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From 'Face to No-Face'

by Douglas Harding

Question: What happens when we die?

DEH: The ones that are born die. Are you one of that lot? 

This is a matter of seriousness, isn’t it? The chap I see in the mirror has been perishing for eighty-two years. Every time I look in the mirror, the perisher is a little bit nearer to the grave. 

What you look like is perishable. I am in receipt of what you look like, and I regret to have to say that it is perishing. I look round, and I cannot see any permanence in this room. If I go outside and look at the stars, even they are perishing. Galaxies are perishing, let alone the planet, let alone mountains, let alone nations and cities. Every thing perishes. But there is one thing that doesn’t perish, and that is the Reality from which the appearances are coming. What’s at the center of my life and of your life is not perishing because there is nothing there to perish. There is only Awareness at the center, and Awareness is not biodegradable. It doesn’t perish.
Don’t believe anything I say. Test what I say. You are the authority.
Now of course, I am the authority at the moment on what you look like. I am in receipt of all your lovely faces. I enjoy those faces. There is a very touching and beautiful thing about their perishability. Faces are more lovable because they come and go. You know those fantastic words of Shakespeare: “Golden lads and lasses must/ Like chimney sweepers come to dust.” There is something pathetic and extremely beautiful about the perishability of everything, the “Golden lads and lasses” coming to dust. All of us, as appearances, come to dust. 

But is there any dust where you are, to be swept away by the broom of time, or are you at Center imperishable? 

I am the sole and final authority on one thing and on one thing only, and that is what is right Here. You are the sole and final authority on what it’s like where you are. You have inside information about what is sitting on your chair. I don’t. So I am asking you about this thing on which you are the sole authority, which is your Reality, which is what you are looking out of. It’s right where you are, totally obvious, totally available. This is not a sacred or peculiar kind of looking. It’s simply looking in the right direction. We all look out very happily, but we are very bad at turning our attention round 180 degrees and looking in, at the place we are coming from. What you are looking out of is not perishable. There is nothing there to perish. 

This is No-thing. I’m visibly No-thing, and where there’s No- thing, there’s no change. And where there’s no change, there’s no way of registering time. And where there’s no way of registering time, time has not a chance. Time can’t survive.
That’s all theory and intellectual stuff. But we can be very practical. We have some ridiculously obvious experiments about this. For example, when you go to a place, you look and see what the time is. What’s the time in the Bay Area? Well, my watch there reads nine thirty-seven. But what’s the time Here? I bring my watch up to Here and find that it cannot record time Here. So I tell you what the time is Here: it’s timeless. People say, “Come on, you’re not as idiotic as that,” and they seek to prove me an idiot, naive to an unbelievable extent. I don’t think so. This is simple, strong evidence. Damn it all, the watch goes, let alone the time. The whole thing is incredibly, beautifully on display. All we need is given, if only we’re simple and direct. 

We only have to look and see. There’s nothing Here to change. One of the marks of life is motion. Now, I look Here when I’m walking around and driving, and it’s absolutely clear to me that Here is not a twinge of motion. Not an inch have I ever moved in my life. I am totally immobile Here. This is stillness. This is the unmoved mover of the world, as Aristotle would say. And where there’s no movement, there’s no life. 

The onion-peeling experiment celebrates this. When you come up to me, you leave the human region behind, you leave the living region behind, you leave the region of color and shape and materiality behind long before you get Here. Come all the way Here, and you leave everything behind. What am I Here? What is Here—this bare awareness of Being emerging from Non-being, the I am from the I am not—is where life comes from, is where everything comes from. It’s a station of great splendor and great humility. Total poverty. 

The conclusion of the onion-peeling experiment is that right at the center of the mandala, where I am, is the absence of any thing. The Center is clear and, therefore, free from life and death. To be more specific, if you come towards me now with full instrumentation, you get a human being because you are at the right distance. Come a little nearer, and you get tissues, which are certainly far from human, then cells, then one big cell, then molecules and atoms and so on. Well, molecules and atoms and so on are not alive. Way out there you leave life and color behind. Eventually you leave predictability and opacity behind, and you come to regions which are very, very empty of data of any kind. Still you are way out from Here. At the point of contact, I vanish altogether because I was a product of distance. I’m at the Center, which is just free of all that stuff. 

Life and death are like black and white. The other side of the medal of life is death because without death life is never possible. There wouldn’t be standing room on the planet if we weren’t all dying as fast as we were being born. To be born is to die. 

But who dies? In my mirror, that little guy Douglas has been dying for eighty-two years. He’s suffering from a terminal disease called life. Every time I look in the mirror he’s older. But Here I can’t find a wrinkle, not a trace of age. You say, well, that dying thing in the mirror is really there where you are. So I bring it up Here. It’s gone. I can’t bring it up Here. It belongs there. 

How one can indulge in spiritual clichés! How they are always going sour and stale on one, becoming meaningless! We talk about “Nothingness” and the “Void,” and these words trip off the tongue. They don’t really mean much. But when I tell myself that I’m not alive, that I never lived, that I’m flattering myself when I think I am going to die—now, that hits me because that’s not a cliché. That’s a new one. But it’s implicit in the view that Here is No-thing and Here is Void. 

It’s such a joy, isn’t it, to come across new ways of putting old things? It’s really marvelous. Thrilling discoveries all along. Tremendous! Startling! It’s just so obvious that without a head you are not alive. There’s nothing more dramatic. The head is where the business of life is. You cut it off. You haven’t got one. It confirms the idea that I’m flattering myself if I think I’m alive. A headless body has got to be a dead body. 

There’s no problem about death when you’ve never lived. Things that live die. Things that are born die. The Unborn—think of the implications of that! 

Where I’m coming from is upstream of life. It is the source of life, yes, but it is not alive. From Here I look out upon a snail or the daffodil there, let alone you, and, my God, I discover life. 

(This book is a collection of extracts from workshops and conversations with Douglas Harding, edited by David Lang.)

(All books presented in our Book Extracts are available via Amazon or our website shop.)

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