I began teaching in 1986 and in the over
ten years that have passed since that time, I have learned something very important. Spiritual experiences, as profound as
they may appear to be, usually do not in and of themselves lastingly enlighten. Nor do they, it seems in most cases,
deeply transform the individual’s relationship to the three most confusing aspects of the human experience: the movement
of time, the presence of thought and the arising of feeling. Indeed, the movement of time, the presence of thought and the
arising of feeling, for all but a very few, seem to instantly obscure the awareness of an absolute depth without which the
direct perception of the true and right relationship of all things is impossible.
It has become very clear to me that it is the one-pointed contemplation of
our actual relationship to these most fundamental aspects of our experience, rather than brief interludes of nondual perception,
that in the long run creates the powerful foundation upon which discriminating wisdom—the wisdom that liberates—can
This talk was given without premeditation in Amsterdam, Holland on July 10, 1996
and was edited for clarity the following December.
Could I speak with John Wren-Lewis?” asked the unfamiliar American voice on the other end of the
line one day in 1990, adding, “This is Andrew Cohen calling from California.” I was taken aback. Yes, I knew the
name, having written to him from my Sydney home some weeks earlier, on the recommendation of a British academic who’d
compiled a directory of modern western spiritual teachers. But I knew nothing about Andrew beyond my friend’s assurance
that he was one of the few who might be approachable person-to-person, rather than as an exalted Master open only to guru-disciple
relationships. The very most I’d expected in reply was a letter, but here on the line from America was the man himself,
explaining that he’d been away in India until now—and he proceeded to ask all kinds of searching questions about
my letter. I was impressed that here indeed was a spiritual teacher with a difference.
Our friendship has grown steadily ever since, and writing this foreword in a way brings it full circle.
For my need in approaching Andrew back then arose from having been catapulted willy-nilly, just a few years before, into precisely
the “absolute relationship to life” which is the subject of this book. I hadn’t been following any spiritual
path or seeking any kind of enlightenment, for as a scientist I’d regarded the whole idea of mystical consciousness
as meaningless mystification. But in 1983 I was accidentally brought to the point of death by poisoning, and came back
from the brink—a total stop in time, thought and feeling - with an entirely new sense of identity.
Formerly I’d seen myself and everyone else as separate persons, each of us using thought to preserve and
improve life along the line of time, continually evaluating the Outcome by our good or bad feelings. Now, by total contrast,
I was experiencing myself as Undivided Life moving into time, with thoughts and feelings simply transient eddies in a wonderful
impersonal life-flow. In fact I’d had thrust upon me the very changes which Andrew spells out in this book as necessary
elements of true freedom. I found exactly what he emphasizes here — that the changed identity was in no way a move “out
of this world.” On the contrary, it gave me a freedom for living in this world which I’d never before imagined
possible. But I also found that adjusting to such freedom continually raises problems which only folk with firsthand knowledge
of absolute relationship to life could begin to appreciate.
So I can now confirm from my own direct experience the accuracy and importance of the spiritual life-mode which
Andrew delineates in the pages that follow. He highlights the radical moment-by-moment, day-by-day revolution against common
human attitudes to time, thought and feeling which the members of any serious spiritual community must discover and maintain
in their relationships to each other and the world. In fact he translates into everyday practicalities what T.S. Eliot, at
the climax of his great spiritual poem Little Gidding, called
A condition of complete simplicity
Costing not less than everything.
And a revolutionary message is here given a revolutionary medium by the Moksha Press. In presenting this
and other special talks by Andrew as pocket-sized books that can be read within the hour, they have revived a format which
the vicissitudes of publishing economics have made very rare in recent decades, yet in the past has played a vital part in
revolutions, social and spiritual alike. I am delighted to be contributing a foreword to a Tract for the Times.
School of Studies in Religion
University of Sydney
Very few people think deeply about life. And of those who do, even fewer think deeply about what it means to
be a human being in relationship to that which is beyond measure, that which is Absolute.
What does it mean to have a relationship to life that is absolute? Through asking ourselves this simple question
everything can be revealed.
