Session 13: “What Am I?”
No one can do anything to us, no one can do anything for us. Some day you’ll see this.
I thought maybe a summary of what we’ve been through, where we are going, and what there is at the end might be a good idea for the last talk of this series. I really don’t know how we started, at what point, but the way I like to look at it is that everyone is seeking happiness, full and complete, with no taint of sorrow. That that happiness is our very own basic natural nature, which I call the Self with a capital ‘S’. And because it’s our basic natural nature, everyone seeks happiness. And in the end we see that Happiness with a capital ‘H’, God with a capital ‘G’, turns out to be the same thing.
If I am fully transported into the divine essence, then God, and all that He has, is mine. That is when I have true joy, when neither pain nor sorrow can take it from me, for then I am installed in the divine essence, where sorrow has no place. – Meister Eckhart, Sermon Seven
The mistake we all make is that we look for this happiness in people and in things, and it is not in people or things. The happiness or the pleasure that we feel is the eliminating of the pain of the desire for something. This desire is an original lack, which we assume; being infinite beings, we never had any lack. We assume this lack, we create a desire for it, and when the desire is fulfilled our thoughts are stilled, and our nature, the Self, shines forth.
Without desire, would you ever have a thought? – Lester Levenson
Someone comes along and says: Attention: you have spent many lifetimes looking in the wrong direction! Stop looking without and look within; only there will you find that which you have spent lifetime after lifetime seeking! And then you meet someone like Lester who tells you: Seek your very own Self—therein lies your complete happiness. Stop looking for happiness in people and things. There you merely relieve the pain of the desire for something, and this relief you call pleasure. But the pleasure is short-lived because the desire is not eliminated; it’s still there, and therefore the pain of it continues to gnaw at you.
Now the starting point is you. You must take the way toward discovering you, and only you can do it. Accept nothing unless you can prove it yourself. Prove it and it is yours. Prove it and then you can use it.
The uniqueness of this science—and it is a science; someday you’ll see it is the science of all sciences—is that this is a subjective science. We have to seek it within; we can’t put it out on a table in front of us and examine it. We can only examine it within our own mind, or better, within our own being. Also, the intellect is of no avail to us. The intellect can get us in the right direction to find it. The right direction is turning within, stilling the mind and experiencing this truth, this knowledge, and only by experience can we get to know it.
Methods are many, but the very highest is the method that everyone uses in the final end, and that method is finding the answer to “What am I?” This quest should be kept up all the time, not only in meditation, but during the day. While we’re working, no matter what we’re doing, in the back of our mind we can always keep that question posed: “What am I?” until the answer makes itself obvious to us.
Now, any answer the mind can give us must necessarily not be it because the mind is an instrument of limitation. All thoughts are qualified; all thoughts are limited. So any answer the mind gives cannot be right. The way the answer comes is simply by our casting off the blindness that we have imposed upon ourselves by assuming thoughts that we are a thinking mind-body. When the thoughts are quiet, the limitless Being is obvious. It’s self-evident. It’s there all the time. It’s just covered over by thought concepts, every one of which is limited.
So, the way is to pose the question “What am I?” and quietly await the answer. Other thoughts will come in, and the biggest difficulty is quieting these thoughts. When other thoughts come in, if we pose the question, “To whom are these thoughts directed?” the answer naturally is, “To me.” Then, “What am I?” puts us right back on the track again. That way we can continuously keep our attention on “What am I?”
To see that there is no place from which these thoughts can arise is to cultivate the Way. – Bodhidharma
In addition to posing this question until we get the answer, it is good practice in our daily life to be not the doer, be not the agent. Just be the witness. Acquire the attitude of “It is not I, but the Father who works through me.” This is the main conduct of life that we should strive for. The more we become the witness in life, the more we become detached from the body, and the more we are our real Self.
