Rick Archer: Welcome to Buddha at the Gas Pump. My name is Rick Archer, Buddha at the Gas Pump is an ongoing series of conversations with spiritually Awakening people. I’ve done well over 600 of them now. And if this is new to you, and you’d like to check out previous ones, please go to BatGap.com and look under the past interviews menu where you’ll find them all organized in various ways. Also, check out the other menus on the site. While you’re at it, you’ll find some interesting things. This program is made possible through the support of appreciative listeners and viewers. So, if you appreciate it and would like to help support it, there’s a PayPal button on every page of the website. And there’s a page explaining some alternatives to PayPal.
So, observant BatGap watchers will notice that my setup looks a little different today. And that is because my computer kind of crashed last night, and a consultant was, spent all day today fixing it and just finished a little while ago. But I didn’t have, as an alternative I set this up on Irene’s Mac, and that was a challenge. It took us a few hours to get all the little things straight, but we did. So, I’m doing it here today on this one and you get to see what the rest of our office looks like.
My guest today is Andrew Holecek. Andrew has completed the traditional three-year Buddhist meditation retreat and teaches internationally on meditation, Dream Yoga, and the art of dying. He is the author of six books and many articles including scientific papers on lucid dreaming. Dr. Holecek is a member of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, and a concert pianist with degrees in music, biology, and a doctorate in dental surgery. He is the co-founder of Global Dental Relief, which serves impoverished children in six neighboring countries, six developing countries, the founder of the online platform Nightclub, which supports nocturnal meditations, and the founder of the Preparing to Die Institute, a nine-month spiritual and practical training program to help with the end of life. I’ll be linking to a lot of this stuff on his page on batgap.com. I’ve spent the last week listening to about one and a half of his books, The Dreams of Light, The Profound Daytime Practice of Lucid Dreaming, and I also listened to a fair amount of Preparing to Die, Practical Advice and Spiritual Wisdom from the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. He’s also written The Power and the Pain: Transforming Spiritual Hardship into Joy, Dream Yoga: Illuminating Your Life Through Lucid Dreaming, and the Tibetan Yogas of Sleep. So, wow, Andrew, you’ve done a lot of things in your life. And it’s not over.
Andrew Holecek: Well, hopefully. Yeah, I’ve done a few things, and I’m very pleased to be able to meet you and spend a little bit of time with you. So, thank you, Rick.
Rick Archer: Well, thank you. I had a friend who’s a dentist, I forget what his specialty was. I think he was into TMJ. But he also did a lot of dental, he was, knew a lot about dentistry. He spent a lot of time in Nepal and places like that helping people who otherwise might have died from what to us is a simple, easily fixable thing but gets out of control. It gets infected, goes to the brain, boom, you’re dead. So he did a lot of that traveling around helping people in those impoverished areas, which it sounds like what you were doing.
Andrew Holecek: Yeah, very much so. In fact, Nepal is where we started, actually, Tibet was the first place I worked. And then we set up a kind of a situation with a monastery, an orphanage in Kathmandu. So, our foundation still has an apartment there in the Boudhanath area of Kathmandu. I don’t do a whole lot of on-site clinical work anymore. I’m more involved with administration and just fundraising and that sort of thing, but it’s still a wonderful organization that’s done a lot of good and it’s just like you said, people in these developing countries have no access, and like you mentioned a simple dental treatment, if it’s not taken care of, it can literally take a person’s life. I feel really privileged to be able to do this kind of work.
Rick Archer: Yeah, I really admire people who do that sort of thing, and there are other nice examples. Ram Dass was involved in some Seva Foundation, which was helping with cataract surgeries, I think it was. and his guru Neem Karoli Baba also had Larry Brilliant go out and pretty much eliminate the remains of smallpox in the world or be a big part of that effort. So, obviously, you and they are, or were not people who just dismissed the world as an illusion and that it could just sort of take care of itself.
Andrew Holecek: Right.
Rick Archer: Right. Takes a thorn to remove a thorn, or something.
Andrew Holecek: Absolutely.
Rick Archer: So, you completed a traditional three-year Buddhist meditation retreat. What was that? It was like three years straight at some point?
