Trust is a specific subject that can be approached from many directions. For example, one can speak about blind trust but there's also misuse of trust. Something that you have trusted for years can suddenly collapse. The word 'credit' comes directly from the Greek word 'credere' which means trust. A banker would probably want to do a bit of research before granting you credit. Trust can also be seen as a kind of a fundamental condition in order to properly function in daily life. Mutual trust is a good basis for getting along with each other. But, as soon as you talk about trusting yourself advaita raises the question immediately of what self is? Reason enough to have a conversation with Leo Hartong, author of the book 'Awakening to the Dream'.

Not a matter of belief

Dick: As you probably know this issue of Amigo is devoted to the subject 'Trust'.
I've been thinking today about how to kick off this subject. Coincidentally, I was doing the crossword puzzle in today's paper and for the question 'trust', 28 across, I had to fill in 'belief'.

This seemed like a good thought to start with. Apparently this puzzle sees trust as a synonym for belief. Trusting in something is then the same as believing in something and to some extent I can go along with this idea.
How do you see trust or belief in the context of advaita?
Would you say that trust/belief is a minimum requirement to experience oneness?

Leo: Advaita seems to be more for the doubter, the Jnana yoga-adept who searches for answers in thinking and understanding. As such, trust and belief seem better suited for Bhakti yoga and religion. The final 'conclusion' of both – the 'way' of knowing and the way of devotion – is trust and surrender. When this happens it's clear that there are absolutely no conditions, which have to be met, for insight to occur. This deals with the unconditional. The story of Paul on the way to Damascus is the story of an unbeliever who suddenly sees the light. When unity is recognized it's no longer a matter of trust but of certainty. One cannot, nor needs to, reach That-What-Is. Oneness, as you call it here, is not an experience for someone; there is experiencing but no one who does it. If there was some one doing it we could not call it Oneness.

D: Nevertheless it seems that for the seeker there has to be at least a certain belief or trust in order to set off on the path to self realization. Many realized people can give the exact date of their realization. Doesn't that imply a beginning that arose out of a certain trust or a certain belief?

L: If seeking appears there is seeking and there is no one who can do anything about it. When the search is over, we may point to trust/belief as an apparent origin or reason for that seeking. Others may ascribe their seeking to doubts about what they had believed or trusted up to that moment. It's simply a matter of how the impulse to seek gets recognized and translated into concepts. Actually there is no real reason or choice.

Trusting the teacher

D: I read the following from Nisargadatta:

When I met my Guru, he told me: 'You are not what you take yourself to be. Find out what you are. Watch the sense 'I am', find your real Self.' I obeyed him, because I trusted him. I did as he told me. All my spare time I would spend looking at myself in silence. And what a difference it made, and how soon!
My teacher told me to hold on to the sense 'I am' tenaciously and not to swerve from it even for a moment. I did my best to follow his advice and in a comparatively short time I realized within myself the truth of his teaching. All I did was to remember his teaching, his face, his words constantly. This brought an end to the mind; in the stillness of the mind I saw myself as I am - unbound.
I simply followed (my teacher's) instruction, which was to focus the mind on pure being 'I am', and stay in it. I used to sit for hours together, with nothing but the 'I am' in my mind and soon peace and joy and a deep all-embracing love became my normal state. In it all disappeared - myself, my Guru, the life I lived, the world around me. Only peace remained and unfathomable silence.'
(from: I AM THAT, Talks with Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, Published by Acorn Press)

Naturally one could say that this story appears as a concept in us. But from Nisargadatta's words it seems crystal clear to me that his path to awakening began with an unlimited trust in his teacher. Seeking the truth in the manifest appears to be a precarious undertaking, but could we say that, through his words, a beautiful 'recipe' for realization has been handed to us?

L: This is indeed a clear example of trust, but Nisargadatta's story is more a 'description' than a 'prescription'. It is the way it emerged and unfolded for Nisargadatta. For Ramana it was an experience of dying, for Tony Parsons a walk in the park, for me a simple 'aha'.  We just don't know which straw will break the camel's back. There simply are no fixed formulas for certain things. A few examples: winning in the casino, writing a hit song, or falling in love. After we succeeded at such things we can say how it happened, but more often then not we can't repeat such feats on demand.

D: Leo, I believe this question has been asked on countless occasions: What exactly can you say about 'trust' in your teacher? Some answer that they're not a teacher, because there is no one (Tony Parsons), others (like Nisargadatta) had a blind trust in their teacher, others say you have to see a teacher at least once to see what it's all about (Jan Koehoorn).

You write a book because apparently there are some things to explain. In the end you have to experience it al for yourself, but without a trusted teacher, would the way to self-realization be at all possible? What is your view on this?

