Tag Archive: Catherine Ingram



An Interview with Catherine Ingram
Marjolein Wolf
Koorddanser Journal (Amsterdam), October 1998

Catherine Ingram became involved in Buddhism and meditation when she was seventeen years old. Living in Cambridge, she worked as a journalist for American spiritual magazines such as Yoga Journal and East West Journal, among others; for more than twelve years. Over the course of those years, she interviewed many well-known spiritual leaders and teacher, Krishnamurti, Desmond Tutu, Thich Nhat Hanh, and the Dalai Lama, among them, with a focus on the way they manifested consciousness in the world. Some of these interviews culminated in a book entitled In the Footsteps of Gandhi. At a certain moment she felt that Buddhist practices were not working for her. After a period of what she calls “a dark night of the soul” she met the Indian guru Poonjaji. “With him there was a recognition of something I had always known but had not given its due.” It was the end of her belief in reincarnation, karma and even in enlightenment. She now has informal communities in Portland, Oregon, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston, London, and a number of other cities in the U.S. and Europe. This is the second of a series of interviews with female spiritual teachers about their role in a changing society.

A growing number of female spiritual teachers are standing up these days. According to Catherine Ingram this is an expression of a new balance in which feminine principles are becoming more important. As a result, being grounded in the world replaces the old spiritual view of rejecting the world or transcending to the Absolute. Representatives of this new wave don’t go to monasteries, striving to get enlightened. They have families and careers and see God in all manifestation. Or they travel around, giving Satsang. “There is a strong feminine voice that needs to be heard–and our time seems to be the time for that.”

You have been involved with spirituality for many years now. When did your spiritual search start?

My initial motivation for searching was due to suffering. I had a miserable childhood and by the time I was seventeen years old I was searching for some kind of meaning, something that would make sense of the misery in myself and in the world. At that point I discovered Eastern philosophy and began studying on my own, since I grew up in Virginia and there were no teachers around there at the time. At a certain point I read Be Here Now, the classic book by Ram Dass. I was very much impressed with that and shortly afterwards, in 1974, I went to Naropa Institute, founded by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, where Ram Dass and many teachers of various traditions had gathered. It was here that I met my first teacher, Joseph Goldstein, teaching Vipassana Buddhist) meditation. When I first heard the Buddhist teachings I felt very much at home. And that began a training lasting many years in Buddhist meditation, and in particular, vipassana. In 1976, I helped to found a meditation center in Massachusetts, and I started to travel all around the world studying dharma and setting up retreats.

You also had a career as a journalist?

Yes, in my study of dharma there came a point when I thought.’ ‘This is all well and good for us, but how does it help anybody?’ I wanted to be around people who were manifesting their understanding about truth in the world. So I became a journalist solely to talk to those people. I settled down in Cambridge, Massachusetts and I began seeking out what you could call ‘the Gandhis of our time’. I interviewed all the great spiritual teachers I could find and specialized in consciousness and activism. I wanted to figure out how our actions in the world are reflections of our understanding. I did this work for twelve years.

Were you also still involved in Buddhism in that period?

Yes, my Buddhist study went on for almost twenty years. And for a long time I felt very proficient in the practice. But one day I realized that it was joyless. I dontt know if it was my understanding of Buddhism or what, but it was really joyless to me. When I came to that point, all the beliefs I had held for so long also fell away. The beliefs about karma, about reincarnation, even the goal of enlightenment… I realized it was just a belief, an idea that the ‘I’ is going to get something. In this belief we are still waiting for a new car, a new job… a new life–waiting for happiness. At this point I went into a very bleak, dark night of the soul, which lasted for about two years.

How did you overcome this crisis?

One day I went to satsang with a spiritual teacher named Andrew Cohen. It was the first time I heard about the Indian guru Poonjaji. A number of my friends were also going to see Poonjaji at that time. After they came back they told me about him and I could see the transformation in them. Several of them had been long time Buddhist practitioners like myself and had the same difficulties I had. So I went to see Poonjaji. And his teachings of freedom here and now and the realizing of natural awareness were just so… There was a huge readiness in me to plunge. And since then there has been a great love of non-dual teachings wherever I find them. Not only in the classical Advaita Vedanta, but also in Sufism or in Dzogchen or in Christianity. It has been a kind of love-affair with this true seeing, catalyzed by meeting Poonjaji. Between ’91 and ’94 I went three times to see him, each time for about one or two months. It was less than six months all together. But with him it didn’t matter how long you stayed. You could just go there for a week and in this week it was done.

What do you mean by ‘it was done’? You became enlightened?

Enlightenment is not a word I use. I prefer to call this a natural way of being, the most natural actually. Or just radiant presence or dear awareness, clear seeing. I don’t use the word enlightenment because the term itself is very loaded. To many people it implies a kind of Big Bang after which you are eternally in a steady state called enlightenment. While in fact the actual experience is a kind of opening in spaciousness, here and now, which allows anything to come and go, with no resistence. It is not a state, it is just relaxing into a natural ease of being. It’s already here. When people use the word enlightenment, it implies some point in time that you hop into or it happens to you and then you are there for ever more… I don’t think this is a good way of thinking about it.

