Awakening to the dream is a very clear, approachable overview of the often confusing and rarefied philosophy of Advaita Vedanta, also known as non-dualism. Essentially, this is a book about you. It points to and from the source of your true identity. The clear seeing that it refers to is neither complex nor simple. It is not something exclusive for intellectual or spiritual elite, nor is it remote or hiding in the future. It is all inclusive, pure presence, closer than your breath. It is the heart of hearts, your birthright and innermost self. This is your invitation to remember what was never really forgotten.
Leo Hartong lives and works in the Netherlands. Life is his study and teacher. He has tried many roles and is currently simply sharing in, and pointing to, What is.
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Amigo talks with Leo Hartong, author of ‘Awakening to the Dream.’
Why is the title of your book Awakening to the Dream and not Awakening from the dream?
Leo Hartong: Awakening to the dream is like lucid dreaming. You wake up in a dream and realize that you’re dreaming and then carry on with your dream. Even when you see that life is like a dream it nevertheless carries on. At that point you have awoken to the dream; that’s what I mean.
You could say: ‘It is clear that it is but a dream, so if I know that, I am awake’, but the film continues anyway. It does not all come to a stop. There isn’t a flash of white light wherein everything disappears.
So you have ‘awakened’. Did any specific thing happen? Would you talk about it?
The idea that it is possible for someone to wake up is nonsense. An awakened person is a paradox. The awakened Self is not a person. There is the clarity that there is no one to awaken. So it is not about freedom for the ego, but about freedom from the ego. But the show continues, the apparent characters continue to play their part.
So you don’t feel that something is different – that your life has changed?
It feels different. Somewhat like having been watching a movie and being hypnotized in believing that what I see is real and then suddenly coming out of the hypnosis. The movie continues in the same way. So nothing has really changed and everything has changed. The sense of reality, or intensity has gone out of it. It doesn’t refer back to a central point, or a ‘me’ to whom it all seems to be happening. Everything simply happens and if you want to bring a ‘me’ into this picture, then we can say it happens AS me and not with me or by me. The only real identity is totality. It doesn’t belong to anybody and it isn’t some new discovery either.
When you look at an Escher picture it may all of a sudden seem to turn inside out. Nothing has changed in the picture, but something has shifted in your perception of it. At this point you could say everything has changed, or nothing has changed.
Does your wife feel that you’ve changed?
She might… but that could be because… getting older, getting milder… (later we ask his wife Bertje and she replies: ‘He is less confronting, milder, his reactions aren’t as strong as they used to be.’)
Alexander Smit would say: the sting’s been taken out. You are less of a prick?
Yes, I’m less of a prick. I don’t take everything that seriously anymore. Now you could of course say: who is this ‘I’ who does or does not take life so seriously, but that also disappears. It is not given much importance any longer. It’s just grammatically easy to say I. You see it happen.
You have always seen it, but the attention was somewhere else. It is a lot like SEEING. When I talk about seeing I usually start to describe WHAT I see, oh those trees, they look beautiful, or the fire in the fire place, but the seeing itself remains invisible. And suddenly I realize that in fact SEEING is the essence and not that which I see. What I see keeps changing. One moment it could be something beautiful, the next something ugly, but the SEEING itself, the essence, does not change. SEEING has been there all along, but the attention was not on seeing, but on that which was seen.
When that is noticed, then I realize something which in fact has been so all along. There never was a moment of not seeing. SEEING has been constantly present, only the accent was on what was seen instead of on the seeing itself.
Is it beyond words?
That makes it sound like as if it is complicated. The beauty of a rose cannot be measured and certainly not with a yardstick. When you try to do that, you might after some time conclude that it is very difficult to measure the beauty of the rose, but a yardstick will never do the job. It is the wrong tool. In a similar way the mind is not able to grasp THAT in which it appears.
