Āloka David Smith – The Awakened Mind is Born
Interview by Iain McNay
Iain: Hello, welcome once more to Conscious TV. I’m Iain McNay and today my guest is Āloka David Smith. Hi Āloka.
Iain: In many cases these days what happens is people write in, you guys write in and give us suggestions for interviews. We had this email three or four months ago, from someone who suggested that we might like this book: A Record of Awakening, by David Smith. So I ordered the book on trusty Amazon. It came along and I really liked the book. I realised then that Āloka had - he also uses the name David Smith for his books - four other books out. Dharma Mind, Worldly Mind. A Question of Dharma. The Five Pillars of Transformation and his latest one, Blue Sky, White Cloud, which I’ve also read. There is a good story to tell, and for me also with Āloka he provides a slightly different slant, on what we’ve done on conscious.tv before.
So, here we are together. Just tell us briefly how you got started, because it’s forty years you’ve been now on this path.
Āloka: It is yes, I’ve been practicing for forty years now, and it all started when I was living in Australia. I lived there for a couple of years. And I came across a Buddhist book for the first time. I never knew anything about Buddhism, it was never on my radar at all actually. But of course I had my own thoughts and feelings about life and the universe and what was the meaning of everything. And I read this book and it astonished me that it just fitted all my own thoughts about these questions, which I’d never come across before. And I discovered that this whole subject, this whole philosophy has been around for thousands of years. And it completely harmonised with my own stuff. So of course it impacted on me greatly, to the extent that, for the first time in my life, I guess, I found something to do, something to pursue, something to make priority in my life. And that I just had to take up a practice.
Iain: And were you happy in your life at that time?
Āloka: I was, at that time I was having a pretty good time in Australia. I was having quite a hedonistic time. I used to live with a lot of very nice people. I played drums in a rock and roll band and it was all pretty good. It was very different to my previous life in England before I left, so it was like a turning point. And like I say, I came across something that I had to pursue and Zen Buddhism was the path I was interested in. Of all the various ones within Buddhism, Zen was the one that attracted me and I knew that I just had to find a teacher. I also knew back in those days, there was no Zen, certainly no Zen teachers in Australia. So I came back to England to look for a teacher. I spent a year on the road and read and just familiarised myself a bit more and came back and I found a teacher in London who I trained with, well in the end, for five and a half years.
Iain: She was an Austrian woman, wasn’t she?
Āloka: Austrian, yeah. An Austrian teacher who just not so long earlier came back - Irmgard Schloegl was her name at the time. She later became a nun, called Myokyo-ni, but that was in the eighties. But back in those days she’d just not long returned from many years training in Japan, and started her own group at the Buddhist Society. And I think she was probably the only Zen teacher around in those days.
Iain: What kind of year was this, roughly?
Āloka: This would have been in ‘74. So we’re talking exactly forty years ago. And that was my first contact with Buddhism, my first contact with a teacher, I’m not one that’s been shopping around, or looking around as many people do, looking for something for a long time. I just fell on my feet from day one, which was quite remarkable.
Iain: You see, an important thing, we were having a chat at dinner last night, you were telling me that trust is so important. How you trusted this teacher straight away.
Iain: What was it that drew you to that, to put all this trust in her?
Āloka: Well, I don’t know how you define trust. I mean it’s an intuitive thing I suppose, it wasn’t an intellectual thing. I just met her. Actually, she used to be the librarian at the Buddhist Society and I made an appointment to go up and meet her. And I just looked into her face and thought, “Well this is the one for me.” I don’t know where that came from. It was just a feeling, which is very important with this. This is not an intellectual pursuit.
Iain: It is about trusting your feelings.
Āloka: It’s feelings, it’s emotional, it’s in the body. There is very little room for the intellect and certainly, I just fell on my feet. I was so fortunate. I didn’t realise it at the time. I thought well this is how everybody starts, but in fact it’s not like that, for most people have to look around a long time. And maybe not find anybody that they sort of resonate with. But I did and I just came up, lived in London, found a flat in London, a bed-sit in London, got a job in Regent’s Park, this all happen just like a snap of a finger, up from Oxford where my home was. And joined the group, and stayed with it for five and a half years. And I was perfectly happy with the group. And so much happened to me. Especially in the first four years. So much happened to me in that time.
Iain: Just tell us briefly some of the things that happened. Not too much detail, but some of the highs and lows if you like. Just so people can connect with the human side of this.