Then let me put the question this way: with Poonjaji you realized your true nature?

Yes, but what I saw was a recognition of something I already knew. I just hadn’t been paying full attention to it. I hadn’t given it it’s due, it’s importance, until I met Poonjaji. 1 didn’t realize: this is IT. And then I saw it really was ~. And it became more and more IT, over time. Everybody has the potential of knowing and living in this vastness. Everyone has an awakened nature and is consciousness manifesting. It just has to do with what you are paying attention to. Some people are paying more attention to this ease of being. They are allowing their attention to rest essentially in this ease of being. Little bubbles on the screen may come by and sometimes they get a little attention, but that’s about it. While normally people are lost in the bubbles on the screen; they focus on them. That’s the difference. It is a switch of perception.

A switch in perception which usually takes place as a gradual process?

Well, it can happen totally instantaneously too. Some people recognize their true nature right away and that is where their attention rests from that moment on. But for many people it is a process of getting used to it. It is not a process of an occurring; it is a process of a consistency. It is a deepening and a slow relaxation into that recognition. I’ll tell you an experience I once had to illustrate this. A few years ago I had a dream in which my house had burnt down. In the dream I thought: ‘I’ve got to call for help’. But of course the telephone had burned. And then I went through a whole list of things, all kinds of problems being added. I realized that the insurance papers were also burnt. There was a rising panic, until I suddenly woke up from the dream. I thought: ‘Oh fine, the house is here. Now I can go and find the insurance papers…’ Have you ever had anything like this? It takes a moment to realize that the central problem is gone before you realize that all the other problems that were hanging on to it are also gone. The moment you recognize your true nature, it takes a moment to realize that all your problems were hanging on the central erroneous belief that you are somebody. When this belief is gone, all the problems are gone at the same time. To realize this is waking up fully from the dream.

How did the process of realizing your true nature develop for you?

When I first recognized this pure awareness, that nobody ever touches, which nothing ever sticks to, it was very thrilling to me. I thought that I would never again notice anything else. But the little bubbles, neuroses and all kinds of things came up again. They caught my attention for a little while. And then they fell away again and there was this spaciousness, vastness again. So on one hand I could say it has been a gradual process. But on the other hand I would say it has really gone quite quickly and continuously. And it still goes on and on.

How did this process of recognition influence your life?

It changed my life completely. Prior to that I had a lot of depression. Buddhism can be used to justify your unsatisfactoriness. So if you are depressed you might use Buddhism as a justification for seeing things clearly. For me the first and most important change when I shifted my attention from Buddhism to Poonjaji was on that field. I went from a habit of being unhappy – and having this as a spiritual perspective – to a much more happy worldview. I went from a sense of no-Self; which was emphasized in Buddhism, to a sense of all-Self. I went from a feeling of emptiness to an experience of fullness. It was a very joyous discovery. I started to feel intimately connected with everything and in love with everything. It was the end of the belief that this ‘I’ is going to get something more, in fact in this clear seeing you are already in totality. There’s only this totality that you can enjoy now. There’s no need for anything, promises of more in the future – so I didn’t need the beliefs of karma and reincarnation anymore. I saw they were just beliefs, somebody’s ideas, not different from the Christian beliefs of going to heaven. And of course this radically changes all aspects of life.

In that field I used to be a tragic-romantic. I was always chasing romance until I was about forty. But now I feel this intimacy that I used to try to get from romance in a different way. Although it sounds a bit grandiose, I would say I feel this intimacy with everything now. I tend to say I have a relationship with God, but that is too dualistic. It doesn’t feel like me and other. It is no-relationship. Basically this feeling of intimacy with everything is so richly in my life that I don’t have the need or craving for a relationship or sex anymore. I live on my own and I haven’t had sex for years. I’m not saying that I never will again, I have no idea. It is not a decision that I made. If it would happen it will be fine and beautiful. And if it doesn’t that’s okay with me as well.

When did you start to give Satsangs?

It was not through any decision on my part. After twelve years of being a journalist, I was getting tired of the writing and the editing. So I stopped this work and I didn’t know what I was going to do. Then Ram Dass invited me to give Satsang at one of his large retreats. It was in 1992. I had known him for many years by then. We had been on the dharma trail together. Starting to give Satsang was a wonderful expression of the journey. I loved it from the start. It’s wonderful to be able to share this understanding; it is a sharing of love.

Do you think you were asked to give Satsang because you are a woman?

It could be. I think this is the time of women teachers. I can see it everywhere. Especially in the west there are a lot of strong female teachers now. It seems like there is a feminine voice that needs to be heard and this seems to be the time for that. Not to say that there aren’t some wonderful male teachers, but we are moving into a balancing of the feminine principles in the world. Whereby cooperation, care taking and being grounded in this world are important. This is a change. So far there was much emphasis on spirituality being some kind of transcendence to the Absolute, floating up in the sky, rejecting the world in favour of the so-called divine. I think that worldview’s time has passed. It is a worldview which is associated with a predominantly patriarchal ways of seeing things. The whole view is a little bit anachronistic. This is the time to combine the beautiful principles of understanding with a celebration of daily life, an appreciation of the feminine.