Over the years that I have been teaching, it has become apparent to me that most people do not have an
Absolute Relationship to Life. In fact, it seems for most of us even the notion of a relationship to life that is absolute
appears overwhelming in its implications. But for those of us who are sincerely interested in liberating ourselves from fear,
ignorance and self-deception, contemplation of the profound implications of a relationship to life, to all human experience,
that is absolute is imperative. Because without a clear understanding of what an Absolute Relationship to Life actually is,
the possibility of any genuine victory over fear, ignorance and self-deception will remain only an idea in the mind.
In order to understand what an Absolute Relationship to Life is, I’m going to speak about some of the
fundamental components of the enlightened perspective. I’m going to speak about a way of relating to our own experience
from the enlightened perspective rather than a perspective that is based upon ignorance and unenlightenment.
The question that I want to go into is: What does it mean to have
an Absolute Relationship to Life? What does it mean to have an absolute relationship to the human experience?
An Absolute Relationship to Time
There are three fundamental components of the enlightened perspective that are essential to look into in order
to be able to find out what an Absolute Relationship to Life actually is. The first is our relationship to time and the movement
An absolute relationship to time and the movement of time from the enlightened perspective means that we have
Because our relationship to time and the movement of time is not absolute, without being aware of it, most of
us spend almost our entire lives trapped in a process of endlessly waiting. An absolute relationship to time means that we
have stopped waiting in a way that is absolute in relationship to the entire experience of being alive.
Now if we can recognize that we spend almost our entire lives trapped in the process of waiting, it becomes
obvious that if it was possible to stop waiting in a way that was absolute—absolute means complete, without conditions—then
everything would change. You see, if we are always waiting in our fundamental relationship to life, then our relationship
to time and the movement of time will have to be one of limitation. When we are trapped by the process of waiting in our fundamental
relationship to being alive, we will be living in a constant state of anticipation of what is yet to come.
Why do we do this? Because we hope that in the future the experience of being alive will get better. It’s
that simple. We live in the constant hope that things will improve in the future. Now obviously if we are constantly trapped
in this process of waiting for things to change, to get better, it will be impossible for us to experience what it means to
be fully alive NOW.
When our relationship to time and the movement of time is not absolute, no matter what occurs and no matter
what we experience, positive or negative, pleasant or unpleasant, we will continue to wait. When we are lucky enough to experience
true happiness, even then we will continue to wait. Why? Because without realizing it, we are already anticipating its demise.
In the very same way, when we experience intense fear or troubling doubt, we will not be able to be fully present, fully alive,
because we will still be trapped in the process of waiting—waiting for that experience to go away.
If we look very closely, we can see that this matter of constantly waiting in relationship to time and the movement
of time is, on an emotional and psychological level, simply a withholding of ourselves. A fundamental holding back in relationship
to the experience of life. We are waiting to let go, we are waiting for things to change, we are waiting to be able to
fully give ourselves, but in the meantime we are still waiting. This is why we find that so few of us seem to be fully
alive. This is why so few of us seem to be truly present.
If we are constantly waiting in relationship to time and the movement of time, we will be living in a state
of almost unending distraction—unending distraction because we are living in constant anticipation of what is to
come. This is a state of bondage.
When we experience spiritual insight, we recognize that the reason that we suffer, that our fundamental experience
of life is one of limitation, is not because there is something wonderful that we have not yet experienced. It is only because
without realizing it we have chosen to wait. When we deeply realize this for ourselves, we simply cease to wait. In that alone
An absolute relationship to time is one in which we have stopped waiting in a way that is absolute. That means
we have stopped waiting for anything fundamental to occur in order to be.
An Absolute relationship to thought
What is a relationship to thought and the movement of thought that is absolute? The second component of the
enlightened perspective is our relationship to thought. Many great spiritual teachers of the past and present have said that
our fundamental predicament can be found by scrutinizing our relationship to thought. We ‘hear this over and over again.
