By Kriben Pillay
KP: Yes, I get that point. What I’m just saying is: you are suggesting that there is a different relationship with thought.
DH: Oh yes, I am.
KP: Would you not say that, by and large, we go around believing ourselves to be the thinking? Would you not say that the average person goes around caught up in — ‘my car is not working, I’ve got to fix it, what am I going to do about it, why is it happening to me’ — and it goes on and on?
DH: I know. I think he’s just immersed in this world and he has no escape. Not escape — it’s the wrong word — he has no peace, no stillness at his centre. He imagines he hasn’t — because he is — he is that. This is not an achievement. This is what he is. Everyone of us is doing it, doing it right, living it from who we really, really, really are — every one of us is doing it right, but he is not cashing it. It’s like having a million pounds in the bank and thinking you are a pauper — and writing no cheques on it.
KP: Douglas, your daily activities involve, obviously, some planning for your next trip and so forth, and whatever you are involved in at home; by way of writing, household chores and so forth. So you would then say little Douglas is busy with all of that, perhaps thinking about letters to post.
DH: I wouldn’t quite put it like that. You see I don’t think there are two centres — who I really am here and little Douglas who’s there — this kind of supermarket of consciousness with little Douglas a corner shop, a little tiny bit of consciousness no doubt borrowed from here — but no, it isn’t. Little Douglas, really, is not conscious; little Douglas is a phenomenon for others, for me and so on. But he’s not a sentient being. Sentient being is one Being in all beings.
KP: So a new thought arises in that sentient being?
DH: Yes, that’s right — and the mystery is why these thoughts, which are so partial and very often misleading, arise from who we really, really, really are. And of course, that is the whole mystery, to which there are no answers. But certainly, it is very mysterious why illusion should come along anyway — because the illusionary thoughts arise from the same indivisible consciousness in which we all share.
KP: So this leads to the next thing I find quite interesting. I, for instance, sometimes find myself very alert to my thoughts. For instance, my recent loss. Grief arose and one was alert to it. In fact, I find it easier to be alert to those things, to be awake to it, and to see it within myself. But then, other times, there is a sort of hypnotic state as it were, you’re just being carried along by this and afterwards you realise — gee whiz, I seem to have been unconscious. Do you feel that this still happens to you?
DH: Yes, it certainly does, and I thank God it does. It means that one is more of a human and not less human, and anyone who did not feel grief at a bereavement like yours, anyone who never thought an unworthy thought, would be an impossible person, a monster-impossible to live with. The people who fill my heart and I love, are people who have a weaker side, who have these limitations as people. Yet, they are truly human in the best and most loveliest sense. Who I really, really am hopefully doesn’t make me less human, but more a human, and that humanity involves these feelings. I think that this is a human condition and not to be deplored, it is something to be experienced and is never separate from who I really, really am. Which does, in a sense, transform it, but does not abolish it. One’s stability does not abolish one’s humanity, it doesn’t cease to be. In fact, it’s more human and it’s certainly, as such, not only imperfect but imperfectable. Affection lies in who I am not in my phenomenal Douglasness.
KP: I understand the humanness of grief and pain and all of that, but very often when these arise within me there’s an awakeness to it, and actually seeing that this is within me, the impersonal me. I’m also talking about those times when there’s a kind of unconsciousness which Gurdjieff would have called being like a robot — you know just going around and not being awake — and then suddenly realising that you were for 10 minutes or so, or half an hour, whatever, in a kind of stupor. And I think, when one practises the seeing, this division becomes more acute, of actually knowing times when there is a wakefulness and which is very difficult perhaps to talk about, and times when you suddenly realise after the fact — I’ve been going around in a robot-like fashion. But I’m asking, does this state still exist for you? Can one be alert all the time as it were?
