One Step is One Too Many: Waking Up as Stripping Away

By Adam J. Pearson

When no discriminating thoughts arise,
the old mind ceases to exist.
When thought objects vanish,
the thinking-subject vanishes:
As when the mind vanishes, objects vanish.Things are objects because of the subject (mind):
the mind (subject) is such because of things (object).
Understand the relativity of these two
and the basic reality: the unity of emptiness.
In this Emptiness the two are indistinguishable
and each contains in itself the whole world.
If you do not discriminate between coarse and fine
you will not be tempted to prejudice and opinion.~ From Hsin Hsin Ming by Seng-T’san, the Third Patriarch of Zen

Beginning to wake up to the illusory mechanics of selfing, the mental process that produces a sense of being a separate entity called “me,” changes everything. It radically reshapes the whole texture of the seeming experience of living a human life. The whole quality of lived experience transforms and so does the mind’s relationship with thought.For many years, a seemingly epic struggle was going on in the mind with the question: “Should I believe in God or should I disbelieve in God?” This question seemed very heavy and serious and the answer to it seemed to have tremendous importance to and for “me.” With this question, “my” very identity was on the line! Or so it seemed…

Interestingly, the heaviness that this question once seemed to have has gradually dissolved into the lightness of curiosity, which hears this question and inquires : “What takes itself to be a believer or a disbeliever? What thinks it’s going to become a Christian or an atheist? Is that what I am, as what’s awake to the questions? Am I a believer or a disbeliever that can be defined by a belief or a disbelief, or what’s prior to the arising of either?”

These questions point back into the silence of not-knowing. Not because they express a ‘deeper knowledge,’ but because they point beyond the knowledge that gives rise to the questions. What knows is unknowable and from the unknowable, how can such questions arise? As U.G. Krishnamurti says, “the questions you ask are born out of the answers you already have.”


Identifying as a believer, as a disbeliever, as a Christian, or as an atheist, is one illusory step removed from the reality of what’s awake to this moment. And one step is one too many.

It’s the lightest bit of seeming weight added on to the weightlessness of our nature. It’s a surplus load. Waking up to being awake is a process of being gently pared down and stripped away with absolute economy, the economy of the absolute. As it proceeds, sensitivity to lingering identifications strengthens and so does deep trust in what’s aware of the identifications without ever falling “into” them. This trust allows those identities to fall away when they are not seen from, but seen through. 

Seeing through the lens of identifying as a ‘me’ is like looking through blurry glasses; the identification is the blurry lens itself. It distorts all that we seem to see as pertaining back to ‘me.’ When the identification falls away, like the falling off of blurry glasses, vision is clear. One lens is one too many for perfect vision.

“Traveling lighter,” as Paul Hedderman describes the new texture of a life lived awake to being awake, involves the gradual stripping away of every cherished identity, of every story about being a certain kind of “me.” However, truth is so gentle that it never asks us to give up anything.

Identities effortlessly fall like leaves in autumn when they are seen not to be attached to any tree. The tree that the leaves seem to grow out of is the tree of ‘me,’ the feeling of being a long-lasting separate entity that is produced by language, culture, and thinking.

It’s not that we consciously drop these identifications. The truth is even gentler than that; they drop themselves when they’re not held as “me” and “mine.” Effortlessly, they seem to slide away, like rain along a window pane or cold butter on the surface of a fresh hot pancake. Our true nature is not a tree with many leaves. It’s so empty that it has no bough on which a single leaf could ever take hold. Living from what we are is much like the classic story from Zen:

One day the Fifth Patriarch of Zen told his monks to express their wisdom in a poem. Whoever had true realization of his original nature (Buddha Nature) would be ordained the Sixth Patriarch. The head monk, Shen Hsiu, was the most learned, and wrote the following:

The body is the wisdom-tree,
The mind is a bright mirror in a stand;
Take care to wipe it all the time,
And allow no dust to cling.

The poem was praised, but The Fifth Patriarch knew that Shen Hsiu had not yet found his original nature. On the other hand, Hui-Neng couldn’t write, so a fellow monk had to write down his poem for him. It read:

Fundamentally, no wisdom-tree exists,
Nor the stand of a mirror bright.
Since all is empty from the beginning,
Where can the dust alight?

Thus it was that the illiterate Hui-Neng became the Sixth Patriarch of Zen.

The dust is like identifications; they never take root when they’re seen to be empty, to not point to a ‘me.’ The seeds don’t germinate; the leaves cling to no tree.

