philosophic inquiry into life and meaning

...if truth were not for man the desire for truth would not be as a burning unrest in his heart...

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Erik Knud-HansenI first met Erik at a talk he gave a few years back at Evergreen Cove, a local spiritual holistic/healing community. He was recommended to me by a friend who said he was "quite good." The topic of his talk on the "Dharma of Non-duality" and meditation and inquiry were interesting to me.


I wanted to see what "quite good" was as I know we each have our own judgments about people and things that do not always agree. I was expecting less but pleasantly surprised when I met him.


Erik's a normal guy, just like anyone else, but there is a 'difference' about him. You can't quite put your finger on it, but still can't deny its presence. That is to say, he rings that bell of intuition within me that this guy is on the level. Over the years I've gotten to know no one who is better skilled at teaching and living the Dharma than he.

The following paragraph is a brief auto-biographical summary from Erik:

After being "hooked by the Dharma" in 1972, Erik devoted the next twelve years to sitting and serving others in intensive Buddhist retreats, in both the US and Asia. This period culminated in spending a year ordained as a monk in a Korean monastery until his teacher Ku San Sunim, one of the last of the old school masters, died. In 1984 Erik was commissioned to teach in the Theravadin Buddhist tradition. He includes in his own teaching, however, some helpful aspects from other traditions of non-duality, especially Taoism and Advaita Vedanta.

He doesn't teach for personal gain, and has never charged anything for the teachings, but does accept money in the spirit of Dana (generosity) if you feel so inclined. Although he has a Buddhist background, there are no rituals or fancy stuff, and he adapts his teachings to the audience in simple language.

Erik's teachings revolve around the 'four fundamental aspects of being' namely:

1) Bodily life/Physical life (material elements/sensations)

2) Feeling life (the felt quality of pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral that arise in experience)

3) Mental life (thought, imagination, the story we tell ourselves)

4) Consciousness (the field of being in which the body/feeling/mind is formed and known)

This is an abbreviated form of the Buddhist teaching of the 4 foundations of mindfulness, which overlap the 5 aggregates of being (a.k.a. skandhas). These are the areas we need to examine in our lives to determine their true nature.

The bodily life here refers to the both the form and its sensations. What is the true nature of form/bodily life? Am I this body? When the body is gone, does that leave me gone too? If we look, it is evident that the body is going, even right now. It's just a matter of how fast. We have direct access to this body right now and can feel into it and give it the attention it needs.

A typical meditation instruction Erik gives is to release any holding in the body, starting with the most obvious: the stomach area. We get in touch with the unconscious habits of holding the breath that go with all forms of mental stress. Being able to feel and release the belly is a great assist to dealing with the rest of the body. "Softening the eyes" is another fundamental instruction used to interrupt the incessant habit of thought (story), which frees one to be more present, as well as release the tension and the strain that goes on in the head. The body is linked to the next area, the feeling life. If the body is tense that usually indicates a held emotion/or a grasping toward or away from something.

The feeling life is generated by the mind, and perceived in the body as sensations. All experience... the good, bad and neutral... inputs and contributes to our natural actions and reactions related to these feelings, both strong and subtle. This is the pleasantness and unpleasantness of life that we habitually move towards or away from. Interrupting these habits by realizing their conditioned nature (referring to the fact of their unconscious roots and inherent unsatisfactoriness, as well as the fact that they are impermanent and not what we are) is the way to free ourselves to be more present and responsive in life, rather than automatically going with reactions based in greed, aversion and delusion which just tend to get us into trouble. Releasing on this level, for example, means staying with the unpleasant sensations, giving them your full attention as they come up and not automatically reacting to them or "holding your 
heart against them." Erik's meditation teacher would prompt the koan, "What is this?", to ask oneself, inquiring into whatever arises.

The mental life provides the story of past and future, as well as the impulse for acting in the present. One way to be aware of the mental life is in the walking meditation Erik teaches. Mind moving matter. Mind here is volition (will) and is required to move matter. We are often unaware of how we walk and shift our weight, moving each step forward. Paying attention to this is important as we may often zone out on anything that is not of a pressing matter to us. Paying attention to the body in this way can show how the mind gets caught up in stories, and caught up in stories about stories about stories. The solution is to release into the body by paying attention to what is actually going on here.

The consciousness aspect is akin to the light in a building. Each person has their own light, although it all arises from the same source. Consciousness allows "seeing", or knowing, the experience at the sense doors. Some call it different types of consciousness that arises, or that it's fragmented into this or that creature, but light is light whether it's 'door light' or 'window light'. This is a more subtle aspect of the teaching. I can understand consciousness is what makes it possible to be aware of all the previous levels (mental life, feeling life, bodily life) but the way in which consciousness clings/sticks and how it releases evades my true understanding. As all the levels are connected (as above so below) there is a releasing aspect to this as well, I gather, which may provide greater insight into the nature of self/Self.

It is interesting to note Gurdjieff and Richard Rose propounded the four levels of man: Instinctive, Emotional, Intellectual, and Philosophic. These correlates directly with Erik's teaching of the four aspects. (Instinctive man is body oriented, Emotional man is feeling oriented, Intellectual man is mental story oriented, and Philosophic man is consciousness oriented).

Many of the day retreats I've been to have been a mix of meditation in various forms along with Q&A. The meditation has been sitting, standing, walking, slow movements, tai chi like movements, some stretching and variations of all the main postures (standing, sitting, walking, and lying down).


I would say his approach with working with seekers is more intuitional than logical as the questions the seekers ask provides the material for the talks in addition to the above teachings already mentioned. Usually people ask questions about what is bothering them or taking up most of their thinking. Erik will help show that there is something being held by the person, as a habit conditioned by their past, that can be released to see the bigger picture.


To use an analogy Erik related to me in email: the releasing is similar to our grip on a camera. With a super strong grip, the camera will shake because of our nerves. Relaxing a bit will still the picture enough to take a clearer picture. Using a tripod, releasing completely, will allow an even clearer picture of what is going on to be seen. It seems it's done in stages until the sudden 'hands off' shift occurs when we release. We are not so much in the view as a process which views (and not as solid as we might like to think).


Here are some brief bios about Erik: