As someone who has spent more than 20 years on the spiritual path, met many Saints and studied numerous New Age, Hindu and Buddhist teachings, I am very happy to be able to say othat the ‘Great Freedom’ teachings of Candice O’Denver are the highest, clearest, and most accessible wisdom teachings I’ve ever heard. Several hundred hours of her full-length talks are now available for free download as MP3 audio files on the www.greatfreedom.org website, and I highly recommend them to anyone seeking the ultimate meaning and fulfilment of human life. Although the verbal element of her teachings is convincing and compelling in itself, Candice’s laughter-filled presentation directly conveys the great bliss, peace and freedom she has discovered, and her responses to questioners clearly show her compassion, strength and remarkable open-mindedness. After listening to the downloads, I’m convinced both of the greatness of her teachings and the depth of her attainment.
Summarised by Jay Devison
The teachings are simple, self-explanatory and, for the most part, clear at first hearing; however, in some talks Candice uses terms and phrases which could be confusing if heard without the explanations she sometimes gives of them. Thus, a written overview of the teachings might be a beneficial support for those interested in listening to the talks.
The Origin of the Teachings
Candice began formulating the Great Freedom teachings 25 years ago, after a profound and permanent awakening unexpectedly occurred in her life. She had been raised Catholic, but as a child she intuitively rejected substantial portions of what she was taught through that religion, yet she had a strong, natural faith in God, and prayed every day for many years to be “able to see the face of God”. Her deep connection with nature in her childhood brought about a profound experience of “the oneness of all things”, but she never practised any kind of formal meditation, and had never met a guru or had any esoteric spiritual training prior to her awakening. As a young adult she was highly successful in many ways, “efforting and achieving” as a way of life, and receiving many accolades; in fact, at age 28 she was named one of 100 outstanding women in America. But her successes gave her no real satisfaction, and by the time she was 34 she realised that no matter how hard she tried, or how many successes she had, they never would satisfy her.
She then went through an profound personal crisis which led her into states of intense fear, alienation and despair. During that period she found that everything she had learned through psychology, philosophy, religion, and all other belief systems she had studied were of no help to her whatsoever.
Furthermore, every remedy she had previously relied on to give her relief, including alcohol and marijuana, now gave her no relief at all. During that extended period of being overwhelmed by negative emotional states, she somehow discovered that beneath all those states, there was a “basic space of pure awareness” which was free from suffering, a space of complete relief. She gradually familiarised herself with that basic space by resting as awareness for short moments, repeated many times, and soon she was able to rest in that awareness for 10 continuous days. At that point “awareness rose like the sun”, and from then on that unchanging space of pure awareness became her primary reality, and the painful thoughts and emotional states which had tormented her faded away like stars in the light of day. Her discovery of all-encompassing pure awareness, and the complete relief that comes with it, proved to be permanent. From this profound awakening the Great Freedom teachings have come, offering a simple and direct path for others to gain the same realisation, and the same permanent relief from suffering.
The Great Freedom teachings are designed to be acceptable to the largest audience possible, and therefore do not rely on the word ‘God’ (which would surely alienate some people), nor are they aligned with any religion or based on traditional concepts such as original sin, karma, reincarnation, or ego. Candice doesn’t even use the word ‘Enlightenment’, saying it has been so tarnished through years of misuse and misinterpretation that it often just creates confusion. Although after her teachings were formulated she discovered that they are similar to the Tzogchen teachings of Tibetan Buddhism, and share the same essence as ‘The King of Samadhi Sutra’ given by Lord Buddha, the Great Freedom teachings are not presented as Buddhist, and are not called religious, spiritual, philosophy or psychology; they are simply presented as being “about the ultimate truth of what it means to be human”. Unlike most paths, which might require the acceptance of some culturally-specific set of religious beliefs, or faith in some kind of cosmological system, the Great Freedom teachings are based solely on the direct experience of awareness, which is always present within everyone.