So you don’t think – as some spiritual approaches say – that women don’t have a chance to realize their true nature…?

(Laughing loudly) It must have been said by some men! It is just a belief and it is a silly belief. Gandhi actually said that he thought women have a better chance for clear understanding because women are naturally trained to be selfless as mothers. I don’t think recognizing true nature is about gender. It is not reduced to what genitals or chromosomes we have. It is way beyond that.

I would like to believe Gandhi. It sounds like good news.

(Laughing again) Well, I don’t know… Yes, our conditioning as women is often to be more selfless. But of course a man who has been highly conditioned to be very self-centered also has true nature. And maybe that very condition wakes him up to it because being self-centered is unpleasant. And that might actually be how grace works for him.

Is there a difference in the way male and female teachers transmit their knowledge?

Each person shares in a completely unique way. I think the differences are more individual and cannot be generalized. Some women teachers share in a very masculine way. They have wonderful sharp swords. And many men come more into the feminine balance as well. Like the mystic poet Rumi for example. His poetry is an incredible feminine expression of love and celebration of every particle of dust. The general trend is that there is more of a feminine wave. But it needs to include some of the masculine too, like the yin-yang principle.

What is your unique way of teaching?

I don’t have a way to describe it. The best I can say is that I have a strong love of authenticity. I have an allergy to pretension.. I am very sensitive to it, especially in teachers. Some so called teachers I have seen have a lot of guru pretensions. I sense that sometimes there is an ambition, people want to be on a stage and find a way to do that by pretending they are a guru. It has to do with love of power and adoration. All kinds of people fall into this trap – both men and women. It is very immature. One of the things that I so appreciated about my first teacher, Joseph Goldstein was how accessible he was. He had incredible clarity and was an amazing teacher. And yet he was so regular, so accessible. He didn’t put on airs or have what is called in Zen, “the stink of purity.” He was just natural.

You said that the world is developing towards a more balanced situation. How does this come out in our practical circumstances?

What I see happening actually now is that there is a lull spectrum of expressions coming out in the people involved in these teachings. In other words, they are not only in monasteries, striving and straining to get enlightened. And they are also not going to big parties every night, dancing and taking drugs. So it is not one extreme or the other anymore. There is more balance. Many people nowadays find a way to enjoy and celebrate life without indulging themselves in a hedonistic lifestyle. I see them living in the world in a moderate way, having families and careers. And yet they have this love of a spiritual life, seeing God in all manifestation. They have a normal life, while honouring a kind of greater view that permeates everything.

Do you think the number of people interested in spirituality will increase in the future?

I don’t know. So far we are talking about a relatively small number of people who are interested in these matters. Just see how many people watched the World Cup Football and how many people come to Satsang. And when you think about the huge populations on the earth, China, the Middle East, India, Africa… even in our own countries we are talking about very tiny numbers. Who knows how it will develop? The only thing I can say is that realizing your true nature has a powerful effect in your own community. You touch someone with light and the other person touches a few others and they touch a few others… That is enough.

Do you have any ideas about your personal future?

No, none at all. In former days I used to think about my personal life all the time. (Laughing) Which was probably why I was so depressed! But now I don’t really do any future tripping anymore.

Oh, but I was just about to end this interview with some ‘world wide future tripping’? Where is humankind going?

(Smiling) Your questions are quite global. For many years my own interests focused on these global issues, until a more simple, closer to home view became more predominant. To focus on here and now is really enough. You know, I once asked Ram Dass this very question in an interview and he gave a great answer. He said: if humankind is on the way to destroy itself, then the best way to prepare for that is to quiet the mind and open the heart. And if we are facing a new world order, then the best way to prepare for that is to quiet the mind and open the heart! I would say something similar. Really I have no idea where we are headed. In the now you can look around, you can read the newspaper and see that there is a lot of suffering, a lot of madness, a lot of decisions being made that seem to effect things negatively. And at the same time you see a lot of intelligence coming through as well. Who knows how it is going to develop? We may change this earth into a big desert or we may wake up before we actually do that and make some huge and exciting changes. I think that living as a Buddha, living in wakeful consciousness is the best plan, whatever happens. Then you can celebrate in the light and you can be helpful in the darkness.

Source: Dialogues With Catherine


Catherine Ingram is founder and president of Living Dharma, an educational nonprofit organization, and the author of Passionate Presence, In the Footsteps of Gandhi, and A Crack in Everything. This is her plenary talk at the Economics of Happiness conference, held in Portland, Oregon in February 2015. The conference was organized by Local Futures, a non-profit organization that has been promoting a shift from global to local for nearly 40 years. To learn more about the conference or Local Futures’ work, go to http://www.localfutures.org

Cape Healing Arts publisher Beth Draper interviewed Catherine Ingram via email recently.

