A.H. Almaas: Presence: The Elixir of Enlightenment

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You’re listening to Insights At The Edge. Today it is my deep delight to have as my guest A.H. Almaas. A.H. Almaas is the pen name of Hamid Ali, who has written numerous books, including Runaway Realization and The Unfolding Now. In 1976 he founded the Ridhwan School, which is a worldwide organization dedicated to the path of spiritual inquiry and development, called The Diamond Approach. In my own life, speaking with Hamid has been some of the most instructive and illuminating conversations that I’ve ever had the pleasure of having.

In this conversation, Hamid and I talk about Presence as an elixir of enlightenment and this is an introduction to a new eight-week online course, featuring Hamid, the co-founder of The Diamond Approach Karen Johnson, and two senior teachers, Deborah and Morton Letofsky. Course begins April 1, and you can visit us at SoundsTrue.com to learn more. Now, let’s dive in and venture into the heart of enlightenment. Here’s my conversation with Hamid Ali.

Welcome everyone. It’s a great delight to be able to welcome you to this conversation that I’m about to have with A.H. Almaas, which is the pen name for Hamid Ali, about a new eight-week online course we have partnered together to create, called Presence: Venture Into The Heart Of Enlightenment. And there’s a lot to talk about.

I’m exited to get right to it, but first I just want to introduce you very briefly to Hamid. Along with Karen Johnson, he is the founder of The Diamond Approach, which is an inner-work school that takes students on a path of self-realization to discover what Hamid calls, “being a true human being.” In my own experience, The Diamond Approach has deepened my spiritual life and my sense of appreciation of life in so many ways, that it’s a great joy to be able to bring to this wider Sounds True audience, Hamid Ali and this course on Presence. Hamid, welcome!

A.H. Almaas: Hi, Tami. Hi, everybody. I’m happy to be here.

TS: It’s a great, great privilege and delight. I want to begin here, Hamid, at the beginning, which is within The Diamond Approach, what is Presence?

A.H.A.: You know, I remember my first experience years ago. Over forty years ago. I was meditating. Some point, I was having headaches for years before that, similar to what Krishnamurti used to have. Then one day, I was meditating and felt this thickness in my side, my body. Rising, thick, dense thing which I thought was an obstruction or something. I didn’t know what it was.

So, I let it go. Then, the next day or two I was walking around and I felt this sense of lightness. Just a sense of being me. The sense of texture fullness, that I thought might be physical, turned out wasn’t physical. It was like textures, fullness. The texture has a sensation that has a sense of flow, sense of aliveness, sense of knowingness, knowing itself.

I felt I am being myself as a living Presence. Living, conscious Presence that knows itself, and I felt at the same time connected with all human beings. That was my first sense of Presence. I wasn’t feeling that I’m connected with everything. All the universe, that came later. It felt more like I was connected with all human beings. I was feeling the very essence and nature of being a human.

TS: So, Hamid, after that first discovery, was this sense of being in touch, or suffused with Presence, was that something that came and went for you in your life experience?

A.H.A.: For a while it came and went, before it became stabilized, continuous. That takes work. It takes work. I had to see what was in the way. You know, obstacles, beliefs, stuff like that. And then it became a continuing Presence and a continuing sense of being me. Being present as me. And knowing what me is, you know, in a very phenomenologically clear way and a very, you could say, in a very synesthetic way. I was feeling, sensing, seeing, knowing, hearing. All the senses were involved in knowing the Presence.

TS: Now, I mean I haven’t told you this, but I actually have a secret agenda for this webinar. It may or may not happen, but I have one. Which is, I want as many people as possible, who are listening to this, to actually connect with Presence themselves, for themselves. That’s my secret agenda.

A.H.A.: Well, I think when we did the course that was our intention.

TS: Yes, yes.

A.H.A.: To make it as experiential as possible.

TS: Yes. Right here, even, in this conversation, someone’s listening and they’re like, “Wow, they used a lot of different words. Textured, aliveness. How do I connect with this right now in my own experience?”, says the listener.

A.H.A.: Yes. For instance if you feel your interiority, you feel tensions, or a tension. You feel your emotions. You feel, you know, first is sensation, which are physical, mostly. There are affects, which are emotions. And there are thoughts, that have knowing in them.