The Nature of the Mind
Candice says that “the true nature of the mind is infinitely expansive pure awareness”. This awareness is space-like, sky-like, primordially pure and timelessly free. It is uncaused and uncreated, the unchanging basis of all manifestation. “It has never been made into anything.” It is naturally ever-present in every moment, and always at rest. This changeless pure awareness is our true identity, and remains forever free and unaffected by transformations such as birth and death. As the “unchanging basic space of all phenomena”, awareness is that by which everything is known, the fundamental intelligence by which we know we exist.
Candice says that awareness is not something generated by the biological organism of the body (as many people assume), but rather that space itself is aware, and that whatever appears within ‘aware pure space’ (including the entire universe) partakes of the awareness that is the fundamental nature of space itself. She often points out that instruments such as the electron microscope and the linear particle accelerator have proven that all things, including our bodies, are ultimately made only of space; her teaching simply takes this one step further, and says that the space we are made of is inseparable from awareness itself. She says this pure awareness, which is our true nature, is synonymous with wisdom, pure intelligence, love and energy.
Within the vast expanse of pure awareness which is the nature of our mind there appear various phenomena: thoughts, emotions, perceptions and experiences. Candice calls them “points of view”, and says they are the “dynamic energy of awareness” and are inseparable from awareness, just as the rays of the sun are inseparable from the sun itself, and the color blue is inseparable from the sky. The phrase “points of view” includes all phenomena: people, places, things, events, words, the entire universe of name and form, and every kind of mental or emotional appearance. These “points of view” appear and disappear within the “all-encompassing pure view of pure awareness” which is what we truly are: the changeless fundamental ground of all being, which remains completely unaffected by the appearance and disappearance of points of view.
A fundamental aspect of the Great Freedom teachings is that whatever appears within pure awareness is actually a form of pure awareness, and inseparable from that basic space. So, no matter what the point of view may be (even if it is an appearance of some horrific calamity), it is actually just a form of pure awareness, and has as its true nature the qualities of pure awareness: primordial purity, wide-open emptiness, timeless freedom. In other words, everything is primordially pure and timelessly free, no matter what the appearances may be. (She says that all words in the dictionary actually have the same ultimate meaning: ‘wide-open primordially-pure awareness’, for that is the true nature of all phenomena, and therefore all words actually describe only that, no matter what their dictionary definitions might be.)
Since all points of view are made only of pure awareness, and are therefore primordially pure and timelessly free, all points of view are benevolent. In other words, all appearances, no matter what they may be, are our allies, for they are all only “self appearances of wisdom awareness”: ephemeral, passing forms of the infinite pure awareness who we are. Furthermore, since all points of view are made of the same exact substance, all points of view are equal. In other words, all emotions, thoughts and phenomena are equal: they are all just forms of pure awareness, and have the same essence and substance, no matter how their appearances might vary.
Points of View Do Not Have an Independent Nature
Unlike the changeless ground of pure awareness, all points of view are subject to the law of impermanence: ‘Whatever appears will disappear’. Therefore, points of view are their own undoing: ‘Like a line drawn on water, they disappear of their own accord, leaving no trace’. In the same way that stars do not exist separately from space, and have their existence only within space and as part of space, so too, “points of view do not have an independent nature”: they are actually just evanescent forms of the pure awareness which is the ground of all being. They have no existence other than as forms of awareness, and no separate identity, and thus have no power to either harm us or help us. Therefore, nothing whatsoever need be done about points of view. In other words, there is no need whatsoever to try to change, purify, or get rid of our thoughts, emotions and experiences ? and indeed, to try to do so is just a futile waste of time.
Instead of trying to change our points of view, Great Freedom teaches that we should simply “rest as awareness”, as the ground reality underlying all points of view, and that through this effortless practice “all faults will be exhausted and all qualities perfected”.
This aspect of the Great Freedom teachings is radically different from most religions and spiritual paths, including the majority of New Age teachings and self-help approaches. Most people spend their entire lives sorting through their thoughts and emotions, trying to change their points of view: trying to get more positive thoughts and less negative thoughts, and more positive emotions and less negative emotions, hoping to have more positive experiences and less negative experiences, all in the hope of gaining some kind of permanent happiness. Candice enunciates a rarely-stated open secret: this approach never really works. Even if we can gain some kind of improvement in our mental condition through trying to manipulate our thoughts and emotions, the result is never the permanent happiness we are seeking.