Andrew Holecek: Yeah. Well, it was a unique design by one of my main teachers, Trungpa Rinpoche. And yeah, by far, the most important thing I’ve ever done in this life and the way Trungpa Rinpoche designed it, Rick, was really innovative, because traditionally, it’s done in a contiguous three-year fashion, but he set it up so it’s like one year in, one year out. So, it actually turned out to be a five-year retreat. And I thought it was really brilliant because I mean, for one, Westerners are generally not monastics. We’re not career practitioners in that regard. And so it was really brilliant because it enabled us to mix meditation with life. And so, the practices came so quickly. One of the great things about doing a retreat like this, that some people may not realize is that it’s a little bit like going to a meditation University, where you are just introduced to dozens and dozens of incredible spiritual technologies. And they come so quickly, you think that even in the course of three years, ah, I can get this down. Well, not really. So, we had one year to do the practices. One year off, so to speak, off, to digest what we had experienced and then prepare for the next year, then we go back in and repeated that sequence three times.
And really to this day, it remains hands down the most transformative thing I’ve ever done because it’s really like going into a meditative resort. I’m mixing my metaphors here on one level. It’s like a meditation university. It’s also a little bit like a resort in that this is all you’re doing. I mean, you are walled off. I did become a monastic. I wore robes, got a shaved head and everything. I kind of got into it. And you’re just like, zero distractions. So, you have this incredibly precious opportunity for such an extended period of time to really look at your mind, face, your mind, and heart. And you see a couple of things. It’s amazing when you just shut up and listen, to what you can hear and what you can see. And we did a lot of it. The first six months were in total silence. So yeah, I heard and learned a lot during that time, really fast.
Rick Archer: I did something similar, but yours sounds more austere. Back in the 70s, I don’t know, three, four years if you add it all up of retreats. Sometimes six months at a time and stuff like that. But, we weren’t in total silence. We didn’t shave our heads. We had what we’d call ‘walk and talk’ after lunch where you could just walk and have a conversation with folks. And sometimes you did a week of silence or something. But it was probably more easygoing. Your thing sounds more arduous.
Andrew Holecek: It was relatively strict for sure. We were walled off. We did four strict major sessions, what are called tuns, every day. I was basically practicing 16 hours a day. And here’s the kicker, people always get interested in this, Rick, is where we actually practiced and slept sitting up in this meditation box which I came to playfully call ‘ego coffins.’ And it was actually extraordinarily skillful because it was this three-by-three box; it’s not a total box of course, it’s opened on one side, and you have this little what’s called puja table or practice table. And I found that the kind of confines of it to be really revelatory, because one of the things that I discovered; in fact, it seeded my first book, Power and Pain, was the first three months of this retreat, for me, were unbelievably difficult. I mean, I thought I was just going to lose my mind.
Rick Archer: I can imagine
Andrew Holecek: Because it was so confining. And then I started really reflecting. I said, ‘Okay, let’s let me see if I can figure this out. I mean, here I am. I’m in this little room. I’m in my little thing. Why is this so difficult?’ And then I realized, oh, my gosh, this is like a detox. For me, it was like entering a deep…I’ve never been addicted to traditional substances, but I realized addiction is a matter of degree. And I discovered during this retreat that I’m a thought junkie. I’m addicted to distraction. I’m addicted to movement. It’s just really quite brilliant that by curtailing, removing any opportunity for distraction, this kind of stir craziness was both diagnostic and prescriptive. It really showed me my absolute lust, my addiction to distraction and movement. And therefore, it’s also prescriptive in the sense that, hey, wait a second, just like with any addict, one of the best things you can do is remove the addicting substance.
And so, in this case, it was really establishing a new, more sensitive relationship with my own mind. After this really arduous three-month detox process, which continued in a certain way through the entire five years, that’s when the purification process really started to show some fruits, so to speak, and some amazing insights. I mean, on one level you can say they’re amazing, on another level, they’re unbelievably ordinary. These are really quite ordinary experiences from a more absolute perspective. But it was a big deal for me, for anybody who is interested in deeper dives into the nature of mind and reality, working with your mind in such an intensive way. It’s not for everybody, but for those who resonate with it, it can be a real dealmaker.
Rick Archer: Yeah. And it’s important to emphasize it’s not for everybody because if a person tried to do a thing like that, without proper preparation and supervision, they could go nuts.
Andrew Holecek: You absolutely said it, I mean, it took me at least it took me 20 years of formal preparation. And then I’d been meditating for two decades prior to that. It was like 40 years of prep to get into it. And it’s not for everybody. And really, fundamentally, what I discovered at the end, and that’s why I appreciated the five-year approach, was I was given enough skillful means to, in a very real way, enter a lifetime retreat in the midst of my everyday life. And this is where a lot of my books come from, like what I call the nocturnal meditations, learning how to meditate and sleep and dream, learning how to bring on meditative capabilities to virtually every circumstance in life. And that really that was the incredible gift of this, that really it was great to do this so-called remedial work. But now with the technologies, the techniques I’ve been given, it’s like I’m in, I’ve entered lifetime retreat. And they mess up my daily life. And that’s pretty cool.