Presence has all of those together. There is sensation, which is the sensation of being or existing. The sensation is of a texture, which can be a roundedness, a fullness, a flow, intensity, density and viscosity, which is how things flow, like honey or water. And that they then affect, meaning a feeling, a sensation. All of it is to become a feeling, a felt-sense. Just like an emotion, but here, it is not an emotion. It is an affect to the Presence. To the texture, which is a medium. It’s a medium that has a sense, that knows itself through sensing itself. But the sensing itself comes with an affect. And the affect is being. Existing.

That affect means knowing. So there the knowing is a feeling of existing, but the feeling implies knowing. I know that the feeling is not just feeling an emotion. It’s feeling of being. Feeling of existing. Feeling of a fullness, and a fullness implies the existence. The substantial sense of, I am here, being my being.

The knowing, the affect and the sensation are all integrated together as one experiental thing. As a manifold, or a medium of subjectivity that has no boundaries and no form or shape. It has all those elements, which is all integrated as one thing. Which is usually called gnosis, or noesis, or yeshe, or ma’rifah for the Sufis.

TS: Now, I know, Hamid, after your discovery of Presence, that you referred to it as “an elixir of enlightenment.” Can you explain that phrase?

A.H.A.: Yes, that’s a good question, Tami. I mean, one thing I was thinking about, many of the people when they talk about Presence, teachers and teaching, they mean a specific state. Like, I remember listening to a video by Eckhart Tolle talking, titled “The Essence of Presence.” The tool on initial presence. He has a very nice presentation, and finally he comes to the punch line, which is he says, “experience has a spacious clarity.” Which I resonated with, appreciated. But for me, that is one of the states of Presence, one of the results of Presence. It is not the Presence that is called the elixir of enlightenment.

It’s the same thing similar to Dzogchen, for instance. They talk about presence because for Dzogchen, at least they go further than Eckhart Tolle or many of the Advaita Vedanta like Francis Lucille, Rupert Spira, Mooji, all of them. They’ll talk about presence, but they talk about it as consciousness. Pure consciousness. Conscious of the self.

Dzogchen goes further, says that the realized condition has five ways. They’re called the five Buddha’s… The five Awarenesses of Buddha, which is … one of them is the unity of emptiness and awareness. Which is actually what Eckhart Tolle was talking about. Another one is the unity of emptiness and compassion. And one of them is the unity of emptiness and space, and another one, they say the unity of emptiness and presence. So they differentiate between Presence and awareness. Which the Advaita Vedanta doesn’t. But even at Dzogchen, when they say unity of emptiness and presence, it is like the experience of it, is a transparent, empty presence, which is like an awareness.

That is only one state of presence, the way I see it. It is not the elixir. What I mean by the elixir, is something simpler and not as transcendent as… all of the others are talking about transcendent stage of presence. When I talk about Presence, I don’t mean just the transcendent. I mean Presence as its original sense of just the sense of being. The sense of being myself as Being, as Presence, as the fullness substantial sense of almost a substance, that is now, in some sense it is almost like a medium. And the medium is a “phenomonasity” that has textures of an awareness that has fullness. A consciousness that has body.

That is like a sense of Presence as fullness, that has texture, that has viscosity, that has density, that has color. All of those. I call that present. That can then change from one quality. One thing that can become the spacious clarity that, you know, Tolle talked about or can become the consciousness that Advaita also talks about. Or it can become the unity of emptiness and awareness and presence that Dzogchen talk about. But it is much more than those. Those are one of the ways that it can reveal. But it’s… What you need to recognize it at first, for it to become the elixir of enlightenment, because any of those are not the elixir of enlightenment. These are the enlightenment… states of enlightenment.

The elixir of enlightenment is the Presence that generates the enlightened conditions. Which is the sense of being yourself. Being yourself, being myself as the Presence that I am. Which is individual, but without it being bounded. These individuals can’t be boundless, but can sense the present individual… or not individual, but essence of a living Presence that’s conscious of itself. The important thing, it is being conscious of itself, knowing itself as Being. And the Being has a fullness, has aliveness, has a consciousness, awareness, luminosity, has a bodyness to it, that is very specific. That is specific.

But then it is changeable. It can become as a canvas is… usually colorless, is transparent and clear, that can have a color, that can have a golden color, with the texture of, like, honey, and have the golden sense of honey. And the viscosity, the flow of honey. Like I feel my whole heart, my whole body is drenched. It’s full of a honey, kind of, medium. It has the sweetness of honey, it has the texture and the stickiness of honey, the fullness of, the richness of honey. But also that honey feels as Being. As Presence.

Now I am feeling Presence. And being in a… but the quality of the richness of the heart. So, now, Presence, functioning as the elixir of enlightenment, is manifesting itself as the richness of the heart. And then thought can manifest itself as a spaciousness of awareness, as Dzogchen talk about.

TS: OK, I have two questions about what you’re saying here. The first is I’m not 100% sure I understand elixir. The metaphor of the elixir. I mean, I know elixirs are a concentrated liquid substance. That’s what I think. So, why an elixir?

A.H.A.: Because it just feels like a concentrated liquid substance. That’s how I first experienced Presence. I even used to call it “substance,” before I call it Presence actually.

TS: So somebody is listening, and they’re like, “You know, God, I just want to be present. I want to be present when I’m with my kids. I want to be present when I’m doing my work and I’m walking in the woods. This is sounding pretty complicated. Truth is, I’m getting a little confused. I’d be pretty gosh darn happy with spacious clarity and a feeling of Being. Do I really need to dig in here and understand all of this? Question mark? How’s it going to help me?”

A.H.A.: It can help you, but you don’t need it. You can be present by practicing mindfulness, you could be present by sensing your arms and legs, for instance. You could be present by just practicing present Presence. Without knowing Presence, you can be present. Being present, and knowing Presence, are not the same thing. Although they’re related. Being Presence, I am present naturally. But if you just want to be present to your family, you don’t need to know yourself. To know yourself, you need to know Presence.


A.H.A.: You really need to be interested in spiritual transformation, realization, to want to know about Presence. If you just want to be present, many people talk about being present—the business people, politicians, talk about, “Let’s be present now.” That doesn’t mean anything about spirituality. It’s means presence of mind. What people talk about presence, it’s presence of mind. The Presence I’m talking about is the Presence of Being.

With the presence of spirits, the being of spirit itself, where the presence of mind is an outer expression of its surface. Part of manifestation is that, as one of its side effects. Side product is, you’re present to your environment. But when you are using spiritual Presence, you’re not just present to your environment, you’re present to your spiritual nature. Yes, you are open then to the manifestation, the secret of spirit. All the way to enlightenment.

TS: How do you define enlightenment, Hamid?

A.H.A.: Enlightenment, meaning, knowing your nature, and the nature of the universe, in an ongoing way.

TS: One of the things that I thought was so interesting in this new online course on Presence: Venturing Into The Heart Of Enlightenment, is the connection that you make between discovering Presence and finding meaning in one’s life. Having a sense that my life feels meaningful. I think a lot of people on a spiritual journey, when they begin, have a sense of meaninglessness. That’s part of what… they’re looking for meaning. So can you help people understand the connection?

A.H.A.: Yes. That is what I call, relative meaning, and complete or absolute meaning. Relative meaning is that you have… you find the meaning that you’re experiencing right now. Like, I am happy. But, what’s the meaning of that? Well, because I’m happy that I know myself. Or I’m happy because I know that this person loves me. That’s meaningful. So I know who loves me. That makes my life have more meaning. So, that’s meaning.

The meaning of life would mean… the meaning of life. You cannot get the meaning of life through that way. Through being loved or having undersigned the meaning of article action, the meaning of all of you experience. The meaning of life is the Presence itself, the Presence of spirit itself. When you experience the Presence of spirit itself, the textured medium that has fullness, and knowingness and realness and truth, independent of mind, independent of history and independent of characteristics and forms, that itself is the Presence of meaning. Because you experience yourself that way, not by knowing it, by Being. If you know the Presence that I’m talking about, you don’t still—you still have the question, you’re looking for meaning. When you know that Presence is you, and you experience, “I am the spirit. I am the Presence that I am. I am the being that I am, and the being that I am, which is the being of everybody and everything.” When you experience that, that question, the seeking for meaning disappears. You might feel this is the meaning of my life. And that is an influence. It’s more like the question wasn’t the meaning of life, there’s a piece that’s gone. It’s because the meaning of life is Presence, without it feeling like the meaning of life.

