Biography of the female incarnation of Venerable Domo Geshe Rinpoche
Interview with current incarnation

Greetings and thank you Rinpoche for taking your time with me today. It must feel strange to you to be here in a new incarnation with the feelings and memories of your just previous. How are you doing?
Thank you. First I say that I am still assimilating English and getting better everyday. I am not an American, but a Tibetan monk named Domo Geshe who has arisen in American body. They would say a special kind of reincarnation that needs to return even more quick than arriving in a baby form to begin work in 30-40 years.
Rinpoche, I was reading the biography of Geshe Ngawang Kalsang, your previous incarnation, and I noticed that you were many famous people in previous lives. Your incarnations appear to go back as far as the lifetime of Buddha Shakyamuni or farther. How do you choose when and where to come?
As one of the oldest lineage Rinpoches in Tibetan Buddhism my lineage is very very long. Since the beginning, I have arrived when and where there is a crucial problem. The energy of the time and place together with my willpower to fix difficulties guide me into a choice. Usually it is necessity of the situation that has a strong influence.

Please would you tell me more about some of your earlier incarnations in your personal lineage?
I thinking about several of my previous lives, particular a Tibetan called Thonmi Sambhota. I do not have active memories but I know from that lifetime. He was appointed and took the responsibility of developing the written Tibetan language. We not have any written language in Tibet at that time. The Dharma teachings could not be written down or remembered or categorized and this was a big stumbling block, a big problem of that time. Those who went to India and studied Sanskrit brought back Sanskrit texts. They would carefully look at the Sanskrit and tell people whatever they could about what it meant in Tibetan.
It was (snaps fingers) gone because they could not even record their Tibetan words, and so the teachings became muddled very quickly. It depended only on oral sources. I had gone around long before I appeared as Thonmi Sambhota. However, in that lifetime there was a problem. I have taught about the worry cycle that says, "Oh my gosh, there's a problem. What am I going to do about it?" This cycle feeds on itself until one person decides that there must be a solution.
There must be a way of taking sounds of Tibetan language and based upon the Sanskrit language I in that lifetime was able to create the Tibetan alphabet. That is how the holy Dharma was recreated in Tibetan books. I came as Thonmi Sambhota in order to solve the difficulty then. Any people who do not have a written language remain in very infantile state. We had oral teachings but not a written language. It did not really become sophisticated until later.
At the time of Atisha his important Tibetan student was called Dromtoenpa. Je Dromtoenpa came because there came a need of a new transmission of Buddhism from the original country of India to Tibet. They call what Atisha did the second dissemination of Buddhism. It is important to me to personally participate in the seminal moments of history. In that way, I must love this because even at that time there was a problem. I am not saying this from the viewpoint of ego, truly. I am saying that the enlightened energies in the form of Je Dromtoenpa, whose life process was me in my previous life - I am him but I am not him right now- was there to solve a problem and to begin a new process. I have had many, many lives.

If you arise in an incarnation according to the problems and needs of the time, please explain what problems exist that would cause you to come in an American adult female incarnation?
This question requires a longer explanation. Even it is not easy for me to understand why I had arisen in this form, as an adult rather than going to a baby body, rather than going to a Tibetan body, rather than going to a male body.
I am not a baby.
I am not a Tibetan.
And I am not a male.
I must acknowledge the energy of this world and the needs create different kinds of requests.
What is happening? I am here as an adult, which is part of the ancient system and far more difficult to do than coming as a baby. The bar has been lowered again and again and again to make it easier for the enlightened ones to arise. Tibet is not in good condition. In Tibet, before, before, the most intelligent went to the monasteries and the studies because of the educational system - the greatest minds always went to the monastic system. In that way, we had excellence upon excellence, like a spiritual think tank. From my American I say like a spiritual think tank. When we traditional gurus got together, we had conversations that would light up whole cities. It was marvelous.
What has happened since 1959? Tibetans now placing their children in Western-style educational organizations, and many of them are boarding schools. This not the difficulty, the Tibetan school system is really doing good work. The other schools that Tibetans sending their children usual not teach Buddhist or Tibetan culture for the young people. Parents are looking at their children and saying, "This one seems to be quite intelligent. Let's see how well they do in school." I am telling tales, but this comes as true. "If they do well in school then I'm going to send them on to university. If they do well there let's let them become a doctor or a lawyer or a businessman -- more businessmen now. When I am old they will be able to support me." Very clever.
Conversely, let's say that they do not do that well in school. "Let's send them to the monastery." It makes me want to vomit, but I have to say it is coming true. We always had high thinking that went on. Of course, we always had a mixture of intelligent and unintelligent people. However, the most intelligent are now going into business and not into the service of the community. In that way, these intelligent people who could be wonderful in the monastery are instead becoming… practitioners? Wouldn't that be marvelous? Is it happening? Not at all. They are not even becoming Tibetan Buddhist practitioners.
We've got a problem here. I trying to define problems so I can find out what is the solution. In my before life, when I was young I was considered to be very intelligent child. In that way, if I should instead be reborn now as a baby, would I be sent to the monastery? Perhaps. Would I remain at the monastery? Only perhaps. Would I be allowed to be the guru Domo Geshe that my traditional work calls me to be? Only perhaps -- and that was not good enough. I have a little bit controversial form here because I was not willing to take that chance. I was in a body that about to pass away, I had to go. That was the old model car broken, and although I did not trade it in for the latest model, I traded it in for a classic, shall I say.
There come a problem because young men are not coming to train through the process where they will become the gurus of the future. They are not sending the most intelligent young men to the monasteries. I in fact have gone to one of the great three monasteries and I have seen a young man with Down syndrome who was a monk, impossible for him to learn even ordinary Dharma concepts. This is an extreme example of someone who is not capable.
I am not saying that all of the present monks are not intelligent - there are some intelligent, but not enough of them. And the ones who are really intelligent are not even going into the monastery. Why? Not because they do not want to. Some of these young people want to go and their parents say, "Not you." Their hidden agenda: "You will be the one who will support me in my old age." At Ganden Jangtze Monastery in South India, fully 60% of the monks are escapees from Tibet with nowhere to go except into the monastery system to be educated (I receive this information from GJ monks). Most are above school age and not able to learn in public school. The youth from the exile community only coming few few.
I have said it in different ways, but I am going to say it like this. Part of me was born in the West in 1946. Lo and behold if that one and I, like a magnet, didn't come together and meet. I am here instead of that one because my educational system exceeded the educational system of the one in America. The educational system in the West is not the same as what I received. When I arose in this I did it as a transference of my consciousness. It is little done, little understood and rarely done because they do not know how to do it anymore.

Did you plan or know that you were coming to an American incarnation?
Yes and no. I left Kalimpong thirty years ago and I went to Delhi for a while and here and there, but I wound up in America. I spent most of the last thirty years of my life in America. I had students in America who insisted that I remain there and in that way, I established my residence and my work in the West a long long time ago. I gathered my students and they learned their lessons well. I accomplished the work that I needed to do then, and a lot of it was in preparation for the future. His Holiness the Dalai Lama came to visit me in America for several days and he said, "What are you doing here, exactly what kind of things?" I was very private and was not letting everyone know my whole business, so I said, "I taking care for the future."
I had His Holiness flown to my land in Upstate New York by helicopter and they landed in the field outside my house. They later tried to get me to go in the helicopter for a ride. "No way! Let His Holiness go in the helicopter, I am not going in the helicopter." No no no, I was not going. "Let them fly around like that, I am happy to keep my feet right here on the ground."
I was eighth Domo Geshe and sometimes jokingly I say I am the eighth-and-a-half. So that future I talking about must include the ninth incarnation. Most of my time was spent with my American students. Among my American students there were some who did extraordinarily well. In Tibet even before '59, there were those who knew that their work not include what was happening in Tibet, but in fact went to new work that was happening world-wide and my partner went to America.

Rinpoche, can you please give your reasons for incarnating as a woman?
Best question come what reason for coming back but I answer how you ask. I am not a feminist but I listen to the times. Women of this world are not bound up by traditional work anymore, isn't that so? Even forty years ago, Western women were expected to marry, expected to produce children and expected to stay at home. How was this person going to pursue a full time spiritual career? Their entire time and expectations were taken away. The expectations of society allowed them spirituality, but not a spiritual career. That has changed. The intelligent men and women of the West are being looked at very carefully as the guardians, the next wave.
My goodness, Tibet was a small place - we were like a petri dish where powerful medicine is grown. Like that, the petri dish was only Tibet and now let us make that medicine available worldwide. Why? There is a problem. There is something all living beings have forgotten. They have forgotten that they are not living at home. They are away from home and home is where they want to return. Some people are very serious right at the beginning, others learn how to be serious.
Women have been undervalued in the West. Have they been undervalued in the East? Regarding spiritual education and attention from the guru, women have been vastly undervalued. Who is upset about this? Women? Yes. Men? Absolutely. Men in the West are very offended that women are not receiving equal opportunities. Like that, for the benefit of both men and women, women need to be brought into the inner circle. Truly, they remain on the outer circle. Even though they may be a student of a famous guru, deep inner guru transmission has always been reserved for certain male participants.
We've got a problem. We have highly capable human beings who are actively being told that they are inferior birth. An intelligent woman who is told that she is an inferior birth and therefore not elligble for certain kinds of transmission and who is really serious says, "Well, what do you expect me to do about it? Do you want me to go have a sex change operation so I acceptable? What is it about me? How can I satisfy you so that you will give me what I want?"

This sounds like the controversy I have read regarding Dolma, also known as Tara.
This is the very question that was presented to the bodhisattva Tara. In the incarnation when she was about to attain final enlightenment, she was approached by the male authorities of her age. They said, "We perceive through our inner knowing that you are about to attain enlightenment. Since you can only achieve enlightenment through the male form, we want you to now transform yourself into a male." She gave her famous speech about no male, no female. The upshot of it was that she said, "Not only will I not agree with you, I will attain enlightenment in a woman's body. And I promise you, in the future I will always incarnate as a woman."
This is a very famous part of our lore and allows us to acknowledge the enlightened qualities of women. However, it has remained at that level where they are acknowledged and sent to practice and different things happen, but not like what men are able to get. My point is those women who are about to attain enlightenment in a woman's body must have certain kinds of very special transmissions in order for them to make that breakthrough. Male or female, someone must have a special kind of transmission in order to make a final breakthrough. I will work with all of those who are serious about practicing, and I will encourage newcomers and teach them as well.
I must acknowledge that my appearing as a woman allows me to create enough of a controversy so that we are all alerted. The process must be as strong for women as it is for men. There are those of you who will think that you have gotten the initiations, the practices, the blessings. I am telling you that there are processes exclusive to a handful of highest gurus that are not available. Those are the very very things I am talking about that have not been open to women. I don't care how long you have been practicing, you have not gotten this because only a handful have received this kind of transmission. In that way, I am asking that those who are highly capable also be permitted to receive the highest initiations. So here I am.
Rinpoche, what about being an American?
I have been born as (Rinpoche gasps) a foreigner! (Both laugh) This comes very interesting. There was a book written in America many years ago about a man who was white and who decided to perform an experiment. He made his face black, and this is when discrimination was very very strong in the South. He went to a place that was highly discriminatory. Book is called Black Like Me. He wrote this book of his experiences as a perceived black person in a white world. For the first time in his life he experienced discrimination, only because he said that he was black. Like that, I have appeared here. I am Tibetan and I appear here as an American. Wow! Is that a difference! I am not afraid and that is that.
From my original point of view, I was a Tibetan scholar on one of the highest levels and considered to be a scholar authority for the Tibetans. When I came to America, (Rinpoche lowers voice) I talked like this. "Hello, how are you? What come your name?" I really did not say much at all. I talked very very low. "Hello, good to see you. How are you?" This is mostly what I could do. I am still the same one inside but now outside is a much different process. (Rinpoche returns to normal volume) Now I sound like a megaphone compared to my before.
It is impossible for a Tibetan to be able to communicate within Western context with the kind of vocabulary that I have now. I was very proud of all the English words I knew before and that I knew them very clearly. And I was very careful to use them very precisely. My Tibetan was very precise, so the English that I learned was very precise. Now I think about the ramifications of a particular English word, all of the different meanings and the nuances.
When I select words now, I do it from the viewpoint of communication. I can talk to small children in English and teach them something about Dharma. I can teach old people. I have spoken with scientists and medical people about comparisons between their field of expertise and Buddhism, and how they could benefit from Buddhism through their understanding of their own field. These kinds of things were impossible before.

Rinpoche, as a Western adult female guru, have you changed your teaching style from the way you taught in your last incarnation?
I am a communicator now. The end result does not come without communicating how difficult your situation actually is. I do not teach about the nature of suffering the way same way we do in traditional teachings. Please do not misunderstand. So much of the teachings in Tibetan Buddhism revolve around suffering and I do not do it that way. It is not within the context of the Western mind that allows itself to appreciate one's own life and their own possibilities, and their own possibility of attaining enlightenment. I call this joyful path and teach in different method. When it is done correctly, benefit come.
Like mayflies, very small and beautiful flying insects that only live one day, your lives are so short. You seem to think that they go on and on and on forever. But in comparison to my many lives and the time since my release from that very thing that holds you, you are like mayflies. You will be here for a short time -- your entire life will pass like one day for a mayfly. You are in a burning building and I am standing outside saying, "Come out of the burning building." You do not even notice that it is burning around you. "Come out. I have something nice to tell you. Will you come here?"
I am trying to move you away from your fascination with samsara. Perhaps right now you are young and beautiful, but in future, your life as a mayfly, it will only be a few hours before you are bent over. I never pass away and I teach very gently what it is like to be long life and to live among those who are in danger and needing to come away from danger now. Each life that you go through, you will not necessarily have an opportunity to be brought out of danger. You may live many lives in the future where you do not have an opportunity to escape. This is your time to escape from the clutches of this difficulty.
Like that, I am here to communicate your own need. I am here to communicate the necessity of coming under protection. I am talking about refuge. I have an obligation to arise in the form that is needed. I was thinking very strongly this morning, "How is it that I am in dilemma?" I see these cowboys on television. They get into the gated area with a bucking horse. I've got my hat in my hand now and I say open the gate.
This transmission from our little nurturing cradle in Tibet to the world must be done correctly or it becomes just another fascination, just another pretend kind of a thing to do, and it not hit the mark. When I am talking about deep levels, the real transformation has to happen at this very deep level.
Please tell me, how does one enter the path to find these deep levels?
You must mentally, from your own side, request to begin. This is a subject that is not really covered very much, and it is the very subject that new people coming to Tibetan Buddhism that they want to hear about. So I am spending a long time in discussing this from the Western point of view and really looking at it from my interior in expressing what I know and seeing just how that is mixing with what you understand. That is the nature of communication. Not the fact that I have some Tibetan text to chant to you or because I can ring the bell very well - this is not what you need to hear. You need to hear what you do not understand.
If you have a spiritual nature and raised in Tibet, you would have begun at a very early age. However, you were not born in Tibet, you were born in other places. When that happens, you have gone around and you have gathered information and created interesting things and you have also created controversies. You come to me as what I used to call Swiss cheese. You know some things very well and so you keep doing the things you know because you are familiar with them. You do not realize that all around you are big deep holes of things that you have never heard about and do not know about and cannot figure out.
Some people in the West look at compassion as a method of moving away from their own self-absorption. They look at being careful with others, and at skillful social interaction on many different levels. They look at it as caring for others, and a breakthrough in understanding of themselves. This is all good thinking but I assure you that this is not the wisdom compassion that is needed to arise in the deep levels. That is not the spiritual compassion energy - it is not, it is not, it is not.
In my before I could not tell people that. What happened is that they confused their practice of compassion with this kind of social compassion and emotional compassion. What happens is that they become a volunteer and they go to the rain forest and save the trees, and they do not do an authentic spiritual practice. In that lifetime they have all kinds of good deeds they did, but it is not spiritual development. I have wanted to say that for a long time. Thank you.
Is it OK to have that kind of compassion? Of course it is. If you do not have that kind of compassion nobody wants to be around you. Jails are filled with people who are like this.
So that is OK, but to begin there are the practices that I give, the main one of which is the Blue Healing of Wisdom Light sadhana. This is the thangka that is shown here on the wall. This is the abstract form of the anuttarayoga tantra practice that is given in the abstract form because you have a tendency to objectify what it is and what it is not and to figure it out so cleverly that you close off your ability to be able to practice carefully. You might close off and you have taken the very cure and created a controversy in your mind.
Does that mean that you don't give deity practice, Rinpoche?
I do give deity practice. However, I am very careful that practitioners do not project a fantasy practice on top of deity practice and not get the desired result. There is no easy way for the practitioner to know if they are doing a fantasy practice or if it is an authentic practice. I have no objection working with those who have gained some proficiency in deity practice. It is not a difficulty at all.
Going back to being an American female Guru, does this indicate you feel there is a different role for men in the future?
No, I think men should have every advantage they now have and in addition that women who are equal qualified receive same advantage. We gurus not have infinite amount of time so not possible to work with everyone in the deeper process. We have to have the system so that gender is not the criteria. Who enter into the deep transmission depend on preparation and qualities that only gurus can see.
All authentic beings have a male side and a female side. In my before I had a very strong female side. In the tantric process, the transformation occurs through a dichotomy of energy and I teach these things very clearly in the highest yoga tantra practices. In that way, I was a male on the outside and I was also female. Now I am again both male and female. I am not androgynous. I am very clearly female and clearly male.
What difference does it make? However, for the benefit of ordinary women and ordinary men, we must have a way for all people to be able to be comfortable and come to the Dharma and receive teachings.
How does this concept relate to Carl Jung's "Anima/Animus" theory that an integrated person has male/female characteristics in balance?
This concept agrees with his theory, but takes it to a much deeper level. I have students -- psychotherapists who are looking at their practice of psychotherapy as a method to understand the deeper dynamics of their own integration. They get to a certain level and then they come to a stopping point where they can't go any farther on their own.
This is the level that I begin the actual enlightened integration process: a deeper level in balancing the male and female energies, not male and female all mixed together where they take on the characteristics of the other sex. It is real energy work that has not even been touched. I begin at this level and that is why people in psychology looking for their own healing want to begin practicing with me.
This touches on the transformative effect of the transmissions that are so carefully preserved and treasured in the highest levels of practitioners. My teachings are complete in accordance with the Tibetan tradition.

Thank you. Are you implying then that the male and female have similar ability to solve the problems that occur?
Absolutely yes. I am here to work with really difficult problems that affect both male and female human beings who wish to become free -- and who wish that sincerely for others. I am doing my traditional way of taking students and helping them grow and giving them the enlightenment process. This is completely aside from many different works that we old guys do.
I laugh with my students and enjoy being with them. We not so serious, but we very serious about the pure transmission of Buddhism from pure Tibetan sources. Je Tsongkapa was the miracle of the pure teaching tradition that has been handed down to my trembling hand in the marvelous lineage that has included Je Phabonka Rinpoche, and Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche and the great Geshe Jampa Chombe, my guru. I salute them all.


Buddhism in Australia

A shorter version of this article first appeared in 'Saturday Extra', The Age, May 18 2002.
Jenny Kee was raised as an Anglican. As a teenager, however, she drifted away from the church and from faith. By her mid-20s she was a famous fashion designer; in her late 20s she married and had a child. It was a good life. Then, in 1977, Kee and her baby daughter Grace were travelling from the Blue Mountains to Sydney when their train was crushed under a falling bridge at Granville. Eighty-three people died many of them in the same carriage as Kee and Grace. For the first time, Kee felt that in order to recover she had to find something bigger than herself.
Christianity didn't feel like the answer. Instead, she tried meditation; she tried Siddha Yoga, a variant of Hinduism. In 1986 she went to Thailand to work with Thai weavers and met a Buddhist monk, Ajahn Pongsuk. The monk, whose work fighting the destruction of forests has been recognized by global environmentalists such as David Attenborough and Friends of the Earth, told Kee "that the house we live in is our second home; our first home is the forest''.
"If one has a spiritual awakening I had it in the bush,'' says Kee. "I came back from Thailand in 1986 and became a raging environmentalist.'' She became an activist, travelling to Jabiluka to protest against uranium mining. She was arrested in protest against logging in the South East Forest in New South Wales. In Kee's mind, environmentalism and Buddhism were the same.
In 1997 Kee and her partner Danton Hughes restored a dairy farmer's cottage in the Blue Mountains. The beautiful house looks across the mountains, the regenerating bush and a sea of waratahs. The home and the garden testify to Hughes' craftsmanship, and the love he and Kee shared. And it was here a year ago that Hughes, who suffered from depression, committed suicide.
In the horrific time after his death, Kee's absorption in Buddhism intensified, becoming a daylong, lifelong commitment. She read The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying and found a "profound wisdom'' in it. She has been left with an intense desire to understand the meaning of suffering and to transform it.
"The personal picture is me, in a house, with a body,'' she says of her loss. "And then there is the bigger picture.'' She nods towards a large window of her house in which the sun is setting, turning the bush a dark blue and the sky gold.
"The pain of his death was like an explosion,'' she says. "That pain opens your heart; shock does that to you. . . You ask me what bought me to Buddhism? Suffering. Suffering and great pain.''If Kee's personal story is extraordinary, her turn towards Buddhism is not. Australia today has 348 organizations that describe themselves as Buddhist, more than twice as many as in 1995. The Dalai Lama's book, The Art of Happiness, has sold more than 150,000 copies in Australia and is among a series of Buddhist bestsellers in Western countries. They include A Path With Heart by American Buddhist Jack Kornfield and The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying - whose author, Sogyal Rinpoche, spoke on business ethics to a seminar organized by Sydney's Commonwealth Bank. Buddhism also has a huge presence on the Internet, including the world's most visited Buddhist website,, run from a Sydney office by Australian born Thai Buddhist monk, Venerable Pannyavaro.
And from tomorrow, for four days, the Dalai Lama is speaking at the Tennis Centre. The crowds are certain to be large: when he spoke there in 1992 the audience was the largest he had ever attracted in a Western country. Thirty thousand people turned up, but some 10,000 had to be turned away. The organizer of that tour, business man George Farley, talked to me of his amazement when he realized that the traffic jam holding up the car in which he was driving with His Holiness' Secretary, Tenzin Geyche, to the Tennis Centre was caused by people trying to get there. "Where are all these people going?" he asked. "To see His Holiness" I said.
But what does Buddhism's popularity mean? Does it reflect deeper shifts in the state of spirituality and religion? Or are most of the people who will go to the Tennis Centre, and thousands of others, gripped by the latest fashion in the money-rich, soul-poor West?
"You better hope you don't come back as a whale in your next life,'' warns a recent Greenpeace advertisement. And blazing across a New Idea cover last month: Bizarre New Life. Brad and Jen quit holiday for Buddhist hideaway. You can find signs of Buddhism's cultural presence everywhere. And yet the numbers of converts are more modest. In the 1996 census 199,000 people described themselves as Buddhists, a leap of 59,000 people from the last census. That made Buddhism Australia's second fastest-growing religion, after Hinduism, but most of the devotees are immigrants from Indochina, Taiwan and Sri Lanka. About 10,000 Buddhists were converts from western backgrounds, compared to the 50,000 Vietnamese Buddhists who live in Melbourne alone.
"People grossly overestimate Buddhism's western numbers,'' says Professor Gary Bouma, a Monash University sociology professor and Anglican minister. Bouma thinks many more people profess vague allegiance to the ideals of Buddhism than are card-carrying members. Buddhism, he adds, "is the religion to have when you're not having a religion.'' Similarly, Greg Bailey, a Reader in Sanskrit at Latrobe University, thinks the allure of Tibetan Buddhism is fuelled by western fascination with the exotic. The Dalai Lama, he says, "is promoting a particular image of Buddhism popular with the middle classes.'' But the Reverend Philip Hughes of the Christian Research Association has a different view. He thinks the census figures don't reflect Buddhism's influence: how it has managed to both reflect and benefit from a fundamental shift in western attitudes to spirituality.
Hughes observes a huge growth in spiritual experiment in Australia. Churches are experiencing a churn effect: 38 per cent of worshippers between 1991 and 1996 were newcomers, while 33 per cent of previous worshippers left the church in that period, according to the 1996 census. And half of all people who put `No religion' on the census form said that spirituality mattered to them.
It's a climate tailor-made for Buddhism, says Hughes. Unlike Christianity, Buddhism in the West doesn't ask followers to make a lifelong and exclusive commitment, or to join a community of believers. "People will do a meditation course for three or four weeks, read some books or go to a forum,'' he says. "They will do something as long as they see it might have benefits for them. They don't necessarily want the full Buddhist picture of the world and a lot of Buddhist teachers are not requiring that.''
The key, perhaps, is meditation, which is not exclusive to but is strongly associated with Buddhism. A 1998 survey of 8500 Australians by Hughes' association and Edith Cowan University in Perth found that 10 per cent of the group had practiced Eastern meditation -"about the same number as you'd find in church on any particular Sunday,'' says Hughes.
The changes are reshaping the church, too. The long dormant tradition of meditation in Christianity is being revived through church-based meditation groups. Bouma says that has nothing to do with Buddhism; rather, it reflects "the cultural drift towards experiential religion, the pursuit of transcendence within''. But Hughes thinks, "Buddhism has opened us (Christians) to different possibilities, and to parts of our tradition that we have forgotten.''It is 8pm on a Friday and at the Tara Institute in Mavis Avenue, East Brighton, the Tibetan Lama Venerable Geshe Doga is about to give a teaching. Tara, one of Melbourne's largest Western Buddhist centres, is housed in an old Brighton mansion. Beside the house is a gompa, or temple, a building that was once a Catholic chapel.
A crowd of about 80 sits cross-legged on maroon cushions as the lama leads prayers and a haunting, monotone chant. Those who don't know the words rock silently. It's a stirring moment but the lecture that follows is harder going. Although the lama has quick, expressive hands and an encouraging smile his lecture is hardcore Buddhist metaphysics on the nature of the mind. And it's in Tibetan. His translator, a wry German-born monk called Venerable Fedor, cracks the odd deadpan joke.
Western Buddhism in Melbourne is dominated by the Tibetan school. (Zen, which has had such an influence on American Buddhism, shaping the writings of Jack Kerouac and Alan Ginsberg among others, has never been strong here.) The reasons go back to 1959, when China's invasion of Tibet sent a generation of brilliant Buddhist teachers - notably the Dalai Lama - into exile in India and the West. But in the early Seventies a young man, Dr Nick Ribush, who had worked for several years at the Royal Melbourne Hospital's renal unit Brisbane, went to travel the world. He got as far as Kopan Monastery, in Nepal.
'The 1972 course was when Nick Ribush turned up. Nick was sending letters back to Australia saying "you've got to get into this" and friends started getting really worried, saying, "Nick's flipped". He was sending these twenty page letters in '73. Twenty people came over. This created an incredible raft and explains the strength Melbourne has over a lot of other cities in the world,' says Adele Hulse, a member of Tara Institute, and a practising Buddhist since Ribush's time.
In 1974 Nick took ordination, and went on to set up the Buddhist publishing house Wisdom Publications. He disrobed some years ago, but remains devout, not dismissing the possibility that he might become a monk again. He still works for the Dharma, out of Boston. Even though we only spoke by email and the phone his warmth and compassion was extraordinary. To talk to Nick is to talk to a man who has left his former self along way behind. Like many of the people I spoke to, the trigger for their initial interest in Buddhism seems so long ago to them as to be irrelevant. Perhaps Buddhist teachings about living in the present has fundamentally changed their relationship to their past. Nick Ribush could not bear to retell his story, and instead sent me a wad of articles instead with gee-whiz headlines such as 'The Merry Monk' and 'Trendy doctor found peace in a cave'. In 1979, one of these article quoted him as saying working with victim's of drug dependency in hospitals was one of the things that led to his exploration of Buddhism. 'I came to the conclusion that people preferred temporary happiness to physical health and were prepared to destroy themselves in its pursuit.' Over the years he has run seminars, including one called 'Kick the Habit,' for people with addiction problems. 'The young seek solace in drugs from boredom,' he says. 'Older people try to tranquillise themselves from tension. The basic problem is dissatisfaction.'
Every week Tara holds meditation nights, study groups and more formal teachings. It has about 200 regular members but every week twice as many visitors attend casually to hear teachings or take meditation classes. While the number of members has remained steady in recent years, this second group has grown dramatically.
Many of the casual visitors are young people, says Kate Danford-Storey, who used to help organize the centre's meditation classes. "They come once or twice to try it out. A lot of people are not interested in Buddhism but meditation and then they find out about Buddhism secondarily."
As with Kee, a traumatic event triggered Danford-Storey's involvement in Buddhism. At 19 she worked at a suburban bank that was robbed by an armed gunman. Although the experience was awful at the time, Danford-Storey now calls it the best thing that ever happened to her. "It was a catalyst for me to stop what I was doing and become a better person. It was the Dalai Lama's non-violence that attracted me. Having had violence inflicted on me I never wanted to inflict it on others. It is one of the most crippling things that can happen to a person.''
Jenny and Kate's experiences capture the delicacy of the west's embrace of Buddhism. It's precarious but profound teetering between the pain that is a part of the human condition and the desire to move beyond that to a wiser, more compassionate life.Russell French, a 25-year old electrician, had a more everyday introduction to Buddhism. He went to an all-male Catholic school and as a boy saw himself as a Christian. But in his teens he found himself struggling against elements of his religion. "Guilt and damnation, they really bothered me. If you didn't do certain things you were eternally damned in hell.''
French gave up Christianity but not his spiritual search; eventually he came to Buddhism. He visits Tara occasionally and finds that meditation calms him, though he admits his commitment has slipped lately because it is so hard to keep up. He is also experimenting with Bhakti yoga, a form of Hinduism. "I'm still searching for something that is holistic and practical,'' he says. "Something I can combine with my dreams and ambitions.'' He finds Buddhism "accessible and practical. Themes like compassion you can easily incorporate into your life.'' Christianity, on the other hand, "seems like a dying religion to me.''
French's words about Buddhism, of course, could also be applied to Christianity, especially the emphasis on compassion. The Dalai Lama himself, during a Christian-Buddhist dialogue held in Britain in the early `90s, said that Christianity, as the foundation of western culture, might be a more natural path for westerners to follow than an eastern philosophy such as Buddhism.
But Buddhism's appeal stems partly from this very refusal to be evangelical or exclusive. And in a time of suspicion of institutionalized religion, Buddhism is neither dominated by institutions nor is it a religion. It is a philosophy, a way of being in the world.
Tibetan Buddhism does demand adherence to certain behaviour: no killing of any living thing, no intoxicants, no bad speech and so on. But the basic tenet of Buddhism is not belief in a religious meta-narrative but the practice of meditation, or mindfulness. This does not require a leap of faith but discipline. When asked if Buddhism works the Vietnamese monk and best-selling author Thich Nat Hahn says merely: try it; follow the rise and fall of your breath and see how quickly the mind changes.
Adele Hulse relates her opening to Buddhism: "When I first met Lama Yeshe (her guru) my father had just died. Lama Yeshe said, `What is born must die'. I said, `I don't believe this stuff', and he said, `you don't have to believe. In Buddhism you don't need belief and you don't need faith. You need intelligence and understanding.'''
Elizabeth Weiss, a Sydney book publisher and Tibetan Buddhist, says the flexibility of Buddhist thought appeals to younger people because it resembles much contemporary philosophy. "The Buddhist notion of emptiness fits in with post-modernism because it argues there is no essential truth. The Buddhist idea of interdependence of all things fits with our understanding with modern physics.'
Buddhism's peaceful image seems embodied in the Dalai Lama. His "humanity, level-headedness and humour'' have had "an enormous impact on the world, whether you are a Buddhist or not.'' says Vicki Mackenzie, a journalist and author of Why Buddhism.
Professor Carl Wood, the IVF pioneer, remembers taking the Dalai Lama on a tour of the Monash IVF program. "He wanted to know about IVF. It took an hour and a half and all the time his hands were going up and down.'' As Wood tells it the Dalai Lama was literally weighing up the issue. Finally Wood asked: "what's your verdict on IVF?'' "He said: `There's good and bad in it.' Then he played around a bit, putting his hands in the air. `A little more good than bad.' Wood says the Dalai Lama "was the first religious leader to say anything good about IVF.''
At the time Wood had no involvement with Buddhism but while sick with cancer two years ago, he decided to learn how to meditate. Meditation not only helped Wood's battle with cancer, but provoked an appreciation of Buddhism. "I liked its principles and its teachings,'' he says; its "acceptance of others' difference.''
People often approach Buddhism after some life crisis: sickness, a failed marriage, and some overwhelming anxiety. An even more common starting point is a wish to reduce stress through meditation. The end of a long relationship, and the consequent anxiety and despair, drove Peter Kelly, a warm and open man in his `70s, "into the arms of the Buddhists''. "I found, and still find, the whole practice of meditation a wonderful way of providing a core of tranquillity.''
As a teen Erica Wagner, now 39 and working in publishing, read some books with Eastern themes, notably Hermann Hesse's Siddhartha. When her children were young she tried yoga and meditation. But her interest only quickened when she went through the agony of a marriage breakdown. A psychologist who was a Buddhist lent her books: in one, The Miracle of Mindfulness, Thich Nat Hahn writes about the joy that can be found in making a cup of tea, as long as the mind is only focussed on that experience. "I just read that one chapter and I knew I could be happy,'' says Wagner.
Wagner is attracted to Buddhism because "I spend so much time working, so I try to apply this idea of `everything is just going to happen' to my life. I like the down-to-earthness of it. If I feel myself panicking, I can, with discipline, calm myself down.'' It could be argued that increasing interest in Buddhism over the last thirty years or so reflects wider cultural shifts and an attempt to address some of the ethical dilemmas confronting our culture, dilemma's caused by, among other things, over-population and Capitalism. "I've always thought that is really why communism was so successful, because it appeals to the spiritual hunger in people. It's such a good idea. The Dalai Lama was on record as saying in the 1950s that he saw strong parallels between communism and Buddhism," says Farley.
Simone Ford, a 31-year-old editor at Pan Macmillan who is interested in, but does not practise Buddhism says, "I wasn't looking for something greater in my life, but I recognized something in Buddhism that was akin to how I wanted to live my life. Being kind to other people, respect for animals, not consumerist."
Professor Lindsay Falvey, a Professor of Agriculture at Melbourne University puts it this way, "Buddhism talks about the development of agriculture as the beginning of amoral behaviour. It creates hording and attempts to corner the market and all the ensuing distribution problems. We have more than enough food [in this world] you just can't get your hands on it if you live in the wrong place."
It is easy to spot the similarities between Buddhism and counter-culture philosophies. Indeed, along with aspects of other Eastern religions, Buddhism was the inspiration for many of them. Buddhism has been incorporating ideas about compassion and social change into a daily way of life for thousands of years. Most of the people I spoke to who had been involved in Buddhism since the Seventies had been embroiled in the politics of that time.
Sandy McCutcheon, of Radio National's Australia Talks Back, ran illusion farm in Tasmania, as a Buddhist retreat during the Seventies. In many ways it was a simple extension of the notion of social activism and communal living. At the time of his conversion he worked in that hot bed of alternative living and socialism that was 2JJ (the forerunner of ABC Radio's JJJ).
"I was doing what a lot of people did in the late sixties and seventies - spiritual supermarket shopping. . . I did an interview with Anne McNeil, a Tibetan nun. Something happening in that interview. She said enlightenment was achievable within a single lifetime. And I had my moment. My Saul on the road to Damascus experience."
A few weeks later Sandy went back to Tasmania and built a gompa (temple) on his farm. "We ran this place to create the conditions where others could come if they wanted to. We had everyone imaginable- the mentally ill, people with problems with drugs and alcohol, prostitutes from the Cross. We ran it without ever talking about Buddha dharma. If they wanted to wander over to the gompa and listen to the teachings they could. Three thousand five hundred people went through the place."
Today it could be argued that younger people who have become involved in Buddhism have something in common with a growing political force, the Greens, not that either group would necessarily welcome the comparison. At 31, Peter Michelson has been a Buddhist and member of the Brunswick-based Friends of the Western Buddhist Order for 13 years. For the past year he has run a company called Coffee on the Run and is committed to running a business which is good place to work and practice, as well as sourcing ethical products - in this case coffee grown by growers who are light on the chemicals and have good employment practices.
"There is a lot of emphasis on working together. Communication is a big part of it. Trying to be as honest and direct as you can. Being open to feedback. Do you go for profit or do you go for customer service? I'm more into customer service and doing the job well and I figure that way the money will come anyway."
It's a long way from mysticism and mind-altered states. So, too, is the work of Dick Jeffrey, a former TAFE teacher and member of Tara Institute. Jeffries is the director of the Maitreya Project's Universal Education School in Bodhgaya, India _ the place in north India where Buddha is said to have found enlightenment. He spends several months a year in Bodgahaya, helping develop a school for children. The students work through the day, usually in the fields, but after days that often reach 50 degrees they come to school in the relative cool of the evening. It is their only chance of an education.
Falvey believes there is a different moral base between politics and Buddhism, arguing that political movements are single-minded in their attempts to achieve particular outcomes. "Buddhism is based on central teachings of conditionality and interdependence. Everything is effected by and affects everything else. Karma is the simplest expression of that. A green perspective is more absolute."
Falvey also makes the broader point that the renewed interest in Buddhism has coincided with political shifts, particularly identified with the Keating era, to orientate Australia away from Europe and towards Asia. Certainly history has played a part in all this, and Buddhism's popularity has been spreading rapidly in the West since the Chinese invaded Tibet in 1959 and drove many Buddhist practitioners out of that country and around the world.
Adele Hulse elaborates on this: "There were ten lamas who were the main exponents of Tibetan Buddhism to Westerners. Seven of them were deeply conservative, didn't speak English and used translators. Protecting and maintaining the lineage was their job. But three of them were wild cards. Sogyal Rinpoche is one of those wildcards. Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche who died in Naropa Institute in Boulder, he was another one of those wild cards. Lama Yeshe is the third wild card."To the committed, Buddhism is often a modest proposal: to respect other living things, to practice small acts of compassion, to seek to be happy. A Buddhist proverb says that the unenlightened man gets up in the morning, goes into the field, hews the wood and draws the water. The enlightened man . . . does exactly the same. Except he does it mindful of living in the moment, of every thought and action. It's the simple thing, so hard to do.
Falvey doesn't think Buddhism will have a big impact on Australian culture. Nor, for similar reasons, does Michelson. He acknowledges that while thousands of people come through the doors of the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order in Brunswick, many don't come again. "To live up to Buddhism's ideals is very hard,'' he says. "To actually bring it about takes all of your energy.''
Some argue that more casual relationships with Buddhism, which is as deep as many enthusiasts go, are not enough to produce an authentic western movement. In Boomer Buddhism, a tough piece published on the website last year, American professor of religion Stephen Prothero argued that in its worst incarnations, Buddhism was being harnessed to achieve those old-fashioned American goals of power, personal autonomy and profit. He cited the advent of Buddhist gift shops and books such as Zen and the Art of Screenwriting, Zen Sex, Zen and the Art of Poker. "Instead of preserving Buddhism, Americans seem intent on co-opting and commercializing it, dissolving a religion deeply suspicious of the self into an engine of self-absorption.''
Precisely because it is so easygoing and tolerant Buddhism can be seen as just another New Age philosophy. "The unfortunate co-incidence of the human potential movement and the rise of Buddhism in the West have made some people think Buddhism is the best way to ensure personal empowerment in all situations,'' says Rachael Kohn, presenter of Radio National's The Spirit of Things. "All traditions can be subverted by venal self-interest and Buddhism is no exception. ''
Is Buddhism transforming the West, or is the West transforming Buddhism? Peter Kelly agrees that because Buddhism focuses so much on the mind, its bad habits and how to change them, the philosophy is vulnerable to being used as therapy. "I think there are analogies between the process of psychotherapy and the path of self-realization in Buddhism. But there is a danger. The Buddhist focus on developing generosity and compassion is about something other than just solving inner conflicts that come from childhood.''
But Buddhism-as-therapy doesn't really worry Adele Hulse. "Better people prop themselves up than fall over,'' she says with a shrug. "It's a beginning.''
The Dalai Lama has been quoted as saying people should practise the religion of the culture we are born into. For a lot of us that means Christianity. While Professor Bouma believes says there is relatively little dialogue between Christianity and Buddhism, he believes more talking is done at a Grass Roots level, and within particular communities, such as the Vietnamese community. "In a Vietnamese family people will frequently say there are Catholic and Buddhist, which is interesting."
"In Braybrook, Victoria, the Head of the United Vietnamese Congregation, Venerable Thich Phuoc Tan and Minister Dean Eland from the Uniting Church's Sunshine Mission are doing a lot of talking. "We don't talk much about our different religious traditions but we realize we have a lot of similarities," Reverend Eland told me. "We talk a lot about the drop out rate of young people from our respective religious traditions. We are all dealing with a pluralism of community and I've been encouraging different faith groups to work together to build a sense of community." At one time Braybrook was described as one of Victoria's most disadvantaged suburbs. "That has changed in the last 2-3 years." Reverend Eland told me.
Venerable Thich's temple is a jumbled assortment of temporary buildings and more traditional temples. He has run it since 1996 and looks not unlike the laughing Buddha in the shrine at the front of the temple, though when I talk to him about his workload the smile disappears.
The story of his temple reflects the shift that has taken place, at least in Buddhism among refugee cultures, between how the religion operated in its country of origin and how it operates in Australia. "The nature of the Buddhist temple in Australia has changed enormously. I think about 30% religious [work] and 70% education and community," Venerable Thich told me. "The role of the monk in Australia has also changed. In Vietnam the monks do not engage in too much day-to-day activity. In Australia the expectation somehow has reversed. We are more socially engaged."
Reverend Dean Eland elaborates. "It is in the early stages for the Buddhist community and they are overwhelmed by demand on their services. We've been working with them to help them access resources in the community. For example, the Braybrook community centre provides training for starting community projects and community leaders. We have established a municipal advisory committee on projects and building."
The United Vietnamese Congregation of Victoria was established in 1980, but moved from Richmond, to Footscray, then Sunshine before the funds were raised to buy land in Braybrook. This story of moving from house to house while getting the money together to buy land is a common one.
Venerable Thich Quang Ba from Canberra explains the long and tortuous process of setting up a temple. "We start in a very small way. Rent a house, buy a house, neighbours complain, there will be some court case. It takes many years for someone to collect sufficient funds to buy a block of land, and many more years to build. Some hardworking monks have to create fundraising ways. Some dinner, some concert, some raffles."
There are approximately 75,000 Vietnamese people living in Melbourne, two-thirds of whom are Buddhists. As with temples that Westerner's attend, traditional Buddhist temples operate as a focal point for those with a casual interest in Buddhism as well as more active members. Venerable Sen Kotta Sunthindriya is from the North Buddhist Association in Mickleham, a large temple surrounded by beautiful rose gardens. It has a largely Sri Lankan constituency. The centre has around 250 financial members -not much more than the large Tibetan centres I spoke to. But hundreds would turn up on a special day, such as Buddha's Birthday. Braybrook temple had more than 10,000 people last New Year's day.
In general there is little relationship between different Buddhist groups - neither between western and traditional centres, nor between different ethnic centres. According to Venerable Thich Quang Ba, "Language is an important factor. A lot of ethnic groups are still clinging hard to their own group. They don't have much interest to contact and talk and to communicate and to work together with other ethnic Buddhist groups."
A further reason for this reserve could be that ethnic Buddhist groups tend to be competing with each other for limited cash to fund their centres. Tibetan groups, along with the Taiwanese are better off in this regard as the wealthier people who attend their centres help fund them.
Many Buddhist practitioners have arrived in Australia in the last 25 years, so to some extent the growth of 'ethnic' Buddhism in Australia has been expanding over the same time that Westerners have begun embracing it. However it is only very recently that Western practitioners of Buddhism have begun to engage more fully with traditional Buddhism. Western Buddhists can feel disconnected from the way these communities practise Buddhism, with their emphasis on ritual and ceremony - devotion, if you will - rather than Buddhism's more philosophical components and on meditation.
Gabrielle Laffit, a full time activist for the Tibetan cause and consultant to the Australian Tibet Council talks of the fact that Westerner's engagement with Buddhism often begins as an intellectual thing, even though the religion is at heart ultimately experiential, not intellectual "Emptiness is the fire in which all concept burns." As the years go by Westerners are shifting to a more rigorous and disciplined practice. Lafitt again, "Traditional Buddhism is about devotion and practice and we are just starting that." Traditional and Western Buddhism are becoming closer as Western Buddhism becomes more devotional. Australian Buddhism, it seems, is just beginning that long journey from the head to the heart.Let's consider a fantasy world for a moment, one in which Buddhism; with its emphasis on personal responsibility and compassion was the underpinning philosophy. What would it be like? Many Buddhist practises have much to offer current political debates. Actress Tracey Mann, a practising Buddhist for the last eight years, elaborates. "I opened the paper this morning and there was a photo of another dead body, an Israeli soldier. This is the most important thing for us today: His Holiness the Dalai Lama practices what he preaches. The very least vow you take to be a Buddhist is to not kill."
Sandy McCutcheon spoke to me about Australia's treatment of refugees - several months before the recent Tampa and Woomera Crises. "I hope for the psyche of the nation that there will be a strong Buddhist presence. On a wider lever I hope it will affects the laws we draft, such as those about detention centres."
Professor Falvey believes a Buddhist society "would have deep insight into the interdependence of all things. This is much more than ecology. . Includes inanimate objects, cosmic events . . . Non-violence is a central teaching. Non-violence to self and others. It includes the environment in which one lives.""
"My image of Buddhism is this," McCutcheon told me. 'Years ago, at three in the morning and I heard a car coming down the drive. I thought, 'Oh someone's coming' and went to stoke up the fire. It was wet and misty and cold and I looked out the window and coming across the paddock in a nightie, holding a kerosene light, was a young woman called Chrissie. 'There are people coming,' she said. 'I thought they might be hungry'. That, to me, is the spirit of Buddhism."


