The Headless Way
Direct access to our essential nature
is freely available to everyone here and now
NoFacebook page on Facebook Facebook
Headless Way page on Facebook Facebook
Sign up for our Newsletter Newsletter
Sign up for our Online Course eCourse


Here is the transcript of a workshop Douglas Harding gave in London in 2000. For the transcript of a workshop Harding gave in Sydney in 1992, go to Sydney Workshop.

The One Behind The World          

Workshop with Douglas Harding
Given to the Ramana Maharshi Foundation,
London 17 September 2000

I apologise for having half the act missing. Catherine [Douglas Harding's wife] would love to be here, but is a little bit under the weather. Anyway, a very warm welcome to this get-together, especially to new friends, those I haven’t met before.

As I see it, my job is not primarily a religious one at all. It has religious consequences and repercussions, but it is about something other than religion. It is about, I think, attention ; about noticing and waking up to what’s going on in our life. It’s about being conscious, really. I don’t find anything really “religious” about the kind of things that I am in the business of being conscious of.

For example, I have come to you this morning from Ipswich by train. What intrigues me is the behaviour of the - they’re not telegraph poles, but poles supporting the wires - the behaviour of those poles. Now is there anything religious about the behaviour of poles, you know, going by, tchch, chch, tchch? I don’t think that’s a religious thing at all, is it? Another example of the kind of thing I’m in the business of sharing with you today, is what we’re looking out of. When I put on my glasses, I find two of them, but when I have them on I’m looking out of a monocle! Just one! Now, what’s religious about counting the lenses in your monocle or bicycle, or whatever you call it?

I’m also in the business of seeing where the colour and texture of my shirt front disappears; where I can’t trace it any further. I draw a line - a boundary here - between what has colour, and what seems to be colourless. Now, can you tell me what’s religious about observing where colour fades out into no colour? I don’t find anything religious about that, or about other things which seem to me very important to be aware of, and not to edit out of one’s experience.

Nevertheless, for the past half century I suppose, it has been my job to look at these simple ordinary everyday things, and really notice what’s going on, and not gloss over it and deny it. Although it’s been my business to look at these very non-religious things, I think that what I have discovered, and what my friends have discovered with me, is of enormous consequence for what we call the spiritual life, and ... the religious life.

Today we shall be doing a series of little experiments or experiences or tests to see what is really going on in our lives. It seems to me quite important, exciting, interesting and fascinating, to take a fresh look, and to see if it is true, what a number of eminent psychologists, psychiatrists and others, have been telling me, that the function of society is to funnel fictions into one’s consciousness. When we join the human club, we agree to see not what we see, but what society and language and convenience permit us to see. To belong to the human club means to indulge, I think, and I think you will agree, in hallucination - really, in illusion, I would say.

This is not so bad if it is an ordinary illusion, but if it is an illusion about our very nature, this can be very sad, I think - very sad. Psychologists have warned us about this. I’m thinking about one eminent American psychologist whom I knew, who had a nice way of putting it. He said, “We are all born princes and princesses, and the business of society is to turn us into frogs.”

Well, that is a picturesque way of putting it. That was Eric Berne, the transactional analysis man - a very brilliant man, actually, whom I worked with for a time. Eric Fromm, another neo-Freudian American psychologist, Jewish and also brilliant, said what I said before - that the business of society was to funnel fictions into consciousness - to just lead us up the garden path and tell us things which are not true. So should we bother about being truthful about what we’re experiencing, rather than suffer from these hallucinations and convenient social fictions? And why should we seek relief from these social fictions?

I think, for a number of reasons; you see, something has happened to you which is extremely precious and astonishing, and I think very much overlooked and disregarded; some enormous privilege which you are enjoying, and I am enjoying, and that is, that one has actually happened. One has OCCURRED.

If you think biologically, of the chances of just you occurring, they are billions to nil, aren’t they! You happened. It seems to me, that having happened, it’s such a shame not to have a look at it. To live and die without bothering to see who’s doing so, seems so chicken hearted, really. Having happened, let’s have the guts, let’s have the thrill and the joy of really working out what’s “happened”, and, by taking leave from social fictions, just have a simple look at it.