The mind appears in Awareness like a fish appears in water. The mind thinks it is aware, but it is the other way around; there is awareness of the mind. Something is aware of the mind. The mind believes/pretends to be the acting principle, the one who is in control.
Is there someone in your life that you would call a guru?
The guru doesn’t have to be a person. Sometimes the guru can manifest as a person, but might as well appear as an apple falling on your head, a dog passing by, an illness or an unexpected stroke of good luck. ‘Guru’ is the teaching or inviting principle in life and it says: here it is, you are it, this is it. This can appear as Leo or Belle or as this story. It is the One Substance presenting itself in all kinds of shapes and forms.
What happened for you?
First there was an overwhelming experience when I was 21 years of age. It was what has been called a ‘peak experience’ or an experience of ‘cosmic consciousness.’ Through this experience a lot of things just dropped away or, as I then thought, things fell in place. For example, I always assumed eternity to be a very long time, but then it was seen that it is the absence of time.
Did you use anything, like drugs, or did it simply happen?
Yes, LSD. It was a turning point for me. Due to circumstances I felt quite depressed that day. Everything I did or said seemed so fake. We were with a group of people, but I went upstairs by myself and randomly chose some music. It turned out to be the Beatle’s album ‘Let it Be’ and the first thing I heard was: I’ve got a feeling, a feeling deep inside/ I’ve got a feeling, a feeling I can’t hide – the depression lifted and there was an enormous sense of relief. All apparent opposites unified. What remained was presence. The universe appeared to be neither large nor small, it lacked a reference point to compare it to. It was clear that everyone actually new ‘IT’ but pretended not to know. The experience ‘said:’ All is One – and my conclusion was: Oh, when everything is One that means that I am part of that oneness and responsible for what happens and therefore I have to improve myself to be a better part of this totality.
Exactly. It was not completely clear. Real Oneness has no parts, you cannot be a part (apart) of it. A diamond may have facets, but no parts. For years that was the way I saw it, but there was an ‘itch’ in the back of my mind. First slowly, like the lifting of a mist, it dawned on me, then suddenly it was clear: IT is not about experiences, but about THAT which is aware of the experiences: the space in which it all occurs. Whether it is a peak experience, washing your hands, or stubbing your toe – it makes no difference to THAT in which it all appears. IT is the seeing rather than that what is seen. That is the shift.
The Beatles were singing what you already knew?
They were of course both: an expression and one of the driving forces of their generation, but as soon as IT is clear, everything and everyone says it! Not just the Beatles, but also the shopkeeper, handing you your groceries, saying, ‘So, this must be it.’ At that point you can hear it everywhere. When someone says ‘here you are’ then he says all there is to say.
What about the need to share this with someone? Was there anybody at that time, the sixties, for you to share it with or to ask guidance? Someone who really knew?
In those days there was Ram Dass. I had read his book ‘Be Here Now.’ He was visiting the ‘Kosmos’ in Amsterdam -in those days the only alternative/spiritual center. I ended up sitting next to him in the macrobiotic restaurant. There was this young man who said to me: ‘Do you feel his warmth? Do you also sense his love?’, but I couldn’t really say I did. Ram Dass was talking about ‘being here now’ and I said something like ‘Yes that is clear’. He gave me an intense look and said: ‘Are you here now?’ And I responded: ‘Yes, where else could I be?’ He turned away and continued the conversation with someone else saying: ‘Yes, there are people who know this with their mind, but not with their heart.’ At that moment I no longer felt attracted to a teacher/disciple relation.
Then there was a meeting in 2001 during the talks of Ramesh Balsekar in Germany. That was wonderful, very warm. There was a private meeting with Wayne Liquorman. I said: ‘There are no questions I can think of as I have a complete intellectual understanding of what is being talked about here.’ And Wayne answered: ‘Yes, but you still say I understand.’ Well, I thought, that’s just grammatical, how else could I say it… but it ‘stuck’ with me, it kept coming back and triggered a clarity: There is no ‘I’ that understands this, there is just understanding, seeing and being. A small shift to how it already is.