CHA: What do you love the most about being a human being?

CI: I would have to say it is love itself, although love is also what has most broken my heart. Still, better to have loved�and all that. I find as I grow older that it truly doesn’t matter what stuff one has, what one has accomplished, who knows your name, where you have traveled. It really is, as the great ones always said, all about the quality of the love you share with your loved ones. And if one is lucky and is willing to take chances with one’s heart, that is, to let it break as needed, the circle of those one loves widens enormously. This is really the main treasure of life, as far as I can tell.

CHA: When your heart breaks, how do you mend it?

CI: My heart never seems to actually get mended. It keeps breaking wider open and holding more of the sorrow, but, coincidentally, it is also open to more joy and tenderness. Of course, that is how things work. I often say that there is a spectrum of feelings and that the more one is willing to feel on one end, the sorrow, let’s say, the more one is able to feel on the other end, the joy. It is perhaps safe to close off and try not to feel too much suffering, but it is not a rich way to live. It cuts off all passion and beauty as well.

CHA: In a society that barely acknowledges grief and grieving-in fact, often squelches it-how do you allow yourself to experience deep sorrow?

CI: I live among the brokenhearted. They allow it.

CHA: Of the seven qualities of awakened awareness that you discuss in your book, which one is the trickiest for you to remember-and why?

CI: There are several that I seem to skip over or remember last on the list-discernment, embodiment, genuineness. The ones I seem to remember most easily are silence, tenderness, wonder, and delight. Maybe because those are the most fun.

CHA: In your book, you describe discernment as a clarity of perception. The ability to clearly see what is instead of what or how we would like things to be. How do you reconcile “passion, focus, and intensity” with your excellent advice to “have a light relationship with your preferences?”

CI: It is a sense that things are blowing very quickly through one’s soul, if you will. Feelings, emotions, passion, pain-all profoundly felt and released as quickly as possible. It is the experience of life in present awareness without resistance but also without clutching to a particular form or experience. Naturally, we have preferences. It is all a matter of how much we suffer when we don’t get what we want or when something or someone that we wanted leaves us. It is good to imagine one’s awareness as an open sky through which all passes and to “kiss the joy as it flies” as Blake said.

CHA: I see that your passion and focus lie with this process of being in present awareness.

CI: Yes, it is another way of saying that one lives in reality-for in actuality, the present is the only time in which we exist, which is what makes it feel so much more alive than the trance-like dreams of past and future taking place in imagination.

CHA: How do you allow feelings of anger and jealousy to blow through you? Many of us were taught that these are “negative” feelings, especially when we feel them in regard to people we love.

CI: We have to learn to admit that negative feelings are a common experience, no matter how good we are trying to be or what spiritual practices we have engaged in. Jealousy, anger, annoyance, irritation, pettiness-they all visit with unfortunate regularity. But the trick is not to take them personally or to be shocked by them. And then they have no power over you. The thought of jealousy that arises and fades in a few moments is not a problem. The jealous thought that Is denied and twisted into some kind of justification due to one’s own discomfort can often turn into unkind words and actions directed at the object of one’s jealousy. In these ways, the refusal to admit to negative thoughts can create all kinds of problems, as we so often see in spiritual leaders and masters who insinuate or even say that they are enlightened but whose behavior belies petty and desperate motivations involving sex, money, or power. I prefer to hang out with what Alan Watts called “divine rascals”-those who know both their divinity and their rascality.

CHA: Fabulous! What would you like to share most right now with our readers?

CI: The thing I seem to most emphasize in Dharma Dialogues-and would say to your readers-is to not postpone living your life. There is a subtle way that we have of waiting for something to come or waiting to get rid of something we have (even in the case of extra body weight, for instance) and thinking that our real life will begin then. Your real life is happening now, and there is no guarantee for any of us how long that life will be. As we let ourselves live fully in present awareness, it is as though we are experiencing life at last. We are no longer waiting.

Since 1992, Catherine Ingram has led Dharma Dialogues, public events of inquiry into the nature of awareness and the possibility of living in awakened intelligence. She is the president of Living Dharma, an educational nonprofit organization dedicated to inquiry and service with offices in Portland, Oregon, and Los Angeles, CA. Catherine also leads numerous silent retreats each year and is coming to Cape Cod this June.
Source: Catherine Ingram

Learn the seven ways to tap into a state of pure joy, at any time, with the spiritual teacher Catherine Ingram. When we deeply relax, free from the stories the past, present and future, a great passion for life emerges, along with an awakened intelligence. This passionate presence is innate; it is a universal intelligence that transcends biological abilities and educational backgrounds.

In this book, spiritual teacher and writer Catherine Ingram offers seven ways to awaken the passionate presence that is in all of us. Each chapter describes one of the seven primary qualities of awakened intelligence. These qualities are based on her observations over years of working with thousands of people in silent retreats and public interactive events called Dharma Dialogues. The seven aspects – tenderness, discernment, authenticity, embodiment, delight, wonder and silence – naturally and consistently emerge as a result of deep relaxation and lead us easily to our passionate presence.