Buddhist Bootcamp

This article first appeared in 'Saturday Extra', The Age, April 8, 2000
A young tulku (reincarnation) lived among us at Kopan. His name was Cherok Lama, though I dubbed him lama sunglasses, because he ran around the place in traditional robes and bright red, sunglasses. While I struggled with the concept of reincarnation I couldn't deny that he was one of the most remarkable, self-contained and bright children I had ever met. Not so much a child, as an adult in a tiny body. Only 7 years old, he already spoke 5 languages fluently. Often he would command an audience of a dozen westerners and monks as he told fairy stories, like Pinocchio, with the authority of a great speaker.
In tow would often be an even tinier monk, of three or so, who work a spider man mask or green fluorescent sunnies. I hadn't known what to expect when I went to do a 30-day-retreat on Tibetan Buddhism - but I certainly hadn't expected imperious baby monks who seemed to combine the dignity of eastern tradition with a kind of western cool.
One fellow traveler had laughed when I told him where I was going. Buddhist Bootcamp he called it and certainly that is what it seemed like when I saw the timetable: Morning bell rings at 5.00am, prostrations at 5.30am. A cup of tea (spiced, sweet and milky as I was to find out ) at 6.00am, an hour's meditation from 6.30 till 7.30, followed by breakfast. This was followed by what I thought sounded nice - karma yoga- only to find that that was cleaning the bathroom and toilet. Teachings began at 9.00am and went for two-and-a-half-hours. We had a couple of hours off, then a discussion group and teachings from 3.30 till 5.00. More tea, then Meditation from 6 till 7. Dinner till 8, then back into the temple for a relaxing visualization and chant before bed.
Then there were the rules. We were to be silent from 9pm at night to after lunch the next day. In the last two weeks of the course we were only to eat one meal a day. Men and woman were to sleep separately, even if they were a couple. There was to be no stealing, killing, lying, sexual conduct or taking of intoxicants. Not surprisingly there were long debates about caffeine - not an intoxicant apparently - and definitions of sexual conduct. Did flirting count?
The monastery is an hour or so out of Katmandu. It is surrounded by the mountains of Katmandu valley, and then bracketed again by Himalayan peaks. November is a clear time of year and every morning and evening the peaks were clear and jagged, white snow turning pink with the rising or setting sun. Everest itself was black, apparently because it is too steep on the Nepalese side for the snow to rest on. In the mornings the mist circled Kopan hill and blanketed the valley below, and at times it seemed as if we were floating above the clouds. As the sun rose higher it would dissolve into wisps until Katmandu was revealed below.
The beginnings of Kopan are recounted in a way which gives them the timeless and elusive qualities of myth, though in fact the monastery was only founded in the early seventies, by .Lama Zopa and Lama Yeshe. They were boys together in a refugee camp in Northern India, after fleeing Tibet in 1959. As young men they had gone to Nepal, where they had met a blonde, statuesque Russian/Los Angelene hippie called Zina, who had found knocked on their door one day and announced, 'I want a guru'.
She may have been the first, but was by no means the last westerner to want these Lamas as their gurus, if one could judge from the 250 people from around the world who were attending the course when I was there, from places as diverse as Finland, Turkey, Jamaica, Taiwan, Spain, Singapore, Japan and America. Zina had bought the land where the monastery now stands and asked her Californian friends to join her for teachings. They did - the beginnings of the course I was about to attend. Zina became a nun, and died while meditating in a cave in the early eighties. She was found dead in meditation posture. In her death there is a mixture of both the harshness of monastic life and its poetry and mystery.
The monasteries co-founder Lama Yeshe has also died, to be reincarnated as a young Spanish boy, Osel, who was the first reported western reincarnation. He is currently being educated in both western and Tibetan traditions and is considered a 'bridge' between the two cultures - a heavy load for any teenage boy to bear.
This embracing of opposites seems commonplace in Tibetan culture and was certainly a key part of my time there. An understanding between East and West is encouraged, enemies are considered our greatest teachers and the moment one feels any certainty one is encouraged to accept it's impermanence. Magic is as accepted as the air people breath. I was to hear many stories of deaths - both 'good' and 'bad', of babies being recognized as reincarnations after they toddled up to caves and plonked themselves down, insisting they were the yogi that had meditated there until his recent death. Of great lamas dying while meditating, but not decomposing, or of their evaporation into a 'rainbow' body - light.
Here is one story: a very senior Lama who lived close to Kopan had once been thrown into prison by the Chinese. As they slammed the door behind them they said, 'let us see where your Buddhism gets you now'. They went back a week later (he had not been fed) to find he had grown fatter and his wrists were straining against his manacles. When you are there these things are discussed as matter of factly as in Melbourne we might talk about our love life, or favorite restaurant. To Tibetans such stories are not even magic - to quote our teacher- 'there is no limit to what the mind can do.'
All the older lamas were refugees, having been forced out of Tibet by the Chinese in1959 or later. No wonder, then, that the Chinese were often invoked in teachings on the need to let go of anger. That struggle makes us stronger is a truisms of East and West - but perhaps we are less tested here. Certainly it was remarkable to be surrounded by a people who have been driven out of their land yet actively work to cultivate compassion towards those who had displaced them.
Lama Zopa had been taught English by Seventies Californians. The results are bizarre and when he gave teachings he spoke an engaging mixture of halting English and hippie. Sitting above us on his throne he would lean forward at key moments and say,' I am thinking what I am telling you is important. I am thinking you should check it out.' Or would combine dated pop culture with more traditional Buddhist homilies such as this:
'Need to analyze attachment in clinging to life's comforts. From this attitude is not peace. Opposite of satisfaction. Like Elvis Presley " I don't get no satisfaction.' Sorry, made mistake. I mean those guys, "Rolling Stones" [much laughter]. Saw video of Elvis Presley's last song. The young people on ecstasy. Sorry, they were ecstatic. While he was singing, tears coming out. Even though he achieved everything, money, reputation, wealth. But no satisfaction in his heart. He sees his heart is empty.'
All the classes and meditations were held in a small temple and we sat cross-legged on cushions before the teacher, who sat in front of the Lama's throne, which was crowned by a large portrait of the Dalai Lama. Behind his image was a beautiful golden Buddha that was 12 feet high. The whole temple was incredibly ornate, with bright colors, traditional paintings and statues covered in gold leaf. Beauty is considered a sign of respect and devotion to Buddha.
The course fell into two halves, bisected for everyone by a full moon and for me by a high fever. For the first two weeks our daily teachings were given by a German monk who had come to Kopan 15 years ago as a back packer, and decided to take ordination. His teachings were on a range of things -guru devotion, karma, meditation techniques, compassion, emptiness -and even when I found myself disbelieving I still enjoyed the history, the stories and the sense of immersing myself in another culture. I struggled with meditation but was excited by the possibilities it offered. I enjoyed the visualization sessions and chanting which, however they worked, did bring about an amazing sense of peace, and control.
It was amazing how many things slipped away with ease. Coffee and alcohol, my bookends for most days in Australia, were not missed for a moment. Sex? Frankly it was a relief to be in a place where it wasn't on the agenda. (lucky, really - my daily outfit was tracksuit pants, socks and thongs and a baggy T-shirt ). The food fairly quickly became boring, but so had the endless Asian-influenced-Australian- restaurant cooking that were becoming an expensive staple at home.
But as we inched towards the full moon, everyone became increasingly feral. One woman had a very public psychotic episode and had to leave the course. We hit the center of the teachings which emphasized that all life is suffering because it is temporary.
One attempt to explain suffering to us was to describe a pizza and then point out the experience was tainted because when the pizza was finished we needed to keep eating to retain the sense of satisfaction. The class struggled to see this as suffering, and we all started to drool. Then there were hours of lectures on the notion of hell realms - the place you go if your karma is particularly bad. My favorite hell realm was one where you are crushed to death again and again by mountains that take on the shape of those you have mistreated, which led to wild thoughts of meat-eaters like myself being crushed to death by chicken mountains. Great metaphors, but hard to take seriously.
The relentlessness of the classes began to get to me. My back was killing me from sitting cross legged each day, and my mediations had gone from the profound to thinking about sex for half an hour, then falling asleep.
I started to argue with our teacher, quizzing him about Buddhism's stand on evolution, and the timeframe for Buddha's next incarnation (90 billion years). He was patient and pointed out that traditional Buddhist teachings still stated the world was flat - suggesting, I suppose, that some patience on my part wouldn't go astray. Things got even more heated when there was a question about the holocaust. Did Buddhist teachings argue that all people murdered during the holocaust had the karma to be murdered, one guy wanted to know. The answer was hard-line - yes, people with that karma chose to be born Jewish in Germany at that time.
Nor did the definition of sexual misconduct didn't leave anywhere for gay - or a lot of heterosexual couples - to go (pun intended) and as it vetoed oral and anal sex. It was at that point that one American lawyer I'd become friendly with left the course. 'No head jobs? I'm out of here,' he muttered as he headed of to go elephant riding in Chitwan National Park.
Around this time quite a few people left the course, many feeling that the emphasis of this particular tradition, Gelugpa, was too fundamentalist, puritanical and at times very culturally specific. I became angry that my fantasy about Buddhism being a kind of all-embracing cure all wasn't seem to be true and struggled at times to resolve the compassion of the Dalai Lama (also a member of this particular tradition) with some of the harshness of the teachings. I had a reluctant respect, though, for the fact that our teacher made no attempt to pretty it up for my western ears.
The day of the full moon I developed a high fever and had to go to bed (well, more literally, to floor, because I slept on a thin mat in a dorm) for several days. My fever broke the day Lama Zopa was arrived, and I started to shake of my general malaise. The monks painted beautiful symbols on the pavement with whitewash and placed buckets full of incense everywhere. More monks sat on top of the main temple blowing trumpets and others were chanting, deep and low. A couple of hours before his arrival a lot of monks put on traditional hats (kind of like cocky crests) and started to wait in line. I dragged myself up to find hundreds of monks, westerners and Tibetans holding incense and scarves with which to be blessed. The air was full of incense and the sound of a chanting which sounded like a low rumble from below the earth. I felt as if I had been catapulted into another century.
When Lama Zopa arrived he moved through the crowd, blessing everyone, talking to many. For a man who was only five feet high, his presence was amazing and his teaching later that evening was packed. Nuns and monks had come from all over Nepal, and the world to hear him. He spoke on compassion in a way which was very moving. He would cough and splutter as he spoke, and rock. Sometimes he would stop and meditate for 10 minutes or so without speaking. At times he would appear to fall asleep, which wouldn't be surprising given that he was reputed to never go to bed. Certainly he was meeting with members of the course till all hours - three, four, sometimes five in the morning.
But there was a strange beauty to the way he used language that compensated for such eccentricities. Take this talk on compassion:
'From compassion one experiences tranquility, peace of mind, fulfillment. Better than a relationship. Brings happiness for many lifetimes. Ultimately your compassion becomes source of happiness to your family, to your nation, to all sentient beings. More important than emergency hospital. Think of the impact one person without compassion, say a torturer, can make. Then think of what you can do if you are compassionate.
Stop killing is the minimum thing. Not even insects. Don't put your big feet on tiny fragile insect [one hand slaps down on the other]. Very important. Causes big change in you. Even our beautiful hands are meant for peace, not violence. Yet can become weapons. Destroy the world [ makes claws like a tigers, growls].'
It was amazing to be in the presence of someone who was so genuinely compassionate. One day I saw him crouched, chanting blessings, over a praying mantis that had some legs missing. Another day he walked around the large prayer wheel which dominated the courtyard with a caged bird he was about to release. Easy as it was to laugh at such eccentricities - and we all did at times - what was more interesting was to ponder on the absolute sincerity and love which lay behind these actions.
He had no sense of time and spoke till all hours, which was tough on those getting up at 4.00am as many people were. I took to missing the morning classes going to Lama Zopa's classes in the afternoon and evening. This gave me the mornings to play with, so I found a partner in crime, an Irishman called Tom, and we took to sneaking down to Katmandu. The first morning I did this I found a western café and ordered eggs Florentine, granola, fruit salad, fruit juice, coffee. . . well I could go on. Suffice to say it was a disgusting sight. Then we went for a spot of shopping and flirted while we were doing it. It seemed that two weeks of meditating on the nature of desire and attachment hadn't quite undone the habits of a lifetime.
The atmosphere lightened a lot in the last week or so. Peter, a Trinidadian DJ, rap danced to a purification mantra, before confiding in me that in the absence of spliff's the Vajasatva chant was as good as it gets. On the last day we were there we performed for the monks. We sung Christmas carols, did Irish jigs and warrior dance and a group of hippies sung 'Imagine'. The baby monks loved it and roared with laughter. In lieu of TV, we would have to do.
And there was always the constant, fabulous mingling of cultures, from the lamas in sunglasses that greeted me on my first day, to this exchange which took place towards the end of the course, between Daniel, a seventy-year-old, deaf, Christian, eco-warrior from Montana, and Lama Zopa. It began with Zopa rocking on his throne, slapping his body, pulling at his nose and ears. Playing the clown.
'Who thinks they are important than other people?' he announced, looking intently around the room. 'Maybe we FEEL we are the most important. What reason? What reason would that be?'
In a total non-sequiter, Daniel leapt up and yelled: 'Daniel - from Montana.'
Zopa: 'you? you think you are better than others?'
Daniel: 'trout. I fish trout, so I suppose I think I am better than trout. I eat 'em.' This guy had been trying to get permission from every nun, monk and lama he met to kill and eat trout for the last three weeks. One of the nuns had told him he should imagine he was eating his mother as he ate the trout. Clearly this hadn't daunted his enthusiasm.
Zopa:'do you ever think what the fish likes? Must research what happens to the fish. Think how you would feel if you were hooked in the mouth.' He says, then puts his finger in cheek and tugs on it.
Daniel,:'trouts don't have so many nerve endings in their mouth' then concedes: 'they probably wouldn't like them much.'
'I think the mountain fish will clap their fins' Zopa said before clapping his hands in a trout-like fashion. 'fish think "he goes to course now won't catch us". Maybe they make big party.'
When I got back the first thing a lot of people wanted to know was whether I felt changed and the answer is yes. I loved the tea, and the chanting, and the company and the porridge for breakfast. I loved the mist curling up around us in the morning as we watched the sunrise. I loved Lama Zopa's teachings. While I hadn't believed everything I heard, to be in a place where acceptance, rather than scepticism was the order of the day has given me a lightness I didn't have before my time there.
But people want to know about the hard core stuff. Did ANYTHING happen, they would insist? I suppose they meant levitation or something sexy and tantric. So, this was my moment, though it is as hard to hold onto as Daniel's writhing trout. We were wondering around the monastery doing a walking meditation, when the thought crossed my mind that I could just as easily be any of the other people around me. My westerner's insistence on my individuality and difference slipped away. I imagined, if you like, the possibilities - the relief - of a life where my ego didn't insist on putting itself at the center of everything. One second of realization in thirty days.
But that seconds means I have stopped seeing myself as at odds with the world and am slightly closer to accepting I am part of it. And I certainly don't intend to let the fact a some Bhuddists still think the world is flat stop me from exploring a world where magic is possible and the mind, with all it's capacity for love and generosity is considered limitless.


Chogtrul Trijang Rinpoche
An Interview and a Message for the Web

I was recognized as a reincarnation of Trijang Rinpoche by the present Dalai Lama, trough a divination with dough balls and also by Dorje Shugden oracle.
Actually there were 500 candidates but they were looking for a candidate with particular signs. After the first screening one hundred candidates were left; then again 10 candidates, then 3 and lastly myself.

For this examination they showed to us some personal belongings of the previous Trijang Rinpoche; we had to choose the right ones. At that time I was 2 years old. They showed to me the picture of the previous incarnation and they asked: "who is this?" and I answered: "This is me!" Another time they showed me a picture of a group of Lamas and they asked: "Where are you?". I pointed to the right Lama in the picture.

One of the follower of the previous Trijang Rinpoche was a teacher in the Central School for Tibetans in Dalhousie. He had a relic, a tooth of Trijang Rinpoche, completely wrapped in a cloth. He showed it to me and asked: "What is inside here?" and I answered indicating my teeth.
There were many other proofs of this kind, many signs that I was the right reincarnation but now I don't remember them all.

Do you remember your previous life?

Most of the Tulkus have very vivid memories, a very clear mind of their previous lives when they are very young but then, as they grow up, they start to forget: things of this life become more important, predominant. If it was not like that, no Rinpoches would need to study!
If I have to express my personal experience, I do not feel I am a reincarnation. I just feel I am a lucky child. Being a reincarnation brings many benefits: for example when I was a child I received many toys. But there are also many responsibilities.

The previous Kyabje Trijang Rinpoche was a promoter of Dharma. He helped the Dharma to flourish, especially of the Gelug School; so most Tibetans are directly or indirectly his followers or disciples. I myself feel that he was an omniscient being, very learned and that his morality was flawless; so I am always trying my best in order not to spoil his image.
My responsibility is not to let the Buddhadharma degenerate especially of the Gelugpa tradition; and to have it flourish everywhere. It is a big responsibility and is also a responsibility of many Gelugpa Lamas. I always pray that everything will turn out the way I feel and pray.

Which is your daily schedule?

In the morning I recite some small prayers, the Arapatsa mantra [the wisdom mantra] and Migtsema [Lama Tsong Khapa mantra] then I take my breakfast. After that I start my main studies: for 1 hour and half I memorize texts. Then I have a class with Geshe Tsultrim on the Commentary to the Well Explained Essence of Definite and Interpretative Meanings. Then lunch and after lunch I have another class with Geshe Tsultrim on Tantra. Later I study Tibetan grammar and composition and in the evening, after dinner, I recite the texts memorized in the morning. My day ends with my daily prayers.

Chogtrul Trijang Rinpoche message for the web

I am very glad that you created these web pages because I feel that this web site can be very helpful, especially for the follower of the Buddhist path. Peace can be established in the world only by Dharma, by spiritual path.
It is true that the world is undergoing a lot of progress, a lot of technological and military development; but there are also many pitfalls and disadvantages. Material progress is very limited, it is just external development related to external happiness. Inner happiness can be brought about only by Dharma.

There are many religions in this world and it is important that whatever religion a person choose he (or she) has to pursue it with enthusiasm, without criticizing other religion. That is wrong.
If we talk in a Buddhist context or perspective, Buddhadharma is very comprehensive and profound. It is impossible to learn Dharma in a short time, in a month or something like that. It is the same with spiritual studies or with worldly studies. In order to achieve something you need to study day by day, with the right teacher.

We can say that the essence of Buddhadharma is not to harm anybody. If we can benefit sentient beings of course it is very good but, if this is not possible, at least we should not harm. If we apply this in our daily life, in our daily practice, it is possible to progress in our spiritual path.
In fact it is not enough just to study the Dharma. We need to put it into practice. The reason for studying the Dharma is to tame the mind. If we do not put these precious instructions into practice, they can inspire hatred or competitiveness. So it is important to understand that the reason for studying is to tame the mind. If we do not tame the mind, by not putting the spiritual teachings into practice, then there is no peace and this brings many consequences like conflicts and so on.

So my personal request for the people who visit this web page is not only to study spirituality but also to put it into practice. I will pray that everyone will find achievement into their practice. I will pray that peace will prevail on Earth and that all the people pursuing a spiritual path my find success in it and in all their spiritual activities.

Many tashi delek,
Chogtrul Trijang Rinpoche


Confronting Myths Both Local and Global
Interview with Sulak Sivaraksa
By Farish A. Noor.

As part of a series of public lectures around the theme of 'Coping with Pluralism in the Contemporary World', the House of World Cultures in Berlin had invited a number of prominent thinkers from different parts of the world to speak about the challenges that face their own religious and cultural communities in the present. The lay Buddhist activist Sulak Sivaraksa was recently invited to speak on the challenges facing the Buddhist world in the global age. Farish A Noor, who moderated the discussion that followed, managed to speak to him about the challenge of globalisation, Buddhism's relationship with other religions and cultures, and the need for an ethical approach to politics and economics.

Farish: 'Allow me to begin by looking at the work that you have done lately. In the 1980s and 1990s, you were regarded as one of the major lay Buddhist 'reformists' who were calling for a serious re-thinking of Buddhist thought in order to face the challenges of the present world. Lately you have directed a lot of your energy towards generating a critical awareness of the globalisation process. How would you sum up your critique of globalisation?'

Sulak: 'Globalisation as we know it today did not happen by accident. The globalisation of trade and finance through the work of powerful multinationals, corporations and banks is the result of vested interests that have created new structures for expansion, dominance and control. Now because of these vested interests, those who run these powerful corporations do not necessarily see the structures themselves as unjust or violent. In fact the powerful nations and international bodies of the world are busy coming up with new forms of legislation that are effectively legalising the exploitation and plunder by such transnational corporations. But despite their efforts to give globalisation a human face, many of us in the developing world can see that in reality it is all about profit and power, and not freedom of choice or anything laudatory.

The myth of the 'free market' is just that: a myth. There is no such thing as a 'free market' in the real sense of the word because the international market cannot be free as long as the powerful nations, multinationals and international agencies are dominating it all the time. For there to be a genuinely free market it must be one that is based on the principles of justice and equity. Here Justice and Equity refer to the need to create a truly democratic international community where even the smaller and weaker countries will be protected and not treated like passive sources of commodity and cheap labour.

The other danger that lies before us is the threat of mono-culturalism that is being promoted all over the world thanks to the activities of these powerful multinationals today. Globalisation is turning the world into a single unified market that will serve the needs of a single economic bloc made up of powerful multinationals and oligarchies. As this monocultural world is developed all around us, we will see the demise of small companies, local industries, localised technologies and knowledge-systems, all to be replaced by a homogenous economic system based on the principles of liberal-capitalism. That is why we need to intervene and interrupt the process now, before it is too late. We need to bring together the political leaders, the managers of multinational corporations with local communities and grass-roots movements in order to discuss, soberly and seriously, the long-term impact of the globalisation process that we see around us today.'

Farish: 'But there are surely the very real cleavages of power, wealth and authority which we cannot simply wish away? It is fine for us to talk about the need for justice and working towards a more egalitarian future for all of humanity. It is good to have politicians, technocrats and corporate leaders who want to listen. But the world is not a fair place, and unfortunately there are still many who refuse to listen to the voice of the poor in the South. What do we do in such cases?'

Sulak: 'In such cases, we have little choice- we must oppose. We must oppose injustice because it is injustice itself. We cannot compromise with injustice, brutality, cruelty and other such evils in the world. The protests that we saw at the DAVO conference in Switzerland, at the UNCTAD conference in Bangkok- these were all examples of conscious people who have decided to sacrifice themselves, their lives and their livelihood for a higher purpose. They were right to do so, and even the leaders of the World Bank, the UN, agreed with them and their grievances in principle. But we must also remember that in our opposition to injustice there is a code of conduct, a moral requirement placed upon us all. We must never become as bad as the people who oppress us. You cannot fight hatred with hatred, or racism with more racism. So here we need to understand that it is the structures of the globalised world that are at fault. It would be wrong for us in the developing world to simply blame the West as a whole, as most of the people there are just as helpless as we are. They are just as much in the grip of the multinationals, international agencies, banks, and other such institutions.

This is why we need to emphasise the need for dialogue between the rich and the poor nations, to build working coalitions and alliances that are based on non-partisan goals that do not exclude anybody. We need to persuade and invite these powerful bodies to come to the table, to learn that their unjust practices are detrimental to us all both now and in the future. But we need to be firm and resolute as well.'

Farish: 'How does your critique of globalisation fit into the overall framework of Buddhism and Buddhist philosophy? What makes your critique a specifically Buddhist one?'

Sulak: 'Underlying everything that I have said is the Buddhist understanding that the world as we know it is a unity that unites us all. The dangerous aspect of globalisation is that it denies or negates the fundamental unity between all human beings when it tries to exploit or oppress others for the sake of profit. In the face of such unrestrained avariciousness Buddhism argues that the entire universe is a mutual, interdependent, intergrated and co-operative enterprise. Buddhism teaches us that all human beings are dependent on one another and the natural environment around us. The fallacies of global capitalism as it has developed today are clear: if it is pursued to its final conclusion it will lead to the destruction of humanity and the world, despite the fact that it is based on empty promises of a better life for all'.

Farish: 'I would like to ask you about your own work and where you locate yourself in the midst of the changes we see around us today. You are a lay Buddhist thinker and social activist, which means that you locate yourself both inside and outside the Buddhist tradition simultaneously. You are not really part of the 'traditional' establishment so to speak. What do you say to those who accuse you of somehow 'weakening' or 'challenging' the Buddhist tradition when you try to turn it into an emancipating socio-political project?'

Sulak: 'Firstly we need to remember that in Buddhism there is not really a division between the Religious and the Secular. In a sense both elements co-exist in Buddhist thought and practice, as in Buddhism there is no concept of God as such. Buddhism places its emphasis on the individual and the need for the individual to cultivate a good life based on moral conduct. Now we need to remind ourselves that every religion is conservative in nature, in the sense that religions seek to conserve societies and cultivate certain positive traits in humanity in general.

But being conservative in this sense is not necessarily a bad thing. The problem begins, however, when religions develop in an unreflective way and when the adherents of a religious system forget the fundamentals of their creed. When this happens, the members of a religious community often forget the essential humanistic aspect of their religion and put more emphasis on the ritualistic aspects instead. So instead of cultivating humility and simple lifestyle, we build more temples and monuments instead. We glorify our religion in the vain hope of glorifying ourselves in the process. This is something that many people in the world are guilty of, including Buddhists. I call this Buddhism with a 'capital B', where the essential tenets and teachings of the Lord Buddha have been overwhelmed by ritualism, dogma and conservative traditionalism instead. Once this happens, religions will develop with feudal, authoritarian and patriarchal tendencies and they eventually become corrupted for all the wrong reasons. What I have tried to do is to remind Buddhists of their essential beliefs and moral obligations. I have been telling them that these fundamental obligations are more important than the external features of Buddhism which are contingent and historically specific. Those who are more dogmatic will of course be unhappy with this, but this is a universal problem that effects all religions and not just Buddhism'.

Farish: 'There is, of course, the danger that is faced by revivalists and reformists of all religious and cultural systems. On the one hand we try to defend our societies against the ravages of globalisation and neo-colonialism in all its forms. But on the other hand our own work can easily be hijacked or misappropriated by those political elites who want to use the same kind of arguments in their blanket condemnation of the West or the Other. How do we deal with this?'

Sulak: 'That is true. Our own governments should also be reminded of the need for them to be consistent and objective. What is the point of condemning the West if they become part of the global economic and political structure? Today so many Asian governments are reacting against the West but they are also facilitating the entry and penetration of Western capital into their own economies. Is this not a contradiction?

Today in many parts of the non-Western world we see a knee-jerk reaction against anything Western. People want to ban McDonalds, they reject Coca-Cola, and so on. Much of this is understandable when we look at the political dimension of domination and hegemony behind it all. But we must never forget that the ordinary people of the West who eat McDonalds or drink Coca-Cola are not our enemies either. For me they are my friends, and we need to make them our friends.'

Farish: 'Now let me ask you about the problematic relationship between Universalism and Particularism in the work you do. Like all religious reformists you emphasise the universal aspect of your own religious and cultural tradition, Buddhism. But is it not true to say that each universal creed is also particular and exclusive in its own way? Is there not a danger that through this sort of reformist project you end up re-emphasising the specifically exclusive elements of Buddhism and make it less acceptable to others?'

Sulak: 'The danger is there and you are quite right to point it out. Just like we said earlier, there are always those who want to turn religions and their cultures into a symbol of identity and source of pride. This is so common today in the Buddhist world as it is elsewhere. Even in Buddhist restaurants or shops today we can see images of the Buddha as a marker of identity. The people who rely on these images seem to be saying 'we are Buddhist, and we are different from you.' Sometimes that can also be reinterpreted as 'we are Buddhist so we are better than you'. But here there are two points that need to be remembered.

Firstly, this is not unique or specific to Buddhism alone. Buddhists are not the only ones who rely on such symbols and images. All over the world and in all the religious traditions around us we see more and more people turning to religious symbols as markers of identity. Christians use the cross, Muslims use the word of Allah, or the image of the Qur'an, and so on. This has become a major feature of living religion in the world today because people seem to need to cling on to their identity even more. Globalisation has made this even more important because people feel that their identities are threatened and they do not know how to cope. So they resort to such symbols, to tell them who they are and what they are. This is true for all religious communities in the world today and at times this practice can become exclusive and negative.

The second point is that such a development can be overcome if we all stick to the essentials. I have always referred to the essentials of Buddhism as the fundamental basis of all religions. Buddhists need to remember that behind the practice of Buddhism with a 'capital B' there is the practice of Buddhism with a 'small b' as well. This is where the essential moral values of Buddhism come to play. These essential ideas are universal but they need not be identified with Buddhism solely or exclusively. That is why it is so important for us to cultivate morality and right-mindedness regardless of who we are. Buddhists need to understand that the positive values of Buddhism are there in others of different religions as well. The goal is not so much to make everybody Buddhist with a 'capital B', but rather to create a world where everybody is morally upright and knows of his moral obligations and duties towards society and the environment. This is how we promote universal values without becoming trapped in our own particular world-views and life-styles.'

Farish: 'Finally I would like to touch upon the subject of Pluralism and Buddhism's relationship with Other cultures and religious systems. Globalisation may have made the world smaller, but it has also brought these communities together as you said. How should Buddhists respond to these developments, when they are brought into close proximity with non-Buddhists?'

Sulak: 'In reality the encounter with the Other is at the crux of Buddhism itself. In Buddhism, dealing with the Other is really part of the Buddhist's moral obligation to develop skillful means. How we relate to others reflects upon how we relate to ourselves as well, and as such these cross-cultural, inter-confessional encounters are of crucial important for Buddhists. Now of course coming into close contact with other cultures and religions is not necessarily an easy thing. It can also lead to tension or even violence. In many cases such encounters can bring out only the worst in us: racism, prejudice, fear. But Buddhism teaches us that the Other is a vital component of our own self. Sometimes meeting the Other close-up can be difficult, confounding and upsetting, but this should force us to reflect on our own prejudices and fears instead. We can always profit and learn from such encounters, difficult though they may be. As the Lord Buddha himself said: "Your best friend is the one who tells you what you do not want to hear". In this respect, meeting those of radically different beliefs and values is perhaps one of the best things that can happen to us if we learn to manage such encounters with skill and selflessness'.


Sulak Sivaraksa is a prominent Siamese lay Buddhist intellectual and activist. Over the years he has written and campaigned extensively over issues ranging from human rights, environmental concerns, women's rights and patriarchy, feudal politics and international economic relations from a Buddhist perspective. He is also a member of the International Circle of Engaged Buddhists and founder of numerous NGOs in Thailand.

Dr. Farish A. Noor is a Malaysian political scientist and human rights activist. He is currently studying the phenomenon of Islamic political movements and writing a book on the Malaysian Islamic Party, PAS.


Entering the Seven Meditative Spaces of Leadership

Conversation with Master Nan Huai-Chin
Hong Kong, China
October 25th, 1999
Claus Otto Scharmer

Nan Huai-Chin is a teacher and scholar famous in China but little know outside of China and Taiwan. He has written over 30 books, which have sold literally tens of millions of copies in China, mostly on the black market until recently. Few of his books have been translated and made available outside China. He is an advisor to the government as well as a noted spiritual figure. Today, it is not unusual to find whole sections of bookstores in China devoted to his works. He is noteworthy for his knowledge and attainment in all three major strands of Chinese culture: Taoism, Buddhism, Confucianism. When I visited Master Nan he had just finished a new interpretation of one of the two Confucian classics, "The Great Learning." This essay, originally written by Confucius' grandson 2400 hundred years ago has been a mainstay of Chinese culture ever since.
C.O. Scharmer: Master Nan, I am so grateful for the opportunity to meeting with you. I came here with four questions. Should I go through all of them upfront?
Master Nan/Translator Ken: Yes. Please.
COS: The first question concerns what is going currently on in the world. We feel that we are at the incipient stage of a new time. This transition is characterized by three revolutions: the rise (1) of new technologies, (2) of new and networked social structures, and (3) of new spiritual awareness. We know a lot of the first two. We only know a little about the third development. Thus, my first question is: Do you agree that we are at the incipient stage of a new spiritual awareness and what is the nature of this underlying shift?
During the last third of the twentieth century, we have seen three different manifestations of this rising new consciousness in the Western world. These three manifestations are known as the grassroots movements of ecology, of social change, and of spirituality. The underlying issues that these three movements dealt with where the split between man and nature (ecology), the split between center and periphery of social structures (social issue movements) and the split between matter and mind (spirituality). Although these three movements are manifestations of the same underlying deeper stream of new consciousness, they have ended up being separated from each other. I.e., each one tried to develop a solution without really embracing and including the other two aspects of the triangle. Thus, my second question is, what would it take to relink these three aspects and streams according to their common underlying source?
The third question has to do with practices. We know a little about individual practices, but what would social or collective practices for a group or a community look like? How do you bring together a group at their highest karma?
The fourth question relates to the origins of our actions. Where do our actions come from? This usually is a blind spot in our everyday experience. In working with groups, organizations, and communities, how can we relate to the true essence of those communities, groups and social beings?
Master Nan/Translator Ken: Anything you want to add? Or just start talking?
COS: My impression is I've already talked too much, so I would rather listen.
Master Nan/Translator Ken: Okay, so lie back and listen. Or have some tea. Have some tea, relax, just relax.
COS: Thank you, later.
Master Nan/Translator Ken: Later, okay. The best thing to listen to Teacher is just to relax as if you are meditating. That would be the best way to do it. Just relax, just be yourself.
COS: Okay.
Master Nan/Translator Ken: Lie back on your chair. I don't know whether you want to be in the lotus position, whatever. Now that you are in the United States, are you joining Peter Senge's work?
COS: Yes. I have worked with Peter Senge for the last five years.
Master Nan/Translator Ken: You studied in Germany before you went to the United States?
COS: Yes.
Master Nan/Translator Ken: What is your background in?
COS: Economics and Management, and a bit of Western philosophy.
Master Nan/Translator Ken: What is your basic degree in?
COS: My basic degree is in economics and business administration. My Ph.D. thesis was on the philosophical assumptions in the various schools of thought in economics and management. The main proposition was that today's conflicts among different paradigms in economics and management mirrors the philosophical fault lines between materialism and spiritualism, and realism and idealism, in philosophy.
Master Nan/Translator Ken: The root of Western civilization is in Europe not in the United States. A lot of people think the West is represented by Americans. Because, of course, America is the biggest power on earth now. But the root of the Western civilization is in Europe.
He [Master Nan; COS] says he would probably have to write a book of 200,000 words to answer the questions you have raised.
You have really high goals and high hopes. The influence may not be as significant as you might hope for.
COS: Say that again?
I. Management Is An Outdated Perspective
Master Nan/Translator Ken: The influence on society, or whatever, may not be significant as you want.
We all know that Peter Senge and his Center have talked about management. Management as a significant focal point probably started in the 40s, and using management as the center for ones study is probably now outdated. From the Eastern viewpoint, management is a new infant. Twenty years, thirty years ago it was very, very popular. Everybody's talking about management now, even in China and Asia.
Teacher [Master Nan; COS] thinks that there are limitations to just using management as a starting point if you really want to influence the world in the next century. What you are doing now at your Center at MIT can only impact on the sort of the higher level of management people, to help them to manage better. But then its impact on the whole society is actually relatively small.
II. The Blind Spot Of The 20th Century
What has been lacking in the twentieth century is a central cultural thought. There is not a single cultural thought that unifies all of these things together. There are no great philosophers or great thinkers that can develop the thinking that unifies all these questions. They used, maybe, logic as a substitute for the underlying philosophies.
If you ask anyone what future lies ahead, nobody can really give you the answer. In the past, yes, in the East and the West, there might have been some great thinkers who could answer the question.
III. Materialism and Spirituality of Our Current Age
The current materialism still has a lot of influences. Everyone talks about how to make money, the business. That's all everybody concentrates on now, even the political leaders.
If you talk about leadership, leadership in the next two decades, it will still be money. Teacher tried to use the words, say if it is ecomonics, not economics. Is there any other thing? No, it is basically just money that is leading. This is the culture of this generation.
But this culture, has its limitations. It can not go on forever. Now, of course, we are in the really high-speed technology age, with computers, and the internet.
But sooner or later people will get sick of this. In many places in the world, for instance in your group, they are raising the question, what is the spiritual content of human life? It will definitely go this way, spiritual. But this route will be different from the spiritual route of past, either in the East or the West. It will be a new spiritual path. It will be a combination between natural science and philosophies. It will always go back to some of these questions that have been with human beings endlessly. What is the purpose of life? What is the value of life? Why do we exist? It will always come back to these basic questions.
Even in the 40s, many European countries, including Germany and France, had a lot of movements seeking spiritual liberation. They may go to Hinayana Buddhism, Mahayana Buddhism, Tantric Buddhism, and meditation, of course. But they haven't really gotten into the center: What is human nature, the question of human nature? Where does life come from? What is life for?
There are two great essays in Confucianism in the East. One is the The Middle Way...
Professor Zhao: The Middle Way is Teacher's new book.
IV. Seven Meditative Spaces Of Leadership
Master Nan/Translator Ken [pointing at a book on the table]: This here is the most recent book by Teacher, it's on the Great Learning. This is Teacher's most recent publication and gives a new interpretation of Great Learning in an essay. It is not very long. This essay was a must-study by other scholars in ancient China. It was written about 2400 years ago by a grandson of Confucius. Every emperor respected it. It talks about management, how to be a leader. It actually mentions seven meditative spaces. Basically if you want to become a great leader, you need to go forth into these seven meditative spaces. You recognize the true meaning of life before you can actually become a great leader. The leader in those days would become the monarch, the emperor. If you become the emperor, then you are a senior officer of the government. Then what you should be as a senior government officer. And if you are a father, what should you do as a father? And if you are a son, what your attitude should be as a son. If you are a friend, what you should do as a friend.
Teacher gives an interpretation of his essays in his book. It breaks a lot of new ground. Like there was a certain kind of dogmatic interpretation his essays in the Ming Dynasty and in the Ching Dynasty. No scholars can go beyond those dogmatic interpretations. And there were a lot of problems in that interpretation, which partly caused the decline of the Ch'ing Dynasty.
Master Nan/Translator Professor Zhao: He said in Chinese philosophy if you want to be a leader, you have to be a real human being. Because a real one doesn't mean just be a common person, but a real human. The relearning starts from words. Whether you're an emperor, whether you're a leader, or whether you're just a common person. All of you should actually follow this, so that is where it starts.
It starts by saying this: The principle of great learning, or the goal of good learning, is to achieve three major goals. One is to truly understand, be truly enlightened to know this world. The second one is to be of help to society, to the people. To be truly helpful. The third goal is to be able to reach a state where everything's all around it, you know, that higher state. And in order to achieve this, there are like seven steps, or dimensions.
The Seven Meditative Steps, Or Dimensions Of Leadership
Those seven steps look like one step. Actually it's a long, long, long process. The first one is you have to know where to stop. Only when you know where to stop will you have a calmness and stillness. You will know when to turn and when to stop. Actually Teacher said that when we say where you're supposed to stop, we meant you should know the directions. So that's the first one. But this is already very, very hard. Because usually people don't know where to stop. They just don't know, and continue with wherever they are going.

