The Book Of No One

Extracts from

The Book Of No One

by

Richard Sylvester

Published by Non-Duality Press 

Q. You have said that seeing non-duality is the end of meaning and the end of purpose. Would you say that duality has meaning and purpose?

A. It appears to. For as long as there is the sense of a separate person, the world of duality is taken to be utterly real and probably highly meaningful and very purposive. The mind has a powerful urge to search for meaning. But when it is seen that there was never any person, this is seen as a dream and it seen as without purpose. In the same way, when we wake up from a night-time dream, it is obvious that it is without purpose, although the mind may very well be tempted to add a meaning to it later on by interpreting it.

Q. Is there a purpose in non-duality manifesting as duality?

A. We pretend that we’ve lost paradise only for the joy of finding it again. When paradise is regained, it’s realised that it was never lost.

But as long as we’re searching for paradise, it is impossible to notice that this is already it.

Q. Is there a higher purpose?

A. As soon as we start talking about higher and lower purpose we are back in the story of duality. There is no higher or lower. There is only this.

Q. We as human beings invented the search for a higher purpose?

A. You as a human being are a dream character. A dream character cannot invent anything.

Q. When Oneness stops dreaming of duality, does the physical world disappear?

A. The dream ends at death. Death is liberation from the dream.

Q. I think death is just another dream, another illusion.

A. You are right. What the person thinks of as death is an illusion.

Q. I think if the person believes they’ll get an afterlife, they will. If they don’t, they won’t. If they believe in an after-life, they’ll get whatever they believe in.

A. That’s a cute story.

Q. The danger in this theory, in saying that there is no purpose, is that you’re arguing that nothing matters, not if we start a war, not if we drop a nuclear bomb. I can’t accept that.

A. I’m not arguing anything. I’m just trying to describe something. And I’m suggesting that there is nobody who can start a war or drop a nuclear bomb. What happens in the drama simply happens.

Q. I can’t accept that it doesn’t matter if I go out and murder someone.

A. I’m not saying that it doesn’t matter if you go out and murder somebody. I’m saying that there is no ‘you’ who can choose to do that. Murdering people does sometimes happen in the drama, but unless there’s the character of a murderer sitting there, it’s very unlikely that you will go out and murder someone.

What happens is simply what happens. So you don’t need to worry that you are going to unleash the hounds of hell on the high street.

There is no volition at any level. So you can’t hear these words and then, as a result of them, choose to go out and murder someone. Or rob a bank.

Q. But that’s clearly not the case, because I can.

A. As long as there’s the sense of a person, there will be the feeling that you can choose to act. This is an appearance which drops away when it is seen that there is only Oneness. Then it’s seen that the person always was the divine puppet. What is sitting there, although it might feel itself to be a person, is the light in which everything arises.

Q. Is there no morality?

A. No.

Q. Then there’s anarchy and I can murder somebody.

A. This is what a person says. “If there’s no morality, I can do whatever I like.” But that is not what I am saying. I am saying that there is no morality because there is no person who can choose to do anything. Therefore you can’t do what you like.

I’m not saying “You can make choices, but there’s no morality so it doesn’t matter what choices you make.” I’m saying phenomena arise, and it may be noticed that no one is causing them, no one is choosing them.

Looking at you, I’d say that the phenomenon of you murdering someone is rather unlikely to arise.

Q. It could be you. You’re getting quite close. (Laughter)

A. (Laughing) Yes, if it’s going to be anyone in here, I’m getting the impression that it will be me. Nevertheless, looking at the psycho-physical organism sitting there, I still think you’re most unlikely to have the character of a murderer. But I could be wrong.

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Q. Is awareness the mind?

A. No. The mind is just a series of thoughts arising in awareness. For example, a memory that I drove here today is just a thought arising in this. If you look for the one who thinks these thoughts, you will never find them.

Q. Is there nothing that we can cling on to?

A. No. There’s nothing to cling on to. We’re in a hopeless case here. As far as the mind is concerned, everything is stripped away.

Q. What about the thought that there’s nobody here?

A. That’s just another thought. When the person drops away, it’s seen that the self is empty and there is simply this. That is not a thought.

Paradoxically, when the self is seen to be empty, this is seen to be full. Then there is nothing left to search for.

Q. If there’s no choice, why is there a preference for some things over others?

A. A preference is just a preference. A character tends to have preferences – for tea rather than for coffee, for example. Where there’s the sense of a person, that preference may attach itself to the feeling that I am making a choice about it. But there’s no such choice being made because there’s no one to make it.

If the person preferred tea before liberation was seen, it’s probable that the character will go on preferring tea afterwards.

But for some people, particularly those with a more ascetic nature, there’s something very attractive about not having preferences. It’s associated with an ideal of detached holiness and in some spiritual paths there is a very powerful notion that we should be able to identify an enlightened one partly by their lack of preferences. They may be thought to live in a state of bliss in which it doesn’t matter whether they get tea or coffee, or pain or pleasure. This state of detachment has no connection with liberation but it can seem extremely attractive to us if we are spiritual seekers. And very importantly, it can confirm our own sense of inadequacy, which it is necessary for us to maintain if we are to continue seeking. It may matter a lot to us whether we get tea or coffee, particularly if we are in an uncomfortable ashram half way up a Himalaya. Our strong desire for our morning cuppa may confirm that we are miserable worms still enmeshed in Samsara, compared to our beloved guru who seems to have risen above all such worldly concerns.

A seeker who is looking for a spiritual master to idealise and follow, may find a teacher who idealises themself as a spiritual master and is looking for seekers who will follow them. It’s a marriage made in heaven. It’s a beautiful symbiotic relationship. My sinfulness can be washed away by your spiritual light. You can be sustained in your view of yourself by my wishing to be your devoted follower.

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Detachment is extremely appealing to some people, particularly to many men. It’s possible that if I have a certain spiritual or ascetic mind-set, I may look for a guru who appears to be detached, who’s celibate, who doesn’t eat bloody steaks, who doesn’t go ten-pin bowling and who doesn’t drink whisky. This is a very attractive idea. Detachment is sometimes seen as a necessity in a spiritually evolved being.

If for five years I follow a guru who appears to be detached and then I discover that he’s having sex with some of his devotees, he’s drinking whisky like it is milk and he’s eating raw steaks three times a day, then I’m likely to be quite disappointed. But it’s almost inevitable that if we deny something in ourselves, it will come out in a negative way. We’ll either project it onto other people or it will manifest itself in an addictive or otherwise unhealthy way. If there’s a guru who has this wonderful detachment, but he’s also surrounded by gorgeous blonde devotees, it’s quite likely that he’ll be finding his way to the women’s’ dormitory through a secret tunnel every night.

Q. Because he’s human?

A. Of course.

Q. It’s up to us how much power we give to the guru?

A. Yes. But who could resist the offer of the special darshan, the darshan that opens and purifies the lower chakras? (Laughter)

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Q. You seem to have quite a lot of insight into this.

A. I don’t have anything. If there’s insight here, it isn’t mine. It’s just what’s arising. Insight may arise. A cup of tea may arise. So what?

Some people hear that “So what?” as if it’s nihilistic or despairing or dismissive. But paradoxically, it’s only when that “So what?” arises that this can be seen to be already paradise. When that “So what?” arises, there’s no need to look for miracles, because this is already seen to be a miracle.

The description that there is only emptiness can also be heard as nihilistic. People often want to argue with this on a philosophical level. When they do, they commonly make two accusations against it, that it is nihilistic and solipsistic. But it isn’t either of these. And it isn’t a philosophical standpoint, it’s a description.

People accuse this of being nihilistic because they hear it as saying “There is no morality, there are no values, so we might just as well go out onto the streets and start murdering people to our hearts’ content.”

They accuse this of being solipsistic because solipsism is the philosophy that only I exist. According to solipsism, you are just an apparition in my consciousness. I hope it’s obvious by now that this isn’t solipsistic. Firstly, it isn’t a philosophy and secondly, it doesn’t hold that only I exist. It holds the opposite. It holds that I don’t exist.

On a conceptual level, this is sometimes misunderstood in these two ways. But you have to tie yourself into considerable knots to hear “There is no one” as “I am the only one who exists.” That’s quite a leap. It’s also quite a leap to hear “There is no one” as “I can go out and murder people with impunity” but this accusation is made surprisingly often.

Q. If this is all there is, when we leave here will the street appear?

A. That’s my bet. (Laughter)

Q. What happens when we go to sleep?

A. The person is disassembled. Then there’s either dreaming or there’s nothing. But the nothing isn’t necessarily an empty nothing.

In the morning the person wakes up and is reassembled.

Q. Are you aware in dreamless sleep?

A. I’m not. There is awareness.

Q. The night-time dream seems much less consistent than the day-time dream.

A. Yes, that’s why the day-time dream is so addictive. Night-time dreams are very inconsistent so they’re quite easy to see through, but the day-time dream has so much consistency that it is very difficult to see through.

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Q. Are human beings the only species that is self-aware?

A. Human beings are uniquely self-aware. A cat may feel fear but it doesn’t think “If I went to a therapist and dealt with my fear issues, I’d be a more fulfilled cat.”

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Q. The human species has a built in drive not just to survive but to be self-determined. Do you think it’s worthwhile trying to bring about an improvement in conditions for humanity?

A. Who would do that? An improvement in conditions for people may or may not happen but there’s no one who can bring that about. In the story, it’s clear that sometimes conditions improve and sometimes they deteriorate.

Q. Why did you write a book about this?

A. I didn’t write a book. Books get written. But if you want a biographical answer, this character has always been a communicator. I’ve been a professional lecturer for many years. For another character, when this is seen there might be no impulse to communicate about it in any way.

Q. Is there any reason why we can’t see the truth of this even when we’re seeking for it?

A. If that character sitting there has an impulse to seek for truth, it will probably do that. But as far I’m concerned, what we’re talking about here has nothing to do with truth. Firstly, truth is about concepts and secondly, truth isn’t an absolute. There are many different versions of truth. What is being attempted here is a description of the indescribable. That’s got nothing to do with truth. It makes no more sense to say that what is being said here is true than to say that a flower is true. Or to ponder about the true feelings that the hero of a film has. He doesn’t have any feelings because he doesn’t exist.

You and I are fictional characters.

The journey that you think you took to arrive here – the car you drove, the route you took, the road you parked in – has no more reality than the journey that Rick took by train in ‘Casablanca’ to escape from the invasion of Paris.

All there is, is this. This may include the thought that I made a car journey here today. That’s just a thought.

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Q. Is there a connection between being interested in this, coming to meetings like this, and coming to the point of awakening?

A. There is no choice about whether an interest in this arises or not, so it doesn’t matter.

There’s no cause and effect. Liberation is an uncaused spontaneous arising. Everything is an uncaused spontaneous arising. But the mind always has to think in terms of cause and effect. It’s natural for it to do so.

I received an e-mail recently from someone who was theorising that in the moment before a sudden catastrophic death, there would have to be the seeing of liberation. We’re always looking for cause and effect, for something that ‘I’ can do. Here the suggestion seems to be that we might throw ourself off a tall building, but I don’t recommend it.

In any case, being asleep and being awake are the same thing, but this can’t be seen while we are asleep. Another way of putting this is that it cannot be seen that there is no such thing as liberation until there is liberation. Of course, this is an awful paradox for the mind.

Q. We think that something is going to be added on to us in liberation?

A. Yes, that’s a very good way of putting it. We think that after liberation, I will still be me but now with new added super-ingredient ‘Enlightenment!’

In liberation, nothing is changed yet everything is transformed. Everything stays the same but there is the recognition that there is no one seeing it.

Q. I get concerned by the suggestion that this manifestation has no existence outside of us, that we are producing it. It seems quite an effort.

A. Don’t worry that it will all dissolve if you relax. You’re not doing it. This is only a metaphor but we could say that Oneness is doing it through you, that you are the projector through which Oneness shows the film.

Of course if you take enough drugs, it may all dissolve anyway. (Laughter)

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Q. My mind is very troubled. I have lots of very turbulent negative thoughts. Surely that’s bad. Is it bad to have thoughts like these?

A. It’s uncomfortable of course. But bad in what sense? Morally bad? Should you be horsewhipped for having an unquiet mind?

Q. Well, I’ve read that there is the possibility of liberation only in the present moment.

A. That’s because there is only the present, or there is only presence. There’s nothing more mysterious or deep about saying that liberation can only be seen in the present than the fact that the present is all there is. There’s nothing else to see liberation in. How could liberation be seen in the future or the past? There is no future or past.

But this can be misinterpreted as another injunction. “Be Here Now!” What this really means is “Don’t let yourself reminisce or anticipate.” For a person it means “Don’t think about the past or the future.” It’s sometimes possible for us not to think about the past or the future for several minutes at a time but this tends to be mentally very constipating.

Of course if there are lots of whirling, noisy, scattered, unpleasant thoughts going on it makes the prison of being a person more uncomfortable. So it’s intelligent for the person to try to do something about this, like learning Buddhist mindfulness for example. This can be an excellent way of improving the quality of the experience of a person.

Drinking vodka is another excellent way but it has worse side effects than Buddhism.

Q. Are you sure?(Laughter)

A. Perhaps not. Buddhism can have some quite bad side effects as well. It can sometimes produce quite a desiccated personality. Whereas vodka can produce quite a juicy fun personality.

So let’s just restrict this to liver damage. I assert that Buddhism causes less liver damage than vodka. (Laughter)

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Q. Why are there so many schools of enlightenment with so many techniques?

A. One reason is that where there is awakening without the seeing that it is an uncaused event, there’s often an association made between awakening and whatever the person had previously been doing. The person may lay claim to awakening and say “That was something I achieved.” So if the person had previously been meditating for many years, they might set up a School of Enlightenment through Meditation.

Gurdjieff for example seemed to associate awakening with a shocking event. He seemed to think that people could be startled into awakening. So he set up a system where his followers were sometimes subjected to startling unexpected events.

After awakening the person comes back. There are then two possibilities. They will either lay claim to awakening as something they achieved, or they won’t. The ones who lay claim to it are likely to found the various schools of ‘Enlightenment through Meditation’ or ‘Enlightenment through Experiencing Shocks in the Middle of the Night’.

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Q. Could we explain the mystery by saying that God made it?

A. God didn’t make it. But this manifestation seems so solid that it doesn’t seem to make any sense for someone to sit here and say “This is empty.” Yet in the story of history, this has been seen over and over again in many different cultures. It doesn’t have anything particularly to do with Advaita. It is sometimes talked about and it is nearly always misunderstood.

There was a Christian mystic, Marguerite Porete, who lived at the end of the thirteenth century and was executed as a heretic at the beginning of the fourteenth century. Surprisingly some of her writing survived. She writes about seeing Nothing, about immersion in the Abyss, about an identity with the divine in a nothingness which is at the same time the All. “Now this soul has fallen from love into nothingness, and without such nothingness she cannot be All.”

Although Marguerite Porete belonged to a lay religious order, she had little time for virtue. She wrote of the virtuous as “sad ones” leading a sad life and she felt that virtue led to a sterile, arid place. She wrote that the pursuit of virtue could be useful for some people, but only because it might lead them into a lifeless desert where they might give up in despair. Then another possibility could arise.

Q. There doesn’t seem to have been much reference to liberation in Christianity.

A. For centuries in Western culture, if people communicated about seeing this, they ran the risk of being executed and their writings being burnt. It’s surprising that even a few references to this have survived. There were probably others who saw this but who kept quiet. If I had lived in medieval Europe under the Inquisition, I wouldn’t have talked about this. I would have been in my allotment quietly hoeing and chanting from my prayer book.

I gave a talk recently where somebody referred to this as a new message. It’s not a new message. It’s been seen at different times in different places by different people. We have no idea how many people have seen it. It was very dangerous to talk about it for long periods of history. There are many places where it would be very dangerous to talk about it today.

Meister Eckhart also saw this. He cheated the Inquisition. He escaped execution for heresy by the simple trick of dying before his trial ended. He writes about real poverty having nothing to do with destituting ourselves or divesting ourselves of possessions. Poverty, he says, is having nothing because there is no one.

This overthrows all authority.