Very important though.
It wasn’t a ‘big bang’ it didn’t have an enormous impact. Who is there to be impacted? Who can shout ‘Eureka I’ve got it!’ Then it would start all over again. I see Leo doing his thing, recognize that he has his way of doing things and that he has preferences for some things over other things. He eats this food rather than that food and he enjoys this film more than that one, but now there is something that sees Leo doing his thing and Leo is not taken so seriously any more. I am not identified as Leo, but know myself as That which sees Leo’s coming and going.
With whom do you talk about these things?
Sometimes I talk with Tony (Parsons) and there are regular phone calls with Nathan Gill.
How did you meet with Tony Parsons?
I picked up a book, As It Is by Tony Parsons and for the first time in years there was this resonance, like I used to have with Alan Watts; especially with his book The Book On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are.
I read Tony’s book and it sort of rekindled the fire. I reread books like the Tao Te Ching and the Ashtavakra Gita; now it all seemed very clear. Then I became aware of Ramesh Balsekar, with his strong emphasis on ‘non-doership’ and it made a big difference: there is no ‘I’ doing it all and who is responsible as part of totality, as I had assumed. It just happens AS me instead of BY me. I have some more resonance with Nathan Gill who says ‘as me’ than with those who say ‘through me.’ Through me somehow suggest a separate entity – it gives me the feeling as if one is a hollow tube or bamboo reed through which God acts. When everything is One that difference cannot be made. This ‘insight’ is like that ‘yes of course feeling’; one minute you’re asking a question, then, when you get your answer, you say ‘ah, yes, of course’ which indicates that you in fact already knew the answer. So what has really changed in that instant?
When did you start writing?
Some time before I went to see Ramesh. It started slowly. From the moment I went to see him, and Wayne said ‘You still say ‘I’ – ‘I’ have a complete understanding,’- from then on the book wrote itself.
Did you ever feel you were going crazy?
No. I lived with junkies for some time…so I know what paranoia means.
Did you use drugs then?
Yes, amphetamines… I don’t like to indulge in a life story, but denying it will give it a lot of importance as well. While being a junky I saw many people flip out. Paranoia was an often used word. When there was too much or too little dope, people would, for example, see the carpet come alive with millions of small insects. They would look all over their body to be sure there weren’t any crawling on or under their skin. I would see that kind of thing too, but I saw it as an optical illusion, as an effect of the dope. I did not get as involved as some of my friends. I also kicked the habit on my own; I did not end up in a clinic…
You kicked the habit on your own? That’s quite something.
It’s like entering no-man’s land. Your social contacts are based on being a user. People outside that circle might know you, but as non-users they most likely don’t want to get involved with you. So when you stop, your user friends react uncertainly, they don’t really know what to do with you. Often the try to get you to start again, somewhat like, ‘stay with us’…. They might offer you dope for free, where before you always had to pay. If you do not accept their offers, you end up in some sort of twilight zone – you’re on your own. If you make it through that desert you emerge at the other side and you know what addiction is. Then you know it and you don’t have to repeat it with alcohol or nicotine.
What about jail? You were in jail. How and why? What happened?
One day a friend and I boarded a train to Istanbul. We bought 2 kg’s of hashish and returned to Amsterdam. We had stuffed the merchandise in two vases and shipped them back home. They were intercepted by customs. I got arrested and sentenced to a year in prison.
When was this?
Early seventies… In a way it was a good experience, because I already was fixing up. When I came out of prison I could tell by the look of my fiends what a difference a year of using makes. I did join them again though, because I did not want to be changed by ‘the system.’ But somehow my heart wasn’t really in it any longer. It was an interesting period and 18 months later I stopped using.
