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Interview with Douglas Harding in 2000

Conducted by Jan Kersshchot

(From This Is It by Jan Kersschot, published by Watkins ISBN 1 84293 093 1)

JK: It is about 60 years now that you have been around to share your vision. How did it all get started?

I was 31 years old when the penny dropped, the so-called Himalayan experience. It is described in the book "On Having No Head." But instead of 'seeing this' in the mountains, it could have happened anywhere; it has nothing to do with the mountains.

JK: Although that Himalayan experience may sound to some readers like a peak experience, it was not really that special, was it?

DH: Well, it is not something special at all, but rather something natural. This is something that - when you see it - connects with everything. It is the revelation of the obvious, not the achievement of the extraordinary.

JK: It is not some kind of peak experience but rather a valley experience.

DH: Yes, exactly; it is not a mystical experience.

JK: Still, many people have a lot of expectations about this. They do not know the difference between awakening and bliss.

DH: Oh, yes, absolutely. One of the ways to avoid seeing 'This' is by projecting it into peak experiences.

JK: You said today that since you first saw 'It' 60 years ago, it developed through the years. What do you mean by that?

DH: Well, you have to be careful about this. And distinguish between what develops and what does not develop. There is a sudden aspect and a gradual aspect; the sudden aspect is that once you see 'It', this is it. The gradual aspect is that there is a development of what I would call 'continuity' and also a development of trust. The first one - seeing who you are - is always the same, the second one is a gradual thing.

JK: Can you explain this?

DH: Well, the vision is the same, the same, the same. Why? Because it is simple and clear, and Clarity is Clarity is Clarity. And it is not spotty at times or only half a clarity. This remains always the same. What does change - in my experience - are two things. One is the continuity of the vision; at first it is flashing in and out, you always have to come back to it [points with his finger at his face]. The second one is a matter of trust. You don't trust 'It' in the beginning, you don't trust 'It' to run your life. But one learns to trust this Clarity. So gradually there is a development of continuity and a development of trust. This is a very gradual thing. So in the end, it all becomes natural.

JK: So, as one practices it, it becomes more and more natural; and as a result we do not need the experiments any more.

DH: Exactly! And as one practices it - and it has to be practiced by always coming back from appearance to reality, by making this journey - it is happening more and more naturally.

JK: Is it becoming like an automatic process.

DH: Yes, you are right. But I don't know if 'automatic' is the right word. I still feel that it becoming natural is on account of you practicing it. By just coming back to the place you never left. At least, that is my impression. One just comes back to what we are looking out of.

JK: I can see your face over there, I see you drinking tea, and I can see my Clarity 'here,' without having to do the pointing experience. It is there all the time, and so is this 'Space' here.

DH: You are Space for my face, you are Capacity for it.

JK: All the time.

DH: All the time. In fact, you do not need an experiment to see this.

JK: How does this seeing relate to religion?

DH: When we talk about religion, we must distinguish between the heart of the matter and the popular version of each religion. You know that I have been writing and teaching about comparing the great religions of the world. My discovery is that the heart of each of the great religions is one simple proposition, that central to all sentient beings is the One Awareness in all beings. So whatever one's religious background, so whatever your religious belief, what you will find in the heart of that religion, is exactly the same Awareness we are talking about in the workshops and in my books.

JK: So it perfectly fits with whatever belief you were brought up with, be it Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, and so on.

DH: I was brought up in Christianity. For me, Christianity has something very special at its root and heart: it says that the power behind the world is self-giving love, and that is to me the ultimate revelation. And that is exactly what we have discovered today in the experiments. When you are in the paper tube, you are disappearing in favour of your friend who is sitting in front of you. Seeing that you are built this way, built wide open to love one another, that is what it is all about. But this has nothing to do with my emotions or feelings. I am not talking about romantic love or sentimental feelings.

JK: Is it more like impersonal love?

