Douglas Harding

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Douglas Edison Harding (12 February 1909 – 11 January 2007) was an English philosophical writer, mystic, spiritual teacher and author of a number of books, including On Having No Head, Zen and the Rediscovery of the Obvious. He was born in Lowestoft in the county of Suffolk and raised in the Exclusive Plymouth Brethren, a Christian sect, from which he apostatised at the age of 21.

Experiential exercises[edit]

Though he never thought of himself as a guru, Harding dedicated his life from that time onwards to empirically investigating the question of his true identity and later sought to share his insights, primarily through his writings and via workshops requiring audience participation. Simultaneously directing attention 'inwards' and 'outwards', Harding explored what was immediately given regarding the Subject and its relationship with the objective world, testing mystical claims about the true nature of the self, for example, against his own experience. He took seriously, too, the scientific account of what a man amounts to, seamlessly integrating the outside and inside views into a new map of humanity’s place in the universe.

Whilst Harding developed experiments for each of the senses, he most often referred to two-way seeing or looking, and this emphasis on the visual and spatial aspects of consciousness (rather than on, say, sound or feeling) lent itself uniquely to pictorial representation. Whenever appropriate he would illustrate his writing and talks with a sketch or diagram depicting the contours of what he was observing in the interests of directing the reader’s or listener’s own attention to his or her own situation to check if their self-observations agreed with his. Harding was a trained architect and draughtsman and took meticulous care to faithfully represent what, once noticed, is all too obviously given in first-person experience. He was also interested in recording on film how we experience the world and use of this medium to convey his message has been much developed since his death. (

While the spiritual implications Harding drew from the experiments are deeply traditional, the exercises themselves may be said to constitute a new category of spiritual experience, which he sometimes summed up as “meditation for the marketplace”. They expand and ground in sense experience numerous references – to vision for example – found scattered throughout spiritual literature and so often understood only symbolically or metaphorically. But all this amounted to only half the story and he never failed to stress that, while Who or What one really is may be easy to see, learning to trust and live consciously in the light of that reality is an immensely demanding and lifelong challenge.

Harding was married twice and had two sons and a daughter. He died at Nacton near Ipswich, England.



  • On Having No Head: Seeing One's Original Nature


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