The second step is only after you reach that first one, meaning that you actually stop. This then leads into the third stage, samahdi, or calmness. When you have entered this, then you'll be able to reach true quietness. When you reach true quietness of the mind, then you'll be in a state of grace, grace and peacefulness. When you have the grace or peacefulness, then you can truly think. When you can truly think, then you'll be able to obtain. Obtaining means achieving the goals that you're supposed to achieve. And then he says that everything has its beginning and its end.
Master Nan/Translator Ken: He just excused himself and then he'll come back to join us later.
Professor Zhao: Right, okay. And then he said that the summary of this paragraph, that everything has an end and a beginning. If you really know when to start and when to end, you're almost there, right? It sounds simple, but this is really the essence of everything. This is the beginning paragraph of this. He then goes on and talks about the ancient times. In ancient times, if you really want to have the whole world or other people in your society reach a state of true awareness then you first will have to manage your country well, or govern your country well. Now to govern your country well, you have to be able to govern your family well. It starts with the atom of the family. To govern the family well, you first of all have to cultivate yourself. Without that you cannot govern your family well. Now to cultivate yourself, you have to have the right principles for your mind. For the right principle for your mind, you have to be truly sincere to yourself.
To truly be sincere to yourself and to everyone else, true sincerity you have to be able to know. To be able to know, you have to be able to be able to study the sun, everything. So in a sense, it's actually going in backwards, right?
So you can see that for emperors who want to achieve the final goal, which is to allow everybody in the society to reach the highest goal or the highest state for human beings, you have to be able to accomplish all this. Then the next paragraph says the same thing about governing the country, self-cultivation, but in the reverse order. So when you do this you have to do that. Whether you're the emperor or just a common person in society, self-cultivation is the fundamental thing that you have to do. It's fundamental for everyone, no matter whether you're a leader or whether you're just a common person.
Ken: What I want to ask is something close to what you have been actually talking about in your own writings. The first thing of the seven is awareness or knowing. Now Teacher has a very good explanation in his book, and nobody understands him.
COS: Nobody understands --?
Ken: Because even today's scientists cannot explain the question, where does consciousness come from?
Awareness And Stop These Are Like Two Brothers And Sisters
Teacher says, for instance, without this body, do we still have a consciousness? Before we are born into this body do we have a consciousness? After we die do we still have a consciousness? And the death of the consciousness, there are so many ways. Even if we are happy, we know that we are happy. If you are feeling painful, you are not feeling right. If you are depressed, you know you are depressed. So there is always this awareness. In Confucius the teaching is you have to really understand yourself first. It is very close to what you have been doing research on. These seven meditative postures, stands, are so important. The first is awareness. Then the question is we have to know how to stop, because our thinking is actually - the second thing is stop, right? So awareness and stop these are like two brothers and sisters, they're so closely related to each other. We haven't been able to stop our thinking.
Buddhism, and many cultivators, including some of your fellow students, have pointed out that thinking is not like a stream of thinking. It is like a waterfall. You look at a waterfall and you just see water coming down. It's like a curtain of water. But actually everybody knows that waterfall is composed of water drops, billion and billions that form the curtains that we see in our eyes. Thinking is actually the same. Our mind runs so rapidly, and it's all composed of drops of thought. They just go on together, linking up together, linking up together. We perceive our thinking as if it is like a waterfall. But in a way, if you are able, if you are aware, and if you are able to stop, then you know that. Because thinking is just tiny molecules of thinking. It's just points and points and points of thinking. It's just related together, and then we think we have a thinking process. So it is important to understand yourself first. You have to be aware of what's going through your mind, what is in your cognitive consciousness. Then you have to be able to stop, to identify your real, real thinking.
COS: When do you know that you have to stop?
The Trick
Ken: That's the trick. As soon as you know that you're thinking, then you're actually in the second thinking already. We have to practice it. The mind has to calm down, calm down, calm down. The superficial thoughts just emerge. Then you'll be able to see more clearly the underlying thinking, and then you'll be able to see as true nature. But as soon as you are aware, you already stop, actually. That's the trick. You know that you are listening to me. As soon as you know, we stop.
For instance, you have done meditation. And in meditation, of course, we try not to have too much thinking, right? As soon as you know that you are thinking, basically has stop already, you just have to know. It just comes like this, it follows each other, in a way. You just have to, you know and then it stops. So you don't have to think of a special way to try to stop it, to stop your thinking. You don't need to do that. You only have to be able to be aware. That's the whole trick of the whole cultivation practice.
So you understand about all the questions that you're raising? It really takes practice. But the two important things are to be aware and stop.
The Example of a Famous Chinese
Professor Zhao: Maybe I'll give you an example of a person who hasn't been able to reach this high meditative state. This meditative state doesn't mean to just sit there. It means it's a state that you're in. Even while you're sitting here talking you can be in that state. It's a state that you'll be able to achieve, a cultivated state. Now a person who hasn't achieved that state will be obstructed by all the different emotions, greed, etc. That means we'll not be able to know where to stop, we'll not be able to make a right judgments. So we won't be able to do things right.
There was a very famous story that Teacher cited in his book. There was a very famous Chinese, who used to be a prime minister. Later on he quit his job. He became a very famous businessman, extremely famous. He became an investor doing business in China. When he was doing business, one of his sons was in trouble in another state in China. At that time China was still divided into other small states, right?
COS: Okay.
Professor Zhao: So his son was in trouble in another state, so he wanted to send his other son, the youngest son, to go and help to save that son. But then the elder son says, "According to the Chinese tradition, you're supposed to send me to go there to do the job. If you send the younger son that means I'm incapable, that means I'm pretty bad in a sense." So he wants to go. And his mother also says, "Well, we should get my elder son to go and do this job." This guy says, "Well, because there's so much problem here, if you all want the elder son to go, so he has to." He ended up sending the elder son to do this job. So the elder son went there, and then he went to see the guy who's in charge, who was very close to the emperor on everything. He talked to him about the problem. That guy said, "Okay, no problem. I will solve the problem for you." The eldest son's father had given him lots of money so he could give that money to that official. He gave him the money and he left. Later on he heard that actually the emperor is going to release all the prisoners.
COS: Amnesty, right.
Professor Zhao: Right. So then the elder son thinks, "Wow, I don't need to give the money to the guy anymore, the emperor's going to release everyone. Why should I give the money to him?" He didn't know that the official had convinced the emperor to release all of them. He had said, "Oh, this is the best timing to release these people. You'll get a very good reputation and you're going to make the country even better, etc., etc." He didn't know this, so he actually went there and took the money back. Then that official told the emperor, "Well, you can release everyone except this guy." And all the other prisoners were released but this guy. He got executed. So the elder son carried the body of the brother home.
Then, of course, the mother cried, and the father didn't really cry. He said "I knew this was going to happen." Why? Because the elder son had been working with his father to build up the business, and he knows how hard it is to earn money. He had this in his mind, he wanted to hold onto the money. He didn't want to give it away, in a sense. But the father knew this is the situation where you're supposed to give the money. If he had sent the younger son this would not have been a problem. The younger son didn't have this is his mind, in a sense he didn't care about money. So in a sense you can see that when we have this kind of greed, or --
Ken: Attachments --
Professor Zhao: Yes, attachment will affect our ability to judge. It will affect our knowing, even. You wouldn't even know. You don't know where to stop. They just explained to you that a true leader, to really know what they are doing, has to have this cultivation. So that's one example which explains why the seven step cultivation is so important. That's why this is sort of the really the practical teaching for leadership in China. But just the knowing part, as Ken has explained to you, is extremely hard. People spend their whole lives without really knowing what that knowing is. As he said, there are so many levels. What do you mean you know? Does a baby know, right? When you die do you know?
The Two Most Important Essays in Confucianism
Ken: Like I said, the two books that Teacher mentioned, The Great Learning and The Middle Way are the most important essays in Confucianism.
COS: Are they both written by the grandson of Confucius?
Ken: One is by the grandson, one is by the great-grandchildren, the fourth generation children. They are not long at all. I am sure there will be a translation in German. And I'll e-mail a copy to you. Can you get your e-mail?
COS: Yes.
Professor Zhao: But be careful with those translations, they may not be very accurate.
Ken: This book, the first sentence, actually, it teaches you how to be a human being before you become a leader. But it has been misinterpreted. It has been misinterpreted.
COS: In what way does Teacher's interpretation differ from the older interpretation?
Master Nan's New Interpretation Of Confucius
Ken: For instance, nobody, as far as I know, for hundreds of years has been able to explain the awareness and the stop. They would interpret it in a different way. Interpret it as to know what position in a society. The emperors in those days, they would say, okay, you have to know where to stop. That means you have to know that if you are my officer, then I'm the boss, you are the officer. You have to listen to everything I say. You have to be subservient, you cannot resist authority. In a way this is a right interpretation, assuming your boss is someone who is enlightened, who really knows what's going on. But unfortunately, for thousands of years, we haven't had more than two or three of these emperors. So that was a problem.
But Teacher said no, no, no, it's not just understanding that position, that is maybe a certain part. The important part is to actually understand yourself, understand your opening process. But the emperors, in order to protect their own power, they were trying to mislead them into trying to have a certain line of thinking. That thinking would be to maintain your position in society. Don't fight authority, just be a good follower. Teacher said no, that's not the way the book should be interpreted. It should be interpreted in a different perspective. First, before you can become a leader you have to understand yourself, you have to be sincere in your heart, you have to be unbiased. That's where the importance of those seven training comes in. You have to be aware and you have to stop - start.
The Founding Principle of The Great Learning
Ken: Here are the three founding principles of the Great Learning. That is to really understand the whole nature, and then to be able to basically spread the words to everyone, and to be able to stop at the ultimate virtue. Those are the three main points. And then the seven basic --
COS: Can you repeat the three main principles?
Ken: Okay. To really understand the true nature of the universe, of the human being, our existence. That's the first main point of it. That's the first sentence in the essay.
COS: To really understand the true nature of the universe.
Ken: Yes. The second one is to be able to spread what you understand to all the people, to all the human beings.
COS: To spread what you understand to all people.
Ken: Yes, to all people. And the third is to stop at the ultimate virtue, always try to be as good as you can. You never stop until you have reached the ultimate goodness.
Professor Zhao: This ultimate goodness is not, when we say good and bad we always have a good and bad, right? This ultimate virtue is like the middle, like the ultimate. It's beyond good and bad. That's the ultimate virtue.
COS: So, again, that's the first sentence of the Great Learning?
Professor Zhao: Yes, the first three sentences.
Ken: A symbol everybody knows-do you know any Mandarin at all?
COS: No, unfortunately, I don't. I'm not educated.
Ken: The first phrase is the path of the great learning. It is to basically really understand the nature of the universe.
COS: You know, what you are saying is, in a way, answering my second question, right? When I talked about the three issues, the ecological split, the social split, and the split between matter and mind, it's exactly addressing the three points you just mentioned. So understanding the nature of the universe is really what true ecology is all about. To overcome the split...
Professor Zhao: I think the first three phrases is a much, much higher level than what you are saying, actually. But you can say at this level of application, yes, it's related to the three things that you said. But those three achievements are so much more higher than this. But to the common understanding of human beings at this moment, you can say those three are probably right.
Ken: I could almost safely say that there are a very few human beings in history that have achieved the three goals.
Professor Zhao: Maybe four, five or ten, a dozen, that's it.
Ken: In all the human history. That's how high it is.
China on the Eve of the Millenium
COS: So what reaction do you get when you come with this to today's business leaders and children and students?
Ken: The business leaders, I really don't know. I don't think anyone can tell them, plainly speaking. Teacher said for the next decade, the next ten years, twenty years, thirty years, money will still be the driver. After a certain stage, people will know that all this striving for profit will lead society, the human being, into nowhere. You mentioned about ecological. In the last 120 years, human beings have consumed more natural resources than in the last billions of years. The problem with China is they don't have religion anymore. And they don't believe in communism anymore.
COS: So Confucianism and Buddhism and Taoism don't play any role?
Professor Zhao: I think, actually, you are right in the sense that Teacher also said that the culture is really creeping down now. But on the other hand, somehow it's in their blood, somehow all this traditional culture is actually reviving nowadays. That's partly due to Teacher's promotion in China. If you go into Chinese book stores, you now see there thousands of books only on Chinese culture.
COS: Really?
Professor Zhao: Yes, there are now so many new books coming out. The main reason is because the population in China is huge. No matter how bad it was during the cultural revolution under communist rule, after the reform, it began to open up. There are still people in China who are working on those issues.
So the people decide, I think the Buddhist thinking is coming back, also Christianity is going to China, and Taoist is still there. It's amazing the way Master Nan has become popular in China, it's really amazing.
COS: How would that show up?
Ken: Ten years ago if you went into China, it would be really very difficult to find his book. Master Nan never, ever talks about his books. He never goes on the TV station, to talk shows, like the authors in the states who try to publicize their books. No advertising, no commercials, no public promotion of any kind. But suddenly nowadays, you go to any major bookstore anywhere in China, you will find a whole bookshelf of all teacher's books. It is just amazing. Many years ago when I first knew Teacher, I went to China, and would go to the bookstores and ask, "I want to buy Mr. Nan's book." Who is Mr. Nan? Nobody's heard of Mr. Nan. But now you go in, almost every bookstore has his book. They just came from nowhere suddenly. Because of the demand. The people need this. They are so empty, and they have this huge urge, huge need for this cultural feeling.
COS: Who's buying it?
Professor Zhao: Officials, everyone, every kind of people.
Ken: So many people ask Teacher to go on TV, go onto radio shows, go onto magazines, go onto newspapers. You won't find a thing at all. It is just amazing, people with newspapers will come in and see if he will give interviews. Magazines will come and ask for interviews. No interviews, no nothing. And yet a book just sells so well.
COS: I see. How many books has he written in Chinese and published?
Ken: About thirty-something, thirty-five.
Professor Zhao: Thirty-something, yeah. Now I should emphasize one thing that Teacher has been trying to emphasize to you. That first thing is truly hard. To achieve the first learning is already extremely hard.
COS: You're talking about the seven steps?
Master Nan/Professor Zhao: Yes, it's related to what you wrote down there, your full conscience. So the meaning of that, just even the first step, is already hard enough. How do you actually achieve it? Achieving them is just extremely hard.
Most of Teacher's book is about achieving things rather than talking about this framework. So many books talk about achieving these goals from very different angles, and Teacher would think that it would be good for you to learn some meditation here for this trip. That would be something that would be beneficial to yourself. Maybe we can find a time, either tonight, or now, depending whether you like it or not, to have a short meditative session.
COS: Oh, that would be wonderful.
Master Nan/Professor Zhao: So we'll talk about how we can meditate. That would actually be helpful for you.
COS: Oh, yes, that would be wonderful.
V. Meditation and Stillness
Here the first part of the conversation ends. We leave the office building where the interview took place, heading to the place where the family dinner will take place. In the cab, Professor Zhao explains to me the two main principles of all meditation practices. The two key principles are (1) "always reach emptiness" and (2) "concentration is a middle piece." Reaching emptiness is the goal. Concentration can help to lead to that goal. Opposed to concentration and emptiness, most people operate in one of the following two states: "dozey" or noisy. To contemplate your mind means to see into your fear and to realize that they are empty. There are five poisons that get in your way: greed, anger, ignorance, arrogance, doubt. You have to get rid of them all. Contemplating your mind means learning to see what is getting in your way. If something is good, go do it. If something is not, don't do it. Meditation is seeing emptiness. Contemplation is directly attacking the poisons, and doing virtuous things.
Then we arrived at the family dinner site, where I first got my meditation instruction (for maybe an hour). Then we sat together. A TV was running. Master was smoking cigarettes. At the same time, a nun was chanting sanskrit meditation songs. A leading expert on classic Chinese went his last book with Master through. A Hong Kong banker arrived who later turned out to be a face reader. Then Master instructed and practiced with me the Guan-Yin- Mantra ("Om Ma Mi Bä Mi Hong"). At the same time, all sorts of people were running around, offering nice little things to eat and drink. Everybody was talking and running around, having distributed and parallel conversations. Then we gathered at the round dinner table with about a dozen participants. We had a wonderful meal and a delightful conversations about the feelings of trees, animals, and other beings. We also heard about Master Nan's experiences when he practiced the martial arts. It was a great evening that did not stop before midnight.
Towards the end of the dinner, I continued the interview with Master Nan by wrapping up the afternoon session for the other participants of the dinner table and then concluding with a follow-up question.
VI. Illuminating the Blind Spot
COS: During our afternoon conversation, Master made two significant points. Number one, that there has been a blind spot in the West in the twentieth century, which concerns the fact that we do not have a central cultural thought, a single unifying cultural thought from which we could reconceive the whole social and living world.
Master Nan/Professor Zhao: Teacher says that this blind spot concerns both the West and the East in the 20th century.
COS: Okay, the blind spot applies to both West and East. And the way I understood this point is: This blind spot concerns our unability to see the process of coming-into-being of social reality. Usually we perceive social reality as a thing, as something that is separated from and outside of us. The blind spot means that we do not see the process of coming-into-being of this reality, we do not see the process through which we bring forth social reality in the first place. And then, I understood Master Nan such that he says that in order to illuminate this blind spot, you have to practice the seven meditational steps of leadership. Let me stop here and ask Master Nan whether or not this is a correct reflection of what he was saying this afternoon.
Master Nan/Professor Zhao: Teacher said this understanding is right.
VII. The Origin Of Social Action: Mind And Thought
COS: If the blind spot is concerned with the process of coming-into-being of social reality, of social action, my question is, where does this stream originate? Where does this stream come from?
Master Nan/Professor Zhao: Teacher said the source is the mind and the thought. In the 20th century, there was no philosopher who was able to putting it all together and to seeing the whole picture.
COS: Okay. What then is the source from which thinking or consciousness originates?
Master Nan/Professor Zhao: Teacher said that the origin of change relates to mind and thoughts. The main question, where does that come from? And Teacher says that's all related to the cultivation of the body, the mind, and other things. That's also related to the East and the Western culture, related to philosophy and religion. It's related to where life comes from, etc., so this is really a huge question.
It's a huge question, but it's narrowed down to a small answer first. According to the medical field, people usually say their thoughts come from the brain, the physical brain. Of course, this is more on the side of the materialistic philosophies.
So these kinds of people who think that the body is like a mechanical thing -- you know, when you die, then it ceases to exist. Then everything is gone. For example, nowadays, people talk about the left brain, the right brain, the little brain, etc., or the alpha wave, the beta wave, etc., all of these are still the materialistic way of looking at it.
For thousands of years, communities have had religious teachings, politics, education, all the different thoughts, concerning those issues, as well. Do we humans really think that we are nothing but this materialistic construction? Can we really say that our thoughts really just come from a physical brain? Is that all?
VIII. Levels of Consciousness
Now the question is where does this consciousness come from? Is the consciousness within our body? We have a consciousness like thinking, a thought. It's because we are sort of reacting to what we are seeing or to what we are experiencing.
There's another kind of thinking or consciousness, another part of a consciousness, which can just think by itself. Or have thoughts on its own without like reacting to something you see or something you hear. Without the senses there would still be thoughts coming in.
Our thoughts are like a river flowing, water flow is continuous, and it keeps coming. It's very hard, there's no way to cut it or stop it. Sleeping is also a thought, it's one thought. Sleeping is the phenomenon of this habitual thought. This is the way it exhibits itself. The same is true for death. Death is also one, it's a thought, actually. So you die as a thought, is thought of this habitual thinking. Again, it's one of the phenomenon.
COS: Hmm.
Master Nan/Professor Zhao: So sleeping is a thought that is also a thought.
It's again, narrowed down to a smaller range. For example, take you as an example. When I first see you, I know that you have many thoughts going through your mind. But the thoughts are not really truly continuous. They pass one, one, one, like that. Between thoughts there are actually gaps. But most people cannot see the gaps between two thoughts. Then it's like a continuous thing, actually there are gaps between two thoughts. We think we are able to actually connect everything. Actually you are not able to really connect everything. You think you can have them altogether. So all these thoughts actually belong to the domain of the consciousness. They are related to our brain but it's not limited.
Now if you go deeper than this, go behind this even further, you still have three levels to go. Then you ultimately reach the point of talking about the mind and the matter. But again, this is very complicated stuff. Now these three layers which are even behind this, are all complicated, so we're not going to talk about them. Let's now come back again, looking at a narrower problem, let's look at the thoughts that we have now.
For example if you check content, or look at a thought that you used to have for many, many years. Let's take every five years as one stage, you probably already have quite a few stages already, right? Every five years is one stage. Then for every stage we have some thoughts, you know, many, many thoughts. But the point is that now all the thoughts have probably already been forgotten and you cannot remember any of those. They are just jumping in and jumping in and jumping, like that, you know. You couldn't really connect them. Our thoughts change every moment, every second. We're always being cheated by our own thoughts. We say "we," the human. Actually this is a symbol representing this thing. Ultimately speaking, just the human - this one, the you, the human - this is already a question. Actually, ultimately speaking, there's no such thing as the person. It doesn't really exist. Thoughts are not a person. Your thoughts change all the time.
You see, you're able to listen to me because your thoughts are there, so you're able to listen to me. On the other hand, this thing doesn't really exist because it keeps going away. So there's really nothing there in a sense, nothing really exists.
You have asked me this question four times today already, that, as I told you earlier, is really something extremely complicated. I couldn't explain everything within one or two hours. It's related to medical science and life science, biology, etc., and it's a huge subject.
So that you can see that if there are so many different kinds of theories. Social science theories, physical science theories, etc., etc. He said all the theories are really gone now. Every time period has different theories and they're all already gone. They're useless now. You can still see some of the results of the previous period.
This is just a rough framework. Everything Teacher told you is like one chapter or another chapter, and everything he said can be a big chapter of the book. So this afternoon when you first asked this question, I said this will be like a book, you know, a 300,000 character book. We couldn't be able to explain them within a day.
Samahdi: True Calmness
Many people meditate or pray but very few people can really reach achieve a state of a true calmness, they haven't been able to empty other thoughts. Even to say, oh, I have a method, I'm able to stop my thoughts. You know what, that's actually a big thought, back of this stopping the thought. That's exactly the pre-thought. It's a big one, getting rid of the others only.
For example, in Hinayana teachings which are originally from India, they do talk about this special state. It's called the samahdi of no thought. So you indeed can enter that state. But that's a big thought itself.
For some people who enter that state of samahdi, the body actually will not die, will stay alive for a long, long time. In that case, all those wondering, jumpy thoughts are being stopped, that's what's happening.
This is already a very high achievement in terms of meditation cultivation. But then that's not the ultimate goal at all. Of course, you have the sixth consciousness and the ones that belong with the six. If you go beyond it, it's really hard to talk about. It's not that teacher doesn't want to talk about it, he just hasn't got the time. We talked about them within such a short period of time.
The Sixth Consciousness
Let's now focus on this question of the thought that's related to the sixth consciousness. Exactly what is it? The sixth consciousness functions through our brain. It's like the light or this tape recorder here. The light and the recorder are not electricity, but there is the function through this. So the same thing applies to this sixth consciousness, it functions through our brain. But then where does this come from? I didn't touch that point.
Personality, as most people know, that we are able to stay awake, we are able to write, to think, etc. These are related to our sixth consciousness. These everybody agrees and knows. There's the other side of this sixth consciousness. In Western culture, first you are able to memorize things, you have dreams, etc., these are related to what we call the subconscious. Some say it's related to our sixth sense, etc. These are all the different names that people have been putting on to this phenomenon.
So that's actually where the Western have not been able to go any further, that's where they really stop. In the Orient, Oriental countries, we are able to study this much, much differently than the West. For example, you know, of course, there are some special powers related to hypnosis of the spiritual side, right? Some psychic people, some special deities, actually those all belong to the domain of this subconscious, related to that. It is our sixth consciousness which allows us to think clearly, to write things, etc., that's called the clear consciousness.
Any other questions?
COS: Well, in regard to what he said to the limited impact from the Learning Center, I just want to say that we also talked about that, and we are now working also with quite a number of non-business institutions, like with government or schools. Because we also realized that just working with business would be too narrow, but I don't want to talk about this now. My question is in order to have an impact that really addresses the core of the whole society, what would it take?
IX. In the future, one just becomes like a machine
Master Nan/Professor Zhao: That would be related to the whole educational institutions of the East and the West, the whole thing. Just to use a metaphor, okay, maybe we have sixty billion people now, right, maybe its better to cut off all their heads. But make sure they have their baby first, their new baby is not being polluted. Meaning that if you cut everyone, only the kids still stay alive, and then you can start fresh. Otherwise it's actually very, very difficult.
There's something you probably already know, that women even have more information on this than you, like with the introduction of working at computer, etc. Within three or five years' time, we're going to see major changes because they rarely use their brain anymore.
Kids, kindergarten kids, already know how to play with the computers. That means that they can't really stop thinking. You know, this thing is going to spread very, very quickly. In the future people will no longer listen to all your management thinking, whatever, they're going to listen to the computer. In the future, one just becomes like a machine. Maybe in the future people will ask the computers questions, like, should I get married now? Ask the computer. Should I get married? Should I have sex? Ask the computer, or you have time now to do it? It sure is scary, yeah.
So if you are talking about the leadership, in today's time, all those politicians who are supposed to be leading the country or the world, none of them have any real thoughts or are real thinkers. Of course, they do have a thought, which is just making money. That's the main thought they have, but nothing else, really.
So all of these are problems of the society. You guys have good hearts and you are trying to help the society, but then let me tell you that this is a tough problem. Humans are big problems themselves. But first of all, have peace of mind yourselves first, let's calm our own mind first.
Teacher, ever since he was a young kid has been worrying about the future of the human race. Now he said, "I'm 80 years old and I'm not going to worry about it." Or to put it differently, maybe we can say that humans are beyond salvation, meaning there's no way to save them anymore, in a sense. They're already in real bad shape.
You guys are still trying hard to do something for society. I want to tell you that if you're only doing it with the management, only to do it from this angle, is not enough, for sure. There's still a problem with education. Education and culture.
COS (to Zhao): I know that I have asked my question already four times. But I do not think that I've got the answer yet. So if I was to ask one more question, I would ask this question a fifth time. Do you think I should?
Professor Zhao: Go ahead.
X. On the Origin of the Self
COS: My last question concerns the nature of self. What is the nature of the self, both the self with the small s and the Self with the capital S - what is the nature of these selves and where is the source from which they originate, both individually and collectively?
Master Nan/Professor Zhao: The small self and the big Self come from the same source. The mind comes from the same thing. One origin for both of them. The whole universe is just one big Self. Religious people call it God. Philosophers call it the fundamental nature. Scientists call it energy. Buddhists call it the Atma. Chinese call it the Tao. The Arabs call it Allah. So every culture, in a sense, they know there's something there, ultimate something.
Religious people, we just personalize this. Make him like a person, like a god. Okay, so this god is this supernatural, has all these super capacities, etc. That's religion. Philosophers use logic to analyze it and try to get down to the bottom of the conclusion. The scientists want to uncover or try to find the big Self in all of this, you know, the physical research, etc. If you really look at human culture, they say it starts with religion and then people begin to have doubts about religions, and why, and then they begin to do research on them. Then you come to philosophy. And then there's still doubt about it. It's all based on reason and logic. It's too abstract, it's not real. So they want to do experiments with it, and then that's how science became to evolve, to emerge. That is the Western civilization's development. From religions, to philosophy, to natural science.
Religion, science, philosophy, they're all trying to look for this big Self, this origin of life. This big self was originally just one body, altogether in one. Let's give you a metaphor analogy.
Electricity. You can't see it, you can't touch it, right? But it's all over the place, actually, with energy. The source of energy is actually one thing. Everything from that system is one thing. It should be that the big Self, that we all have this. Part of it can come out and generate this, another part of it could come out and give you this.
So this is the large Self. Of course, when this is a small self, you are going to have many things happening there, also. Layers and layers and layers. So there's a self there. So for cultivation, learning Buddhism, the first thing you do is try to get rid of this view of the [small] self.
Once you reach the state of no self, the small self, you reach the state of the big Self. Getting rid of the small self you reach the state of the big self or the large self. Compassion, loving, etc., all of that originates from the big Self. You no longer will be selfish from that large self.
XI. The Consciousness-Only School
This is actually a whole system. If you are able to spend some time in really studying the consciousness and then go back to Germany and publish them in German? As he said, you would probably make a big name for yourself. Most people were talking materialistic or only the spiritual or the only the realistic school of thought. Well, in this one batch of Buddhist studies, they call them the consciousness the consciousness-only school, can also become very scientific, also.
The Americans, the British, all of them have touched upon these, but haven't really gone into it. If you spend like a few years on this consciousness-only, then you'd become a big figure in the field.
You're still young. You have many years till you're 80 years old, right? You can spend like a few years, five or six years, and study this. Then you can make really something out of it. They already have some English translations of the consciousness-only school teachings, but then you have to create new words in German, put them into German. Nobody really knows it, so if you are able to publish that it will be shocking to the intellectual community.
Especially when Teacher teach this to you, he will combine them with science, and that will make it even more in touch with the reality now. This we just talk about, we're just chatting about it. It doesn't mean I'm asking you to do this. I'm not asking you to do this. I say this because if looks like you are very serious. That's why I mention this. Especially since you came all the way just to have a talk. I'll feel bad if you go home empty-handed.
COS: I'm not going empty-handed.
Master Nan/Professor Zhao: Send a fax to Ken, Ken gives it to Teacher, so we know this is from Peter, etc., this whole thing, so you are able to come here. Otherwise, it's oh, no, you cannot come. Because so many people who want to come and see Teacher, usually they cannot find Teacher. I'm too old, I don't want to do all these things.
Master Nan/Ken: This is called Mere Consciousness School in Buddhism. It is so translated in English.
Master Nan/Professor Zhao: Actually if Teacher would do it, he wouldn't just say, oh, this is a part of the Buddhist teaching. He would say this was Consciousness-Only teaching. Teacher would combine them with more than science. It won't be like the traditional way of doing it. It takes a long time to study this, it takes patience. It takes a special environment for this kind of thing to happen, this kind of lecture to happen.
You may want to look around in the library upstairs and see if you can find any others on mere consciousness, yeah.
Master Nan/Translator Ken: And you need to translate from English to German, once you have the English translation. There are a lot of machines that just translate automatically, and they're quite good. I think the structure of the German language is very close to the English language.
You know this guy, a famous monk. He went to India to get the Buddhism. He has written a book about this Mere Consciousness school. That has been translated into English already. That's the book that Ken mentioned a moment ago.
COS: I see. What was the title again of that book?
Master Nan/Professor Zhao: Mere Consciousness. It's a yellowish cover.
COS: I see.
Master Nan/Professor Zhao: It was a Chinese who translated this into English. Not many people are studying this in China. Of course if Teacher talks about this, as he said earlier, he will combine it with Mere Consciousness school teachings, combine it with like science, etc. To really uncover the secrets of this teaching, because actually, you know, I, myself, many Chinese or many Westerns already read the book but really couldn't get anything out of it, because they really couldn't understand it.
That book is only one book within the many books of the consciousness school teachings. It's this big, this thick. There's lady, like an Indian lady on the picture. It's not easy to find the book. You have to go to a special store to get it. I think the Library of Congress or the big libraries might have it. On the top, it's up here, an Indian lady's picture. And on the inside, the translator's picture, a gentleman from Hong Kong.
COS: I see. What's the relationship between the consciousness school and science?
Master Nan/Professor Zhao: Most people just take it as a good teaching, especially the people who are studying social sciences. You question about where does life come from, the origin of life, etc., all of these are contained in the consciousness school. And in that teaching, they sort of analyze all of these in great, great detail. Every aspect of the self. Teacher's going to show you what he looks like. He has to go to another place to get it now. We've come so far away from those days, Teacher, you know, he's going to show you this and that, to make sure that you know.
COS: I am happy, so he does not have to do that.
Master Nan/Professor Zhao: He wants to give you a lot.
COS: I really appreciate that, but please tell him I'm really not going empty-handed. So he doesn't have to, you know what I mean.
Master Nan/Professor Zhao: Okay.
COS: And I really mean it.
Master Nan/Professor Zhao: Okay, yes.
XII. Reflection
I had three reactions to the transcript. My first reaction after reading the transcript was disappointment. It seemed shallow and flat compared with the experience of the real conversation in Hong Kong. At the time, I felt we had a rich conversation. Maybe 5% of that experience shows up in the transcript.
At the end of our interview, I thought Master Nan hadn't really answered my questions. After rereading the text I found myself having a second reaction. I noticed, very much to my own surprise, that the conversation did, in fact, touch on all the questions I'd posed to him.
What I found was that my first question, regarding the revolutionary changes that reshaping our world (the technological, social, and consciousness-based shifts) was addressed by Master Nan in his remarks regarding the new spiritual path of the future (which will be different from the paths of the past) and that the near future will still be governed by the primacy of money.
He responded to the second question (what would it take to relink these three aspects and streams according to their common underlying source?) by pointing out that management was an insufficient starting point. He also indirectly indicated what a more profound starting point could be: those precepts outlined in the Great Learning, i.e.,
o to truly understand the nature of man and the universe (transcending the split between matter and mind)
o to truly help all people (overcoming the social split)
o never stop until you have reached the ultimate goodness (overcoming the core issue of ecology: to re-link what we do with what we see, think, and say).
The third question, regarding practices, Nan and his students began to responded to by a) giving me an elementary instruction in meditation, and b) in pointing out that, for Master Nan, all activities, life is meditation. "Every sound is a mantra."
He responded to the fourth question, (what is the blind spot in how we see the origins of our actions?) by pointing out what he considers the failing of the twentieth century: the absence of a central, unifying, foundational thought. He also indicated how this could be transformed: by illuminating the blind spot through entering the seven meditational spaces of leadership.
My third reaction was calmness. Suddenly I saw that the structure of the conversation, as documented in the transcript, reflects the content of Master Nan's core theory. Let me explain. The structure of the emerging whole, which is shown in the U-shape structure of the seven meditative spaces of true leadership in Figure 1, are manifested both in the structure of the interviewn and in the Great Learning essay.
The U-shape structure of the seven meditative spaces of leadership
Master Nan mentions seven meditative stages or steps of leadership:
1.) Awareness (of current reality), 2.)Knowing where to stop (recognizing the essential question), 3.) Calmness (samahdi), applying rigorous method to the essential question; 4.) Deep quietness and stillness, 5.) Grace of being, 6.) True thinking (looking for the essence/answer to the question), 7.) Attainment (of the desired end).
The seven meditative spaces of leadership consist of two basic movements (see Figure 1, above). The first movement could be called the "way-in," which is to move from normal awareness to the deepest place of true stillness at the bottom of the U (stages 1-4). The second movement could be called the "return" and is about returning from the deepest point to the other levels of reality without losing the presence of the deepest point (stages 4-7).
The U-shape structure of the Encounter with Master Nan
The structure of the conversation with Master Nan embodies the structure of his theory about the seven steps in the following order:
1. Management is an insufficient starting point for our work (current awareness)
2. The blind spot of the 20th century (identifying the essential question)
3. The seven meditational steps of leadership (calmness; applying rigorous method to the question)
4. Point of Stillness: the eye of the needle (the journey from one place (office) to the second place (family dinner); Meditation, conversation and dinner)
5. Receiving a major insight (grace): The blind spot is concerned with the coming-into-being of social action, and the essence of the seven steps of meditative leadership is to illuminate that blind spot. Question: What then is the source of social action? Answer: Thought.
6. Question: What then is the origin of thinking? (Answer: the Self).
7. Question: What then is the origin of Self? And what is the true goal of
The Great Learning Essay
The seven initial paragraphs of the Great Learning essay follow the same U-shaped form: the first contains the whole structure, the following six reflect stages two through seven, with paragraphs four and five representing the turning point at the bottom of the U. The text reads as follows:
1. What the Great Learning teaches, is - to illustrate illustrious virtue; to renovate the people, and to rest in the highest excellence.
2. The point where to rest being known, the object of pursuit, is then determined, and, that being determined, a calm unperturbedness may be attained to. To that calmness there will succeed a tranquil repose. In that repose there may be careful deliberation, and that deliberation will be followed by the attainment of the desired end.
3. Things have their root and their branches. Affairs have their end and their beginning. To know what is first and what is last will lead near to what is taught in the Great Learning.
4. The ancients who wished to illustrate illustrious virtue throughout the kingdom, first ordered well their States. Wishing to order well their States, they first regulated their families. Wishing to regulate their families, they first cultivated their persons. Wishing to cultivate their persons, their first rectified their hearts. Wishing to rectify their hearts, they first sought to be sincere in their thoughts. Wishing to be sincere in their thoughts, they first extended to the utmost their knowledge. Such extension of knowledge lay in the investigation of things.
5. Things being investigated, knowledge became complete. Their knowledge being complete, their thoughts were sincere. Their thoughts being sincere, their hearts were then rectified. Their hearts being rectified, their persons were cultivated. Their persons being cultivated, their families were regulated. Their families being regulated, their States were rightly governed. Their States being rightly governed, the whole kingdom was made tranquil and happy.
6. From the Son of Heaven down to the mass of people, all must consider the cultivation of the person the root of everything besides.
7. It cannot be, when the root is neglected, that what should spring from it will be well ordered. It never has been the case that what was of great importance has been slightly cared for, and, at the same time, that what was of slight importance has been greatly cared for.
Nan Huai-Chin is a teacher and scholar famous in China but little know outside of China and Taiwan. He has written over 30 books, which have sold literally tens of millions of copies in China, mostly on the black market until recently. Few of his books have been translated and made available outside China. He is an advisor to the government as well as a noted spiritual figure. Today, it is not unusual to find whole sections of bookstores in China devoted to his works. He is noteworthy for his knowledge and attainment in all three major strands of Chinese culture: Taoism, Buddhism, Confucianism. Master Nan just finished a new interpretation of one of the two Confucian classics, "The Great Learning." This essay, originally written by Confucius' grandson 2400 hundred years ago has been a mainstay of Chinese culture ever since.


From one life to an other
Interview with Yangsi Rinpoche
at Vajra Yogini institute (6th July 98)

IVY: First of all, thank you very much for your visit and teachings at Vajra Yogini Institute. You allready came to Lavaur, but this is your first teaching here, 9 days of Lam Rim course.
YR: Yes, I really appreciate.
When I came here last year, I had a good feeling. Gueshe-la have then asked me to teach but I have replied that I will teach this year. He settles for the next year. So this time I really enjoy !
IVY: As a young Master...
YR: I hope, I am trying now.
IVY: I mean "young Lama" in term of age.
YR: No, both. I am younger in term of... I am now 30 years old, but my practice is still very young.
My parents escaped from Tibet in 62 or something like that. I was born in Kathmandu in 68. I think that when my mam was pragnant, I was probably in Dharamsala receiving teachings in her stomach. Anyway, His Holiness Trijang Rinpoche gave lot of advices to my mam. So I was born in 68 in Kathmandu and after that my mother return to Dharamsala.
IVY: So you belong to the new generation of Lamas brought up out of Tibet and you are recognized as the reincarnation of a great master. The previous Yangsi Rinpoche was a very reknowned debate master. It is said that he loose only one debate in front of a master and that this master was Manjoushri !Can you speak about your previous reincarnation ?
YR: The great Master Gueshe Ngawang Guendun was really a great scholar. He was very famous before 59. Specially in Sera, Ganden, Drepung and all around the great monasteries. He was not only a great scholar, but also a great practicionner. Every body keep great respect and deep faith for him. I think that he became a very good scholar very young.
Before my father was monk in Sera and a student of this great scholar, Gueshe Ngawang Guendun. He told me that he was not studying very well. But Gueshe Ngawang Guendun had guided him in a very special way and latter on my father became a very good student.
During the 59, during the communist chinese occupation, Gueshe Ngawang Guendun staid a long time in my father's house. He had some sicknesse and my father took care of him, all those things. He spend the last part of his life with my father. Anyway, Gueshe Ngawang Guendun had a strong connection with my father.
As I have mentionned before, when my mam was pragnant, Trijang Rinpoche gave her lot of blessings: blessing water, blessing pills, many things... advising to wrape me in a yellow clothe when I will born. Although Rinpoche gave her different advices, he said nothing about my previous incarnation. He just advice to keep clean and to take those blessings.
Latter, when I was 5 years old, one day Lama Thubten Yeshe, Lama Zopa Rinpoche came together and made a kind of ceremony. But I remember that the previous night was little bit strange for me: I had dreamed that some monks where coming. I remember it very clearly, this was a little bit strange for me.
And the first time that Lama Yeshe, Lama Zopa Rinpoche and a western nun, sister Max -they had an american Jeep- came, I was waiting at the door. They were coming to bring katas and letters. This time His Holiness Trijang Rinpoche said: "This boy is the reincarnation of Gueshe Ngawang Guendun." This great scholar was the teacher of Lama Yeshe, of Gueshe Sopa, of Gueshe Tengye and many other gueshes. He was really a great Master !
I don't know if I am really the same consciousness continuous lineage or not. I don't know. But when I hear about this great scholar, how he was, all his caracter, his knowledge, I have deep faith and respect for him. So, anyway, it came like that! I, myself, I am not sure!
Maybe one time, this I remember very clearly, before Lama Yeshe passed away, one day he came back from holydays in Sera to Kathmandu -His Holiness Trijang Rinpoche had already passed away. We had lunch together. Little I was serious, little I was joking, I said: "How can I be the reincarnation of such a great scholar," Lama Yeshe replied: "No, you have been recognised by His Holiness Trijang Rinpoche, that's it!"
IVY: You had a very strong connection with His Holiness Trijang Rinpoche ?
YR: Yeah, yeah. Very, very... very. I mean... I don't know how to express it with english words. Since I have joined Kopan, His Holiness had adviced what to do. I first staid three years in Kopan and then went to Sera. His Holiness Trijang Rinpoche came first and adviced lots of things: how to do, how to study, how to take your motivation. I was very young and was not listening very carefully, but I remember one time we had lunch together and he said: "You have to do!"... Very very kind.
IVY: Can you tell us about your life and studies in monasteries ?
YR: I was first enthroned in Kopan. During Kopan, I studied with the great Lama Lundrup. He gave me my first Dharma lesson. Lama Lundrup is very kind, I still remember. He teach me the whole alphabet, all those things, the usual things. We had to memorize lots of things. For beginners, when we start to learn philosophy, we have to memorize simple things. This I have learned at Kopan. I have also learned this broken english. There, we can study english very easely: there is a lot of westerners to talk with. Also when you are young it is easy, it is the good time to learn english.
Lama Yeshe had the idea to keep me in Kopan untill I will be fiveteen to learn the general things. In Kopan, we had a very good educational program during that time, very strong. Still it is very good. So when I was ten, gueshe Sopa came to India for a visit. Then he went to Kopan. I think that Gueshe Sopa told to Lama Yeshe and to my parents that they have to send me back to Sera. He said that it was time to study more seriously on philosophy, in a more traditional way, more concentrate.
At that time, I was quiet young and my mam was a little bit upset to send me so far, but as Gueshe Sopa said: "you must go!", then I went to Sera when I was ten.
There, it was really profound studies. I don't know how to say... When you study many different things together, not really concentrated on one particular subject, of course you can learn many thing but it is rather different than studying one subject very deeply.

During my studies in Sera, sometimes there was little bit competition in debating. Sometimes good advice will cool you down.
Sometimes during debating session, your mind must be very sharp. When they say something, you have to understand very quickly in order to answer very quickly. You have to give answer right after one.
Also during my studies in Sera, we were four Rinpoches together in the same class. During that time, many classes have no Rinpoches. Some classes had one Rinpoche, some classes had two. But we had four.
Myself and an other Rinpoche, were in the same class. It is little bit interesting because this other Rinpoche is also the reincarnation of an other very famous great scholar, Gueshe Jampa Chophel. So this Rinpoche is the reincarnation of Guesha Jampa Choephel and I am the reincarnation of Guesha Ngawang Guendun. This two great scholars lived at the same period, they were forming a good team for debate. Every body respected them both, both were great scholars, great practicionner, both were very humble and I think excellent ! Latter, he was also the reincarnation of an other gueshe. We both were in the same class in Sera. He is still in Sera, he is a very good Rinpoche, he is very humble, he studied very hard, he speaks a very good english. He is also very good.
IVY: When we read biographies of Masters such as Dagpo Rinpoche we are admiring the amount and quality of studies they have done. The Dharma program was very intense. Today, Tibetans rebuild most of the famous monasteries in India. Can we still find the same conditions of studies than before the exile ?
YR: From five o'clock in the morning, we do morning prayers untill 7 or 7.30. Then, from 8.30 to 10.30 or 11, we have debating class. Then, we have lunch. Sometimes, when there is special prayers or special offerings, that kind of event will take place from 11.30 to 1.30 p.m. or something like that. Otherwise, we have lunch at 11. After that, maybe due to the weather - in India it is very hot - ... it depends. When it is very hot, some people can not sleep. They are kind of very awakened so they continue to memorize or read. After that, we go to individual teacher to study philisophy. After that, whatever we have memorized in the morning, we have to repeat. That will go untill five p. m. From lunch to dinner, they have to study their own grammar, tibetan grammar, tibetan hand writing. They have also to make sure that whatever they have memorize in the morning is still in their mind. Diner will be at 5.
Then from 6 untill 8, they have debating class all together in each class. If for example there is thirty monks in a madhyamika class, one monk will answer and everybody has to debate. Then from 8 to maybe 10 - it depends - we have to say Tra prayer, Heart Sutra, lineage Guru and protectors, all this prayers we have to do for 2 hours.
After that we have... lower classes will try to choose an interlocutor in the upper classes, one by one they will come and ask: "please can I debate with you." A kind of individual homework... whatever question you want to ask, whatever you want to debate.If during the class time you were answering, people maybe
ask lot of questions. So you have kind of lot of doubts: how to explain this and so forth. So in the evening, you go one by one to debate concerning what was unclear, you can go slowly slowly, there is not so many people together so you have time to learn why this is, why that is. If still, this is not clear, then next day you can ask to your class teacher. If this is not possible, then you go yourself questioning: "how to clear this one..."
After that you have to recite again whatever you have memorize. For me, the first year that I was in Sera, I remember, I was going untill midnight or 1 o'clock in the morning. Then I will go to bed. But for some monks still... I can't say all night, I am not sure, but still untill 1 or 1.30 some monks are reading or reciting. It is not like in Tibet in 59. When the great scholars were doing their studies, they were thinking: "what to eat ?" Nowadays it is not like that, there is lot of offerings and support from the West.
IVY: Is the traditional program still exist like before in Tibet, before exile ?
YR: The basis are same. But in Tibet, for example when you had to give your gueshe exam, you had to answer question all night long. Because at that time classes were changing, one night one class was answering, then the next night was the second class. So I think it was more tough. Here, in India, the main structure is still kept but we had to make it shorter in terms of time and more soft.
IVY: Is it still possible for tibetan monks or Tulkus to follow Dharma studies in Tibet ?
YR: I think that it is a very hard situation. For few months or few weeks, there is something, you can study very hard. But suddently, the situation changes and then everything change. Some period, for one or two months or one or two weeks there is a chance. So some monks, when chance is there, they will do. But sometimes, for political reasons or because something is going on, communist Chineses come and say: "You have to leave." So they are waiting for a chance to study but they can't study very seriously.

