The omnipresent key


TOM: Robert, welcome. It’s good to be here with you.

ROBERT: Thank you.

TOM: I’ve prepared some questions for you, and feel free to fill in any areas that I may have missed.

ROBERT: I made a few notes of things that I want to be sure that we cover.

TOM: Okay. You’ve been communicating on the topic of nonduality for 23 years ever since you had your awakening in the redwood forest. In that time, have you found an effective way to communicate the truth?

ROBERT: Well, I experimented with a number of different means, and the thing that I found that was most effective is one on one discussions. And I’ve probably done more one-on-one discussions in spirituality than anybody that I know of. And as a consequence of that, I’ve been able to pinpoint the areas of confusion. And surprisingly enough, there are just a few of those areas, although they go by different descriptions.

TOM: Well, spiritual teachings are often said to be paradoxical. Have you found a way to cut through that confusion?

ROBERT: I would liken it to an optical illusion. You strain to see what it is in the picture that other people are comprehending. Finally, you relax and then suddenly, insightfully, the alternate picture presents itself. So, coming to Self-realization is really a non-linear process. The thing is that there are keys that we’re given in terms of these ancient teachings, and these are often a word or a phrase. But if we attend to the meaning of these expressions, it can have a great impact on our understanding in this matter.

You know, for example, there is the expression, the observer is the observed. Which is very paradoxical, but if one clearly understands what’s being said there, that in alone would be enough.

TOM: Well that was one of the… one of the concepts that you had given me in one of our one on one sessions. It was very profound for me. It just kind of changed everything. So… we’ve all heard that this totality is infinite and eternal and, therefore omnipresent. Is this one of the keys that are often overlooked?

ROBERT: Well, actually those three words alone are probably the most significant of these key words, I would say. We’ve all heard the word infinite and eternal, or read it or whatever. And as we read words like that, we often kind of skip over it and go on to the next sentence hoping to make our discovery.

TOM: Right.

ROBERT: If you really contemplate what infinite means, it means no beginning and no end.

So if there is that, in this universe, if there is that which has no beginning and no end, this is something that we can’t really comprehend as some kind of a thing. It’s actually beyond comprehension when we think of something that has no beginning or end. All the forms that we know have beginnings and ends.

So if there is that which has no beginning or end, what these teachings are telling us is that this that’s being described is without form, because it would have no boundaries or restraints or restrictions to it. It would be without form. And that’s an important key, an important clue or pointer. Because that which is without form would, by its very nature, be present everywhere. There would be no restraints to its presence at any point in space or time. And all the teachings repeat that frequently.

So, what the teachings are telling us, is that this formless actuality is what is sometimes described as the ground of being. The ground in the sense that, out of this formlessness, forms arise. Out of this nothingness, there’s something. And so all of these forms are manifestations of this source, this ground of being.

TOM: Can you talk about the paradox between forms being formlessness and the formless being forms?

ROBERT: Well, formlessness, this formless actuality that we’re talking about… every religious and spiritual tradition has a common word for that. Everywhere you see the word Absolute. Absolute is a perfect word for it because if you look up the word Absolute, you’ll see that it means ‘not relative’; but it also means ‘without limitation’.

And so this that we’re talking about, that has no beginning or end, would be without limitation. So, the formless is frequently referred to in these teachings as the Absolute. And the forms are generally referred to as the relative. So when we speak of the relative world, we’re speaking of all of these forms that are apparent to us, having some relationship to each other.

It’s important to recognize that forms are not only material but they can also be immaterial. For example, thoughts, concepts, those too are forms. They have a beginning and an end.

But what’s significant about using these terms form and formlessness, or Absolute and relative, is that the formlessness—by its very nature being unlimited—must, these teachings tell us, must surround all of these forms. Must be present everywhere around all these forms. And the part that gets overlooked is that, simultaneously, by the nature of what’s being described here, this formlessness must saturate and penetrate all of these forms.

And that’s, that’s the really important element of what these teachings are telling us. That the formless actuality must be present around all these forms and must penetrate and saturate and permeate all these forms. So the important point is that the Absolute and the relative have never been apart. In other words, the formlessness and the forms are one actuality.

TOM: So, if the relative is within the Absolute and the Absolute is within the relative, doesn’t that mean that the two are actually one?

ROBERT: Yes, absolutely, that is the point. It’s the most important point: what we’re talking about, in terms of the nondual teachings, is that the relative and the Absolute are inseparable. We might describe these things as different aspects. But they are different aspects of the one unbroken actuality.