Catherine Ingram is a renowned dharma teacher with communities serving several thousand students in the U.S., Europe, and Australia. Since 1992, she has led Dharma Dialogues (www.dharmadialogues.org), which are public events of inquiry into the nature of awakened awareness and its benefits in life. She is the founder and president of Living Dharma, an educational nonprofit organization dedicated to inquiry and service.

Click here to browse inside.

Catherine Ingram – ‘Practical Wisdom In Precarious Times’ – Interview by Renate McNay

Catherine Ingram – ‘Practical Wisdom In Precarious Times’ – Interview by Renate McNay

Catherine Ingram is an International Dharma teacher and Author of three books: “Passionate Presence”, “A Crack in Everything” and “In the Footsteps of Gandhi”. Catherine says, “Our sanctuary is not in finding security in this world. Security in the things and circumstances of the world is an illusion. Our sanctuary is in our ability to relax into ‘Present Awareness’ and passionately celebrate beauty, to show up in love for our friends and families, to live lightly on this earth, and to experience wonder.”

Catherine Ingram – Buddha at the Gas Pump Interview

Catherine Ingram is an international dharma teacher with communities in the U.S., Europe, and Australia. Since 1992 she has led Dharma Dialogues, which are public events that focus on directing awareness toward greater wellbeing in an ethical and happy life. Catherine also leads numerous silent retreats each year in conjunction with Dharma Dialogues. She is president of Living Dharma, an educational non-profit organization founded in 1995.

Catherine has been the subject of numerous print, television, and radio interviews and is included in several anthologies about teachers in the west.

A former journalist specializing in issues of consciousness and activism, Catherine Ingram is the author of two books of nonfiction, which are published in numerous languages: In the Footsteps of Gandhi: Conversations with Spiritual Social Activists (Parallax Press, 1990) and Passionate Presence: Seven Qualities of Awakened Awareness (Penguin Putnam, 2003); and one novel, A Crack in Everything (Diamond Books, 2006). Over a fifteen-year period beginning in 1982, Catherine published approximately 100 articles on issues of consciousness and activism and served on the editorial staffs of New Age Journal, East West Journal, and Yoga Journal. For four years she wrote the Life Advice column for Alternatives Magazine based in Oregon.

For the past thirty five years, Catherine has helped organize and direct institutions dedicated to meditation and self-inquiry and, more recently, human and animal rights. She is a co-founder of Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts (1976). She also co-founded the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) in The Hague, Netherlands (1991) and is a member of the Committee of 100 for Tibet. For six years (1988-1994), Catherine also served as a board director for The Burma Project, dedicated to raising international awareness about the struggle for democracy in Burma. She is currently serving on the board of Global Animal Foundation, which works on behalf of the world’s animals.

Her work provides a context in which to consider life experiences—work, romance, creativity, loss, and death—through the calm and simple quiet of the heart.

catherineingram.com

Interview Recorded 9/7/2013


Catherine Ingram is an international dharma teacher with communities in the U.S., Europe, and Australia. Since 1992 she has led Dharma Dialogues, which are public events that focus on directing awareness toward greater wellbeing in an ethical and happy life. Catherine also leads numerous silent retreats each year in conjunction with Dharma Dialogues. She is president of Living Dharma, an educational non-profit organization founded in 1995.

Catherine has been the subject of numerous print, television, and radio interviews and is included in several anthologies about teachers in the west.

A former journalist specializing in issues of consciousness and activism, Catherine Ingram is the author of two books of nonfiction, which are published in numerous languages: In the Footsteps of Gandhi: Conversations with Spiritual Social Activists (Parallax Press, 1990) and Passionate Presence: Seven Qualities of Awakened Awareness (Penguin Putnam, 2003); and one novel, A Crack in Everything (Diamond Books, 2006). Over a fifteen-year period beginning in 1982, Catherine published approximately 100 articles on issues of consciousness and activism and served on the editorial staffs of New Age Journal, East West Journal, and Yoga Journal. For four years she wrote the Life Advice column for Alternatives Magazine based in Oregon.

For the past thirty five years, Catherine has helped organize and direct institutions dedicated to meditation and self-inquiry and, more recently, human and animal rights. She is a co-founder of Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts (1976). She also co-founded the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) in The Hague, Netherlands (1991) and is a member of the Committee of 100 for Tibet. For six years (1988-1994), Catherine also served as a board director for The Burma Project, dedicated to raising international awareness about the struggle for democracy in Burma. She is currently serving on the board of Global Animal Foundation, which works on behalf of the world’s animals.

Her work provides a context in which to consider life experiences—work, romance, creativity, loss, and death—through the calm and simple quiet of the heart.

catherineingram.com

Monkey Mind

Contentment

Seeing Ignorance, Not Evil

In the Mystery

Q: Catherine, you have been leading Dharma Dialogues in several cities in recent years. Can you summarize what you teach?

