You Are Not What You Look Like


Harding invites us to investigate who we really are, beyond appearances. He argues we are not the body we see in the mirror; rather, the mystics say we are the unseen awareness peering out. So look within and discover you are not merely a mortal form, but the deathless source beholding this mirage called “life.”


Why should we? Why should we look into what it’s like being ourself? First person singular present tense. What we’re looking out of, where we’re coming from? I can think of a whole bunch of reasons. Let me share one or two with you; my own reasons for—you know—for making sure I don’t live and die without having a look at who’s doing that. What are the reasons?


Well, I think that a big one—which must appeal to your hearts and minds—is just sheer gratitude at having occurred. You know, it’s the very last thing, isn’t it: we feel so grateful for at having happened. You know, you needn’t to have happened! You needn’t’ve happened. But you did happen. You could even say you happened yourself. You’ve occurred. And I have to say, it’s pretty chicken-hearted—isn’t it?—pretty unenterprising, dare I say pretty un-Australian, to live and die with taking everybody’s word for what has happened where you are except the inhabitant of this place. Nobody is in a position to tell you what you are, who you are, but you. And tonight we’re going to exercise this supreme authority, and I would suggest that when we do so we’ll have a taste—just a taste—of the blessings that arise from who we really, really, really, really are. So, the first motive—I think—for looking at this is curiosity. I’ll be damned if I live and die without ever looking to see who is doing that. It’s not worthy of you—is it—it’s not worthy of you to do that. What a challenge, what an opportunity!


Well: first motive. The second motive… well, as Chris said, I used to—with a minimum of qualifications; all my qualifications being architectural—with a minimum of qualifications, by some fluke, I managed to teach comparative religion for old Cambridge University. I shall never really understand how I pulled that one, but certainly my heart was in the subject. And as I read the great religions, I find at the heart of the heart of the heart of every one of them the mystical heart, the real—what shall I say?—the hidden message often denied, driven underground. You know, people get barbecued for having announced it—but it’s still there in the great religions; great five religions. And what is the proposition of all these great religions? It’s hair-raising! Shocking! Our hairs should stand on end when we read this.


What is the message of all the great religions? Nearer, nearer to you than your hands, nearer than your feet, nearer than your breathing is the origin of the world. Who you really, really, really are is not a product of the world, it is the origin of the world. The Upaniṣads say it, the Buddhists say it, the Taoists say it. Even, even Judaism says it. There’s a rabbi—Spanish medieval rabbi—who says “God is the soul of my soul.” The soul of my soul. Even Judaism says it. All the really great Christian mystics say this. Islam says it: “Allah is nearer to a man than his own neck vein.” You know, don’t let our lives go by without checking this out! If it’s rubbish, let’s just junk it. If it’s true, let’s take it seriously and do something about it. Who you really, really, really are, they say, is not a product of the world, it’s the origin of the world. I think we have to be humble enough, enterprising enough, truthful enough to check up on this. It takes a lot of humility to be as great as you are, paradoxically.


Can we bear this greatness? Well, I think we’re better if we have any self-interest. They say that nearer to you and all else is the eternal awakeness, awareness, reality from which all flows. Well, it becomes a matter of urgency at my time in life to get this matter cleared up, doesn’t it? I mean, I look at my mirror: I’ve been looking at this guy in the mirror for 82 years! And every time I look at him he’s nearer to death. He’s a terminal case. He’s been a terminal case for 82 years. And if I’m him, if I’m that one—gosh, you know, I’ve had it, haven’t I? I’ve had it.


But, you see, this as-if world—what does that say? It says that’s you in the mirror. Now, when we were very little—every mum here knows, every dad knows—that when we were very little we looked in the mirror and that was our friend. It was our friend in the mirror. It wasn’t our self, it was our friend. When we were very little we were sane. We were sane, and we told the truth. And there’s our little friend in the mirror. And then we grew up, and they kept telling me “that’s Douglas. That’s Douglas. That’s you.” That’s you. I bought into that one, you know? And I might have been warned.


See, what really happened was: it was safely—that little guy in the mirror; little Douglas in the mirror—was safely behind glass like a specimen in a path lab. You know, when you have a dangerous specimen in a path lab you keep it in a glass container. Well, little Douglas there was in a glass container. See, he escaped. He escaped—under pressure from the as-if world—he escaped from here, behind glass, and he crept up my arm, and he invaded this place here. In imagination—not really, of course. Because, on the way up he had to turn around. He’s the wrong way around: he was looking this way, I was looking that way. He crept up my arm. He was safe there. Here, he was a parasite. A parasite! And parasites drain your energy, they debilitate and they kill you. And it seems to me that the great delusion, the great nonsense of the as-if world—the conventional world—is that I am here what I look like there. How could I be? How could I be here what I look like at six feet? how could I be at naught inches what I look like at a hundred inches?


Now, you’ve got what Douglas looks like, and you’re welcome to it. You’re welcome to what Douglas looks like. I mean, he’s your—well, I dunno—your burden with that guy at the moment. And you got what I look like, and I swear to you across my heart that in every respect I am the opposite here of what I look like to you. And what is the great human conventional nonsense and ridiculousness? It is to say am here what I look like over there. And that’s suicide! It’s nothing less than suicide. Because this one is a death bed. Nearer to death every time I look. If I’m that, I’ve had it. That is mortal, if anything is mortal. And when I take him and put him here, turning the thing around and mucking about with it, creeping up my arm, and putting it here, I’ve committed suicide. It’ ain’t true! So you’re here.


So I suggest all of us go back from this meeting and look in a mirror to see what we’re not like. Thank God! Look in a mirror: thank God I’m not like that here! It’s a killer to be like that, isn’t it? A killer. And everybody knows—I mean, our minds and hearts respond to this message that you’re not what you look like. You are not what you look like. What you look like is very marvelous and I’m enjoying it tremendously, but, you see, it’s on the way out. It’s a temporary thing.


The question is, what are you looking out of? What are you at zero inches from yourself? And the great religions say that nearer to you than all else is the origin of the world. You know, there’s a very, very beautiful passage in the Quran. Beautiful, beautiful passage. Not too well-known, I think. It says, “Man is like a mirage in the desert. You go up to him, and where you thought there was a man you lose him and you find God.” Man is as a mirage in the desert. When you go up to him you lose him, and where you thought there was a man, there you find God.

Douglas Harding

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