Nobody can become what they already are!
Gary Merrill in conversation with Tony Parsons
On July 2003, at the request of Amigo, Gary Merrill and Tony Parsons had a conversation in Tony's garden. The original idea was to come to know a bit more about Tony's personal life. But of course that curiosity, very soon gave way to the sincere longing to hear about the non-existence of the person. To start the conversation Kees Schreuders, the editor of Amigo, had given four questions to Gary about the how and why of the quest for liberation.
G: Kees originally wanted to know more about what the personal Tony Parsons was like, but the personal Tony is just the personal Tony, nothing special?
T: There isn't anything of any great interest in that subject, its just what arises. But there isn't an individual called Tony Parsons, there is no individual called Gary, there is no individual called Kees. The whole idea of individuality is just part of the dream. So, there is a character, there are characteristics of this Tony Parsons character, but they are just part of the manifestation, there is no one in here. There is no one anywhere. This is the fundamental difference between dualism and non-dualism.
G: Yes, it would perhaps be interesting to see that it's not really a teaching, because it's an actuality. It's not really teaching somebody about this, because it's a truth, it is already there.
T: I don't like the word truth, because it implies some sort of object or something called truth and untruth. There is no truth and untruth; all there is, is this.
G: Yes, and this is where duality comes in again. By calling it truth, we seem to have created the possibility of non-truth.
T: Yes, and then there is an individual again, aiming for something called truth, whereas liberation is seeing that all there is, is this. It's just the celebration of knowing this. And this is what arises. And in that what arises, of course, is the idea of truth and untruth.
G: And the idea of Tony Parsons that arises as this in the moment, but that doesn't mean that that concept has any substance behind it.
T: No, and I think the difficulty… the dramatic difference between non-dualism and dualism is this whole concept of there being a person. Whenever you go into dualism, you are back into the dream of talking to an apparent individual who has a choice, and there is no such thing.
G: By that dualism I think we are saying a me and a not-me, a someone and a someone else.
T: Yes, and also in dualism you have the preferred and the not preferred, the better and the worse, whereas in non-dualism there is just the seeing of this, with no question and judgment or anything of that sort. There is just the total acceptance by no one of this. And, going back to teaching and not teaching, as far as I am concerned I am definitely not a teacher. There is no one who is a teacher. I am not enlightened; no one has ever become enlightened. And what happens in meetings and this sort of conversation is that there is a description of that which already is. It's just a sharing of a description of something that already is the case, rather than a teaching about having to become something.
G: I think that creeps into talks and meetings, that there is a subtle difference between you and other people and that somehow one has to understand something in order to be on the same level.
T: Well, you see, as far as I am concerned it goes beyond understanding. I think what I'd say to people is that what happens with understanding in meetings is that this understanding is still conceptual. And so people can come to these meetings with understandings or concepts about what they think they are and what enlightenment is, but those are dissolved in clarity.
G: Let us go back to dualism. I was thinking about it this morning, trying to get a grasp of what we really mean by it, just looking it up in a dictionary for an agreed definition. And they seem to classify it as seeing the world as two separate things, such as spirit and matter, as two different entities, or good and bad, good and evil, as two separate entities. The thing I was trying to say is, with non-dualism, perhaps, is that the one thing doesn't arise without the other.
T: Well, as far as I am concerned, non-dualism is really the seeing that there is only oneness, or unicity, in everything. Everything is only the one appearing. It appears as two, but it is the one appearing.
G: Yet when we express the understanding … it appears as if someone understands it.
T: Well, that is still a subject-object situation; it is something understanding something else. You see, as far as I can see what happens in these meetings - and it seems to happen more and more powerfully - is that people hear this, bring their understanding and hear this, and come to give up any sense that they can find anything or that they can get anywhere or have to become anything. And in some way or other what also happens is the beginning of a sense of something that already is. Because really there are two things that go on in meetings, one is talking to the mind, talking to understanding and dissolving it: taking a thorn out with another thorn. The other thing that goes on underneath, which is far more powerful, is in a way wisdom speaking to wisdom, so there is an underlying conversation which is beyond words, which touches the sense of that which is, awakens the sense of simply knowing what is.
G: And so we might call this a simplification process.
T: It is an utter simplification. It is a totally radical perception, which is beyond understanding.
G: I think we all come with the notion that we have to become enlightened somehow. But that seems to play straight into the hands of dualism, that there are enlightened and unenlightened situations.
From talking to you in the past I know you feel that a lot of so-called non-duality is still playing that same game.