That is what we are going to do today. The first reason is, we’ve happened, and we’re not going to live and die without having a look at it FOR ourselves, not at what big brother and language and society tell me I am, but at what I am actually experiencing. Reason number two is that, as I read it, all the great spiritual traditions, six of them - in the East three, Hinduism, Buddhism and Taoism, and in the West three, Judaism, Christianity and Islam - each one of those great spiritual traditions has come up with an extraordinary story; an amazing, and crazy story, you might say. Admittedly the story has been suppressed and denied, and people have been barbecued for telling it, for speaking out of turn, rather too often. Each of those spiritual traditions agrees with the others on this one point, this staggering proposition: that although you look like a human being, and indeed you are a human being, at your very centre, where you’re coming from, your Home Base, what you are looking out of, isn’t human at all. It’s very different.

Who you really really, really are, at the centre, your inmost nature, your awareness itself, is not a product of the world. It is the origin of the world.

It is the mystery behind this fabulous universe, that you are not a little bit of that divine fire, not a spark of that divine fire, but the flame, the fire itself, all of it present in you, in what you are looking out of, nearer to you than the guy in your mirror, nearer to you than everything else. Who you are, what you really are, is none other than that IN FULL STRENGTH! and flourishing in good nick. You don’t have a little miserable version of it here, and a splendid version where Alan is, and an even more splendid version where Jane is, and so on, you know, various kind of sparks from that fire. Each of us is SEIZED with the whole mystery.

All the six religions have said this, in their own tone of voice. Of course, their languages have been different, and the popular versions of them are wildly different. I’m not talking about the popular misconceptions of these six great faiths. I’m talking about what lies at their secret heart. And it is this proposition, that right now, in this room, what you are looking out of, is not human. It is Divinity itself. It is the One behind the world.

Now, one can tackle this proposition via one or other of the great religions, and I think that is indeed, the proper way to do it. All I am saying is, it is not the only way. There is another way, which I would say is not religious at all. It is this way which I propose to share with you today - as a kind of “number seven”. Number seven is not a religion at all, but - what should I say? - attention to what is given. And it is what we are going to have a go at this morning.

So there are two reasons so far, for bothering to look into this question of our most basic experience of telegraph poles, of spectacles and of simple, ordinary, common or garden things, to see whether we’ve got it right. The first reason is, it’s been told by the great mystics of all religions, that we’ve got it wrong, and that society is a fictional device for deceiving us about who we are and what we are. The second reason, which is in fact the first for me, is “having occurred, I’m damn well not going to live and die without having a good look at it for myself, without reference to holy people or holy books or anything else. I’m going to have a go at DARING to look for myself, at myself.”. And when I do that, and I hope to share this with you, I see that everything is the opposite of what I have been told.

Now, it isn’t that I turn out to be somewhat unlike what society advertises me to be, just a bit different you know, a bit funny, a bit off the human pattern. It isn’t that I’m a LITTLE bit unlike the story I was told about myself. When I dare to look, when I have the guts and the interest to look, I find that I’m the exact opposite in all important respects of what I’ve been told.

Now I find that amazing. I’m the exact OPPOSITE of what I was told I was. And I find this not by searching in the holy scriptures, which is a very fine thing to do, and I’m not denying that. What I’m saying is, that there is a way, which we are going to share today, of just having a look, and seeing, and checking out what Douglas says, and is absolutely and deeply convinced of, that I am in all important respects, as First Person, at Centre, where I’m coming from, as who and what I really am, the precise, spitting-opposite - can you have a spitting-opposite? - the opposite in all important respects from what I happen to look like.

Now, you’ve got what Douglas looks like, and that’s your problem. You know, beard, and stuff ; old, ninety-one year specimen, archaeological specimen - you are in receipt of that, that’s your problem. But HERE, you see, it’s different. I mean, I look to you as though I’m looking out of TWO peepholes in a meatball, don’t I. Well, I think we shall see that it ain’t like that at all. And to you I look very solid, indeed too solid, a bit too bulky and all that. And really I appear to be kind of opaque ... But when I look from HERE, I find transparency going on for ever and ever and ever.