Another thing I learned in prison was that it is possible to feel alright under shitty circumstances. Later I learned you can also feel shitty on a beautiful beach… It showed me how relative it all is. When you sit in the back of a prison truck, for a visit to the courthouse or something, you see people walking around, perhaps on their way to have a cup of coffee somewhere and often they don’t take in their surroundings or with a grim look on their faces and I thought: ‘people you don’t know how lucky you are.’ I assume it is something like not noticing your health until you know what it is to be in a hospital…
But all this is just a story/drama; when we keep talking about that we miss the essence. Every story is a fantasy. It is the individual’s story and that is not what this is about. The story is content: Awareness is That in which this content appears.
I do talk about it when it comes up, because if I don’t it starts to lead a life of its own. It may seem as if I want to avoid it by using the non-dual perspective as an excuse to not talk about it. So I do mention it, it is there, but on the other hand I find it totally irrelevant. It doesn’t matter what someone’s story is.
The ‘Direct Path’ is direct because it offers no methods. The ‘Progressive Path’ is indirect and so the opposite, claiming one of more methods, exercises, practices. What would you do if people would come to see you, asking for guidance?
Each method is an illusion. It can be fun and it’s OK, but who is on the way to what? As long as there is the belief that you are somebody on the way to something, you confirm the existence of a separate individual. Every step you take to reach IT, says that your separation is real and that you have to accomplish something. When this is seen through, then there is no you to do anything. There is no path leading to yourself and there is no way to get any closer. There is no I that – by accumulating merit via a process of becoming more and more spiritual – will finally reach the summit of spirituality… ‘spiritual enlightenment.’
And yet many people think this way.
That’s absolutely fine. In itself it can be a beautiful game and there are plenty of people who would rather do that instead of seeing-what-is; to the mind this ‘seeing-what-is’ may not seem very interesting. It is like space or silence and how would one describe that? The mind needs to be able to process words, sounds, pictures feelings or descriptions – and how would you describe space? How to describe silence? The mind says ‘booooring, I would rather go and follow an interesting path, I will meditate and reach an exalted state and will have beautiful experiences.’ Of course, wonderful experiences are available and possible, but that is not what this is about. Whatever experience arises, the stubbing of a toe or a wonderful meditation experience, there is something absolutely quiet that is aware of it. This silence is always one step before whatever it is that is perceived or experienced. To simply admit this and to say: ‘although it has been an interesting experience, all this seeking has been futile’ – this is something not everybody is ready to admit. As long as you want to continue as an ‘I who has accomplished something’ you’re not ready to admit this.
I’ve always thought that the body dies the moment one knows what we truly are. Do you recognize that?
It did cross my mind once or twice; that when you go beyond a certain point it is all over, but it is only a metaphor for what really happens. It is the individual ‘I’ that’s foreseeing its own death. I see it as metaphoric and as one of the ways by which the game continues itself. It creates a challenging wall and dares you to open the gate and go through it… And when you do, you find that there never was a door to go through. That’s why Zen calls it ‘the gateless gate.’ When you stand in front of it you perceive a gate and if you dare you go through it. When you look back there never was a gate or someone to go through it; in reality there isn’t even one to look back and so only the SEEING remains. And yes, it was always already so…
How do you feel about the war in Iraq?
Whatever happens, there is the recognition that it is an experience in space/time, with a beginning and an ending and I will not attempt to withdraw from such an experience by saying something like: ‘oh, there is no life and there is no death’. The character Leo will be affected by such experiences. I would find it highly unpleasant to put my hand in the fire and that’s an understatement.
But THAT which is the experiencing, knows no rejection and has no preferences; it sees war take its course, but it also sees the new spring flowers blooming. In the larger scheme of things, war is not important. It is all the One Self appearing. The height of the mountain is the depth of the valley. Perfectly balanced and in the end it all adds up to exactly zero. However, would I find myself in a war zone, then I would do my utmost to get out of it. That’s a healthy physical response, but that-what-I truly-am is not affected by it.
Reprinted with permission from Amigo.
Short ‘n sweet: Random Excerpts chosen by Christiana Duranczyk.
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