Āloka: When you take up meditation - I think any type of meditation, I don’t think it was specifically Zen - when you learn to be still, possibly for the first time in your life, things begin to shift around in you. It’s the first time you’ve ever had that experience and what it does, it allows things that have been just below the surface to bubble up. They could be positive and very wonderful things, but they could also be difficult aspects of yourself. And for me, I sort of had both. But a lot of the time I did have a lot of difficulty, a lot of darkness. Well, I would call them periods of depression, that’s how I would define it, because this big black cloud would come over me and be with me for months on end, irrespective of the situation. And it was just really, really difficult. But because I had a teacher, somebody whom I trusted, I trusted my teacher when she would tell me just to hang on, just to keep going. I had that confidence in her and what she had to offer me. I used to just see it through, I used to bear with the difficulty of the experience, until, sure enough, you know, everything is impermanent. And that’s what she would always say, “Everything changes my dear, just keep going.” And I trusted it and it would break. And then I’d have stretches when I would feel good, and then the depression would come back again. And this went on for four years and the whole time I was working in Regent’s Park, which was very, very challenging for me.
Iain: You were working as a gardener, weren’t you?
Āloka: Yeah, yeah. That was all part of it, having a lot of difficulties in the beginning, but bearing with, staying with. And it taught me so much about the practice. That this is about staying with things, not running away when things get difficult. Sooner, or later you’re going to hit the buffers, it’s guaranteed.
Iain: Yes, because often people start meditation, they start a practice and it does go well to start with. But when it doesn’t go so well, they think this isn’t for me.
Āloka: That’s right, exactly, exactly. And that’s when the big challenge comes for you. Do you stick with it, or do you go off and do something else. Find some reason to leave. And I think most of us hit that, sooner or later. But by having a teacher - and this is why I think a teacher is essential for you if you are serious about this practice - to find somebody you trust, who can’t do it for you, but you can get emotional support from them. Because that’s what it is, this is an emotional journey. This is not an intellectual one and you hit difficult times and that’s when you’re tested. You see it through and then it breaks and then the sun comes out and things are ok. And then you move on and it’s the next layer and the next layer and the next layer.
Iain: So you were in London as you were saying for five and a half years and then you moved to Sri Lanka, didn’t you?
Āloka: Yes, well I was very happy with my Zen practice. I had no reason to leave it, or to doubt it. In the midst of all of that difficulty, I also had some very wonderful experiences too that inspired me and that helped carry me through the difficult times. It wasn’t all relying on my teacher as it were; it was also what was coming up through me that was inspiring and supportive.
Iain: Just explain that, “…what was coming up through me.” What do you mean by that?
Āloka: Well, there was one particular one, actually, one particular experience, which was on my first Sesshin, my first retreat. I think was a year and a half into the beginning of my training, where again there was certainly a lot of physical difficulty, with Zen, because you’re expected to sit still and to go through all the physical difficulties that you can experience, and most people do. Some people don’t have a lot of trouble crossing their legs, but a lot of us have to work on it for a long time.
Iain: You sit in the lotus position?
Āloka: Half lotus, not the full lotus - that was never an option. But half lotus, and just working my way into that on its own, took literally years, not even weeks or months; and staying with it, bearing with it, you learn so much about yourself, just the pain, the difficulty, your relationship to that experience, and how you can compound on it and make it so much worse by the self-identity, “This is my pain, this is my leg” and seeing that if you don’t go there the experience becomes so much lighter, even though it’s still difficult, it’s nothing like when you have self-identity with it. There’s so much to learn from that.
And as I say, it was my first Sesshin, everything just fell away and there was just an experience of oneness, complete dissolution of subject and object, and just the rapture, and the pleasure that came from that experience and the freedom and the peace that came from that. Now, you know we can all experience peace, but it’s like an individual peace, “I’m feeling happy, I’m feeling peaceful”; yes that was there, but also it was everything, everything in this experience was just bathed in peace. Just so at peace with itself, the whole universe was actually at peace with itself; we’re the ones that create the dukkha... and I always remember looking up at the trees, I think they were poplar trees, it was a beautiful day, blue sky, and just seeing these trees waving in the breeze… just utter, utter awesome peace. Now actually, there was no insight with that, it was just an experience, but it inspired me so much that I knew that whatever I was doing was the right thing. My teacher was happy with that when I told her and that experience so often in the future, when I would have difficulty, I could often reflect on that, “Just remember what you tasted, just stick with it, just allow that to carry you”, not through huge attachment and getting caught up with it, but to be inspired by it. And that is another great lesson of insight, that is not to hold onto these things, but to use them as inspiration - that’s great - and then let it go and move onto the next thing, and the next thing…
Iain: I think the interesting thing I want to highlight here, is how you were finding this freedom, because sometimes people talk, on the spiritual path, about getting away from the humanness… and we’re not the self, and it’s like, “We are the Oneness, and the waves…” but from what you’re telling me, your journey was very much to go in and to understand the humanness, understand the self, see how you function, see the patterns of the mind. Is that right?