I look as though I came here from Ipswich. I look as though I walk around the room. But I find that I don’t walk around the room, the room walks around in me. In the train, I notice that I’m not moving, it’s the telegraph poles that are doing all that stuff. It’s the trees and the houses, and the little hills of East Anglia. They are doing all the moving. Everything is the exact opposite of what I’ve been advertised to be. And when I look HERE, the news is Good News.

You see, the third reason for having a look at this, is that it is Good News. For me anyway, it is Good News. I find that the social fictions that I have been invited to endorse and take on trust, are miserable, really. They tell me that my shelf life at ninety-one, is what, days? months? I don’t know. I don’t want to make it to a century, but it could be, I suppose. That’s the story. What I look like, is somebody whose shelf life is very short, and who is very small and very limited and very human, and a billion miles in all respects from the Kingdom and the Power and the Glory behind the world.

But when I look HERE, and dare to be my own authority, and really see what’s going on, I find everything is really the opposite of what I’ve been told. This is Good News, because what one discovers is a sheer marvel, a joy. It puts things right. The other wonderful thing is, that what I see here, when I approach it from a completely secular, and non-religious point of view, endorses and underlines what those six great traditions have been saying about my true nature. This is the final reason for having a look, as we are going to do today, at what’s HERE.

It’s practical. This is what we are up to, today. As you see, I have brought a bag of tricks here. We are going to rely today not on blah-blah-blah - I’m doing the blah-blah-blah now, I’m doing the talking, but words will convince nobody, I think. They will go in one ear and out the other. Words do not convince in this territory. But what I think does convince is what we can actually see clearly and directly for ourselves. That means non-verbal experimentation. Now don’t get worried, because the experiments we are going to do are not embarrassing at all. They are very simple, very direct, not complicated at all, and not a tiny bit embarrassing. But the experiments are what the day is about. The blah-blah-blurb is necessary of course, to introduce the non-verbal experiments. What are these experiments about?

The experiments utilise gadgetry. What I find is, you see, it’s INCREDIBLY difficult to see what we see, because of the power of language and the power of big brother in society. We are bulldozed into believing things which are not true. And society, bless its heart ... we must belong to the Club - we cannot resign from the Human Club; we owe everything, or most things, to the Human Club; but the price we pay for membership is too darned high! So the purpose of these experiments is to find a way of being better members of the Human Club, while withdrawing that crazily heavy and absurd subscription. And what is the subscription to the Club that I propose that we withdraw? It is this: that I am HERE what I look like to you.

This dictum, or principle, is really implicit and written in very small print in the form, registering our membership of the Human Club. If I want to know what I am, I look in the mirror - that’s Douglas in the mirror, that’s me, and what you see is what I am, and what I see, I see it in the mirror over there, but it is really HERE. And I am what I look like. Well, I promise you, as I said before, that I am, thank God, just about the opposite of what I look like, and so are you.

Now, I have your appearance, for which I thank you, because it takes years and decades off me, and I am so grateful for it! I have your appearance. And I would suggest that your appearance is my business. And your real business is not your appearance, which you leave to me and others. Your business, at least today, is your reality; where your appearance is coming from. Do you get it?

You see, you have Douglas’s appearance now. And that’s very important. I’m not putting it down. Our human appearance is enormously important. The question is, where does it belong, and TO WHOM? My appearance is not here at Centre. My appearance is off centre, isn’t it? If you come right up here, you lose me. So to find me, you have to be off centre. To have Douglas’s appearance, you have to be at least a metre away from him, don’t you? Then you pick up his appearance. And that belongs to you. That’s yours. I’m sorry for you, but there you are; that’s your problem. You have my appearance at this time, and I have yours, for which I am grateful. Of course, it is also rather good business, because I lose Douglas’ appearance, and I get in exchange about twenty other appearances, which is a good profit, really. My business is to enjoy those appearances in my reality here.

So I suggest that today, as far as possible, you leave your appearance to me; I’ll look after it - and I’m very grateful to you for it, I think it is delightful - if you’ll leave that to me, and attend to where you are coming from, and what is giving rise to your appearance, where you are; what you are looking out of. That is not your appearance. That is your reality, central to you, and what is alleged to be not human at all, but - as I said - nothing less than the Kingdom, the Power and the Glory, behind this fabulous world.