So, there are two things I’m suggesting: one is the quest “What am I?” and the second is, in life itself be not the doer: be the witness. Let things happen; allow life to be. That’s the way we are in the top state, and the best behavior in life is that which is characteristic of the top state.
Knowledge comes through likeness. – Meister Eckhart
There are many other things which I’m sure you are aware of: humility, goodness, kindness, honesty, etc. All these things help, but the greatest aid is to be not the doer but be the witness.
Now, when the Self of us presents itself to us, it’s a tremendous experience! It’s a very difficult one to contain. We feel as though we’re going to burst, because we recognize our omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence. But just seeing it once doesn’t establish us in that state. However, once you experience it, you’ll never let go until you reestablish it. You’ll continue to try, and you should continue to try, to get back into that state. The next time, it’ll last a bit longer, the third time still longer, until finally we are in it twenty-four hours a day.
Though the state of my soul was already permanent in newness of life, yet this new life was not in that immutability in which it has been since. It was a beginning life and a rising day, which goes on increasing unto the full meridian; a day never followed by night, a life which fears death no more, not even in death itself, because one who has suffered the first death (of the self) shall no more be hurt by the second (of the body). – Madame Guyon
When we attain this top state, we are not zombies, but we are all-knowing and everywhere present. Everything falls perfectly into line. We move in the world just like anyone else moves, but the difference is that we see the world entirely differently from the way everyone else sees it. We see our body and every other body equally as our Self; likewise, every animal and every thing as our Self. Seeing everything as “I” gives us that singular oneness throughout the universe which is called God, or the Self. We watch our body moving through life like an automaton; we let it go its way. And since we are not really that body, nothing that happens to that body can affect us. Even if it were crushed, it wouldn’t mean much to us because we fully know that we are not that body. We know our eternal Beingness and we remain that!
Mahamati, it is like Pisaca, who by means of his magic makes a corpse or a machine-man dance with life though it has no power of its own: the ignorant cling to the non-existent, imagining it to have the power of movement. In the same way, Mahamati, the ignorant and simple-minded are attached to the ideas of self-ness and otherness, but their views are unfounded. (Lankavatara Sutra, p. 95)
I left prison without feeling I was going out, and without being able to reflect on my deliverance. Yesterday morning I was thinking, But who are you? What are you doing? What are you thinking? Are you alive, that you take no interest in what touches you as if it did not touch you? I am greatly astonished at it, and I have to apply myself to know if I have a being, a life, a subsistence. I do not find it. On the outside I am like another; but it seems to me I am like a machine that speaks and walks by springs and that has no life or subsistence in what it does. This is not at all apparent on the outside. I act, I speak like another, in a manner more free and expansive, which embarrasses no one and pleases others, without knowing either what I do or what I say, or why I do it or say it, or what causes me to say it. – Madame Guyon (James, p. 238)
So, one who has attained the top state is difficult to distinguish from anyone else. He’ll go through the same motions of life and whatever he was doing before, he might continue to do. But his outlook on life is entirely different: he is completely ego-less. He has no concern for his own body. He is interested in others and not in himself. He is interested in all humanity. Whatever he does has absolutely no ego motivation. His body will continue to live its normal span and usually goes out, in the eyes of the unknowing, the same way most bodies go out, via so-called death and coffin, but the one who was originally connected with that body never sees any of this death. He sees this entire world and body as an illusion that was created mentally, just as we create scenes, cities and worlds in our night dreams. When we awaken, we realize there never was such a thing, and in the same way, when we a awaken from this waking state we see that the whole thing was a dream and never really was. That the only thing that ever was, was my Being, the absolute Reality, being all beingness, infinite, all-perfect, all-knowing, all-powerful, omnipresent.
It is like a sleeping man dreaming of a country that seems to be filled with all sorts of men, women, elephants, horses, vehicles, pedestrians, villages, towns, hamlets, cows, buffaloes, mansions, woods, mountains, rivers and lakes, and who moves about in that city until he is awakened. As he lies half-awake, he recalls the city of his dreams and reviews his experiences there. What do you think, Mahamati? Is this person to be regarded as wise, who is recollecting the various unrealities he has seen in his dream?