T: Absolutely, absolutely! Directly a so-called teacher or communicator presumes and talks to an individual as though they have a choice about becoming or finding something, you are back into the dream, and reinforcing the dream of individuality, of separation.
G: So it seems that even to speak at all is to bring up a problem that isn't even there.
T: No, it isn't. Because really we are talking about something that already is and always has been and always will be, if you think of it in terms of time, which is another idea. But we are actually communicating about something that already is. And so it's impossible for anybody to become what already is. It is also impossible for the you, to make the you vanish.
G: Yes, and this is really another point, because it seems that what happens easily is that we get the idea, the understanding of the idea that there is no self and no doer, and then that concept becomes a reference point, a belief, a way of understanding again. And then we go around being no-selves and no-doers… (T. laughs). But really you are trying to say it is simpler than that.
T: Oh, utterly. It's not only simpler than that; it is another conversation altogether. It's another way of seeing altogether. The temptation of teachings about meditation and all those things is the idea that in some way or other we can apply ourselves to make non-duality arise. But actually that's all there is anyway.
awakening: a loss
G: So we get into these rather silly conversations where we get that we don't get it!
T: Yeah. So, let us look at the first question.
G: The first question is 'What is the use or purpose of realization?'
T: Ok, that comes totally from the idea that enlightenment or awakening has a use. But whom does it have a use for? It has no use for anyone. Of course it does not have any use.
G: Is there such an event of enlightenment or awakening? You see, it rather seems contradictory to say that there is no enlightened person and then to talk about an enlightenment event.
T: So, that what was the hook I just could not think of to say, and that is that actually awakening or liberation is not the gaining of something; it's the loss of something. And all it is, all it is, is the loss of seeking. And individuality comes straight out of seeking. The moment of separation, when we are tiny children, the seeker arises, and with the seeker obviously the individual who is seeking. Awakening is simply the dissolution of that seeking and as a consequence obviously of the individual. Awakening is simply a loss of the idea there is anyone. It's as simple as that. And when that is lost... it's only an idea, we only grow up with an idea that we are people, that we are separate people... when that idea drops away, then what is always constantly there is seeing, unicity. So you could say that in my talks… I mean there are a rare few others who are what I call clearly non-dualistic… what is happening is destruction. You are destroying the idea of individuality. 'You' aren't…but that's what comes out of those meetings. So the people can come to meetings with an idea that they are individuals. And they can walk out with absolutely nothing.
G: Yes, and on the contrary, people can come with the idea they are not individuals, and the whole baggage, which comes along with having been a seeker for a while, such that people can have a tremendous intellectual understanding and can argue until the cows come home about it all, but it's not about understanding in that way.
T: No, not at all.
G: You could say that it's not about understanding at all?
T: It isn't actually about understanding. Awakening, liberation is totally beyond understanding. But understanding in a way also helps, because in some way or other we come to see, we come to understand that there is nothing to understand. (Laughter)
G: Well, if we go back to duality, then we could perhaps clearly see that enlightenment and un-enlightenment form a trap; the more I try to be enlightened, the more unenlightened I am, put that way.
G: So at some point there has to be a dropping of the seeking for enlightenment, not because one is sure to get something, but because the whole idea is contradictory.
T: It is!.
G: It is like trying to practice love.
T: Yes, it is. And it is like a fish swimming in the ocean looking for the ocean. (Laughs again)
G: So, possibly that understanding is a preparation and then a contradictory attempt to get somewhere is no more, if to try to get somewhere in fact takes you further away.
T: I mean, as far as I am concerned - and I don't see this is much communicated elsewhere - as far as I am concerned we actually live in permanent grace. We live in the invitation. Even in the struggle, in the battle of trying to become something, is actually a sort of reverse invitation, because it is continuously disappointing us, and in the end it can bring us to see that there is nothing we can do. There is no one here that can do it. So as far as I am concerned, I see the whole of this manifestation and the search - and this manifestation is only the search for unicity, it is nothing else - is an invitation, a constant invitation, to see that there is nothing to find.
G: An invitation not for something, as if the experience in a way is a negative one.
T: It is.
G: The enlightenment and awakening experience is a discovery of a negative principle perhaps, or a loss.
T: Or a loss. But we are being continuously invited to give up, in a way, to the loss.
G: We are continuously invited to that loss rather than to something.
I think it tends to be heard as an invitation to something.