So from the perspective of an Absolute Relationship to Life, what is an absolute relationship to thought and the movement
Any human being who has done even a little bit of introspection will have recognized for themselves that they
spend the majority of their time lost in and busy with thought and the movement of thought. We might even say compulsively
busy with thought and the movement of thought. Indeed, there seem to be very few moments in life when we find ourselves pleasantly
free from and undistracted by the movement of thought. And those moments when we recognize ourselves to be undistracted by
thought are almost always times of intense happiness, profound joy, and most important of all, deep peace. In fact, it seems
that it is not possible for us to experience deep peace when we are busy with thought and the movement of thought.
A relationship to thought that is absolute is a relationship to thought that is free, that is liberated.
A relationship to thought that is absolute is one in which the individual has no doubt whatsoever that thought is only
thought. It’s very simple.
Understand that everything that I’m speaking about here is deceptively simple. Please don’t
be fooled by that. It’s one thing to declare that an absolute relationship to thought is one in which thought is recognized
to be only thought. Theoretically this is very simple, but the practical implications of recognizing that thought
is only thought and nothing but thought are enormous. The fact is, in the privacy of our own inner world, most
of us have a very hard time believing that thought is only thought.
What does it actually mean when 1 say that thought is only thought? It means that thought is not self. This
is the most fundamental spiritual insight— that thought is not self, that thought is only thought. You see, without
recognizing this, we blindly presume that thought and the movement of thought is actually the self, the personal
For example, while walking down the street we may unexpectedly find ourselves thinking a virtuous thought, and
as a result believe ourselves to be a “good” person. A few minutes later, we may find to our dismay, nasty, mean
and malicious thoughts moving inside our head, and as a result then believe ourselves to be a “bad” person. This
kind of confusion occurs all the time, for without realizing it, over and over and over again we believe that what we think
is who we are.
An absolute relationship to thought means that the individual has discovered that thought in and of itself is
only thought and has no self nature. What does that mean? It means that the mere presence of thought has no significance
whatsoever except that which we choose to give it.
So once again, an absolute relationship to thought is one in which the individual has recognized for themselves
beyond any doubt that thought in and of itself has no significance whatsoever, except that which we choose to give it. THIS
IS VERY IMPORTANT. Because most people do not have an absolute relationship to thought and the movement of thought, they live
almost their entire lives distracted by the movement of what are only shadows, believing them to be real entities that have
tremendous power and great significance. It is because of this that they rarely experience intense happiness, profound joy
or deep peace.
An Absolute Relationship to Feelings
The third component of the enlightened perspective is our relationship to the experience of feeling. Looking
into the question of what an Absolute Relationship to Life is, we have to ask: What is an absolute relationship to the experience
When speaking about the experience of feeling, I’m referring to our relationship to happiness and pleasure
on one hand, and our relationship to fear and insecurity on the other. What is an absolute relationship to the experience
of happiness, to pleasurable feelings? And what is an absolute relationship to feelings that are challenging and difficult,
to fear and insecurity?
If we look closely at the human experience we will find that fundamentally we live to experience as much pleasure
as we can, while simultaneously we try to avoid experiencing as much fear and insecurity as possible. This is understandable.
Who wouldn’t want to feel good and who would want to feel bad?
With close scrutiny, we find that the perspective that we have upon our own experience, and therefore upon the
whole experience of being alive, seems to be dominated in a fundamental way by the movement of feeling. When we feel
happy, the experience of life appears to be a good thing. So much seems to be possible when we are happy. If we are really
happy, we may even believe that it’s possible to be free in this life. In the presence of profound happiness, it seems that anything is possible. But when that feeling is absent, or even worse
when we feel terrible, when we find ourselves in the midst of tremendous fear and insecurity, we won’t even want
to hear about the possibility of liberation.
A relationship to the movement of feeling that is not absolute is one where our relationship to our experience
is constantly changing because of the way we feel. Indeed, it is illuminating to discover the degree to which our perspective
shifts and moves in relationship to how we feel in any particular moment.
For example, when we experience joy, there is much more room within us for others, but when we experience unpleasant
feelings, we find it very difficult to feel concern for anyone other than our own self. Over the years that I have been
teaching, I have noticed that often when people would begin to experience joy or bliss their perspective would automatically
become very vast. As a result they would declare, “Oh my goodness, I’m not the only one who exists!” And
then I would notice that the instant that same individual would experience fear or confusion, their newly expanded perspective
usually would disappear. Suddenly all they seemed to be aware of was the fact that they didn’t feel good and appeared
to be at a loss to see beyond it.