When identifications have nowhere to land, how can they be wiped away? Falling away isn’t the product of an act of wiping. Seeing the emptiness of the dust is more than enough. Then what is there to wipe away?


When the mind entertains the possibility that we might not be the “me” we long believed we were, life seems to take on a quality of what Paul  calls “traveling lighter.” Traveling lighter doesn’t mean we have a sense of being a traveler who’s traveling lighter. Even the identity of being a traveler on a journey is one piece of baggage too heavy for this backpack. It, too, dissolves.

It’s not that we come to know the Divine and become a knower of God. Even the identity of being a ‘knower of God’ goes. Seeming to be a separate knower is one step too far removed. The separateness it presupposes is one illusion too many. “To know God is to be God,” as Ramana Maharshi says, not as a human being knowing God, but as what’s awake to the appearance of seeming to be a human being at all, the no-thing that’s awake to a world.

St. Francis of Assisi is reported to have said that “what’s looking is what you’re looking for.” What wants to know “what’s looking” as an object of knowledge is the human mind; as what we truly are, there’s not even a knowing of God, there’s no knowledge presupposing a ‘knowing subject’ that “knows God” an object of knowledge.

Everything in excess is stripped away. “You” as a ‘knower’ and “God” as an object of knowledge both get flushed. Both leaves fall in the autumn of waking up. Knower and known blow out together, like the gentle extinguising of a fleeting candle flame.

No-thing remains, and all ideas of it being known in some way go too. What we are cannot be known; and in that unknown, both knower and known dissolve. Apparent twoness goes and Oneness goes with it. Not-two is the music of this Way and its sound is silence.

One idea about what you are is one idea too many, one piece of seeming knowledge about the unknowable is one piece in excess. All of this accrued ‘information’ about our nature gets pared down and we’re not “the one paring it down;” there’s no credit to be found in it for us, nowhere to plant a flag of “I did this.”


The words of old Masters fall like autumn leaves along with the mental fixations that clung to them as concepts. What need is there for old words when the present awakeness shines now exactly as it did then?

The old words point to what we are now. Now and only now. As pointers to truth, they keep teaching, even after the teachers have long been dead.

The spiritual path falls away with the identification as a traveler on a path, that believes it can go somewhere it isn’t now, get something it doesn’t have, or become something it isn’t already.

“The truth is a pathless land,” as Jiddu Krishnamurti says. “This is not a path to illumination,” adds Paul Hedderman, “but it illuminates every path you seem to be on.”

Being an ‘enlightened person’ is one step too many away from being the aware ‘light’ that illuminates both the light and the darkness.

“I am emptiness” is one thought too full for the emptiness from which the thought arises. Awareness does not need to say “I am awareness.” It appears as all words and all forms, effortlessly and without investment, and yet its eternal silence is ever unbroken. This silence sings as all sounds and yet no singer is found. Could it be so simple? It is. And that’s its challenge to a complex mind.

Consider movement stationary
and the stationary in motion,
both movement and rest disappear.
When such dualities cease to exist
Oneness itself cannot exist.
To this ultimate finality
no law or description applies.
~ From Hsin Hsin Ming by Seng-T’san, the Third Patriarch of Zen

Taking ourselves to be a ‘someone’ of any kind is one step too far removed from the no-place, no-thing, no-one that we are. One conjuration of a false identity out of no-thing is one too many. It doesn’t matter what the content of the identification is. As the Course says, the forms are different, but the content is the same. And the content is empty so all the forms are empty too.

Thus, it’s not that we go from seeing all as two to seeing all as One. One is One too many. Not-two, not-one is the simplicity of the Way. What could be simpler?

In this world of suchness
there is neither self nor other-than-self.
To come directly into harmony with this reality
just say when doubt rises “not two”.
In this “not two” nothing is separate,
And nothing is excluded.
~ From Hsin Hsin Ming by Seng-T’san, the Third Patriarch of Zen

Knowing that what you are cannot be known and simply being what you are instead of striving to know it is more than enough. The mental process in the head will keep suggesting that you’re various kinds of someone, but the vibrancy of being no-one shines through the suggestions and shows them to be false. Trust what always is and doubt what only sometimes seems to be. That’s the Way in a nutshell.


Nothing is what’s looking. And what’s looking is what we’re looking for. We don’t trust or believe that, so we look for something to gain, become, or achieve for the someone we think we are.

