Skip to Main Content

The Dharma of Direct Experience

Non-Dual Principles of Living

Published by Inner Traditions
Distributed by Simon & Schuster

About The Book

A deep exploration of the direct experience of non-dual reality and its lessons for spiritual growth and development

• Examines the direct perception of non-dual reality and shows its implications for navigating ordinary reality in an open, compassionate, and ever-maturing way

• Shares the author’s most significant awakening experiences and explores their psycho-emotional and psychospiritual foundations

• Offers practical teachings for spiritual understanding, emotional development, and the cultivation of compassion

Exploring the direct perception of non-dual, “non-ordinary” reality, Paul Weiss shares guidance for navigating ordinary reality in an open, compassionate, and ever-maturing way. He affirms our shared human potential for the “direct experience” of reality--unmediated by our more relativistic mental faculties--and reveals this experience as an essential dimension of our conscious capacity for growth. He shares his most significant awakening experiences and the circumstances leading up to them, exploring the personal and transpersonal dimensions of the experiences and their psycho-emotional and psycho- spiritual foundations. He points to such experiences as part of our ongoing integration as human beings and the essential path of practice that supports our availability to them.

Interweaving perspectives from psychology and neuroscience with important lessons from spiritual traditions around the world, Weiss explores how to live a life of integrity, reciprocity, and openness to reality, offering practical teachings for spiritual understanding, emotional development, and the cultivation of compassion, viewed by ancient Buddhist sages as the true meaning of existence. He addresses such human qualities as vulnerability, empathy, reciprocity, openness, and intimacy and shows how they express and participate in deeper conscious truths. The author also examines practical wisdom teachings within both Buddhist and Christian paths to realization.

Combining engaged mysticism with transcendent humanism, along with thought- provoking poetry, Weiss offers a living vision of a non-dual way of experiencing the world, a path that supports our functional, emotional, and spiritual maturity.


From “Early Foundations”


I can recall in sixth grade having the simple perception that the way we see and speak of things as separate isn’t true. I perceived that reality was greater, more unified, than the discursive mind could manage or depict, and yet all of us were somehow content to miss the essence. That’s how I might express it now. At the time, it was just a non-verbal knowing that all that we experienced was one unspeakable thing. I remember standing on a street corner with a friend who seemed quite sympathetic to what I called the car-truck-lamp-post-garbage-can-sky-cloud theory of existence—or the idea that we could never describe reality without simultaneously naming the entirety of every interconnected thing we could see or think of all at once. So we would play a game of trying to reel off every name, object, observation, and sensation that poured into the mind at once, as if it were one long word. Because our separate words divided what was, in fact, all one thing. And though we never got very far, we knew what we were trying to do and why.

At thirteen, I felt an almost painful need to know everything I could about Tibet. It might have just been the sense of mystery. I gazed at photos of the Potala (the palace of the Dalai Lama). Having read somewhere that there was a lake behind the Potala, I searched, to no avail, for a photo of the Potala from behind. (I never did see a representation of the lake until I saw Brad Pitt skating on it in the movie, Seven Years in Tibet.) Not long after, I saw an ad for the Rosicrucians in some Sunday newspaper. It depicted, as I imagine it now, someone lying against a stone slab with a beam of light radiating upward from (or downward to) his third eye. It had a lead caption that read, “Spend a Minute in Eternity.” I was just a little atheist Jewish kid, now living on Long Island—but I looked at that beam of light and thought, “I want that.”

At fourteen, I enrolled in a book club called the “Mystic Arts Book Society.” (It was another ad I saw; and the publisher turned out to be not far from where we lived. I got my father to take me down there to enroll. The guy behind the desk looked up at my father, either quizzically or disapprovingly, and said, “You know, these books are not for kids.” “I know,” I piped up definitively.) My first selection was Cosmic Consciousness by R. M. Bucke.

Bucke was a nineteenth-century Canadian doctor who had had a spontaneous enlightenment experience. Wanting to better understand it, he combed through the canons of Western literature, ancient and modern, and the early translations from the East. He investigated the writings, as well as the available biographies, of mystics, poets, and others who seemed to describe such an experience, attempting to formulate the common criteria of the experience, as well as the common factors that seemed to promote it. And so I was steeped in these biographies. Bucke concluded that this “cosmic consciousness,” as he came to call it, was an emerging faculty of consciousness in human evolution. He later befriended Walt Whitman. From Bucke’s long personal association with Whitman, as well as from Whitman’s writings, Bucke—from his mid-nineteenth century vantage point—judged Whitman to be the most developed state of cosmic consciousness to date. Needless to say, Whitman was an early hero of mine.

