By Kriben Pillay
DH: My response is a very simple one. The mind is made up of problems. The problem-free mind is a contradiction in terms.
KP: The mind is a problem.
DH: That’s a problem. I mean, here I have mind-body, here my universe and my mind are together — they really are together and they run on problems. This is a very good diagram. I have a negative, sinister hand and a positive one, and see where they are coming from here [pointing inwards] which is problem-free. But out there are all problems. I dreamt last night — Catherine had to wake me up — I had this vivid dream, it wasn’t a nightmare, but it was a vivid dream and Catherine had to wake me up because I disturbed her — and I really had quite a dream last night. A very complicated one and I’m not a bit surprised. I mean there’s the mind having problems. And this fallacy of misplaced perfection to think you can clear up the mind, is absolutely ridiculous. The mind is like that.
But, I would say that this seeing who I really, really am — I haven’t been the most wonderful practitioner — but this has been my aim through the last half century — a really long time — and I would say that there’s no effort to be clear here — it’s with me and sometimes vividly and sometimes not. But the idea that Douglas’ mind has got to be cleared out and made to function perfectly is ridiculous. But made to function better is not ridiculous, and I think it is obvious that when I live my life on the basis of a pack of lies it is not worthwhile. When I live my life on the basis of what is so — and this has been my aim for the last half century — it’s going to work better, and indeed I’m sure it does work better. And I can give you lots of instances of that, but that may make it sound like a kind of self congratulation, but I am quite sure — this again is not reasoned out, it’s a hunch, I guess; I think it’s more than a guess, my faith — that anyone who sees who she or he is, however briefly — and you can’t do it wrong, either you do it or you don’t, it’s a hundred percent or nothing — the effect is going to be there in one’s life. It doesn’t mean that one’s humanity is perfected, but it’s somehow sweetened.
KP: Douglas, what would your response be to a situation where someone says — ‘I’ve been to one of the workshops and I’ve participated in the experience and I really do see who I am, but I still need to go to a therapist’? Do you feel there’s a contradiction?
DH: No, I don’t. It depends on the nature of the problem, on why you’re going to the therapist. I mean I break my leg, I go to an orthopaedic surgeon, and if I have a phobia — well there it is, this problem — hopefully the therapist might be able to do something right there. But I’d say, have a go first — really, really dedicate yourself to the truth of who you are — and I think the chances of your needing psychotherapy are very, very small.
KP: I’d just like to share this with you, Douglas. When Shamala passed away, well the first few weeks there wasn’t too much grieving, but you know, into the second and third month, the force of it all really hit home. But not once did I ever think that I should go to a counsellor, or a grief counsellor. In fact there was just a simple watching of what was arising — and to find that eventually it dissolved into this seeing. And now there is no sense of separation — a sense I would call love, but yet it’s not a feeling — a sense that there was never a separation in the first place. So what you said earlier on is: first give this a chance. I do think there are therapies and therapies out there, and a lot of therapists themselves are involved in the misidentification.
DH: Some of them are in a terrible mess — and some of them need to be in a mess to understand others, I think.
KP: Yes, but what I’m trying to get at is that therapy could still leave you seeing only one way.
DH: I think so. Let me put it this way. Let’s agree that something is for improving, things not perfect, things not well with me entirely. Now what shall I do about it? There are two basic answers. One is to improve my functioning as a human being, and the other is to look and see whether I am in fact a human being. They are two antithetical proposals, and I go for the second, and this is a radical addressing of our problems in life. Who has the problem? Certainly a great inspiration is Ramana. For me, Ramana’s teaching can be summed up. He never said it quite like this, but I think that it’s a fair summary of his teaching: I don’t care what your problem is, the answer is to see who has it.
KP: One last question, Douglas. You are almost 87 years old. Is there the human side to what death might be like for you? Is there a human thinking about it, about dying?
DH: About dying? Yes, I’d like to have a peaceful exit, but not a painful one. I’d rather have a heart failure than cancer. I don’t think of it very much, but occasionally I do. But as for death itself — I think that the answer for the problem of death is to get used to it.
KP: Just one final point about awareness being aware of itself. Sometimes the mind says that in deep sleep there was a sense of awareness being aware of itself. But sometimes it’s not there. It is going back to what you said earlier, the analogy about the treble and the bass. Do you think that death is just that, awareness being aware of itself? You obviously see that Douglas is going to cease.
DH: Yes, I mean enough is enough. I’m going to be let off being Douglas. 80 or 90 years is quite enough — thank you very much. But fortunately that’s not what I am. What I am is timeless. Timelessness is enormously important. I mean, we ask what happens after death? That is a non-question. This which I really, really, really am is not a past or future thing, it is now, it is present and it is really essential to get the feel of this — not as a separate exercise — but coming back to who one really is. One is in the timeless. There’s no change there or no registration of time, and no time to wait and see. But it is awake for all the time things out there.
KP: I think for many of us the problem arises when the mind, which is of time, wants to somehow continue in some after-death state and says I want to be aware of my timelessness.
DH: The time and the timeless cannot be separated. The timeless needs the time world as much as the time world needs the timeless. These are the two sides of the coin and this is where Zen is so good. Nirvana [state of non-identity] and samsara [state of identity], though utterly to be distinguished, are not to be separated. They are one.
KP: What you are saying is that it is nonsense for me to want to experience timelessness.
DH: Well, I don’t think it is very helpful. Stay here and be who you are, and that simple regard embraces all the functions.
KP: We could say that when you really see that, then there is obviously no need to say I am it.
DH: No, it’s simple.
KP: Yes, it is, but I think we’ve got it all wrong when we start saying: well I am capacity, I am this, I’m that.
DH: Well, I think one has to talk in those terms, especially when sharing. I don’t go around saying I’m this. It’s simpler than that. But we have to distinguish in our everyday life whether we see this, which is so simple. When I do a workshop I simply have to use that kind of language; I am timeless, I am capacity, I am the void, and so forth. And this is because we are in the sharing of this, and in the explanation of the experiments we do have to use language which is largely in the interests of communication.
KP: On the matter of death, would you not say — and I think you alluded to this in your book The Little Book of Life and Death — that where there is still a strong identification with the face in the mirror, the personality, there might be some kind of continuity of that for a little while?
DH: I think empirically this is well documented. I mean these stories of ghosts hanging around at the scene of the crime — I think these things do occur. I don’t see why, I mean I don’t understand it, or I don’t see why old Douglas if he wished — if he had some terrible unresolved problems or committed murder or was himself murdered and something needed to be cleared up — should be around this place being a nuisance to people. I suppose the miracle of Being is so astonishing that I don’t rule out anything; anything is possible. Also, the ideas that I understand. I don’t understand a word of it really. I’m full of wonder. I would say a few things — very simple things and very ordinary, everyday things — seem to me the deepest things I know. And it’s not the wonderful, spiritual, conceptual stuff — the lovely words and the transcendental language — but the ordinary things which teach us something. All these things I enjoy so much because it’s so ordinary, common and sharable, and the highfalutin, conceptual, spiritual world seems to miss this. It goes off the point. It’s cuckoo land, largely.
KP: You could say that the so-called spiritual journey is to understand that there is no journey.
DH: Really! Or come home and discover the fact you were there all the time!
KP: Douglas, thank you.
28 March 1996
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.