A: Yes, it is simply that freedom is to be found here and now, not in some imagined future. The future never comes. Freedom is simply to know that what we are is pure awareness. We are not merely this body or the steady barrage of thoughts that we tell ourselves. We are the pure awareness in which everything is arising and passing, and all of it is arising as pure awareness itself. So this is to know yourself as your own source even as you are living it; to have the attention placed on the source or on the pure awareness instead of on these fleeting occurrences of body and mind; to know yourself as the ocean and not merely the individual expression or the wave. We do not deny the individual expression- our “waveness” but we know ourselves in essence as the ocean. And in this knowing there is actually a great celebration of and a tenderness for the unique and fleeting manifestation of the wave.

Catherine Ingram

Q: So are you saying that the individual life story is somewhat an afterthought to who we really are?

A: It doesn’t have to be considered an afterthought. It is fully embraced and included in a very big picture, a vast understanding of who and what we are.

Q: Having attended your Dharma Dialogues a number of times, I am aware that you don’t say, “Here are the teachings of this particular tradition, and they can be true for you,” but rather, you say, “This is what my experience has been.”

A: This is the gift of the teachings themselves. The experience is inherent, and we are each empowered to taste it and express it uniquely. It is a recognition, more familiar than anything else, more familiar than the sound of your own name. It is a sense of being prior to the arising of thoughts, prior to the story that you are telling yourself, which is akin to a self-induced trance. Prior to and shining through all of that is just beingness. When you are in deep sleep, there is just this beingness. As far back as you can remember, there was only this. Everything else has changed. So in this pure and simple sense of being we can rest. This is home base. the sanctuary, what some call freedom-recognition of that which is most familiar and abiding as that. And we can recognize this immediately, with no effort at all. It’s like those “Magic Eye” images that are all the rage fight now. The three-dimensional image is there all along; all you have to do is relax in order to see it.

Q: Do you think the ability to recognize that essential state of being is something you are prepared for by your experiences over time, in this lifetime or other lifetimes?

A: I can only speak from personal experience. I had seventeen years of Buddhist training before I met Poonjaji (my teacher), but I also know of others, young people, with no spiritual training whatsoever, who hear the message and get it. I don’t know how that works. It’s a mystery, or some kind of grace.

Q: You have said in your Dharma Dialogues that during your first visit with Poonjaji. you felt something that had been gripping you had fallen away. I know a lot of people feel locked in. not by their own choice or action, but rather by circumstances, or moods, or relationships, whatever. They feel gripped by forces beyond their control, whether these be external or internal, and the grip feels very real. Can this just dissipate?

A: Yes, because seeing, through the illusion of the grip, really seeing through it even once, releases its hold. The thoughts can come floating back in, but they no longer have the teeth, the power. You’re no longer in some struggle to get rid of the ego. As my friend Hanuman Golden says, “Trying to get rid of the ego is like trying to drain the water from a mirage.” When you see through the illusion of the sense of “I,” the old depressing story is not as interesting anymore. You realize it’s just about some fantasy you’re making up as you go along. The central character on which you’re hanging all the drama is an illusion. Now, you may choose to play with it, knowing that it is a drama. You may even choose to do some therapy now and then.

Q: You mean therapy in the Western sense, as in sitting and talking about your feelings with a psychotherapist?

A: Yes, or to talk about your feelings among your colleagues, with your partner, or with friends. But always with the recognition that this really isn’t the totality of who we are. This is simply an aspect of vast limitless awareness playing, in relationship.

Q: You have told me that you went through a particularly painful period of grief, even though you had previously had a powerful experience of awakening. What was the nature of that grief?

A: It was the loss of a relationship, and it was very painful. I had been living with someone and was engaged to be married. The ending of that relationship was profoundly sad. Now, had I gone through that just a few years earlier, I think it would have really broken me. Instead, the grief was there, the sadness was there, the tears were there, yet it all occurred in a very big context. It was like watching a thunderstorm of grief pass through the open sky.

Q: Did you feel also the ecstasy of beingness while this grief was passing through?

A: Yes, definitely. I would find that at one moment I would be soaring in emptiness, or at least floating, and the next moment I would be telling the story. The story had to be told for a while, you see. It was like doing time. I had to honor that, not repress it or pretend some kind of lofty detachment. These forms come and go all the time. do they not? There is loss of form, whether it be relationship, home, or body. And because we so love these forms, there is sadness at their loss. This is natural. As Rumi said in his Matnawi, “Keep your intelligence white -hot and your grief glistening, so your life will stay fresh.”

Q: And this refers to something we talked about earlier, the woundedness of the sacred warrior or shaman. The woundedness of life to get us through. It seems that the pain, regardless of the source, the pain itself combined with the teachings, drove you to a deeper place to know the real.