DH: Well, this is good perennial question, always crops up, and well I’m sure you’ve heard me say this, that Ramana himself gave the key when he was asked a similar question. He said — when he was asked whether he was brilliantly awake or alert all the time — that sometimes it’s like the treble melody in the piece of music which you attend to; if you’re attending to that music then that’s what you attend to, not to the bass accompaniment. But if the bass accompaniment were to stop you would notice it — and sometimes his experience is more in the bass accompaniment, and sometimes in the treble melody, and therefore there are rhythms of attention. And the way I put it, is this. I think practice is enormously important — indispensable to keep coming back to this. Coming back to it until it’s natural to be natural. And this coming back to who one is, is only possible because one has to some extent gone away. I mean, it’s like my love for Catherine, for instance. For hours and hours, it might be the whole day when I didn’t think of Catherine — it doesn’t mean that I don’t love her anymore. There’s a level in my being when I go on loving her whether I’m celebrating it and spelling it out or not. The love is going on anyway, and it’s similar with who I really, really, really am. I mean this deep, deep conviction of who I really, really, really am is not an idolatrous being hooked on all the time in being absorbed in that Reality. I think this is freedom. And one is free to play around, not in total negligence of who I am. But leaving that realisation on hold is going on at a certain level and I’m convinced that it doesn’t have to be raised to consciousness the whole time. To think that it has to be raised to full consciousness the whole time seems to me a species of idolatry.
KP: There is a kind of paradox, isn’t there, that one has to practise to be what one is naturally?
DH: Yes — well you practise to really get rid of the illusion — not to achieve the Reality.
KP: Yes, that is a very important point, because in the spiritual supermarket that has mushroomed over the last 20 to 25 years, there seems to be a constant movement to achieve some extraordinary state, and you’re directly the opposite. Would you not say that we’re really practising only to remove the illusion?
DH: That’s right. All of us are living from this. Ramana kept saying everyone’s living from this — everyone’s enlightened. Everyone is firmly stationed — where else could they be but in natural nature — and the only difference between himself and others is that he enjoyed it and others ignored it. It’s not any different at all — except in that.
KP: But you would not deny that certain disciplines, if practised arduously at great sacrifice, can lead to fairly extraordinary experiences, but they’re simply experiences, and we are over-looking the experiencer?
DH: Oh yes, indeed, and one of the traps, one of the side diversions of this whole thing, is at a certain stage to cultivate the siddhis, powers, that do come with the seeing of who one is — and they do come. And it’s different for different people. Some people get a good old helping, others don’t. But that’s one of the snags, one of the diversions, and it’s a very serious one.
KP: And perhaps because it’s simply just that, an experience — no matter how extraordinary it is — it’s what prompts those who have these to don some fancy clothing and set themselves up on a pedestal.
DH: I think that in some cases, yes — and it is to get power over others and this is the criterion, really. I mean, am I out to get power over people? And one of the ways to doing it is to claim that one’s special and dress up in a special way and put on holy airs and so forth. I think this is such a pity.
KP: Douglas, the other question I think readers would like to enquire into is the dreaming one. A lot of psychologists, and some — I’m going to use the ugly word — enlightened people, say that dreaming very often is simply the working out in sleep of problems that we have left unattended to during our waking hours. So symbolically, the brain is trying to bring some order to itself — and most dreams, not all, are simply that — and therefore, theoretically, a problem-free mind would not dream as much in sleep. What’s your response?
Text copyright © 1996. Reprinted with permission from The Noumenon Journal Spring/Summer 1996.
Douglas Edison Harding (1909‒2007) was an English architect, author, and inventor of the Headless Way.
Kriben Pillay, D.Phil., is editor of The Noumenon Journal and a former senior lecturer at the University of Durban-Westville in South Africa.
By Douglas Harding
William Arsenis, an Amazon reviewer, writes:
“On Having No Head is a short, funny, and down to earth book—literally pointing at who we really are.
“It is simple without being at all simplistic. People with a non-dual background would likely find this book easy to understand.
“Direct Path inquiry uses direct experience exclusively, disregarding the thoughts that explain and interpret. From this perspective, no one has direct experience of actually having a head. That is Mr. Harding’s initial point, but it is not the essence of the message.
“Point at your head and there is nothing to be seen. This nothing is the space in which everything arises. In non-dual circles, this is not a new concept, though the approach (pointing at your head) most certainly is.
“I love his sense of humor — it is so very English.
“If you are open to different perspectives and approaches to the question ‘Who am I?’ On Having No Head offers more than mere philosophy, it offers a refreshing view and a direct technique to apply this view.”
This page was published on October 21, 2001 and last revised on June 15, 2017.