Don’t believe a thing Douglas says. I’ve not come here to be believed. I think you should doubt everything I say, but do me the favour of testing it, to see if it is true for you. Subject it to the most rigorous tests that you can devise.

Well, that’s the Introduction to the experiments we’re going to do, and rather a long one. Now, just a word about these experiments - I’ve got gadgetry here. What these experiments consist of, is looking at ordinary and common-or-garden things and situations of life, in very uncommon, indeed unique contexts; to look at our ordinary non-religious humdrum day to day life, old things like coming here in a train, sitting in your chair and looking at Douglas, whatever, in the context of a new shape, a new environment, a new instrument you are employing. My experience is, and I think yours will be, that what was so difficult to see in the ordinary context, becomes a piece of cake, becomes so easy to see.

For example - and we’re going to do this presently - you look at me now, and you see Douglas’s face. This is a face to face situation, isn’t it. Ha ha! But society says it is! Every language says it is a face to face symmetrical situation, and that you and I at this moment are face to face like that. When every language says that, and our whole society is based on this, and never questions it, how can we get out of this? How can we check this?

Now just to look at one another and ask “Is it face to face?” is not that easy, is it? or to check whether it is a face to face symmetrical confrontation. And I think this question has not therefore been tackled. Not only is it taken for granted that you and I are face to face; nobody ever suggests that we should investigate or check it - almost nobody. We are checking it today. How do we get out of the language trap which says there is no escape from this confrontation?

We look at each other in a different way. We look at each other through a tube. And I’ve got these darn tubes here, and we’re going to do that. And I would suggest that, since it’s a matter of life and death, and really thrilling, exciting and important, and the secret of incredible joy and astonishment, that we really, really have a go. The tube is like a magic tube, which enables us to see what is so difficult to see outside of it, whether we are indeed face to face, or whether it is on the contrary, absolutely impossible to be face to face with anyone in your whole life, you never for one millionth of a second have been face to face with anyone in your whole life.

If we should find that it is a most incredible lie that we are confronting one another, in such a basic area - the area of personal relationships is ninety percent of our life, isn’t it? - if that’s wrong, then our life is mucked up, it is crazy! To get that one right is really important. Isn’t it possible that the great majority of our most severe problems arise from sheer stupid lying about what is obvious, once we dare to look? - especially with the help of a few little harmless gadgets here, in my secret package. Let’s launch now into this experiment with the tube.

If anyone is really completely in the dark as to what I’m talking about, and would just like a bit of light that I could throw, please do come up with it now, before we do the experiment?

Douglas, I keep coming and going to this. I seem to get it and then I seem to lose it, and then I seem to get it. What I’ve come to, is to sit here, a bit like an oak tree cut off at the shoulders, and then my perception of all this comes in. Is that a fair way of ... ?

Yes. You belong in the paper bag - in the tube. You have got the answer without the benefit of being in the tube, and I congratulate you.

Oh no, I’ve been to two of your workshops.

Well, anyway, the tube will endorse what you have just told me. You have experienced the tube before, perhaps? Well, congratulations on taking the message.

Sometimes it comes and sometimes it goes.

Well of course, this is our human condition, isn’t it. This is normal and to be expected. It is a ding-dong between the two views. This ding-dong I think, is absolutely appropriate. You’ve got two poles really, like a Duracell battery, you know, the Divine and the human. And the Divine and the human are totally interdependent. Without the human the Divine is not divine, and without the Divine the human is not human. They are like the poles of a Duracell battery. How do you get light? - not with one pole, or the other pole. You only get light by the interchange, the process between the two poles of the Duracell battery; so you need both. And it is, as you say, coming and going all the time. Well, we’ll see! Thank you. Shall we move on now to ... ? I’ve been talking far too long, really. Alan, will you take these and give them out?

The Tube, or Paper Bag Experiment

We have one of these (tubes) between two friends, two people. So can you identify your partner? And if we have a friend without a partner, I will take that friend on.