This is a recurring message. It keeps being seen. It can’t be killed off. It requires nothing. It requires no churches, no philosophical tracts, no scriptures, no history. If everything that had ever been thought, said or written about non-duality were to disappear in a moment, it would simply re-emerge. It would re-emerge because nothing has to be learnt, nothing has to be studied, nothing has to be done, no spiritual purification and no pleasing of God has to take place, for the seeing of liberation to occur. It arises spontaneously. One moment there’s somebody there, the next moment there isn’t. One moment there’s somebody crossing a field, the next moment there’s just crossing a field.  

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Q. When everything is seen as unconditional love, is it seen inside me?

A. No. It’s seen neither inside myself nor outside myself, because there is no me. It’s only seen when the self is not there. Unconditional love is never seen by the person. In liberation, when the person is not there, it is seen that the nature of Nothing is unconditional love.

The phrase ‘unconditional love’ is not a comforting phrase, it’s a fierce phrase. It’s impossible for an individual to really conceive of unconditional love, no matter what spiritual philosophy we may embrace. We may have it as a poorly understood concept but it cannot be experienced by an individual.

There is a Buddhist text, almost certainly a fake from many centuries after the Buddha’s death, that has the Buddha saying that if you are being tortured slowly to death by your enemies over agonising hours and you allow yourself to have one angry or unforgiving thought about your torturers, then you are not a true follower of his.

This is an invention of the mind – the idea that it is possible for an individual to be in this state of unconditional love where there is utter forgiveness of our torturers as they cut the flesh slowly and agonisingly from our bones. It’s ridiculous. For an individual, thoughts arise and they will not all be thoughts of unconditional love – not unless we run the risk of intense mental and emotional constipation. But when the person drops away, none of this matters or is an issue anymore. It is then just seen that unconditional love is the case. You don’t have to struggle to see it, you don’t have to earn the right to see it, you don’t have to be noble like the tortured Buddhist to see it, you don’t have to be brave or devoted or spiritually evolved to see it, because it doesn’t have anything to do with you. When the person drops away it is simply obvious that unconditional love is the nature of the mystery.

Spiritual stories often become ever more extreme because there are competing sects, each one wanting to prove that they are more pure than the others. There is another Buddhist text, again a fake from long after the Buddha’s death, that states that the worst sin we can commit is to persuade a vegetarian to eat meat. This is because by persuading them to eat meat we will be depriving them of their chance of enlightenment. It is thought that this story also developed from competitiveness between Buddhist sects – in this case between a sect that ate meat and a vegetarian sect that wanted to prove that it was more pure.

A spiritual philosophy develops. Very quickly we have sects and the next thing is we are at war with each other. We compete to push the philosophy to extremes, to show that our sect is purer than yours, that we are more virtuous than you. And the more insignificant the distinction between us, the more passionately we will fight to defend it. Freud called this ‘the narcissism of small differences’.

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Q. What is the value of the absolute?

A. What is its value? It has no value. It doesn’t need to have a value. What is the value of an oak tree? It doesn’t need to have a value, it just is.

Q. Some say the absolute exists as the opposite of the relative.

A. That’s an idea that has gripped some of the philosophical minds in the Indian tradition for centuries. It’s a very attractive idea. It sets the mind racing like a hare sets greyhounds racing. The mind needs a hare to chase, otherwise it gets bored. It needs an idea which will set it running round an evolutionary or developmental race-track. The idea that there is the absolute and the relative and somehow I can bring them together or harmonise them is fascinating because it can produce infinite philosophical complexity about how I might be able to do that. In a sense that’s where all the yogas spring from.

What the mind needs in order to keep its search going is two opposing ideas. Religions and spiritual paths and philosophies are usually not just dualistic, they deal in binary opposites. They deal in good and evil, moral and immoral, that which will take us to heavenly bliss and that which will take us to eternal torment. Religions usually walk through history on the two legs of intimidation and seduction. “If you don’t obey us you will suffer eternal torture but if you do obey us you will have eternal bliss. Eventually, after you’ve died, so you can’t sue us.”

