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Interview with Douglas Harding, 1983

Richard Lang: Douglas, you have been writing and giving workshops for many years. What is your work about?

Douglas Harding: That's a question I need always to be asking myself. Not to have a pre-packaged, pre-determined idea of what it is, but to address myself to it afresh every time. For this interview, Richard, I need to ask myself what I'm up to, all over again. What am I up to? Well, I'm getting pretty near the end of my life, and it would seem a very natural and proper thing to ask what was it all about, what was it for? Even more personally: what was it to live, what is it to exist? One of the first things I should say is that I find it a most extraordinary thing to exist, to have happened. I don't mean just to be Douglas Harding, but to be at all, to be aware, to be an awareness, or even Awareness itself. What an extraordinary thing and what a pity to come by this awareness, to be aware, and then not to get the taste of it! It seems an awful thing, sad and chicken-hearted and miserable, not to be interested in these matters. So, what I'm up to, at its briefest, is to wake up to the mystery of myself.

RL: As well as your work on yourself, what about your work in the world?

DH: Well, I see my work in the world as quite subordinate to my work on myself. I think that to have an idea that I can help, and exert an influence, or have anything of value for the world, is secondary to and dependent upon my having answered the basic question of what my own life is about for me. It seems I have nothing to tell other people until I have got my own act together and my own problem answered. But when I have done that, when I have awakened to what it is to be me - why then, since I find the simple truth to be so very different from everything I had conceived, so very much more valuable, so interesting, so marvellous, such fun, so profoundly affecting the way I live, how natural it is to want to share that with the world! As to the method of sharing it, I guess that will come out later in your questions.

RL: What is the method?

DH: The method is the turning of attention through an angle of precisely 180 degrees. Our attention is normally directed outwards, ahead of us. It's directed at an object, and that's very proper. I'm looking at you now, my attention is Richard-wards, but at this moment where is that attention coming from? What is the arrow of my attention, what bow is it being shot from? What I do now is to turn the arrow round and notice that here is nothing like whatever I find there. So what I'm doing is to look in two-directions, and they are diametrically opposite to one another. One is to look at what I'm looking at, which is Richard with one hand on his chin and a pen in his other hand there, looking at me. In the other direction, at an angle of 180 degrees to that picture of Richard, is the absence of anything like that. I just find absolutely nothing here. Certainly nothing corresponding to what I find there. Here is no face, no head to confront Richard with. I find myself emptied in his favour, and this is the essential experience from  which all proceeds. This emptiness-for-others is what I'm enjoying, and when I try to share it with people, and bring it out into the world, this is the thing I get them to look at, each for himself or herself. I can't tell them what to find, but I can encourage them by telling them what I find. I want people to check whether they are in the same condition as I am, or not.

RL: So you are seeing that for yourself you are different from what you look like.

DH: To be a 'normal' human being is to be conned into the proposition that I am what I look like. Well, I say I'm not what I look like. More, I'm the opposite of what I look like! When I say look like, I mean look like to you over there.

RL: You look like a man to me.

DH: Of course I look like a man to you at six feet. But I'm looking at myself at zero feet and I cant find any of those features you are in receipt of. Here are no eyes, no mouth, no cheeks, no beard. So I find that we are not, Richard, at this moment, face to face. I've never in all my life been face to face with anyone. It seems to me this face-to-face thing is the great hoodwink, the universal confidence trick which I'm sure is ruinous in the end for living, for many reasons.

RL: How did you come to this realisation?

DH: I think just living such a messed-up life, and being so unsatisfactory a person: I just had to find out what had gone wrong. Plus having, perhaps, more than my fair share of curiosity and inquisitiveness, so that I just had eventually to look at myself for myself. Having read, and thought, and cogitated about this question of my identity for ages, I found myself simply looking to see, and daring to be my own authority, my own authority on the only place that I am in a position to pronounce on. Nobody else can tell me about it, about what I'm like right here being me now, co-incident with myself. Once I had asked myself this question, "what am I looking out of?", it became instantly apparent that it was the exact opposite in every way of what I had been told. To get face to face with you now, I have to hallucinate something here to match what I see there on top of your shoulders. It seems to me, Richard, that to live my life on the basis of a central lie is a rotten life, as an apple with a rotten core is a rotten apple.

RL: How does this awareness of who you are, that you are not a thing in the world - how does this affect your life? How do you think it might affect other people's lives?

DH: In so many ways. I can only just begin to speak of them. Nothing is unchanged. One has difficulty in knowing where to begin. Well, I'll begin, in a way, at the end. This new awareness means that when I look in the mirror I look at something which has got a terminal disease, namely life. That one in the mirror is living, that one was born, that one is going to die. That one is changing all the time. And it's not at all what I am. It's what I appear to be. It's not my central reality. It is one of my appearances, and is dying. What I am here is in total contrast to that, because here is nothing to change, let alone die. It's obvious that all things from galaxies to particles perish. So if I am a thing I am perishable. All my appearances are things, are phenomena, but the reality from which they proceed is not a phenomenon, is not a thing. It is awareness of itself as free from thinghood.

RL: What about one's interaction with people, animals, even things?

DH: Well, a symmetrical relationship, person to person and face to face and thing to thing, has got to be the opposite to, absolutely different from a 'relationship' (it's not a relationship at all) between no-thing and things. My 'relationship' with everything imaginable, every person, is totally and absolutely a-symmetrical. Which means in practice that, instead of relating to that person, I am that person. I am him or her in the sense that that is my appearance at this time, that is the guise I am wearing. It's the form I am taking at this moment. You at the moment are forming, shaping me. It's as if I'm Richard-ed. That is a marvellous start because it means I am not opposed to you, I am not confronting you, not up against you. Now confrontation is our trouble, is what our world suffers from. The consequence of seeing who I am is to find that I cannot, will not, ever, confront anything in my life. Confrontation is the great lie on which our lives and society is based. Now, get rid of that lie and try out what happens. It means universal love.