The Solution: Rest As Awareness
Candice says that all that is needed to realise the timeless freedom that is our true nature is to “rest as awareness”. To “rest as awareness, for short moments, repeated many times until it becomes automatic” is her one and only recommendation for the attainment of complete happiness and well-being, which she has been living in for more than 25 years, and which she says a number of others have gained through following her teachings. To rest as awareness means to “completely relax the body and mind, without seeking anything in what appears, or describing anything in what appears”. Resting in awareness means “to notice, for short moments, that the true nature of the mind is already at rest”. Resting doesn’t mean pushing thoughts away, or ignoring thoughts, or trying to enter some kind of ‘state’, but simply resting naturally, in a completely uncontrived way. Resting is easy; in fact we all already know how to do it – it’s one of our favourite activities! That’s not something new or complicated or esoteric; awareness has always been with you. It’s your natural state.
The Root of Suffering
Candice says that the root of suffering is our learned habit of focusing on certain points of view and identifying with them, while opposing other points of view. Since points of view are ephemeral and do not have an independent nature, they are like short-lived appearances within a mirage, or illusory forms within a constantly-changing hologram. Identifying with a point of view is like trying to drink water that appears in a mirage: the result is frustration and suffering. The age-old human tendency to accept some points of view, identify with them and call them ‘good’, while rejecting other points of view, calling them ‘bad’ and opposing them, is largely responsible for the unhappiness in most individuals, and for the external conflicts which threaten to destroy our world. For the survival of the human species, it is now essential that we learn to live in the pure awareness which encompasses all points of view, the super-complete ground of all being which transcends and heals all divisions.
Candice says that belief in a personal identity is really little more than a primitive superstition, which humanity must now outgrow, calling the personal identity nothing but a collection of opinions and points of view, none of which are ultimately true. Candice likens clinging to a personal identity to a child sucking endlessly on a pacifier, and points out what a terribly limiting idea it is to imagine ourselves to be nothing but a person defined by the skin-line of a body, when our true nature is limitless, all-encompassing awareness. (She does not say that the personal identity disappears completely on discovery of our true nature, but “that the personal identity and the lack of a personal identity are not two”—meaning that even after the discovery of the infinite expanse of pure awareness who you really are, the appearance of a personal identity may continue, but it will be seen as inseparable from awareness, and will no longer cause any problem.)
The pure awareness which we really are is already primordially pure and completely perfect, and nothing about us needs to be changed, purified or fixed in order to realise the perfection that is our true nature. Furthermore, the myriad points of view which appear and disappear within the awareness who we are, are just evanescent forms of timeless perfection; they do not need to be changed at all. To put it another way, we are already perfect, we have always been perfect and will always be so, and our thoughts and emotions are an inherent part of our perfection. (Candice says that in 25 years she has never met anyone who isn’t perfect.) However, most of us have been taught that we are inherently flawed and need to be fixed, and therefore spend our lives attempting to correct and improve ourselves by trying to manipulate the contents of our mind: a totally frustrating and ultimately fruitless task.
By believing that we are imperfect and need to be fixed, and that our thoughts must be constantly edited, sorted and purified, we enter into an antagonistic relationship with our own minds, thus making ourselves miserable. When we believe that we need to be changed, we will automatically see others as needing to be changed also, and this naturally leads to inharmonious personal relationships. Our belief in imperfection thus puts us at war with ourselves and with those around us. It should be no wonder, then, that we end up manifesting a world full of war.
What it means to ‘Rest as Awareness’
Resting as awareness just means relaxing completely in the pure being which is the substratum of all thoughts, the effortless pure awareness which is the root and source of your mind, and to see whatever appears as inseparable from that source. Since all points of view are made only of awareness, to rest as awareness means to rest as whatever appears. “Timeless freedom means living as all points of view, without needing to separate anything.” It doesn’t mean trying to separate the awareness from the thoughts and emotions, for this is impossible, and the attempt to do so is as futile as trying to separate the color blue from the sky. Resting as awareness means resting as the thoughts and emotions, and thereby discovering the pure awareness which is the underlying essence of all thoughts and emotions. “When we rest as awareness and just allow everything to be as it is, allowing all the thoughts, emotions and experiences to simply come and go, inseparable from awareness, then real wisdom begins to dawn.” Seeing that whatever appears is of the same essence, and that nothing needs to be changed, is true freedom. In that equal vision, we are no longer affected by the contents of the mind, and this freedom brings us such joy that we cannot help but want to share it with others.