IVY: What is the generale situation of Tibetans in India ?
YR: We have really good relationship with the governement and with the public also. They will mention to us: "We are learning lot of things from the Tibetans." They are used to say. Also local people, we are living in South India, are very kind, very soft not very rought. But sometimes of course small things happen. We have so many new comers from Tibet: they don't have a good understanding of indian people, how to communicate, they can't really speak very well. Indians also don't speak tibetan. So, sometimes, they misunderstand each others, but it is just small problems, nothing very serious. In general, situation is very good.
IVY: The tibetan culture and Dharma are in real danger in Tibet. Now, most of the world admit that Tibet, as an independant country, was invaded by the Popular Republic of China. We know about the destruction of monasteries and the cultural genocide, about the killing of 1/3 of the population, about the political prisonners. The international opinion knows about the settlement of Chineses in Tibet, about the destruction of natural ressources including nuclear problems and radioactive wastes.
Mr Clinton, during his visit to China, has talk about human rights and in particular about the necessity to organise a meeting with His Holiness the Dalaï Lama. Can you see any hope of changes for Tibet ?
YR: I am sure that those days, there is a very very good hope. But still I think, it will take some time. I am sure that there will be a dialogue between His Holiness and the chinese leaders, I am sure. But we need patience, it takes time.
Jiang Zeming mention that we already had dialogues many many times. Usually, when this kind of situation arises, the communist governement says: "Oh, the Dalaï Lama is a separatist." Then, they use lot of bad words. But this time, they didn't do, so maybe it shows that they have also changed. Even before , they were used to say to His Holiness: "First you have to accept that Tibet is a part of China." They were making conditions. This time Jiang Zeming didn't mention that, he didn't mention anything. He just mention that a process is going on.
IVY: Jiang Zeming says to chinese students that there will be democraty in China when they will reach his age. That means in fifty years. It is easy to give long distances promises, it can just be empty words.
YR: It is very far. Yes, I am sure ther will be changes. In order to make big changes in big countries, because of the population, it takes time. You can't change imediatly, it has to be done step by step. To turn to democraty, people need to be educated to democraty, then it fits. If not, then it becomes unbalanced. People need to have the same level of education or economical. Otherwise, if you change imediatly, maybe many problems will rise; although they don't have the same experience as in democratic countries, they want to be free as in democratic countries. To bring democraty step by step will produce really profound and good basis. Education is very important, otherwise it is like in Nepal or India... Democratic country, yes! Democraty, yes! But if the public is less educated, very few people... sometimes, it becomes worst than before. Taking time, I think, is good.
IVY: Some Westerners, and it seems even some young Tibetans, are exhausted about the actual situation. They think that the non-violent policy did not bring any results. What do you think about that view ? What do you think about extreme solutions such as the hunger strike in Delhi ?
YR: I think... sometimes when you have food, you don't put so much spices in the main food. Little spices is enough to get some taste.
So the bases of non-violence showed by His Holiness - of course nobody can lead Tibet as His Holiness do- the main, the root view is non-violence. In India, British stood for 200 years isn't it? Very, very long!
Some of the young Tibetans have only one thinking: "If you act violently as those countries, you will be in the news the next day! Newspapers will talk about you all the time." To be in the news is not our aim!
If Tibetans act with violence, it is very easy for communist Chineses to make the situation more worst. They can say: "They are trying to..."
In 87, during the first demonstrations, when the Chineses shot Tibetans, one monk, or maybe one lay young boy, got a gun in his hand. But he didn't shoot, he just broke it. This is also very very good. Latter on, the communist Chineses told to the news papers: "We didn't shoot the people. We just had guns toward the sky and bullets went up and then felt down and then this young Tibetan just died." So if that time, this young Tibetan had used this gun, it would have been very easy. They can just sight and go on. Why are they so difficult? Why is it so difficult for them to say that they have shoot a single bullet ?
If we don't follow non-violence, one thing is that communist Chineses can destroy very easyly. Then we have to question: "If we do violence what will happen ?" Ther are many reasons not to follow violence. First, China and Tibet have common border, we are neighbour. After, if we become together, there will be great hatred to each other like Israelians and Palestinians. If this generation of Tibetans keep patience, maybe the next generation will not have that kind of hatred. Because we are neighbour, we have to deal together. If historically we don' t have that kind of violence to each other, then I think that there is a hope for the next generation and the next generation to live in a peaceful way. But if this generation fight with the Chineses, even if we get freedom, future generations will keep a big gap and hatred. The problem will stay generation by generation. Countries have to stay together in peace, without violence is the best!
But I understand that sometimes... As I have already mentioned, sometimes it is necessary to put little spices in your food although the main view is not to do, otherwise all your meal will become too spicy.
IVY: Generaly speaking, politicians develop a partial view. Is it possible for a mahayanist master to have a political engagement ?
YR: I think that this depends on the Lama, it depends on his inner power or whatever. Mahayana practicioners have to serve society, they have to help, to do all those things. Most of people think that if you are involved in politic, you should not be very honest. Politic is not bad from his own side. It becomes bad because people, politicians, are making it worst. Anyway, for a mahayanist, if there is a good education, it is good to join politic.
One time, we had a big conference, all Rinpoches of the four traditions were together. We had discussion group and lot of people have questions about monks involved in politic. So the final day, His Holiness came and sayd: "There is two kinds of politic." He just mentionned "white politic and black politic". Although Mahayana practicioners can join white politic, black politic will harm the practicionner.
So it really depends on the practicioner if he himself is really honest. It is not enough to externally look like a practicioner ther must be some inside. Then, it can bring some effects to society sure! There is clear examples: we have His Holiness and beside we also have one Rinpoche, Samdong Rinpoche. He is a parlement member in Dharamsala. Now everybody have much hope for him. He will be a very good help for His Holiness. He is very very honest, very good practicionner, he is not proud, he has all the qualities and is very respected. It is very easy to communicate with him, not like some very high people. He is really good, good practicioner and good politician.
IVY: Do you have any opinion concerning the general situation in Asia and more specifically about the nuclear tests in India and Pakistan ?
YR: Very very sad, very dangerous! I am sure! India and Pakistan are keeping nuclear bomb: sometimes I am very scared to stay there. Because when I was very young, I have heard that one factory producing chimical poison had an accident (Bopal) and lot of people died. We really need carefull people otherwise maybe one day a nuclear bomb will go and nobody will know about it: it is very dangerous ! Even if they don't shoot each other, without knowing very clearly the technics, an accident is still possible.
IVY: You have acted for the cinema in "Seven years in Tibet". Was it a good experience ?
YR: When I have joined this movie, I didn't mentionned that I was a Rinpoche or something like that. I was just as a normal monk. I have really enjoyed how they work. If you say that you are a normal monk, you can see things from an other side. It was a good experience.
When you are in monasteries, when you are monk, in the general life there is no problem, everything is peaceful. When you join this kind of activity and see, it is very good. I have really enjoyed!
We were about 65 monks, most of them senior monk !
IVY: What is your opinion concerning the development of Dharma in the West ?
YR: Although Dharma originally came from India, after receiving many teachings from indian masters, tibetan translators and Masters made much effort to integrate the essence of Dharma. Therefore, many great tibetan Masters had develop realisations and Tibetans had much faith and respect for them.
So in the same way, concerning the development of Dharma in the west, I think that it is extremely important that, as Tibetans did, some westerners study deeply and make much efforts having a good moral conduct and good heart. This three qualities, to be learned, to get a pure morality and to develop a good heart are extremely important. This will act as a cause for western people to rise faith and respect to such teachers and will deeply contribute to the development of Dharma in the West.
IVY: Lama Zopa Rinpoche says that you will often came to teach to Vajra Yogini Institute...
YR: (laugh) Sure sure. I can't decide that I will come every time but I wishe. Sure sure.
IVY: Thank you very much for this interview and for your presence. We hope to see you very soon and to receive more and more of your Teachings and blessings.
YR: Oh yeah, thank you.


Integrating Science and Religion
An Interview with Alan Wallace
Center Voice: The Newsletter of the Center for Sacred Sciences
Vol. 17, No. 1 (Winter-Spring 2004)
Participate in discussions of this and other interviews at the Holos internet forum.

Alan Wallace has been a practitioner and scholar of Buddhism since 1970, including fourteen years as a Tibetan Buddhist monk. He has translated numerous Tibetan Buddhist texts, interpreted for many Tibetan Lamas, including the Dalai Lama, and taught Buddhist philosophy and meditation worldwide. Alan also has an undergraduate degree in physics and the philosophy of science from Amherst College and a doctorate in religious studies from Stanford University. Among the many books he has edited, translated, and authored, three have particular relevance to the subject of science and religion: Choosing Reality: A Buddhist View of Physics and the Mind (Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion, 1989), The Taboo of Subjectivity: Toward a New Science of Consciousness (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), and Buddhism and Science: Breaking New Ground (New York: Columbia University Press, 2003). For more information about Alan Wallace, please visit his home page at This article is copyright © 2003 by B. Alan Wallace, and published here with his kind permission.

TOM McFARLANE: Some of our readers may not know you very well, so first, to help them become familiar with who you are, perhaps you could share a little about what your background is, where you're currently at, and what you're up to.
ALAN WALLACE: My primary endeavor these days is establishing the Santa Barbara Institute for the Interdisciplinary Study of Consciousness in which I'm drawing together methodologies, insights, and theories from the cognitive sciences, from various contemplative traditions of the world, and from multiple philosophies East and West to try to understand the nature of consciousness, its origins, and its potentials. So there's the epistemic investigation of the origins, nature, functions, and potentials of consciousness, but also there's a pragmatic aspect to this, and that is to try to draw out the full potential of consciousness, for example, enhancing attention skills, cultivating emotional balance, and the like. The pragmatic approach focuses primarily on the cultivation of exceptional states of mental health and the realization of the full potentials of consciousness. So this endeavor has both a research aspect as well as a very pragmatic aspect. So that's a very large-scale endeavor I'm engaging in now.
In addition to that, I'm doing a lot of lecturing internationally and leading meditation retreats. In September 2003 I participated in a conference with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, one of the sequence of Mind and Life Conferences that began in 1987. This one, entitled Investigating the Mind was at MIT, co-sponsored by the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT, and I was co-chairing the panel on attention. Broadly speaking, this conference was looking at the mind from modern scientific and Buddhist perspectives, and seeing what kind of a bridgework or inter-relationship there could be between these two great traditions. That's it in a nutshell.
TOM: Great. So could you tell us a little about your life's history? How did your interests in religion and science unfold?
ALAN: I was raised in a very Christian family. There was a great deal of religious activity on both my mother's and my father's sides. So taking religion-specifically in this case Christianity-very seriously was deeply ingrained in me from childhood. At the same time, from my early teens I had a natural predisposition to pursue a career in science, and I had encouragement from my parents to do so. So I grew up with a sense that there were these two great traditions: religion and science. But I found with increasing dismay as I grew through my teens that there was very little communication between science and religion. And what communication there was tended to be antagonistic. Not collaborative. Not with a sense of mutual learning. So I felt that I'd been raised with two largely incompatible world views: a Christian worldview and a scientific worldview. And after spending two years at the University of California at San Diego in the late '60s hoping to find some type of integration of my interest in science with my interest in religion, I basically gave up on Western civilization in this regard. Nobody seemed even to notice or take this problem seriously. Yet I felt these interests must be integrated if I didn't want to be fragmented internally, and therefore I decided to step outside my own civilization and see if somebody else had a more integral approach to understanding human existence and our relationship with the environment around us.
TOM: This lead you to India?
ALAN: It did. By way of Germany. I spent my junior year abroad in Germany at the University of Göttingen. While traveling around Europe the summer before matriculating at the University, I picked up a book on Tibetan Buddhism and it tremendously inspired me and intrigued me. It was a rigorous investigation into the nature of Awareness. It was the first book I'd ever encountered that really seemed to draw all of these elements together: the profoundly religious, contemplative, and philosophical, but also the rational and empirical, like the approach of science entailing careful observation and so forth. That was really what I was looking for. So that was sufficient inspiration for me to drop all of my other classes at the University of Göttingen and just study Tibetan language with the hunch that this would turn out to be a mother lode, a vein of gold that I could trace to its source.
During that year in Germany, I continued to read voraciously about the contemplative traditions of the world and finally came to the same conclusion as Aldous Huxley, that in the great diversity of the world religions, their faiths, their creeds, their belief systems, there is a profound convergence at the deepest level of mystical experience. I thought if that was the case, then these great mystics from the East and the West must be converging on the most important reality that human beings can realize. Then the only question was, what path do I want to follow?
After spending a year in Germany, reading as much as I could on Tibet, its culture and its religion, its contemplative tradition, I felt this was really worth investigating. So, in 1971 I gave away or sold all of my possessions that I couldn't carry on my back, I bought a one-way ticket to India, and I went immediately to Dharamsala, which was then and is now a refugee community of Tibetans, and also where the Dalai Lama lives. There, I immersed myself in studying the Tibetan language, Buddhist contemplative practices, Buddhist philosophy, and traditional Tibetan medicine. I spent all of the '70s in total immersion in Tibetan civilization, especially its religion and most particularly its meditative and philosophical tradition, about four years in India and then the next five years after that in two Tibetan monasteries in Switzerland. Then I followed that by four years of going from one solitary contemplative retreat to another. So that was stepping outside of any civilization and just devoting myself to meditation. By that time I had taken a leave of absence from Western civilization for 14 years.
TOM: Eventually you were lead back to the U.S. to study science. How did that happen?
ALAN: I looked at myself reflectively and saw that well, after all, I am a Westerner. I still am an American, whether I like that or not. It is my native culture. In my pursuit of integration, I found that, while I had found in Tibetan Buddhism a very integral approach to the study of human nature, of consciousness, of reality as a whole, in the process I had even more deeply fragmented myself in a way. Because where previously I had been split between science and religion, now I had split East and West. I was obviously not a Tibetan, yet I had estranged myself from my own native civilization.
So at that point, I thought, now let's see if I can integrate myself in terms of East and West, and not just in terms of science and religion. And I thought to do that, I'd go back to the paradigm of Western science, the one science that the other ones seek to emulate in many respects, and that is physics, with its basis in mathematics. So in 1984 I matriculated at Amherst College, brushing up on my mathematics, calculus, multivariable calculus, and studied physics from the ground up, from classical mechanics and electromagnetism up through quantum mechanics and relativity theory. But my real interest there was not simply to study physics as physics, but to study the paradigm of Western science, and at the same time to get as much understanding as I could of the history and the philosophical context out of which Western science grew and in which it has flourished. My senior honors thesis drew on these themes, and was later developed into my book Choosing Reality: A Buddhist View of Physics and the Mind.
This period at Amherst was the beginning of an integration between the 14 years that I'd spent in the East with Tibetans and my early education and upbringing in the West. Ever since, I've really been engaged in an ongoing pursuit of thorough integration, so that, with one whole body, mind, spirit, and heart altogether, I can draw from the well of Tibetan Buddhism, and from the well of Western civilization. Later I studied cognitive science, and philosophy of mind. My doctoral work at Stanford in religious studies was very interdisciplinary. To be able to have all of these in one container, all of these in communication with each other, all enhancing and complementing each other-that's what I've sought since returning to Western civilization in 1984. Now, after close to 20 years, I do feel that to a high degree I have achieved that type of inner coherence and integration. So I feel very much at home in the Tibetan context, very much at home in that of Western science and Western philosophy, and of course that of religious studies. This is all of a piece now. It's entirely integrated. There's much more to learn, much more to know by means of an experiential inquiry. But I feel now that I do have a platform that is balanced and integrated, and that's something I was looking for.
TOM: Excellent! Before we discuss the integration of science and religion a little more, I'd like to ask you about the use of the words science and religion. They mean a lot of different things to so many different people and are used in so many different ways. I'm wondering what you would put forth as the most beneficial way of defining or conceiving of science, and the same for religion.
ALAN: Let's begin with science. Off the top of my head, with no pretense of being authoritative, let me simply tell you what comes to mind when I think of science. First of all, I have great respect and appreciation for science itself. It's not at all a tradition with which I feel I'm in combat or in any kind of adversarial relationship. Basically, I view science as a mode of inquiry, entailing very rigorous, precise observations and experimentation, with which often there is a preceding working hypothesis, some type of a theoretical formulation that gives rise to questions that can be put to the test of experience, or as Karl Popper said in The Logic of Scientific Discovery, hypotheses that, at least in principle, can be repudiated by experiment. And of course, something that often goes with scientific inquiry is quantitative measurement, quantitative analysis, and quantitative theorizing, in terms of producing formulas representing the laws of nature, and so forth. So science is a mode of inquiry, and of course it is also the ensuing body of scientific knowledge. And that's how I regard science.
Now when it comes to religion, I think it's important to recognize that religion, like science, is really a Western term. It comes principally from the Judeo-Christian and Greco-Roman traditions. So when we look outside our civilization, to the Indian tradition, or to the Chinese tradition, then we are looking through a certain template for religion which fits very well with our Abrahamic religions-specifically with Judaism, Christianity and Islam-but does not fit so well with any of the religious or spiritual traditions of Asia. So then one ends up in something of a quandary. But if one wants to speak as broadly as possible, not of religion as it's often conceived of in the West, but of religion as a more universal or a global term, then I would say that religion entails a set of theories, modes of inquiry, and modes of practice that are oriented to coming in contact with, understanding, or a least having faith in the deepest nature of reality, living in accordance with that reality, and by so doing, coming to some form of salvation, of liberation, spiritual awakening or enlightenment. I think one must speak in these very broad terms when one is trying to speak of religion as a global phenomenon.
TOM: How do you think that misconceptions about science and about religion may contribute to the so-called conflict between science and religion?
ALAN: I think the so-called conflict between science and religion largely has to do with dogma versus dogma. And science should not be a dogma at all. If science slips into a dogmatic role, it ceases to be genuine science. But unfortunately it often does. Scientists and proponents of science, such as teachers, professors, researchers, and journalists often move seamlessly from what is genuinely science to what is really much more of a system of beliefs. What I'm referring to here specifically is scientific materialism, which is also called materialism, scientific naturalism, scientific reductionism, or materialistic reductionism. All of these terms often basically refer to the same system of beliefs. For example, one belief that has never been proven scientifically, but which is accepted almost universally among a vast majority of scientists, is the closure principle. The closure principle says that within the physical universe there are no causal agents that are not themselves physical. In other words, nothing impinges upon the physical universe that is not itself composed of elementary particles or has energy or mass. There are no other influences in the physical world. Well, no one has come anywhere near demonstrating that this is true. It's hard to conceive how anyone could ever demonstrate or come up with an experiment that could possibly repudiate it, to quote again Karl Popper's axiom that scientific theories are those than can be, in principle, repudiated by empirical evidence.
Now this simple statement, the closure principle, which is to say the physical universe is causally closed, precludes the possibility that, for example, God, as a non-physical being, has ever done anything in the world. So any being such as God, if such a being exists, is a passive agent hopelessly standing outside the universe and not able to have any influence on it whatsoever. This sets scientific materialism in radical antagonism or incompatibility with all the theistic traditions of the world. That's just one feature. In my book The Taboo of Subjectivity: Toward a New Science of Consciousness I tried to sift out the core articles of faith of scientific materialism, none of which have ever been scientifically demonstrated, all of which are accepted very widely among scientists, especially in biology and the cognitive sciences. So if one conflates scientific inquiry and scientific knowledge with this dogmatic system of metaphysical belief, then this sets up a profound incompatibility between science and all the religious faiths of the world.
Now this unnecessary source of incompatibility comes from the religious side as well. And that happens when a religion identifies itself exclusively with a set of beliefs and ritual practices, so that, for example, salvation or redemption becomes simply a matter of unquestioning belief that cannot possibly be tested empirically. Or, if there's any empirical evidence that contradicts one's belief, it doesn't count because the source of one's belief is considered to be divine in nature and therefore beyond human comprehension. Well, for such believers it just doesn't matter what evidence science comes up with because they have adhered to a belief system that is based upon an authority, upon a particular book, that they have deemed infallible. Well, there's simply no way for there to be meaningful dialogue between science and a belief system that views whatever a scientist says as irrelevant. So when religion, whether it's Christianity or any other religion, adheres dogmatically to its beliefs, then any kind of meaningful dialogue with science is bound to break down.
But that is not a completely true picture of any of the religions of the world. If one looks into the contemplative practices of any of the great world religions, one finds there is a mode of inquiry there that is both rational and experiential. And if one goes back to empirical and rational inquiry within a religious framework, I think one now opens up the possibility of meaningful dialogue and even collaboration with the scientific community. One finds these contemplative modes of inquiry in all the religions. In Islam it's Sufism, in the Jewish tradition, the Kabbalah, in Christianity, it's the Christian mystical tradition. The Eastern Orthodox tradition has been quite strong for many centuries. And, as this is certainly true for the Abrahamic traditions, it may be even all the more true for traditions that do not fit so easily into the Western category of religion: Buddhism, for example, the multiple schools of Hinduism, Taoism, and other Eastern traditions which grew out of civilizations that did not define science or religion as we have. These traditions, I think, especially lend themselves to very meaningful theoretical dialogue and empirical collaborative research with science into such things as the nature of mind, the nature of consciousness, the nature of attention, and the capacities of consciousness. Together with William James and other great thinkers of the West, as well as contemporary people like the Dalai Lama, I feel there is an enormous potential for collaboration and discovery by drawing on the wealth of methodologies and insights from the contemplative traditions of the world, such as those of Buddhism, as well as on the tremendous integrity, the depth and sophistication, the excellent skepticism, and critical attitude of the natural sciences. With the integration of these, we may open up whole areas of research and insight into human nature, the nature of the mind, and our relationship with the environment that would not come simply out of the trajectory of Western science as it's following on its own course without any such interface, and would not come out of the Buddhist or any other contemplative tradition on its own without integration or collaboration with Western science.
TOM: What are some of the specific ways that you think this integration of contemplative traditions and science might come about? How might they contribute to each other?
ALAN: A good place to start when addressing such a question is William James because he was such a deep, multifaceted thinker. In addition to his background in biology and medicine, he was one of the primary psychologists of this country, one of the great philosophers of this country, and also wrote probably the greatest American classic on religious experience, The Varieties of Religious Experience. And this is all one person. He was quite monumental. And when he envisioned the scientific study of the mind, he envisioned a three-pronged approach. One of those was studying the brain and the neural correlates of a wide range of mental processes. Following this approach, Western scientists, neuroscientists, have made tremendous progress, especially in the last twenty to thirty years. So there's one approach. The second approach is studying behavioral correlates of mental activity. Following this approach, behaviorists, from the time of John Watson and B.F. Skinner to current modern cognitive psychology, have also made wonderful strides in understanding the behavioral correlates of the mind. This has yielded indirectly a great deal of insight in areas such as developmental psychology, shedding light on the mind and how it operates. But William James said there needs to be a three-pronged approach, and the third prong he called introspection, inward looking. And he said, among these three prongs, introspection should always be first and foremost. It should be our primary mode of inquiry into the mind because it provides our only means of direct access to mental phenomena, such as the emotions, attention, memories, mental imagery, imagination, desires, hopes, fears, pain, suffering, joy, and so forth. The two other approaches, neuroscience and behavioral sciences, including cognitive psychology, all study only physical correlates of mental phenomena. It's only with introspection that we actually look at the mental phenomena themselves.
The approach of introspection, however, has been beaten up a lot in the West because, in my impression, during its thirty-year trial from about 1880 until about 1910, psychologists simply didn't do it very well. They didn't know how to train the faculty of introspective investigation, how to refine the attention, so that introspection could be done in a rigorous and reliable way that wasn't heavily colored by the assumptions, desires and expectations of those running the experiment. So when the poor quality of their introspective research was unmasked by people like John Watson, the introspective approach was discarded-baby with the bath water-and it has been hard to revitalize it ever since.
Within the Western scientific tradition tremendous strides have been made only in terms of third-person observation, which is indirect observation of the mind by way of neural and behavioral correlates. A rough analogy from the 16th century might help illustrate the problem with studying just the correlates. In the 16th Century Galileo refined the telescope and then applied it to the careful observation of celestial phenomena. Only because he had such an instrument for making very careful observations of celestial phenomena was he able to discover that there were moons around Jupiter, that there were craters on the Moon, that there were spots on the Sun. The only way you can make such unexpected discoveries is by directly investigating phenomena with a reliable and refined instrument of observation. And it was from these precise observations and experiments using the tools of technology that the modern science of astronomy and kinematics developed. Now, before Galileo there was a long history of folk astronomy that was not so much concerned with the precise observations of the movements of the planets and stars, but had a great deal of interest in correlates between celestial phenomena and terrestrial phenomena, the correlates between human behavior and the positions of the planets, sun, moon, and stars. I think you know what discipline I'm referring to: astrology. Galileo and those who followed him devised the appropriate technology for careful observations of celestial phenomena. Until that point all we really had was astrology and folk astronomy. Similarly, modern psychology has not come up with the appropriate modes of observation for directly studying mental phenomena. They have not developed anything comparable to a telescope for astronomy or a microscope for cell biology. The contemplative traditions of the world have. These traditions, especially those of the East, have devised means for enhancing attention skills in terms of stability, vividness, to make profound, careful observations of a wide range of mental phenomena, to explore the very nature of consciousness by studying consciousness itself.
Within William James' brilliant strategy, this three-pronged approach, Western science has made tremendous progress and should be congratulated for its great progress in terms of the two third-person approaches, the study of neural and behavioral correlates of the mind. But it has made no progress at all when it comes to the first-person approach. And this is quite astonishing. The Buddhist tradition, on the other hand, has made no progress in terms of the brain correlates of mental processes. Neither has any other contemplative tradition in the world. So Buddhism and the other contemplative traditions have a great deal to learn from Western science about the neural and behavioral correlates of mental processes. And Western science has the potential to learn a great deal from Buddhism and other contemplative traditions in terms of first-person observation and experimentation, and then reporting on the mental phenomena themselves.
TOM: It sounds like these first-person methods of observation could be something that the contemplative traditions have to contribute in terms of a broader scientific method. In other words, we could perhaps conceive of a future science that is not limited to the building, constructing, refinement of scientific instruments that are external to us, but that our conception of science could be extended to include the cultivation of internal instruments of observation as well.
ALAN: Exactly so. This is just the conundrum that Wilhelm Wundt and the other founders of Western psychology were faced with. These pioneers of Western psychology were working three hundred years after Galileo and other physicists defined science and scientific methodology based upon objective observation. Science developed consensus-based, third-person observations of things standing outside, things in the physical world that could be inspected by multiple viewers. So the psychologists had an enormous challenge: how to take the scientific method, which was heavily oriented toward the objective physical phenomena, and direct it toward subjective mental phenomena. They tried introspection, but frankly they just didn't know how to do it. They did it primitively, they did it poorly, and so that approach fell into disgrace and was lost. It was largely replaced by behaviorism and has been discarded to this day. So we come to this same conundrum: we're trying to study mental phenomena, but science as it stands right now does not have any rigorous and reliable observational instruments for directly investigating mental phenomena, that is, from the first-person perspective. One response to that is to throw out introspection altogether. My response is to elevate it to try to enhance the sophistication and rigor of first-person methodologies to complement the sophistication of third-person methodologies. And so, indeed, if scientists can be open-minded and flexible in their understanding of the parameters of science, and include the possibility of there being rigorous, although not quantitative, observations and experimentations with the mind from the first-person perspective, then we may redefine the cognitive sciences and psychology, and in so doing we may redefine or at least broaden the parameters of science as a whole.
TOM: It would seem that this broadening of science would also have to require a transformation in the notion of what it means to be a practitioner of such a science. For example, training in the contemplative traditions requires practitioners to practice morality and cultivate virtues, but this isn't often emphasized in the training of a physical scientist. It would seem that a broadening of science to include the cultivation of introspection would demand much more from the scientist himself or herself than it does in the common notion today.
ALAN: This is certainly true. When it comes to contemplative traditions, ethics is not an arbitrary add-on. Ethics is not a luxury item in the quest for truth. One reason for this stems from the fact that the instrument you're using to investigate mental phenomena is your own awareness, and crucial to such rigorous investigation is the enhancement of attention. Now, from a Buddhist perspective, the untrained mind is normally in a dysfunctional state, oscillating compulsively between excitation and laxity, between agitation and dullness. This is not a mind that can reliably make observations of its own internal phenomena or reliably make observations outside. Scientists can get away with their own attention being considerably scattered only because they rely on physical instruments of observation. When they set a telescope, they can take photographs with the telescope, and so forth regardless of the wandering of their own attention. But when it comes to contemplative inquiry, you do not have any mediating observational instrument outside of your mind to gather data. And because your attention, your mind, is embedded in your life, if your life is lead in an unwholesome way, with a lot of anger, rage, pomposity, envy, craving, anxiety, and so forth, this mind cannot settle down. It cannot be balanced. Such an unethical life is incompatible with the profound and durable balancing of the attention. So training the mind, especially training the attention, and also simultaneously balancing the emotions, and cultivating mindfulness, cannot proceed without a strong basis in ethics. Upon the basis of training the mind, then, and only then, can one make a profound, rigorous and reliable investigation of the mind firsthand, and make discoveries that not only yield great knowledge, but actually yield profound and even irreversible transformation and freedom from negativity in one's own mind. And so the contemplative scientist, if I can use that term, must live a highly ethical life, cannot live a malicious life, an arrogant life, a self-centered life. It is incompatible with this whole mode of inquiry.
As long as the research is mediated by physical instruments of observation, as long as it's following the trajectory of Galileo, your ethics, your personal virtues are irrelevant to a large extent. If we should take Ockham's razor to the physical sciences, you could shave off virtually all of ethics and still have it operate efficiently. Altruism and compassion, a sense of global responsibility, of humanitarianism-you can shave all of that off. The only element of ethics necessary to have physical science and the Western paradigm progress is honesty: don't fudge your data. Of course, there are certainly many very ethical scientists. But it's not because they're compelled to be by their scientific discipline. They are ethical because they are basically good people, or maybe they are religious. But I think that many scientists are eager to bring a greater sense of ethical responsibility into their own mode of inquiry, and to the way science is used. So I think there's a great deal of receptivity there, and contemplative traditions may provide a bridge to that, or open up an avenue of inquiry, that possibly could make scientific inquiry as a whole a more ethical endeavor. I think that's going to be to everybody's advantage.
TOM: More broadly, in our society as a whole, would you say that the impact of scientific materialism and the conception of science as purely objective has contributed to a kind of moral degradation?
ALAN: I think it has. First, I think the very ideal of pure objectivity in science is simply a myth. As Thomas Kuhn has compellingly demonstrated in his book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, scientific inquiry has always been influenced by subjective factors: aesthetic factors, socio-economic factors, religious factors. It has never been purely objective. And so, that is a myth.
The ideal of objectivity, that somehow scientific inquiry should have nothing to do with subjectivity or human values, has disenfranchised human beings as living subjects from the real physical world. And I think one specific way that has happened is when scientists say, without question, that the mind is simply what the brain does, that consciousness is simply a byproduct of the brain. By bringing in these assumptions as if they were scientific fact, what they are telling us is that all of our activities, all of our thoughts, our choices, all of our lives are dominated absolutely by the brain and its interactions with the body and the physical environment. What they are saying in effect is: we are biological robots, we are preprogrammed by our genes, by our brain chemistry, by our physical interaction with the environment. I think we are getting that message also from the popular media, and we're getting it from the education system where there is, I think, gross irresponsibility in conflating the metaphysical axioms of scientific materialism with genuine scientific inquiry. Now, if we are really biological robots, then there is no such thing as moral responsibility. So scientific materialism has given us the message-sometimes explicitly and sometimes quietly in the background-that we are not morally responsible for our behavior because, after all, we are merely physical organisms. This is a terrible message.
A second point is that there is a message given to the population at large that if anything goes wrong with your mind, then the source of the problem is the brain because, after all, the mind is what the brain does. So if you can't sleep, you can't settle down, you can't focus, you're too active, you're too drowsy, you're not happy, you're too excited-you name it-if you have any type of perturbation of the mind, the first response that we're getting from a lot of the medical profession, and the scientific tradition as a whole is, what drug do you need to take? Do you need to get gene therapy? How can you fix your brain chemistry? And the message here is that whatever is wrong with the mind is caused by something wrong with the brain, and so the way to fix it is to get appropriate surgery or medication. I think that message is dehumanizing, and of course it is largely commercially driven. The great majority of the pharmaceutical drugs of the mind heal nothing. At best, they only manage symptoms. And that means you're going to be dependent on that drug, whether it's Prozac for depression or Ritalin for attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder. This is all a direct derivative of the scientific materialistic view of human nature and the mind: that the mind is simply what the brain does.
TOM: So just as the conflation of science with the view of scientific materialism leads to these problems in our culture, and has real effects in terms of the suffering of individuals, would you hope that an integration of science and contemplative sciences, or to put it another way, a broadening of the notion of science to include the cultivation of modes of attention and so forth, that this would have beneficial effects for society as a whole? And what might those be?
ALAN: Certainly this hope is the fundamental aspiration behind the establishment of the Santa Barbara Institute for the Interdisciplinary Study of Consciousness. One way the contemplative traditions can be of benefit in this regard is to help us recognize that there are things that we can do as individuals to address the various forms of suffering we experience. We can train the mind. We can develop new habits. We can gain experiential insights that transform. We can modify our behavior. We can modify the way we speak. We can modify our attitude and ways of thinking. We can cultivate emotions we haven't had in the past. In so doing, we can transform the mind in a way that is empowering and ennobling to the human individual. The contemplative traditions thus can engage in a complementary fashion with science to investigate questions such as: to what extent and in what ways can the mind and brain transform and change as a result of experience and as a result of training? Over the last ten years especially, cognitive science has been finding that the brain, the mind, is to a high degree plastic, capable of change through experience, and this is opening the door to tremendously meaningful cooperation with the contemplative traditions and other traditions that provide ways to transform the mind from within, rather than relying on materialistic resources of external, physical intervention.
TOM: I wonder if you'd care to elaborate on your specific plans for collaborative research between the contemplatives and the physical scientists.
ALAN: Among the myriad of potential areas of collaborative research, dialogue, and so forth between the contemplative and scientific traditions of the world, I think the study of attention is a prime area. Many contemplative traditions of the world such as Buddhism have already recognized the tremendous importance of refining the attention for their own contemplative ventures. At the same time, the cognitive sciences have already recognized the tremendous importance of attention, and there are also marvelous studies from the neural sciences, from cognitive psychology, psychiatry and so forth. Studying attention is an area where there's an enormous degree of interest and expertise on both sides of the fence. And this is one of the major reasons I'm so drawn to this.
So, to give this a name, I'm calling this proposed collaborative research the Shamatha Project. Shamatha is a specific genre of practice within the Buddhist tradition for enhancing attention skills. It means meditative quiescence, where the perturbations of excitation and laxity are calmed, where the mind is stable, vivid, and relaxed. That's shamatha. I envision a one-year residential training program in a facility very conducive to this type of sophisticated, delicate research. It will be quiet. Food will be provided. Each participant will have his or her own room. And these individuals through the course of one year will engage in attentional training techniques, meditative practices for enhancing the attention, balancing attention, cultivating shamatha from eight to ten hours a day. This is going to be a full-time job. Although the training techniques will be drawn from the Buddhist tradition, people do not necessarily have to be Buddhist to participate in this training because it's not theory-laden. One does not have to believe in reincarnation, or karma, or Buddhahood, or be a Buddhist to engage in this. And this is another advantage of this particular type of training. But their lifestyle has to be ethical and very simple throughout the course of this training. Because we are trying to hone or tune a tool here. And that means you want a very quiet laboratory, so to speak. At present I'm envisioning the first three months to be the pilot study with something like two dozen people. And the remaining nine months could be for perhaps half that number. So that would be the contemplative side of the project.
On the scientific side, the role of the neuroscientists would be using functional MRI-a very sophisticated brain scan-to find out which parts of the brain are activated when people enter into these states of refined attention, and how they transform over time as a result of the training. Every two weeks or so we'll have some type of EEG studies done, looking at the electrical activity of the brain using state-of-the-art EEG research methodology. In addition to these brain correlates measured by the neuroscientists, the cognitive psychologists will be studying behavioral correlates using sophisticated ways of measuring attentional and emotional balance. We may also in this collaborative endeavor come up with new experimental procedures or strategies for testing those particular modes of attention that are developed in Buddhist meditative training. So this is going to be collaborative all the way through; that is, we will not simply take pre-existing methodologies but actually hand-tailor them so that they are specifically adapted to being able to rigorously and accurately measure what happens in this type of training. There will be explicitly a study of attention and the plasticity of attention, and the neural correlates of such plasticity. It will be also, though, a study of emotional balance because, according to the Buddhist tradition, this type of attentional training should also have great benefit in terms of balancing the emotions, in terms of attenuating or decreasing the sense of craving, anxiety, anger, and other types of emotional imbalances. Participants should develop or unveil a greater and greater sense of well-being, of emotional balance, a sense of flourishing, and equanimity. There should be a greater clarity, a brightness of the mind. Overall this should greatly enhance the mental health and balance of the participants in this program. So, we may very well have a psychiatrist involved in the studies, because the implications for mental health are also very great. So I'm seeing this as a deeply collaborative research project that will draw from neuroscience, cognitive psychology, psychiatry, and the wealth of contemplative expertise, explicitly from the Buddhist tradition, but we may also enhance it from other traditions that also have made contributions in understanding how to enhance the attention.
TOM: And as you look to the future, let's say, several decades from now, what's your greatest aspiration or hope for the development of this kind of collaboration? Where might it lead?
ALAN: I'm now happy to take on the role of a visionary. How could this possibly develop? I can imagine contemplative research facilities where there are neuroscientists, philosophers, psychologists who themselves come for several months of contemplative training, or, after getting their Ph.D. in some natural science heading for a two-year post doc in contemplative training so they can enhance their own first-person skills to complement the third-person skills they've already developed as neuroscientists, as cognitive psychologists, as psychiatrists, to gain a much deeper understanding of the mind from a first-person perspective. I can imagine that type of collaboration.
From the side of the contemplative, I envision people who devote their lives to becoming contemplative professionals, devoting years to rigorous, sustained professional training, eight to fourteen hours a day, just as medical doctors, medical researchers and other types of scientists think nothing of spending twelve hours in a hospital or lab when they're doing the core of their research. Well, contemplatives have been doing this for centuries. Let there be professional contemplatives in the West that are matching the degree of sophistication of Western scientists, in some ways surpassing it, in terms of their utter dedication to their research and to their field of inquiry. In addition, I can envision professional contemplatives studying the natural sciences and perhaps getting degrees in psychology, the neurosciences, and medicine.
So, we don't just have a contemplative lineup on one side and the scientists and medical doctors lined up on the other. There's a lot of shared expertise. We're in a collaborative venture where we are deeply integrating first-person and third-person methodologies to the enhancement of everyone. It will enrich the contemplative traditions. Enrich the scientific tradition. And I envision a comparable degree of open-mindedness, of a critical attitude, of rigorous, intelligent skepticism on both sides of the fence, free from dogmatism. Let the scientists abandon the dogmatism of scientific materialism. And likewise let the contemplatives not conflate religious dogma with empirical inquiry.
And finally to round this off, such a facility would then also train experts, just like in medicine where people become experts in brain surgery or heart surgery. Well, let there be specialists in contemplative inquiry as well. Experts on attention who spend fifteen or twenty years primarily honing in on attention. Others could be experts on cultivation of the heart. We can have expert lucid dreamers. We can have experts in all sorts of specialized fields of contemplative inquiry. And then these experts could collaborate with natural scientists all over the world. For example, there could be research in the Sorbonne in Paris on mental imagery where the scientist would like to know what happens to the brain when a person holds a mental image vividly in mind continuously for an hour, and then be able to do a rotation or manipulation of this mental image, changing its color or shape, rotating it on its axis and so forth. To do that research, they need trained subjects who can hold an image for an hour, vividly, stably. So they could contact the Santa Barbara Institute and say, "Who do you have? We'd like to bring such a person over for six months." They'd be a full collaborator in the research, not just guinea pigs. They'd help design the experiment or enhance the protocol to produce the best possible research. And then when the scientific papers come out, they are co-written by the contemplatives as well as the neuroscientists, or whomever the other party might be. So there is enormous potential there.
A final point here is that, according to certain claims coming from multiple contemplative traditions of the world, when consciousness is refined through the development of profound states of meditative concentration, it has an enormous capacity for things like extrasensory perception and various types of paranormal abilities. As someone with a fair amount of scientific background, I would never ask any scientist to accept such claims simply because some Tibetan lama, Taoist priest, or Indian swami says so. But there are many such claims and these claims are made by intelligent, well educated people in the East and the West, in various contemplative traditions. These claims about the potentials of consciousness when it is refined in such ways, however, have hardly ever been put to the scientific test. We've never had a contemplative laboratory where these could be studied over a period of several decades. After all, there are scientific studies that go that long. Especially in medicine, for example. They go on for thirty years and then they collect the data and publish their paper. We should have a research project that is collaborative with natural scientists and contemplatives that goes on with the same subjects over a period of several decades. Then, it may turn out that there are potentials of consciousness that the contemplative traditions have been unveiling for centuries, for millennia, about which modern scientific tradition under the domination of scientific materialism knows nothing.
So I'd like to think that, just as we encountered the first axial era in the 6th century before the common era, when there was this extraordinary synchronicity in China, in India, in the Jewish tradition, and in the Greek tradition, bringing about extraordinary cultural revolutions in multiple places over roughly the same period all over the globe, we may now be entering into a second axial era, as we see the great traditions of the East and the West coming into contact with an attitude of mutual respect, mutual appreciation, and an eagerness to seek out the nature of reality with an open mind. We may be on the verge of a tremendous transition here. Not only could it unveil marvelous discoveries that will be of tremendous interest, great fascination, but it may also bring pragmatic benefits that may yield dividends for humanity as a whole. With the collaboration of the contemplative and the scientific, we may be moving towards a scientific revolution that will dwarf anything since Galileo.


Interview with HE Kyabje Lati Pinpoche
HE Kyabje Lati Pinpoche is one of HH the Dalai Lama's spiritual advisers and the Root Guru of Trijang Rinpoche Yangsi- Trijang Rinpoche is the present Dalai Lama's junior tutor. This interview was conducted by Kunga Nyima on 26 December 2000 at Sakyamuni Dharma Centre, Singapore.

Vegetarianism in Buddhist Monasteries
Q: In recent years, we heard that there are plans to convert the diet of the three great Gelugpa monasteries into full vegetarianism. What is Rinpoche's view of this plan and for that matter, for Buddhist monasteries in general, to become full vegetarian?
A: I am happy the monastic authorities want to make this huge change. That is really appreciable. I really support this type of change coming up.
Q:Why does Rinpoche feel that it is better to be vegetarian?
A:If the number of people who consume meat is reduced, it then automatically reduces the number of people who kill the animals to meet the demand. In this way, by becoming vegetarian, we contribute, to some extend, the reduction in the number of animals killed.
Q:Why is it then in old Tibet that the monasteries are rarely fully vegetarian?
A:In Tibet, there are many people who are strict vegetarian. Even in the big monasteries where there are huge gatherings of monks, they never eat non-vegetarian food. In the monk's individual quarters, though, there might be some monks who eat meat as food.