TS: Hamid, let’s say someone’s listening, and they’re having the thought, “I might be connecting with Presence, and I might be connecting with what Hamid is pointing to here, but I might not. I don’t know. I might be confused.” Is there some litmus test that someone can use in their own experience right here and now, to know if their experience is mapping on to what you’re describing, or not?

A.H.A.: Well, yes. If you feel … know your existence, not by inference, meaning. Like, Descartes says, “I think, therefore I am.” Or you could say, “I feel my body, therefore I am.” Or you can say, “I can perceive myself, I have thoughts and feelings and I have a life, therefore I am.” You don’t know what I’m talking about. If you say, “I know that I am because I am experiencing, I am directly, immediately, without any inference by anything else, just the existence itself. I know the existence itself by feeling it.” By then, that, you know. And then, then you are experiencing the Presence I’m talking about. And I hope that simplifies things.

TS: I liked it. I liked it a lot.

A.H.A.: You are simpler because I tend to be complex. I talk from the depths always. I don’t know how not to do that, but I’m glad you’re helping me speak to people, to where they understand.

TS: You’re helping me increase my complexity and my appreciation of complexity. So thank you, thank you, Hamid.

A.H.A.: OK, you’re welcome.

TS: Now, I know one of the central practices within The Diamond Approach, in fact, I think you call it the central practice, the core practice, is inquiry. Practicing inquiry. How could one, once again looking for these gateways for people, how could one inquire in such a way that they could deepen their discovery of Presence? What kind of inquiry questions might they work with?

A.H.A.: There are many, because our inquiry is not inquiry just in Presence, but inquiry in everything. Because everything, if you inquire to its depths, that will take you to Presence. So you could inquire into your… who you are, for instance, like Ramana Maharshi, “What am I?” That will take you to Presence. Or inquire into your sense of meaninglessness in your life, that can take you to Presence. Or you can inquire into your relationship. “Why, how come my relationships are not working?” And then that can take you to, “What is relationship for me?” And that will take you to, “What does relating mean? What does feeling I am related to or I am relating to somebody mean?” That will take you to a certain form of Presence that has to do with relationship. With relating.

So, inquiry is inquiring into any part of our experience. And by being, letting our experience be. Not interfering with it. Not trying to change. Not trying to take… not trying to use it to take us anywhere else. But just wanting to know the truth of it, the meaning of it. If we do that, experience of which nature will transform, will begin to reveal more of what it is about, and if we could continue inquiry, not just stop there and assume we know. That there is also something we don’t know. We continue to be interested and curious. That unfoldment of meaning of our experience will develop naturally into the meaning that is Presence. That is actually why the Sufis word for Presence in Arabic is maqam, which means “meaning.” Use the word meaning to mean Presence.

TS: I think an example might be helpful here, Hamid, because I could imagine someone inquiring, and asking the question, “Who am I?”, and feeling into it and they would get to Presence, and that might seem kind of intuitively obvious. But when you use the example of inquiring into our relationships, you know, “I have some relationship drama of some kind, and why did this person not call me back?”, or whatever. How is that going to take me to Presence?

A.H.A.: Because if you explore the body, your question of relationship, you might get at some point to the place of, “I don’t have a real relationship.” That you have to see if you, first, recognize inquiry into relationship and see how deep or how superficial they are, how real, how false they are. By inquiring to that, you find out, do you really have a real relationship, that feels like it’s a true felt relating through contact with true personalness?

If you inquire to that, very likely for most, they feel no, they don’t have something like that. What they have is a story or some kind of a role they play with each other. Like, I am a husband and wife and all that. We have activities we do together, we enjoy each other, but the actual sense that I’m in direct personal contact with you, with somebody, that eludes. “I don’t know what that is.” If you get to the place where, “I don’t know what that is,” that is good. That will open you to some kind of openness of spaciousness. It’d be a difficult openness at some point. Difficult emptiness. Going to feel the absence of true relationship. The absence of contact. The absence of personalness. If you let yourself feel that absence, that might allow the true Presence, that is, true relational Presence arise, which will feel like a personal sense of Presence.