RL: This revolution in personal relationships must have an effect on one's relationship with foreigners, animals and plants, inanimate objects - you name it. I'm thinking of all the conflict going on in the world today at all levels and how you might help.

DH: I think that if we try to ameliorate, or abolish even, the dreadful things that are going on in the world - war and exploitation, starvation, all those things - if we try to do that at the level of the symptoms we're not going to do very much. I wouldn't say it's useless, but it's going to be insufficiently radical. We will not really make a contribution here until we tackle the root of the thing, and the root of the thing is to be found in each of our personal lives. If I'm suffering from this disease of confrontation in my relationship with you at this moment, what's the use of trying to deal with the same problem of confrontation at other levels - national and international - confrontation between sexes, ethnic groups, religions, ideologies, power blocs, and so on? In other words, service to the world begins at home. Repeat: service to the world begins at home - if only because when you've found out who you are you find you are the world.

RL: How do you think it affects personal problems, psychological problems? Such as depression, anxiety, fear, loneliness?

DH: There's a sense in which it leaves those human things to carry on at their own level. At the centre of my life is this Awareness whose very nature I find is freedom - freedom not only from thinghood but from thoughts and feelings of all kinds. Certainly from problems of all kinds. As the source of those things, the origin of those difficult things, its business must be to leave them alone, free to be what they are. Who I really am doesn't in itself change what I like to call my human nature. What it does, Richard, is to place it. This difficult and sometimes heart-rending stuff is not denied. In fact it is far more honestly reckoned with and cheerfully taken on board, from the state of freedom at the centre, than ever it was from that illusory person. Now there's no necessity to deny and every reason to acknowledge these troubles in so far as they persist - loneliness and depression etc. It is part of the price of involvement in the world to have these feelings, some of which are agreeable, some of which are disagreeable, some of which are tragic. I can't exist, can't express at all, without this dualism out there. The dualism of good and evil, beauty and ugliness, black and white, etc. is the inescapable condition of expressing into the world from the place that is free of those dualities. So it's not a case of being free from these things, in the sense that one abolishes them, but of being free from them in the sense that one locates them. They are no longer central. This not only removes one from them - without removing oneself from them: in the long run and when persisted in, it changes them. How exactly it does so remains to be seen.

RL: Do you find in your own life that you have arrived at a sense of deep peace through this awareness?

DH: Yes, I do indeed. It couldn't be deeper. It couldn't be more available, and it couldn't be more natural or native to oneself. It's been here all the while, and can never be achieved, or improved upon, or cultivated. It simply is here for the looking at. This peace is our very nature, not something we come across. It's where we are, nearer than all else. We don't come to it. we come from it. To find it is to allow ourselves to go back to the place we never left.

RL: Can you say something about your 'new technology', the experiments?

DH: I've already described one of them - the one that perhaps is the best of all. When you have a face in front of you, the question you put to yourself is: "Is anything here to match that?" I'm looking at your eyes now and I see two little 'windows', Richard, which you're alleged to be peeking out of. Rather marvellously! But I find there where I am no eyes at all, and certainly not two of them. Here I find just an enormous 'window', wider than East is from West. It has no frame. It's a kind of oval, yet of infinite extent. Instead of a pair of little peepholes here, this is what I find. Again, I look at the colour of your face now - how can I take in that colour if there is any colour here? I see the complexity of your beard, your hair, your pores, all those subtle variations of form and texture, and I note the total absence of everything from here whatever. There I find a wonderful essay in complexity, here I find a wonderful essay in simplicity, total clarity, total freedom, total relief from what I find there. I find your eyes are moving. Well, I find no movement here. When you walk down the passage, why that's what you do. But I find that when I walk down the passage I don't walk down the passage at all, the passage walks down me! If I go out in my car the whole countryside is moving! In fact everything in life, absolutely every part of life is for me an opportunity for discovering that everything I had been told about myself - myself as I really am, right here - is upside down. In fact it's incredible fun as well as enormously important psychologically, spiritually, to tell the truth about oneself, to oneself. Self-deception is both dull, and sick.

RL: How do you see your future and the future of your work?

DH: I'll begin with the second one. What's going to happen to these techniques that I've just given some indication of? If the human race is going to survive (and it seems to me it has a fair chance of doing so), I think it will be because the experience of non-confrontation is getting around. The hope of the human race lies in this, and similar ways, parallel ways of arriving at the truth of non-confrontation. It seems to me that we have come through a period in which this myth of confrontation, after an innings of perhaps a million years, has now become so counter-productive that it threatens our very survival. Our need is to discover that it is a myth, and to start living that other kind of life, the life of non-confrontation - in which each of us is emptied for the others. I would see the future of my work as the continued pointing to the truth of non-confrontation and its necessity. You see, I think that if it's true - and it is true - it will look after itself. I think it's already becoming built-in in a kind of underground way, not in a too obvious way. This is not something which catches people by the throat. It's something that is working at a different and deeper level. Anyway, the fact that already we're living from this is the great guarantee of its survival. It's the way we are. It's not an achievement, it's a realisation - the realisation. Confrontation is a myth. The truth can be trusted to look after itself. Therefore I have no worries about the future.

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