Āloka: Yes, and it’s through seeing that, seeing how you’re constructed and how you are the one that constructs yourself, you can’t put this on anybody else, including your mother and your father. You are the one who constructs your world, and to see what you do to yourself, and how, you know this thing called dukkha, this suffering and unsatisfactoriness that we all experience….
Iain: Just explain that word ‘dukkha’.
Āloka: Well dukkha, it’s got a lot of meanings, but basically, at its extreme, it’s suffering, which I think we can all relate to in some degree, but it can be a lot more subtler than that. It is basically the unsatisfactory nature… that life is never quite right. Life can be alright, but there’s always something missing, we never quite hit the button… we’re almost there, but… and that’s the human existential condition, we’re never quite… and if we do occasionally touch a really good place, we know full well that it is not going to last and then we’re going to fall back. And so that’s dukkha, that’s the unsatisfactory nature… that comes in so many different degrees, but it’s always present, and this is what we need to get at, and why. There’s a reason for that, we all experience [it], but it doesn’t just fall out of the sky, there’s a reason and that’s the journey that we’re on. And on that journey you can touch, you can get close to getting to the heart of the matter and it can fall away; and when it falls away there’s all sorts of experiences that you can have that are beyond the conditioned mind, and that oneness… Buddhism promises you much more than that, don’t think that that is the end of the path, because there was no wisdom [in the experience]. There was a fantastic experience, and it showed the nature of things, that everything is in peace. We’re the ones that aren’t in peace, everything you look at is just bathed in eternal peace.
Iain: In your first book you talk about how your awakened mind was born. Is that the point where you felt your awakened mind was born?
Āloka: No, no not then, no this came in Sri Lanka.
Iain: Ok, you went to Sri Lanka, and then you took up robes, so you were in a different tradition. What was the trigger, the catalyst that took you from London to Sri Lanka?
Āloka: Well this is… [sighs] ever since I started this training… and it helped to bring me to the training in the first place and the way things just opened up for me… I’ve always got a sense that there’s something else with me other than ‘David’ - as he was called then - it wasn’t just David and this person and his personality, there was always a sense of presence. It’s very difficult to define these things, it’s not part of the conditioned world, but there’s another part of me, that isn’t the conditioned, that’s also there; although I didn’t view it in those terms in those days, I always got a sense that maybe it was something slightly outside of me that I learnt to trust, that it would guide me, that it would show me ‘this is the next thing to do’, and I would trust it.
And one of those events was Sri Lanka. I was perfectly happy with the group. I went to Sri Lanka a couple of times, the second time I met an old monk who was convalescing up in the mountains, in Kandy. He was a wonderful man, and I was massaging his legs, and one day he just leapt off his bed and said, “I’m going to ordain you”, and I said, “Oh no you’re not.” Honestly, nothing could have been further from my mind, I’ve never had that calling at all. But at the same time that he said it, even though there was this big “No” I thought, “Oh my God, here we go, how can I…? Somehow I’ve just got to follow this.” I just knew that this was the next thing for me to do. And yet for me that meant giving up everything, in London, my group, my teacher, my home, my possessions, my life, give up everything in order to go into something that… I knew nothing of the Theravada tradition, and I was perfectly happy with Zen, I knew nothing about it [Theravada], but at the same time I knew that I had to do it, and you know, that’s trust. And that was trusting something other than this person, that it was taking me [to] “This is the next thing.”
Iain: You felt it deep down?
Āloka: You feel it, it’s an intuitive thing, you can’t put your finger on it, but at the same time, and I could never create images about it or turn it into a person or a God or anything like that, it was just a sense that there was another part of me that was guiding me. I have to say, I can’t really put a lot of logic around that, but this is all part of the spiritual path. It isn’t all logical, in fact there’s very little logic in the spiritual path because you’re always transcending the logic, the dualistic; you are always going and finding that place which is unconditioned. Well, that doesn’t have logic, you can’t put words and concepts around these things, but you can feel it, you can know it, and it can be so obvious to you, and yet you can never give it to anybody. So you have to follow it, and I followed it.
And for me, you know, I found it incredibly difficult in the beginning, very, very difficult. But this monk that I met became my teacher in Sri Lanka, a wonderful man, he helped me so much and supported me so much, a lovely, lovely man. And I went eventually, after I took the robes, I went and lived on an island, down south of the island, and I could really focus on my practice, to the extent that it was a bit more difficult than before because I was learning so much, and then I could just let everything go. And what I did is I changed my meditation. I had a Koan practice for years which is not part of this…this is Zen, this is far eastern Buddhism, and here I was in Theravada robes and I thought well this is not right I can’t possibly…I must change my meditation. And so I took up a traditional practice within that tradition which is about the three signs of being, the three Lakshanas: that everything is impermanent, that nothing has self-nature and everything has this dukkha that I spoke about. Everything has those three characteristics. Everything in the phenomenal world carries those characteristics. And what you do is, you focus on one, two, three… maybe one, there’s all sorts of methods and techniques that you can adopt. I took that on with a very free open mind, I didn’t systemise it, I just allowed it to… because I came on the back of a few years of strong discipline and concentration so I wasn’t starting from scratch. I’ve always had good meditation. I’ve always had good concentration, so I just turned myself to that type of meditation and doing that everything just blew apart.
