INTRODUCTION: This is the first Prime Post I’ve written in several months. It is a fairly lengthy article that starts out one place, moves to another, and then ties the two together in the end. At least some of it is as sharp as a razor and will be very helpful for years to come for those who can hear it. Thus I encourage you to stick with it to the end. I will be doing a video on this same topic within the next few days.
The Secret of Ultimate Surrender
The truth about surrender can be shocking. That might be why it’s virtually never talked about. So, we’re going to speak freely about it right now.
I rarely if ever considered surrender during my years of independent Zen study and practice. It became a valid and valuable concept for me only after I joined a twelve-step recovery group in an attempt to save my ridiculous life. There was and is a great deal of talk about it in those circles. It is considered crucial to success in kicking addictive substances or behaviors – and in keeping them quit, so to speak.
Let me share with you recovery’s take on surrender. It is both profound and practical, a combination those rooms are justly famous for. Recovery’s third step is this:
“[We] Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.”
It was a step I originally refused to take because my sponsor at that time told me that the step would only be considered complete when I got on my knees and prayed the “Third Step Prayer” aloud with him. Unknowingly, what I was saying was, “I’d rather be dead and right than alive and wrong.” Nobody was going to trick me!
This kind of willfully blind and fatal thinking pattern is a really wonderful example of why it’s sometimes said that the first symptom of addiction is insanity. No kidding! Here’s the full text of the prayer I was willing to die arguing about:
God, I offer myself to Thee
To build with me and to do with me as Thou wilt.
Relieve me of the bondage of self,
that I may better do Thy will.
Take away my difficulties,
that victory over them
may bear witness to those I would help
of Thy Power, Thy love and Thy way of life.
May I do Thy will always!*
It’s a simple prayer, a lovely prayer. If one disregards its Thee-and-me linguistics, we could say that it’s very much akin to a nondual prayer. The first sentence that immediately follows the prayer advises, “We thought well before taking this step, making sure we were ready; that we could at last abandon ourselves utterly to Him.”
My question now, although it was not at that time, is: “Is it even possible to ‘abandon ourselves utterly?’”
Once I genuinely determined to get sober – instead of doing what I normally did, which was to just talk about getting sober until I got drunk again – this prayer which I had refused to utter because it seemed to undercut my Humanist-Zen Buddhist-agnostic position ended up becoming the foundation of my life for years to come. Sober years that were very fruitful for both society and the Fred unit, I might point out.
We could say with some accuracy that the core message of that prayer still rules here today, nearly two decades later. But as indicated, my understanding of this prayer today is quite different from that of 18 years ago.
As I view it today, the Third Step Prayer – from a nondual standpoint – is actually an impossible plea. The little-known, sad truth about surrendering is that the one who so desperately wants to achieve it simply cannot do so. Cannot, I say, not will not. It cannot, because the one who longs for surrender is exactly the same one who longs for enlightenment, which the Math of One disallows.
An imaginary character can neither surrender, nor awaken.
I’m not going to claim that a prayer that may have saved my life is not useful. It most certainly is. Ramana encouraged ordinary villagers to continue to worship stones if that was already their practice; he had no problem with that, and neither do I. Call it skillful means, which means it was skillful for those who utilized it, even if it was fundamentally flawed as a dualistic mechanism in a nondual reality which includes the dualistic experience of being a “me” who worships “another.”
Granted, so long as there exists a sense of being a “me” there will also be a sense of either willingness to surrender or determination to resist. This sense of surrender, which I can attest to, is valuable, if only because it puts the mind at ease, which is also helpful for the physical unit. This is a good deal more important than we might at first believe. A calm mind and relaxed body provide a far more encouraging environment for Conscious Awakeness to emerge and flourish.
Today in Awakening Sessions I employ a long string of straightforward, if highly surprising, logical questions, and a generally lighthearted spirit to keep my client at ease – by which I mean off-guard. What’s really surprising is the identity of my client, which is singular. My client is Awakeness itself.
Here’s a lovely quote from Nisargadatta Maharaj, with whom I strongly identify:
Stay without ambition, without the least desire, exposed, vulnerable, unprotected, uncertain and alone, completely open to and welcoming life as it happens, without the selfish conviction that all must yield you pleasure or profit, material or so-called spiritual.
In other words, Nisargadatta is recommending Ultimate Surrender: Just be – precisely as You are, refusing to acknowledge any sense of separation or doer-ship. The experience of “world” unfolds exactly as it does, all on its own, without any management, aid, or opposition. Ego finds itself unemployed and out of the picture.
Yet Maharaj is not advising a unit to give up its apparent control of self and circumstance. Maharaj is talking to Himself and encouraging the noticing that there never was any control to begin with! It is a so-called conversation “between” Conscious Awakeness and Unconscious Awakeness, both equal, both divine, the only difference being that in one case Awakeness knows itself, and in the other it does not.