T: I know. It's a difficult word, and some people find it difficult to handle. But grace is the other word, but I can't… I mean, in another way you could say that everything that manifests is the essence of the unicity that comes straight out of unconditional love. So we are walking around in love, we just don't know it. (Laughs)
G: Well, I think there is a tendency to want to be somewhere else.
T: Well that is what avoidance is about.
G: The whole idea of grace and spiritual teachings is that it is going to take time to get from here to there. And I think that we are saying, or you are saying, there is no need to take any time over it.
T: Because this is it.
G: Any time taking is really trying to get something. Even if it is trying to lose something, it's still trying to get something...
T: Absolutely. Yes, I like that.
G: What is there to gain and to lose for the body-mind mechanism? In a way, what is the carrot, for all this? There is no carrot without a stick...
T: …which holds it in front of you. The other saying I quite like is that people search for something at a distant horizon, and it continuously stays on the horizon.
G: Is self-realization the answer to life, but without being the answer to life's problems?
T: Well, the way I would answer that is that I am very clear there is no answer. The answer to life is that there is no answer. That is actually the answer.
There is no answer to life, life is simply life, and when liberation happens, than there is just the knowing of life, there is no one there, there is just the knowing of life. And if problems arise, they just arise and are seen.
G: I think what is really going on for people is not just that they are trying to seek enlightenment; but that they are trying to get out of the shit they are in, the situation, their whole life story.
T: Yes, people seek personal happiness, although they are all seeking in the end for this unicity. But people think they seek happiness; enlightenment is not about happiness. (Laughs)
G: No, but people think so when they are in their suffering and problems. I think most people would be quite happy for that to end!
T: OK, so enlightenment - or awakening or liberation is the word I use these days - is actually not the ceasing of problems or suffering. It is the realization that there is no one who has a problem and that there is no one that suffers. That's a big difference.
G: Yes, I think obviously most people would probably challenge that, in so far as their immediate experience is problems, and pain and difficulties.
T: All the time they are still in the dream, they won't... there is no way of seeing this. But after liberation it is seen that no one need ever suffer.
G: Well, non-suffering is already the case, on one hand, but that seems to appear contradictory.
T: Yes, I mean, you can't say that suffering doesn't arise, because it does, but it arises for no one.
G: Why should one occupy oneself with realization?
T: You can't help it. There isn't anybody in the world that is not occupied with it. All the time there is a seeker; there is an occupation with self-realization or liberation. Everybody in the world longs to come home.
G: I think there is obviously a longing for relationship of some sort. It may not be formulated as oneness, but there is a seeking of relationship. What we are saying would seem to be the one thing that people don't want, that is to be empty of themselves. So this is almost a sort of cosmic joke.
T: Yes, people seek comfort, because they think that will satisfy them, but it never does.
You could have all the comforts in the world, and there will still be a subtle disappointment. People live in, what was it someone said… quiet desperation.
G: What we fear the most is actually what we most need. To be absent, not to have the power…
T: It is the cosmic joke! (Laughs softly)
G: So this in a way is the paradox; that what we actually are seeking to avoid is that which we are needing to embrace as it were.
T: The awful agony of all this and the fight that I get - and I hear the mind continually rising up with all its guns blazing, especially in meetings - is that awful contradiction of what we long for, but 'we' cannot do anything about that. It is an agony (laughter), because the mind is continually in motion and wanting to do something.
G: Yes, it must be continually making a difference, differentiating between one thing and another, between how it is and how it should be. It is very simple in those terms, once the 'should be' goes a lot of nonsense goes with it.
T: Oh, totally: the whole should and shouldn't fall away. That's liberation.
G: I mean, even then, should or shouldn't, can still arise.
T: Oh certainly.
G: Lot of preferences could arise, but one is no longer quite in the game of stopping them or starting them.
T: No, never.
G: What comes up is: if previously one had control or didn't have control and wanted to be in a different situation, wherein one does have control, but… that never really arises as a difference.
T: No, I mean I think most people live as managing-directors of their life. That's how they think they live, actually they haven't any control, because there is nobody that can choose or not choose. But the illusion is that they are managing-directors in their lives. Liberation is complete dropping of all that, and the wonder of this… (…long silence…) And that is a very intimate happening. You know, the wonder of this is the wonder of sitting on a seat, listening to birds, drinking water, whatever. It's the wonder of the absolutely ordinary and intimate; it's the wonder of childhood.
G: Of course, the mind will grab that and say 'I am not childlike enough', or you know, 'I want to be childlike, I don't want the responsibilities.'