Iain: Alright, we’ll come back to this, because one of the things I got out of reading the two books of yours, was the important part that the discipline takes.
Iain: The concentration, the focus to get control of the monkey mind, the wandering mind. So just talk a little about how you did that, how you got control of the wandering mind.
Āloka: I was very, very fortunate and I’m eternally grateful to my teacher and to my group that was very disciplined, very uncompromising… this is a discipline, this is a commitment that you commit yourself to sit every day and when you sit, you sit as still as you possibly can. And you carry on, like I say, through the thick and the thin and you just… it’s discipline, you know, discipline is very difficult by definition, but you are dealing with forces that don’t want you to do this, that don’t want you to be still, that don’t want you to get to know yourself, we’re full of those forces that, as you know, when you sit on the cushion and you just try to still the mind it’s the last thing you can do. And that’s what you are dealing with, so unless you bring discipline to that, to that obvious experience, then you’re dealing with forces that ultimately are always going to have their way.
Iain: So basically what you are doing is you’re sitting still and you’re watching your breath. Is that how you normally do it?
Āloka: Yeah well that’s to start you off, that’s just to settle the mind so that you get a sense of centeredness and you’re pretty concentrated.
Iain: Focusing on the body, watching the breath.
Iain: And you’re just catching yourself as much as you can when your mind wanders off.
Āloka: That’s right, you catch your mind, you find yourself wandering off and with that awareness that’s becoming ever more present, you can - ahhh! - you can see it and you can let it go and come back to the centre, wherever you decide to put your concentration, whether it’s up here [points to head] or whether it’s in the body, it’s like a hitching post, that’s where you bring your attention. And you stay there, and when you wander off… you catch yourself and you come back. You wander off… you come back. And I use to count my breath when I first started - one to ten so when you got to number three, if you’re lucky…
Iain: [laughs] We all know that one.
Āloka: Yeah, and you’ve clearly got to be very honest with yourself here, you don’t get any prizes if you get to number ten anyway. But you get to number three and you go, “Ayup I’m off somewhere. Stop.” One, two… [Gasp]… one, two. And I did that for one and a half years before I was given a koan and that in itself is a challenge because it’s so incredibly boring. You know, who wants to count from one to ten? “For goodness… I came here I want, I want all the insight and all the great things I read about!” [Instead] here I am told to count from one to ten, for one and a half years before I was given… but that’s the foundation, is that ability to have that, not just the concentration, but to have the discipline to - when you lose that - not to fall into the temptations, but to bring yourself back to the first day when you started.
Iain: Let’s go back to the sequence; you were in Sri Lanka… just take us from where we got to, if you remember where we got to.
Āloka: Well, just to take along that bit, the koan practice didn’t do that much for me, but what it did it introduced me to the unconditioned, if you like, because koan questions as they are called, can never be answered with the intellect. You try… and answer questions and when you don’t find the answer, you have to let that go and then find another part of you that’s got the answer. And that part of you comes from - I mean, you may not see this in the beginning - but it’s taking you. It’s taking you beyond the self, beyond the conditioned world that we’re trapped in. That gave me the spirit of openness and inclusivity, which you have to have, if you wish to pursue that type of practice. But what I then did is that I put my focus on the conditioned, I told you those three Lakshanas… and stilling myself and coming into the body, this is nothing to do with the neck up, this is from the neck down, when you’re concentrated you come into the body and pursue something, whatever. For me it was a very free and open [experience] and some aspect of my personality would come up and something that was very precious to me, something that I was very attached to, and that I would identify with, and I’d say, “Ok, alright David where are you? Let me find this person who’s so attached to this particular thing, where are you?” In that state of stillness, in that state of non-selfness where the self can’t interfere, which is what happens when you find stillness, you go beyond the interference of an ego, the thing that can pollute and pollutes everything. And to look for this person, “Where am I?” It was fantastic; it just drew me in, and drew me in. Or even impermanence; you know you think that you’re a solid permanent self, “Here I am I! This is me, this is my body, here I am. I am here permanent, at least for a life time.” Ok, have a look at that permanence and see, in a quiet place that actually it’s just things that are shifting and moving all the time, there is no permanence; it’s things are coming to be and ceasing to be. But somehow we gather all those bits up and make it into a solid thing, this is me. That begins to loosen that up, that thing that… blinds you to the truth, this self, this ego thing. You begin to doubt it, you begin to think, “Well hang on, maybe it isn’t the way that I’m led to believe that it is, that all my life I’ve been…” and so they’re like tools, they’re very sharp, they’re fantastic tools those Lakshanas those three signs. [They] are fantastically sharp tools that can cut into this delusion that you are some real solid entity and when that happens, it begins to break up and all sorts can happen It can evoke a lot of darkness, a lot of difficulty because there are forces there that appear to be fighting for their lives. That they want the status quo, they want to be in charge and now something’s coming along here that’s challenging them all that’s actually doubting them and saying, “Well I’m sorry the game is up… not playing this game anymore” WHAT! And then, the more darker aspects of your personality that maybe you’ve never gone near in your life, maybe you’ve suppressed them, or maybe it’s been so difficult that you’re not even aware that it’s in the subconscious.