And by the nature of the Absolute, it is omnipresent. All of these teachings say, as far back as the Vedas, “nowhere is it not.” So the Absolute is present at every point in space and time. And in Christianity they speak of God as being imminent and transcendent. So this indicates that this that we are talking about is imminent, present in everything that is apparent, and yet transcendent in that it is not confined to any particular thing.

And this really is what the word Oneness, with a capital O, represents. You see the word One and Oneness continually in these teachings. Its not that the relative and the Absolute are being united, but that they’ve never actually been apart to begin with. So we are not uniting something, we are recognizing the inherent unity to begin with.

TOM: I’ve heard some people say that they’re part of the Absolute, and how is that possible?

ROBERT: Well, if we really understand what this formless actuality is in terms of its nature—and we recognize that we are talking about something that has no boundaries, no restraints, no restrictions—we’re talking about something that has no divisions whatsoever. If you take an ice-cube tray and you fill it with water and then you put in the ice-cube divider, you could say that you’ve got separate ice cubes but before you divided things, there was just the one presence.

TOM: That’s a great analogy.

ROBERT: And so this is what we’re talking about. We’re talking about something that inherently, in its own nature, is indivisible. The divisiveness is something that we bring to it, the divisions. So all things are interconnected into this one actuality and its only our conceptions that divide it into separate forms.

So from the standpoint that we are talking about in terms of this formless actuality, there is nothing outside of it, nothing beside it or apart from it. So there are no parts to this that we are talking about. If you say you’re part of the Absolute, you are ignoring the fact that the Absolute is present everywhere and therefore you can’t be outside of or apart from what all these expressions call the Totality. If you total up the sum of figures, you haven’t left anything out.

TOM: Right. If the Absolute is omnipresent, wouldn’t it then be inescapable?

ROBERT: Well that’s the point, you see, that’s the most significant point, and it’s the point that we really tend to overlook. Because of the nature of what we’re talking about, this formless actuality which is illimitable, it must be here now. And that doesn’t matter where here is to you or where now is to you, this that we’re talking about is present. So if this formless actuality is present here now, this isn’t something that we come to, in terms of “sooner or later I’m going to come in contact with ultimate reality.”

TOM: Right.

ROBERT: And this is what seekers generally tend to be experiencing is the idea that “at some time and in some place I will come in contact with ultimate reality.” And of course the point of these teachings is: ‘That’, that we are talking about, has never not been wherever anything is, including this form here. So, Self-realization is simply a realization of that truth.

TOM: Does the seeking end with realization?

ROBERT: Well, from the standpoint of Self-realization, there is no “seeker” and there is no “sought.” When one is Self-realized, there’s a recognition that what one perceived to be the seeker has never been apart from what has been sought. The seeker and the sought have never been apart. That’s why I mentioned earlier this expression “the observer is the observed.” If a person really understands that the observer is the observed, that the seeker is the sought, then its clear that there’s never been any separation or disconnection.

And its this recognition that is the peace and the freedom that’s spoken about in these teachings, because as soon as one recognizes that this has never been apart from anything, especially anything that’s sought, then there’s no division. And that’s what nonduality is all about—no division.

TOM: Not two.

ROBERT: Not two!

TOM: So what happens after realization, does the “me” disappear?

ROBERT: The recognition for the Self-realized is, to use the title of Nisargadatta’s book, I am That—that with a capital T, representing the Absolute. I am the Absolute, that’s the recognition. In fact, as this becomes clearer to a person, the I is unnecessary and the That is unnecessary, and the recognition is purely Am, Isness. There’s isness here. And this Isness or Amness is no-thing, it’s not a thing. One isn’t some thing. It’s a recognition that ultimately there is no thing, there’s just this formless actuality.

And if one were to look for one’s identification, that’s one’s identification. One identifies with this that is the overarching actuality. And recognizes that the essence of all that is, is this that we’re talking about. The essence of all that is.

Ramana Maharshi liked to use the word Self with a capital S to speak of the Absolute, and self with a small s to speak of the seeker, making the point that both are the same, Self/self, it’s all one thing.

TOM: If beingness is “all that is,” then is that beingness doing everything that’s done?

ROBERT: If you recognize that this source, this ground of being, this beingness is the source of all that is, then it’s the source of these organisms. It’s the source of whatever these organisms do, it’s the source of whatever occurs anywhere in the cosmos. And when you come to recognize this actuality, you recognize it as presence, ever-present, everywhere all the time. That’s what omnipresent means, omnipresent means “always present everywhere.”