Vegetarianism is something not very new in Tibetan society. Generally, in the old Tibetan society, most of the people try to avoid taking meat specifically killed to feed individual person. This is evident in very level of Tibetan society. Even in the scriptures of the Buddha, we have to avoid taking such meat which is killed specially just to feed ourselves. The texts prohibit us from taking this type of meat. That is the common way of practice and instructions in the Buddha's teachings. Especially in the Mahayana teachings when a person does intensive practice of Bodhicitta, they are advised or prescribed to avoid taking meat.
Introduction of the Bhikshuni ordination into Tibetan Buddhism.
Q:What is Rinpoche's view about introducing the Bhikshuni ordination into Tibetan Buddhism?
A:If the tradition of the Bhikshuni ordination is an authentic and valid one that can be traced back to the Buddha, such a lineage of the the Bhikshuni ordination is indeed worthy of my support for introduction back into Tibetan Buddhism. I really support it. On the other hand, if the Bhikshuni ordination is something that we are not very certain of in terms of its lineage, history and others, then I think it is not proper to introduce into Tibetan Buddhism.

The issue of the Bhikshuni ordination is very much discussed and investigated subject not just in Tibetan Buddhist circles but also in Burmese Buddhism, Sri Langka Buddhism, Thai Buddhism and so on. All these different traditions of Buddhism are doing serious investigations into the present surviving lineage of the Bhikshuni ordination. The important thing is that we need the continuation of the ordination "blessings" or the valid lineal connection all the way back to the Buddha. If we are able to trace this without doubt, we can really support it.
Q:What is Rinpoche's view on the Buddha's alleged answer to Venerable Ananda that with the establishment of the Bhikshuni ordination, the period of time where the world will have the Dharma, sometimes called the "True Dharma Period", will be reduced by half?
A:We find such stories or historical events allegedly happenings in the Buddha's lifetime. We are not sure what is the main objective behind this type of advice given by the Buddha to Ananda. We will need to find out what is the real meaning behind such advice given by the Buddha.
Q:So does Rinpoche think this is true?
A:Anyway, these accounts happen more than 2,000 years ago. Even if these accounts are true, we will not know what is the main objective or meaning about this alleged statement from the Buddha to Ananda.
Q:Does Rinpoche think that these accounts are true?
A: I have never encountered such accounts or stories in the Buddhist scriptures. I will believe in these accounts when I really find them in the Buddha's scriptures. I have read many different Vinaya texts but I have never seen this alleged conversation before.
Q:What is Rinpoche's view on the so-called "Eight Pure Vows" that all Bhikshunis need to observe? For example what does Rinpoche think of one of these eight vows which states that even the most senior Bhikshuni need to bow and be subordinate to even a newly-ordained monk?
A: I have also encountered this view question in the West. I told them that this view is acceptable to the then social practices.

However, later on, the society changes. Due to change in society, the mentality of the people correspondingly change. The female sex begins to emphasize on equal rights. At that time, this advice is given in conformity to the situation of the society and the mentality of the people then. But in today's society, as the mentality change, it seems not to be appropriate to follow this advice.
Q:So, do the nuns need to follow this advice?
A:The Buddha has drawn a borderline for the Bhikshunis: if you want to be a bhikshuni, you must follow a certain type of lifestyle. Now if you do not follow these precepts, you will break the precepts.

These precepts cannot be changed. These borderlines set up by the Buddha 2,500 years ago cannot be changed by some one 2,500 years later.

These issues are mainly aggressive campaigned by a small minority of nuns. The majority of nuns are still faithfully following the precepts. If they follow the Buddha's precepts, they will gain merit. If they don't, they gain demerit.
More Centres- Good ??
Q: In recent years, Singapore has witnessed a great blossoming of many new Buddhist societies, especially those affiliated with Tibetan Buddhist tradition.

There are 2 views about this: One is that having many centres weakens the original centre and we end up with not one strong centre but numerous weak centres.

The other view is that these different centres are supported by different people and so the original centre is not affected adversely.

Moreover different centres cater to needs of people with different karmic links and that these many centres is a favourable sign of the proliferation of the dharma just as is the case with other religious groups.

What is Rinpoche's idea on this?
A: It is difficult to adopt one single standpoint on this issue. In my trip to Malaysia during my previous teaching tour to South-East-Asia, I attended a religous seminar. The Malaysian Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohammad, was also present then. Dr Mahathir said that he gives full endorsement to the existence of numerous centres of different faiths throughout the land because these different centres are educating the public to be good people. These centres contribute towards the peace and happiness of the society. I feel that this is reasonable and logical.

I personally feel that it is good idea to have many centres.
Flying to other centres??
Q:According to some resident teachers of some of the Buddhist centres, they do not encourage their students or members to visit other centres or to participate in other centres' programme.

These people claimed their own centre already provides all the teachings that are needed and that going to these different centre will be confusing.

It has been suggested however that these people are simply afraid of losing their followers or sponsors to new centres.

What does Rinpoche feel about this?
A:It is very difficult to say something about this because we can hardly know what are the motivations or intentions of these people. It is very difficult to say this is good or bad.

Deep in their mind, when they give these instructions to their student, if they think that if these students go to other centres, they may be coming into contact with wrong teachers or instructions, if the advice is coming from such feelings, then it is fine.

But if the advice is coming from the other less noble motivation such as worrying about losing followers or sponsors to other more attractive teachers, this is then a very bad act.
Q:What does Rinpoche feel about a centre helping out other centres in their programmes in terms of logistics, co-ordination and the like even should they come from different traditions?
A: Helping each other out is totally appreciable and good.
Q:Can students of one tradition attend teachings from established or realized masters of the other traditions?
A: If they go to attend the teachings from these great masters through their own interest and needs, we have to be appreciative and supportive of it. If they are not willing to, of course, we cannot push them! Even in the case of high tantric initiations, if the students are capable of practising them, it is highly appreciable for them to attend even if they are of different lineages and traditions.
Buddhism misinformed- What to do??
Q: In certain countries and contexts, certain religious groups are busy propagating misinformation on Buddhism and other faihts in attempt to increase their own religious group's following. What should we as Buddhists do?
A:One important fact here is that we always need to avoid feelings of animosity towards these groups of people. We always have to avoid these feelings. It is destructive karma if we have negative feelings.

The real action we can take is to have compassion for the people who misinform and people who have been misinformed or misled. Teach them the real facts about Buddhism. We have to try to open their eyes to the bad "advertisements" that they have been exposed. We must point out to them whatever is untrue. We should try to reach out to them and tell them the facts. Let them get into the right path and practice. This is what we need to do.

However, even after such efforts, they still feel that other religious practices are more suitable for them, then this is their choice. Religion is a matter for the individual. We cannot make laws to stop conversions!

This is what we can do.
Six realms of exixtence in existencse??
Q:Some Buddhist scholars have out across that the 6 realms of existence according to the Buddhist teachings are not to be taken in its literal context, but should be interpreted in a figurative manner. For example, they put forward that hells do not exit below the earth under Bodhigaya but can be found say in the sufferings experienced by final stage cancer patients.

What does Rinpoche think about this?
A:The existence of the 6 realms is true and factual in samsara. It is not mere ideological theory.

It has been perceived by many great practitioners in the past. These great practitioners have seen the 6 realms with their eyes. If these things do not exist, the Buddha will not have taught about them. The Buddha does not need to lie to us.
Q: Does Rinpoche think that we can still take the 6 realms in a figurative manner also? It is said the hells can be found in hamburgers with the pigs getting sliced and roasted.
A: I think it is not good idea to take the 6 realms in a purely figurative way because there are real hell realms existing. We don't need to interpret the 6 realms in such way simply to justify the existence of them to others.. These realms truly exist.

The hells exist due to the bad karma of others. The Buddha in many sutras and Shantideva in the Bodhicharyavatara said that the creators of hells, the fire, the iron castles, the burning flames and others are created by the sinful mind. The hells are produced as a result of individual bad karma. The causes of hells have been thoroughly explained.
Q: What has been counter-argued is that we are never going to find the hells underneath Bodhigaya as stated in the Abhidharmakosha, right?
A: Well no one has dug that deep! It is not a good reason to say they don't exist simply because we cannot see them or have not seen them. For example, there is moisture in the air though we cannot see them. Whether we see them or not, there is moisture in the air. Science has yet been able to account for everything in the world!
"You need more merit for my tradition"
Q: These years, there are a few famous teachers who said that to be able to meet with their own tradition's teachings, beings will need a special merit extra merit. Those with less merit can never meet their tradition's teachings.

For example, they say that Milarepa has to undergo great hardship to gain enlightenment because he has no merit to meet with Je Tzongkhapa's teaching. This, according to them, contrasted to Gyalwa Ensapa who gained enlightenment relatively easier because he has enough merit to practice according to Tzongkhapa's tradition.

Citing another example, some other teachers claimed that their "termas" are much superior to other teachings and even other similar "terma" in their own tradition. These masters may think that saying so encourages their students to practice hard. It is sometimes has the unfortunate effect though of making their students extremely conceited about their own lineage and being unfairly condescending, towards other lineages.

Statements like these, from these famous teachers,have unfortunately created some minor havoc in the Tibetan Buddhist circle.

What is Rinpoche's view point on this?
A: Generally, to have a human rebirth, we need a lot of merit. To come into further contact with Buddhist's teachings, we need even more merit. From this point of view, we need much merit to come into contact with Je Tzongkhapa's teaching, some of the "terma" teachings mentioned above and for that matter, any Buddhist teachings of all the other traditions. We need huge amount of merit to come into contact with teachings of every tradition. From this view point, what is said is acceptable. If we use common sense, we will be able to understand it well.

On the other hand, we cannot say that we will need more merit to come into contact with Je Tzongkhapa's teachings and we will need less merit to come into contact with teachings of other traditions. We also need much merit to come into contact with teachings of all other traditions!

If we say that not everyone is coming into contact with Je Tzongkhapa's teachings, neither is everyone coming into contact with some "terma" teaching. This kind of "quantifying" merits in relation to traditions is inappropriate.

Milarepa has to undergo great physical hardship to purify much non-virtuous deeds accumulated earlier on in his life. Besides this difference, both Gyalwa Ensapa and Milarepa worked hard! It is not true that Milarepa worked hard but Gyalwa Ensapa has easier! Gyalwa Ensapa did put in maximum effort to attain enlightenment. If people claimed that Gyalwa Ensapa did not put in much effort to gain enlightenment, then this is wrong. These people have the wrong understanding.
Revisionist tendencies- Good??
Q:Amongst many Gelugpa centers around the world today, there is a trend to practice only the Solitary Yamantaka and the Vajrayogini of the Naropa Tradition or more commonly called the Naro Kachod.

There are two view points on these: One is that this is all we need to practice to attain Buddhahood. Anyway, these practices seen relatively simpler in term of their presentation and appear to be more appropriate for busy people in a modern industrialized society.

The other one is the concern that only concentrating on these two practices are diverting from and diluting the essence of the Gelugpa tradition as traditionally the Gelugpa's main practice focuses on the 13-deity Yamantaka, Chakrasamvara and Guhyasamaja.

What does Rinpoche think about this matter?
A:If someone is capable of carrying out practices of 13-deity Yamantaka, Chakrasamvara and Guhyasamaja combined as taught by Je Tzongkhapa himself, this is the best and highly appreciable.

If someone is not capable, has not enough time or does not feel capable enough, well he or she still needs to do some Dharma practice. For these people, the solitary Yamantaka and the Vajrayogini is also good. It is like you have to eat what is most suitable for your stomach. Not everyone can eat everything!

But if the people can do it, it is best that they do the 3 great tantras.

The End


Interview with Miranda Shaw
May 24, 1994
Richmond Virginia

(T ) Tell me about the origins of your interest in Tantra.
(M) I was a lost sophomore at college, already interested in Hinduism when I went to an exhibit of Tibetan paintings and became fascinated by the female figures that I saw in the art because they looked very powerful to me and they also seemed very mysterious because I'd never seen anything like them. So, I wanted to find out who they were and what they were. Academically this led me to major in Art History, and specifically Asian Art History to try to understand the meanings. And spiritually this led me to search out some Tibetan Lamas at the earliest opportunity and I started to study with them. So I was studying the art academically and I was studying with Khempo Karthar he had just come to the US and showed up in Columbus. I met him and was very impressed by him and helped to found the Buddhist Center in Columbus Ohio which is still there. But before I graduated I had become very disillusioned with the masculinist orientation and presentation, that even though there were these fantastic female images in the art it seemed like most of the teachers were men and there was a hierarchical structure that seems to be very appropriate perhaps to feudal Tibet, but didn't quite resonate with me as an American. And the hierarchy was also very gender oriented with men at the top and women at the bottom. So I became extremely disillusioned with the institutional side of Tibetan Buddhism, because it really didn't work, so I basically left Tibetan Buddhist as a practice but I retained my intellectual fascination with it and I still wanted to understand who these women were, and I had a very strong intuition that there were, ...that the origins of the movement must have been very different for them to have produced art like that of these totally blazingly powerful females. And so I really set out to explore the origins of the tradition rather than the modern Tibetan expression of it. So after I completed my degree in Art History I decided that the way to explore the religious meaning more deeply would be to actually study religion, the discipline of religion. So I went to Harvard Divinity School and pursued Sanskrit and Tibetan languages and studied the available texts and translations. I really didn't know this was going to be a life long search at this time, I really thought it was going to be a matter of going into the available scholarship and the available translations but it did dawn on me as I reached the end of my masters degree that no one else had done this work and that I didn't do it, no one else was going to do it, and so I applied to the PHD Dept at Harvard University, and I admitted that this was my goal to document women and gender at the origins of Tantric Buddhism in India. They did admit me and then I spent several years really learning how to translate texts, and I thought that once I knew how to translate the texts for myself that I would have the key to what I was looking for. And it slowly became clear to me that I couldn't translate those tantric texts unless I had guides to their meaning. Because tantric texts are very mysterious.
(T) And secret, it's an oral tradition.
(M) Hm mm , so then I realized that I would have to go to where they were written, in India, in the Himalayas and try to find living masters. And so that is what I did in 1987 and 1988. So I had a physical journey as well. And I went from one teacher to another, trying to find someone who was familiar with the Yogini Tantra teachings and all the passages in the texts on Women. So it took me six months to find months to find someone and I found him in Ladok. When I first met him I was consciously simply looking for someone who could guide me in my intellectual, historical search, but he saw me not only as this scholar but also as a spiritual seeker and so our work together quickly attained a spiritual dimension, because that is the level on which they are used to working. I had already decided that if I did turn to the practice of Tantric Buddhism that it would be with a teacher who fully respected the spirituality of women, and the inherent Buddhahood of women and the capacity of women to attain Buddhahood in the present lifetime and in the female body. So I interviewed him at great length about his views on women and gender and he passed all my contemporary twentieth century tests.
(T) Which were?
(M) I questioned him at great length about the female body, the innate capacity of the female body, was there any great incapacity? Was there any emotional incapacity? Did they see any inherent problems.
(T) Because I guess you had heard that they say things like women have a lower birth?
(M) No! They absolutely do not.
(T) Somewhere they do.
(M) In Tibet they say things. But there is a difference between what ancient texts say and what living modern Tibetan Lamas say. So my search was to find out what the ancient texts say. There was no statement anywhere in any Tantra. The reason is that the Tantras have a Gynocentric World View. They focus on women as worthy of honor and respect and those who practice Tantra must follow and accept this philosophy. They must honor women and femaleness in order to follow the Tantric path. If you want to denigrate femaleness then there are other paths, there are ascetical paths, there are monastic paths. The modern people who do pronounce upon the inferiority of women are generally monks who had to build up psychological resistance and barriers to women. And that has nothing to do with Tantra. And this was some of the confusion that I wanted to unravel.
(T) And so he was definitely not in that league?
(M) No he had studied the tantras in great depth and with his teacher...
(T) What was his name?
(M) His name is Lama Sonam Jorphel Rinpoche. He took me to his hermitage in Ladok and spent hundreds of hours with me going over these texts; The Cakrasamvara Tantra especially. So I spent hundred of hours going over these texts with a Tantric Master.
(T) How do you see the male and female aspects of Tantric divinity?
(M) An enlightener is how I see it. In Tantric Buddhism I see the male principle as the consort to the female in the sense of a supporter, an upholder, an honorer, a respecter. I see the female as consort to the male in the sense of enlightener. In guide, in bliss bestower. So I don't interpret the word consort, I don't use the same word for male and female. And therefore I simply don't use the term for the most part for the female cause that is what I use spiritual companion, spiritual guide, Guru. Because in the west if you look in the dictionary, Consort implies subordination. So I use it for the male, because in the Tantric text the male is subordinate to the female in the sense that the female is more likely to have a direct unalienated relationship with reality by virtue of having a female body which is an extremely complex intricate instrument of reality calibration.
(T) In terms of the Tibetan words, Daka and Dakini how do you translate those words.
(M) In Sanskrit there is only one word, Dakini. Daka is an abbreviation of Dakini. There are only female Dakinis. If you are talking about both male and female they have other sets of terms, such as hero and heroine, yogi and yogini, sadaka and sadaki. But there is no male dakini, it is an impossibility and a contradiction in terms.
(T) So all the consorts are dakinis. And pictorially don't the dakinis have consorts?
(M) The consort of a dakini is a hero, a yogi. In Sanskrit, daka is simply an abbreviation of Dakini, because in Sanskrit texts, in sacred texts, every line must have the same number of syllables. So if they needed to drop one they will simply say Daka instead of Dakini.
(T) Modern times, these times that we live in. What advise do you have for women who are on the spiritual path, say they are studying with very enlightening teachers who happen to be male.
(M) (That's a great question. Wow!) My advice is to be very careful in choosing a teacher. There is always an element of surrender in the teacher student relationship because you are surrendering your present personality and your present ego structure for the higher realizations that will emerge. Therefore before you enter the level at which surrender will occur I advise women to scrutinize and test the teacher very carefully for his views on femaleness and on them of women. And I would question at great length. Don't just ask one simple question; "Do you think men and women are equal?" Anyone can just say yes to that question and it may not be true. Women may not be equal to men, women may be superior to men in some way and he should know that. Test very carefully before accepting them. I really tested my teacher for a number of months, daily before really accepting him.
(T) I tested Kalu and I tested my new teacher for a long time too.
(M) Good because I know some people meet a teacher and they are very impressed by the charisma and the of the teacher. Simply because someone is charismatic and powerful doesn't mean that they have the degree of impeccability that would be required to lead you to complete enlightenment.
(T) In terms of your world view on men and women and the soul, do you think that men and women need each other in modern life. Many men have gone off to caves historically. Do women need to self-empower finding their own way to go to their own caves?
(M) Men and women desperately need one another. And if we don't learn to co-operate and enlighten and uplift one another I don't think we'll survive as a race. Women need to empower ourselves because men will not empower us. But once we have empowered ourselves it is important to share what we have learned with everyone, each other and the men in our midst, the men who have the wisdom to apprentice themselves to us. Because we have something to teach them, a perspective that they have lost.
(T) What do you think that is, essence wise?
(M) The value of human life, the purity and blissfulness of the human body, the capacity a harmonious complimentarily between the sexes rather than a relationship of domination or exploitation and the capacity for a communication and sensitive interactions with other creatures and nature and the earth itself.
(T) What about sex. How do you see sex in terms of modern spirituality. Obviously you regard sexuality as sacred, Tantra teaches us that it is the gateway to transcendence.
(M) Sexuality can be central to one's spiritual path. Because sexuality is the paradigm of how one relates to life on every level. In other words, whatever problems you have with life, or with your body or with your emotions become magnified and symbolized in the realm of sexuality. And similarly as you work to enlighten your sexuality you are enlightening your being on every level. And so I feel that sexuality is the key to spiritual growth in these times.
(T) So you don't recommend that people be celibate.
(M) If people chose to become celibate they have to do so with the realization of the perils of that path. The perils are profound alienation from themselves and from life and from the opposite sex. People may become celibate for a short time in order to emphasize or explore some other dimension of their being, but I think when people take on celibacy as a lifetime path they should simply consider the over-arching philosophy which would render that celibacy desirable. Often such a philosophy is a life denying, anti-matter and often an anti-female gynophobic philosophy because women create bodies. We create and nurture life. We often become the target of life-denying, ascetical philosophies. And so I think people should question what is being offered by such a philosophy, what would they be gaining? And just evaluate it.
(T) I think people have a lot of questions about sexuality and intimacy in terms of Tantra. Many people are offering Tantric workshops, there are a lot of books out there with Tantra in the title, which are more about the location of the G-spot. There are a lot of books which have Tantra in the title which are about sex.
(M) Which are not about spirituality. There are very few which are genuinely about spirituality. It's a very hot topic right now and I think it just represents the fact that people are lost sexually right now, that we have had so much sexual freedom and it simply made us realize that we are still not getting it. And so we are looking, we are open to other paths.
(T) My teacher says he is celibate because to him there is no other, everyone is a dimension of himself so that is his version of celibacy. But this doesn't necessarily mean his is non-sexual.
(M) Well for a spiritual teacher to be celibate, for a person to take on teaching as part of a teaching path is a very different thing from someone taking on celibacy as part of their spiritual path.
(T) Well Kalu was definitely celibate but he was the most tantric person I ever met.
(M) he was celibate on the physical plane. The Dakinis loved him.
(T) Would you agree though that Woman have for so long denied their enlightening states, do you walk your talk?
(M) It's not something one needs to say directly. If people find you enlightening then you are enlightening. It's not something you need to announce.
(T) Do you have students? Do you teach anyone?
(M) I teach at the University of Richmond. I teach Buddhist studies and Goddess traditions and World Religions so of course I have a ready made audience for spiritual principles that can bring wholeness and healing of women as women and the relations between men and women. If anyone reads my book or attends a talk and finds that enlightening to the degree I am enlightening.
(T) Do you think it's important for women to actively entrain, even though once you reach a certain level of awareness you aren't doing anything anymore, it's either happening or not happening.
(M) Yes and I think it's important for women to remember that in the Buddhist tradition, The Tantric tradition arose in non-hierarchical circles led by women and in which there was a preponderance of women to which men aspired to be admitted and on occasion were and then those men became the great "founders" of the tradition. So women have a historical basis for questioning discriminatory institutional arrangements. It is not simply that they are modern discontented feminists as they are sometimes labeled, but they are drawn by the vision, the egalitarian vision at the heart of the spiritual tradition that they instinctively recognize. They are drawn by the heat of that vision.
David Germano teaches at UVA in C'Ville. His position is Professor of Tibetan and Himalayan Traditions. He teaches Tibetan language and also Tibetan literature, which is often Tantric in nature. His graduate seminars focus on Tibetan Tantric Buddhist Traditions because this is the main field where he has his own specialized research. As well this complements what other people are doing in the department. He is translating and studying the Tantric tradition of the Nygima Tzokchen texts.

Tashi: What is that you teach that grabs the student most in terms of how the subject of Tantra translates into contemporary society?
David: The conversations between myself and my students these days revolve around three issues: embodiment, the aesthetic use of language and the issues of self-identity. Looking at the role of embodiment, and how this plays out in our own way of thinking it does seem that many contemporary movements privilege the human mind and its capacity for language as well as the preeminent place where knowledge takes place. So we interject a Tantric perspective, to instead, at least for a moment, valorize the human body and our embodiment in a very diverse sense of what the human body might be. There is in part our physical body but then there is the body of our feelings, our emotions and our moodedness that tend to get suppressed or marginalized when we privilege the mind and language for the place where human knowledge takes place.
We look at Tantra as a way of interjecting a more bodily based epistemology. What capacity do our bodies have for knowledge? What capacities do our bodies have for morality or for ethics? Just to get away from thinking all this stuff has to play itself out in self-conscious linguistic capacities. How might our body have things to say? Many people see the body as this empty cipher where other things play out their moves and our bodies have no capacity to interject their voices into the situation. So we look at what does this mean in very concrete day to day terms?
Secondly we often look at the issue of different types of use of language, in particular poetic types of language. Buddhist Tantra seems to me to be to be associated with an interjection of the body in a very value positive way into the mainstream of Buddhist thinking and discourse and practices. You also have an interjection of aesthetics. Language itself in the primary Tantras is a language that seems to have more concern for aesthetic issues. It is more poetic in nature, often more aphoristic. It values the piling up of homologies and of seeking the playful connection of the piling up of things. Often in some Buddhist Tantra traditions you get the suggestion then that Tantra as a whole is a practice; A way that more powerfully implements a truth stated elsewhere in more appropriate linguistic format, which talks about emptiness and uses more analytic modes of looking at our experience.
Tantra doesn't add much to that? It gives us techniques to realize this emptiness in a more powerful way. That is not generally how I look at Tantra however, because the type of language that Tantra is using to express itself however is saying different things. It is coming out of and building upon previous and contemporary Buddhist movements of at any given time. I think it really is pursuing different models of truth and so different things are coming up that weren't coming up before. I think Tantric Nygima scholars through the ages were pursuing serious competing types of themes through the medium of Tantric language, this more poetic aphoristic type of language. They aren't saying any one way is the only truth! They put forth Tantric texts as an alternate way to pursue, through language, the issues of trying to come to term with our own identity.
So the third thing we talk about in our classes a lot and that I see as very important to Buddhist Tantra is the issue of how Tantra construes self-identity. This is definitely linked to the previous two issues. We discuss how notions of "selfness" and notions of "otherness" play out. A most striking thing we see in Buddhist Tantras is the subject of the "Great Self." Supposedly Buddhism is often infamous for this kind of rejection of the self. They'll talk about the "Great Self" in the Tibetan language, or they'll talk about Divine Pride for example and this is usually a pejorative term, but in the Tantric context it becomes something positive. If you look at Tantric meditative practices we can see why they might be effecatious, or assuming they do something to change your experience of yourself, how might they do so?
I usually start out by looking at the preeminent way in which a Buddhist culture identifies "self." However we might fill in that space called the "Buddha" it is always a place of immense authority in Buddhist culture. Within all life there is Buddha nature and yet you really have no sense of it, other than perhaps a vague sense within you, but basically it is a complete "otherness" because we have no idea what this Buddha might be. We are told it is there. This immense source of authority is within us and yet we experience it as a complete otherness to begin with. We are told that because it is the Buddha, this is somehow our ultimate self-identity, the deepest sense of ourself, or that ultimately authoritative aspect of ourself. So we discuss this premise that we should be seeking to unfold this vast identity yet is completely other to us because we have simply no idea of what it might be.
Tashi: So how do you think that your students or modern people could be assisted by what we have discerned from Tantra? One of the things that we talk about so much in the ET is how the 60's and the 70's and the spiritual revolution which we are all still integrating in the 90's into a part of their living spirituality. What do you see that people take to heart from Tantra.
David: Since I teach at a University there are two different things, I am not encouraging them to go off and do spiritual practices, I am a teacher. So in terms of some value we might we retrieve in terms of what is going on with our experiences right now, I tend to pursue with students by coming back to our daily experiences and sometimes our extraordinary experiences with people dying. with sexuality, with dreams, how we communicate with one another.
For example we might ask what is the mandala principle? A mandala in a Tibetan means a periphery and a center which dictates the periphery around him or her which can be a very troubling thing. Is a mandala static or is it moving. There is very big issue in Buddhist thought and Buddhist practice. Should we for example pursue Tantric practice as taking someone else's dreams, nightmares or whatever? They are still someone else's forms so should we impose them upon our own imagination, which would be a static mandala. If I bring in my suitcase I give it to you, you stick it in your mind, you give it to someone else. Or rather is a mandala something that is kind of changing form over time, that is actually changing, that would actually have a place for your past, for your memories, for your feelings, for your body of experiences to actually come into being? This is a very big issue that is the source of a lot of tension and conflict in Tantric Buddhist culture in Tibet. We can look at this issue right now in our own lives. In that way Tantric thought immediately yields contemporary benefit.
Tashi: Well I think that is very fascinating to Westerns because they are so Guruphobic, so authority-phobic.
David: That's right and so what does the Mandala tell us about our experience of authority? We often get into these stalemates like cross-fire on CNN where we have this antagonistic debate that happens where two polarized people just scream at each other over and over. By interjecting a Tantric perspective which is so foreign to our mainstream cultural zone often it can shake up false polarizations that emerge and cause us to begin thinking again. Simply by the Tantric perspective I think you have a powerful voice of otherness that inserts itself into some of the dialogue and can displace the assumption that this is the only way we can express a conflict.
The issue of authority is a very good example because these issues were very common in Tibet. A lot of conflict and blood was shed over the whole notion of what constitutes authority and what constitutes being the periphery. What would be a Tantric take on that? Well there are many Tantric takes on that because the Mandala is a place where contested different visions of what Tantra might be. There is no Tantric take, no Tantric perspective on women, on authority. There are many different takes. I don't think Tantra actually exists. But in terms of what the Tzokchen tradition would say, which is the tradition that I have been doing most of my work on recently, I think they have a very complex picture of what the mandelic picture might be and it is very clearly a moving principle. I don't think it is a very static picture where the text projects a homogenous narrative structuring of our experience. It is a very coercive thing almost. If we take the mandala as a principle of Tibetan society, again we have the Guru coercively saying, okay Tashi you are there, you are not over there, that is your place right over there and you are going to stay there. David you are over here and coercively determining all of us in this manner. Instead what happens when the Tzokchen tradition of Tantra is looking at this they see the mandala as a place that is moving. The way this occurs is through the practice of visualization that they do which are these very simple element yoga visualizations that tend to have a lot of dynamism. What you find is that you stare into a fire or a waterfall or whatever, the message that is being communicated is our relationship to exteriority or to an other, or a partner is not a passive other. It is an other that is moving. It is not an other that we can predict. We cannot say where that fire is going to go or what sound is going to be next. Fire has so many different sounds that happen. It is not simply a passive waiting acquiescent figure that just sits there It is not one that we passively yield ourselves to it, or we appropriate it and it remains rather passive. Instead we have these moving mobile forms that are telling us something quite different. That the kind of ultimate goal is not to develop a partnership between two passive sides or a passive and a dominant side but that rather outside there are moving mobile kinds of forms and we simply need to enter into a dialogue with it.
Tashi: You said that you don't know that Tantra is anything? What do you mean?
David: Well there all a lot of Tibetan ways to articulate what is the nature of Tantra? How might we weave together all these heterogeneous things and say that they are somehow Tantra. We have this Tantra seminar that is being developed at the American Academy's of Religions annual conference. Last year we had this meeting where we were talking about coming up with definitions of Tantra. People put forward all these definitions of Tantra. They were all different and no one was even the slightest bit happy with any of them, so I am not saying don't talk about Tantra or don't try to come up with something very traditional like the Buddhist notion of talking about continuity. There is the ground, the path and the fruit and Tantra is what evokes the continuity, that acts like a thread throughout all of these. I could come up with mine, embodiment, aesthetics and using the Buddha as preeminent image for otherness. That could be my take. But where it all comes from historically is such a controversial subject. Everyone has a different take, academically.
Tashi: Well I think Westerns for the most part think it just mean sex. Which is such a joke.
David: Yeah, it's not about the G-spot.


Interview with Richard Alpert - Ram Dass by Rebecca & David

David: I see that you have Bob Dole on your altar. That's a nice tou

Ram Dass: I take the person who most closes my heart and I watch my heart close as I look at their picture.

David: What was it that originally inspired your interest in the evolution of human consciousness?

Ram Dass: I'm inclined to immediately respond - mushrooms, which I took in
March 1961, but that was just the beginning feed-in to a series of nets.
Once my consciousness started to go all over the place, I had to start
thinking it through in order to understand what was happening to me. It
wasn't until after I'd been around Tim Leary, Aldous Huxley and Alan Watts,
that I started to reflect about issues like the evolution of consciousness.

David: Was there a common denominator between what drew you to study
psychology and what drew you to spiritual transformation?

Ram Dass: I am embarrassed to admit what drew me to psychology. I didn't
want to go to medical school. I was getting good grades in psychology and I
was charismatic and people in the psychology department liked me. It was as
low a level as that. My whole academic career was totally out of Jewish
anxiety, and issues surrounding achievement and adequacy. It was totally
socio-political. It had nothing to do with intellectual content at all.

David: You talk about that time in your life as if it was a period of simple
bad judgment, but wasn't it also a necessary part of your evolution ?

Ram Dass: Well, that's different. I was, after all, teaching Freudian
theory. Human motivation was my specialty, so I thought a lot about all that
stuff. That served me in very good stead because it's an exquisitely
articulated sub-system. If you stay in that sub-system, it's very finite and
not very nourishing. But when you have a meta-system, and then there's the
sub-system within it, then it's beautiful, it's like a jewel - just like with
chemistry or physics.

But when I was in it, it was real. When I was a Freudian, all I saw were
psycho-sexual stages of development, and as a behaviorist all I saw were
people as empty boxes.

Rebecca: You seem to be able to incorporate and apply some of the things you
learned as a psychologist to this larger understanding of the human condition.

Ram Dass: Everything I learned has, within that relative system, validity.
So, if somebody comes to me with a problem, they come to me living within
that psychological context. I have incredible empathy for their perception
of reality, partly because of what I've been through in it. You've got to go
into the sub-system to be with the person within it, and then create an
environment for them to come out of it if they want to. That seems to me to
be a model role for a therapist.

It's also showed me a certain kind of arrogance in Western science. Here was
Western science really ignoring the essence of what human existence was
about and presenting it as if concerns about that were some kind of bad technique.

When I was in psychology we were getting correlations of 50 on personality
variables which was very good - you are accounting for 25% of the variance.
But that means that at least 75% was error. It could have been anything! So,
it left plenty of space. At the time we really thought we had the theory
down cold, but I realize now how hungry I was in that situation.

Rebecca: To fill in that space.

Ram Dass: Yes. I think that everything I went into or was, gives me a
legitimacy with people in that field. The whole game of communicating dharma
is metaphor - and, in a way, I can talk the metaphor of this culture.

David: Would you say then, that someone who has demonstrated a high degree
of success at playing society's games, becomes a more credible spiritual
voice and gains more respect?

Ram Dass: Well, it depends on who the respect is from. There are people who
respect me because I was at Harvard and Stanford, and then there are people
who respect me because I left Harvard and Stanford, or I was thrown out of
Harvard - even better.

What's fun is that I went from being a really good guy in the society to
becoming a bad guy, to then becoming a good guy again. It's fascinating to
play with these kinds of energies. When you're playing on the leading edge,
it's like surfing. There's a big wave which pushes a little wave in front of
it. The little wave is the exciting one because hardly anyone is on it, and
everyone thinks you're nuts. The meeting at Harvard where I got found out
was extraordinary. It was a moment where I knew I had left my supply wagon
far behind. I was called into the office beforehand by the heads of the
department and they said, "we can't protect Tim, but we can protect you - if
you shut up."

Then, in the meeting, all our colleagues got up and attacked us: our
research, our design, our data - everything. They saw it as defending the
department against a cult that was in danger of taking it over, because out
of fifteen graduate students, twelve wanted to do only psychedelic

So, when they had all finished attacking us Tim was stunned, because he had
had the feeling of everything being wonderful, of loving everybody and
everybody loving him. So, I got up and I said, "I would like to answer on
our behalf."

I looked at the chairman of the department and he gave me a look like, well,
you've made the choice. And I had, because I realized that I could not have
lived with the hypocrisy that would have been demanded of me otherwise. The
feeling I had was that I was home. It was so familiar and so right that I
couldn't leave it.

But then when I became the good guy again, I find myself riding the bigger
wave. I can make a lot of money now, people love me. It's playing with a
different power but it's not as much fun as being on the little wave.

David: How has your experience with psychedelics shaped your quest for
higher awareness?

Ram Dass: It had no effect on me whatsoever and nobody should use it!
(laughter) The predicament about history is that you keep rewriting the
history. I'm not sure, as I look back, whether what appeared to be critical
events are really as critical as I thought they were, because a lot of
people took psychedelics and didn't have the reaction I had. That had
something to do with everything that went before that moment. In a way I
just see it as another event, but I can say that taking psychedelics and
meeting my guru were the two most profound experiences in my life.

Psychedelics helped me to escape - albeit momentarily - from the prison of
my mind. It over-rode the habit patterns of thought and I was able to taste
innocence again. Looking at sensations freshly without the conceptual overly
was very profound.

Rebecca: Do you think you would have gotten to that point anyway, because of
the path you were following?

Ram Dass: I don't know, but the probabilities are against it because I was
being rewarded so much by the society to stay in the game I was in. I had
all the keys to the kingdom; a tenured professorship at Harvard, a pension
plan, etc. When I look at my colleagues as a control group, the ones who
took acid aren't in the game, the ones who took acid are. It's as simple as that.

(Insert) Rebecca: You could look at that and say that it wasn't necessarily
psychedelics that was the deciding factor, but that the prescence of certain
qualities already existent in those people determined whether they took acid
or not - qualities such as courage, imagination, ability to question the status quo etc.

.David: How did you then make the transition from Dr Richard Alpert to Ram Dass?

Ram Dass: Well, initially it was all very confusing. I was teaching a course
in human motivation. I took my first psilocybin on Friday night, and by
Monday morning I was lecturing on stuff which was basically lies as far as I
was concerned. So, that was wierd because my whole game started to
disintegrate at that point.

I still stayed as Mr Psychedelic Junior in relation to Tim, and publicly my
gig was turning on rich people and dealing and giving lectures on the
psychedelic experience. By 1966, I looked around and saw that everybody who
was using psychedelics really wasn't going anywhere. I was around the best
of them, but even if they had the Eastern models, they couldn't wear them -
the suit didn't fit. I realized that we just didn't know enough. We had the
maps but we couldn't read them.

Then I went to India in the hope that I could meet somebody there who could
read the maps. I met Neem Karoli Baba and he gave me the name Ram Dass, and that put it in a bigger context than the drugs. The experience wasn't any
greater than the drug experience, but the social context of it was entirely
changed. Neem Karoli took acid and said that it was known about for
thousands of years in the Kulu Valley but that nobody knew how to use them
any more. I said, "should I take it again?" He said, "it will allow you to
come in and have the Darshan of Christ. You can only stay two hours. It
would be better to become Christ than visit it, but your medicine won't do that."

I thought that was pretty insightful. LSD showed you an analog of the thing
itself but something in the way we were using it couldn't bring us to the thing itself.

Rebecca: Acid seems to temporarily push the neurosis out of the way away,
like moving through a crowd into the space of the innocence you mentioned
earlier. When the drug wears off and the crowds of neurosis swarm around us
again, have you really dealt with anything?

Ram Dass: But the way the neuroses comes back is different. The way I talk
about it in my lectures is that they go from being these huge monsters that
possess you, to these little schmoos that come by for tea. I have
every neurosis that I ever had. I haven't gotten rid of a single one!

Rebecca: Many people experience a kind of existential guilt because they
find that they can't live up to the inner potential they've seen during the
psychedelic experience.

Ram Dass: I've had all of that! I've had all the bad trips, all the guilt
and anxiety and psychosis. In my lectures I sometimes say, "I've had
hundreds of drug sessions, and a lot of people say that someone who has done
that is basically psychotic. I have no idea whether I am a psychotic or not,
because a psychotic would be the last to know, right? All I can say is that
you paid to hear me."

Rebecca: Do you see Richard Alpert and Ram Dass as two separate entities or
more like siamese twins?

Ram Dass: I've been through different stages. There was a stage where I had
to push away Richard Alpert to become Ram Dass. I saw Richard Alpert as a
real drag and then I saw him as poignant. If Ram Dass came into Richard
Alpert's office, Richard Alpert would have hospitalized him. I would have
seen myself as very pathological and very disturbed.

Rebecca: What would the diagnosis have been?

Ram Dass: Oh, Schizophrenia. Psychologists don't have the distinction
between vertical schizophrenia and horizontal schizophrenia, and they would
see a number of different identities in me. Once, Tim and I went to New York
to do an all night radio show. We split a sugar cube of acid, but it turned out
that most of the acid was on my half.

We got to a party at Van Wolf's house and there was a woman sketching people
on the wall. She had already done Allen Ginsberg and Tim, and she asked if
she could do me, and I agreed. I stood there and I thought, `I'm a young man
looking into the future.' I had to be somebody. She sketched me. Then I got
bored with that and I thought, `I'm really her lover.'

I didn't change any facial expressions, I just thought the thought. And she
erased what she had done. Then I thought, `I'm actually just an old wise being.'
She erased it again and finally she said, "I can't do your face, it's just so liquid."

I'm not yet evolved enough so that Richard Alpert and Ram Dass are one. When
somebody calls me Richard, I wince a little bit because I'm still holding on
to wanting to be Ram Dass. Ram Dass represents that deep place in my being.
Richard Alpert never represented that to me.

Rebecca: You're ready to put Bob Dole on your altar but not Richard Alpert?

Ram Dass: No. I'm not ready for that yet.

David: What is your concept of God ?

Ram Dass: I think it's a word like a finger pointing to the moon.
I don't think that what it points to is describable. It is pointing to that
which is beyond form that manifests through form. `A God defined is a
God confined.' I can give you thousands of poetic little descriptions. It's
all, everything and nothing - it's all the things that the Heart Sutra talks
about. It's God at play with itself. God is the One, but the fact is that
the concept of the One comes from two, and when you're in the One, there's
no One - it's zero, which equals one at that point.

Rebecca: What is your experience of God?

Ram Dass: Presence - but not a dualistic presence. The dance goes from
realizing that you're separate (which is the awakening) to then trying to
find your way back into the totality of which you are not only a part, but
which you are. It's like holography. You are the whole thing and you go
through stages of approaching that understanding.

Like my relationship with my guru. First I had the person and then he died.
Then I had the pictures and the stories, and I got bored with that. Then
there was the feelings of the qualities of his being: humor, rascality,
sternness. And then there was just presence. And then, there was just this
feeling of being. Not even the experience of a presence.

That's the quality of emptiness, even emptiness of the concept of something.
The Chinese patriarch says, even to be attached to the idea of enlightenment
is to go astray. It's that moment when all of the dualism just keeps falling
away and falling away.

Rebecca: When you talk about God it's seen as your job so it's okay, but when
others mention the G word, the response is usually either pity or embarrassment.

Ram Dass: Because it's been pre-empted by third chakra power trippers.
They're using God in contexts like `my God' or `the God' or `unless you
believe in God...' or `do you believe in God?' It's power in both directions
and it's the reductionistic nature of the way the mind works. What the word
God means is the mystery really. It's the mystery that we face as humans.
The mystery of existence, of suffering and of death.

The question is: What is your relationship to the mystery? Are you defending
yourself from it? Are you making love to it? Are you living in it? These are
all different stages of the process.

Rebecca: How can people speak about God without getting into these sticky areas?

Ram Dass: I think the word God is going to have to be put to rest for a
while. I'm using it less and less. I've been trying a different thing now
and I've been saying to people in my workshops, "I challenge you all within
a year to be living on two planes of consciousness simultaneously." They
said, "which two?" I say, "any two." That's not talking about
spirit, it's not talking about God, but it's doing exactly the same thing -
it's shifting paradigm and context.

David: Your guru was an extremely significant figure in your life. Could you
describe what you have carried with you as a result of your relationship with him?

Ram Dass: He is the most important separate consciousness in my life, even
though he died in 1973. He's more real than anybody else I deal with. It's
like having an imaginary playmate that is so hip and so wise and so cool and
so empty and so doesn't give a fuck and so loving and so compassionate - so
any way you can go. It's such fun.

He is the closest I've ever come to finding unconditional love. He didn't
even want to stay alive. Most people you meet might say, "I'm an
unconditional lover," but you go to kill them and they go, "nooo!"

But it's not him, he's just the form of it. Once, Maharaji was warning this
girl off this dubious guy she had met. She said, "he's only my friend" and
Maharaji said, "your only friend is God." I really heard that. Your only
friend is the reflection of the mystery in each form. And that's what you
want to be friends with - not with the story-line.

Rebecca: Do you feel that you're coming even closer to him as time goes on?