Rick Archer: You mentioned your teacher, one of your teachers was Trungpa Rinpoche. That’s Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, right? The one who started Naropa University?
Andrew Holecek: Yeah, the iconoclastic Crazy Wisdom guy.
Rick Archer: Yeah, perhaps you can help me feel a little bit better about him because every time you mentioned him in your book, I cringed a little.
Andrew Holecek: Yeah, you’re not the only one.
Rick Archer: Because of his raging alcoholism which killed him in his 40s and his proclivity to mess around with women and stuff. My recourse in understanding a man like that, who is obviously brilliant in certain respects, is to think of Ken Wilber’s lines of development model where somebody is well developed along certain lines, but rather stunted in others and could use some development in those. Would you buy, would you accept
Andrew Holecek: Well, I accept that premise, the what was called the Wilbur Lattice, and I know that structure really well, and it has tremendous explanatory power. It might actually be worth talking about. But Rick, I would say, and again, here I am a devotee, that kind of thing, I’m being blind to that kind of thing, whatever. I don’t think it really applies as crisply as it does to someone as radical as Trungpa Rinpoche, and I’m not an apologist, I’m not here to defend his outrageous behavior. But it’s really difficult when you’re working with any of this. It’s such a tricky topic, right? The so-called Crazy Wisdom lineage. It’s like, oh geez, here we go again, another Westerner who’s just drunk the Kool-Aid and I don’t know. There’s more going on than meets the eye there. And one of the things about Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche and others is that on one level they don’t git a wit about conventionality. They will do whatever it takes to wake people up. Now, whether that is a type of rationalization, I don’t know, but all I can say is he’s had an enormous impact on me and Pema Chodron and some amazing spiritual teachers in the west. I don’t include myself as one of those. But all I can say is his impact, his insight into the human condition, his ability to act as a cultural translator, bringing these somewhat archaic, otherwise traditions and teachings, translating them in a cultural way, using psychological vocabulary, creating the Naropa University and its Contemplative Psych Program, which is a really brilliant entity. He’s really transformed a lot of people. And yes, he was radical. Yes, he did some outrageous things from a conventional point of view.
But the question isn’t, and this is an open question for me, did he actually really harm people like some others, which I won’t name, have done? And that’s where I think coming back to the difference between states and structures, the Wilber-Combs Lattice, that might be worth talking about a little bit because I do think that’s super important. As you know, John Wellwood talked about the two vectors, waking up/ growing up. And like you said, you can be reasonably awake in a particular bandwidth of your identity and emotionally regressive, emotionally underdeveloped. And so, this is where things get really tricky because you have a very high-level experience. I’ve thought a lot about this in my own path. When I have a glimpse, like when I was in retreat, I felt like I had some genuine glimpses into the nature of reality. But those things always have to be because they’re not along the same vector of psycho-spiritual development, they have to be expressed, incorporated, digested in this other vector of growth. This is where the problems start because you can be a really high level, complete, non-dual experience, but unless you remain in total silence and don’t move, basically, the minute you say something, the minute you move, you have no choice but to express your so-called realization through your developmental structure. I know this is a little bit circuitous response to your question. I’m not sure I can help you draw any type of definitive conclusion about someone as radical as Trungpa Rinpoche. And I think it’s really up to each of us to say, hey, this guy just didn’t roll for me, didn’t work for me. Some people say maybe he behaved this way to keep the spiritual shoppers away. I don’t know. I can only tell you that
Rick Archer: Keep the spiritual what away?
Andrew Holecek: The shoppers away.
Rick Archer: Shoppers. I thought you said chakras. [laughing]
Andrew Holecek: So, I can’t say for sure. But he had an enormous impact on me, a very beneficial one. I still think his work is among, if not the greatest contribution of Tibetan Buddhism in the Western world. I mean, he was a real pioneer in that regard. And the legacy of what he left, Naropa University, Shambala training curriculum. I mean, he did a tremendous amount of good in this world. But yeah, he was out there, right?
Rick Archer: I wouldn’t dispute any of that. And I wouldn’t, and I don’t mean to play gotcha interviewer.
Andrew Holecek: No, I’m cool with it.