So one begins to see that the underlying identification of all that is, all these forms, whether material or immaterial, are expressions or manifestations of this Absolute beingness. And the sense, then, of me and all else that’s not me dissolves. And when the absence of dualistic perception is present, in other words, when we no longer are caught up in dualistic perception, then the sense of division concerning all things comes to an end.

In other words, we see no division in terms of the overall picture. And of course wherever there’s division, there’s conflict. And as long as there’s a me here and a you there or, us and them or whatever, there will be conflict.

When we transcend this idea of being a separate self and separate others, then we transcend conflict.

TOM: So the thoughts, words, and actions of this particular organism are simply the Absolute doing its thing-


TOM: They’re not “mine.”

ROBERT: Of course, of course. From the standpoint of what we’re talking about, we can say that, if there’s a doer with a capital D, it’s the Doer of all that’s done. And that’s often difficult for us to contemplate.

You know, out in this vast cosmos, there’s all of this that’s going on in this cosmos; and there’s creation all the time, there’s destruction all the time, and yet all of that is one movement. And from the standpoint of the Absolute or the Intelligence with a capital I, which is the ground of this being, there is no “good” or “bad” in that regard.

You know, I think largely as a consequence of our Christian acculturation we have this idea that there’s a spectrum that has the negative on one end and the positive on the other end, and that we should be constantly moving away from the negative towards the positive. But from the standpoint of this formless actuality, there’s no good and bad, or right or wrong. There are no right tress, or wrong trees.

TOM: Right.

ROBERT: And that’s the harmony that these teachings are speaking of. Its coming to recognize that all of this is a manifestation of the Absolute, whether we like it or don’t like it.

TOM: So if I have thoughts about something being good or bad, even though I may be thinking “oh, I’m in duality,” in reality that’s just the Absolute doing what it does.

ROBERT: That’s what I’m saying, yes.

TOM: Are “witnessing” and the “empty mind” the same thing?

ROBERT: With nondual awareness, Self-realization, what really presents is this condition of equanimity. We begin to experience what is frequently referred to as choiceless awareness. There’s always awareness, we’re aware of what is taking place: but the idea that it should be some particular thing or shouldn’t be some particular thing, that’s what we no longer experience, in terms of nondual realization.

So we come to a place where essentially there’s awareness witnessing what’s taking place but without concern for what’s taking place, without anxiety. So with the dissolution of the sense of a separate self into this realization, the kinds of self concern that we’ve had, self-centered thoughts and so on and so forth, that’s what empties out; and that’s why the expression is an “empty mind”, empty of those kinds of perceptions. There’s also an expression “no thought”; that doesn’t mean an enlightened person doesn’t think about anything or no longer answers to his name or pays his bills or doesn’t pay his bills. It means in terms of divisive, separative thought—no thought.

TOM: If there’s no self, does that also mean no ego and no mind?

ROBERT: Well, when we speak about “ego” and “mind”, essentially we’re speaking of divisive concepts. In other words, from the standpoint of this one unbroken whole, we separate out these that we call “individuals,” and name these as such; and we say that this individual has a “self” or a “mind”. The first recognition is when you come to see that there is no me, there is no self, whose ego is it, whose mind is it? Does that nonexistent “self” have an ego or a mind?

So, the point really is that, we tend to think that there’s a “self” that has an “ego”, has a “mind”, and you might see in some of these teachings somewhere the indication that one needs to do something about the ego or control the mind, or whatever. From the standpoint of Self-realization, one recognizes that there’s no need to be rid of anything or to control anything, because you recognize it’s all That.

What really becomes a matter of attention, is being present with what’s present. Present with whatever is present. And that's what’s often referred to in the literature as ‘what-is’. If we’re aware of what’s present, whatever is present that we’re aware of is a fact; and you don’t change a fact. You can wish it were otherwise or resist it or whatever but when you’re aware of the what-is, and you’re aware of the fact as it is then you’re okay with what-is. And if you’re not okay with it, then you’re okay with that.

TOM: Well, that’s certainly the source of a lot of suffering—where people have a problem with something that’s happened, and once something has happened its an existent fact.

ROBERT: Not just what’s happened, but what’s happening and will happen.

TOM: Right.

ROBERT: All of those things are a source of suffering.
TOM: I’ve heard you say a number of times that nothing really matters, and how does that fit into everything?

