You have to do it yourself
(interview with Jan van Rossum)
Jan is a very ordinary man, living
in an average flat in a suburb close to the city. He is friendly
warm, and modest. Everydayness is recommended at Jan's.
He uses no difficult words, very clear language, and is exceptionally
approachable. Jan says about himself: 'Ever since my
childhood I have always had the inclination to make everything
as simple as possible. 'Bells and whistles' is
not my style. I find simplicity the most pleasant, in forms,
relations, what I do and how I present myself'. . His
book 'You are not what you think' (Samsara) was
recently published. I was skeptical to begin with about the
need for another book about enlightenment and advaita. After
all, hasn't everything about it been said and written
long since? Yes and no. The subject has indeed been thoroughly
described and is nothing new, but the way that Jan van Rossum
repeatedly points back to That which you are, makes it worth
the trouble of reading and rereading. The book is just like
the man himself: clear, approachable, friendly. But be warned:
because of his consistent returning to That which is, or
Space, the words work ruthlessly. Once it grabs you, it doesn't
stop working ruthlessly within you.
Jan said matter-of-factly: 'Now I have a book, but I can't
add anything to it. You can only say it more beautifully. The immersion
is not in the book. Not in words. It is about the realization.
Words and sentences do nothing, these can only resonate in you
and call something up. If it does something to you it is because
you are ready, not because it is said beautifully in a book'.
Luckily, the nice thing about life and advaita is that there are
always new words for the same thing.
This was the conversation that Amigo carried out with Jan van Rossum.
We began with the meaning of life, but it quickly carried over
to Life itself.
'According to my teacher Hans Laurentius, the meaning of life is
that it be
meaningful. It can also be meaningless, that is also a meaning.
Then you notice that if a person finds no meaning in it, it is
their interpretation of the situation. In any case everything around
you just keeps on happening. The flower blossoms with or without
meaning. If you simply allow meaning, if you give it the room and
allow it to be there, then it flows over into the great whole.
The resistance, which is actually nothing more than the little
I, or the cramp that you had, is neutralized that way. If everything
is just allowed to be there, if everything is allowed to be just
the way it is, then you will come to see that it always dissolves.
It does that anyway. It is interesting to be attentive to that
sometime. Everything can be transformed to what is good in actuality,
even terrible things. Intense sadness can also turn into deep happiness.
You only need to allow it; you don't have to do anything
for that. Just look at it. You do nothing. What could you do? Everything
is already there. All the effort that we make to hold something
together is I reality hitching the horse behind the wagon, because
it is already being done. Only afterwards we paste a little I on
it: 'see how I did that1'. If we had observed well
we wouldn't say that.
'We always want to define life and our position
in it, including all the stories. Apparently that is very addictive,
but it contributes nothing. Nothing changes in the factual situation,
the reality. Moreover, everything that you either enjoy or dislike
is also constantly changing. So it appears that definitions of
life are made again and again out of private convictions that are
constantly susceptible to change.
If you are relaxed, with little resistance, then
even a troublesome happening has less impact. What is relaxed bends
with the force.
Especially being cramped up: 'oh, I hope nothing happens',
makes everything much worse if indeed something does happen. Everything
comes back to relaxation. But it is clear that you can't
relax on command. Seeing into the fact that you always do what
you want to is enough. When you are hungry you eat. When you are
tired you sleep. Nothing more.'
You are the self
'Advaita doesn't answer questions, but
questions fall away. The question returns to the source. You ask
questions because you think you don't know something. However,
you do know it but you are not aware of it. By asking your specific
question you become aware of what's behind it and the consciousness
immerses itself in its origin. Then that is also your answer. Actually
you are always asking for the known way. You are the final answer
yourself. However that cannot be defined or expressed in words.
The definitive answer is always there where the question arose
and then it returns there.
'At a certain moment many seekers say: 'I want to go deeper'.
That is a beautiful goal but it includes an 'I' who
wants to go deeper. Ask yourself who this I is that want something
more or something less, who is not satisfied? If you remain questioning
in this manner you go deeper in yourself. It all leads to your
self. This is self-investigation because you want to have it clear
for yourself. Many people would like for someone else to give them
an answer, but then you are working with 'borrowed truths'.
'You have to ask questions so that you can learn that you have
to go beyond these questions, better said, until you notice that
precede the questions. You have to be there first in order to ask
a question. Still it must be done otherwise you don't discover
that. That is the apparent dilemma. Tony Parsons, for example,
says very definitely that you can't do anything. In one
way that is true, but in another way it is completely not true.
