My friend Marty in the UK guided me recently through your seven steps towards liberation. I am writing to you to express my gratitude to you for writing these steps. I am also writing to find out if you think I have gone through the gate and/or what I may need to work on next to do so – including afterwards – to progress further.
Marty kindly passed on your questions to me. I mean the questions you give to people when they contact you after they feel that they have gone through the gate.
Here are my answers. I would be very grateful if you were to look at them.
1. Is there a separate entity, self, me, I at all, anywhere, in any way, shape or form? Was there ever?
I cannot sense a separate entity or self. There is thought; there are emotions, perceptions. There is choice as well but no self making choice in the sense of being in control. I looked this closely. When walking in a park there was a 'toot' sound in the distance. Upon noticing the sound my mind immediately turned to it and labelled it with 'a train'. I didn't make that decision to turn attention towards the sound, nor towards labelling it. It's the same with all the sense impressions that I have investigated.
I cannot discover a self inside or outside of myself, as it were. There never was a self. If there had been one I couldn't have let go of one without dying or changing in some sense. Yet now my experience appears to be the same as before except without the pressure and restlessness that I used to experience.
2. Explain in detail what the illusion of a separate self is, when it starts and how it works from your experience. Describe it fully as you see it now.
The illusion of a separate self: I used to believe in having a 'me' that is thinking and driving my experience, in control of what I feel, think and do. I used to think that this was the case with everyone else. There were thoughts 'by me' that seemed to prove that it existed. "I am choosing to do this or that" for example. I used to believe that this 'me' was somehow inside my body but at the same time in control, lasting throughout time. The same 'me' as when I was a child. In this way being separate.
Now I see it differently. There is my body, sense impressions, feelings, thoughts and different states of mind, happy, sad etc. There is locality, i.e I am sitting at the table writing this, I am not sitting at a beach for example. There is temporarily as well. It is night time. These are real to me. However, I cannot locate a self that is above and beyond these experiences. Apart from these experiences there isn't anything that I can sense at the moment.
I can still think "I am doing such and such" but apart from doing 'I' is just a label, a thought. There is choice being made, yes, but it's somehow being made from the sum total of all sorts of conditions, not separate from these. I don't understand it really.
On the outside everything is the same. On the inside it's totally different.
3. How does it feel to see this? What is the difference from before you started this dialogue? Please report from the past few days.
I believe I went through the gate maybe three days ago.
I was taken by surprise that the intense process of inquiry simply stopped completely. It was as if the winds that had been blowing inside my experience ever since I remember had ceased and all came to a total stillness. For two days I kept listening for the usual noise inside. "Self? Where are you? Are you there?" And I keep hearing nothing, just stillness. No pressure or restlessness having to do something, to be in the next place, to feel certain emotions or to seek a particular mood. All this has completely stopped. What a relief!
There is a growing confidence that I have gone through the gate. I have noticed that previous preoccupations don't have the same pull as before. For example, I used to be hooked onto watching a TV programme called Strictly Come Dancing, watching every episode every single day. Now that's far less important. I can take it or leave it. I like the series but the compulsion to keep up with the daily episodes has gone.
Last night I led a workshop helping people to re-vision their lives. I am a chiropractor and the technique we use helps people to transform physically, emotionally, mentally even spiritually. It goes well with Buddhist beliefs. I noticed that I could talk to people in a much more direct way, calling them to action, holding them account to their own values, without me worrying nearly as much as I used to about how I may come across or what they might think of me. Far less self-concern involved.
There is relief I experience whenever I remind myself that there is no fixed self, there is only a continuous flow of experience. I can feel that this means that there is now no limit to changing completely, to losing any habit or resistance that is unhelpful or doesn't accord with reality. It's wonderful. And I can see that others, everybody, is just the same.
Unskillful actions seem to have become more painful. I spoke harshly to my wife last night and I was concerned to apologize fully and quickly to her. More so than previously.
4. What was the last bit that pushed you over, made you look?
It wasn't a big push close to the gate at all for me. My experience was smoother than that. Everything went quiet. I observed dogs being dogs, people walking in a park being people, trees being trees. All simply grow and develop, then grow old and die. Nobody tells them how. We all just do it. No self needed. There never was one. I kept reflecting on this. It was as if I had been pushing a large ball up a smooth hill the shape of an inverted bowl. It had been hard work facing my fears and expectations, looking at my experience with total honesty. Then I came close to the apex of the bowl and the effort moving the ball became imperceptible. I wasn't sure which side of the apex (the gate) I was on. I only sensed I was near it and kept looking for a self.
The following day I noticed that the noise or wind inside me had stopped. That the whole enquiry had completely stopped. Very surprising.
5. Do you decide, intend, control events in life? Do you make anything happen? Give examples from your experience.
I have talked about this earlier. There are decisions being made all the time. For example there was a decision to write to you tonight even though I thought I'd wait until next week. But those decisions doesn't amount to control. That's impossible. How exactly the decision to write to you tonight came about I don't actually know. It's like becoming aware or present after day dreaming. I don't decide to become aware. It just happens. Once having become aware I may intend to stay aware. And later I'll become aware again and with that I notice that I had been day dreaming again. I didn't decide to go day dreaming either. So, what is happening? I am not sure. I just know that there is no 'self' in charge here.
6. Anything to add?
Just to say a very big THANK YOU to you, Ilona, for writing the seven steps to liberation and for emphasizing that it is quick to do and definitely accessible. I had been a Buddhist practising meditation, studying Buddhism a lot and doing loads of things for twenty years and not got any closer. This is a great gift and I look forward to deepening it in time and to passing it on to others in due course.
May all find liberation!
P.S.: After writing this last night I had a nightmare and lay awake for a long time during the night. There as fear, frustration with the disturbed sleep and I realised that I was expecting my sleep to be better after the gate. How foolish of me. I am chuckling at myself as I am writing this. It does mean though that I am now more able to chose the best conditions for setting up better sleep. I mean, simply watch what I dwell on late before going to sleep, not drinking a cup of tea which can wake me up and so forth. It’s a clearer choice. I hope this helps.
Hi Suketu (what a beautiful name)
Thank you so much for email.
If seeking stopped, that's it. :) simple. Instead of trying to work out what is happening intellectually you can always just look and see.
I'm very happy for you and your friends. Big smile!
Yeah, there will be lots of orphaned beliefs showing up, like the 'good sleep' thing, all just coming to be looked at and released. Sometimes it may be intense. Other times smooth. It's all just happening by itself. Old beliefs will be falling off, some will need a bit more looking. But I see you are through.
From here on the journey changes and there will be many surprises and realisations. :)
Would it be ok with you if I shared this on my blog? It is truly inspiring.
I can use your name or whatever name you choose.
sending lots of love.
What a delight to hear from you so quickly! Thank you so much for your kindness.
Of course I would be happy to share my communication with others on your blog. Just use my Buddhist name, that’ll be fine. (It means Lamp of Virtue, quite a name to live up to.)
I am so excited about the next stage of the journey. I listened to your interview today on Buddha at the Gas Pump and the most part that struck me most was the lovely, free laughter from both of you. Very attractive.
How do I sign up with the Aftercare forum and as well as on Facebook? I don’t understand how I can become part of the community in this way?
Many thanks for your confirmation and encouragement. I do look forward to having more contact with yourself and others in the community, maybe help others to go through the gate as well when I can. Do you ever do things like retreats or meetings in person? It would be lovely to meet you one day.
With many best wishes