Unstructured, contentless and ineffable – Part 2
An Interview of Peter Fenner, Ph.D. by Alex Dijk for BewustZijn magazine
A shared experience
“The place we are exploring now is where we always are. It’s never a different place. We’re not talking about me sitting here in Amsterdam being interviewed, and you, wherever you are, reading this. It’s here where we meet, in a space where we access a state of consciousness that goes beyond our individual conditions, yet doesn’t deny them either. This is a transcendental state of consciousness, but not transcendental in a way that disconnects us from the reality of our lives. We are fully present, totally present to each other in this moment. At the same time, we are accessing a state of consciousness that has nothing to do with us that is timeless, that isn’t limited by our physical location.
This is the same state of consciousness that the great sages were familiar with and lived their lives from. And we’re here, touching it, learning how to connect with it, learning how to expand it. There have been people who have lived their entire lives from this place, but even if we’re unable to do that in this lifetime, still, just connecting this once, to know that this is possible, is the greatest blessing that can happen. Why? Because this gives us a new frame of reference that can really change our lives. We say: ‘Aha! So it’s not just about my career! It’s not just about getting the right partner! It’s not just about bringing up the right children, and being the perfect parent!’ Some of those things might be part of our lives, but living is also knowing how to access unconditioned, timeless awareness that is beyond cultures, beyond you and me.
This is the only state that we can truly share with each other, in which we both know exactly where the ‘other’ is. There’s no scope for misinterpretation here. I don’t have to ask you what you mean by ‘this.’ You don’t have to ask me what I mean – we know this is beyond our personal interpretations.”
What are we talking about?
“As a reader you now have two options. Either you are in the groove of where we’re moving, or you might be quite lost. It’s easy to get lost in this at some point, because that’s what happens when we’re still trying to ‘understand’ what ‘this’ is. The need to know, the need to understand, is sometimes like a mountain that we have to climb over or move through before we can rest here. We have a habit of needing to know and thinking that if we can’t know what this is, then we have no means of relating to it.
One of my guiding principles is to do whatever needs to be done in order to rest in this space, in order to be here. That’s not the same as doing nothing. If we do nothing, if we’re inactive, the world just demands our attention anyway, doesn’t it? It forces its way into our lives in the form of broken relationships, medical problems, financial difficulties, and so on. Things go wrong if we don’t take care of our career, our responsibilities to our parents, our children, our body and so on.
Our presencing of pure awareness make us more finely attuned to what’s happening at the conditioned level. It shows us how to do no more and no less than what’s required at the level of environment, body, money, and relationships in order to spend more time in this ultimate state, called buddhamind.”
“Within the unconditioned state itself, there’s no activity. And yet, right now there’s also quite a lot of action. A lot is happening in our conversation while we’re resting in awareness. This is also highly creative because I don’t know what I’ll be saying from one minute to the next. I don’t know how you will be responding to me and vice versa, so it’s a dynamic state, but at the same time ‘nothing’ is happening at all. Communication and the silence of unperturbed awareness are happening at the same time. There are two dimensions to tune into. There’s the dimension of movement and activity, of words coming out of my mouth: the conditioned state. That’s obvious. And we also tune into the ‘field’ of awareness within which this is all happening.
This awareness is like a mirror: it reflects what’s happening, but isn’t changed by the activities themselves. The only hesitancy I have in using a word like ‘field,’ or any word really, is that it has associations for people. And so the ideal in pointing to the unconditioned dimension of this moment is to use words that have minimal associations. If the words we use have associations, they give us something to think about. This is why some traditions simply refer to this as ‘suchness’ or ‘this-ness.’ A word like ‘suchness’ is great because it points to ‘this’ without saying anything else.
This state has no structure. It’s completely unstructured; it’s contentless. That means we can never understand awareness. It’s not an object of knowledge. What we can understand, what we can study, what we can theorise about and write about are the objects of awareness: sense phenomena, thoughts and feelings. We can develop physical and psychological theories about the nature of reality at the objective level, which is the level of the objects of awareness, but awareness itself can not be known.”
“Something unique is happening in this conversation. It’s moving differently than most conversations. We can feel how our minds are functioning differently. We can feel the energy moving in our bodies. We are aware of the different phenomena, the transformations that are happening at the conditioned level, the mental, emotional and physical impact this has on us. Exploring awareness in the way that we are can produce all sorts of wonderful feelings, including a sense of wonder and excitement. This is great. You can just let that happen. But we can also recognize that the excitement has nothing to do with ‘this.’ Excitement comes and goes. You can let it be here long as it is, know that at some point it will disappear. As the excitement matures, we can really tune into how this is different, because it can’t be lost. There is ‘nothing’ to lose. Here we are again, pointing to a dimension of reality that is generally inaccessible to most people.
