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.

J: '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.

Defining Life

'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 you 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 tried everything.

Inner authority

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 drive.

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.
People 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, ha-ha'.

A: It is often said that as the you becomes clearer everything goes better, but it doesn't seem to be so.

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, therefore 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 it is not suitable for the other. Because thinking is a function you have to use it well.'

No security

'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 by Samsara:

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 moment 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 consciousness.

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 future.
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?

J: Precisely

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 any interest on other things back to seeing, again and again. Until you finally live there. You already witness, but realize that you are the witness. Nothing can influence that.