A: Yes. As Trungpa Rinpoche said, “Suffering is manure for the field of Bodhi” -the field of wisdom. For me. the pain of that period was like a burning-up of thick veils. which had been obscuring true seeing, for a long time. I had had romantic obsessions since I was ten years old. which I now see as a yearning for divinity, be-cause that is the realm in which I had most tasted divinity. that intoxicating dissolution of separation. So this last painful ending was a grand culmination of that whole fantasy, and in that pain there was no place that I could be in peace except in the here and now, free and clear of a lot of thinking and ruminating about the story, the past, or the future. It forced the awareness into a kind of luminosity that had not been there.

Q: Yet some seem to get clear without a lot of suffering.

A: Oh yes, but living in this world we cannot help but observe a tremendous amount of pain. Whether we are identified or not, I think there is a case for the woundedness we all feel. As the identification shifts from the small self into a larger sense of self, we are forced to take on just by seeing, it, by feeling it, by having empathy for it, the pain of so-called “others.” I am leery of those who spiritually “up-level” and will look at a situation like Rwanda, for example. and say that it’s all just a dream, that the suffering of the Rwandan people is an illusion. It’s only fair to say something like that if you can be burned at the stake and say it then, and not if you still find yourself annoyed at petty problems and inconveniences. This is spiritual hypocrisy.

Q: Has this realization affected your choices of service or work in opening you to a greater world awareness and not just a personal or family involvement?

A: Well, I had been involved for many years in the world of activism, both as an organizer and as a journalist. But now it seems that whatever service is offered through me is not offered by me. I feel as though I am being played as an instrument on a more personal level rather than with the big global ideas I used to have, which were, in fact, often disconnected from my heart. Now it seems there is a more macrobiotic use of this instrument in that it is being played in my own immediate community.

In Dharma Dialogues, I feel a heart-to-heart intimacy that is not future–based or goal-oriented or about trying to fix the world. I know a lot of activists of one sort or another and, frankly, I think a lot of them are motivated primarily by ego gratification, sort of as a modern day warrior caste. That’s not to say that there is no place for that kind of activity, but it sometimes makes more of a mess than it cleans up. Q: But would you say that as people get the message of “here and now” freedom, and as they open to a larger sense of self- without being driven primarily by ego- they work their sphere of influence from that understanding? A: Yes, of course. But this message places no emphasis on influencing others in particular ways. There is no missionary zeal. It’s just that the recognition of unity same source, same essence automatically brings with it love and compassion and a spontaneous response to suffering out of that love. Not me serving you, but self unto self. And paradoxically, there is a great expression of uniqueness as a result of this recognition. There’s a sense that each of us is being played as an instrument of the Divine in its own discrete way, however grandly or quietly. No two alike, and yet no two at all.

Q: During Dharma Dialogues, you often tell people not to postpone the taste of freedom. What do you mean by that?

A: So often people have beliefs that if they work hard enough and strive hard enough in their spiritual practice, they will someday attain enlightenment. Or once they get through this difficult period, or get the kids through school, or find a life partner, or find a guru, or make more money, or whatever, they will turn their attention to freedom. These are all forms of postponement. In fact, any distraction from this very now is a postponement of your taste of freedom.

Q: I spent some time in a Buddhist monastery. The teaching was that your little life is just one of countless incarnations and that you’re not going to attain enlightenment in this lifetime, so don’t even think about it.

A: That’s just somebody’s idea imposed on you. Whether there are other incarnations we cannot know. What we can know is what we can experience here and now, beingness itself. The rest is theory. This is another area in which there has been a tremendous shedding of spiritual concepts and baggage for me about things which neither I nor anyone can really know. It has been very refreshing to embrace the mystery rather than feel compelled to have answers about the unknowable. It allows a clear, more objective seeing.

Q: Sounds like a challenge to the religious establishment.

A: Well, I’m challenging beliefs, and most religions cherish their beliefs, so much so that they have often gone to war over them. Now, perhaps there are a lot of good people who hold their beliefs for generally wholesome reasons. But a lot of those beliefs are in place for reasons that have more to do with the continuation of the religion or the institution. I’m willing to challenge anything that cannot be tasted here and now, without conceptual frameworks and ideas. We are living in a glorious mystery. Isn’t that enough? Why add on massive belief structures which we cannot possibly know? I once interviewed Krishnamurti, and as I was about to ask him a question starting with, “Do you believe … ?” he interrupted me and said, “I don’t believe in anything.”

Q: I know you eschew the word “practice,” but is there some method, some training you suggest to out of the way,” as you put it?

A: I like to use simple terminology and speak about intention or remembering. Have intention to not indulge your “I” story. Pop out of your trance as soon as you notice being lost in it. Make a habit of that: that’s all that is required. Finally, all practice will come to that, and it will require that you get used to that in all situations, not just on your meditation cushion. I’m reluctant to use the word “practice” because it implies a goal or a lot of effort or repetitive motion using some technique. I see people identifying as the doer of their meditation practice: “I sat for two hours without moving,” “I’ve completed forty-five retreats,” “nineteen sessions,” and so on. Proudly waving the banner of spiritual achievement as if that had anything to do with freedom. What I’m speaking about is dropping the illusory myths of “I,” “me,” and “mine.” This is about subtraction rather than addition. Subtract what is not real and let the real shine through effortlessly, without obstruction

Q: You and I have been in a dialogue for some weeks about Andrew Harvey and his book The Wave of Passion: A Celebration of Rumi. Harvey himself is passionately involved with making Rumi’s message a reality for the way we live our lives now. It’s not just nice poetry from the thirteenth century.

