Book Excerpts


Introduction To LIVING REALITY



What you are about to read is the fulfillment of my thirty-year search for liberation. What I mean by liberation is an end to the nagging feeling of separateness from Source, or Essence, that had been present for as long as I can remember. Gone also is the previously inescapable sense of  “becoming,” as well as the relentless concerns over past and future that had plagued me, including the fear of death. After eluding me for some thirty years of spiritual work, fulfillment finally came through the Hindu teachings of Advaita, also known as non-duality.

The literal definition of Advaita (pronounced “ad-vie-ta”) is “not two,” a technically preferable way of describing oneness because the term “oneness” implies the possibility of more than one. Nonetheless, the word “oneness” is commonly used to refer to the underlying or essential indivisibility, sameness, or unity of all manifestation that Advaita reveals. Scientifically, this oneness is seen in quantum mechanical physics, which shows that all matter can be broken down into smaller and smaller subatomic particles, which eventually can be seen to be composed of  nothing more than light, or emptiness, or space. Truly, everything in manifestation is made up of one, and only one, essence.

Thus, there is actually objective proof that within our experience of life, which is tremendously varied and full of differences, there is an integrating element that is almost entirely being ignored. And that element is the sameness, or oneness, that is constantly present and makes all experience possible. It is called presence awareness (among many other names), and it is essentially the present moment—right here, right now. It is the “right here, right now” that has always been and will always be. It is the “right here, right now” that you experienced at age five and experience even as you read this page. And this sameness is what makes a sixty- or seventy-year-old feel no different inside than he or she did as  a child. Presence awareness. It was present at birth; it is present at death. Right here, right now. Our one constant.

In early 2004, I had the great good fortune to pick up a book called What’s Wrong With Right Now Unless You Think About It? by an Australian teacher named Sailor Bob Adamson. Bob’s search ended in the mid-1970s when he studied with the great Hindu sage Nisargadatta Maharaj. He has been teaching non-duality ever since. As fate would have it, Bob and his wife came to America and stayed at our home for five weeks. During that time, he gave many wonderful talks and teachings, most of which are transcribed in this book.

For most seekers of enlightenment or liberation, the search is long and arduous with many twists and turns along the way. Finding truth is all the more challenging because there are so many varying viewpoints. People are different genetically, culturally, emotionally, and so on. There are paths for devotional types, intellectual types, mystical types, and so forth. What most paths and religions have in common is that they allow the disciple to seek without ever actually finding. This does not mean such paths are fruitless. It simply means that there is always more to chase and more to seek. There is always a bigger and better experience to be had. There is always a promise of a better future (even though life can only be lived in the present). And there is almost never a point where one stops to say, “Aha! The goal is reached. I have found. I am complete.” There is, of course, the rare case where that occurs, but it is sure to be the exception, not the rule. The few who claim to have found are nearly always the leaders, never the participants. This fact alone should give one pause.

In this regard, the teachings of non-duality are entirely unique. They are unique because they leave room only for finding and none for seeking! In Advaita, seeking is patently absurd because it implies a future time of finding. If all that exists is oneness, how can there be a past or future? Past and future are concepts in the mind, while the present moment—right here, right now—is all that truly is. If there is an opposite to Advaita, it is the act of seeking!

Advaita is based on understanding reality and existence from the broadest possible viewpoint. It is entirely unconcerned with practices, disciplines, rituals, and experiences. Seekers looking for self-development or for promises of a better future will not find them here. Non-duality rejects preferences and considers no experience, positive or negative, one iota better or worse than another.

For seekers who are ripe, non-duality brings ending upon ending, until only freedom remains. Once it is recognized that the reference point we live from, the “me,” is based on nothing more than a collection of thoughts and images, any sense of self-importance and individuality ends. Once the definition of reality is seen to be “that which never changes,” the illusory nature of our “apparent” creation is exposed. As soon as the essential oneness of existence is understood, the pervasive sense of separation gained in early childhood—when a so-called “individual” identity was created—cannot continue to exist. It simply disappears. Once it is realized that the present moment, right here, right now, is all that ever has been and all that ever will be, the senseless behavior of thinking about the past and worrying about the future utterly ceases. When we see clearly that who we are is actually “no thing”—non-conceptual, ever present, self-shining, just this and nothing else, as Sailor Bob puts it—any trying to change, fix, modify, or correct ourselves becomes pointless. One’s sense of “becoming” immediately drops away. When it is understood that everything in creation is, in essence, actually one (because everything in creation is comprised of the same underlying consciousness), it becomes obvious that all reference points are false. When it is seen that all reference points are false, judging any experience or any person as good or bad, or right or wrong becomes ludicrous. Everything that occurs is seen simply as “what is.” Once all experience is seen as “what is,” the perpetual habit of craving pleasure and resisting pain is over. Thus, for the ripe seeker, Advaita is the endgame of a search that previously appeared to have no resolution. Let me repeat that: for the ripe seeker, non-duality is the endgame of a search that previously appeared to have no resolution.