Ram Dass: Yeah. When I think of who he was - this giant of a being - the
idea that I could be him is such chutzpah that I can't even entertain it in
my mind. But I can see that as fast as I can, I'm dying into him. The heat
is being turned up so fast and I'm aware of it. If you put a frog in boiling
water it will jump out, but if you put it in cold water you can boil it and
it won't move. I'm aware of the heat being turned up, but I don't want to
jump out.

Rebecca: A lot of Westerners have a hard time understanding the guru/devotee
relationship. Could you describe this relationship as you understand it?

Ram Dass: Ramana Mahashi said, "God, guru and Self are one and the same
thing." The real guru is not anybody busy being somebody. If you asked
Maharaji if he was a guru he would say, "I don't know anything, god knows
everything." The guru is a door-frame. You don't worship the door-frame,
you're trying to go through the door. It's like that saying about, if you
meet the Buddha on the road, slay him.

You don't owe the guru anything but your own liberation because that's the
only way you come into the guru. What the guru does, as far as I can see, is
mirror for you where you aren't. The guru shows you all your neuroses writ
large, because there's nothing you can project into the guru. You keep
trying to make him into somebody like you, but he isn't because he doesn't
want anything - and you still want something.

That understanding can come through books or on the astral plane - it
doesn't have to come through a physical guru. But once you've tasted this
stuff you can get very attached to your method of getting there. Many people
who get closest to God through sex, get very addicted to sex. They get
attached to the method rather than to what the method is for.

The guru is just another method, and it's a trap. But you have to get
trapped for it to work and then you just hope it ejects. If the guru isn't
pure they won't let you eject, they won't let you go. You'll know in your
intuitive heart that you're being had, but you might not want to admit it.

Rebecca: Again there's that Western suspicion because of the history of
power-tripping gurus.

Ram Dass: Right. The true guru doesn't want any worldly power - it's a joke
to them.

Rebecca: Did you find yourself testing your guru a lot in the beginning?

Ram Dass: He so overwhelmed me with his first gambit that there wasn't any
way that I could test him any more. He just did it to me so thoroughly that
there couldn't be a question. He could have gone in there with a shovel but
he went in with a bulldozer!

I was coming up a hillside and I saw him sitting under a tree with eight or ten
devotees around him. I'm standing at a distance and the guy who is with me
is on his face touching this his feet, and I'm thinking, "I'm not going to do that."

Neem Karoli Baba looked up at me and said, "you came in a big car?" We had
come in a friend's Land Rover that we had borrowed so this guy could come
and see his guru to get his visa. So I said, "yes." And then he said, "you
will give it to me?" Now, coming from Jewish charities as I do, I had been
hustled, but never like this! I was speechless. The guy I was with leans up
and says, "if you want it Maharaji, it's yours." I protested and said, "you
can't give David's car away!" I was aware of everybody laughing at me, but I
was very serious.

Then Neem Karoli said, "take them and feed them." So we were taken down to
the temple and fed lunch. Then he called me back up and he told me to sit
down. He looked at me and said, "you were out under the stars last night,"
Then he said, "you were thinking about your mother." My mind started to get
agitated and I started to entertain hypotheses as to how he could have known
that. Then he said, "she died last year," and the dis-ease kept growing.
Then he said, "she got very big in the belly before she died." My mother had
died of an enlarged spleen. And then he closed his eyes and he rocked back
and forth and he opened his eyes and looked at me, and in English he said, "spleen."

When he said that, my mind just couldn't handle it. I just gave up.
Something shifted and I started to feel a wrenching pain in my chest. There
was a radio show on many years ago called Inner Sanctum and they opened this
screeching door at the beginning of every show. I felt like this door that
had been long closed was being violently forced open. I started to cry and I
cried for two days. And after that, all I wanted to do was touch his feet.

I had recognized that not only was he inside my head, but that everything I
was, he loved. There was not a part of me that he didn't know, and he still
loved me. So, all the models of `if they only knew that little thought that
I don't even admit to myself, they wouldn't love me,' didn't apply.

This wasn't an intellectual process. It was a direct experience of that
quality of unconditional love. It took that long (snaps his fingers) and all
the rest of it has been basically irrelevant. I cherish everything that came
after and I got all kinds of teachings, but the thing happened at that
moment. He didn't do anything, he just was it. He was an environment where
my ripeness to open had a chance to express itself.

Rebecca: Did you get a lot of flack from your peers and friends when you
came back to the United States from India?

Ram Dass: Well, I came back wearing a dress, I was barefoot, I had long
hair, a long beard and beads. I wouldn't have noticed flack if it had hit me
in the face!

David: What was Timothy Leary's reaction?

Ram Dass: I don't remember precisely. Tim and I weren't very close during
that period of time. He had been to India just a few years before I had, so
he understood the context from which I was speaking. When we started to come
back together again, we had by then gone in such different directions that
there were certain topics that we kind of agreed not to deal with.

Tim is a little bit of a mystery to me. He seemed fascinated by the
conceptual play around the psychedelic experience, while I was much more
about dying into emptiness. But I didn't have a vested interest in being an
intellectual or a scholar. Tim goes out of conceptual space obviously, you
only have to read Psychedelic Prayers, but the venue that he wants to hang
out in, is the conceptual mind. That isn't my domain.

Kalu Rinpoche, who is an incredible Tibetan lama, said, "Ram Dass, you have
three things to do in this life: honor your guru, deepen your emptiness and
deepen you compasssion." And that's just what it feels like to me. I live a
lot with mystery. Tim sees mystery as a challenge. I see it as a delightful
place to play, so, when somebody tells me they have just solved a mystery, I
am only passingly interested.

Rebecca: That's a classic East-West dynamic.

Ram Dass: Very much so. I spent many years being very defensive about the
fact that I was not schooled in Western metaphysics and philosophy, but it
left a blank slate on which I could write when I went to the East. Then I
came back and I could view Western philosophy from that perspective.

I see this role of mediating between the East and West as a delicious dance.
I went Western and then I pushed West away to embrace East. Then I came back like a virgin afraid of the West, and then slowly over the years stuck my
toe in again. I shaved the beard, put on the pants, got the credit card and
the MG and a house in Marin, and oh my God what happened! (laughter) It's
like being in the world and not of it. It has to come at a point where it's
not scaring you or trapping you. It's empty form.

Rebecca: You've compared the process of persistent self-analysis to playing
with one's feces. Where do you think self-analysis can take us, and what are
its limitations?

Ram Dass: It depends on your intention in having fecal play. It can be as a
practice of mindfulness - in order to find a place of witnessing and seeing
it for what it is. Then there is being in the drama and self-analysis can be
just a way of exacerbating the drama and making your identity in the
storyline more real.

Unfortunately this characterizes most of the dialogues between therapists
and patients. Everybody is so caught in the stuff that they are just
reinforcing caughtness even as they are trying to get you out of it. It's
like rearranging furniture in the prison cell rather than trying to get out
of prison.

But as an exercise in mindfulness, self-analysis can be very useful. It can
help you to deal with the phenomena of your life as they rise. You notice
them and the noticing gets stronger and stronger until you're not going into
them so much. That's a stage, because you're still distant from them and
then you have to come back in until you're in them and not in them at the
same moment.

I think the fallacy is that if you're standing in one place, you can't be
standing somewhere else. I think that freedom is being conscious on all
levels simultaneously. Freedom is not standing anywhere. You have no
perspective, and then you just adopt a perspective for a functional
situation. The situation brings you into perspective at that moment, but
you're not resting in perspective. Is that clear?

David: Yes..... it's just difficult to do.

Ram Dass: Well, as long as you think you're doing it - that's a place.
(laughter) That was the beauty of Trungpa Rinpoche, a wonderful Tibetan
lama, he sat down and said, "I want to show you a new form of meditation,
let's do it together." We sat down looking at one another and after a while
he said, "Ram Dass, are you trying?" and I said, "yes, I'm trying," and he
said, "don't try - just do it."

Rebecca: You speak about operating from the point of view of God's
instrument, but isn't there a risk of becoming self-righteous with that
perspective and thinking, "well, I'm an instrument of God and God is never
wrong, therefore I am never wrong," and losing the self-consciousness
required to keep one's ego in check ?

Ram Dass: I think that if your intention is freedom, then you will get
caught in that, but you won't stay in it. You'll get caught in `I represent
the Godfather so don't screw around with me,' and then you'll see that
that's a horrible place to be standing in. That's ego.

The mechanism that corrects you is not even the grossness of that conceptual
understanding. It's almost a vibratory thing. You feel a thickness or a
heaviness and you just know that you're caught. You don't even know how
you're caught - you don't know whether it's lust or anger or fear, and you
don't even give a damn which one it is, you just start your mechanisms to
remember, to bring your consciousness out of sticking in a place. You can be
stuck anywhere, in `I am God' or `I am empty'.

I've lost it thousands of times, and what I've done is surround myself as
best I can with people who bust me. When I get caught I can get very
resistant to admitting that I'm caught. It's the use of one thing in the
service of something else. I kid about it and say, "wouldn't you like to
come up and see my holy pictures?" My guru put it very succinctly, he said
"siddhis (spiritual powers) are pigshit."

Rebecca: Do you still find yourself getting caught on occasion?

Ram Dass: You have to want something a little bit, but the wanting is really
going down a lot.

Rebecca: What is karma?

Ram Dass: Karma is another way of saying that everything is related to
everything else in the universe in a lawful way - future, past and present.
A limited interpretation of karma has to do with looking from the past to
the future, but actually it's all inter-related. You just feel the unfolding
of the process of interaction leading to a certain moment.

If you chart it you can plot it somewhat and see that this came from there
in a series of cause and effect, but actually it's not linear at all. You
are already enlightened, so you are actually going from where you started
back to where you started. You're nowhere because nothing happened and in
that moment you realize it - aaaargh!

They say that when a being becomes free, all that is left in form is old
karma running off. When you do an act with intention, it's like a pebble
dropping in a pond. It creates waves - it's an action. When you become no
longer identified with that which has motives, (they are there but you're
not identified with them, you're just awareness) then you're not creating
new karma. When the old karma runs off - you aren't. That's what a being
that finishes is. You run out of karma.

In other words, in the course of things with everything interacting with
everything else, you just cease to exist as a separate thing. It's still
everything, because you were everything already. Nothing happened to you, if
there is a you.

Rebecca: The concept of personal karma is becoming more and more popular,
but it's often seen as a justification for

non-intervention in the sense of; I have my karma and that homeless person
asking me for a quarter has his karma, and who am I to intervene with
anybody else's karma?

Ram Dass: His karma is that you have that karma - your karma is not
intervening. He stays hungry, so that's his karma. Everybody is everybody
else's karma. The fact that you saw the homeless person is part of your
karma and it's having an effect on you all the time. You are my karma and I
am yours at this moment.

It's so profoundly subtle because who I see you to be is a projection of my
karma. The way karma manifests is in desire systems. If I don't have any
attachments at all, what I see is something entirely different. To see
symmetry, to see familiarity, to see warmth when I look at you, I'm having
to do all this stuff with my mind. Who you really are, I have no idea -
until I have no karma.

David: It sounds as if it's all so organized that there is little room for free will.

Ram Dass: I've been grappling with the concept of free will for a long time,
and this is what I've come up with. To the extent that we are in form (and
that includes thought) we have no freedom, because of the nature of karma,
of everything being lawfully related to everything else. So then when
somebody says free choice, does that mean anything? Who has choice?

I can think I have choice. I can say, "I'm going to go to the movies
tonight," but if you knew enough about me and if you could handle a
multi-variable approach, you could predict that I would say that. If you
knew enough about my gene structure and the shape of my hands and my
father's behavior, you could predict my position in the chair at this
moment. So where is the free will? The fact is, that only when you aren't
anybody do you have free will.

Rebecca: So you're saying that you only really have free-will at the point
where the concept of free-will is meaningless - when you no longer even have
the desire to have free will.

Ram Dass: Right. When you want something, you see only the manifestation of
the outward container. God is free, or the formless is free, or non-dualism
is free. Awareness has no form and so you as awareness are free basically,
but every way it manifests through form is itself within law. One of the
things I got from Maharaji was a sense of his seeing the universe as just
law unfolding. There is nothing personal about it, it's just stuff

And he was offering to meet me behind it, where we are free. I couldn't
handle the fact that he understood the nature of suffering and I learned
that the line that goes, `out of emptiness arises compassion' has that
mystery right in it. You'd better be empty of intention and desire. The Tao
says `the truth waits for eyes unclouded by longing.'

David: So are you saying then that being embodied in form means that
everything is predetermined?

Ram Dass: No, it's not predetermination. Everything is related to the future
and past - what's pre?

Rebecca: Be here now.

Ram Dass: When somebody says to me, "don't I have free will?" I
say, "it depends on who the `I' is. Most likely if you think you are
somebody who could have free will, then you don't." You are free will, but
you don't have free will. So, if I'm facing a choice, I always know I'm
standing in the wrong place. Mostly nowadays I'm watching my life to see how
it came out, rather than what to do about it.

Rebecca: Isn't there some creative quality? Aren't you given a riff on which
you can them improvise?

Ram Dass: Yeah, but the improvisation isn't really creative. It's creativity
the way we think about it, because it surprises us, but it's still lawful.

(Insert) Rebecca: How do you explain in karmic terms why, once you have set
yourself upon a path to the absolute, signposts and guides seem to appear
out of nowhere?

Ram Dass:

David: Could you share with us the experience you had swimming with John
Lilly's dolphins?

Ram Dass: I went with my friend to Redwood City, Marineworld
because I had been invited by John and Toni Lilly to swim with Joe and
Rosie. It was a cold, grey day. I stood on the edge of the tank and I
thought, "I'm too old for this. I don't want to swim with the dolphins
anyway!" The problem was that everyone was standing around
watching to see what Ram Dass would do with the dolphins. It was a real drag.

So I get into the water, and as the dolphins go by me I realize that they're
much bigger than I thought they would be - and I could feel their power.
Then one of them, Rosie, began just hovering right next to me, so I reached
out to touch her. Now in my model, if it's got a tail it's a fish, and when
you touch fish they go away - but she didn't go away. Then I ran my hand
down her back. It was the silkiest thing I had ever touched. It was like
water with form. A thrill went through me. Still she didn't move.

Suddenly I realized that she had opened to the contact. The recognition that
her consciousness was right there, allowing me to do that, did the same
thing to me as Maharaji's "spleen" (of course, my mind is much more blowable
by this time - I'm ready to remember.) Up until then I'd been thinking, what
am I supposed to do with the dolphin? But while I was touching her, I gave
up and my heart just opened.

When that happened, she flipped until she was upright right in front of me.
My heart was so open that I leaned forward and kissed her on the mouth.
Unstead of pulling back, she started insinuating her body into mine. I was
going into ecstasy, I was saying, "oh Rosie, oh Rosie," and I
started to get an erection. Then the thought occurred to me, "is this
legal?" And all the time I'm smiling and everyone is watching to see what
Ram Dass is doing with the dolphins.

Then she swam around and came in under my arm, and I thought I'd really like
to swim with her. I grabbed her dorsal fin and she went down and my hand
slipped off the fin, so she came back and I grabbed it again. I didn't want
to grab it too hard because I didn't want to hurt her. She went down and it
slipped off again, and she kept coming back under my arm. So I thought, what
I really want to do is to hold her underneath the stomach, so I grabbed a
fin and I held her.

She went down and she was very active so I thought, I must be bugging her so
I let go and I came to the surface and she came right in underneath my arm
again. So I grabbed her and held on and we started to go wild through the
tank. It was just incredible! I got to the point where my breath started to
give out and I thought, Rosie, this is lovely, but I'm one of the those
other creatures! And with that thought, she immediately came to the surface
while I got a breath and we went back down. This went on several times.

Once we came up and people were taking photographs. I got to hamming for the camera and I forgot to take a breath and she went down. I thought, this is
where we part company Rosie, and she came right up so I could get air. Then
I started to get so cold that I was blue and shaking. She pulled away from me and went and got Joe and they both nosed me over to the platform and out of the tank.

David: How wonderful! Have you ever had an experience that you would label
an extra-terrestial contact?

Ram Dass: No. I assume there are lots of beings on every plane all around
the place, but I myself have not had experiences of that kind. By
extra-terrestial do you mean beings on the physical plane like other beings
in the solar system?

David: Not necessarily. A lot of people have used the term extra-terrestrial
in the context of a psychedelic experience where they've encountered entities that they feel have evolved from somewhere else either from another planet or plane.

Ram Dass: I've met many beings on other planes but I don't call them
extra-terrestrial. Maharaji is not on this plane any more - but he's there.
He's present as a separate entity, and the form I see him in is the form my
mind projects into him.

I've also written prefaces for three volumes of the books on Emmanual.
Emmanual speaks through a woman called Pat Roderghast and he is an
absolutely delightful spook. I know Pat very well and I know Emmanual quite
well now. I asked him what to tell people about dying and he said, "tell
them it's absolutely safe." What a superb one-liner. He also said, "death is
like taking off a tight shoe." He's just like this friendly, wise uncle.

In the preface I say, I don't know whether this is vertical schizophrenia or
whether it's a separate entity, and I don't really care. I'm experiencing it
as a separate entity and my criteria is whether I can use the material, not
whether it's real or not.

Rebecca: How do you act or feel differently when you are in the presence of
a dying person?

Ram Dass: Well, theoretically I don't act any differently because we're all
dying. Basically, the human relations boil down to creating an environment
in which another person can manifest as they would manifest. That's what
love is. You're in love with the universe and you want it to do what it
needs to do. You're creating an environment that is the least limiting.

So, my job isn't to have somebody die my philosophical or metaphysical
death, my job is to create a space of listening and quietness and presence
with no boundaries. My job is not to use a denial of their experience out of
my fear as a way of distancing myself through being kind and helpful or
whatever, because that traps them in objectivity.

There is one awareness in which some of it is dying and some of it is
visiting some of it that's dying. To me then, the one awareness frees both
of us immensely, and it frees them of being busy dying. If they're ready to
let go of dying then it's really great fun. It's woooooow! It's oooooooh!!
If they're busy dying, it's none of my business. I'm not going to
say, "come on, you know you're not really dying," I have no moral right to
do that.

Rebecca: The ability to create that space in yourself must take some
practice though.

Ram Dass: What happens is, wherever there is desire, there is clinging in
you. Situations that awaken that clinging are the ones that are really fruitful.
Death is certainly the most clinging situation that humans have to deal with.

So, I'm attached to working with dying people because it's the closest I can
get to one of my deepest clingings. I can slowly watch my heart open and
close, and I can stay mindful in it. I see also how there is a certain cosmic
giggle about the whole thing, but that's just so socially unacceptable - even to me.

David: Can you describe one of the most profound experiences you've had
working with a dying person?

Ram Dass: The most profound awakening I've had recently, was two years ago,
working with a woman who was dying of AIDS. I just fell into love with her
like the way I've been talking about. That's what it is, it's being in love
with somebody, in the sense of no boundary and no model of how they should
be. I could open myself, and being that open, you experience what they experience.

I watched how I stayed open, right until she couldn't breathe any more and
she was dying from asphyxiation. I watched my awareness disengage itself. I
couldn't die with her. I couldn't love her through death, I could love her
to death. That's an interesting moment for me, to see where the
automatic defense locks in and I get pushed back into my separateness,
because that's the moment where I'm not with her.

Rebecca: How could you have gone further?

Ram Dass: If I were not caught, then whatever was catching her would have
been totally in her. I wouldn't have been perpetuating it, so she could have
let it go faster.

I meet somebody and they think they're real. My job is not to deny that
reality, but to have a context in which that is not the only reality. So I'm
always here in case they want to let go of that one. I don't demand that
they let go of it, but if they would like to let go of it - I'm here. If
you're a Christian you can speak about focusing on the soul as well as the
manifestation. You're constantly saying, are you in there? What's it like
being you this time?

Rebecca: How do you help a person in their dying process?

Ram Dass: By working on yourself to keep unencumbered by clingings of mind,
so you stay in compassion. That's independent of whether you give them water
and plump their pillows and hold them and all that stuff. The question is,
where do you do it from? That's more interesting.

We're not dealing with the issue of whether you do it, if somebody is
thirsty, you give them water, naturally. The issue is how you do it. In
order to not create suffering, you can only work on yourself. That's the
gift you give. The process of working with somebody as they're dying is an
exercise on yourself to keep you in love and watching when you fall out of
love from moment to moment.

Rebecca: It must be a challenge to maintain that kind of openness when the
person dying is expressing bitterness or anger.

Ram Dass: There can be anything. There can be sweet happiness that's phony,
there can be pain and struggle - but all you can do is create the space
where they can do what they need to do. They might come on with their whole
trip of this is terrible, but there's nothing they get out of you. Sometimes
they come on strong, and then they see that nothing has happened in you.

I remember a woman coming to see me and telling me this terribly sad story
about her being a seamstress and having a child and how her child is now
forging checks. And I listened very carefully and at the end I said, "I hear
you." That didn't satisfy her and she went and told the whole story again.
She was used to using that story like the ancient mariner. And the second
time I said it, this smile came upon her face and she said, "you know, I was
a bit of a rascal at that age too." She had come up for air.

Rebecca: So you offer someone another option to the drama.

Ram Dass: Yes. It's available, but you don't try to get them into the other
option. The minute you try to change somebody, you play into the unconscious
paranoia that is in everybody, and when they feel manipulated they push
against it and it isolates them even more.

Rebecca: What is your position on euthanasia?

Ram Dass: A human birth is an incredible vehicle for working on yourself and
you should milk it for as much as you can get out of it. But if you've had
enough and you can't cut it, you should certainly have the "choice" to end
it, even though it's not really your choice - your karma just ran out for
that round.

I have nothing against that. You just go on from that point instead of from
another point. I can't see that there's any rush - it's a circle. Where's
everybody going anyway?!

Rebecca: So you don't see some heavy karmic consequences from bailing?

Ram Dass: No. If somebody asks me, "should I?" I say, "well, I wouldn't."
But I don't know, I might if I got into a certain situation.

David: What do you believe happens to consciousness after the death of the body?

Ram Dass: I think it's a function of the level of evolution of the
individual psychic DNA code, or whatever. I think that if you have finished
your work and you're just awareness that happens to be in a body, when the
body ends it's like selling your Ford - it's no big deal.

Then the question is, what of you is left after that? If you're fully
enlightened, nothing of you is left because nothing was there before. If
there's something before, there will probably be something after, and it
will project onward. I can imagine beings that are so dense and caught in
life that when they die, there is no place in awareness that they can
conceive of the fact that they're dead. The word conceive in this context is
strange because they have no brain, so it really raises questions about who
is thinking this. But I think that identifying the brain with
thought is a mistake, I think that the brain is a way of manifesting the
thought but I don't think that it is actually an isomorphic thing.

So, I suspect that some beings go unconscious, they go into what Christians
call purgatory. They go to sleep during that process before they project
into the next form. Others I think go through and are aware they are going
through it, but are still caught. All the bardos in the Tibetan Book of the
Dead are about how to avoid getting caught.

Those beings are awake enough for them to be collaborators in the
appreciation of the gestalt in which their incarnations are flowing. They
sort of see where they're coming from and where they're going. They are all
part of the design of things. So, when you say, did you choose to incarnate?
At the level at which you are free, you did choose. At the level at which you are
not - you didn't.

And then there are beings who are so free that when they go through they may
still have separateness. They may have taken the Bodhisatva vow which says,
`I agree to not give up separateness until everybody is free,' and they're
left with that thought. They don't have anything else. Then the next
incarnation will be out of the intention to save all beings and not out of
personal karma. That one bit of personal karma is what keeps it moving.

To me, since nothing happened anyway, it's all an illusion - reincarnation
and everything - but within the relative reality in which that's real, I think it's quite real.

Rebecca: It's interesting how in Buddhism you learn about the general
definition of reincarnation and then as you go up the lineage, this
definition becomes increasingly relative.

Ram Dass: Right. You're the Buddha already, you're only in drag. And then
you wake up and realize you've been had by your own mind.

Rebecca: One of the things that comes up time and time again in your
writings is that when a person is involved in service, they do a lot better
when they can operate from a position of full acceptance of the other's
condition, whether that person is a drug addict, a mass murderer or a
terminally ill patient or whatever, and not operate from the desire to
change the behavior or conditions. Can you elaborate on this as many people
would say that the purpose of service is to change certain behaviors and
conditions that are perceived as harming another?

Ram Dass: The purpose of service is to relieve suffering. Now the question
is, what is the nature of suffering? Maybe if the person is thirsty the
purpose of service is to give them a glass of water. God comes to the hungry
in the form of food.

Rebecca: What if they're dying of thirst and they say they don't want a
glass of water? Do you think that a person is ever justified in assuming
control of another's welfare?

Ram Dass: I think that if you're dealing with a very young child where you
are responsible for their biological survival, then you have some grounds
for having a preference that is different from theirs. But if you're
deciding what is best for somebody else and you're dealing with an adult
consciousness - therein lies the tyrannical state.

David: But you may still be relieving suffering though, even if your efforts
aren't being appreciated.

Rebecca: I had a lot of friends who were sent to mental hospitals instead of
universities. Most people would think that's too bad but I think they came
out with more cylinders than many who went to university.

I don't know how it's going to come out. I see people suffering in their
dying so intensely. They've had big egos all their life and that suffering
and pain finally wore them down until they just gave up. And at the moment
they give up, it's like a window opened and there they are in their full
spiritual splendor.

Now do I say that the suffering stunk? It was terrible and I would have
taken it away from them in a minute if I could. My human heart doesn't want
them to suffer, but when I look at it I say, "boy, the game is more interesting
than I thought it was." That's why I include suffering as part of the mystery.

You and I can only meet through roles. So, let's say you come to me and I'm
your therapist. You came to me to change you, and my job is to relieve the
suffering that brought you there. Part of my job is for me to help you see
the forms of your pathology, but the deeper suffering that I understand is
your separateness, your isolation. Therefore, what I can offer you is my
being and my presence. That's the real gift. You and I may come together
through the form of therapist and client, but we may meet as just two beings
who are dancing into love through the form of those roles.

Somebody might ask me if they should go to therapy, and I would say, "yes,
but try to find a therapist who doesn't think they're a therapist." If they
think they're a therapist, they have an agenda and they are caught in their
mind which is treating you as an object to be manipulated for your own good.

Rebecca: You talk about how suffering can awaken us more than pleasure can,
but I'm wondering about ecstasy. The ecstatic experience of God seems to be
able to link up with the compassionate acknowledgment of suffering in the
same way that suffering is able to lead us back to the ecstatic experience.
Is ecstasy as valid a path to God as suffering is, in your view?

Ram Dass: I'd much rather use the ecstatic path. I'm no fool! I
guess the thing is that ecstasy is easy for the ego to socialize in and
protect itself. Suffering has an effect kind of like dripping water on stone.
It eats your ego away.

Suffering confronts you with where you are holding. It shows you your stash;
the attachments which you have been hiding from yourself. If you have no
attachment then you wouldn't be suffering. When you are suffering, you say,
why am I suffering? I'm suffering because I'm holding onto a model of how it
should be other than the way it is.

Pain is a strong stimulus and what model you have of what pain is has a lot
to do with how you cope with it, and whether or not you can open to it being
a part of you rather than trying to isolate it. One of the things with pain
is that you tend to try to make it separate from yourself.

The art is to be mindful of it and yet fully with it. It's the pushing
against something that gets you into trouble: pushing against aging, pushing
against the weather. But that doesn't mean that you shouldn't be an activist
and push against things. It doesn't mean that you don't have opinions, it
means that you're not attached to your opinions. As Don Juan said, you huff
and puff and make believe it's real, even though you know it isn't.

Rebecca: How then do you think we can avoid the kind of polarization that we
see in the abortion issue for example, where both sides seem beyond the
point of being able to communicate with one another.

Ram Dass: If I were in a position to have some say, I would bring some of
the leaders from each group together for a retreat where I would invite them
just to listen to each other. You not only have to hear the other person,
but they have to feel that they have been heard. If I feel you've heard me,
then you and I can start a dialogue, but if I don't feel that you've heard
me, then I'm in opposition to you.

The question is, how do we create a meta-identity? We all think life is
beautiful, we all think that life is sacred, but we also think that freedom
from suffering is sacred. It's not sacred versus profane. It's not people of
ill-will on either side. Everyone is trying to be as true to the light as they can.

Engaging everybody in the meta-game is a tricky one. You want to help them
break their identification with their position. They're not giving up their
position, but their primary identification can shift from being an
abortionist or an anti-abortionist, to being a human being who has an
opinion about abortion. That's a different place. Then everyone can sit
around and say, what do we do about this? If everybody lays their cards on
the table, the game is possible.

Rebecca: So you're talking about developing a respect towards the other,
even if that other doesn't agree with you.

Ram Dass: Yeah. It's like in politics. Everybody is using all of the
external symbols of the fact that they're doing that, respecting the other
and trying to understand the other, but they're not doing it. All alignment
has been pre-empted in the service of third chakra ego power. It's inevitable, I guess.

Rebecca: You talk about learning to use all life experiences, whether good
or bad as grist for the mill and potential for spiritual growth. And I think
about the people in Rwanda and what they're going through; the disease and
the famine and the apparent meaninglessness of it all, and I wonder what
kind of spiritual growth they are achieving or have even the possibility of
achieving from that.

Ram Dass: That's the mystery. That's the mystery of suffering.
If you could stand back enough to see the whole trip it might look quite
different. Say you have freeze-frame photography and my arm is moving from
pointing downwards to straight up in the air. If the middle frames are
missing, then you see one situation and then another, with no apparant
connection between them. You're seeing the horror which is Rwanda, but
you're missing out on witnessing the beauty.

I would sit in front of Maharaji and I felt like he had a deck of cards of
all my reincarnations. I could sense that he saw my incarnations in a
context that I couldn't see. It all seemed terribly real to me. If you look
back at the events of your life, you'll see that when you were in them, you
didn't see the context. I look back at my miserable times and realize how
profoundly that helped me in where I am now.

Rebecca: So, if you see suffering in the context of a continuum then it
becomes easier to understand.

Ram Dass: It all has to do with your time-frame. For the people in Rwanda,
it's hell. None of this doesn't mean that you don't do what you can to
relieve the suffering. You do what your heart calls you to do. Saying that
it's all karma, isn't a justification for non-action. That is a confusion of
levels of consciousness. On the level of the human heart, you do what you
can to relieve another's suffering. On another level, it's all karma.

Rebecca: How do you move within your meditation space so that you stop
getting trapped in the, now I'm meditating, now I'm not syndrome, so the
high can keep leaking into your life?

Ram Dass: You give up not meditating. It's called meditation action. There's
no way out of it. Meditation means to be constanty extricating yourself from
the clinging of mind.

Rebecca: So, it becomes part of the fabric of your life, rather than another
thing on your list to do like the laundry or something?

Ram Dass: That's right. People ask me, how much meditation practice do you
do? Sometimes I say none, and they give me a worried look,(laughter) but the
other answer is, all the time! I don't do anything else but meditate.

David: What are some of the current projects that you are working on?

Ram Dass: There are several on the burner. I've just accepted a contract on
a book on aging which will allow me to take about two years off to write.
I'm hoping to understand the dysfunctional mythology around aging;
aesthetically, cross-culturally and spiritually.

I'm also on the board of a group called Social Venturing Network - exploring
the relationship between spirit and business. Out of that core group, we've
started three organizations in the past year. We've started Businesses for
Social Responsibility, we started Students for Responsible Business and
we've started a European SVN. We have two conferences a year and it has
about 500 people involved, including Ben and Jerry's and The Body Shop.
Working with dying people is dealing with my issues about death and working
with business people is dealing with my issues about money and power.

I've been doing major fundraising work for SEVA for fifteen years which has
been involved in relieving blindness in India and Nepal. I have one project
in South India. The hospital have been given one and a quarter millions
dollars by Lions International to set up an international community
opthamology institute. It's to train people to carry opthamology programs
into Indonesia and Africa. But I'm phasing down a lot of the service stuff
because I really don't think I can carry it all at once.

I have to listen - we all have to - to hear how we honor all of the
different levels of the games we are in. I'm a member of a family, I'm a
member of a nation-state, I'm a member of the community, I have a sexual
identity, I have an age identity, a religious identity. It's important to
feel how your incarnation takes form through these identities, and to ask
yourself, what does it mean to live with integrity within each of those systems?

That's something that I have had to learn because I used to be so busy
seeing the spiritual journey as something that you did by yourself.

Rebecca: You've said that everyone should try and work from the edges of
their experience. What did you mean by that?

Ram Dass: As chaos increases - and there's a lot of inertia in the system
that seems to suggest that is the direction we're going in - it behooves us
to prepare ourselves to ride the changes. If, in the face of uncertainty,
people are busy holding onto something, the fear increases, then the
contraction increases, and prejudice increases. The question is, what are
you adding to the system to shift the balance? What you're adding is
yourself, and what yourself has to be is somebody who can handle uncertainty
and chaos without contracting.

I've gotten over the feeling of being somebody special. You've come with a
camera and tape-recorders, but that's your trip, it's not mine. I really
experience the web of inter-connectedness of all beings. It's like C.S
Lewis' line, you don't see the center because it's all center.

Rebecca: There are so many people who spend all their time dreaming about
being somebody special.

Ram Dass: And the horror is to see people who thought that that would be
something and then got it. Then you see them trying to hold onto it, even
though they know it's empty. I've been in a hall with thousands of people
applauding and bringing flowers and loving me, and then gone to the hotel
alone, feeling the absolute wretchedness of it all.

David: Could you sum up the basic message of your life?

Ram Dass: I would say that the thrust of my life has been
initially about getting free, and then realizing that my freedom is not
independent of everybody else. Then I am arriving at that circle where one
works on oneself as a gift to other people so that one doesn't create more
suffering. I help people as a work on myself and I work on myself to help people.

I've been perfecting that circle for thirty years. It's karma yoga. It's the
Bodhisattva vow. My life is about applied dharma. On a socio-political level
- I'm a survivor. Once that faith and that connection and that emptiness is
strong enough, then I experience looking around for the fields I can play in.

I work with AIDS, with business, with government, with teenagers, with
people dying of cancer, with blindness. It doesn't matter, because your
agenda is always the same. Do what you can on this plane to relieve
suffering by constantly working on yourself to be an instrument for the
cessation of suffering. To me, that's what the emerging game is all about.

Back to Here and Now

Mavericks of the Mind


Interview with Robina Courtin
This article first appeared in The Age on December 9, 2000

'Buddha says, " honey, you created who you are".' I like it Venerable Robina Courtin thinks that Buddha would call me honey. I also like it that she has in a few sentences managed to make clear to me the concept of karma which I have been trying to wrap my head around for some years.
One can get so caught up in the details of Venerable Robina Courtin's interesting life that they are in danger of losing sight of who she is now. She may well have been a black belt in karate, one of many daughters in a large Queensland catholic family, a supporter of the Black Panthers, a lesbian Separatist feminist and a lot else besides. And yes, as the film she stars in, Chasing Buddha, makes abundantly clear, she is very short, speaks at a million miles an hour and can swear like a truck driver/politician.
But all that is color. The substance is that she is a Buddhist nun and has been for 23 years. Her teachings are fantastic. To talk to her is to suddenly make understand what Buddhism can do, what it is capable of. Complex theologies make sense. She is direct and clear. She knows her stuff and in Buddhism she has found her passion. And her compassion. As she put it to me: 'I know it sounds corny but I had found my heart. I had found what I was looking for. I found what I'd lost. I knew in my heart I had finally found what I had been looking for 32 years.'
There is an ongoing fascination with monastic people and a lot of it revolves around sex, or the lack of it. We come from a culture that is so attached to sex as a way of feeling good about ourselves we are confronted by those who do not live that way.
'The director of Chasing Buddha said that after three months with me my life depressed him a bit - he couldn't see what made it tick. He didn't know what made me happy. I think he has a strong emphasis, the way a lot of people have, that unless you have one personal lover whom you confide in and who is the center of your life you can't be happy. He kept asking "was I lonely".'
By the time Robina became a nun she had already given up sex and given up drugs. 'I recall the time like I made a decision. Made a decision to be monastic. That sounds very corny - the fact I wanted to give myself to everybody - grandiose. But it was just this thought that arose in my mind. It just made sense to me. I was relieved to give up relationships actually.'
Robina sees her spiritual life as a continuation of her political work: 'I can see that I had this wish to make the world a better place. An idealism. I am still the same, it is just my methods are clearer now.
'For many years I had given up being spiritual completely. If you are really strongly leftist that is naturally what you'd be. Anti-religion and things. Then, after many years of political activity I was moving towards something spiritual. I could see really clearly - I talk about this in the film - that I had no one else to blame. All the straight people, all the white people, all the male people there was no one left to blame the troubles of the world. And suddenly I felt myself coming back into myself.
'I was a radical lesbian separatist feminist. I was always at the extreme of things. But I could see that I couldn't hate half of the human race. It was very evident. It was a very strong position. It was very painful for me to realize I'd have to start liking men again.'
Now Robina more than likes men. She shows a compassion towards them, and engages with them in a way that to many is unthinkable. Robina is director of Liberation Prison Project in the United States, which takes care of the spiritual needs of some 400 prisoners in 150 institutions, sending Buddhist books, writing, visiting and giving teachings and advice. Some of these men are on death row or have life sentences, and many have been involved in black or Mexican gangs, both on the streets and in prison. She hopes to extend this work to Australian prisons. This work forms the basis of the lectures she is currently giving around Australia.
There is a quote from Lama Zopa Rinpoche, the head of FMPT, the organization she works for, which I heard Robina repeat many times. This he wrote in a letter to a young ex-gangster serving life in prison. "Your prison is nothing in comparison with the prison of ordinary people: the prison of ego-grasping, the prison of attachment, the prison of anger, depression and pride.' Robina is aware that that is in danger of sounding patronizing, but has found in this statement, 'incredible truth'. As have many of the prisoners she works with.
'Prison forces you to find the truth of your situation,' she says. 'The environment in prison is great suffering. The senses are denied, affronted. The noise is beyond imagination. These men have an intense desire to transform their minds.' She talks at length about this concept, the importance of recognizing the truth about your own situation and then picking yourself up and getting on with life. 'When you are in sync with reality then you are blissful.'
For some of these men, taking the Buddhist precept not to harm sentient beings means they can no longer be part of the gangs within prisons. They place themselves, therefore, outside protection. To continue their practices of Buddhism is to put their life on the line. They can do this in part because they have no trouble accepting the notion of karma.
Karma is something I get stuck on. I don't understand it. I have trouble believing it. I tell Courtin that. 'What's your problem, Sophie?' she asks me. 'All the answers are there. You notice we all freak out when we hear that we are responsible for our negative karma but we get very happy when we hear we are responsible for our kindnesses? I think we divide the world into victims and oppressors. We all have a view that things are done to us, that they come from the outside. We try and find someone to blame. Karma is saying, "You're to blame". It goes beyond the victim/oppressor mentality. Karma is Buddha's way of explaining how we were created. It is like the Christian view of God. If you internalise this it forces you to take responsibility.'
The way Cortin puts it it makes it sound like taking responsibility is what liberates us, because we are no longer at the mercy of others. She goes on. 'For me one of the things I loved most when I heard it was karma. It's been like an anchor. If I'm responsible that forces me to change. I can't change the fruits that have now ripened, but I can learn from those. Learning from experience is something I find very tasty. You are the fruit of your own past action.'
I ask Robina what difficulties she has faced in becoming a nun. Her answer speaks, I suspect, also for the tests of faith the men she works with face on a daily basis.
'Being a nun has not been the difficult part. But it's difficult being a human being. That is what was challenging for me from day one. Just dealing with my crazy energy, just learning my mind. Learning to see the parts that were harmful to me then learning to work with that and subdue it and change it. Learning to use the positive energy. That's never changed. That is what being Buddhist is anyway.'


Interview with Topga Yulgyal Rinpoche
KIBI, December 1994

Question: Can you tell what is the main principle of Buddhism, and the Vajrayana (the Diamond Way) in particular?
Topga Rinpoche: The main idea of Buddhism is to see the cause of suffering, to put an end to that suffering and to stop it for others as well.
Vajrayana is a method. Basically it has the same goal [as the Mahayana] but the way is different. The Vajrayana has a more direct approach. It is said that the Vajrayana path is shorter than the other Buddhist paths. I would say Vajrayana does not have a special way, but rather it has a different way than other yanas. This does not mean that you do not have to go through the Mahayana process in order to practice Vajrayana. They are very much related to each other. Vajrayana puts more emphasis on initiations, rituals and meditations, which focus not only on the mind, but also involve physical practices such as yogas and so on. Once you have a proper knowledge about Mahayana you can ask a qualified teacher how to approach Vajrayana. It is something one cannot just explain in a minute.
Q: What is the Karma Kagyu Tradition?
TR: The Karma Kagyu tradition started with the first Karmapa. Actually, it is named after him and there is not much difference compared to any other Buddhist school. The main practice in this tradition is Mahamudra(1). One of the texts which describes the basis for the Mahamudra and the Ngondro(2) is The Torch of Certainty by Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye. Another main text is The Supreme Path, the Necklace of Jewels by Gampopa.
There is also a short text by Gampopa called The Four Dharmas of Gampopa which includes everything:
" How to direct one's mind toward the Dharma
" How to apply the Dharma as one's path
" How to remove illusions
" How to transform illusions into wisdom
No matter how many books you may read on Buddhism they are always concerned with these four points. So, why should we meditate? Without meditation you cannot rely on your own mind. Without meditation you cannot see the cause for suffering. Having understood this, you develop compassion and Bodhicitta (3), but you have to practice. First you have to know that countless beings suffer and really need help. They are sort of at the edge of a cliff which is several thousand feet high, and down below is a very dark sea. So everybody is in danger of falling. If you know that they need help you will have compassion, there is no choice.
Q: What is the main philosophical school in the Karma Kagyu tradition?
TR: The Madhyamaka (4). Within that school the 3rd, 5th and 7th Karmapa emphasized the Shentong (6) view. The 8th Karmapa, emphasized the Prasangika-Madhyamaka(5) school, but Shentong as well, thus embracing both schools. The 16th Karmapa emphasized the Shentong view.
Q: Which methods of practice are used in the Karma Kagyu school?
TR: This depends on the person and his guru. If the guru is in a position to know what kind of student or disciple he has and how his mind works then he can immediately guide him accordingly. Either through a direct approach which will make him understand the Mahamudra view, or by leading him on a longer way through, for example, The Six Yogas of Naropa (7). Both ways are valuable and belong to the Karma Kagyu Tradition, but it depends very much on the guru, it is a very personal thing.
Q: What kind of illusion should be removed?
TR: Any kind of illusion. First, it is good to know what illusion is. Any kind of imagination, any destructive thought is not good for meditation. Through meditation these illusions subside automatically. You don't have to do a particular meditation for the purpose of cutting through illusions and thoughts. Meditation in itself means cutting through them. So there is no difference between cutting through the illusion and meditating. It happens simultaneously.
Q: How does one integrate the Dharma into one's ordinary life?
TR: Most of us have families, friends and responsibilities. I don't think we can avoid that. We cannot just leave families and friends behind, go somewhere and say, "Now I am becoming a Buddha." This probably does not work, but you can meditate while you have family and friends around. We say that all sentient beings are our parents. Maybe you don't accept everybody as your parents, but at least you can accept your own family as your parents. So, out of all countless beings, at least you can take the 5 to 10 people around you and try to help them. This is a practice. Teach them how to meditate, show them the right path, if possible. This is very good, and you have a direct contact with human beings. Theoretically, we can say, "Today I'm doing this or that particular practice and I am going to lead all sentient beings to the Buddhafields tomorrow and the day after tomorrow all of them will be Buddhas and Bodhisattvas". This does not make much sense. But in dealing with your family and friends you are really doing something for people, physically, emotionally and spiritually. This is very good.
Q: Sometimes we have problems in our families because they don't accept us as Buddhist practitioners. What advice can you give?
TR: Maybe they don't accept you because for them you seem to be a kind of fanatic. Maybe they are conservative, they might have different ideas, they might be very materialistic. That's fine, they can have their own view, but you should try to show them that you are not just following a belief, but that you know what you are doing. Communicate this in a nice way, don't fight, don't disapprove and don't be aggressive.
Q: When some people become Buddhist they just want to leave everything behind in order to meditate. But there are many possibilities in life. Others are not sure if they should aim for a career or avoid it. What is your opinion about this?
TR: You should neither leave your job nor your meditation, you can do both together. Treat these two equally at different times. In the morning you may concentrate more on your work, in the evening you may concentrate more on your meditation. I think it will work beautifully. Because whatever you do, it is somehow associated with your meditation, and therefore you won't do negative things like many other people do. It is a very good thing. If you think, "I want to leave the whole world and go somewhere to meditate," then this day will never come. So close that chapter. Do whatever you can, here and now. Of course it depends on one's personality. Concerning yourself, once you know what you are doing then why should you stop? Just go on. But if you don't know what you are doing, then take a break.
Q: Is it possible to cultivate the highest view in one's ordinary life. How does one do this?
TR: Yes, it is possible. You should have a correct view first! The view for Mahamudra is something like Madhyamaka. Through meditation it will develop. The view is intellectually understandable, but since you have not experienced it yet, it is something you have to develop. To experience the view, you go through practices, then you realize it. Finally, one reaches the highest level. However, one cannot point to where the highest level is, because there is no form which indicates it. But, when you reach that level through your own meditation, you will be sort of shocked. You will wonder, "How come I never saw it before, it is within me. It is not that I received it from Russia, China or India, but it is within me, how can it be?"
Q: How can one deal with attachment to wealth, particular principles, pride, and spiritual activity?
TR: When you develop your spiritual power, bad characteristics subside. What is spiritual development? It is mind training through which the ego subsides by itself. When you develop your spiritual mind your unwanted qualities disappear naturally.