A: No, it is contemporary. Seeing the Divine is in Bosnia, in the faces of the Los Angeles street gangs, and in the face of the newborn babe. It is manifesting in and as the suffering and the joy. There is nowhere, in truth, which is not shimmering with God. This is the mystic view. Anyone can see the glory while watching the sunset over the ocean. But the mystic sees it in the horror as well, even though it may still break one’s heart. Seeing the glory with tears in one’s eyes.

Q: Because the mystic also knows that what may look at one moment to be tragedy may have hidden beauty, unforeseen benefits, I have heard from numerous lamas, even the Dalai Lama, that the Chinese invasion was what drove the dharma out of Tibet to be shared with the rest of the world. This has allowed the teachings to flourish, and the teachings themselves have also broadened and changed as a result of coming to the West, according to many lamas.

A: Definitely, yes. The dharma is loosely translated as “the Way” or “the Truth.” Truth is ever flowing, ever fresh. It is not a static, fixed point in time or space. We take the great mystical visions from the great teachers of the past, and we eat what is fresh in them in the present. Andrew Harvey, in his celebration of Rumi, is speaking of having this love affair with the Divine in our time. fully awake to the horrors that are occurring on this planet. We cannot say that they are somehow separate. The only true healing that can occur in any sustainable way is through that mystical view. What is happening on the planet is wild. In many ways. we are more awake than we ever were. We now have the tools to express the message very fast. But the combination of an out-of-control worldwide population explosion and the despoiling of the land, air, and seas forces us into a crisis situation that means that we either must wake up or die in large numbers. lt’s already happening. This is already a time of crisis. However, people will not desist in greed and anger unless they are impelled by a recognition of unity and love from inside.

Q: Do you feel that people can really wake up without the help of a teacher? You often say that this recognition is immediately available, yet stories abound of the transmission being passed from guru to disciple, from master to student. You, for instance, met Poonjaji and woke up. So there is something profoundly powerful about being in the presence of one who has that awakening. Is that available through the printed word, for example?

A: Well. I ask you. what has been your experience in reading The Way of Passion?

Q: It’s a cascading yes and yes and yes. Doors are opening and I know it’s all true and it’s fantastic. Then I close the book and, within minutes, forgetfulness.

A: Yes, but the transmission was there. Of course, it’s not the same as sitting in the presence of a living master. That is like being in the presence of the burning bush. However, let us be grateful for the printed words of the mystics over the centuries. Maybe the wattage is not as strong as being in the presence of the burning bush, but you take what you can get. And you can become your own transmitter, as you know. I often say, have the intention to be always in satsang, always in truth-community. Have satsang with the breeze, with the birds, with your landlady, and especially with those who are hip to this. That is the sweetest of the sweet, a true celebration. Then every day is Christmas, and New Year’s, and Valentine’s Day, and Thanksgiving all rolled into one.


Catherine Ingram is an international dharma teacher with communities in the U.S., Europe, and Australia. Since 1992 she has led Dharma Dialogues, which are public events that focus on directing awareness toward greater wellbeing in an ethical and happy life. Catherine also leads numerous silent retreats each year in conjunction with Dharma Dialogues. She is president of Living Dharma, an educational non-profit organization founded in 1995.

Catherine has been the subject of numerous print, television, and radio interviews and is included in several anthologies about teachers in the west.

A former journalist specializing in issues of consciousness and activism, Catherine Ingram is the author of two books of nonfiction, which are published in numerous languages: In the Footsteps of Gandhi: Conversations with Spiritual/Social Activists (Parallax Press, 1990) and Passionate Presence: Seven Qualities of Awakened Awareness (Penguin Putnam, 2003); and one novel, A Crack in Everything (Diamond Books, 2006). Over a fifteen-year period beginning in 1982, Catherine published approximately 100 articles on issues of consciousness and activism and served on the editorial staffs of New Age Journal, East West Journal, and Yoga Journal. For four years she wrote the Life Advice column for Alternatives Magazine based in Oregon.

For the past thirty five years, Catherine has helped organize and direct institutions dedicated to meditation and self-inquiry and, more recently, human and animal rights. She is a co-founder of Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts (1976). She also co-founded the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) in The Hague, Netherlands (1991) and is a member of the Committee of 100 for Tibet. For six years (1988-1994), Catherine also served as a board director for The Burma Project, dedicated to raising international awareness about the struggle for democracy in Burma. She is currently serving on the board of Global Animal Foundation, which works on behalf of the world’s animals.

The Suchness of Things

Choose Freedom

Awakened Relationship

Dharma Dialogues with Catherine Ingram

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