'I have only one object in writing books:
to demonstrate that there could not be anyone to do it.'
(© HKU Press, 1966)
A reader who firmly believes that he can reach any satisfactory understanding of himself and his relation to the universe which apparently surrounds him - via a self which he is conditioned to regard as an autonomous individual, is wasting his time in reading this book. He would need to be prepared to lay aside such a point of view and find that as such he has nothing but an apparent sentient existence which has no ultimate significance whatever, on account of the evident fact that he himself as a 'fact' and a 'self' does not exist at all.
Among the uncountable, because historically unknown, human beings who have come to understand what they are - that inconceivable immensity in comparison with their own insignificant 'appearance' (as phenomenon) - there are a few thousand on record, among whom a few hundred have left us some account of their awakened comprehension.
That immense and total understanding of what we sentient beings, each and all, human, animal, vegetable, are is the exclusive subject of this book; and it is based on what those who have come to understand what in fact they are, have told us about what they found and how they found it - which is also how we too may find it. That is done by understanding that what we appear to be is a fleeting shadow, a distorted and fragmentary reflection of what we are when we no longer assume that we are that phenomenal appearance.
Why is it a joke? It is a joke because all the time we are nothing but the substance and have never for a moment been the fleeting and tormented shadow. It is comical because whereas it is essentially simple and obvious, an immense series of structures, religious and philosophical, has been built in order to explain it. In these psychic constructions men and women quite often spend their adult lives elaborating devotional and sentimental, as well as intellectual, personalities which hinder rather than help this ultimate understanding, which in itself is neither of a devotional, a sentimental, nor an intellectual character, but is very precisely the transcending of each, and the rejection of all three.
Intellectually some degree of this understanding is neither uncommon nor difficult to acquire, relatively speaking at least, but only a minute fraction of those who have this intellectual understanding ever reach the totality of the understanding itself, which ultimately is what they are. The reason for this is that they cannot accept the absolute annihilation of what they have been conditioned to believe is their identity, and that such is only phenomenon entirely devoid of substance of its own, as of any autonomy, an appearance dreamed as a dreamed-figure is dreamed, a shadow, a reflection, and no entity at all. They will often work hard, following techniques and methods, religious and laic, they will even devote their whole lives to it, or what remains of their lives. But all is to no purpose as long as they cling to the illusion that they themselves are entities working to some end. They succeed in comprehending the emptiness, the voidness of objective things, in fulfilling all the conditions laid down by the schools and the teachers, but as long as they 'themselves' are doing it, or even deliberately not-doing it, no matter what they may be doing, and no matter how apparently unselfish and 'holy' it may be, never can they achieve anything unless or until they have understood that it is because they 'themselves' are void, empty, and only apparently existent that their objects are such also.
All the anguish and despair they may experience is inevitable, but it is beside the point, because nothing whatever can be achieved by 'themselves' volitionally no matter what they may try to do or refrain from doing. Nearly always, save in the rare case, the so very rare case that need not be rare at all, they are working on objects, on phenomena, on other shadows in mind, instead of comprehending their own total inexistence as autonomous entities, which comprehension, by abruptly snapping the phenomenally interminable chain of conceptualisation, would reveal the noumenality whose immensity is all that we are.
Words themselves cannot bring this about, for words cannot define it, words as such are entirely a product of phenomenality and are limited by the boundaries of the phenomenal; words can only lead towards it, clear away superficial misunderstanding, and point in the right direction - which is away from everything that they themselves represent. But that initial clearance, that general understanding, that final indicating, are absolutely necessary, and are all that we in the West, who have no qualified Masters, can offer to one another in order that our eyes may be opened to the illusion represented by everything we are conditioned to imagine as 'ourselves'.
But words, however carefully chosen, rejected, screened, cannot, owing to their nature, fulfil their limited role as long as their reader takes them to 'himself', seeks to use them for 'himself', and sees the illusory character of everything in the Universe except that of the reader. Words are wasted if his total unsubstantiality, his own utter absence as what he is conditioned to think he is, as what he appears in his own eyes to be, as what other dreamed-figures consider him to be, is not the basis of every single insight that words may have enabled him to apprehend. That, believe me, is the sine qua non: without that analytical understanding, that profound and absolute conviction, that luminously clear and utterly evident apperception - words can never render up the subtle meaning that they may hold in suspense, though they may, nevertheless, help 'him' to reach this profound inseeing of his own total absence as any 'thing' but an appearance.
In a sense, too, he must do this in spite of words, for words can rarely point at noumenality without at the same time carrying a superficial and useless meaning when interpreted in a phenomenal context.
All that such a book as this could ever do is to provide psychological, and so conceptual, material, not widely accessible in modern idiom, whereby such a reader can come to a clear understanding of the teaching of the great awakened Masters, whose own words in a vanished context and idiom are often obscure as a result of the accidents of transmission and the lack of metaphysical understanding on the part of earnest and erudite translators.
This book is dedicated to every reader, that he may use it as best he may, which is by never forgetting that every reference to 'himself', every such noun and pronoun, inevitable if words are to convey meaning, does not in fact refer to a suppositional autonomous individual, unless specifically so stated, but to a phenomenon regarded as such, whose objective appearance can be named and described, but whose noumenality is all that he is.
P.S. Once more: any reader concerned with 'self-cultivation', with self-naughting, with 'improving himself', with working on or via what he believes to be some kind of entity which subjectively or objectively he is, will be wasting 'his' time in reading this book, as he will have wasted 'my' time in writing it. Unless, of course, in reading it he should come to apprehend that what is reading is not in fact an entity at all, but that reader, reading, and what is read are THIS, HERE, and NOW, which, neither entity nor non-entity, is the sought which is seeking, the seeker which is the sought.