Once the mind has set up good and evil, heaven and hell, intimidation and seduction, it’s up and running. These are the hares that will have it racing round the track. Everything that we now do becomes meaningful and purposeful, down to whether we say our prayers before we go to bed or put a donation in the collection box or have an angry thought or a charitable thought about our neighbour. God is now keeping his eye on us, noting down the minutiae of our every word, thought and deed in the profit and loss account of our life.

If we set up an opposition between God and Satan, heaven and hell, good and evil, then everything becomes imbued with meaning. At an extreme, the opportunity to dance on a Sunday may be sent by Satan to tempt us away from our ascetic path to our doom. Our righteousness might be compromised by a Sabbath polka.

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Q. Perhaps it’s the mischief of my mind that wants to understand the mechanism behind the non-person.

A. The mind is not mischievous. Wanting to understand is what the mind does. It’s what it has to do. But if we listen to enough spiritual teachers, everything is condemned. One spiritual teacher says the mind is an impediment, another says the body and its desires are an impediment. One guru says the body is a disease. Another says thinking is a disease. If we listen to enough gurus we end up as a mass of diseases.

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Q. The Hindu tradition of the different auric sheaths and the subtle bodies and the chattering mind and the discriminating mind doesn’t seem to have a massive place in your description.

A. No, it doesn’t have any place at all. But it’s a very good story and it can be very convincing. One of the most powerful faculties of the mind is imagination. The mind is fantastically powerful at creating imaginary worlds and visions, both imaginary conceptual worlds and imaginary sensory worlds. Once we get into a story like that which might start with concepts about the chattering mind and the discriminating mind and the various auric sheaths and the subtle bodies, it can become extremely real. In the same way, if we get into the story of psychic channelling, dead Aunt Beatrice can become extremely real. The mind is very powerful in that sense.

Once we are inside a complex story, it is very difficult to get out of it. It becomes an all-encompassing bubble. It has been said that those who study the Kabala, for example, find it very difficult to break away from it.

But none of these stories have any bearing on liberation. This cuts through everything, through every story. It doesn’t matter whether it’s the wizened saint’s finger in its reliquary in St Peter’s or whether it’s the yogic koshas or subtle bodies. That’s one of the reasons this can seem rather dull. The stories that this cuts through are so much more colourful and fascinating.

If we’d come together this afternoon to study the chakric system, think how much more we would be able to say, just about that one aspect of spiritual psycho-philosophy. We could have such fun with the chakras. We could sit here and clear our chakric blocks with visualisations. We could visualise a different crystal in each chakra, a different colour, a different symbol, a different sound, a different quality. We could visualise a blue sapphire pyramid and chant ‘Aum’ in the vishuddha chakra to develop the quality of truthfulness. We could give each other auric massages. This is what the mind does. It makes up such lovely stories.

Run away from non-duality because compared to the chakras and the koshas, this is dull. But remember that as long as we are fascinated by all these other stories, we’re missing the fascination of this. While we’re focussing on developing compassion in our heart by meditating on the rose quartz of love in the anahata chakra, we’re missing the miracle of this, the miracle of the ivy climbing up the wall outside the window.

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(Laughing) This is a terrible message! It’s just awful! There’s nothing to be done. Spiritual paths and religions arise out of a sense of inadequacy. “I am not yet holy enough to become enlightened or to be taken into heaven or to experience bliss.” People feel this because of their sense of separation. We know we’ve lost something. In addition, if we’ve been brought up in a Christian culture we keep being told that it’s our fault that we’ve lost it. At the age of five we might go to school or to church and be faced with the symbol of a man nailed to a cross. Then we might be told “That’s your fault! You did that!” We could reply “But I’m only five.” “Nevertheless,” they say, “it’s your fault because of original sin!” So many things shout at us “You’d better do something about yourself. It’s up to you to do something about it.”

You are not inadequate. How could you be inadequate? You are Oneness being John or Mary or Timothy. How could Oneness possibly be inadequate? You are already the divine expression.

But the mind wants to set itself a task. What could be a more noble task than to purify ourself, to make ourself ready to be raised up into heaven or to become enlightened? It’s a great way of passing time, a very meaningful way. It’s so much more noble than shopping or becoming an alcoholic. But there’s no one who needs purifying, there’s no one who needs to become more adequate. I am the divine expression and so are you and so is this carpet.