It’s the Presence that also has a sense of it of being personal. Able to relate personally without personal stories. Like, I could be personal without telling stories—by how I relate to the person by who they are. By seeing who they are, their uniqueness, and relate to them that way, in the present. Without telling stories about myself, trying to tell—find out their story. That brings with that personal Presence. So I just give an example of how they discover personal kind of Presence, which is Presence appearing in a quality of being personal and relational and contactful. Which is the essence of contact.

TS: Now in the course on Presence: Venturing Into The Heart Of Enlightenment, at one point, you use this really interesting phrase. That if we can connect and stay with a feeling of a deficit of some kind, like in example you just gave you know, I was reflecting on a certain relationship in my life that does feel like it’s surface, not really there. That you called it a “jump gate.” That by going into that feeling of lack, actually that can be a jump gate into Presence. I’d love you to make that clear for our listeners.

A.H.A.: Well, usually, the transition from the ordinary experience, which is a personality or the self, to the realm of spiritual Presence, we have to go through a transition. A transition is a kind of a hiatus, kind of an abyss, kind of an emptiness, kind of not knowing. Not knowing which can feel like, “I don’t know, I’m lost.” I don’t know which feels like some kind of emptiness, some kind of vacuity that you can feel has the absence of a particular quality. Like, the absence of personalness. The absence of love for instance, if what you’re looking for is love, if you’re inquiring into love. Or the absence of power, if you don’t feed your personal power, you feel absence of power.

And that’s an absence of existence. Being, itself, sometimes. All these are specific kinds of emptiness, each one of them, even though it could be difficult, intolerable, is really the jump gate into that part of experience of Presence, of manifestation of being, that comes upon us to get the quality that we are looking for. Whether it’s love or power, or just Being itself. Existence itself.

And it’s a jump gate. Because a jump gate is like a wormhole, which means an opening in time and space that can take you to another place instantaneously, if you jump into it. Just like Dr Strange. He makes this circle and jumps into it, and he is in a different place. So if you really go into that emptiness, that could be the shortest path to that quality or kind of Presence you are inquiring into accessing. It is really scary, but if we deal with the fears, that’s possible to work with fear, the reaction, the terror, sometimes, or the loss or the sadness, or all of these emotions that appear before we see the jump gate clear. We see the emptiness, we’re accepting it and we’re comfortable with it. That’s what makes it become the jump gate into the quality, then Presence. You’ll find yourself, suddenly, full of Presence, one kind or another.

TS: Now, Hamid, I want to ask you a personal question about this course on Presence. I know for me, why I care so much about introducing as many people as possible to this course. Because it’s been so meaningful for me, in my own life. It’s been so helpful and deepening, as I said in the beginning of my appreciation of being a human being alive at this time. Why, for you? Why do you have, it feels to me, a heart investment, if you will, passion, interest, in a course on Presence reaching an audience. Why do you care?

A.H.A.: Two things. The most one, the personal one is, I know by me learning about Presence, I’m liberated. I am myself in a free way, and I can explore reality in an open-ended way that is full of fun, mirth, depth, meaning, love, enjoyment, generosity, all that. And gratitude for life, and I want that for all of my fellow human beings. So actually I wanted for everybody to know it.

And I know there are many people who are interested in that, they might not know it. But the people who want to engage in spiritual teaching, or are looking for a spiritual teaching. That’s what they’re looking for, that specifically, I’m talking to those people specifically, and those people can learn about Presence. And if they learn about it, they have the opportunity to be somebody like me, and other people who have found themselves, and have been liberated.

That is one reason. The other reason, I am the mouthpiece of a particular path, a teaching that I approach. And it is part of my mission to put this teaching out to humanity, because I was given this job. It is my mission, my destiny, my job. It is what God told me, “You go do that.” And what I have to do, is put this teaching out to humanity. And a central part of this teaching is Presence. Teaching of Presence. So, it is part of my destiny. Can’t help it. It’s my job, my destiny, and I can’t help it.