(1)Mahamudra: The great seal of reality. Buddha gave this as the ulti-mate/final teaching. It leads to a direct experience of the mind.
(2)Ngondro (Tib.) The four preliminary practices are a collection of four meritorious practices which have to be repeated 100000 times. They create enumerable good impressions in the subconsciousness, and work deeply in one's mind. They are the foundation for Mahamudra practice.
(3)Bodhicitta: Awakened mind. Mental attitude having two aspects. The relative aspect means to perfect oneself for the benefit of all sentient beings. The ultimate aspect is the recognition of the inseparability of emptiness and compassion.
(4)Madhyamaka: The highest philosophical school in Buddhism. Its viewpoint is that ultimate reality is beyond any concept. Phenomena are beyond all pairs of opposites, beyond all extremes.
(5)Prasangika-Madhyamikas: Lit. Those who show the consequence. By showing the consequence of all wrong conceptual ideas they approach ultimate truth.
(6)Shentong: The teachings of the Shentong relate to the third turning of the Wheel of Dharma, where the ultimate reality is called the Buddhanature, which is present within all sentient beings.
(7)Six Yogas of Naropa: Very effective methods of the Kagyu lineage. Their goal is the recognition of the nature of mind. The following meditations are included: inner heat, clear light, dream yoga, illusory body, intermediate state and transference of consciousness.

Kagyu Life International, No.3, 1995
Copyright ©1995 Kamtsang Choling USA


KBOO-FM Interview with Robert Anton Wilson
by Cliff Walker
The 1990 (or so) interview with Robert Anton Wilson on KBOO FM, Portland, Oregon

Cliff Walker: Hi, my name is Cliff Walker. Welcome to KBOO, Robert!
Robert Anton Wilson: It's great to be here.
Walker: Robert is the author of the Illuminatus! trilogy, Schrödinger's Cat, Masks of the Illuminati, and the most recent series, The Historical Illuminatus Chronicles-- those are the novels. Some of my favorite non-fiction: Sex and Drugs, Cosmic Trigger, Prometheus Rising, and the brand new one, Quantum Psychology. What is Quantum Psychology about?
Wilson: Quantum Psychology is about the fact that we can never know reality the way we know our models of reality.
Walker: So what are some of the ideas you are trying to share in this book?
Wilson: Chiefly, that the paradoxes in quantum mechanics don't just exist in quantum mechanics. They exist in every area of knowledge. Modern art has gotten to be very relativistic, just like modern physics. We're even getting relativistic films, these days. Total Recall, with Schwarzenegger, is about a man that doesn't know which memories are real and which are implanted. And there's a new movie, Jacob's Ladder, which has a similar theme. These are very similar to the themes of my novels, curiously enough!
The world is moving into a new era in which we're beginning to realize every instrument creates a different reality-tunnel. Every brain is a different instrument. The instruments we make, to do science, turn out to have the same limitations as the instrument we started with -- which is our own brain. Every instrument reveals a partial reality: a yardstick doesn't tell you the temperature; a Geiger counter doesn't tell you the weather. Every instrument has its limitations. Every brain has its limitations -- except the brains of the Pope, and, er, the Ayatollah, and George Bush, and the members of C.S.I.C.O.P.
All: [laughter]
Wilson: But all the rest of us are stuck with relativity.
Walker: Okay. So, we're moving from thinking that we know what reality is, to ... [gestures for Wilson to complete the sentence]
Wilson: All we can say now is we got a model that seems to work -- for the present. It probably won't work in another ten years; the lifetime of models is getting shorter.
Walker: Why is this?
Wilson: Because of the information explosion: information is doubling faster all the time. It took from the time of Jesus to the time of Leonardo for one doubling of knowledge. The next doubling of knowledge was completed before the American Revolution, the next one by 1900, the next one by 1950, the next one by 1960. You see how [it keeps] moving faster? Now knowledge is doubling every eighteen months.
With all these new bits, bytes, blips of information, no model can last long because models only include the bytes of information that were available when the model was made. As new bytes of information come in it gets harder and harder to adjust our old models to include the new blips and beeps of information, so we've got to make new models.
Walker: What kinds of models don't change?
Wilson: The models that don't change are religious models because they're defined so that they can't be tested. Some people find great comfort in this, but I don't find any comfort at all in a model that cannot be tested.
Walker: This book [Quantum Psychology], along with Prometheus Rising, contains exercises for the readers to do. What is the purpose of the exercises?
Wilson: I don't think the modern, scientific viewpoints I expound can be understood easily. So I put in exercises with the thought that if the reader does the exercises, he or she will get to learn, er, understand the principles better -- or will go crazy. One or the other.
Walker: Or at least understand some of the problems involved?
Wilson: Or at least understand the problems. Yes.
Walker: How is semantics influential in how we see and how we act?
Wilson: We can only think certain thoughts because of the kind of language we use. If we get a thought that doesn't fit into language we're apt to think we're having a mystical experience -- unless we know where we got the drugs -- but otherwise, we're inclined to think it's a mystical experience if it doesn't fit into language. Therefore, language delimits us.
Walker: Give me some examples.
Wilson: Well, in our language, er, there's a natural tendency built into the Indo-European family of languages to divide things into "either-ors," probably because we have two hands. Nobody realizes the influence on human philosophy -- up in the highest levels -- of the fact that 50,000 years ago children started playing the game of grabbing a rock, putting their hands behind their back, and then holding their hands out and saying, "Guess which hand I've got the rock in?" There's only two possible choices, there. It's gotta be in the right hand or the left hand. We've been so conditioned by that in the last 50,000 years that we think everything has a right and a left, or a true and a false. It's a terrible shock to us discover something which the Orient discovered 2,500 years ago, or more, which modern science has just discovered in this century; namely, that most of the universe consists of maybes. There are very few things that we can hammer down into definite yeses or nos.
You can reduce everything to yeses or nos if you're sitting in an armchair discussing abstract philosophy, but when you're dealing with the real world, it's very hard to force things into the yeses and the nos. The people who are very good at forcing them into yeses and nos are totalitarian governments, and they do it be shooting everybody who sees the maybes, or finding some other ways to shut them up: locking them up for life or something like that.
You'll find most religions that are based on the yes-no thing have a distinct tendency to go to war whenever they get the opportunity. Jonathan Swift said, "We've got enough religion to hate each other but not enough to love each other." The history of Christianity has been the history of continuous warfare over yeses and nos by people who can't conceive that the universe contains mostly maybes.
Walker: The New Inquisition: persecution of scientific inquiry. What prompted you to write this book?
Wilson: I began to notice that there are atheistic religions as well as theistic religions. Of course, Buddhism is an atheistic religion that has been around for a long time, but Buddhism has got the Oriental, relativistic attitude built into it. In the Western World, the atheistic religions have the same intolerance as the theistic religions of the Western World.
As a mater of fact, from the eighteenth century to the present, there has been a steady decline of theistic religions as reasons for people murdering one another and a increase in atheistic religions as an excuse for people murdering one another. In the Near East, they're still killing each other over the old theistic religions: the Jews are killing the Arabs, the Arabs are killing the Jews, the Christians are killing both Arabs and Jews, and so on, and this has been going on forever in the Mid-East. This is their metier: religious fanaticism.
But atheistic religions have pretty much the same structure -- in the Western World, anyway -- the same dogmatic structure. Marxism is very similar to fundamentalist Protestantism: they know the truth; they don't care how many people they have to kill till they get their "truth" established. Objectivism is very similar, that's another atheistic religion. I've always believed Ayn Rand was really the Grand Duchess Anastasia. I think that one in West Virginia is a fake. Ayn Rand acted a hell of a lot more like a Romanov than that woman in West Virginia. And I think after the Bolsheviks killed her family and she escaped, she decided she would found another atheistic religion to compete with Communism, and that's how Objectivism got created.
And then there's the Committee for Scientific Investigation of Claims Of the Paranormal, or C.S.I.C.O.P. [pronounced sci-cop]. That is one of the most dogmatic, fanatical, and crusading of the atheistic religions around now. That's what inspired me to write The New Inquisition. It's an examination of atheistic religions as a phenomenon in the modern world.
Walker: What are some of the -- er -- If the new, atheistic fundamentalism is merely becoming a replacement for the old theistic fundamentalism, then what are some of the alternatives that you offer?
Wilson: Well I think we'd all be a lot better off if we adopted more Oriental attitudes. I'm not saying we should become Orientals or accept a lot of Oriental superstition or anything like that, but there are ideas well established in the Orient that we could learn from. The general attitude of Taoism and Buddhism is that wherever you are in space-time, that's your reality. It's not anybody else's reality and there's no sense trying to sell it to anybody else, or force it on them. Most Zen koans actually come down to the fact -- the answer to the koan is found by speaking from where you are, rather than trying to find an abstract general answer.
Walker: [attempting to pronounce "Schrödinger"] Schrödinger's Cat? Schrödinger's Cat?
Wilson: Schrodinger's Cat.
Walker: Schrodinger's Cat. You utilized quantum physics and other sciences to frame this book. How did you use this? what techniques did you use? and explain some of the, er, things about that book.
Wilson: Well, Schrödinger's Cat an attempt to write a new kind of science fiction. New Scientist magazine, I'm happy to say, called it the most scientific of all science-fiction novels, which really pleased me very much. It pleased me so much I quote it every chance I can.
What I was trying to do with Schrödinger's Cat: Instead of going as far out as I could in my imagination, I tried to follow where modern physics is going (what are the main lines of interpretation of the universe in modern physics?) and just write about a universe that fits modern physics. And that is so mind-blowing it seems crazier than anything a science-fiction writer could invent. As a matter of fact, a lot of it does sound like science fiction.
The majority -- well, not necessarily the majority, but a growing minority (especially among the younger physicists), believes it makes as much sense to say there are infinite universes as it does to say there is one universe. The equations of quantum mechanics can be interpreted either way. Either out of an infinite number of possibilities, the universe, every second, collapses into one -- which is the reality we're living in; or, it doesn't collapse: all the probabilities happen at the same time in different parts of super-space.
Both interpretations make equally much sense: they both fit the equations, they both fit the experiments, and there is nothing in science fiction wilder than this "parallel world." I mean, the parallel-world idea literally implies that I am here, in this universe, but in the universe next door, the car I came in (which had a slight flat tire) went off the road and I got killed and didn't do this show. Now that's the Schrödinger's Cat paradox: Schrödinger demonstrated that, in quantum theory, you can say a cat is dead and the cat is alive, and both can be true at the same time -- even though that contradicts ordinary logic.
Just the same way the cat can be dead and alive, I'm dead and alive. It gives you a certain Buddhist detachment from things to think that you're dead and alive at the same time. You can't get too worried when you start thinking of it that way. [laughs]
Other interpretations of quantum mechanics are even weirder. Bell's theorem, a very important -- the most important discovery in quantum mechanics in the last thirty or forty years. Bell's theorem says two particles, once in contact, continue to be mathematically correlated no matter how far apart they move in space -- or in time; which implies that if I take a measurement of two rays of light, and one is coming from a star and took 15 million years to get here, and the other is coming from a candle across the room, because those particles are correlated, they remain correlated no matter which way you look in time. So I'm affecting that star 15 million years ago.
Walker: [interjects] And this fits the mathematical equations?
Wilson: This fits the equations of quantum mechanics. It has led to a sort of general interest in monistic philosophies among physicists -- monistic philosophies being those that say there is no separation in the universe, we've just created separations in our minds through our habit of analysis -- all of which is very much like what any New-Ager will tell you, "Hey, man! It's all one!" Well, that is one interpretation of quantum mechanics: you can't separate anything. It's called non-locality. You can't separate anything in space or in time.
Walker: What do you love about James Joyce?
Wilson: [long pause] Jamison's Whiskey.
[starts laughing] No. Other things, er --
All: [laughter]
Wilson: Every time I go to Zurich I buy a bottle of Jamison's and go out to Joyce's grave with some friends, and we each have a drink and then we pour the rest of it on -- well, maybe we have two drinks -- well, sometimes three -- er, well, maybe four [laughs], on rare occasions, we drink most of the bottle we originally bought for the occasion, and then we pour a drop or two (or whatever is left) on the grave for Jim. He was a great fan of Jamison's.
No. What I love about Joyce (besides introducing me to Jamison's and Guinness Extra Stout -- the two greatest products that ever came out of Dublin) is he wrote the first relativistic novel, Ulysses. Ulysses seems to me the only realistic novel of the twentieth century, because it's the only novel that contains at least a hundred different interpretations of itself, within itself. Therefore it's contemporary with quantum mechanics and Godel's proof in mathematics and Cubist painting and movies like Citizen Kane, where you get five versions of the same story; Joyce anticipated all of modern science, modern philosophy, and modern art. And he was very funny, too, like most Irish writers.
Walker: Why do you think he was censored? Why do you think they banned his books?
Wilson: [very long pause; then, stumbling angrily for words] Well, that's -- er -- I -- I uh -- How can you explain that!? It's like Bob Geldof, the rock star who did Band-Aid and Live-Aid. He was interviewed by the Irish Times, in Dublin, and they asked him, "Don't you think your use of improper language detracts from the noble causes that you are espousing?" And he said [Wilson starts speaking with an Irish brogue], "I don't know what tha fook improper language is!" Waal, Joyce didn't know what tha fook improper language is either [loses the brogue], and neither do I. I think it's some kind of crazy superstition dating back to the stone age. There is no improper language for a writer. What's proper depends on what kind of scene you're writing.
Walker: What influence has Carl Jung had on you?
Wilson: Carl Jung got me interested in synchronicity, or maybe synchronicity led me to Carl Jung. I'm nor sure of the exact causal order. Somehow, er, noticing, er, that recording my dreams, I found they were tied in with coincidences that happened in my waking life. And there was no school of psychology that even came close to explaining that except Jung, Jungian psychology, so I started reading a great deal of Jung.
Walker: Okay [looks at the clock] we can take some calls, [recites station phone number], if you'd like to ask a question.
Wilson: And if nobody calls, I'll talk more about Dublin.
Walker: Okay, talk about Dublin. Six years. [to producer] Do we have a call? [no call] Okay, talk about Dublin! You spent six years there?
Wilson: Yes. Gee, there's so much to say about Dublin, now -- I look at the clock -- how can I? Oh, I'll talk about County Kerry instead.
County Kerry has a six-foot-tall white rabbit called the Pookah, and this rabbit hangs around pubs late at night. When people get thrown out of the pubs at 10:30 (which is when they close), the Pookah waits and grabs one of them on his way home and drags him off into an alternative reality, where all the laws of science are reversed, time and space are all mixed up. It's very much like one of my novels -- although I like this new movie, Jacob's Ladder. And you spend thousands and thousands of years over there -- millenniums -- and you meet Finn MacCool and all the ancient Irish heroes: the Wizard of Oz, Luke Skywalker, Shiva, Krishna, the Devas -- all these figures.
When the Pookah gets tired of playing with you and lets you go, you're back on the road and it's only a few minutes after you left the pub -- because the Pookah can reverse time, stretch time, condense it, anything like that. The Pookah is not limited by time.
Of course, the probability of encountering the Pookah is said by Dublin's cynics to be directly proportional to the number of pints of Guinness Stout you had in the pub that night.
Walker: [laughs]
Wilson: I heard a Kerry farmer interviewed on Irish Radio, ... and they asked him, "Do you believe in the Pookah yourself?"
And he said [using an Irish brogue], "That I do not! and I doubt much that he believes in me either!"
And I think that is the perfect introduction to Irish logic. Irish logic makes a lot more sense to me than Aristotelian logic.
Walker: Tonight you're going to be lecturing at the First Congregational Church, 1126 South West Park. The lecture is called "Sex, Drugs, and Rock and Roll." A little about that?
Wilson: Sex and drugs and rock and roll. The Pope came to Ireland and they gave a speech in Phoenix Park and all he talked about was sex and drugs and rock and roll. And the world's full of -- where Amnesty [International] comes out every year with reports on torture and death squads and other abominations going on all over the world, where a hundred-thousand people are starving every day -- here's this guy, all he's worried about is sex and drugs and rock and roll. And I thought, "This man's gotta be a saint: he's living in another world. He knows nothing about this world."
So I got interested in sex and drugs and rock and roll, as topics. Why do they arouse so much anxiety? And then I met a beautiful lady in Berlin, and she said something that really resonated in my mind. She said, "I came to Berlin looking for love and success, but I decided to settle for sex and drugs and rock and roll."
And I thought, "Gee, that's an interesting thought on the modern world." [laughs] And tonight's talk is about my reflections on sex and drugs and rock and roll, or as the ancient Greeks used to say, "Venus and Dionysus and Apollo" -- three powerful divinities that have been suppressed too long.
Walker: Okay, now tomorrow, at the Northwest Service Center at 10:00 A.M. -- oh, the lecture, by the way, is from 7:30 to 9:00 -- and tomorrow, at the Northwest Service Center from 10:00 to 7:00 there is a workshop: "Sexual Evolution, or How to Tell Your Friends from the Apes." Some final words on that?
Wilson: Well, telling your friends from the apes isn't all that easy. I've seen chimpanzees who I was able to communicate with and who could communicate with me in ways that made a lot more sense than any conversation I've ever had with a congressman.
Walker: Okay. My name's Cliff Walker, we've been speaking with author, psychologist Robert Anton Wilson. Thanks for coming in and talking with us.
Wilson: Oh, it's always great to come back to Portland. You've got great grass up here!


Lama in the Hood:
An Interview with Pema Jones Rinpoche
by Chris Helm

We're in a grimy McDonald's in Wyoming, eating Quarter Pounders with Cheese. Rinpoche, "precious one" in Tibetan, is sipping his chocolate shake. Pema's his name, actually it's Pema Jones, and he wears baggy jeans, an untucked red lumberjack shirt and funky high top tennis shoes with a built in pump, flashing lights (currently in the off position), and for all I know, a microwave oven for high-fat junk food snacks. Somewhere in all those baggy clothes is a thirteen year old Tibetan boy, born in India to his Tibetan mother and American father, raised until he was seven in a Tibetan Buddhist monastery and transplanted here in red neck central.
At thirteen, Rinpoche is the youngest Buddhist teacher in the country. He's a well kept secret for several reasons, some of which have to do with his unorthodox style but mostly because his protective mother wants it that way. There also isn't much need for teachers of Tibetan Buddhism in Wyoming.
His sister Trudy is also here with us. She's a strikingly beautiful and extremely intelligent nineteen year old with an interest in American history and concert piano. Trudy will be attending Stanford next fall, but now she's performing the job she's had for the last five years, attendant to Pema. She takes his phone calls, schedules his appointments with students and acts as his chaperon and personal secretary. She also keeps score at his Little League games.
Rinpoche has a .435 batting average - not bad for a short kid, incredible for a pitcher and probably a record for an incarnate lama. My mind strains at the thought of his next incarnation trying to pick the correct Louisville Slugger along with prayer beads and robes. Would the little tyke choose the wood or the aluminum? Would past life knowledge include Earned Run Average stats and the ability to throw a knuckle ball? I flip on the tape recorder, ease into some small talk about the upcoming Super Bowl (he's a Stealers fan) and drift into the first question.
CyberSangha: It must be hard enough to be a thirteen year old boy in American, not to mention a Tibetan lama. How do your friends and family treat your connection with the Dharma?
Pema: It's kind of weird. My brothers, I have two older ones, tease me about it. They call me shrimpoche. My sister is nice and even helps me by taking my phone calls when I'm at school and scheduling interviews with my students. The kids at school don't know I'm a lama, I would never tell them.
CyberSangha: Why wouldn't you tell them you're a lama?
Pema: I get dissed enough as it is just being Asian. They call me names like nip and gook. It's not like when I was growing up in India. Everyone here in Wyoming is white. I consider it a good day when some goof in a pickup truck doesn't try to run me over. Is my mom going to read this?
CyberSangha: Yes, we need to show her the interview when we're finished. Is that a problem?
Pema: No, but there's stuff I won't talk about - I don't want my mom to get mad. She's cool but she's not too happy with me teaching. My dad convinced her, so I want to keep things cool.
CyberSangha: That's fine. Does your mom disapprove of your teaching?
Pema: No, not really. I don't think she cares much about Buddhism any more. When she was in Tibet she made offerings to the protection gods, but it never stopped the Chinese. So she stopped making offerings. Then she put all her faith in Buddhism, but her friends and relatives were killed anyway and everyone kept suffering. So now she doesn't really have much faith in religion. That's just what I figured out. My dad's an American. He teaches chemistry at a junior college.
CyberSangha: What's your position on that? How would you deal with people trying to hurt you?
Pema: That's the way it is around here! It's pretty safe, but us Asians need to stick together. Some of my best friends in our gang are Chinese. It's strange to have Chinese friends when your family has been treated so badly by the Chinese, but this is America, I gotta live here with my own karma. Some skinheard doesn't care whether I'm Tibetan or Chinese. He just wants to stomp my head.
CyberSangha: You're in a gang!?
Pema: It's just for protection. We need to stick together. It's like if a guy threatens one of us, there's nothing we can do by ourselves, but by getting a bunch of us together, we can defend ourselves. We don't have guns or nothing, and we don't do drugs or rob people.
CyberSangha: Have you ever gotten into trouble?
Pema: No, but my brother got picked up by the cops for beating up this kid who dissed my sister. Can we talk about something else?
CyberSangha: Sure. Do you like your students?
Pema: Yeah, they're alright. They're kind of funny.
CyberSangha: In what way?
Pema: Well, it's like they say they come for the teachings, but when they get into the interview room, they talk about other stuff.
CyberSangha: What other stuff?
Pema: They mainly talk about the opposite sex. Men talk about problems with their wives and women talk about their husbands and boyfriends. I don't get it. It's like I have little enough time as it is with school and little league and my chores and they want me to be a shrink or something. And I'm only 13! I mean, I've got girlfriends and all, but what do I know about relationships?
CyberSangha: So what do you tell them?
Pema: I talked to my dad about it and he gave me a stack of business cards from one of his friends, a psychologist. I just hand them one of the cards and ask them about their practice. I put my name on the back of the card and whenever he gets a new client he takes me and my brothers and sister to Dairy Queen. It's cool. Buddhism is no big deal; it's like being a doctor. There's suffering, you diagnose it, give someone a prescription and hope they go to the drug store. No one in America wants to go to the store though. They all want to be pharmacists and sit around discussing different types of medicine. What's with that? Take some medicine and come back next week. I mean don't get me wrong, Buddhism is choice.
CyberSangha: So you're a fully qualified to teach?
Pema: Sure. I mostly teach Tonglen, giving and receiving. It's what I think works best at times when people are trying to kill you or too many changes are happening at once, which seems to be the case in this country. You're basically a giant filter, like on an air conditioner. You suck in the bad air and breathe out the pure air. I see myself like an air conditioning repair dude. I teach people how to filter and cool things down.
CyberSangha: So if you can cool things down, why do you need to be in a gang?
Pema: Is this like one of those Zen riddles? It's a samsara and nirvana thing. Yeah, some guy just dissed me and I tell myself that he really doesn't exist separate from me. You know? It's like he's dissing himself. That works fine. But what happens when he stops talking and starts beating on me? You need to be able to take care of yourself so you don't get killed. We live in samsara and spacing out about nirvana doesn't help anyone. It's like Kane in Kung-Fu. You take a Dharma master like Kane and you put him in the Old West. The result is predictable. He tries to be nonviolent and everyone wants his ass. That's how I see myself. I'm nonviolent all the way, sometimes people just need to be reminded that they're actually hitting themselves.
CyberSangha: Don't you see any contradictions in that? The Dalai Lama, for example, constantly teaches non-violence, despite being terribly oppressed all his life.
Pema: (laughing) Oh yeah, right. The Dalai Lama is an awesome old dude and a killer teacher. But he's got like a dozen bodyguards around him when he's travelling. What do you think would happen if some butthead pulls a gun on His Holiness? Do you think those dozen bodyguards will practice non-violence, or shoot the guy in the arm or bust some karate move on him? No way man, a bodyguard sees this dweeb with a gun and he's gonna pop a cap in his ass.
CyberSangha: Do you want to continue being a teacher when you grow up?
Pema: No way, there's too much suffering and it's too tough to absorb it all. Tonglen and practice go only so far for a teacher. It's really not fair what teachers have to do. It's like they have to be bodyguards for their students. They've got to take the bullet when things go down. They sacrifice their lives to help people. That's one reason why so many teachers die of cancer. It's too rough and I'm definitely not ready. My teacher, Uncle Norbu, says my attitude will change when I get older, but I don't think so. I want to play pro ball. I want to be in The Show. On the field is the only place where I get respect for what I do and not for who I am. When I'm on the field, and I'm doing well, they see me as a part of their team. I want to be the first Tibetan in the major leagues. America can grow its own lamas, they don't need Tibetans.


Love your enemies

In 1946, during the French-Indochina War, I was a novice monk at the Tu Hieu Temple in the city of Hue, which was occupied by the French army. One day, two French soldiers arrived at our temple. While one stayed in the jeep outside the temple gate, the other came in, carrying a gun, and demanded all our rice. We had only one sack of rice for all the monks and he wanted to take it away.
The soldier was young, about 20, and hungry. He looked thin and pale, as if he had malaria, which I also had at that time. I had to obey his order to carry our heavy bag of rice to the jeep. It was a long distance, and as I staggered under the bag's precious weight, anger and unhappiness rose up in me. They were taking the little rice we had, leaving our community without any food. Later, to my relief, I learned that one of the older monks had buried a large container of rice on the temple grounds, deep in the earth.
Many times over the years I have meditated on this French soldier. I have seen that, in his teens, he had to leave his parents, brothers, sisters, and friends to travel across the world to Vietnam, where he faced the horrors of killing my countrymen or being killed. I have often wondered whether the soldier survived and was able to return home to his parents. It is very likely that he did not survive.
After looking deeply, I came to realize that the Vietnamese were not the only victims of the war; the French soldiers were victims as well. With this insight, I no longer had any anger toward the young soldier. Compassion for him was born in me, and I only wished him well.
I did not know the French soldier's name and he did not know mine, but when we met we were already enemies. He came and was prepared to kill me for our food, and I had to comply with his order to protect myself and my fellow monks. The two of us were not, by nature, enemies. Under different circsumstances, we could have become close friends, even loving each other as brothers. It was only the war that separated us and brought violence between us.
This is the nature of war: It turns us into enemies. People who have never met kill each other out of fear. War creates so much suffering-children become orphans, entire cities and villages are destroyed. All who suffer through these conflicts are victims. Coming from a background of such devastation and suffering, having experienced the French-Indochina War and the Vietnam War, I have the deep aspiration to prevent war from ever happening again.
It is my prayer that nations will no longer send their young people to fight each other, not even in the name of peace. I do not accept the concept of a war for peace, a "just war," as I also cannot accept the concept of "just slavery," "just hatred," or "just racism."-Reprinted with permission from Creating True Peace by Thich Nhat Hanh (The Free Press/Simon & Schuster, © 2003)


Offering Alms in Today's World: An Ancient Tradition Revitalised
An Interview with Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche on the Khyentse Foundation

Q: How does Khyentse Foundation come into being?

A: Living on alms is a tradition that has been there right from Buddha Shakyamuni's time. It exists for many reasons. One is that even though, generally speaking, dharma practitioners are supposed to be renunciants, this world requires that you eat, drink, travel, and so forth. So, alms enable the renunciants to obtain these necessities. Even the Buddha himself walked barefoot in the streets of Maghada, Kapilavasu, Koshala with a begging bowl, receiving alms from kings, warlords, merchants, hunters, fisherman, and prostitutes.

Another important reason is that offering alms provides a great opportunity for ordinary people to create a karmic link, to practice generosity, to practice detachment, and to accumulate merit.

There is one story: When Buddha walked in one of these streets, he had a tear in his robes and the monks wanted to sew it. He refused. He wanted to keep it like that. Later they realized the great benefit in this refusal because as he walked, a very old and very, very poor lady saw this and offered to patch it. In fact this was the only thing she could offer: to patch his robe. And that alone created a lot of merit: it is believed that in her next life she was guaranteed to be reborn in the Tushita heaven. This became well known all over India and many people, including great kings, not only patched the torn robes of the Buddha and the monks, but also made other offerings. So this is a tradition that has existed for a long time.

The world is changing now, and offering alms is probably a tradition that is mainly appreciated in countries like Thailand and Cambodia, where the community still has a tradition of offering. But elsewhere, India included, that tradition is long gone. Within Tibetan society, there is still a little bit of almsgiving. In the west it is almost non-existent. In the west you have to earn everything. You can't really say, "Hey I want to practice. I want to meditate. Can you look after feeding me?" It just doesn't work in the western way of thinking.

So the Khyentse Foundation's most important and timely aim is providing alms. Perhaps the method is not exactly as it was 2500 years ago, but it is basically offering alms. Here we are providing alms in the form of endowments and assets, according to the conventions of today's world.

There is another thing I personally see that Khyentse Foundation can do. At the moment there is still this habit of supporting Tibetan practitioners. One reason is that until now there haven't been many dharma practitioners in the west, but now this is changing. The number of dharma practitioners is growing internationally, and there are some pretty serious students. But in the modern world it is not easy to adopt the lifestyle of a renunciant. There are costs for living, traveling, accommodation, et cetera. So I want to introduce this concept of offering alms, which may help international dharma practitioners and students. It's not unlike the Christian system. Christians give so much support to their church and church people. I would like to establish something like that. Right now, the Buddhist charities are not really recognized, purely because there are not so many Buddhists organized and engaged in such work.

Q: Can you explain the specific Khyentse Foundation projects?

A: Our immediate concern is the monasteries. It's not necessarily the most important project, but because we already have this responsibility, it is an immediate need. You can't really say .Monks, look, we don't have money, you will have to go somewhere else.. These monasteries already exist whether we have a foundation or not. But our long-term aim is to support the international community of dharma practitioners and students, not only Tibetans.

And then publishing not only rare books, but material that will help students. There is a great tradition of printing such books in Tibetan culture. Every year at the prayer-festivals in Bodh Gaya, the monks are offered books for free. Have you heard of western dharma students receiving, let's say the Dharmapada, free of charge?

And then we plan to provide scholarships. In the west, people often ask why do you charge for the teachings? At the moment, how are we going to teach if you don't charge? We have to run things -- pay for telephone calls and air tickets -- in addition to continuous support of the monasteries and so on. These items can be paid for from our side if there is organization and support. I believe that if there is a really good economic basis, there are so many out there whom we can help.

Q: What about the Buddhist colleges, the shedras?

A: We hope to eventually have some kind of college built in the west where people can study Buddhist philosophy, but then we are talking about a really, really grand project. It's not that easy.

Q: How can students look at the act of contributing? What should their motivation be?

A: Even if they give just one cent, people should have this motivation of putting a drop of water in the ocean where it will not dry up. A drop of water on its own will dry up easily, but if you put it in the ocean, it doesn't dry up. Whatever their contribution is, however small their contribution, it will be part of the foundation that will help other people. This capital will provide education and spread the dharma. That is what their motivation should be.

Interview by Noa Jones.
Transcript edited by Jakob Leschly.
Kathmandu. January 2002


Our Souls
Integration with the Soul
The EDGE Interview with H.H. Tulku Buddha Maitreya Rinpoche
by Douglas Crandall
His Holiness Tulku Buddha Maitreya Rinpoche was discovered and recognized beginning in 1984 by a series of Tibetan spiritual leaders as a Tulku, or a child born in perfection, divinely awakened and a living saint.

In 1998, His Holiness was enthroned in a formal recognition ceremony in Kathmandu, Nepal, as Maitreya, the Buddha of this age, by Ven. Khenpo Khyenrab Gyatso. In November 2000, he was enthroned at the Dema Monastery in Kham Tibet, recognized as the Western-born reincarnation of the founder of Tibetan Buddhism, Padmasambhava Guru Rinpoche, by the Buddhist Master His Holiness Dema Choktrul Rinpoche.

H.H. Tulku Buddha Maitreya Rinpoche has been identified and acknowledged by multiple leaders of Tibetan Buddhism as the reincarnation of Gautama Buddha, Tsong Khapa, Atisha, Jesus the Christ "St Issa" and the Western-born Buddha Maitreya, the Living Buddha. The focus of His Holiness' work in the West is fundraising to support the Living Masters of Loving Wisdom in the East to ensure their well-being and healthy living. His projects include building, restoring and supporting monasteries wordwide.

The Edge spoke with H.H. Buddha Maitreya Rinpoche by phone on the topic of our soul and how we might better connect with it.

It seems like more and more people have a sense that something is lacking in their lives, and they seem to be searching for a more definitive sense of self and purpose. It all comes down to the age old questions, Who Am I and What am I doing here. How do we re-establish a connection and loving relationship with ourselves, with the innermost part of who we are?
His Holiness: I think most of it has to do with reality, that there's a lot of ability in people to be a little bit more psychic than they think. That they have a certain psychic energy that is more aligned to fear, and the way that they see life in a distrusting way. Or how they may trust the government, or how they may trust a relationship. That comes from a lot of competition and other things.

The process of humanity and our education and developing human rights and developing a little bit more ability to begin trusting people more and more than we ever did before is beginning to awaken people to a place to where they want to know more. Their heart is opening up more than what's known as the solar plexus or the energy of lower psychic energy -- or just negative thought forms and negative behavior.

It also includes wanting spiritual awakening within, and being able to sense that we're actually on the right path, doing the things we should be doing or able to actually express the virtues of love and receive love from other people. There's a shift that is waking people up just in the natural evolutionary course of things.

The best way to actually bring that about is to try and clean up what might be left over in a person's life that's actually holding a person down negatively. If a person cleans up negative connections, lets go of certain things in their life and allows it to grow a little bit more, that enhances a lot of the ability for that lower nature, that fear, that distrust to kind of be healed, to go away. Does that make sense?

Yes, it does.
His Holiness: So there's a lot to that, as far as just cleaning up your environment, cleaning up your relationships. The other thing is beginning to add meditation to a person's life. If you want to get to know yourself, the best way is to relax the mind and the emotions, and just take some time to get to know yourself through meditation.

Every time a person meditates, they need to focus on breathing as a beginning step. Breathe deeply down into the stomach and realize that the breath needs to go that far down and not just into the lungs. Then breathe out slowly so the breath has a complete release. When a person does that, they're actually opening up energy of the lower body and releasing it out the upper body, which is an old yogi technique of purifying doubt and negativity. It's always beneficial to meditate, and breathe and learn how to breathe correctly when you're meditating.

Why are people disconnected? And why have they chosen to be disconnected?
His Holiness: I think the biggest problem with the inability for people to relate properly is based on little innuendoes about the differences between men and women. Even today there are books that say men are from mars and women are from Venus. It's separative. There are cognitive ways of thinking that really are not true, but are based on just a general perception. And we grow up with other innuendos in relationships, that women are sugar and spice and everything nice, and boys are puppy dog tails and all the negative things.

There are implications about women having more compassion toward children, and if you talk about children, you talk about women; you don't necessarily apply a relationship to children and men. Those connotations have moved through humanity and into society and still exist, and it is a form of prejudice. And when you have a prejudice like that going on, even unconsciously, it makes it hard on a psychic level to experience an intuitive level of loving and draw people to you that complement you.

So we need to be much more aware of the things that we listen to and that we agree with. If you go into a mall and go to look for clothes for a man, you'll find them in one small little section, but if you want to find women's clothes, you'll find an enormous selection. That's because there's an emphasis on the illusion that women are much more interested in having all these fine things. But I know a lot of men who would love to have a lot more variety.

It seems like it's marketed that way purposely to continue encouraging women to think they are the ones who shop all the time.
His Holiness: That's right, it's an innuendo, and it is insinuating that men are this way. But we're not. Men are no less compassionate than women, they're no less sensitive than a woman, they have no less desire to communicate than a woman. But there are psychic underlying processes that tell men and women that they are not like the opposite sex, and those ideas hit the movies, the TV and became a part of the cultural understanding of how things are. You find that same thing in caste systems in India. Propaganda is run to control cultures that actually create separation in order to have a control over the relationships of the people.

You mentioned earlier that we need to trust more in certain things. How can do that when we seem to be inundated with distrustful messages. How can a person who is not used to meditating and trusting the silence, learn to trust it? And to trust that inner voice as opposed to trusting the voices from outside ourselves?
His Holiness: It is difficult. That's one of the reason's I offer tools for meditation, like an etheric weaver, or pyramid or magnetic mat. These tools are amplified by the blessings of Tibetan monks. When a person works with these tools and begins to meditate, it actually helps to connect them in to a place of meditation that is very difficult to do on their own when they're still connected at that lower psychic level, where there's negativity and their mind is wandering and all those different types of habits are still going through their body. By having this connection, it actually releases that connection and inspires the person in a telepathic way to meditate in a very high way, spontaneously.

So in a sense, they wouldn't even be aware that they are letting go of those habits, but they would be letting go of them?
His Holiness: That's right. Because it's all happening so spontaneously that it just begins to integrate. Because of the level of meditation they go into so quickly, they begin sensing and feeling the healing process, like electricity and warmth and all kinds of physical things that they feel. And they experience more emotional and mental spiritual clarity during the process of meditation. Normally, it would take years to attain such a meditative experience.

With the hustle and bustle of everyday life, how can a person maintain the connection with soul?
His Holiness: I'd suggest taking refuge by going out into the forest every once in a while. Get away from city life, go off to the park, or go to the ocean. Make an environmental stress-free space in your own home that adds to more spiritual relaxation using different types of buddhas or whatever thing you want to put around to make it much more spiritual, much more awakening, much more healing.

Add those things into the cycle of your mind, so that you get out and go for a bike ride in the mountains, or you get out and release your stress -- not just every once in a while on vacation, but at least every couple of days.

Then add meditation to that, as much as you can. Every time you eat, meditate. Every time you have a break to do anything, just sit there and take those deep breaths, learn how to do that more often and it'll happen so quickly and spontaneously you'll gain benefits from just being a practitioner of the meditative skills.

As humans and souls, Who are We?
His Holiness: There's a great big leap between the animal and the human being, and that's plagued man for quite a long time. Ever since we started developing with science and started having the mind to wonder about such a thing.

My belief system is that the human being is something that has jumped from a link of spiritual evolution, say the aboriginal man or the Neanderthal, where the mind was not so developed, senses were not developed, the ability of emotional control was not developed. At a certain point of time, once that development began to develop, a certain psychic level of development leaped forward into creating the next level of man, the next level of human beings. From that point on, we've been building monasteries, induced religions and ceremonies, and evolving very quickly.

And now here we are. Now we're at the point where those sensory abilities are actually integrating the personality of more intelligent, emotionally stable human being that can create the technologies and advance the world, and help with medicine and understand religion to a less fanatical point to where we're actually going to leap into another evolutionary jump that gives humanity longer lives and much more attuned realities of the next level of human nature.

And we're on that road right now?
His Holiness: Right now we're in that period of integrating science, technologies and spirituality. A leap of reality is going to take place where metaphysical, spiritual and different miraculous events will take place due to a leap of faith. There will be an evolutionary jump in our DNA and our make-up as a whole.

So in a sense, the act of searching for who we are in itself is impelling us to find the answers?
His Holiness: That's right. By searching for who we are, we find out things that we don't like about "that" person, the one we don't really want to be, and we begin to be the person that we really are -- the person that we really are in our own true virtues. And as that develops, so too do we begin to integrate a higher quality of soul rather than the lesser quality of personality. It's an automatic integration of transforming personality into soul.