Iain: Because you worked a lot with your dreams at this point too didn’t you?
Āloka: There was a particular… a couple of experiences at that time. Well, I wouldn’t call them dreams actually, they were more… it wasn’t the waking state and it wasn’t the dream state, these were absolutely real and it was just below the surface, it was just below the conscious mind.
And one particular one, it was the main one actually. Well I would have to put it in balance and in context. I could have some wonderful experiences, wonderful music, happiness and joy that would be almost impossible to contain. There were those experiences so this wasn’t all darkness; it was almost like two opposites that were being shown. But the darker side would be these like big creatures, I use to call them big hairy monsters because they were a bit sort of misty, they weren’t quite defined, that would come to me in this state, just walked to me very slowly, just like as you see on the TV.
Iain: So was it when you were lying in bed and [in] that state between before falling asleep and deep sleep?
Āloka: Yeah it definitely wasn’t sleep and these were not dreams. But it was in that state where your conscious mind and the defences that that has, wasn’t there and these others forces that were just below the surface could have their space to express themselves and totally aware of the whole thing, absolutely lucid, never carried away by it, actually knowing and seeing these. And the fear that these would generate. These were coming to kill me, coming to do something to me anyway. Such fear that I was literally frozen on the bed, literally could not move, absolutely totally frozen in fear and these things coming in the darkness of the whole experience, closer and closer, and then they would fade. And this went on for some time. And then I reflected on a previous experience, which wasn’t to do with these big fellows but, and this is such a crucial feature, of the whole understanding and how you go beyond fear, because we’ve all got fear, small fears and big fears. Big fears we tend to run away from, and we can run away from all sorts of things and we can’t go there, we just blank them off. In the end I got so fed up with this and I reflected on this: “ Ok, rather than react to this, these experiences, rather than run away from them and rather than just deny them, just protect myself - not that I could particularly then - I’m going to give in to them the next time this happens. I am so fed up with this, you want to kill me, you want to eat me, strangle me, please, I’ve had enough, I’m all yours.” So the next time that one of these fellows appeared and I was lying on my bed in my little kuti [a meditation hut] and it stood over me and I said, “Look, I’m all yours, I’ve had enough. You want me, you can have me.” What I did was I opened to the fear. I didn’t run away from it, I opened to it and I accepted it. This fellow got closer and closer and put his hands around my neck and I could feel… like it was as real as anything… that were hands around my neck and I thought, “Well this is it. This is the end. I’ve given in and that’s fair enough. I’ve had enough, then strangle me, because that’s clearly what you want to do.” This whole darkness all over me and his hands around my neck. And after about fifteen minutes I said, “Well look, do you mind getting on with this? Because, you know, this is just going on and on. You can have me, just be done with it, kill me.” And this is the nature of fear, is that you open to it, you say yes to it, you don’t react to it, you leave it alone, it shows its true face, its true reality. And because I gave into it, I allowed it to - as I imagined – do what it wants to do. I called its bluff in other words. I called its bluff and it just faded away.
Iain: What was that fear?
Āloka: Well, it was just this monster. I don’t remember that it related to any other - it was just my own inner darkness. You know, fear in itself doesn’t have pictures, it finds pictures, it finds aspects of your personality to attach itself to and it takes hold of something to blow up and then you become very fearful of something. But the fear itself is just that existential darkness that we’ve all got that in itself doesn’t have a form. It’s form-less, it’s always looking for forms. And in this case it found a form with these monsters. What was so important about that, if you’re prepared to open to your fears and just leave them alone, just leave them alone and what you do is you’re just calling their bluff, not reacting to them. You see what happens to those fears, because they have no reality beyond your reaction. You don’t react, like that fellow, he just melts away. And it never came back, from that day to this. That was the end of that fear.
Iain: So, the awakened mind is born. How did that happened?