Resting as awareness gradually enables us to let go of our identification with points of view, erases our habit of accepting some points of view and rejecting others, and brings us into “the balanced view”, where all points of view are seen as they truly are, forms of pure awareness appearing and disappearing within the changeless, all-encompassing pure awareness which we truly are. Rather than sorting points of view into ‘good’ and ‘bad’, we then see all points of view as equal, benevolent, passing forms of awareness, just “self-appearances of perfect wisdom”. Since they have no independent nature, we don’t need to accept or reject them, for they cause no harm, have no meaning of their own, and will vanish of their own accord.
Only when we are established in our true being, the super-complete reality of pure awareness, is permanent happiness and complete well-being possible, for that alone is what we are. The effortless practice of resting as awareness helps us to let go of our habitual identification with the various points of view which form our personal identity, and thereby discover the all-encompassing timeless being which we truly are.
What Resting Isn’t
Resting as awareness does not mean trying to get rid of thoughts and emotions, or ‘witnessing’ the thoughts, or trying to enter a ‘state of emptiness’, or a ‘bliss state’ or a ‘non-conceptual state’ where no thoughts arise. Awareness is naturally present within and underlying all thoughts and states, and remains unaffected by them, so using effort to try to enter a state is of no use whatsoever. Instead, we should simply rest as the awareness which is already always present, no matter what our state of mind may be.
Candice likens awareness to the operating system of a computer, such as Windows or Mac, and says the two primary states of mind, i.e. conceptual (with thoughts) and non-conceptual (without thoughts) are like two software programs which can be run on the operating system. Awareness is primary, while the states of mind are secondary. Both states of mind function only due to awareness, and no matter which state is functioning the awareness remains unchanged. Therefore, making effort to get into a non-conceptual state (as is done in some types of meditation), is missing the point, for awareness is already fully present within all states, and unaffected by them. Trying to enter a state, whether a non-conceptual state or a state of bliss or ‘emptiness’ or ‘no I’, is always futile, for all states are impermanent, whereas awareness, the fully relaxed ground of all being, is permanent and changeless, present within all states, and its discovery is made through the cessation of all effort.
How to Begin Resting
First of all, Candice makes it clear that “the current circumstances of our lives, whatever they may be, are the perfect circumstances for us to learn to rest as awareness”. Rather than habitually focusing on external situations, imagining they are obstacles to our happiness, and constantly worrying about them, she recommends that we “give up our right to be a victim of our circumstances”, and simply put our focus on the pure awareness which underlies all circumstances and remains unaffected by any circumstance. Since pure awareness is always present within us as our own true being, no special circumstances are required to realise timeless freedom, and there can never be an obstacle to it. No matter what the circumstances of our lives may be, it is always possible to find short moments to rest as awareness, and that is all that is required to discover our true nature. Even if our lives are extremely active, it will not only be possible, but highly beneficial to practice resting as awareness; learning to relax in the midst of action will empower you in any field of endeavour.
Some people may already be familiar with their own awareness, so resting as awareness is something that happens quickly and easily for them. For others, however, it may be necessary to be introduced to awareness. “Once that has happened, then you will know what to rest as”. The introduction to awareness can happen in many ways, such as meeting someone who is effortlessly resting in awareness (such as Candice or the other Great Freedom teachers), or by hearing or reading direct teachings on how to rest as awareness. To simply relax the body and mind completely, and listen to one of the introductory downloads, is a good place to start. Candice often repeats that resting as awareness should be done for “short moments, repeated many times”, rather than trying to rest for long periods in the beginning. She also says the resting should be natural, easy and completely uncontrived. Trying to contrive a state of rest, or making intense efforts to rest, is not only unnecessary but self-defeating; it only succeeds in creating more points of view. Brief moments of effortless rest will gradually, naturally lengthen until the rest becomes automatic 24 hours a day.