The second selection to arrive (did I choose it, or did I fail to send back the refusal slip?) was a beautiful two-volume boxed hardcover set of the first publication of The Hundred Thousand Songs of Milarepa, the spontaneous teachings of the renowned Tibetan yogi-saint. (It probably cost what a paperback book costs now!) This publishing treasure, which I inspected with awe, but couldn’t fully appreciate at the time, still sits on my bookshelf today.

Aside from these outer memories, I have a firm recollection of my inner state. And that is because I consciously and deliberately “sent a message” to the future. Sitting in front of a window, somewhere in my fourteenth year, I was overcome with a deep sense of absolutely knowing something that I couldn’t describe, and which maybe I wasn’t supposed to know. I thought: “when I’m older, I’ll have no idea what I already knew at fourteen.” So for safekeeping, I deliberately planted this moment in my memory, and also sent it as a mental time capsule into my future. Somewhere in my late forties, I opened the capsule in the form of documenting it in this poem:


when I was fourteen I sat by

the bedroom window in the late afternoon

and looked out through the storm and screen

over a lawn and a suburban street and the

houses and the sun not quite setting through the

telephone wires and saw the great haze of the smog

settling over the world and suffused with a light

and a voice that spoke of a secret behind

all places and all times

and that voice moved like a wave

over the curve of the heavens and entered my

window and trembled in my body saying

I am here I am you You know what I am

and in that moment I knew that I knew what

needed to be known for all my life.

My oldest son recently shared with me a very comparable experience he had gazing out of a car window at the age of thirteen. I have since seen similar references in other autobiographies. There is definitely some faculty of knowing that calls at us; and I believe we are developmentally equipped to begin picking it up by early adolescence—if it is not drowned out.

Another significant experience occurred when I was fifteen. I had pulled a paperback book off my father’s book shelf called The Universe and Dr. Einstein, which was a popularized treatment of Einstein’s theories. I took the book along with me when my family left that summer for a two-week camping trip around New England. I had been immersed in the book on the afternoon we took a break from camping and paused at a lodge that had cabins and an actual dining room. The family was getting ready to go over for dinner, and I was sitting at the kitchen table locked in consternation over Einstein’s idea that time was relative, and that someone speeding across the universe in a spaceship would be in a totally different time frame than someone on Earth, and would age more slowly. I was struggling with the conventional (Newtonian) view that time and space are absolute and equal everywhere. I could not fit Einstein’s relativistic teaching into my own mind frame, and yet I accepted that it was widely understood as the scientific truth. So I tried to stretch my mind, and bang my head against it, so to speak—but my mind simply could not accommodate it. It was, perhaps, my mind’s first koan—“the mosquito biting on the iron bull,” as they say. Suddenly, my mental stubbornness gave way, and I saw that my grasp of reality was governed arbitrarily by the structures of my mind—and that when I let go of those structures, reality was open-ended. Rather than trying to fit a new reality into an old structure, I realized that the structures themselves could release, and reality was simply what it was, not beholden to my mind. And my mind soared free to embrace the new understanding. It was a sudden realization, a eureka moment, and it happened “just in time,” under the pressure of my parents saying, “Come on already. We have to get over for dinner.”

To this day, over a half-century later, I recognize the gift of that one moment—that freeing up from Aristotelian logic—every time I am exposed to the deep paradoxes of truth, and to the inexhaustible nonexclusiveness referred to in the next chapter. I now see that this greasing of the mind—a fundamental willingness to release its structures, and my discovery of the joy of that experience—would serve me in all future growth. Certain non-dual concepts that the discursive mind would ordinarily get stuck on were spontaneously cut through like butter—even at the conceptual level—owing to that original restructuring or de-structuring of my approach to reality.

About The Author

Paul Weiss began serious practice in Zen as well as tai chi in 1966 and spent years in several training and monastic settings, including in schools and clinics in China. In 1981 he founded the Whole Health Center in Bar Harbor, Maine, where he teaches, counsels, and offers meditation retreats and his True Heart, True Mind Intensive. A lifelong poet, he is the author of two collections of poems and essays, You Hold This and Moonlight Leaning Against an Old Rail Fence: Approaching the Dharma as Poetry.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Inner Traditions (January 5, 2023)
  • Length: 288 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781644115336

Browse Related Books

Raves and Reviews

“In The Dharma of Direct Experience, teacher, poet, and therapist Paul Weiss shares with us the profound wisdom he has discovered. The real gift of this book is not just his wisdom but that he shows us how to search for our own.”

– WES “SCOOP” NISKER, dharma teacher, award-winning broadcast journalist, and author of Be

Resources and Downloads

High Resolution Images