TS: You’re doing a good job, Hamid.

A.H.A.: That’s what I do.

TS: Yes. Now, interestingly, a couple of times as you’ve talked about the experience of Presence, you’ve described it as something like, “feeling like myself.” Being myself. Sometimes when Presence is described as more of this transcendent spacious clarity, it’s more like there’s no “myself” in the picture. It’s just, you know, endless beingness. So, you know, so what is this “myself” in the midst of Presence that you’re referring to?

A.H.A.: OK, first of all, I mean, in the experience of endless, or you said transcendent Presence, Presence can become individual. Like I talk about, like honey or personalness, or power. Or it could be marvelous and transcendent and infinite, what’s called non-dual presence. But, you know, that kind of presence can be experienced as self, like the Advaita Vedanta take it as self. You know, Ramana Maharshi said it is the self. The [inaudible] said that is “I”. Shankara said it is the true self, the ultimate self. So, it can be, can feel as a self.

It, however, it doesn’t have to feel as a self. Just like the way a Buddhist would experience this transcendent Presence, but they don’t feel it as self, they feel it as what reality is, you are experiencing what reality is. Experiencing the true nature of everything. And then the true nature of the thing, even the Buddhist will say, “That is still you.” It is what, your nature, and they don’t say it’s you, they say it’s your true nature, it’s your true nature. So, it’s just because it’s the true nature of everything. Because Buddhism, really, if you go to the doctrine, if you go to Vedanta, you go to the Mahayana, like the highest yoga Tantra, or the Dzogchen, they have a concept of soul. Something that we call individual consciousness, or individual clear light.

If you’re seeing that, you know the individual clear light, that is the same thing as true self, and the true self is Presence. Clear light is a Presence. That is clear, that flows like crystalline, kind of flow of awareness and fullness. And that can be seen like self, but it is not the self in the sense of what we call self, like a body or center of functioning and knowing. The self, in a sense, it is what my Being is. It’s not even my being, it’s just Being, but there is a self. What I call first-personal givenness to it. Meaning, even the people who could say, “It’s not a self, it’s no self, it’s selfless,” it is somebody who’s talking—

TS: Good point.

A.H.A.: —it’s never the mountain talking or the sky talking, it is always a being, a human being. That sounds, in that sense it was always the part of that particular being who was saying, “It’s a selfless Being.” In that sense it is connected with that person. In that sense that, that’s why I understand the Vedanta or the Hindu, why they say it is the true self. But you can experience it as a selfless Being.

TS: Yes. You know, interestingly, Hamid, in this eight-week course on Presence—and I do want to let our listeners know that the course begins on April 1, and as part of the course, there will be three question-and-answer sessions with Hamid where you can ask your questions about the course content and also a question-and-answer session with Karen Johnson—in the eight weeks of teachings, quite a bit of attention is given to this “knowing of ourselves,” as you refer to it, as individual consciousness, or as a soul. Help me understand why, within The Diamond Approach, this appreciation is so critical to a course on Presence.

A.H.A.: This is important partly because many teachings don’t talk about it. And I think when they’re not talking about it, they are not being as useful as they can be for the people, the listeners. Because the listeners experience themselves as individuals. And the individuals, most like they would say, you’re an extremely sad individual. But that’s a delusion that isn’t true. The ego individual is deluded. However the ego individual doesn’t come out of nowhere, comes out of something individual, but is not the individual. Individualness and self-consciousness can individualize itself, and visualize itself as Being, as a bBeing that knows, that’s conscious.

And what the Advaita Vedanta likes to say, that this Beingness that we are deluded about, is always using a being to know itself. So that being is not delusion, because the Beingness that Brahman needs, Satchitananda needs, or what the Buddhists call the Dharmakaya needs, is a being, always. Always a human being. That individual is not a delusion, because it is itself the consciousness, the boundless consciousness individualizing itself as an individual being that is living on earth or somewhere else, and waking up to know itself as a conscious being. That’s it.