To rest as the awareness which is always present as the ground of all being, and find one?s true nature in that vast unchanging expanse of wisdom and love, will always bring a feeling of relief from the suffering inherent in our long-held habit of clinging to points of view. When that relief is discovered, one will naturally begin to rest for longer and longer periods. In the beginning it may seem like there is just an occasional glimpse of awareness amidst a constant barrage of points of view. But when we persevere with resting, eventually the awareness begins to expand, and we begin to see all the points of view as pervaded by awareness; at this stage the points of view we had once thought of as enemies now start to seem like old friends. In the final stages of resting, we will be able to rest naturally as awareness, under all circumstances, without trying to do so. At this stage, points of view are perceived only as transparent forms of awareness, and indivisible from the timeless ground of our own being. This is followed by what Candice calls “the great outshining”, where the blazing sun of awareness arises within and permanently outshines all points of view. This means non-stop timeless freedom and “a cool breeze of awareness flowing 24/7”, which will remain untouched by any circumstances, including death.
Candice says that the Great Outshining is guaranteed for everyone who perseveres with the way of rest. She also says that for many people it is not even necessary to rest, that simply listening to the teachings on a regular basis is sufficient for “certainty to dawn about their true nature”.
Dealing with Afflictive States
Candice says that “there are only four ways of dealing with afflictive states” (emotional states such as anger, lust, fear or jealousy). The first is to indulge the state, for example, to act out anger by shouting at someone, or to act out lust through sexual contact. The second is to avoid it, for example, to go into solitude to avoid seeing people who make us angry or that we might feel attracted to. The third approach is to replace it, for instance, trying to replace angry or lustful thoughts with positive, ‘spiritual thoughts’, or engaging in charitable actions instead of expressing anger. Candice says that none of these three approaches really works in the long run, but only succeed in keeping the emotions and desires alive in a subtle, repressed form, to return again at another time.
The fourth approach is what Candice recommends: “Rest as flawless awareness, seeing all as flawless awareness, until all is flawless awareness”. In other words, rest as the awareness which is the underlying essence of all thoughts and emotions, seeing the anger and lust as forms of that awareness, and eventually you will find that the anger and lust are nothing but pure awareness in disguise. As such they are benevolent and harmless, no longer tempt us to action, and therefore cease to be any problem. In the process, we become more and more deeply identified with awareness itself. Through this approach, afflictive states are actually permanently transmuted into the pure awareness that is their underlying nature, rather than being temporarily repressed to return later in some new manifestation. Afflictive states that are thus permanently resolved in pure awareness are transformed into potent divine qualities.
Candice says that she often hears people in New Age circles saying things such as, ‘Since everything is awareness, I can do whatever I want!’ She says that this kind of thinking is often used to justify behaviour that is harmful to oneself and others, and that this is a profound mistake and a complete misunderstanding of the teaching. When we really learn to rest as awareness, our natural sense of morality increases, rather than decreases. Since awareness is present equally with all things and all beings, when we learn to live in awareness, we will naturally become attuned to the oneness of all life and more sensitive to the feelings and needs of others. Our actions will always be in tune with the sacredness of all life, and will always be beneficial to the whole. Awareness doesn’t need a rule book, but has its own, inherent moral code based on the direct perception of oneness. From that perception arises a heightened sense of responsibility towards all beings and towards life itself. As Candice puts it, “This is not some kind of nihilistic philosophy that says that everything comes from nothing and leads to nothing, so we can do whatever we want to. It isn’t that at all. We must always act as though our conduct were before the highest judge of awareness.”
Another common error is to hold to ‘extremes’, that is, extreme philosophical viewpoints. One example of an extreme is the idea that things have an independent existence apart from awareness; another example is the idea that nothing exists at all. Candice says that both of these are just points of view within all-encompassing awareness, and rather than cling to either point of view, it is best to consider them “not two”, and simply rest in the awareness the contains and transcends both. Another example of an extreme is the idea that the supreme truth is found in states of silence, or stillness, or bliss states, or non-conceptual states. Clinging to any of those concepts will prevent us from simply resting as the awareness which is always already present within all states, and yet remains unaffected by any state. Only through simple rest, without trying to get into any kind of state or to make any change at all in what appears, can we discover the supreme truth that is already manifest in each moment. Candice says that trying to “stay in the now” is also just another extreme which creates tension in the mind. It?s much easier, and much more effective, to simply rest as the awareness which is always present, and which includes and transcends all aspects of time.