Āloka: You have to see it in context. You have to see the whole thing, rather than just going straight to the event. You know this comes on the back of a lot of discipline, a lot of commitment, going through all these sorts of experiences and being so grateful, so grateful for my Zen training that I could actually… and this was all on my own, unlike with my Zen, [which] was with a group, with a sangha and support with a teacher. I had none of this at all.
Iain: You were living in a kuchi, a hut?
Āloka: Yeah, I was living with other monks, but we live alone and I certainly had my practice on my own. We didn’t sit together, I was just doing my own thing, which is how the tradition works, it is a solitary thing. And spending, the whole time that I was on the island, daily building up and building up [my practice] and then there came [what’s called] a rains retreat. Traditionally three months of the year monks stop. Monks can wonder all over the place, but three months of the year when the rains come, traditionally you’re meant to stay put and not move. I was actually there anyway, but I decided to turn that into a real solitary retreat, not speak to anybody, but just go down and collect my food and come back and sit on my own and literally not talk to anyone, or interact in any way whatsoever. For three months, I upped the whole thing again. Not only was that intensity there, but I cranked it up even more and so, like I say, I was so grateful for my background I was able to do that because it’s not easy, it’s not easy to be able to do all that sitting every day and keep to the clock.
Iain: Sitting ten, twelve hours a day?
Āloka: Keep to the clock, keep to the time and have a schedule that I stuck to, no compromise, no ducking and diving, it’s so easy to do that. And I stuck to it, to me that’s so important. I just sent signals, messages to other parts of you that, you know, there’s no compromise here, you’ve just got to get on with it and I’m going to have to get a bit technical here…
Iain: Go on…
Āloka: There comes a point, which is the culmination of all practice actually, where this whole path can be called the path of the middle way, which is avoiding extremes, avoiding opposites either too much running after things, or running away and this characterises the human condition that we don’t know the middle way. We are creatures going from opposites, duality; we’re either up here or down here, running after things, running away. We’re either happy, or we’re sad, we’re always bouncing around like a table tennis ball, up and down, up and down. What this training will do and what the key to the whole insightful process is, is to find the middle path, to find that middle ground. We are neither one extreme, nor the other. And that takes years - that takes a lot. We can all experience the middle way, but only in transit. We’re moving through it on the way to the next thing that we’re running after, or running away from, some desire or aversion, or whatever. But to find that middle path is where you create the platform where your whole samsaric world, the whole world that relies on opposites, that is a thing of duality, it relies on you to be feeding all the time, the opposites, and so it possesses you, it takes you over and you become its plaything really. That’s what we’re taming. By learning that middle way you’re no longer feeding that world of opposites, that dualistic world. Then the mind, in this particular case, actually finds the middle path. It just finds [it] and it’s no longer interested in running after extremes.
Iain: The mind is no longer interested. That’s quite a significant statement.
Āloka: Yes, the mind can still come up with desires and aversions, but you’re no longer interested in them. You let them go. You just let them come and be.
Iain: So it’s easy to let them go. At the moment with most people’s mind it’s quite hard.
Āloka: It’s very difficult, yeah, but what actually happens, it’s not even an act of will of letting go. It’s just the natural fulfilment, the natural fruit of practice that actually, there’s no longer chasing after. There’s that settling in the middle and when it settles in the middle, when that matures, then the whole of your samsaric world falls away because it’s no longer being fed. It just literally vanishes because it is a creation of the mind. It has no reality beyond. We are convinced that it’s real, that it’s something solid and alive… well this is all part of the understanding that comes from this – is that the whole world that you’ve been trapped by all of your life is nothing more than a figment of your imagination. This is when that falls away and you wake up and you come back and you actually see the world and what you’ve been attached to all of your life, that actually it’s just been a creation of your mind and actually from the very beginning you’ve always been at home, you’ve always been in that non-dualistic state, in that awakened state. It’s always been there. You’ve just imagined that you’ve been lost and carried away by this dualistic world.
Iain: Yes but in a way, I’ve picked up from your writings, that’s the beginning of another journey isn’t it?
Āloka: Well yes.
Iain: Because I think that’s the end of the journey, but…
Āloka: No, no, that’s only the beginning actually. Some people might say, well that’s the end. This is your choice and you’ve got a choice to say, “Well, I’ve done it, this is the breakthrough.” I call it the tap root of samsara’s been broken.
Iain: So that’s what is known as being awake, and being awakened?
Āloka: Well, you wake up to who you really are, not who you think you are. And you actually see the reality of all of that. But the paradox is that you’ve always been awake. So you’re not creating it. It’s nothing manufactured. That’s your natural state anyway; it’s just that we’ve got lost into this dream-world that we’ve created for ourselves. We’ve got lost in it and this is why we suffer. We get lost in this world and take it to be real. Now we see that actually from the very beginning it’s just been a figment... just like your dreams. I mean, that’s the way it is, and it can often evoke a bit of laughter, a little bit of mirth to see that you’ve been striving all of these years to actually wake up to where you’ve been from the very beginning. But I think the paradox is – and think this is what defeats a lot of people – that you have to get lost before you realise that. You have to get lost before you find yourself. That’s the paradox of it.