For Personal and Planetary Healing H.H. Tulku Buddha Maitreya Rinpoche has set up Worldwide Soul Therapy Meditation Rooms and Centers with room-size Pyramids and combinations of His Etheric Healing Tools such as Vajras and Etheric Weavers that are Synergistically applied for Self Healing and Soul Integration. All of the Pyramids and Etheric Healing tools are made within his California Monastery. All donations and 70 percent of sales support His Holiness' Tibetan Refugee Projects. For more, call toll-free 1 (877) 444-SOUL (7685) or go to

Douglas Crandall is an advertising sales representative of The EDGE and spiritual explorer. Contact him toll-free at 1 (877) 776-5244 or at (763) 503-5328. E-mail
Copyright © 2001 Douglas Crandall


Quantum Listening: From Practice to Theory (To Practice Practice)
by Pauline Oliveros

"Through the practice of meditation we can explore the depth of insight through the wisdom of listening and hearing." Sogyal Rinpoche 1

From childhood I have practiced listening.
As a musician, I am interested in the sensual nature of sound, its power of synchronization, coordination, release and change. Hearing represents the primary sense organ - hearing happens involuntarily. Listening is a voluntary process that through training and experience produces culture.
All cultures develop through ways of listening.
Deep Listening is listening in every possible way to everything possible to hear no matter what you are doing. Such intense listening includes the sounds of daily life, of nature, or one's own thoughts as well as musical sounds.
Deep Listening represents a heightened state of awareness and connects to all that there is. As a composer I make my music through Deep Listening."
Deep Listening is active.
What is heard is changed by listening and changes the listener I call this the 'listening effect' or how we process what we hear. Two modes of listening are available - focal and global. When both modes are utilized and balanced there is connection with all that there is. Focal listening garners detail from any sound and global listening brings expansion through the whole field of sound.
Listening shapes culture locally and universally.
Listening is directing attention to what is heard, gathering meaning, interpreting and deciding on action,
Quantum listening is listening to more than one reality simultaneously.
Listening for the least differences possible to perceive - perception at the edge of the new. Jumping like an atom out of orbit to a new orbit - creating a new orbit - as an atom occupies both spaces at once one listens in both places at once. Mothers do this. One focuses to a point and changes that point by listening.
Quantum Listening is listening in as many ways as possible simultaneously - changing and being changed by the listening.
I see and hear life as a grand improvisation - I stay open to the world of possibilities for interplay in the quantum field with self and others - community - society - the world - the universe and beyond.
Our improvisations will soon include accelerated artificial evolution - hybrid humans - new beings born of technology - new challenges, consequences, dangers, freedoms and responsibilities - all of this in addition to the life we lead through the habits of our own traditions.
How will we meet the genius of more rapidly evolving interactive cultures? - A genius of culture that could give us freedom of perception, physical and mental limitations.
Will we stop the evolution with destruction and annihilation or embrace it courageously to go forward into the new world we are creating with all it's edges?
Here follows a brief history and description of my practice called Deep Listening. I describe Quantum Listening; a theory derived from the practice of Deep Listening. My composing, performing and educating is rooted in my practice and theory.
My theory of Quantum Listening leads back to practice practice!
As a composer and performer I have experienced a relationship with music technology that spans more than half the century. Technology is changing and changing cultures more rapidly now than ever before. What used to take 300 years now happens in twenty minutes.
The time span of my teaching stretches fifty years from the first lessons I taught to my accordion students at age fifteen to the more recent graduate composition seminars that I have given at Mills College as Darius Milhaud Professor, Oberlin Conservatory as professor of composition and other institutions.
Teaching has always engaged me, given back to me generously and nourished my career as a composer/performer.
When I taught The Nature of Music to large classes of non Music Majors at the University of California at San Diego I wanted to engage the students in creative sound experiences. I began to compose pieces that would allow anyone to participate whether they could read music or not. By 1970 I had begun to compose Sonic Meditations 2, pieces based on the structure of human attention. Sonic Meditations gave my work a whole new direction. I began to understand just how important listening is to creative music making. compared to reading and writing relatively little attention is given to developing listening skills or even to considering the nature of listening.
I have been training myself to listen with a very simple meditation since 1953 when my mother gave me a tape recorder for my twenty first birthday. The tape recorder had just become available on the home market and was not so ubiquitous as it is today. I immediately began to record from my apartment window whatever was happening. I noticed that the microphone was picking up sounds that I had not heard while the recording was in progress. I said to myself then and there:
"Listen to everything all the time and remind yourself when you are not listening".
I have been practicing this meditation ever since with more or less success. I still get the reminders after forty six years. My listening continues to evolve as a life long practice.
How we listen creates our life. Listening is the basis of all culture.
The quality and flexibility of listening skills is the foundation of musicianship. The essence of musicianship is the ability to discern the least change in pitch or tempo and relate that discernment to a field of ongoing sound or musical relationships.
For audiences the greatest gift is rapt attention.
Composing Sonic Meditations led me deeper into my listening practice and to the notion that there were other important ways to relate to teaching that were different from the presentation to students of prescribed and measurable content. Sonic Meditations helped me devise ways to engage students in creative sound making. Processing the results with discussion led to content that came from the inside out (student to professor) rather than exclusively from the outside in (professor to student).
As my work progressed in composition and performance I came to the notion of Deep Listening. In 1988, together with Stuart Dempster and Panaiotis, we made a recording in an underground cistern in Washington State. The recording was released in 1989 by New Albion (NA 022 CD) under the title Deep Listening. 3 Quoting from my CD liner notes:
" ----Each composer represented in Deep Listening has a very individual style of composition. As we improvise together, and listen intensely to one another, our styles encounter in the moment, and intermingle to make a collective music. I call the result deep listening.---" After writing these words many activities began to unfold as deep listening.
In 1990 I published Deep Listening Pieces. 4 which contains a brief explanation of my listening theory. It involves two attention processes - focal and global listening, and the interdependence of the two modes.
In 1991 together with Heloise Gold - Tai Chi master and choreographer - I created and led the first Deep Listening Retreat at Rose Mountain Retreat Center.5 I had already done research at the Center for Music Experiment at the University of California San Diego in 1973 and given numerous workshops based on my Sonic Meditations. This research is detailed in several articles in my book Software for People 6.
The retreat form I devised gave me a wonderful opportunity to focus the material and to work more intensively with people. After five years it was clear that advanced work was needed for those returning each year.
Poet and psychotherapist Ione joined Deep Listening as an instructor to offer Listening Through Dreaming7 giving the participants the opportunity to practice listening in the retreat twenty four hours a day.
Based on a request from one of the participants, I decided to offer an advanced retreat and a Three Year Certificate8 program for those who would like to teach Deep Listening. and use it as a guide for their own creative development.
As a team, Ione, Heloise Gold and I unify our teaching with listening.
Consilient common ground creates a whole learning situation. The retreat is always held in a beautiful natural mountain environment. Tai Chi and Chi Kung inform and ground the body in the ancient way of the Tao. Dream incubation and processing bring the aura of dreams into interplay with waking consciousness; sounding and responding through deep listening provide new portals to creativity, unity with self and others.
What Is Deep Listening?
For me Deep Listening is a life long practice. The more I listen the more I learn to listen. Deep Listening involves going below the surface of what is heard, expanding to the whole field of sound while finding focus. This is the way to connect with the acoustic environment, all that inhabits it. and all that there is.
For others:
Deep Listening is a practice consisting of listening and sounding exercises and pieces I and others have composed since 1970. The results are processed by group discussions in workshops and retreats.
Deep Listening is for musicians as well as participants from other disciplines and interests. Previous musical training is not required.
The key to multi-level existence is Deep Listening - listening in as many ways as possible to everything that can possibly be heard all of the time. Deep Listening is exploring the relationships among any and all sounds whether natural or technological, intended or unintended, real, remembered or imaginary. Thought is included.
Deep Listening includes all sounds expanding the boundaries of perception. In this concept is language and the nature of its sound as well as natural sound and technological sound. And too, Deep Listening includes the environmental and atmospheric context of sound.
Listening is the key to performance.
Whatever the discipline, responses that originate from Deep Listening resonate with being - inform the artist and audience and make art an effortless harmony. Inclusiveness is essential to the process of unlocking layer after layer of imagination, meaning and memory down to the cellular level of human experience.
Hearing is the passive basis of listening.
Hearing is involuntary. Hearing protects us from unseen dangers. We can hear without listening. (Unconsciousness) We choose to listen inwardly or outwardly to the past, present or future. (Consciousness) Listening actively directs one's attention to what is heard, to the interaction of the relationships of sounds and modes of attention.
We hear in order to listen.
We listen in order to interpret our world and experience meaning. Our world is a complex matrix of vibrating energy, matter and air just as we are made of vibrations. Vibration connects us with all beings and connects us to all things interdependently.
We open in order to listen to the world as a field of possibilities and we listen with narrowed attention for specific things of vital interest to us in the world.
We interpret what we hear according to the way we listen.
Through accessing many forms of listening we grow and change whether we listen to the sounds of our daily lives, the environment or music.
Deep Listening takes us below the surface of our consciousness and helps to change or dissolve limiting boundaries.
Babies are the best Deep Listeners.
Think of the tremendous acts of attention and concentration that babies make to explore sounds and speak their first words, to learn language and communicate through listening.
Deep Listening is a birth right for all healthy humans.
As a blind person the musician Stevie Wonder has listening abilities that persons with normal sight don't ordinarily develop.
Stevie Wonder is a Deep Listener as many blind people are.
With heightened listening ability one can detect the slightest differences in sounds. This enables acute voice recognition, echo detection, spatial location, etc. Such heightened listening substitutes auralization for visualization (or seeing) by creating sonic pictures, etc.
If you are a blind person, hearing is your means of sight, but such acute listening ability also could be cultivated among people with normal sight
If you were a deaf person hearing for the first time with a newly implanted bionic ear, how would you know what you were hearing? You would have to learn to interpret the sounds.
What if you could hear like a bat zipping and swooping around the night sky, or a whale sounding the depths of the oceans, or elephants sounding the earth?
What would it be like to attend a live concert with the ability to hear it anyway that you like?
What if you as a sophisticated listener could individually adjust and optimize the room acoustics for the music to your own taste?
What if you could equalize and mix an orchestra the way you want to hear it - while other listeners are hearing their own versions of the same concert?
What if you could cancel out any interference automatically so that only the music is purely audible?
What if such feats are possible as an internal and private experience? How could your experience be valued in relation to a community of interest?
What if your experience could be shared instantly in the present moment or later?
Audio engineers already do this; they have developed the art of recording concerts and usually have the best seat in the house for sound which they hear through head phones or near field speakers. The results of their listening can be shared through recordings.
All the technology for controlling the sound of concert acoustics exists already.
What if you could hear the frequency of colors?
Research on visual simulations and robotic sight has far outpaced research on hearing. Hearing has not seemed as important to scientists and technologists as seeing. One hears repeatedly that we live in a 'visually oriented society' even though the ear tells the eye where to look.
Those of us who are aurally-oriented are marginalized.
For example: The recent $165 million dollar Mars probe launched by NASA had a $15 microphone from a hearing aid module along as a hitchhiker. This was an afterthought although listening for the sounds of other worlds could yield data that might not come from cameras. We take cameras to the zoo, not tape recorders. And zoos are generally not open during prime sound time in the early morning or evening.
We need to be listening in all possible modes to meet the challenges of the unknown - the unexpected.
An unconscious negative attitude that makes hearing less important than sight developed in parallel with industrial age technology. Pre-industrial cultures depended on hearing for survival needs. Now unnecessarily loud motor sounds serve to let the operator know that a machine is working. Silent machines are possible but people seem to need the aural feed back even though it may contribute to the destruction of their hearing..
Why is industrial sound so often excessive?
Sound conveys a sense of power and connection to the machine operator. Sound is the mythos and symbolic representation of the need to accumulate power. It is unconscious "participation mystique". The sounds of machines dominate and are a constant ubiquitous presence.
There is no courting of silence.
Urban sound levels continue to rise in a great cacaphonic puzzle.
Those who operate machines can feel powerful - in control.
No part of the planet is untouched by machine sound. No wonder that the Youth Culture has embraced loud amplified music. How else could they feel heard extending their work to audiences as a powerful presence?
Technology has deeply altered the quality of life, both positively and negatively.
The devaluation of hearing through unconsciousness and ignorance has caused a serious imbalance in the quality of life. Suppression of listening is a consequence of this imbalance. Separation and alienation results. How we attend to this imbalance will have a profound influence on the future of human values. How we use the power of sound and music affects our values
We need sound designers and composers as consultants to city planning and noise abatement regulation.
Machines such as cranes, earth movers, pile drivers, etc. have amplified human muscle power enormously in the Industrial age and enabled the large building accomplishments in the development of cities. We have machines that multiply and leverage our senses and our mental capabilities. In the Twenty First Century we will be grappling with who we are as extended humans - hybrid computer/humans and computer beings.
We already see and hear far into outer space and into micro space.
With the Hubble telescope we are able to see into galaxies from the edge of the universe. How thrilling it would be if we could also hear this too. How about launching a parabolic microphone on the next satellite to listen for the music of the spheres? With the electron microscope we can see atomic structures, but we could also listen to the micro-world, hearing a strange universe unfolded by Quantum Mechanics.
Research on hearing and repairing damaged ears increased after World War II, whereas the need for ear protection in the work place had not been recognized earlier. Hearing loss is usually a slow painless process occurring over many years and not necessarily detected until late in its progression. When veterans returned from battle with acoustic trauma, the more instant damage from the loud explosions of war motivated the Army to do new research on protecting and repairing ears.
"In 1978 the first person was implanted with a Bionic Ear.
Rod Saunders went profoundly deaf because of head injury, and received the Bionic Ear when he was 48 years old. The prototype Bionic Ear (a cochlear transplant) proved to be a success and was commercialized in 1982. A range of improvements over the years as a result of the continuing research has led to additional benefits for people like Rod. Now over 20,000 people throughout the world can hear because of the Bionic Ear, including over 10,000 children." 9
"At least 28 million people in the United States suffer hearing loss. 60% have genetic hearing loss and the rest have damaged ears from industrial noise and loud music.
At least 16 million are under 30 years old"10
Ignorance (more than accidents) causes ear damage which is currently irreversible. All the devices that are supposed to contribute positively to the quality of life are dangerous if they also produce sound levels at and above 85db and people have more or less continuous exposure to those levels.
Many people especially young people have not a clue as to the danger of loud music through head phones, or at a disco, or concert.
People are not necessarily aware of the occupational hazards of loud motors although some progress has been made. Workplace ethics should hold employers accountable for such hazardous sound. Manufacturers should be accountable too.
Musicians need education about the dangers of their profession.
Audiologists should be consulted routinely and should hold positions as health inspectors. Just as restaurants must maintain cleanliness against infectious microbes, industrial workplaces should be free of continuous sound above 85db. Ear protection should be provided for employees.
Interpretation of our sense information (listening) and the sharing of this experience with each other is the basis of culture and our values.
For example the members of traditional musical ensembles share knowledge through the experience of performing together, interpreting and creating repertoire and sharing it with audiences. Audiences participate by responding to the music. We rejoice in the pleasure of music that we know and love. Community develops around music. Critical response, discernment and education helps to shape and conserve musical values.
Unfamiliar contemporary music tests values, challenges habits, helps to create new thought patterns and expanded awareness. We need an improvatory of music 11 to balance the conservatory and promote the creation of music.
The Youth Culture - Generation X is transforming music and creating new values across cultural divides. DJs are re-mixing the artifacts of recorded music cultures as performances. They are listening differently. They are deconstructing recorded music and turning recorded sound into live performance. The movement is powerful and reaches others instantly through the INTERNET as well as other media venues. Their listening and cultural flexibility is the future of music.
My own work is now presented live on the INTERNET. Fifty years ago I performed for the first time on another new media venue - television. Now in the twenty first century the Youth Culture will navigate this new INTERNET venue.
We have arrived at the threshold of the twenty first century with sense organs developed gradually by natural selection through the slow millennial process of evolution. We assume that as humans we hear in the same manner although not all ears have the same acuity. And, because we do not all share the same culture, we definitely are not all listening in the same way with the same attention.
Soon we will be faced with an unprecedented exponential acceleration in technology.
How do we understand normal hearing? What are we listening for?
Restoration of damaged sense organs and nerves will be possible. Regeneration of nerves may be possible also. For the first time there also may be a choice for enhancement of sense organs and for new perceptual abilities if our brains can handle the processing involved with the unfamiliar. When we cannot process complex information we tend to shut down our senses and retreat.
What if such retreat was impossible?
What if we could share our thoughts instantly over a network as computers now do? Such possibilities and amplified intelligence will present new challenges to our ethics and future human values.
What would you want to hear if you had a Bionic Ear that could let you listen to anything, anywhere any time?
As a musician would you like to focus on a particular instrument in an orchestra that seems inaudible? Or listen globally with the ability to equalize and optimize the sound of the whole ensemble canceling out any distracting interferences?
What does a bat hear as it swoops and dives through the air sounding its prey to locate it?
Would you like to zoom into a waterfall to hear individual sounds of the falling drops? Would you like to hear the sound of a cell dividing in your own body? The sound of blood coursing through your veins as you monitor your own health?
How about discerning the exact distance of sounds with an internal molecular computer?
What are the sounds of the gases in deep space?
All of this enhancement to hearing is already available with outboard equipment - microphones, amplifiers, speakers.
Surveillance by spies is quite sophisticated.
What if such equipment were available as on board internal equipment through microscopic ingested technology? (Never mind implants - they will be outdated.) How would you want to use your newly-enhanced ear power? How could humanity handle such power?
What is microscopic ingested technology?
According to Ray Kurzweil "Nanobots are microscopic sized robots which will exist by 2030."12 Entering the blood stream Nanobots could scan your brain from the inside. Nanobots could swim through every capillary of your brain and take a high-resolution picture from inside."
Note that Kurzweil doesn't posit nanobots that listen.
Nanotechnology is underway. The result could mean that new neural networks could be created and controlled within the brain. Nerves could be repaired. Brain extenders could extend your pattern recognition and memory. You would have the processing power of powerful computers or return to normal carbon based being.
Kurzweil predicts: "In a hundred years there may be no clear distinction between humans and computers. There will be enormous augmentation of human perceptual and cognitive abilities through neural implant technology. Humans who do not use such implants (or nanobots) are unable to participate in meaningful dialogue with those who do - knowledge is understood instantaneously through assimilated knowledge protocols. The goal of education and intelligent beings is discovering new knowledge to learn."13
What about spirituality?
To Kurzweil a spiritual experience is "a pattern of information."14
For Matthew Fox "spirituality by definition means plummeting to the depths, getting down to the realm of experience. spirituality is about living deeply. It puts experience before everything else. It's about responding with passion, awe, reverence and gratitude to everything in life - including the grief, the pain, the suffering, the injustice. It's about tasting God, not just talking about God." 15
We will need all the wisdom that we can possibly absorb to deal morally and ethically with the powers inherent in Nanotechnology. Our battles with good and evil will jump to a new level.
Enter the Chip Monk!16 Will spirituality evolve on a microchip with the programmed essence of the best of our world religions available to all? Could the Chip Monk be ingested to assist one's inner monk in the practice of deep ecumenism and the distillation of universal truth?.
If you are a Buddhist listening leads to the "Buddhaverse"; if you are a Christian listening leads you to the word of God; If you are an artist listening leads you to your material and to shape the material. If you are a scientist listening leads you to theory and experiment.
If you are a spy listening may lead you to prison.
Quantum Listening leads you to notice that you are listening. Quantum Listening leads you to attention to a point - all or nothing focus which changes that point forever.
Quantum Listening leads you to an all embracing perspective of an ever-expanding field.
We live in these conditions and our listening simultaneously perceives and shapes the moments that we live whether we are Buddhist, Christian, Islamic, Artist, scientist etc. Whoever and whatever we are religion is a set of rules and regulations for a particular kind of listening. Style in art sets the way of listening.
Quantum Listening is listening to our listening. The field expands to embrace all kinds of listening with openess to all possibilities.
In 1990 the noted ethnomusicologist Ki Mantle Hood proposed the Quantum Theory of Music. When asked for the formula for QTM in 1994 he replied "At present, our modus operandi is asking questions. We try to identify neglected, overlooked, not-always-obvious phenomena that relate in any way to the perception of music. That order of perception is only possible by participation."17 Participation means actually experiencing all aspects of music creation and performance.
What is Quantum Listening?
Quantum Listening is listening in all sense modes to or for the least possible differences in any component part of a form or process while perceiving the whole and sensing change.
The Quantum Listener listens to listening.
Quantum Listening simultaneously creates and changes what is perceived. The perceiver and the perceived co-create through the listening effect. All sounds are included in the field. This creates potential, cultivates surprises, opens the imagination and approaches and even plunges over the edges of perception into the mystery of the universe predicted by Quantum Field Theory.
Quantum Listening is the ability to discern all that there is in a single moment - point in space (a transient) or a quanta.
"In the new physics of Quantum Field Theory, particles --have an 'aura" or a force field. Although it cannot be seen, its presence is felt. It conveys forces from one particle to another as they interact." 18
Analogously when one is listening to the whole field of sound without focusing on any one sound but expanding to include all sounds that can be heard - sounds seem to become interrelated rather than chaotic or meaningless - the field conveys forces (energy) from one sound to another.
The field seems to have a unified logic and form as if it were a composed piece of music.
"What is a field?
A field carries the potential for manifesting a force. Particles of objects inside a field may change or move."19
The field of sound can be felt as potential force. There is active participation by the listener and co-creation of this form between the listener and sounds.
The field assumes meaning (potential force) and is transformed by the listener. The listener is also transformed by the field. If one is not listening in this expanded way then the form disappears into the background of consciousness - the field disappears - is meaningless, attention narrows, the potential lessens. This is analogous to the collapse of the wave function in Quantum Mechanics when a particle is observed and decides to change state.
Within the 'Listening Field' sounds which shift and change inside the field are the manifestation of forces which give rise to the perceived form. Listeners will hear the form slightly differently each from their own angle of observation in the field. Different listeners would have to occupy different locations in the field thus their experience of the field would be different. This is no less true when listening to a piece of music in an audience in a concert hall.
A Quantum Theory of Music20 as proposed in 1990 by Ki Mantle Hood would have to account for these slight differences in perception, their interaction and effect.
Each listener by the act of 'listening' affects the field and thus the form. The form affects the listener in a dance of reflections in the space between.
Listening performers feel the 'listening effect' as they are performing for an audience'.
This is focal/global listening with the added perspective of a 'witness'' function.
This is listening to listening - layers of processing in the brain and body.
The skin listens too.
In fact the whole body listens in this heightened state of awareness. which can expand continually unless attention narrows (perhaps to ego concerns) and there is the collapse of the wave function and a change in the field and it's potential.
In practicing Chi Kung I have experienced listening with the palms of my hands to sense these electromagnetic fields. Since these are vibrations I call this sensing listening with the palms of the hands.
Simply imagining the sound of humming transfers immediately to the palms of my hands and manifests as healing energy.
There is a deep relationship between Chi Kung and Quantum Field Theory.
According to the speculation of Physicist E.H. Walker "Consciousness may be associated with all quantum mechanical processes---since everything that occurs is ultimately the result of one or more quantum mechanical events, the universe is 'inhabited' by an almost unlimited number of rather discrete, conscious---entities that are responsible for the detailed workings of the universe"21
Can sounds be understood as particles?
"In a fashion analogous to auric fields. particle fields influence certain particles when near them". 22
Sounds near one another influence each other. Listeners near one another affect or influence one another with active listening.
"Particles have auras. This makes them like everything else in the universe, as the ancient Chinese viewed it. "ibid.
"Photons (light particles), do appear to process information and to act accordingly, and therefore, strange as it may sound, they seem to be organic"23
Particles behave like they have consciousness. 24
"In fact, modern Quantum Field Theory suggests that what we call a particle is an 'energy knot' in the field--" . 'Thus particles are a flow creating the illusion of a form, made up of concentrated 'Chi'.25 " 'Chi' is similar to a cloud" ibid.
"When the Chi condenses, its visibility (or audibility) becomes apparent so that there are then the shapes (of individual things {or sounds}). When it disperses its visibility (or audibility) is no longer apparent and there are no shapes (or sounds). At the time of its condensation, can one say otherwise than that this was but temporary? But at the time of its dispersing, can one hastily say that is then non existent?" 26
Is sound intelligent? Does sound have consciousness?
Listen to sound disappearing. This meditation that I practice takes one to the border of reality and virtuality. When do you stop hearing the sound? When does memory begin?
What we hear depends on the angle from which our ear receives sound. How we listen depends on our consciousness. Are we creating the sound that we hear by listening or is sound creating our listening? Is it co-creation between consciousnesses? Is the sound disappearing or am I disappearing?
Human values are developed through the experience of listening. With practice humanity could be transformed to a flexible culture of listeners. .
"Listening involves a reciprocity of energy flow; exchange of energy; sympathetic vibration: tuning into the web of mutually supportive interconnected thoughts, feelings, dreams, vital forces comprising our lives; empathy; the basis for compassion and love.
Yes, Deep Listening is the foundation for a radically transformed social matrix in which compassion and love are the core motivating principles guiding creative decision making and our actions in the world.
Quantum Listening is a 'simple' practice, open to all, which has profoundly rich and far-flung implications, for bringing to our world the two conditions the Dalai Lama illuminates in his recent book 'Ethics for the New Millennium':27 happiness and relief of suffering."28
The practice generates theory.
Theory is perceiving structure - analyzing and explaining structure so that testing and experiments (practice) can be done. Theory directs practice and creates culture to practice practice.
Practice is a way of action - a set or sets of ways of doing or responding to gain experience
Listeners practicing cultural flexibility 29 would be aware of the profound interdependence of all beings and all things. A new music reflective of a new humanity with a high value on life could arise.

Pauline Oliveros
Oakland CA
December 9, 1999

Inspired by the Sonic Meditations of Pauline Oliveros
Alison Johns, Fall 1999, Mills college, Oakland, California

1. all musicians sit in a circle, facing each other.
2. close your eyes.
3. imagine a cord that leads from the base of your spine all the way to the center of the earth.
4. take a deep breath, and as you release the breath, follow the cord all the way down. imagine its color, shape and pathway. hum or sing the sound of this journey to the center of the earth.
5. connect the cord firmly to the earth's center.
6. when you have done this, stay on the pitch that you are making.
7. hold your tone until everyone is singing or humming their own, unique tone.
8. when everyone is firmly connected, send a tone swirling clockwise around the circle. anyone can start.
9. match the sound of the person to your left, then change it, then match it again. have fun.
10. when you all are ready, send a tone of peace to all the beings in the building.
11. extend that tone of peace to the campus.
12. expand the circle to your city.
13. then to your state.
14. ever out ward to your country.
15. next to your continent.
16. and finally to the planet.
17. enjoy.
18. when all are ready, bring the sound back to the room, back to the circle.
19. find a common tone.
20. end when it's finished.
21. {be sure that you touch the ground with your hands when you stand up again)


1) Sogyal Rinpoche, Interview
2) Oliveros, Pauline, Sonic Meditations, Smith Publications 1974
3) Dempster, Oliveros, Panaiotis, Deep Listening. New Albion (NA 022 CD)
4) Oliveros, Pauline Deep Listening Pieces. , Deep Listening Publications 1990,
5) Deep Listening Retreat at Rose Mountain, < a href=>
6) Oliveros, Pauline, Software for People., Smith Publications 1984
7) Ione, Is This A Dream? Workshop Manual 1997, M.O.M.
8) Three Year Certificate program,
9) Bionic Ear,
10) National Institutes of Health Consensus Development Conference on Noise and Hearing Loss
11) Oliveros, Pauline, Quantum Improvisation: The Cybernetic Presence, Improvisation Across Borders Conference, UCSD1999,
12) Lee, Virginia, More Perfect Than Man, Interview with Ray Kurzweil,
13) Kurzweil, Ray, The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence, 1999, Viking
14) Lee, Virginia, ibid.
15) Lee, Virginia, Interview with Matthew Fox,
16) Chip Monk was contributed by Dempster, Stuart,
17) Hood, Ki Mantle, Quantum Theory of Music, The Perfect Beat 1990.
18) Petersen, P. Steven , Phd., The Quantum Tai Chi, 1996, Empyrean Quest Publishers
19) ibid.
20) Hood, Ki Mantle, ibid.
21) Walker Evan Harris, The Nature of Consciousness, Mathematical Biosciences, 7,1970, Pg. 131-178
22) Petersen, P. Steven , Phd., ibid.< p>23) Zukav, Gary, The Dancing Wu Li Masters, 1979, New York Bantam Books, Pg. 63-64
24) Petersen, P. Steven , Phd., ibid.
25) Weyl, H,. Philosophy of Mathematics and Natural Science. pg 171.
26) Quoted in Fung Yu-Lan, A Short History of Chinese Philosophy, pg, 279.
27)Dalai Lama 'Ethics for the New Millennium,1999 Riverhead Books
28)Written by Norman Lowrey, professor of composition Drew University and Deep Listening Certificate holder.
29) Cultural flexibility was contributed by Abbie Conant in a conversation with the author.


Lipsetz, George, Dangerous Crossroads: Popular Music, Postmodernism and The Poetics of Space 1994 Verso
Morris, Richard, The Universe, The Eleventh Dimension, and Everything What We Know and How We Know It, 1999, Four Walls Eight Windows
Oliveros, Pauline, The Roots of the Moment, 1998, Drogue Press
Wilson, Edward O. Wilson, Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge, 1998, Vintage

Webliography: Educating Children about Hearing

hearing loss is one of the greatest health threats to military forces

Civilians would also benefit as noise-induced hearing loss has reached epidemic proportions in all industrialized nations.

Special Thanks to all Deep Listeners and to:

H.E. Tai Situ Rinpoche
Monique Buzzarte
Abbie Conant
Stuart Dempster
Lester Ingber

Norman Lowrey
William Osborne
Jann Pasler
Alex Potts
Moira Roth
Juliet Shepherd
Bonnie Wright


The Power of Solitude
Reggie Ray

Reginald A. Ray studied Buddhism as a divinity student at the University of Chicago, and in 1968, when he read Chögyam Trungpa's Born in Tibet, he realized Buddha-dharma could be more than an intellectual pursuit. He met Trungpa Rinpoche two years later, and offered to drop out of divinity school and move to his Vermont retreat center. Trungpa said no, instructing Ray to finish his degree, to which the young man grudgingly agreed. Since then, Dr. Reggie Ray has become a respected scholar of Buddhism as well as a senior teacher in Trungpa's lineage. He teaches Buddhism at Colorado University and Naropa University, and leads meditation retreats at Shambhala Mountain Center, in Red Feather Lakes, Colorado. He has published several scholarly books including two authoritative volumes on the history, context, and practices of Tibetan Buddhism titled Indestructible Truth and Secret of the Vajra World. He spends at least three months of every year in solitary retreat. Isolated retreat is a crucial component of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, and Reggie Ray may be the most vocal advocate for its utility in the modern Western context. Tricycle contributor Ted Rose spoke to Ray just before the teacher headed into isolated retreat in a wood cabin above Shambhala Mountain Center.

When I mention my own experience of going into isolated retreat for ten days, most of my friends get a little suspicious. They think of another Ted who spent time in a cabin alone: Ted Kaczynski, the so-called Unabomber. Why do people often have such a negative impression of isolated retreat?
We are a very extroverted society. Even though within the Western tradition the practice of seclusion and retreat are very much a part of our own spiritual culture-the contemplative practices of Roman Catholicism, for example-most people are not aware that they are part of our heritage.
I think the other reason is that not only has the typical Western person spent little or no time alone, but many of us have an underlying fear of solitude. Possibly driving some of the misunderstanding of retreat is a deep-seated fear of being alone without distraction, without entertainment, without "work," without other people around to constantly confirm our sense of self. We live in a culture driven by consumerism. Many of us feel, perhaps without realizing it, that unless we are "producing" in some sort of external, materialistic way, our legitimacy as a human being is somehow in question. We don't really see where retreat fits in.

What are the essential qualities of an isolated retreat? Is it possible to do without any meditation experience?
Many people who arrive at Naropa or up here at Shambhala Mountain Center have already had some experience of solitude. Without any real knowledge of retreat practice or even meditation, they've gone off into the woods or mountains in search of solitude. One of the things they often discover when they get into those situations is that they've brought their whole world with them. Their anxiety, their disturbing emotions, their mental speed, their mental preoccupations are just as present in solitude as they are in ordinary life. In fact, they may be even more prevalent. The problem is that they don't know what to do with their mind.
Retreat combines solitude and the practice of meditation, where you begin to actually explore your own mind. What you find is that, through intensive meditation in retreat, you begin to attend to your mind in a direct and unmediated way: Your mind begins to slow down, your sense perceptions open up, you find yourself increasingly present to your life, and you begin to experience solitude in a deep and genuine way. The environment is solitude, but the essential ingredient is meditation practice-what you actually do with your mind when you are alone. Simply being in solitude is not good enough.

You mentioned the use of retreat practice in Roman Catholicism. Does that feature the same combination of solitude and meditation practice? Or is the structured meditation in retreat the unique offering from Buddhism?
Both Buddhism and Roman Catholicism employ structured "form" practices and the formless practices of working with awareness itself. Father Thomas Keating, who runs the Benedictine monastery in Snowmass, Colorado, teaches what he calls centering prayer. My understanding is that this is very much a mindfulness discipline, bringing the mind to a point and training it to be present, then allowing the inner wisdom to gradually unfold from that. If you look at the other contemplative orders in Roman Catholicism, I think you'll see quite similar practices.
Perhaps an important difference between Buddhism and Christianity is that, within the Christian tradition, there is usually a subject you are contemplating, whereas in Buddhism, especially with the formless practices, you are really opening the mind in and of itself; you are not contemplating a particular subject or figure. Ultimately, we are looking to simply open the mind and lay bare its depths. In Christianity you find that as well, so it's not an absolute difference but a difference in emphasis.


What would Buddha do?
An interview with Thich Nhat Hanh

The first thing you notice about Thich Nhat Hanh is that he walks really, really slowly. He also speaks very deliberately. And when he wants a sip of tea, he stops speaking, breathes in and out, takes a drink, lowers his cup, breathes again, and continues.
It's called mindfulness-focusing completely on what you are doing in the present moment-and the renowned Vietnamese Buddhist monk believes this spiritual practice is the key to not only inner peace but global peace as well. Accustomed to being tagged naive, he continues to promote peace through his writing, speaking, and retreats. During a trip to the United States last summer, he spoke to college students, police officers, and members of Congress.
Perhaps the second best-known Buddhist in America (after the Dalai Lama), Thich Nhat Hanh traces his lineage to the Buddha himself. A monk since 16, he first gained notoriety for his efforts toward reconciliation during the Vietnam War. He was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Martin Luther King Jr. in 1967 and has written extensively about peace-most recently in Creating True Peace (Free Press, 2003). Now banned from his native country, he lives at Plum Village monastery in France, and at monastic centers he founded in Vermont and California.
Is it idealistic to be a pacifist in this day and age, with terrorists and suicide bombers? Is peace possible?
Peace is always possible, and it should begin with ourselves. All of us have feelings and emotions that make us suffer, but if we don't do anything about them, we will make people around us suffer. But we can transform our own suffering and bring relief to ourselves, which will then allow us to be compassionate and gentle to others. Everybody can do it by practicing mindfulness or being in the present moment.
Individuals must learn how to bring the level of hatred and anger down in themselves and in their families so they can support our political leaders, who must do the same thing. Then, when we have enough compassion, we can help the other group of people we might have called enemies to do the same.
We all have wrong perceptions of ourselves and other people. From these wrong perceptions rise anger, hate, fear, and despair. These misperceptions are also the foundation of the willingness of terrorists to die for their cause. You cannot use bombs and shouting to help them see their own misperceptions. You have to use gentle communication. But you cannot practice gentle communication and compassion and listening if you don't have peace within yourself. Our political leaders have been trained in political science; they have not been trained in these areas. That's why spiritual leaders and others should help them.

What is an example of a wrong perception, and how could it be corrected?
Wrong perception is thinking that you are the only one who suffers. You think other people only make you suffer; they don't suffer at all. For example, suppose you think the terrorists are only people who want to destroy and have no capacity to love, to understand. You think that you have done nothing to make them hate us like that. You are just victims of these people. That is wrong perception.
As humans, we are not perfect. We may have said or done things that may have given them the idea or the feeling that we want to destroy them as a civilization, as a religion, as a country. At least, maybe we have done or said something that has given them that perception.
So we have to ask them, "Have we done anything wrong? Have we tried to hurt you? We want to listen to you, to hear why you hate us so much and have done such a thing to us. Please tell us; help us to understand your suffering, your difficulty, your despair. If we understand, we may be able to refrain from doing or saying things that may make you suffer. We may be able to help you to live in peace and to grow as a people, as a nation." During this process of deep, compassionate listening, you are able to remove the wrong perception in yourself, and then you are able to help the other person remove their wrong perceptions. Wrong perceptions are the foundation of hate and violence. Our politicians would be able to do that kind of talking if they had enough understanding and compassion in them.

Do you think that approach has been tried by America, especially since September 11?
Some of us have voiced concern and protested against war, but we have not done things in a complete way to help our political leaders to calm down, to practice looking serenely into the present situation, and to act with more understanding and compassion.
We need to convince people that peace and safety are not individual matters. That is why to help others to be safe will help us to be safe. If you allow them to be alive, then you have a small chance to also be alive. That is the insight of "interbeing," the interconnectedness of all living things.
Nothing can be accomplished alone; everything has to coexist with everything else. That is deep in the teaching of Buddhism, and also in the teaching of Christianity and Judaism. Anything that happens to the left hand also happens to the right hand. Anything the right hand does to help the left hand also helps the right hand. If we can touch that reality of interbeing, then we'll be able to make brotherhood into a reality.
I think that there are enough Americans who are enlightened, who realize it's wrong to deal with terrorism by responding with more violence. There are enough Americans who have enough compassion and understanding. They should organize and voice their wisdom very clearly to show the nation the path.
In the gospel it says when you have the light, you cannot hide it under a bushel basket. That is why we have to come together. We have to offer our light to the whole nation and to the government, to Congress.
Members of Congress need to bring peace into themselves and to listen to each other with compassion so that communication can be a reality. When communication is possible, then you can produce the collective wisdom and insight that will bring about peace for the nation and for the world.
I encourage Congress as a whole to meditate. To meditate means to have the time to be in the here and now and to practice looking deeply into our situation, into the nature of our suffering. Then out of that practice of looking deeply will come the collective insight that will be the best thing Congress can offer to the nation, to the people.

What else can people do to promote peace?
You have to promote peace education to help the people wake up to the fact that the path of violence does not work any longer. People who hate will create more terrorists and hate by using violence. This phrase "war on terror" is very misleading. I don't know why people use language in such a way. War on terror means terror on terror. In the gospels we learn very clearly that hate cannot be responded to by hate. Violence cannot be responded to by violence.
The American people are deeply religious people. They have confidence in Jesus' teaching and in God, yet their belief needs to be translated into practice. Right thinking goes along with compassion and understanding. If your thinking is categorized by hate and violence, that's not right thinking.

Why do so many Americans believe otherwise, that violence is the only answer to terrorism?
I think because so many of us have not done our job. For example, educators don't know how to deal with fear or anger within themselves so they didn't know how to help their students to bring peace to themselves when September 11 happened.
The mass media, too, often encourage violence and hate. You can report a truth without sowing the seeds of fear, anger, and hatred in your readers. Instead you can sow the seed of compassion, understanding, and insight in them. The mass media can play a very important role in helping cultivate the positive emotions in us.
And our spiritual leaders have not taught the practices to respond to the situation of suffering and confusion, especially to younger people. This is true not only of Christianity but of Judaism and Buddhism as well. We have to renew the teaching. We have to offer the kind of teaching that can respond to the actual suffering of the people.

If I were born a Catholic, I would promote the teaching of living the kingdom of God in the here and now. That is similar to Buddhism, in which the Pure Land of the Buddha is available in the here and now. You don't need to wait until tomorrow to enjoy the kingdom of God.
That is the teaching I dispense to my students. You don't need to die in order to go to the Pure Land of the Buddha. You don't need to die in order to go to the kingdom of God, because it is said that God is available to us 24 hours a day and so is his kingdom.
So if you know how to live in the present moment and be happy, you don't have to chase more fame, more profit, more power, more sex. So many people have plenty of fame and power and sex and wealth, yet they suffer very deeply. But those who live simply don't need a lot of these things and are happy in the here and now.
In the Gospel of Saint Matthew it says don't worry about tomorrow. Let tomorrow take care of itself. Care about today. That is very clear. It goes perfectly with the practice of mindfulness in Buddhism. Give us today our daily bread. Our daily bread is the joy, peace, understanding that is available, that is the kingdom of God.
But although the kingdom of God is available to you, often you are not available to the kingdom of God because you are so preoccupied with the future or with the past. That is why the practice of mindfulness is the practice of freedom. You free yourself from regret, from the concerns of the past. You free yourself from the uncertainty and the fear about the future. You go home to the present moment with freedom, and you step into the kingdom of God where you can live happily right here, right now. The kingdom of God is now or never. The Pure Land of the Buddha is now or never.

So you see Buddhism and Christianity as being compatible, working together toward peace?
Yes. The practice of mindfulness is non-sectarian. But there are many aspects of the Buddha's teaching that can also be explored and developed in order to respond to the actual suffering of the world. This is true for Judaism and Christianity, too. I think we can go deeper into the teachings of the Resurrection and the notion of creation.
But we don't want people in the West to get uprooted from their spiritual tradition. A tree with no root cannot be a happy tree. The practice of mindfulness is to help renew their own tradition. We don't want to convert Christians into Buddhists. We want Christians to be happy Christians and practicing well. We have enough Buddhists-more than we can take care of !

You are a proponent of what you call "engaged Buddhism." Why do you believe action and contem-plation have to go together?
They do go together, because if you have compassion from practicing contemplation, that energy always wants to manifest itself. You cannot stay there without doing anything.
If you are sitting in a meditation hall and you hear bombs falling and children crying, you cannot continue to sit inside. You have to walk out and help. But you help in such a way that you can still maintain your breath.
Meditation is possible outside of the meditation hall. When you cook your breakfast, you can do meditation. When you drive your car, mindfulness is possible. When your telephone rings, meditation can be used. Don't answer right away; smile and practice one breath in and one breath out to calm yourself. Going from one building to another, you can apply mindful walking. These things are very helpful.
It's hard to organize our daily life so that the practice of peace is possible. But how we drive a car, cook our breakfast, do housework can bring peace into our heart and our mind.

If, as you say in your book, people contain both seeds of violence and of peace, how can they become peaceful rather than violent?
When a person gets sick, she should be brought to a place where she can get well. If the sickness you have is a lot of despair, violence, and anger and you continue to be in an environment where these sicknesses will be encouraged every day, you cannot be healed. That is why the first step-the most important step-is to create a living environment where we can feel safe, where our children will feel safe. This is crucial.
A safe environment means a place where the seeds of anger and fear and despair and violence will not be watered every day. Instead, the seeds of compassion, the seeds of goodness, the seeds of hope will be watered every day.
For example, in our monastery, we make sure that the space we live in feels safe. We set up our practice of mindfulness. We don't read the news. We don't watch the kind of television that waters the seeds of violence and despair. We had to create a kind of family where we can be well taken care of.
We have to be mindful about what we consume. When you have a conversation, that is consumption because the conversation may be full of toxins, may be full of anger and hatred and fear. If you listen to a conversation like that for one hour, it's very toxic.
So protect yourself. Don't listen to these kinds of things. Don't watch television programs that water the seeds of fear and hatred. Watch only the programs that can reveal to you the beauty of life, the beauty of compassion and understanding.
You have to practice with a community. At the monastery, we are a kind of family, and everyone has a "second body" to take care of. I have to care for you. If you suffer, I have to be aware of that. If you have a problem or difficulty, I have to help you feel better.
We always do things together, not as individuals-retreats, public talks. It's always done as community. It is not enough just to practice as an individual. We have to organize ourselves into communities to help support each other.

In your book you offer several practices for creating an environ-ment where families can learn to practice peace. Are these really practical for modern families with children?
The family is like a piece of land where trees can grow. If the soil is not good, then how could the tree be good? For families we might not use the word meditation. We might say in a modern home there should be some place where you can sit down and practice calming yourself, breathing in and out and sitting quietly.
You could call it the breathing room. You have a room for everything-guest room, play room, dining room-but you don't have a room for your peace or for your nervous system. So have a small place, a small room where there are only some flowers and a few cushions.
When you don't feel well, you walk into that room, following your breath. You don't say anything. You don't do anything, because doing anything or saying anything when you are angry is not very good for you or for others.
Go to the breathing room and smile, closing the door behind you peacefully. Sit down on a cushion, saying, "Breathing in, I calm myself. Breathing out, I smile." And then you are OK.
If parents know how to do that, children will do it and everyone can enjoy sitting there for five minutes and practicing mindfulness before going to school and to work.
On weekends the whole family can go for a walk using the techniques of walking meditation, focusing on their breathing while walking mindfully. These things are easy to do with a little bit of training, and that is the practice of peace. Every time there is one person in the family not being peaceful, the other people will know and come and help. The key is to help-not to correct and not to punish.
You don't need to be Buddhist. When a mother sees that her son is not peaceful, she can invite him, saying, "My son, let's go together to the breathing room and sit and practice peace together." Together they sit and they breathe in and they breathe out.

So it's as simple as breathing? Some people may find that hard to believe.
The breath is somehow the link between body and mind. In our daily life, our body may be here, but our mind wanders into the future or to our projects. So when you breathe mindfully, you're bringing your mind back to your body and you become fully present. If your breathing becomes calm and harmonious, that harmony and that calm begin to penetrate into your body and your feelings.
I think Congress should do that before they open a session of discussion. I think President Bush and other members of the government have the seeds of understanding and peace and compassion in them. But they need good advisors. If their advisors know how to water these seeds, they will act in the name of peace for all of us.

Do you think America or the world is ready to hear that message now? Do you think there is a shift happening?
I think suffering plays an important role because it makes you confused. Sometimes we are too sure of our perceptions. But if you get confused, you have a chance to look deeply to get a different understanding of what is going on.
Then you can find your path. And if you know that you are on the right path, you will feel much better and then you can share your light, your peace, with other people.
The interview was conducted by Heidi Schlumpf, managing editor of U.S. Catholic.
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This article appeared in the December 2003 (Volume 68; number 12: pages 18-22) issue of U.S. Catholic. It is posted here for private use only. It may not be reprinted in whole or in part in any manner without the permission of U.S. Catholic magazine. U.S. Catholic is published by the Claretians.
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