DH: Yes. It is completely disappearing for the other, it is really dying for the other. At this moment, I find that Douglas has disappeared in favour of Jan. I have 'nothing' here [pointing at his face] and I have over there the appearance of that man called 'Jan.' It is not happening because I am a nice chap, but because I am built that way.

JK: It is like exchanging faces. You have my face, and I have yours.

DH: Trading faces. That is how I call it.

JK: And the timeless background is always there. It is appearing out of time, so to speak.

DH: Yes.

JK: Before I discovered your experiments, I read a lot of books that say exactly the same thing, like Zen Buddhism, Taoism and Vedanta. They all talk about unconditional love, about dying for the other, about resurrection, about the fact that what we really are is the One Consciousness. But I thought at the time I understood what it was all about until I did this pointing experiment and tunnel experiment for the first time. Although it was just a flash of 'naked being' at the time, I knew immediately that I was onto something extremely important. I was given a glimpse of something I was longing for all my life. Not a blissful state - although it tasted blissful - but rather the most simple thing I had ever seen.

DH: I know what you mean.

JK: What changed after getting into this seeing more deeply - if I can put it that way - is that now I noticed to my surprise that the same books I was reading before now became obvious and simple. Discovering that really was a revelation. I really saw what it was all about, I recognised the same Truth, that same awareness in different traditions, approached in a variety of ways by different teachers. I also noticed a lot of ignorance, or side tracks so to speak, and I now really was given a 'vision' that brought me straight to the heart of the matter. And so I must say that your experiments gave me the practical approach about something that before was always covered by words, by concepts.

DH: It is practical, indeed.

JK: Once you have 'seen' this, you start recognising this same truth in completely different approaches. But words can never describe this 'One Awareness' but only point at it.

DH: And you see, what you said Jan is so true: there are a million miles between real spiritual life and knowing all about it. You can be a professor in religion or philosophy, you may know all the rules about loving your neighbour as yourself, but as long as you do not 'see' it, it is just a concept. You may know all the scriptures, and still be a million miles away from the core.

JK: It is about being it, not knowing it.

DH: Exactly.

JK: Is discovering this seeing more about becoming ordinary instead of being special?

DH: It makes you more ordinary than special. You don't feel special. I think this is very important because this seeing has nothing to do with a guru and disciples. I do not behave like that because I don't feel like that. When you really see who you really are, you see you are No-thing, and so you are not superior. The fact that you wish to celebrate it, and share it with friends, that is your privilege. But it doesn't mean that other people aren't there, they are all in a certain sense enlightened. They are just ignorant about their own enlightenment. So you can't feel superior. It is very democratic, this vision.

JK: It has nothing to do with one person being better or more spiritual than the other one.

DH: The word enlightenment is a dirty word because it has been misused. I do not use it in workshops. The sentence "I am enlightened and you are endarkened" just won't do. It doesn't work that way.

JK: Your message is completely different.

DH: I say, "This is obvious, this is sharable." My story is about sharing this. It is good news. It is not about superiority. If someone is interested.

JK: you are open and available.

DH: That's right. I invite people to discover for themselves who they are.

JK: Why is there still so much confusion about this? Why are there still so many masters around, why are their followers pretending that their guru has special powers? Why do people want to become devotees, rather than just investigators?

DH: Well, you see, Jan, we have a huge resistance to 'This.' Why? Well, because it is death. And although it is immediately followed by resurrection, people are afraid of 'It.' We all have this resistance - including Douglas - and one form that this resistance takes is creating a distance, by imagining this spiritual search. People go and see a guru, who is so-called enlightened, and they say: "He is all the way there, and I am halfway there, and he will help me in this journey. People say: I am a seeker, and do not realise that at the same time they secretly say to themselves: "I am sure I will not be a finder." Seekers are terrified of becoming finders. And while being a seeker, while following the path, you have all the rewards of being on a spiritual journey without the danger - in fact, the lethal danger - of arrival. Because arrival is death, and it is resurrection. People simply do not see that.

JK: Is it the same fear that prevents people from 'seeing the One Consciousness' during the experiments?