Iain: That’s the game we play.
Āloka: That’s the game we play. And it is a game, nothing more than a game. But then what happens is that this new mind is awakened, the transcendental mind, that mind that I’m talking about that sees and knows that. But – and this is what defeats so many people – they think then that suddenly you become this being that’s sort of hovering six feet off the ground, in a halo, perfect, never makes mistakes, has got perfect ethical behaviour, thinking that that’s the fruit of that breakthrough. But the paradox is – that yes there is this mind that sees and knows – but also you still carry the remnants of that old mind, the old habits, and they run side by side. And, this fellow is still trying to exert itself.
Iain: Jump back, you talk about it jumping back.
Āloka: Yes, it’s nothing more than a bundle of habits. It actually isn’t a person at all. We take it as being a person, but it’s a bundle of habits. When the conditions are what they are it will react and it will try to take over. But there’s another part of you that’s now free, that can see that and say, “Ooooh hang on, no, don’t play that game anymore”, but there’s still this [moves palms of hands towards each other] and sometimes it can take over. And because somebody has broken through, it doesn’t mean to say that all the things that they were caught up with prior have all fallen away as often has been displayed by teachers, you know, with their ethical conduct even though they’re recognised as being very mature spiritually, very mature people. Yet they’ve still got some of their old worldly habits. This is because you’ve got two minds that are running alongside and it is a battle. If you don’t keep the ship steady you can lose that, it can get covered over; you can lose it and that old mind can re-assert itself and become the dominant part of you again. Or, you keep it steady, and in time, this old mind will fade away. In time.
So that’s the paradox. And this is what defeats so many people, that they think that everything is over, whereas in fact it isn’t. In many ways it’s only the beginning. The beginning of the end.
Iain: And was that something that you knew because you’d read about it, or you instinctively felt that you made the choice? Or consciousness made the choice with you to keep going?
Āloka: Up until that point I’d read almost nothing. I went into the whole experience with no pre-conceived ideas, no signposts, no knowledge, “Oh, it’s going to be like this, it’s going to be like that.” I had absolutely no knowledge. And I’m so grateful to that. It’s like innocently I just walked into it. I had no signposts, no pre-conceived things that I could then get attached to and make a problem out of, I was just doing my practice to the best of my ability. After the breakthrough I then began to digest all the insight and the whole event. I then was very fortunate to find a wonderful Buddhist Mahayana book called the Lankavatara Sutra that actually lays out all of that.
Iain: I know people are going to email and say, “What’s the title?”
Āloka: The Lankavatara Sutra. It’s a translation by D. T. Suzuki of a very famous sutra – he’s a Japanese teacher. I was so fortunate that I came across this because I was puzzled by all of this, because I couldn’t put anything in any boxes. I had no prior boxes to put things into and yet it was very clear and very obvious. But it’s all part of the digesting process that you need to complete the event by doing that, by knowing intellectually as much as possible where it fits into the scheme of things. And so I spent a long time then digesting and finding bits and ticking the boxes as I went, “Ah, this relates to this, this relates to that”, so that the whole thing was digested.
Iain: You went through I think seven or eight stages didn’t you? Is it bhumi [the ten stages of Bodhisattva] they’re called? Is that a part of Theravada Buddhism?
Āloka: Aloka: No, no, no, that’s Mahayana Buddhism. No, we leave Theravada behind. Theravada has long been put to one side because the Theravada doesn’t deal with your divine nature, your true nature, your Buddha nature which is what I’m talking about, which is awakened. Theravada doesn’t acknowledge that at all and that was one of my puzzlements: “Where is it?” And it wasn’t there, so when I found this book that I could begin to link into, to complete the picture…
Iain: But these stages, it seems that you went deeper each time.
Āloka: This is a part of the seeing, of the falling away of that samsaric world, seeing it ever deeper so that it begins to melt and become less dominant, less significant - that, sort of clipped off as stages. It’s a bit technical and not really important, but it is the Bodhisattva path.
Iain: But I was interested in some of the realisations. Like, the fifth bhumi realisation: “Other people were the product of my own mind.” Could you just talk about that? Am I the product of your mind? How does that work?
Āloka: The primary individual that you have to see through is yourself, is ‘me’. And see that this is the cause of suffering. That’s the bit that you’ve got to see through, but the part of the package that is the predominant part - because of me and my ego, me and my self-centredness - part of that package, also includes the rest of the world, doesn’t it? It includes other people. I’m not an island. I’m not blanked off to you and to people in my life and to events and situations, the world and life in general, but they may not have taken the dominant focus. They’re there, but the dominant focus is ‘me’. This sense of ‘me’, that’s always primary.