Rick Archer: I’ve given so much thought to this. For years, decades, I’ve been thinking about the whole issue of ethics and enlightenment, and what enlightenment actually is, what level of development we should reserve that term for? I think it was, I don’t know, four or five years ago I gave a talk at the science and non-duality conference on the ethics of enlightenment. And afterward, I got together with a few friends, and we formed an association called the Association for Spiritual Integrity. And we have hundreds of members now. And we’ve had webinars and everything else, so it’s just something, believe me, I’ve heard so many horror stories of people. And there are so many articles in Tricycle and all kinds of other publications about gurus gone bad. So, it’s definitely something that has to be confronted or thought about.
Andrew Holecek: I couldn’t agree more with you. I wrote an article. It’s on my website, called the Evolution of Abuse, which really talks exactly about this issue and is largely kind of framed using the states and structures. Kind of a centrifuge taking those two strands apart. And I think it’s a really important one, especially in the West, where it’s incredibly easy to get in situations where you can make yourself so vulnerable. Because when you’re working, especially with an authentic guru-disciple relationship, part of what takes place there is this tremendous openness and if it’s done right, really the transference of tremendous love. And so you don’t have to go too far to realize how quickly that can be abused. I read the same stuff you do. I’m in the biz, like you are. And I see this stuff and it continues to just really pain me because I know, I personally know a ton of people who have been really close to irreparably harmed by these sorts of things. I think putting out
Rick Archer: I’ve known people who committed suicide because they were so disillusioned.
Andrew Holecek: It’s just crazy. I think putting as many red flags as we can on this, I’m not in any way dismissing the damaging aspects of this sort of thing and we all need to be aware of it. And this is why I actually came this close to writing a book with my friend Ken Wilber on this topic. Like how can we cautiously create metrics of authenticity for a teacher, for a community? So that you ask the tough questions because there are some parameters that really could be brought to bear that could really prevent a lot of abuse. Weigh things out before you get too deeply involved.
Rick Archer: Well, when we formed the ASI, the Association for Spiritual Integrity, we spent a lot of time poring over the codes of ethics of Spirit Rock, and other organizations who had dealt with these things and developed codes. And we tried to take the best of all worlds that we could find. And we sometimes spent days, weeks, debating over certain points, like should a teacher enter into a romantic relationship with a student? I think some say never, ever. And some say OK, give it two years of cooling off, and then…this. It’s hard. It’s impossible to come up with ironclad rules about this kind of thing. And we in the ASI don’t have any kind of authority and don’t intend to. But we’re just trying to popularize the notion that some of, that ethical development, because a lot of times people will sit there kind of wowed out by a teacher who’s eloquent and charismatic, and the teacher will be going off the rails farther and farther. And the student will think, ‘Well, that seems weird to me, but he’s enlightened and I’m not. Therefore, who am I to judge?’ and they’ll go off the rails with them.
Andrew Holecek: Yeah, it turns out to be a codependent enabling process. And really, one thing for me here is there’s no such thing as a consensual relationship. There’s no such thing as consensuality in a fiduciary relationship. In other words, if that’s there, hey jeez, you’re really asking for it.
But the one thing that really is important is if you take a close look, I can speak with a little bit more authority about the Buddhist tradition because that’s the club that I’ve joined. They have a really interesting, important kind of tripartite progression that you’re probably aware of, that’s called the three trainings of Trisiksha; Sila, Samadhi, and Prajna, in Sanskrit. And the first one is often overlooked. Sila S-I-L-A, ethics, morality, it is the ground. So, people always race to the second one, which is meditation, that in itself was a precursor to insight, wisdom, or Prajna. So very often people hopscotch over the foundational and critical importance of morality, and ethics, Sila. And then if they don’t do that, jeez, then they wonder, well, why is my meditation not working? Why am I still Joe Schmo? Well, it’s because maybe you haven’t done the necessary work. It’s like
Rick Archer: You’re trying to fill a bathtub, but you haven’t plugged up the drain? And you’re wondering, why isn’t it filling?
Andrew Holecek: That’s exactly right. They often say the preliminaries are more important than the main practice. And this type of restraint is why, as you know, and I’ve done a little bit of research on this myself, in my own writing, every world’s major religion and tradition has these kinds of restraining orders, whether it’s the 10 commandments, or the precepts or whatever,
Rick Archer: Yamas and niyamas.