T: Mmmm yeah, this is another way to be, I must become childlike.
G: So again it is an insight into dualism: that one can be one thing or the other; there is a choice to be one or the other.
T: That's why for me, when I hear of teachings that advise becoming honest, becoming totally passionate about enlightenment, you know… I cannot imagine people trying honestly to peel potatoes, honestly drive a car. It's quite beyond me, the whole idea that somebody can become honest, that somebody can be totally passionate, so passionate about enlightenment that they jump over a cliff. So, you know, do people walk around passionately wanting to throw themselves off? It is just nonsense, this whole idea that we have to behave in a certain way. And Balsekar actually says totally the opposite about enlightenment. That actually when you give up caring about finding enlightenment then possibly it would happen. Then you get people walking around not caring about it. It is just ridiculous!
G: Yes, but then, the mind is desperately insecure…
T: Yes, and longs to have a goal.
G: Something to hold onto, when really, it's that emptiness…
T: … that always is present.
T: Now this is the other interesting thing, that in the last five years what I have been saying is exactly the same thing, but the message has become much finer, much more simple and direct. What for instance is coming up a great deal now with people, is to talk to them about the sense of existing, of the sense that they have always had that there is a me that exists, and begin to see that it isn't me that exists, it is presence that exists. And this sense of…, even as we are talking, you and I, there is something else that knows that this event is happening; that is what we are. What we are is that which sits here and knows that you and I are having this conversation. It's even in the body, you know, for a lot of people, because they localize the idea of me - which actually is the energy of presence. It is a localized feeling even behind the eyes, of something that's just behind the eyes, that those are the eyes that are looking at something. And we think it's me that is looking at Gary, but actually it isn't me, it is presence. It is present awareness. And that is emerging far more, is really touching people. Because, you know, what they are seeing is that in every day, in their every activity, driving a car, peeling potatoes as I said, you know, or drinking water, there is that which knows what is happening. So it's a constant living presence. Quite a number of people have awakened through these talks, and they are continually saying to me that they realize that the thing that they have discovered has always been there. It has always been there, presence.
G: This idea of presence and absence is quite interesting, because we fear absence, but like the idea of presence; to fill our absence with the idea of presence, to become present. Whereas what you were saying about an enlightenment event is that it is a loss, in fact, the discovery of one's own absence. And it is the absence which one is touched by, emotionally touched by, as it moves the heart, opens the heart by realizing one's own tiny ness, or own absence. It seems that it is this emptiness that opens the heart.
T: OK, so I hear exactly what you say, but I think when you start to talk about the heart it becomes dangerous again, because you're moving over to the devotional side. There are two approaches to enlightenment: there is a natural tendency in people to be attracted to total detachment or to total devotion, depending on their character. But actually liberation is the marriage and extinction of detachment and devotion. Both of them extinguish each other. Like a man and a woman, the male and the female eventually extinguish each other. Awakening is completely beyond detachment or devotion. There are an awful lot of people who reach a very high degree of detachment and believe that they are enlightened and rush out and teach other people detachment. There are also a lot of people who reach a very high level of emotional devotion, and think they are enlightened, so they go out. But none of that is what final liberation is.
G: I think a lot of people will be turned off by this conversation because it seems too intellectual, for instance.
T: That's why in the meetings I am continually bringing people back to a sense of knowing what is happening, to a sense behind the eyes or in the body or even behind the head, of knowing that what is happening is known. It's moving back into that sense of knowing, seeing, awareness, whatever you would like to call it. Because it moves you out of this intellectual word game, and takes you back into the body, into the sense of what is immediate. (Long silence)
I think we have had a really good conversation. I think we have actually covered most things.
G: We covered most things we went over the fundamentals. We have said its not about getting something more about discovering that the me was never there in the first place.
T: I don't like to call the me illusory, I don't like to call anything illusion, it's a rather misleading word, it comes from the east. As far as I am concerned, the idea of me, and all manifestation, is only an appearance, it's just an appearance. You can't say it's real or it is unreal. All the time there is a sense of separation, what is seen is unreal, it is seen as being separate. After liberation what is seen is real, because it is seen as the expression of unconditional love, as the expression of source or the absolute or nothing and everything. I like Nisargadatta's thing that wisdom knowing you're nothing, which is very much detached, and awakening is really knowing you are everything. It's the two that marry.
G: Thank you Tony.
[interview Gary Merrill: www.garymerrill.com]
Tony's website: www.theopensecret.com