Sometimes you have to do a great deal to finally discover that
you can't do anything. But you only know that if you have
A: Nevertheless for example many people
feel the need of a religion.
J:'Yes. People gladly want to be a good Christian
or a good Muslim. But why do they want to be that? Mostly it comes
down to a set of rules. That gives certainty. People are often
not conscious that they are looking for security. That is the real
point of it. Because if at long last they discover that security
can't be found anywhere then the searching stops. Not because
you have found any handhold, but because the need for that stops.
It is always about the great dissolving. Then there doesn't
have to be any point. All needs disappear.
'You have to do it yourself. You are responsible. Finally you don't
need anything, but before you finally reach that you have to demolish
some inner authorities. Take a look at all the inner authorities
you have built up on your life. 'This you can't do.
That is not right' In religion, for example, the authority
is projected outside, but in fact it is inside'.
A: You need a certain passion, urge or
J: 'Most people have that, but it is often
so splintered that energy is lost. Everyone has the drive to become
happy, only it is sought in the wrong places until one discovers
that neither this nor that is it. It is just a question of elimination.'
Stages of self-reflection
'A certain amount of self-reflection is needed
in the process of self-realization. Not everyone can do that or
has that capacity. Maybe most people don't have it. The older
generation, that of my parents or my wife's parents never
said sorry. They couldn't say that because they had never
done any self-reflection. Many people can't think about themselves
and make themselves into a subject for investigation. This capacity
begins to ripen only after ten or twenty years. The thought 'I
ought to take a look at myself' never occurred. If there
was something annoying it was always the fault of the other or
of circumstances. Later, it began to penetrate one or two people:
'it could be my responsibility'. That is the first step. Thereafter
you look at the 'my'. How do you define that actually?
Is that 'my' really me? That is a big step forward.
So there are many different stages. Sometimes I tell people in
satsang that it would be better for them to do something else,
sometimes I also advise therapy. They are not yet ready to examine
themselves. They have to become riper.
That can't be forced. If you stay under water long enough you
begin to gasp for air automatically. But I also see many people
who are suffering unconsciously.
who have become very flat and numb. That is even worse than suffering.
These people have no contact with themselves. They don't
even have real pain, but there is something stale, something hard.
It is very difficult to penetrate that. Actually that is the real
suffering, but about shaking them awake I sometimes think: 'if
only they felt or suffered for real once'. Anything is better
than this numb lack of feeling. This flatness makes people cynical:
'ah well, you can't do anything about it anyway, you just have
to accept it the way it happens'. But this does not come
out of wisdom. It is very difficult to say anything to these people.
People who come to satsang and inhabit these border territories
are very difficult to deal with'.
A: Are you now completely finished?
J: 'I still learn the most. I learn more things
every day, things that I discover that are mirrored in me that
I didn't know about in myself. I learn more things every
day: 'oh, is it like that? I hadn't thought that about
myself.' And mostly it is about the less pleasant things,
A: It is often said that as the you
becomes clearer everything goes better, but it doesn't seem
J: 'In the beginning you discover all kinds
of things about yourself, but later you notice that it is all going
slower. My son had driving lessons. At first it seemed that he
learned a lot of new things: accelerating, steering, changing gears.
But later it seemed as if he wasn't learning anything new,
he just had to drive every time, practicing, perfecting. That is
the way it is often with self-investigation. Suddenly there is
a kind of barrier and you have to make much effort to see what
remains. You need another person for that because it is very difficult
to see blind spots in yourself. Therefore it makes no sense to
go sit in a fairy tale hut up the hill, unless you are totally
liberated. However, then there is no reason anymore to go there.
So, why would
you want that? The idea of purely sitting somewhere up the hill
is ego. You can really fool yourself.'
Drive to becoming conscious
J: 'Look at the desire for purity. That in itself
is dualistic. Even striving after enlightenment sounds banal, if
only because you want something for yourself. You do want to get
enlightened? You do want to become realized? All egos. But what
is strange is that it must be done. You are driven. Everyone has
that drive otherwise you die. If that plant stops growing it dies,
if a tree no longer grows it also dies. The inherent goal of life
for us people is given form by the drive to become conscious,
to become aware. No other goals. No place to go to. There is only
the indivisible life and millions of things happen in it, and at
the same time nothing happens. I remain the one. You can't
say: 'I am not going to live'. You have to be alive
in order to say that. You can also not escape it. Then it is better
to make it conscious. According to Hans there are only two states:
the ego state and the consciousness state. It is one or the other,
to say it in black and white. Then you have to choose for the conscious
state because that contains all the others. Consciousness contains
the ego, but not the other way around.'
A: In your book you make the conscious
state a very attractive option.