ROBERT: Well again, we look at the, what we might say the important issue, this underlying ground of being, this formless presence. And this formless presence is the source of all that’s occurring. So somewhere in this universe there’s something that, as I say, we might call it Intelligence or whatever, but there’s something for which all of this is in harmony.

And, we’re gonna close our eyes for the last time at some point, and all of this will disappear. The sense of being a separate self will disappear, and the world will disappear, and the universe will disappear. And ultimately the recognition is that something is going to be present and in harmony, as it is now and has always been in harmony.

This formless ground of being really is often referred to in the teachings as “emptiness” or the “void” or “nothingness”; because when we talk about something that has no form, there’s no right or wrong in that, there’s this empty presence, this empty beingness.

Ramana often spoke about all forms having a beginning and an end; therefore, all forms are impermanent, they come and go, everything comes and goes. There’s that in which all these forms arise and return to, in which they come and go. That is not impermanent, that does not change, that does not come and go. So he often spoke of the forms as unreal, in as much as they have a beginning and an end and are not the Infinite. And he spoke of the Infinite being real.

And so from that standpoint, you often see in these teachings, this “life” referred to as a dream. In other words, unreal, unreal in the sense that this life has a beginning and an end and it will disappear for us, it will all disappear for us. That which remains is what Ramana says we keep our attention on. And so these teachings are talking about nonattachment to the dream. Nonattachment to all the drama that we perceive.

TOM: I’ve heard you talk about “commitment” and “expectation” as being a couple of things that the seeker really needs to pay attention to.

ROBERT: Ah yeah, and that really starts from a place of trust. Anyone who comes to this spiritual quest has probably read some of the ancient teachers, you know, Buddha or whoever. And when we begin this query we really have to have a certain kind of a trust that, over all these ages, all of these different enlightened masters in different times and places, they all are saying this consistent same thing basically—a little different words here and there, but consistently they’re saying pretty much the same thing.

So we have to trust that we’re not being lied to basically, and that there is something to be seen, like I say, in that optical illusion: somebody says “if you look at that, you’ll see some alternate picture there.” So we first come to this by trusting that there’s some truth here to be discovered.

But if that trust is there, and once that trust is there, then sincerity is what’s really necessary. Really its commitment, commitment to this. If this is not at the top of your agenda, it’s somewhere down on the list, those things that are at the top of your agenda are going to take your time and your attention and your energy. And for someone who’s serious about knowing the truth firsthand, this has to be at the top of the agenda, this has to be an important matter, an important issue.

TOM: There’s so much that has to be overcome in terms of programming—about we are a separate self, in our society—that you really do need to have that focus.

ROBERT: Well yeah, and then there are a couple of other things that are problematic quite often for the seeker. And that is, one thing is, for many people they’re searching for experiences. Quite often in some of the spiritual literature you can read about some marvelous experiences that somebody had. But for each person, awakening is unique, and it doesn’t occur in the same way for each person. But people sometimes come to this with the idea that there are certain experiences that they expect to occur, and that’s what they’re looking for.

But of course, we’re moving from the known to the unknown. In other words, we know separation, we know duality, we know what the material and relative world is like. We’re talking about moving to a perspective that is unknown to us. Quite often there is some fear connected with that, and of course, that’s natural. But if you’re approaching this with the idea that you know what you’re looking for, then this really is a bit of a problem for what actually will unfold.

Then another matter has to do with other kinds of expectations, expectations that with Self-realization the person goes around beaming love to every creature on the earth and never gets angry in a traffic jam, or all of these kinds of things. So there’s kind of an openness going into this, in terms of what to expect, in terms of what is actually revealed, and then what that plays out as in terms of Self-realization.

In addition to all that, there are what I call myths, a number of myths in the spiritual material. For example, you see the word “bliss” very often in some of these writings, and so on and so forth. Actually that word should be interpreted in English as equanimity, because that’s really what they’re talking about. They’re talking about coming to a place where the joy is that there are no ups and downs, that’s the joy.

But of all the myths, the major myth is: “this can’t happen to me.” I’m not good enough or I’m not in the right place, I should have been here a hundred years ago, or whatever, this isn’t going to happen to me. That’s myth number one.
TOM: I know that when—right before you went into the redwood forest for three years—you made a decision that you would get rid of all expectations about what was going to possibly happen, because that in fact would potentially limit what the possibilities are.

ROBERT: That’s right. That’s right. That would limit what I would recognize to be Self-realization.

TOM: Can you comment on the idea of “becoming”?

