Look For Yourself
The Science and Art of Self-Realisation
By Douglas Harding
Review by Bobbi Lurie.
The aura of mystery and otherworldliness which surrounds spiritual seeking can be quite intimidating for people raised in our age of scientific analysis and scepticism. For those people, I would recommend the writings of Douglas Harding.
In his new book, Look For Yourself, The Science and Art of Self-realisation, Harding does nothing less than take the mysticism out of mysticism. He makes the desire to understand our essential nature a matter of practical necessity. Harding says:
Even common sense suggests that to know how to live it might be a good idea to know who is living… and plain curiosity or inquisitiveness adds that perhaps you had better take a quick look at yourself while you can, just in case you should be missing something interesting.
In this book, Harding, an Englishman by birth and an architect by trade, presents us with a collection of essays which he has written over the past forty years. Harding's beginnings as a teacher began fifty years ago when he was graced with seeing the emptiness of his personal identity and the fullness of the true Self. He described this experience as one of headlessness, a vision shared by seers such as Hui-Chung, Rumi, St. Teresa and Kabir. Harding's realization and his awareness of "our built-in resistance to the obvious," led him to write and teach in what has become his utterly unique and original style. Included in this collection of essays are the experiments, for which he is best known, which attempt to open us to realizing our own "headlessness" and enter the way of "360 degree seeing." He successfully integrates his distinctive views with the messages of Jesus, the Buddha, J. Krishnamurti, Ramana Maharshi, Nisargadatta Maharaj, and other spiritual teachers.
Through all of Harding's essays he repeats, "this isn't for discussing but for testing." His tests go beyond science, entering a form of hyper-logic which brings us back to the innocent space before childhood. One test involves counting the number of eyes in the head which requires "a scientific instrument called an eye-opener, which you make with your fingers." A chapter titled "Let's Have An Out-Of-The-Body Experience" presents us with a direct way of seeing where we are in relation to our body and simultaneously makes us question the relentless seeking promoted by the proliferating varieties of new-age mysticism.
One of Harding's major contributions is his ability to clarify the confusion inherent in much spiritual seeking. In one essay, he describes the "three types of mysticism, the first being the huge field ranging from flying saucers and numerology to the strange worlds of Emmanuel Swedenborg and Rudolph Steiner." The second "variety of mystical experience is at least as concerned with the truth of what's being experienced as with the accompanying thrills and delights." It is here that Harding reminds us, "Amazing grace rarely responds to urgent invitations," and "cannot free itself from its thought-content and feeling-content."
The third, "liberated Mysticism," he says is "liberated from the shortcomings of mysticism and, truly speaking, from mysticism itself." It is "accessible at will… All I need to do to see into my Essential Nature is to turn around the arrow of my attention at this very moment and see that I am looking at this word-processor out of nothing whatever, and certainly not out of a small, opaque, coloured, complicated thing… What I find here has no perceptual content, no feeling-content, no thought-content. I like to call it a kind of alert idiocy… It is precision itself… (and) this experience is out of time. It is only now. That is why it can never be remembered or anticipated, but only enjoyed in the present moment."
Harding agrees with D. T. Suzuki's description of satori as being "…a prosaic and non-glorious event… Here is nothing painted in bright colours, all is grey and extremely non-obtrusive and unattractive." I find this fact quite helpful in the process of stabilizing oneself in pure awareness. But I also found myself questioning Harding's discounting the part grace plays in the opening to truth. It was, after all, through grace that our seeing is illuminated and validated beyond the mind, beyond doubt.
Certainly, Douglas Harding is no mystical poet gushing out the details of his enlightenment. It is, in fact, the lack of spiritual ornamentation which makes his writing so accessible. This headless seer, this travel guide to inner space, is a scientist of the highest caliber. He speaks from a place of true independence, resting on the fact of his direct experience and "in-seeing" in the NOW. Anyone who wishes to uncover the simplicity of truth will benefit from his writing.
(From the Winter 1997 issue of the Inner Directions Journal. Copyright: 1997 the Inner Directions Foundation. Reprinted by arrangement with the Inner Directions Journal, Encinitas, California.)