L: In my book I don't claim that it was written to explain something, instead I quoted an old Dutch saying, which translates to 'The mouth has no choice but to speak of that which fills the heart.' Through such a book, just as through the smell of a rose and everything else, the One shares itself with itself. When all's said and done there actually is only one teacher; and this one is always present. No one is ever without this teacher, and it doesn't matter whether this one appears as intuition, as an event, or as a person.

Trust can play an apparent role

This interview is about trust, but let's not make a dogma out of it. Earlier I gave some examples to show that putting conditions on the unconditional is not a real option; even if it is about something as beautiful as trust. Of course, trust can play an apparent role in realization, but so can sickness, adversity, despair and doubt. One could just as well assume surrender and acceptance to be key factors. Clarity can seemingly come about via trust, but it can also be seen as appearing spontaneously or via exhaustion.

When there is insight it is absolutely clear that all and nothing can 'lead to' understanding. However, That, to which the word 'insight' points, is not really a reachable point in time. It is always timelessly available and beyond the dualistic loop of cause and effect. If it were at all possible to provide a universal roadmap to enlightenment it would have been done a long time ago. If you feel that trust is essential to you, then it might just be right for you, but we can't generalize and propose that trust will open the door for everyone. It's a paradox; we're dealing here with the universal while -at the same time- it's always unique.

D: I'm glad that you introduce surrender and acceptance here: Trust, surrender, acceptance and letting go, are more or less extensions of each other. Even if one cannot achieve what one already is, it nevertheless seems to be what is hidden in these concepts, as that what is required to see that there is no ego.

L: Essentially nothing is needed. Everything -and I mean everything- can be the last little push to the recognition (and acknowledgement) that it is NOW already As-It-Is. Not in a while, not later on and not only when certain conditions have been met.

I don't say that there is no ego, but that the ego is not what you exclusively are. The ego is an object appearing in the limitless consciousness that IS. This 'is-ness' is not 'your' identity, but THAT which appears AS identity. It is THAT what you really are as the impersonal and True Self.

The ego can be seen as non-existent or it can be seen through. It can also be seen as a side effect of the natural functioning of the body/mind complex. After it has been seen through, it can simply remain in the picture, just like an optical illusion does not disappear after it's been seen through.

The persistent idea that there is something needed to see what you actually are is itself an obstacle. Again, it amounts to placing conditions on the unconditional. We could say that dropping this idea is the same as insight. The problem with saying this is that it is often seen as a method; 'Okay, I'm going to drop it, I 'm going to let go, right, that's what I'll do!'

This is not about doing or becoming something, but about being; about what you truly and always already are. Seeing this is not so much a result of letting go, but letting go and 'seeing' are two ways to point to the same insight. It happens simultaneously. It can be trusted to happen by it-Self, and that there is no 'I' that can do anything about it. This trust blossoms by itself. Real trust can't be a resolution or act of an 'I'.

Trust, just trust

D: So one could see trust simply as something that is perceived without any judgment; just like such feelings as security, hope, joy, or possibly sadness? Is trust something that, from the ego's perspective, tries to make the ego pay attention to what's happening presently? In this case, trust could also be a pitfall, because it might suggest that trust leads to something. One might almost say that one should doubt trust.

L: Yes, all that's possible. It is one of the infinite possibilities, which the mind can conjure up. Seeking with the mind in the mind will only find mind. This way the mind can make it all seemingly very complex, while it is in fact about something clear and simple. This simplicity is just like space; visible and invisible at the same time. And just like space it is easily dismissed as 'nothing' while it is actually that in which everything appears. Like space it is both, indescribable and utterly simple; an open secret and a clear mystery.

Lots could be said or thought about trust; to the ego it might seem a refuge, or it may seem a necessary condition for finding clarity, but when all is said and done, trust is simply trust. It's there, or it isn't, and when the penny drops it will be clear that there is no underlying connection between the ego's attempts and self-realization. Except that, possibly, the ego's continuing fruitless attempts finally lead to the realization that making an effort is not necessary. At that moment there is surrender without someone surrendering.

Good grace?

D: In your book 'Awaking in the dream' you say about this 'dropping of the penny': 'Although this realization comes by itself—it is often referred to as grace—it is not something one has to wait for.'

Can you say something about this grace? It seems as if grace is a gift or a reward. I once read that someone compared self-realization with a balloon that you get when you buy a new pair of shoes.