Awareness is Not Attained By Effort
Candice says that the timeless freedom of pure awareness is not something that is attained by effort, for it is already naturally present in every moment, as the basic space underlying whatever may appear within the mind. It is already who we are, and it is already attained. Since awareness is always already present in its fullness, as the one who is looking, feeling, sensing and thinking, any effort to attain it is actually a step in the wrong direction. All we need do is rest, without seeking anything, in order to discover the awareness which has never been lost. She says that making efforts to attain awareness is like “striving to attain the color of your eyes”. (Obviously, the color of our eyes is already here, and we need only relax, look in the mirror and see that we already have it.)
Nonetheless, she says that in the beginning, for many people a tiny amount of effort is needed—namely, the effort to drop previous habits of effort, and relax the body and mind completely. For some people, this “tiny amount of effort” may prove to be a daunting task in the beginning. Yet Candice frequently reminds us resting is very easy, and that anyone can do it. All that is needed is to relax; can that be difficult? As she sometimes recommends, “Take a bubble bath”.
Even though the practice is effortless, nonetheless, if we really want to discover the timeless freedom that is our true nature, Candice says it is essential that we make a full commitment to this practice. Furthermore, she gives the general recommendation that we not try to mix this practice with other practices, but focus completely on this technique alone. Trying to combine resting as awareness with practices which seek to change points of view will, to some extent at least, be self-defeating. (She says that if you have some other meditation practice that you like, you can continue with it, but recommends that you do so without imagining that it is leading to a destination, for this will augment the personal identity of ‘the spiritual seeker’, and create a false sense of distance between ourselves and the timeless freedom which is already fully present.)
Timeless Freedom is Not a Destination
Candice says that timeless freedom is already present within us, and is therefore not a destination; furthermore, there is no one going there and no one to seek it, for pure awareness is already what we are. It is here, in its fullness in each moment, as “the one who is looking”. The more often we acknowledge the super-complete awareness who we really are, the more obvious it will become, and the more often we will feel the presence of timeless freedom and perfect peace within our lives. We are already timelessly free, and since awareness is fully present in each moment, within and underlying all points of view, truly, “nothing need be done”. We already are who we are. We need only acknowledge who we are, for short moments repeated many times, for certainty to dawn about our true nature.
Unlike most forms of meditation, which involve a subject using effort to focus on an object, resting as awareness involves only one being: you, effortlessly resting as yourself. That’s very simple. Candice says that in 25 years she has never met anyone who couldn’t rest as awareness, and that all we need is an open mind. (She then adds that everyone already has an open mind, and so therefore everyone is qualified!)
The Powers of Great Benefit
Candice says that when we are established in the pure awareness that is our true nature, vast powers open up to us, miraculous powers of great benefit which have been revealed by great beings throughout history, and which are urgently needed to deal with the many crucial problems of our age. She says that the most important of these powers by far is the power to introduce others to awareness. She says that along with the discovery of our true nature comes the dawning of true compassion and wisdom, combined with limitless energy which flows naturally into the tireless service of all beings.
In addition to the free MP3 audio downloads, the Great Freedom organisation has a number of written teachings, and retreats and special courses on those teachings are available throughout the year in many places around the globe, including England, Sweden, Germany, India, and at the Great Freedom Sanctuary in Bolinas, California. There are also daily tele-conference discussions which are open to all.
I recently completed a 12-day course in one of the core Great Freedom teachings, ‘The 12 Inquiries’, and I must say that after the course I feel like a completely different person. Whereas before I felt the need for constant spiritual effort, there is now an effortless bliss and peace naturally welling up from within, and I feel much more relaxed, open, and loving towards everyone. I highly recommend the course to anyone interested in going deeper into the Great Freedom teachings.