Said Mahamati: Indeed not, Blessed One.
The Blessed One continued: In the same way the ignorant and simpleminded do not recognise that things seen, which are only of the mind itself, are like a dream, and are bound by the notions of self-ness and otherness, of being and nonbeing. Mahamati, it is like a painter’s canvas on which there is no valley or hill as imagined by the ignorant. (Lankavatara Sutra, p. 92)
So, to reiterate, the main two points that I wanted to bring out today were that firstly, the very highest method is the quest “What am I?” As we pose this question in quietness, when other thoughts come in, ask, “To whom are these thoughts directed?” The answer is “To me.” “Well, what am I?” and we’re right back on the track again, until we get the total answer. And, secondly, the way in life is to be the witness, to be not the doer. I believe that sums up what I’ve been trying to get across up until now. Any questions on this?
Q: To not be the doer, don’t you plan? Don’t you do everything normally?
Lester: No, the right way is not to plan. Let it happen. Let go and you’ll be guided intuitively. Instead of planning with thought, you’ll do the exactly right thing, perfectly at the right moment, from moment to moment.
I’m talking from a higher level now, the perfect state, where everything is in absolute harmony every moment. There you never think, and at every moment you know from within just the right thing to do. You’re guided intuitively each and every moment and everything falls perfectly into line. Now, if you’re not there, of course you have to think; you have to plan.
Q: Well, in practice then, in the beginning, it’s probably a combination of the two where things go very easily, and then there’s a hump in which you have to plan.
Lester: Definitely yes! In the top state you do by knowing; you just know from moment to moment. One feels “I know it!” That’s just the way it feels and there’s no thinking to it, only “I know it!”
Q: I know from my own experience, I slip back and lay out a plan, but sometimes that plan comes very easily and quickly to me and sometimes I have to struggle like the devil to work it out, step by step and I don’t know what’s going to happen. Other times I just lay out a plan and I know what’s going to happen and I have no difficulty with it.
Lester: The word “know” as you use it is the key. You know how that word feels when you say “I know it!” There’s no doubt, not one iota of doubt there. And it happens. That’s the key. That’s the realm of knowingness. Make that all the time. Keep working for it until it comes and stays.
The quickness with which we attain this is determined by the intensity of the desire for it. The more we desire this top state the sooner it comes. Everyone makes it eventually. I’m convinced the majority of people on earth today will probably take millions of years, but any one of us who is consciously seeking the way out can do it this lifetime.
The so-called grace of God is always there also. All those who have made the top grade before us are radiating the consciousness of perfection to us. We have tremendous grace being actually pushed our way all the time. However, they have no right to impose themselves and they don’t. We have to open ourselves to it in order to receive it. We need this grace because of the state of affairs today: man is relatively low. We are very strongly convinced that we are a limited body and by long habit we are trying to hold on to it. So it’s not easy to let go of this body, and because of that we need the grace of the great ones who, in our eyes, have passed on, but in their eyes they’re still here. When we recognize that they are still here, we can see them and talk to them the way we talk to each other. If we accept them partially, we can talk to them in a dream or a vision. The way we meet with them is determined by our acceptance of them. If any one of us believed that he could go down to a restaurant and have a snack with Jesus, the way you believe you could do it with me, if you had that much acceptance then you could do it.
Now, some of us know that he came into this room. He gave a sign proportionate to our degree of acceptance. If he were suddenly to appear in a physical body in the room, it would be too much for most of us to accept and therefore he doesn’t. But the way he comes to us is determined by our acceptance of him. He gave signs to some here and some did not recognize that he did; however, most of us did.
The point I’m trying to make now is that we should open ourselves to the help of the great masters. Jesus and the great ones want each and every one of us to know our perfection. They can’t force it upon us, but their hand is always extended. It’s good to keep this in mind; then we open ourselves more to the help.
Q: How do you request and receive this help?
Lester: You have to be accepting of Jesus as being alive, just as much as we are, and capable of meeting with you, the way we meet with you; then it can happen. You have to be open to it. The help is always being sent to you.
Q: Are there words to say, thoughts to carry?
Lester: Yes. But I can’t give them to you; that’s up to you. See, I give you the general principle, acceptance of him the way he is. However, he can appear as a very humble human being in form. Being omnipresent, at any moment he can appear to anyone and speak with him.
Q: Would you define humility?
Lester: Yes. The greatest humility is through surrender. Not I but Thou. It is not I, but the Father who worketh through me. Everything I do is God’s work. I am not the doer. It is surrender of the ego, the ego being a sense of separate individuality.
Q: If you surrender yourself as an individual, how about the other person? I think we mentioned before that I recognize the other person as myself and I treat him as though we are the same. Who is this other person?
Lester: From where you stand now, the other person should not concern you. The only thing that should concern us is what we do. For me, it matters not what your attitude is toward me—you could hate me with every cell in your body. But my attitude toward you is of the utmost importance. While you’re hating me I should love you fully and completely. Then you’ll understand the answer to your question and you will see only the One. When you separate yourself and then ask what’s up here in the One, it just doesn’t fit.
When we love, and only love, we are using the most formidable power in the universe. No one and no thing can harm us. We can never ever be hurt or unhappy if we would only just love without any hate. You can never be hurt when you love in the sense that the love is full, complete, divine love. It’s just love with not one bit of hate in it. It requires turning the other cheek, loving your enemy. That’s the kind of love it takes.
Q: Love is understanding?
Lester: When you love fully you understand the other one fully. Love is understanding. It’s identifying with the other one, being the other one. Coming down a step, it’s wanting the other one to have what the other one wants, loving the other one the way the other one is.
Q: Then who is our enemy?
Lester: In reality we have only one enemy and that’s ourselves. No one can do anything to us, no one can do anything for us. Someday you’ll see this, that we in our consciousness determine everything that happens to us.
Q: Then it is our idea of ourselves which is incorrect?
Lester: Right. And that could be made better!
Q: When you say understanding, do you mean understanding in a logical sense, or do you mean acceptance of them without question of the reason why they’re doing things, good or bad, just acceptance of whatever they are in their entirety?
Lester: It’s acceptance in their entirety. But the real understanding requires knowledge of what the universe and the world are. When we see someone doing wrong, we have to know that this is a God-being, misguided. He’s looking for God in the wrong place. That’s the understanding.
Q: Which in his mind would be happiness, right?
Lester: Yes. He’s looking for happiness the way he sees it. Even a Hitler, in his mind, is doing right, and therefore should not be hated, but should be loved, wanting him to be what his real basic nature is. Now this doesn’t mean approving of his program. But whether we approve or not of his program, loving and hating are different things than not approving of his program. So we love everyone, see them as misguided beings, forgive them
for they know not what they do. They’re like children, misguided. Attain the highest state of loving everyone equally as Christ did.
This session was recorded in Los Angeles on July 12, 1965. (https://youtu.be/iIokyVYNyZg)
Levenson, Lester (1993). Keys to the Ultimate Freedom: Thoughts and Talks on Personal Transformation. Sedona Institute (p. 116). (Recorded July 12, 1965) (http://www.freespiritualebooks.com/keys-to-the-ultimate-freedom.html (download)
James, Nancy C. (2011) The Complete Madame Guyon. Brewster, Massachusetts: Paraclete Press.
Suzuki, D. T. (1932). The-Lankavatara-Sutra: A Mahayana Text. Translated for the first time from the original Sanskrit. (http://lirs.ru/do/lanka_eng/lanka-nondiacritical.htm)