Now, I think it is very important that you get really close to your partner, otherwise you are going to lean over and get indigestion. Get as close as you can. I’ve explained that the experiments are the important part of this workshop, and not the talk. Therefore, I’m going to lay down a few rules, if I may, about the discipline with which we conduct the experiments, because otherwise they won’t work. We have to be careful to do the experiment in a kind of scientific way.

The first thing is, what are we looking for? When we go in the Tube, are we looking for nice feelings? No. Are we looking for “a mystical experience”? a peak experience? No. If you are looking for those things, you are perfectly entitled to, but that is not my purpose in setting up the experiment. What I am inviting you to do, in going in the Tube, is to see what’s on show; to see, simply to attend - just as in a laboratory you would see what’s happening in a test tube or a condenser. The purpose of going in the Tube is to see what’s on show; not to have nice feelings about it, or understand it, or have a peak experience, or all those things. Of course, if you do happen to have a lovely time in the Tube, well, congratulations, but that’s not what it’s about. It could in fact I think, divert us from what it’s all about. We’re going in there to answer some very simple questions, which you are invited to answer, for yourself, silently.

If we should have mystical experiences, or happen to fall in love with the person opposite, it’s not to deny that this would be a very nice thing, but it’s not what the experiment is about. The experiment is about something which is absolutely basic in what we actually see, what’s on show. The reason for this is that Seeing - what we clearly perceive - is absolutely basic in our lives, and our feelings are very much less basic because they vary all the time, and cannot be commanded. Whereas, what we SEE, we can really set it up so as to attend to what is given. We can always SEE what’s on show, but we can’t always feel what we should like to feel. So Seeing, or perception, is absolutely basic.

We are not going in the Tube to have a lovely experience, or to fall in love with our neighbour or to understand something deep; simply to answer some questions. You see, out of my compassion I have arranged a sophisticated air conditioning system... So, we have arranged the ventilation at the top and the bottom, not at the side - also, I shall let you out of the Tube from time to time, for a breather. So don’t worry, you won’t be suffocated in there.

Oh yes, and there’s another thing. We go into the Tube with open eyes please, not closed eyes. It’s about Seeing. I have to say this, because some people get their eyes closed. The second thing is, you don’t have to stare into the other person’s eyes. The nose and the mouth, or the forehead - any agreeable feature will do. So it’s not a staring, eyeball to eyeball competition in there, you know. And let me emphasise, this is NOT about having a wonderful experience. It’s simply about answering some very simple questions truthfully. So, in we go, please.

Now, there’s one thing that we can all do - even BIRDS can do - is count. And the first thing we have to do is simply to count the number of faces in the Tube - the number of faces on show, in the Tube. Just count them. One? or Two?

And the second question is somewhat related. Is there any similarity, on present evidence, between what you find at the far end, and what you clearly find at the near end? - what you see there, and what you see here.

Third one follows, really. Is it face to face in the Tube? or face there to space here? face to space? Face there, and space for taking in, being aware of, that face there.

Isn’t it absolutely obvious that never for a millionth of a second in your whole life, have you ever, ever, been face to face with anyone? It’s always been like this? Doesn’t this show what an extraordinary basic fiction our lives are founded upon?

Now, just continuing to look at our friend in the mirror, just lower the Tube for a few moments, continuing to look at our friend. Isn’t it just the same now, without the benefit of the Tube - face to space?

Are you not busted - on present evidence - busted wide open? for that one? - not because you are a nice person, or a generous person, or an open person, but you’re built now aren’t you - actually built to disappear in favour of that one. Disappear without trace! at this very moment, looking into the face of that one.

Now, we should like to love one another, wouldn’t we - really love one another. How can we love one another as we should love one another, and could love one another, if we persist in this extraordinary damaging fiction of symmetry here, face to face. What a damaging, incredible, stupid lie it is.

I repeat: Have you ever been face to face with anyone? And this doesn’t depend on how good you are, how generous, how stupid or how intelligent. It’s just that you are made like that. We are built open for each other, you and me.

Now, don't believe this. Is it true for you? Alright, let's go in again now.