Secondary is then when that gets settled to some extent you then begin to realise well hang on there is more to just ‘me’ that also includes other people. And so you begin to realise never mind about ‘me’ being a creation of my own mind, so are other people. Everything is a creation of my own mind. That’s taking the completeness, the whole package. That’s not just a ‘me’, the ‘me’ aspect which you can do in Buddhism and just focus on the ‘me’ part and ignore the rest of life and ignore other people; push it all away in other words and just focus on ‘me’. This includes opening and embracing everything as your experience and that includes other people, as well as objects and to see ultimately how astonishing it may be that it’s all your own mind and you are responsible for that. You create this world and you misunderstand it and you make yourself suffer because you misunderstand it. The thing is to understand what you are creating is your own creation and what you are misunderstanding – the material, the basic material – isn’t what you think that it is. Don’t think of nihilism here. That is one of the dangers that we can go down: that nothing exists. That is such a misconception and it’s so nihilistic. Things do exist, but they don’t exist in the way you think that they do and their truth it’s the great mystery of life. It’s the great mystery that all things are interconnected. That all things contain everything else, that everything is beyond time and space, that there is no such thing as birth and death. That’s your true nature. That’s who you really are. But to see that, and to know that, you’ve got to open up to that and that includes taking on other people and seeing the things that you consider to be outside of yourself, dualistic objects that we call people; to see not just that you create the people, but to see the reality of the object that is in front of you. What is the reality? You say, “It doesn’t exist.” Well what doesn’t exist? It is your interpretation, but there is a reality beyond that, and that is the great mystery.
Iain: The interesting thing is, we’ve had on conscious.tv three quantum physicists and a chemist and they’ve pretty much said that same thing from a purely scientific point of view. There is a meeting more and more now, from the spiritual community and the leading edge scientific community.
Āloka: Quantum physics is getting very, very close. And what quantum physics will do is completely rip the rug out from the whole of dualistic science and that is what it is beginning to do. It is freaking people out and people can’t go there. But it will come in little by little; new generations will take on more. There is a meeting there, but it’s still not your own personal awakening. It’s still an objective… even though with Quantum physics you can agree with this, it’s not your direct experience. In order for that to be your direct experience, you’ve got to know yourself. You’ve got to look, not look out there, you’ve got to look in here [inside], you’ve got to turn the whole ship around. That is what we do. We spend the whole of our lives looking out there. Most of us don’t want to look in here, as we don’t like what we see. So we cut this off and we look out there and we chase things in the world. You come to the spiritual path, and certainly the Buddhist path, you’ve got to stop and turn the whole thing around and spend the rest of your life looking in. When you’re walking down the road know that you’re walking down the road, which means that you’ve got to look in. When you’re standing, know that you’re standing. When you’re sitting know that you’re sitting. When you’re lying down, know that you are lying down. There, you do that and you are on the threshold of going through that door into the inconceivable, because that is the doorway: that awareness there and the inconceivable are not two. It’s not a step from one thing to the next; that’s how close we are. That’s something that can just be so astonishing for you that we are all on the brink. We are not miles away.
The awakened mind isn’t miles away. It isn’t something…”Oh I can’t do that!” You are living out of your awakened mind. Just wake up and realise it. That’s how close [it is]. All human beings, well all beings, but us humans with self-awareness - which is the dual self-awareness - where we can reflect and know that we are all on the threshold, we are not a million miles away. It’s possible for all of us. It’s there beckoning us all the time, “Let go…what are you doing to yourself? Wake up to where you are and where you’ve always been.” That is the message for all of us. It’s something that we can all engage with and do. We’ve all got that enlightened nature. It’s not the preserve of certain people, we have all got it. It’s about finding it, discovering it. And that is what the path is for and then you’re free. Then you become a true human being. And that True Nature that we live out of, that is who we really are, can then start to show its true characteristics in human form, which is one of warmth and love. All the human characteristics that we admire and respect are all coming from our True Nature. These are not conditioned things that you create. When you learn to get out of the way and not buy into this ‘self’ thing, they will naturally begin to flow through you.
Iain: Great place to finish. We have actually covered a lot in our time together. I really appreciate your coming along to conscious.tv, sharing your story and your wisdom. I am going to show your books again: A record of Awakening, which is very much David’s story [Āloka] The Five Pillars of Transformation. A Question of Dharma, we didn’t actually talk about Dharma. Dharma Mind Worldly Mind, which I haven’t read yet and his latest book, Blue Sky White Cloud.
Thank you Āloka and thank you for watching conscious.tv and I hope as always to see you again soon. Goodbye.
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