Adi Shankara himself, who could be considered the founder of the Advaita Vedanta, says that in his writing that the soul is nothing but the boundless consciousness individualizing itself as an individual consciousness. And it is individual consciousness that learns, that wakes up to true nature. True nature doesn’t wake up to itself. It wakes up to itself through an individual. That’s what I call the first-personal givenness to any experience, including the experience of enlightenment.

It’s always a person, somebody who’s heard of, who is enlightened. You cannot say Buddha nature is enlightened. It’s already enlightened, but has to come through an individual. That individual can not be a delusion. Can not be a makeup. Why does true nature, which is fundamental, ultimate tools need a delusion or a lie to know itself? And that’s why I disagree with the new Vedantas, who say it’s an illusion or a make-believe. You know, it’s real. The individual is real.

It’s a very important, this teaching, part of the mission of this teaching is to show this age that you as a human being, there is something real about you, because your true nature as an individual is a consciousness, a soul that learns and knows, and can know itself as Presence. As a living Presence that can think, feel and know. But fundamentally, it is a Presence. And this Presence that they can know, the transcendent Presence. So that transcendent Presence is the inner nature of this individual consciousness. So the individual consciousness, the soul, is the expression of the boundlessness of the infinity, the transcendence, and life, and manifestation. It’s like a protrusion of the purity of consciousness into manifestation. That is not just pure consciousness, it’s an expression of consciousness.

TS: In appreciating oneself as a real soul, as a real human being soul, how do I not get confused with ego identifications in the process? So I think that’s where I feel like, “I don’t want to, God, I don’t want to identify with my ego here.” That just sounds dangerous.

A.H.A.: That’s the problem. That’s why the Vedanta, the new Vedantas, don’t get this, because they think that if you are individual, you’re going to be ego. And there is that danger if you take your ego as your soul, because the ego is nothing but the soul that has identified itself. Through the structuring of time. By taking roles and self-images and impressions of the past. That way, structuring the soul with those images to know yourself.

But to know the soul, you have to let go of all these things, and know how you can be an individual consciousness without the history. So, the litmus test is that the soul is independent of its history, independent of its images, independent of its relationship, independent of its mother and father, to know itself as an individual consciousness.

TS: One of the things that you teach in the course on Presence, when you’re talking about the soul, this is a statement from the course. “The soul is an organism that grows and evolves.” I thought that was really interesting. Can you help me understand that, Hamid?

A.H.A.: Kind of pure consciousness, pure Presence is just Beingness that is. It’s perfect in what it is. But as it manifests, individualizes itself as a being, that being is an organism of consciousness. Consciousness manifests an organism of consciousness, or puts itself into the organism of consciousness, made out of consciousness. But at the beginning, it is sort of, not that developed, not that refined. It’s more sort of an animal level, knows itself as body or through the body, but doesn’t know itself in itself as conscious.

As it learns and develops and grows, and because it needs to develop and grow, it first has to survive through a body. It needs a body, as you know. Buddhism says you have to be human to be enlightened, so it says. Why? Because you have to have a body. You have to have sense organs. You have to develop the capacity of knowing discrimination. You have to develop a mind, and a knowing, to become enlightened, because you need knowing to know you’re enlightened.

And that’s why there’s this organism, meaning it’s just something that grows. Like the body is an organism. Like the soul’s an organism that is not physical. It’s made out of pure consciousness, pure Presence, but it is a Presence that grows and develops different from the fundamental Presence. Fundamental Presence doesn’t grow, it is what it is. But it comes through an organism that developed and its development, and when it is mature and developed, it knows itself as this Presence that doesn’t change.

But in its individual form, it’s never ending in its development, because this fundamental Presence has a great deal of potential. It allows possibilities of experience. Now you might know, it’s not just the vastness. No, it’s a lot more to it than that. That’s not all that potential will need this organism to grow and develop for it to know the secrets of Being, the secrets of Presence.

TS: Hamid, you’d been talking a lot about knowing. You’ve been using that work. And I think in some spiritual traditions there’s a huge emphasis that’s placed on just letting go into not knowing. Just rest in this ground of Being, but you don’t really know. You just go, “I don’t know, great, I let go. I release.”

A.H.A.: I agree.

TS: What do you think about that? And can we really know things? Really?