J: 'In satsang we dangle a carrot in front of
your nose: just do this, then you' be happier. Until you
finally see that there is nothing to be gained. I often use space
as a metaphor. Space is the most neutral word. We want very much
to identify with something. If that's what you want to do
then identify with the total, with what there is. Not with the
little ego, the family around you or the four walls, but with everything.
Everything contributes to your continued existence: you need food
and you need oxygen. Everything cares for this (body) and again
at the same time it is everything. You reason it back this way,
it also not nonsense for the mind. The mind wants to be satisfied
also. That wanting to see: this is my function, it can be used
for this but not for that. It becomes silent when it sees that
not suitable for the other. Because thinking is a function you
have to use it well.'
'Becoming the total or appealing to the total
makes many people fearful. It is too big, too spacey. So people
always creep back and try to make a framework, to protect themselves
in little worlds. You have to see through that entire pattern.
People do feel called towards the space, but are afraid at
the same time, they protect themselves in little worlds. You have
to see through the whole pattern. People do feel called towards
the space, but are fearful at the same time because they have to
leave behind the ego and all the conclusions about themselves that
they have. You first have to create a certain safety
before people will want something else. However this very safety
is a pitfall because then you would rather stay there. It remains
an apparent safety. At a certain moment you have to go into the
world and see your fears and all the bad things that you think
about yourself. Then there is a going up into totality and you
dissolve your little ego there. On the one hand that is nice, on
the other hand there is the fear. That is the duality in which
everyone lives no matter how far they are on the spiritual path.
But it overcomes you, thus don't hold back what you have
to nevertheless become.
Spiritual growth consists only of the clearing away of hindrances,
not out of creating new systems. An insight you had? These also
have to be left behind other wise they form new obstacles. An insight
plays no role anymore after it is seen. That is comparable to when
you learned to walk and called: 'Mama I can walk!' When
you could do it totally you didn't need to call that anymore,
then it happened all by itself. Everything becomes more and more
normal. The more you become yourself the more normal you become,
and if it is good then you become simpler and life becomes simpler
in all its multiplicity. Small and big things can still go wrong,
but not in the whole. Everything is a question of your point of
view. So why should we anticipate what might come?'
Jan has a website (in dutch): www.janvanrossum.nl
[interview: Ilse Beumer]
fragment uit 'You are not what you think', published
Jan: All that psychological rummaging around into
fear only strengthens the fear. Your mind can be busy with that
time when your mother didn't open the door for many years.
But if you examine fear then you see it for what it is: a cramp
in your consciousness. You are the consciousness not that cramp.
The mind is simply for practical matters: how do I get from A to
B? But as soon as the mind begins to whine about all sorts of psychological
problems, then it gets stuck in that. The mind can never solve
problems at the psychological level, because it is the problem
itself. The mind itself creates the problems. There is never a
problem in the outside world. All problems are in the mind. So,
stop fighting with yourself. Don't go into that movement.
Visitor: If I'm not careful I can really get tangled up in worrying.
J: You have to be very alert in the beginning. Later
it goes by itself. Alertness generates alertness and at a certain
you become so alert that only that
remains. Then everything is seen for what it is and then you at peace with it,
because you cannot change anything in the world. The world is in you. It is all
V: That would be beautiful.
J. It is already beautiful now. If you say 'it would be beautiful' then
you extend it into time. So you create time, something like: I will solve it
in the future. You have to solve it now. The mind only lives in the past or the
The mind can do nothing in the now. So, if you stay in the now then it shuts
up because it can't exist in that.
V: Therefore you really have to pay attention. Before
you know it all kinds of thoughts seduce you
J: Then you are in a knot again. Therefore you have
to keep seeing. It is seeing, seeing, seeing.
V: Is that what you mean by self-examination?
V: I thought that meant asking your self all kinds
of complicated questions.
J: Well, no, it is really very easy.
V: I've been busy with that for a while, but it remains difficult.
J: Now you are saying it again: 'I've been busy
with that for a while'. If you begin with the idea that it is difficult
and complicated then it becomes
difficult and complicated. While if you know that seeing can solve it,
then you stay with that seeing. That is the choice you have. Do
you want to stay with
seeing or do you want to go along with the mind? You can't stop the mind,
but you can stop going along with it; finally through that it stops.
What remains are space, love and so on, and it becomes more and
more roomy, until you finally
become the space itself.
V: You don't have to make any effort for it?
J: If you make any effort the problems begin. Do
you have to make any effort in order to be? You only have to see
and bring back
things back to seeing, again and again. Until you finally live there.
witness, but realize that you are the witness. Nothing can influence