Pay attention to Attention! Maharaj is saying. Notice Yourself as nondual Consciousness, inclusive of all, and exclusive of nothing. Elsewhere he advises us to put all of our attention on the I Am, the sense of being, to Consciousness Itself.
With the advent of an apparent human birth, which marks the beginning of Awakeness’ dreaming, consciousness arises along with a generalized sense of being. Consciousness/Oneness starts to experience Itself objectively but is unaware that It is experiencing Itself. There is no context for any of that. And of course, it is utterly unaware of Its own divine nature. There is basic “Am-ing” (witnessing) happening through the infant, but there is not yet an I-thought, not yet a witness. This is pure, unfocused Awakeness.
As the child develops, so does a sense of localized attention, which sparks the sense of individuality. It’s not long then before these senses are wedded. The offspring of that union is a growing sense of a central “me-ness”. Following a two to three-year process of massive conditioning from parents, family, community and our own genes, Awakeness learns to identify with a nearly sacred name, body, history and future, so that the bogus transfiguration, while not yet mature, could nonetheless be said to be provisionally complete. Now there is a very narrow, particularized sense of being, and thus the subsequent experience of being a separate, distinct “five-foot-nine” me – named Bob!
All of this, of course, is happening only to Awakeness-appearing-as-Oneness, which means that there is nothing actually happening in the world. It is purely a mental event, a furthering of the dreaming. Scattered patterns have been roped together, and christened as a center-cum-personality, which Awakeness then believes itself to be. I term the end result unconscious Awakeness
When unconscious Awakeness apparently undergoes a “transformation” through what we incorrectly call an “awakening event,” where attention pays attention to attention, Awakeness comes to know itself as consciousness apparently operating through an experiencing unit in an experienced world. This is Conscious Awakeness.
As “Noneness,” as the Unborn, Unbound, Untouched Formless Mystery that “exists” prior to Oneness, there is no knowing whatsoever, for there is neither a sense of being, nor a sense of “other.” It does not know Itself. This is Potential Awakeness, and this Pure Potentiality is your most-true identity, which you cannot know, although you can know of It because you are It.
For those of you with a little background in Hinduism, Awakeness which knows Itself is Brahman, and Awakeness which does not know Itself is Parabrahman – that which is prior to and beyond either existence or nonexistence, but as we are trapped by language here, I’m held to stating that it is that which cannot not exist. That statement is true-ish, but neither those words nor any others are fundamentally true.
It seems we have come a long way from our talk on surrender, but this is all one ball of wax. One aspect of this teaching which is somewhat uncommon in our community is that it works directly and relentlessly to show You what You are not. Leading someone through an Awakening Session acts as neti-neti on steroids and methergine. It hits hard and it hits fast, before ego can retreat into its foxhole.
Once one has impersonally seen and known what one is not, there is a window of opportunity in which to introduce Awakeness to Awakeness via guided attention. It’s the pathless path, the immediate path.
You are what is reading this, but what is reading this has no name, no description, no fingerprints. It is not a body, and It does not consist of matter, although It/You may present as matter.
That which is reading this likely believes itself to be a discrete object. It is not, You are not. You are the very consciousness by which these words can be written, That in which they appear, and That by which reading can happen. You are the One thing, the No-thing. You are the very “verbness” of this living moment.
There is nothing but You, be it formed or formless, sentient or insentient, in apparent time and space, or beyond them. You. Only.
Thus there is no one to surrender, nor any entity to accept it, approve it, or react to it. There will often be a sense of surrender as the sense of “me” appears to bend its knee to the inevitability of this moment as it is. Offering the willingness for the experienced character to be surrendered is the best you can do.
Offer willingness and take what you get. This is as close as one can come to surrendering. And realize Who is actually offering up surrender: It’s Formless Awakeness surrendering to Formed Awakeness. That is the ultimate surrender, that is actually Your job here, my dear Awakeness. For although there is only imagined bondage, and thus only a sense of liberation, it’s the way that Lila, the Play of God, works.
The single mission of the Absolute is to surrender to Relativity. That includes the unit You’re using to read this. Accept all as it is, including “yourself.” I once found the Fred unit to be very disappointing. I thought I could have done “better,” as if such a thing as “better” were possible. Acceptance of the obviously inadequate unit as Your vehicle for “entering” and experiencing this dreaming is the biggest step you can take. Only then has Awakeness completed its mission.
We hear all the time, “It is what it is,” and that’s certainly true. But take that all the way home: You are precisely as You are, and that is exactly enough for Here and Now, which is Your single experience. Again we are limited by language, but know that You are “perfect” beyond the polar opposites of perfect and imperfect.
No comparison. No alternative.
With love from Me to You.
*W., Bill. Alcoholics Anonymous: The Story of How Many Thousands of Men and Women Have Recovered from Alcoholism. New York: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services