Look at the colours there, the subtle palette of colour at the far end. How could you take in that palette of colours if you had any colour whatever, if you were not totally and utterly colourless?

Look at how the far end of the Tube is bunged up with that object, that opaque thing? how it’s a cul de sac? It stops there, doesn’t it, like a cork in a bottle. And there, that opacity at the far end with the transparency at the near end - doesn’t this transparency at the near end go on indefinitely, for ever and ever, in all directions? Does it have any limits?

You may tell me that you can see what’s at the far end, but you can’t see what’s at the near end. I think this is wrong, and I’ll tell you why. When I look at the far end, my friend at the far end, I think I see him, and I think that at the near end I can’t see anything - I don’t see what’s going on at the near end, but only what’s at the far end. That’s what we think, isn’t it? And I suggest to you that this is utter nonsense, and that the opposite is the truth. For when I say I see my friend there, what do I mean?

Now, starting at the forehead and working down, scanning from side to side, trying to take in every detail of that face at the far end, how much do I take in and how much do I lose? How much do I remember of the little that I am taking in? - the lines of the forehead, the hairs of the eyebrows, the immense complication of the eyes - I scan back and forth, missing a million things, glimpsing, getting a general impression, glimpsing this and that, forgetting it almost immediately. I work down to the nose and cheeks, scanning from side to side, again missing so much, forgetting even that, until I come to the mouth and the chin. And when I’ve got to the chin, all the upper part has gone obscure! I’ve lost the forehead, haven’t I?

Now, that’s not seeing. That’s glimpsing. I don’t see my friend. Why? Because she or he is too complicated, immensely complicated; and what I did take in took quite a long time to take in. So I really - to be honest - can’t say I see my friend. I glimpse him or her.

Now compare this with the clarity at the near end, with the transparency at the near end.

Isn’t this instantly, timelessly, on show? Isn’t it perfectly seen? I can’t see a spotty version of this transparency, or an incomplete version, or a limited version.

I don’t know about you. Maybe you don’t find what I find. But I can tell you that I find that the near end here is a transparency which goes on for ever and ever in all directions. And more than that: a transparency and emptiness which is aware of itself as empty, as void, as capacity for taking in that scene, that friend.

Now another thing. The friend at the far end has a certain age, a certain sex, old or young, middle-aged, whatever. On present evidence, what is the age of the one at your end, the clearness, the clarity, the awake, unbounded transparency? What is the age of this one? What is the sex of this one?

Isn’t this one free of all limitations, ageless, indeed imperishable? Why? because in this clarity, this transparency, on present evidence, is there anything to age or to perish?

Isn’t this a totally asymmetrical situation? And in the Tube isn’t it obvious? all so obvious? Now, once more, let’s lower the Tube and keep looking at our friend. Look at the contrast between the immense clarity at your end, so vividly on show, so awake really, taking in that friend, and disappearing in his or her favour.

You know, all beings are like this. I suggest to you that this is the real nature of the world, and indeed of the origin of the world.

You know, the world is a very - what should I say? - confrontational, rough scene. The truth behind it is so different, isn’t it? - each giving her or his life for the other, nothing less; to disappear without trace is really to die for the other, and experience resurrection as the other, if you wish. Can’t we say we are built for loving?

Well, let's go in again for the last time.

You can call this Tube almost a magic tube I think. What it does, is to separate the stuff that is in the Tube, and shove it to the far end, with the consciousness of the stuff concentrated at the near end. It separates the stuff from the awareness of the stuff. The stuff goes to the far end, and the consciousness of it goes to the near end. It’s like a centrifuge or cream separator, isn’t it. And the contrast between these two is absolutely total. Spirit at the near end, matter at the far end.

You say “Wait a minute Douglas. This is terrible. This won’t do. Your friend at the far end is awake and aware!” We know that. You are quite sure that your friend is aw
Full book catalogue
Headless on Youtube

Click here for workshops with Richard Lang

Click here for information on online hangouts
Click here fora free e-course
Click here for our online shop
Click here to get the free Headless iPhone app
Click here for downloadable videos of Douglas Harding
Click here for the Latest News
Click here to Donate