L: Grace seems more like a gift than a reward, but it's neither. If it were a gift to someone, or a reward for something, we would be back in the duality of cause and effect. Unsurprisingly the intellect approaches it dualistically. It can only work by dividing everything into the pairs of opposites such as good and bad, cause and effect, performance and reward. In the end grace is also just a pointer to something that can only be recognized directly. Perhaps all this sounds a bit abstract, but it is in fact as simple as the word 'sweet' which has itself no taste. In this context the word grace points to That-which- Is; to That which expresses itself via the mind as the though 'I Am'. It points to essence and at the same time to the recognition/acknowledgement of this core, as that what you already and truly are not the known, but the Knowing Self.

Not 'your' business

D: If 'I' understand you correctly then there is only Self or Being and everything emanates from that. The so-called, non-existent seeker tries to find the way in all this by means of words such as trust, grace or whatever. In this way it all seems like a game; but what about the 'tasks' that 'we' have in the manifestation?

L: There is only the One Self appearing as everything; including the seeker and the sought. Endless variations appear within a single substance, which- just like clay – can assume every shape or form, from a demon to an angel, without changing its essence.

You could indeed see this as a game. The Hindus called it Leela; the game in which the Self is the only actor playing all the roles. This is a beautiful metaphor but, just as all metaphors, it's simply a pointer. No concept whatsoever can contain this, but sometimes such a concept can hit its mark, thereby making itself superfluous. As Alan Watts used to say: 'When you've gotten the message, hang up the phone.' This is obviously a metaphor from before mobile phones, but it's still crystal clear.

The 'tasks' you mention and this manifestation cannot be separated from each other; just as form and substance can't be separated. If there are 'tasks', then that is how IT manifests itself. They are not actually our tasks. Everything gets done, but there is no personal doer who carries out these tasks. All activity is IT appearing AS activity.

Unconditional trust

D: This is a wonderful image: the Self appearing as everything. So also as this world with innumerable people who appear to present themselves as individuals, separated from the whole, as seekers and non-seekers. In this world things appear; things such as ambition, feelings of power and powerlessness, ideas of things one has to accomplish, apparent achievements, thoughts that it all could or should be different, the feeling of trust, or the desire for enlightenment or tranquility. That's it?

L: Yes, that's it. That's not to say that we now have explained it all. You could say that Self-realization equals Self-astonishment. This wonderment is about the 'Is-ness' of Consciousness and everything that appears in it. A flower is simply a flower, but it's also the One appearing as a flower. Because we identify it with the word 'flower' we are quick to assume that we know exactly what it is. No matter what one says about it, it is never enough. If this essential indescribability is seen, then there is room for the amazement about there being anything at all. Apparently out of absolute no-thing-ness, there is some-thing-ness while the logic of cause and effect dictates that there should be even less than nothing.

The mystery of this Presence is that it cannot be made into an object of experience. It is the experiencing as well as the experienced and goes beyond both of them to that which unites subject and object in itself. This most essential Self is extraordinarily ordinary, always -and yet timelessly- present. It is what is; it is what we are.

Of course, this Presence beyond the idea that we are merely transitory beings of flesh and blood could also be called Unconditional Trust. In that case it does not signify something that could be done by a person, but is a potential pointer to the unnamable That-What-Is.

D: It seems right to finish this interview with this 'Unconditional Trust'. Not something to reach or to understand, but simply a pointer to That-What-Is. What else could we say about it? Thank you!

[Dick de Boom]

Leo Hartong's web site:


Faith in God

A very religious old man lived just downhill of a big dam. One winter, after heavy rains, he got a knock at the door.

When he answered the door, there was a policeman in a raincoat. 'I'm here to tell you the dam's in danger of bursting' he said. 'If you want to leave, you have time to do so.'

'No, thank you.' said the old man. 'My Lord God will save me.'

'Okay,' said the Policeman... 'suit yourself!' and he left.

The next day, there was a knock on his door. When he answered the door, there was a Fireman dressed in flood-gear...down at the bottom of where his driveway used to be was a boat.

'I'm here to tell you that the dam has burst. It will soon take over your home. Please take some clothes and come with me!' He said.

'No, thank you' said the old man... 'I've prayed to my Lord God, and he will save me!!'

The fireman shook his head and said 'Suit yourself!!' and he left.

The next day the flood waters had taken over his home and he was stranded on the roof.

Soon, a helicopter came by, and a Rescuer shouted through the open door 'Give me your hand!! We'll get you out of here!!!'

'No!!' replied the old man... 'My faith in my Lord God will rescue me!!'

'Suit yourself!!' said the Rescuer, and he flew away.

The next day, the old man drowned.

At the pearly gates, he met up the Almighty. 'My Lord God... I have always tried to be a good Christian!!! I prayed and prayed for you to rescue me, and I died anyway!! Why!!???'

The Almighty answered in a booming voice: 'HEY!!! I SENT YOU A POLICEMAN, A BOAT AND A HELICOPTER!!! WHAT MORE DID YOU WANT!!!??'