It is precisely this loss of perspective that causes so many of us to be untrustworthy. Unwittingly, we constantly
allow ourselves to be dominated by how we feel. We allow our perspective, and therefore our relationship to the entire experience
of being alive, to be ruled by our emotional experience. It is fascinating to see how the expression of the personality endlessly
shifts and changes in subtle ways simply because of the presence of different emotions.
An absolute relationship to the experience of feeling is one in which the personality expresses ONE relationship
to life—one perspective, one self. And the expression of that one self is no longer dependent upon the presence of any
particular feeling. Indeed, an absolute relationship to the experience of feeling is liberation from emotional slavery, liberation
from the almost unending tyranny that most of us, without being fully aware of it, are imprisoned by.
An absolute relationship to the experience of feeling becomes possible when the individual discovers for themselves
that the presence of any particular feeling does not necessarily have to mean anything at about the experiencer. That would
mean that our perspective upon our experience was no longer dominated by the movement of particular feelings. Therefore,
whether we were experiencing great happiness and joy, or fear and confusion, a fundamental perspective in relationship
to all of our experience would be unshakable.
An Absolute Relationship to Life
It’s very important to ask the question “What is an Absolute Relationship to Life?” in the
biggest possible way. In our search for freedom, too easily we can become preoccupied with only our relationship to time,
or only our relationship to thought, or only our relationship to feeling. In so doing we miss the biggest possible perspective.
The biggest possible perspective has to include all three.
Once again, in our relationship to the experience of time, we have to ask ourselves: Am I waiting? Am I always
waiting? Is the very fact that I’m waiting making it impossible for me to experience what it means to be fully
alive? If the answer is yes, then would we stop waiting? Would we have the courage to take the overwhelming risk of ceasing
to wait? If we would, we would discover a degree of vulnerability that is excruciating even to consider, let alone directly
experience for ourselves. When we truly cease to wait, we will have no future left—which means this is it. There’s
no longer any time to prepare, no second chance. That’s what it means. When we stop waiting we no longer hold back—we
give everything. When we give everything, we’ll have nothing left. And that’s the whole point—if
we want to be free.
In our relationship to thought, if it’s true that thought is only thought, that thought is not self, then
we have to have the courage to take it seriously. Suddenly the question of who we actually are begs to be answered.
Who am I, who believed himself or herself to be this thought or that thought? Who am I, who has now realized that I am not
anything that I think, that I never have been and never could be? Who am I?
Following this inquiry to the end forces an ungraspable mystery to reveal itself, and one has to be ready
to come to terms with it if one is sincere. You see when we truly, not just merely intellectually but directly and experientially,
recognize that we are not thought and the movement of thought, then we discover space, infinite space. And in the end,
it is the direct experiential discovery of that infinite space that reveals our potential to be free from thought and
the movement of thought. It is this discovery that has the power to release us from the compulsive and hypnotic belief
that thought is self.
In our relationship to feeling, most of us are enslaved to a degree that is terrifying to consider. We are so
easily confused by the presence of fear. And in the confusion that the presence of fear generates, we lose our equilibrium,
suddenly finding it difficult to remember what’s true or what’s false. Too often, without being aware of it, we
are willing to sell our souls in order to experience only a few moments of relief. We are so ready to compromise simply to
escape. This is the misery of our condition. This is the tragic state that most of us find ourselves in.
What would it be like to no longer be a slave to the experience of feeling? If we were no longer a slave to
the experience of feeling, in the face of fear we would not be moved. If we were no longer a slave to the experience of feeling,
even when we experienced ecstasy we would not waver.
If we want to be free, our relationship to time, our relationship to thought and our relationship to feeling
is EVERYTHING— the difference between heaven and hell, freedom and bondage. Through looking into this question
alone—What is an Absolute Relationship to Life?—everything that we could possibly need to know to be a liberated
human being can be found.