What is meant by a “ripe” seeker? One who is willing to die to his or her apparent individuality. While many seekers have heard of the notion of being willing to have their individuality die and are actually ready to do so, most have no idea how. This is not for any lack of intelligence. It is because there is actually nothing one can do to die to the “small self”! What is needed is an understanding of reality from the most all-inclusive viewpoint. Then, one’s apparent individuality becomes enveloped by universality in the same way a seemingly isolated wave merges back into the ocean.

While understanding may seem a far cry from liberation, it is not. In fact, it is positively essential to it. The key to ultimate freedom lies in one’s perception of reality. Liberation, or awakening, is not a function of any particular experience or mode of behavior. It is a function of understanding reality. This is why there is no standard behavior among so-called enlightened souls. This is why each person must awaken on his or her own. There have been many yogis and mystics over the centuries who have granted spiritual experiences to others (which are sometimes powerful catalysts to understanding), but none has ever been able to grant the understanding itself, which gives rise to eternal freedom. Liberation occurs only by perception or understanding, and this is not something one can transfer to another. A person seeing a rope in the dark may first perceive the rope to be a dangerous snake and react with panic. Upon closer investigation, when the person sees the rope for what it is, all fear disappears. So it is that when a person understands his or her true, unbounded nature, liberation from previously perceived bondage is the inevitable result.

After some thirty years of engaging in an eclectic variety of evolutionary paths, I now have the impression that most seekers are actually content to remain on the path their entire lives. Some love the seeking process and some are enamored of blissful meditations, while others are just not ready to find. Seekers reading this book who have never rigorously investigated their willingness to become finders are about to be tested. Those who claim to agree with non-dual teachings while continuing their search demonstrate that they have not actually understood Advaita.

No one can say why one disciple is ready to end his or her search, while another is not. Advaita, which considers manifest existence an illusion, or appearance, comprised of the same oneness, or consciousness, from which it sprang, offers no reasons or causes for anything within the appearance. It is worth noting, however, that many, though not all, of the rare individuals who claim to have found awakening, or liberation, have said the same thing: there was a point, they declare, where they became extraordinarily intent on finding truth—finding freedom. Many, just like Sailor Bob Adamson, whose life you are about to become familiar with, have even said they left home vowing not to return until their apparent bondage had been lifted.

I mention this not as a hint or a method of how to pursue self-realization. I mention it because many seekers who approach Advaita find the teachings mental and cerebral, and wonder what use mere intellectual understanding can possibly be. For those who do not resonate with the teachings of non-duality, such a reaction is not false or wrong. In these cases, nothing is gained and there are no benefits. For the seeker who is serious about becoming a finder, however, for one who can no longer bear the perpetual sense of separation that began as far back as one can remember, understanding what one is—eternal and unbounded—and what one is not—material, physical, transient, and limited—makes all the difference. Once this occurs, life is never the same.

Remarkably, understanding is all that is needed. Remarkably, what is not needed is lots of doing—as in meditating, chanting, breathing, purifying the nervous system, engaging in therapy, studying sacred texts, and so on. Self-realization is all in the being and not at all in the doing. There is a saying applicable to spiritual aspirants who have practiced powerful techniques and enjoyed blissful peak experiences from time to time: “You can never get enough of what will not make you happy.” In a philosophy whose core and essence is oneness, what can be gained by doing? Of what value are bigger and better experiences?

This is, of course, not to say that the doings mentioned above are not wonderful and valuable. It is to say, however, that the finding of one’s true nature occurs in a “moment of understanding.” And that moment of understanding exists strictly in the present—right here, right now. And while that understanding may appear to result from some action, it does not. In a world of appearance, there are no actual causes—only apparent ones. There are no causes because the world of illusion, our world, has no independent nature. Everything within manifest creation has a beginning and an end. Everything that appears eventually disappears. There are only apparent causes, no actual ones.

As I hope is becoming clear, non-duality is a viewpoint beyond personal ego. It is a viewpoint that is counterintuitive and cares nothing of appearance. Nearly half the world accepts the concept of maya—the concept that the world is an illusion. But almost no one lives as if they believe the fact! This is because people live life from their own point of view—their own ego, or reference point. True understanding of non-duality takes place only when one realizes, and actually sees clearly, that his or her reference point is both limited and false. If this has not happened, understanding has not occurred.

The purpose of this book is to expose the personal reference point—the “me”—for what it is: a phantom created by the mind. My hope is to do for readers what Nisargadatta Maharaj, the great Indian sage, did for my teacher, Sailor Bob Adamson, and what Sailor Bob did for me. And that is “to take the seeker beyond the need for help.” If, after reading this text, you are able to see clearly that the “me” you have lived with your entire life is a false creation of the mind, you will never need help again. You will know your true nature and the real meaning of understanding.


        What I teach is the ancient and simple way of liberation through understanding. Understand your own mind and its hold on you will snap. The mind misunderstands — misunderstanding its own nature! Right understanding is the only remedy, whatever name you give it.

        --Nisargadatta Maharaj

        From The Wisdom of Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj

        By Robert Powel