But what we truly seek–freedom, peace, and lasting joy and relief–isn’t found in something. It’s found in nothing and nowhere. Being the no-thing that we always were, the ordinary, everyday awakeness to whatever appears, is more than enough. And “nothing,” as Paul Hedderman says, “is the gift that keeps on giving.”

Living realization is very different from seeming to live as a “realized person.” The idea of being a ‘realized preson’ is a surplus add-on to realization. It’s an interpretation. It’s a story of having an identity as a special person who has realized something. But realization happens to no one! There’s no “me” hiding behind the realizing, only the realizing. No one’s found to take the credit. That’s the realization!

When teachers say that there’s “no one to realize and nothing to realize,” they’re not saying there’s no realization. There is. But “you” don’t get anything out of it, and it’s not a thing that you can get. It’s not a noun; it’s a verb.

It’s being awake to being awake, nothing less and nothing more. What’s looking is what you’re looking for. This statement isn’t pointing to the ‘someone’ we take ourselves to be or the “me” that’s trying to get, become, or acquire itself into another state. It’s pointing to what’s awake to all the states.

Our true nature is silent to all the meanings the mind gives to the images it sees and takes itself to be. Neither sound nor silence captures it. It is so unspeakably empty that it’s empty even of emptiness…

Emptiness here, emptiness there,
but the infinite universe
stands always before your eyes.
Infinitely large and infinitely small;
no difference, for definitions have vanished
and no boundaries are seen.
~ From Hsin Hsin Ming by Seng-T’san, the Third Patriarch of Zen

Our dilemma is that we want to wake up as the “me” we take ourselves to be. As Paul Hedderman says, “we want to be here to experience our own absence” and it doesn’t work like that. What wakes up isn’t “me.” “Me” is the dream we wake up from.

Adam doesn’t become awake; what’s awake is awake to seeming to be Adam. We can only be awake to awakeness or seem to be asleep to it. It’s so simple. And that’s why we tend to complicate it with imaginary requirements, conditions, and contingencies we think we need to meet before we can be awake.

But no! We don’t have to become awake; we are awake. We don’t need to become aware; we are aware. That’s all that is awakened to, all by continually seeing that we’re not the “me” that is striving to “become” awake. Becoming awake is impossible. Only being awake is possible. And we’ve truly never been otherwise. We’ve only seemed to be.


Awareness is more you than “you,” or as the Qur’an says, it’s “closer to you than your jugular vein.” It can’t be claimed. Awakeness isn’t “mine;” it’s not an object to itself. What’s awake isn’t something, what’s aware isn’t a thing. It’s no-thing and no-one aware of itself appearing as everything. If this one small thing is seen, the formerly opaque words of the Zen masters, the Dzogchen tulkus, and the Advaita gurus suddenly appear as clear as clear can be.

The old Zen masters used to bellow at their students that they should “swallow the ocean in a single gulp.” Swallowing the ocean in a single gulp doesn’t mean that a body has to magically drink a whole ocean. How could it? It would die in two seconds flat.

The ocean seems outside of your body, but is it outside of awareness? How could you ever be aware of it if it was?  Swallowing the ocean in a single gulp is simply seeing that we’ve only ever been the boundariless awareness in and as which the ocean seems to appear. T hen not even a gulp is needed. One gulp is one too many.

The gulper and the ocean both appear in the same awake space. And that awake space will never be known by the gulper! “To know it is to be it” and to be it is to see it can’t be known. Then no “knowledge of self” is more than enough.

Even to call it “awareness” or “awakeness” and evoke a concept of what that means is to give it one name too many. Even “awake space” is one name too many. In true not-knowing, how can we reach even for these? We’re utterly disarmed. We have nothing to hold on to or speak as a name for what can’t be spoken. Being no-thing doesn’t require even that.

When ideas of being a believer and a disbeliever both get flushed out, what remains?

Opening a mouth, or moving a finger on a keyboard to answer is one movement too many.

Make the smallest distinction

And heaven and Earth are infinitely set apart.

The Way is perfect like vast space

where nothing is lacking and nothing is in excess.

Indeed, it is due to our choosing to accept or reject

that we do not see the true nature of things.

Live neither in the entanglements of outer things,

nor in inner feelings of emptiness.

Be serene in the oneness of things

and such erroneous views will disappear by themselves.

 From Hsin Hsin Ming by Seng-T’san, the Third Patriarch of Zen

Part of a Series on Nonduality:
Beauty, Wonder, and the Invitation Home

Everything You Experience “Now” is Remembered: Neuroscience and Nonduality


3 Comments Add yours

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s