DH: Exactly. Many people do think they do not 'see' it, but I think one has to see it first before one can reject it; we see it so briefly but unconsciously we reject it immediately. I think it is impossible not to see it.

JK: But still many people complain that they seem to miss the point of your experiments.

DH: People have so many excuses to avoid it: they say they don't understand it, that they expected something far more spectacular, that they don't see the point of it, or they just fall asleep. It is all the same avoidance, the same fear for this 'No-thing,' that same fear for disappearing.

JK: And we have to accept that phenomenon of resistance. When the electric current is too strong, I think it is better to use one's safety fuses than to have a complete short circuit of the nervous system. Maybe this avoidance is just a mechanism of self-protection. Something people use 'when they are not ready yet.'

DH: Catherine and I go around the world giving workshops, and we know that it is only a small proportion of people who really see it. But with the years, the number is growing, and the seeds will germinate when the time has come.

JK: I think there is also a joy in sharing this.

DH: Oh very much. Absolutely.

JK: It is one of the most beautiful things we can ever share with someone, isn't it?

DH: It is the most valuable one.

JK: And still many people do not 'get it.'

DH: It is a mystery who is ready for this. We don't know who is ready and who is not. In the group of 80 people we had here today in Belgium, maybe a few, three, four or five, will really get it and have their lives changed.

JK: Don't you think that more people are 'open' to this kind approach than ever before?

DH: Well, Jan, it seems to me - not because of Douglas but in spite of Douglas - that this is a spiritual breakthrough in history because the experiments turn 'hear-say' into 'look-see' and that is revolutionary. It is amazing that during the last 5000 years nobody has insisted on looking just 'here' [pointing at his face], just turning their attention round 180 degrees.

JK: It is like putting all the theory into practice.

DH: This is where the Dzochgen fits in so nicely: "Seeing with naked awareness." It is obvious, natural, and everyone has it.

JK: And it is simple.

DH: And it is shareable. And also totally neglected. I think that the time has come to let it come to the surface, now. You see, in the past only a few people came through to this beatific vision. You had masses of people who were on the road, seeking, but only a few realised absolute union with God. I think that now more people will come to this.

JK: But you do not suggest that it is only for the happy few.

DH: In a certain sense, you just become like a child again. Which was like Jesus who said, "unless you become like a little child, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven."

JK: If you would have to sum up your message to people who are not familiar with your workshops and books, what would you say?

DH: I can sum it up in seven words: "I am not what I look like." I am the opposite of what I look like. You got what I look like, I got what I am. And what I am looking out of is different from what I am looking at in the mirror. When I look in the mirror, that is what I am looking at, but what I am looking out of is Space. Total difference, in every respect. I appear to be a solid lump, but 'here' I am transparent: again, a total difference. I appear to be looking out of two eyes, while 'here' there is only one Eye.

JK: This vision is at the same time so simple and at the same time so profound. It is a paradox: it is changing everything, without actually changing anything. Nothing needs to be changed in order to see 'This.'

DH: Profound things are simple. If it is not simple, it cannot be true. But simple things are difficult.

JK: People prefer complicated theories.

DH: Mankind hates simplicity.

JK: Making it complicated is another way of avoiding 'It.'

DH: What you do is wake up to things, not change events; you just 'awaken' to them. It is not about engineering the world we are in.

JK: Is it true that this vision helps you to accept things as they are, that you are less tempted to change things?

DH: There is a paradox here. You are quite right. Catherine and I don't go around and say we want to change the world into Utopia. That is not going to happen because that is impossible. Our chief concern is not changing the world, our concern is sharing this, sharing this vision of the world from its Source. Although it is not aimed at changing the world, it is the profoundest change that has ever been engineered.

JK: It really is the profoundest change that ever can happen.

DH: When the Buddha was enlightened, it necessarily meant the enlightenment of all sentient beings. And the Buddha couldn't be enlightened without involving the enlightenment of all sentient beings. Because only the One can be enlightened, and not Jan or Douglas.
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