ROBERT: Well, this too is part of the idea that people sometimes have, that with Self-realization I will “become a better person”. The kind of thing that I described before; that I’ll go around walking on air, and so on and so forth, that there’s going to be some kind of dramatic positive change. The other part of that is the idea that, going into this, that there’s some perfection of myself that has to take place. That I have to sit zazen for thirty years until I’m just right or follow some particular practice until I’m perfect at it, and then there’s going to be a realization.

TOM: And that’s all time-based.

ROBERT: Absolutely, what we’re talking about here really is being, b-e-i-n-g; we’re talking about being here now, present, present with what’s present and that means being who you are, as you are, where you are. Being as you are with all of your faults, positive and negative, and recognizing that this is it, this is what this truth is all about—

TOM: —right—

ROBERT: —being who I am.

TOM: What about the ideas of ‘should’ and ‘should not’, in relation to the person that’s already realized.

ROBERT: Yes, that’s the biggest problem for people who’ve come to an awakening. Often people say that they’ve had certain thoughts or emotions or there are habits that have recurred, or whatever, therefore this can’t be it, I can’t be awakened—because these things are occurring. And of course, these kinds of designations are basically ideas that we have about things, to begin with, I mean “thoughts”, “emotions”, “habits”, these are all things that we’ve selected out of this unbroken actuality and given names to.

But even for a Self-realized person, this one still lives in the relative, material world. And there are still things that are annoying, or we could see the negative side of, or whatever. But the recognition for the Self-realized is, “all that is, is That.” So it doesn’t really matter what is said, thought, or done, its seen to be a manifestation of this Absolute—doing what it does. Not just here, but there among others as well.

TOM: Right. Transcending duality, is this the most profound consequence of realization?

ROBERT: Yes, really, the most important element of Self-realization is the dissolution of the notion of me and all else that’s not me; the idea of you and I as separate, in terms of this over-arching truth. On the relative level, we still answer to our names, but it’s a matter of seeing through this divisive mindset that we have.

But I would say the second really important element is getting over this—and its really a divisive idea—this idea of things that ‘should be’ and ‘should not be.’ And we really have difficulty with that, concerning our self, because there’s always this idea that arises—even for the Self-realized, the idea arises because of its habitual nature—that I should be ‘doing this’ or ‘thinking this’ or ‘not doing’ this, ‘not thinking’ this. And of course, that’s not only an inward notion we have but an outward notion as well, that you should be doing or not doing, that the world should be doing or not doing. So the should and should not is our major hang up, and that’s what we come to see through in terms of these teachings.

And so basically that’s the main discovery one makes, in terms of what’s called enlightenment or non-dual awareness; in other words, awareness of the non-dual nature of this existence. Of course, with Self-realization, where the rubber meets the road is in living out of that condition of no separation, no division, living out of that condition of non-dual awareness.

TOM: What about the question that often comes up about the need to ‘fix the world’?

ROBERT: Well, of course that is a relative proposition to start with, the idea that what’s going on is positive on one hand and negative on the other hand. And from the relative standpoint, you know, we—even the Self-realized—read the newspaper and recognizes that there’s this particular thing going on in the world which we might designate as positive and another thing we might designate as negative. But in terms of Absolute awareness, we really see that there is something in this cosmos that goes beyond good and bad and right and wrong, there’s some unbroken movement that has no tendency to hang out on just one end of the spectrum. So we really transcend these dualistic formulations and recognize that this too is it, this too is it. Like it or not, good or bad, this too is it.

So our responsibility is to awaken to the Absolute. Even if you want to fix the world, what better place to start than clarity here, and then operating out of that clarity, as opposed to divisive confusion here and operating out of that. So the most radical thing a person can do is to come to this clarity, come to Self-realization and act out of that. Because with that we end conflict here and we end conflict there, inward and outward.

TOM: Could you talk a little bit about the books that you’ve written and how people can buy those?

ROBERT: Well, hopefully, if someone’s heard what we’ve just talked about, they won’t need to read anything. [laughter] But anyone who wants to see things that I’ve written, all of the things that are in print are available on Amazon and in Kindle editions. And of those things, three of the books that I’ve written probably have most to do with what we are talking about tonight. That was the first book Living Nonduality, which is kind of a cover-all of all of these things we’ve talked about. The book One Essence is very significant because it’s all about nonduality; as is the book Always Only One, so those three are important.

And my website is  living, and there’s a lot of free material on there, audio stuff, visual stuff and so on and so forth.

TOM: Okay, is there anything else you’d like to say Robert?


TOM: Thank you very much. I enjoyed this.

ROBERT: My pleasure!

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