit around and drink copious amounts of beer? Why the heck should I listen to all this nonsense?
If you search the internet, you’ll find websites where people calling themselves non-dualists spend inordinate amounts of time debating the concepts and relationships presented in these riddles. I used to play this game myself. But the real point of these riddle-statements is not to have us argue with others (or with ourselves) about the meanings. We can discover the true meaning behind these riddles in this way, if we follow our definitions to their conclusions, but most of us aren’t very adept at this, and will become ‘captured’ with some idea, and find ourselves tangled in confusion.
Pointing vs. Describing
These riddles can become less confusing if we understand that they are meant to point us toward something, instead of describe something. The difference between these two is very significant.
Imagine that you are standing with someone out in a field. Imagine that this person has never seen a flower. You want to show them a daisy that is growing nearby.
If you were going to use words as descriptors, you would start to describe the daisy. “It’s white and yellow, and has these long white sort of spokes sticking out in all directions. It has a long green stick called a stem which connects it to the ground.”
“How big is it?” the person might ask.
“Well,” you answer, “the top part, called the ‘flower’, is a little smaller than your palm, but the stem is long – almost as long as your arm.”
The person could go on asking questions (Soft or hard? What does it feel like? What does it smell like? Does it move around? Is it alive? Does it eat things? How does it reproduce?)
You could go on describing all day long, but the best you’d be able to do is to give the person an imaginary picture in their head, which may or may not be similar to what a daisy really looks like. You’d also be able to impart all sorts of knowledge (for instance, regarding the daisy’s reproduction). But all of this knowledge would be descriptive – a trading of ideas in your respective heads.
Okay. How about pointing? If you were going to use words as pointers, you might say, “Look down and to your left, and there is something yellow and white.”
If the person followed your instructions, they would look down and see the daisy. Now they would be getting a direct experience of the daisy, and would know immediately what you mean when you say ‘daisy’. The longer they spent watching the daisy, the more they would directly experience the aspects you were describing above (its smell, its movement, its reproduction, its appearance).
When we are young, we can see things ‘just as they are’ (akin to the ‘pointing’ aspect I was describing above), without any descriptors attached. As we learn words, we start to transform our perceptions until we completely lose the ability to see the world without describing it in our heads.
This is where most of us exist, in a state of pure description. We have become so adept at it that we don’t even realize we’re doing it. Not only is this the only way we can see the world, but it’s the only way we can communicate with other people about the world. With every word we speak, we reinforce our and others’ powers to describe the world. Which means that we are simultaneously eroding our and others’ ability to see the world just as it is.
To fully mature as human beings, we need to come full circle. This means that we come to understand both the ‘pointing’ and the ‘describing’ methods of seeing the world. We regain our ability to see the world ‘Just As Is’, and discover for ourselves how our descriptive methods really work. We must be able to experience the daisy and talk about it.
These two ways aren’t mutually exclusive. Indeed, when we come full circle, we discover that when we regain our ability to see things Just As Is, that discovery automatically integrates the descriptive methods we’ve been using for so long. Now we can see the whole world Just As Is, including all of the things we once called ‘dualism’ (our describing method).
Riddles As Pointers
The meanings of these strange statements, then, are to serve as pointers. We don’t need any more describing. We’re all very good at it. If we latch too strongly onto the ideas presented in riddle-statements, we’ll just get confused.
But if we can understand that these are simply meant to point our attention toward something, we can come to a new understanding of how to use these statements. The trick, of course, is that we’re not being pointed toward an object like a daisy, which (surprise!) when we see it Just As Is, turns out to be just another descriptor in our heads. We’re being pointed toward Reality itself. And Reality is a little more challenging to point to, since it consists of everything around us, including our delusions and our descriptors.
If we are captured in our descriptive minds, we’ll be convinced that we will never experience Reality directly. We will convince ourselves that Awakening consists of breaking the world into the ‘pure’ and the ‘profane’. If we watch ourselves, we’ll find that what we’re really trying to do is to eradicate all the things we don’t consider to be part of pure, non-dual reality, such as negative emotions, distraction, a belief in multiplicity, our ‘monkey mind’, and all the other aspects of our ‘delusion’. We’re convinced that if we eradicate these things, we’ll be left with Awakening, Enlightenment, Reality.
It is much simpler than this. It is just about seeing what is right here, right now.
This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t ponder these riddle-statements. They have great value in that they can get us to examine our usual assumptions about the world. It’s okay to think about them. But when we get too hung up on one of them, it’s time for us to realize that they aren’t descriptors. They are pointers, and are urging our gaze toward something.
It’s important to note that when we were standing in the field showing our friend what a daisy is, our friend would have become pretty confused if they tried to interpret our pointing language as descriptive language.
“What do you mean,” they might ask, “by ‘Look down and to your left, and there is something yellow and white’? How does this describe a daisy?”
Part of your statement would make a little bit of sense (‘yellow and white’ seems to be describing a daisy), but the rest of the words are nonsense if the person is looking for a description of a daisy.
Recognize in yourself the person attempting to see the daisy. When you hear words, how are you interpreting them? If you are interpreting them as descriptors, much of what is said regarding non-dualism will make a sort of ‘half-sense’, just like in the example above. But ultimately, unless you follow each of your assumptions to its very end, things will just become more confusing.
If, however, you are interpreting words as pointers, you will face yet another challenge. And here I’ll have to engage in riddle-talk myself. Because these pointers aren’t pointing toward anything. Anything they can point toward is just a descriptor.
This Reality (God, The Ultimate, Oneness) – even this is an idea in our heads. The goal is not to realize Wholeness or Non-Dualism. These are things we are conceptualizing. These are descriptors. What is being pointed to is an experience of what is always going on, all the time, right now. It is so breathtakingly simple and clear. It is much more like a direct perception (much like a sensation of cold or heat) than like anything you can imagine in your head.
On this site, and throughout writings on non-dualism, you will discover these riddle-statements.
See if they transform for you when you cease trying to make them into descriptors.