Why are we doing this? We’re not doing anything. This transcendent dimension of being is just here again. It’s not a ‘thing,’ but still it’s here, and we are pointing at it, because we can. Most people miss this, because it’s invisible. We can’t hear it, we can’t touch it, or even think about it, so it’s very easy to miss. And still, nothing could be simpler than this. Nothing needs to change. We don’t have to do anything different. There’s no more work to be done.
When we read the writings from the great sages of thousands of years ago, we know that they knew ‘this.’ They were here, in this exact same space. This is what they were pointing to in their writings and teachings. They use different names like primordial awareness and the awakened mind. In Sanskrit, it’s called prajñāpāramitā which means ‘transcendental wisdom.’
If you look at it, everything we do is ultimately aimed at being here, because this is where the path stops. There’s no more path, and nowhere further to go. The work is over, the work is done. We’ve gained the ultimate state. We’re resting in the state that’s the ultimate goal of all human endeavours in every field. From conducting wars, to entering into relationship, to trying to make a billion dollars, whatever it is, it is all aimed at being here. It’s all aimed at getting to the point where the game is over, where we can truly and deeply say that everything has been accomplished. And here we are at that point, at least in this moment. We’re at the top of the mountain. There is nowhere further to go. And what’s so incredible is that it’s not even an accomplishment. We can say what it is, but we don’t need to.”
“But at some point we won’t believe this. At some point we’ll think: ‘No, hang on, there are these other important things that need to happen.’ We’ll forget this, and there will be projects and things that we think we will have to put our effort and energy into. We’ll think that we’ve lost this state, when in fact there’s nothing to lose. This is beyond loss and gain, we haven’t gained any thing. We have and we haven’t. That’s the paradox.
There’s nothing to perpetuate, nothing to hang on to. If we get into the mindset of trying to perpetuate ‘this,’ it’s no longer ‘this,’ it’s something else. All we need to do right now is appreciate how this is happening by itself. If we think we need to do something to ‘stay here,’ we immediately see that there’s nothing to perpetuate. And that’s how this continues, by seeing that there’s nothing to perpetuate!
Thank you very much for this opportunity to share this time and space with you.”
Copyright © Peter Fenner, 2011
Peter Fenner, Ph.D. is a spiritual leader in the adaption and transmission of Asian nondual wisdom. Pioneer in the development of nondual therapy, he created the Radiant Mind Course® and the Natural Awakening: Advanced Nondual Training. Peter runs courses, trainings, retreats and satsang telecalls and offers individual coaching sessions. His students and clients include Buddhist psychotherapists, psychologists, coaches, Zen masters, Sufi masters, Vipassana and Mindfulness teachers, Yoga teachers, psychiatrists, medical doctors, hospice workers, students of Tibetan Buddhism, followers of Advaita, artists and spiritual seekers worldwide.
Peter was a celibate monk in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition for 9 years and has a Ph.D. in the philosophical psychology of Mahayana Buddhism. Over a period of 40 years Peter Fenner has distilled the essence of traditions like Zen, Dzogchen and the Buddhist Middle Way, and adapted them to suit creatively our post-modern culture. He is the Director of Education of Timeless Wisdom.
The Radiant Mind Course (www.radiantmind.net) is taught in North America, Australia, and Europe, as well as the Natural Awakening Training, (www.nondualtraining.com.) Peter also offers retreats on 5 continents. He has presented his work at leading universities and institutions including Columbia, Stanford, CIIS and Naropa.
Peter Fenner has written extensively on Buddhist nondual traditions. His books and CDs include:
- “Radiant Mind: Awakening Unconditional Awareness” (Sounds True, 2007) translated in French: “L’Esprit Lumineux” (Almora, 2010) and in German: “Reines Gewahrsein”;
- “The Sacred Mirror: Nondual Wisdom and Psychotherapy” (ed. with John Prendergast and Sheila Krystal, 2003).
- “The Edge of Certainty: Dilemmas on the Buddhist Path” (2002) translated in French: “Le Fil de la Certitude, Dilemmes de la voie bouddhiste” (du Relié, 2001).
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