A.H.A.: So knowing, and talking about what happens through not knowing. I’m not talking about any kind of knowing. The idea of knowing is a barrier to the knowing I’m talking about. I’m talking about spiritual knowing. But, the knowing, though, that’s called gnosis, that Dzogchen called rigpa, that Vedanta call chit, which is consciousness. The knowing of immediacy and that you need to first not know, you have to let go of the ordinary, the skills of knowing. Let it go and not know. And that is similar to letting go before you get into the abyss of not knowing.

The transition to true knowing is the same thing as transition to Presence. Because Presence has its own knowing, different from the knowing of a regular mind. It’s a knowing through being. That is the knowing we talk about. And you need to let yourself not know. You have to go through the door, the jump gate of not knowing, to know the knowing that I’m talking about. The knowing I’m talking about, it’s not meant to knowing. It is knowing by being. In a sense that being, the texture of being, the affect of being, the existence is the same thing as the knowing.

The knowing and the being are the same thing. The knowing and the affect of being, existing is the same thing, and not separate. It’s not mental. So, in the dimension of Presence, knowing is one of the facets of Presence. But Presence can go beyond even its own knowing, to become non-conceptual Presence. Non-conceptual means you are Presence without knowing you are Presence. But you are being the Presence in its luminosity. But that’s not what most people who talk about teaching Presence talk about. I’m going something far away now. But let’s get back to that Presence that knows itself. That is the knowing I am talking about. This is not the usual knowing. That is the knowing that comes from the heart, that comes from Being. From almost physical knowing.

TS: What do you think might be the, there’s clearly a limitation, but maybe even a danger in someone associating Presence with one particular end state, instead of in all of the different ways you’ve described in this conversation?

A.H.A.: That’s what many of the teachers and teachings fall into. That kind of limitation. And that is what I did in my last two books, Runaway Realization and The Alchemy of Freedom, is to show that there are many ways of realization. Many ways of enlightenment. Each one of them is an expression of Presence. See, Presence is the elixir that allows all these to happen.

So, experiencing Presence as just consciousness, experiencing Presence as just pure empty awareness, experiencing as just pure love, everything is love, is true, is good, is liberating. And it’s enough, really, for a human being. But it’s also a limitation. If you really are an explorer of reality, or do you want to be a complete human being? You need to let go of those limitations and always not know.

Whatever we know, the knowing shows us there is more, bigger mystery, that we can find out more. There’s no end to the knowing of being. The knowing of the possibilities of Presence. It’s endless. It’s an endless giver, and gives life, fullness, heart, love, freedom, awareness, consciousness, power. And, and many ways of perceiving and knowing that are not available to the ordinary mind. Even experience changes and takes on new meaning.

TS: Finally, Hamid, I just want to end with this one last question. You just mentioned, becoming a complete human being, and your final talk in this eight-week course on Presence is titled Becoming A True Human Being, and that there seems to be this connection between being a true human being and complete human being. Tell me what you mean by this.

A.H.A.: A complete human being, by what I mean, it’s a concept that is used by Western spiritual tradition, like the Kabbalah, the Sufi. They talk about a complete human being so we call them insan al-kamil. A complete human or the perfect being. Basically what that means, is that you are both the vastness, the transcendence, and the personal individual human being. And by being both at the same time, and they’re both real, like one of the greatest Sufi teachers, Ibn al-‘Arabi said, “God needs a soul, as much as a soul needs God. The soul needs God to exist and God needs the soul to know His creation.”

So the complete human being, is the one who has both sides, who lives in a sense of both worlds, the ordinary world and the transcended world, and is open the other ways of transcendence. In other words, of living in this world. So the complete human being, complete in the sense of has both sides, but also has an openness that is open-ended. That’s never-ending, learning. Open to learning and all it’s possibilities. So is enlightened. Complete in terms of enlightenment, but not complete in terms of what is possible. What is possible is infinite. That’s why we call it a complete human being, you see, because the human being is infinite in one’s potentialities.

TS: Hamid, I have to say, I think you’re doing a very good job doing your job. Introducing people, introducing people.

A.H.A.: Thank you, Tami. I want to bring freedom and richness to as many people as possible.

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