Andrew Holecek: Exactly, these are kinds of regulatory agencies, because until the ego is transcended, it really does need to be contained. I mean, just look at what’s happening in Ukraine right now. So, these restraining orders are critically important. And that’s what I really appreciate. Again, when I was in my five-year retreat because we did have to take these vows, we did have this incredible confinement. And I realized, somewhat paradoxically, that freedom lies within that constraint that if you’re really invited, and in a certain sense, forced, but you could say, to really just be so held, so contained. That’s really what mandala means, essence container, in the Tibetan language. If you’re held by all these kinds of codes, there’s tremendous freedom in that. And therefore, you look at, I spent a lot of time in Asia. I spent a lot of time in monasteries where monks and nuns have literally hundreds of vows they must attend to, and you think from a western point of view like, oh jeez, that sounds like prison. Well, it’s freedom for them, because they’re free from all these ridiculous distractions that we think constitute freedom, but which are actually the most insidious of all traps.
Rick Archer: In my experience, the development is not strictly sequential. In other words, like if you want to move a table, you can pull any one leg and all the legs will come along. When I started to meditate in the 60s, I was doing all kinds of things I wouldn’t dream of doing now, that I would now consider to be enervating or polluting or unkind to people and things like that. And I didn’t give a whole lot of thought to that kind of stuff in those days. But as I started meditating regularly, I found my behavior changing quite radically. And my motivation becoming much more constructive. But on the other hand, I have free will, presumably, although there’s a big argument about that. There have been many times where I had to make a choice. And, choosing…there was something in the Kaushitaki Upanishad about how the pleasurable and the good are often not the same thing, and often choosing the good is more laudable and in the end, more, leads to greater bliss than choosing the immediate gratification of the pleasurable. Little abstract what I’m saying here, but you know what I mean.
Andrew Holecek: Totally. What comes to mind, and I’ve really taken this to heart, is the contemplation, where it says my actions are my only true belongings. I cannot escape the consequences of my actions. My actions are the ground on which I stand. Oh, boy, I mean, should we take that to heart or what? I think this is an important topic, especially in the West, where we have this kind of exceptionalist attitude that, ah, these rules don’t really apply to me. These regulatory agencies and whatnot, these restraining orders, they don’t really apply to me. Well, yeah, you might want to take another look at that. There’s some real wisdom in what has been given, passed down, by tradition.
Rick Archer: Yeah. And I’ve been quoting this quote that I was told is from Padmasambhava, but I heard recently attributed to somebody else. I don’t know if it was from your book or somewhere else. Correct me if it wasn’t him. But he says, he supposedly said, ‘although my awareness is as vast as the sky, my attention to karma is as fine as a grain of barley flour,’ which I interpret as meaning it doesn’t matter how cosmic you are, you really have to be on your toes.
Andrew Holecek: Absolutely. And that’s, really the idea, this Guru Rinpoche Padmasambhava. And that’s super important, because otherwise you can get lost in this kind of absolutistic trap, the absolute truth trap, where you figure ‘oh, I’ll just maintain, everything’s empty, everything’s an illusion,’ a complete misunderstanding, that doesn’t acknowledge the truth of habit, karma, relative reality, and causality. So, again, for me, the delicate dance of balancing both relative and absolute vectors. And this is what makes the whole thing so incredibly fascinating because we’re complex beings. We don’t exist, not only do we not exist along one locus of identity, even in one vector of, of the spectrum of our identity.
Let’s take is an extreme example, like Carl Beck spiral dynamics thing, from infrared, ultraviolet, from beast to Buddha, from psychotic to Mystic, we exist in there… from completely selfless to completely selfish, we exist along this spectrum of identity. And therefore, what I’ve come to discover Rick, is a large part of the path is cultivating what to accept and what to reject. We try to reject, curtail, and restrain those devolutionary aspects on the spectrum of our being, the tail that continues to wag the dog, that they’re still going to be there. I can have again this, you can have this amazing ultraviolet, authentic realization, and I can name dozens of people, but I probably shouldn’t, because some of them are still my friends who have had this. And then well, why isn’t it stable? There are a number of reasons. One is, it’s an experience, it’s not a stable realization. Second is, it hasn’t really fully been incorporated. And then, we still have these lower undigested, unprocessed, unresolved lower bandwidths of identity. So you can be a total bodhisattva in one moment, and then if you haven’t completely cleaned up all your habits, another word for karma, you can still be Joe Schmo, selfish person on the other. So I think understanding the integral nature, this is why I’m such a friend of integral theory, integral approaches because I love the multifactorial, holistic, systemic nature of this whole journey. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Look for truth, wherever you can find it. Engage the East, as well as the West. Use psychology as well as spirituality, because it’s so easy, as you know, to just put all your developmental spiritual eggs into one basket. And then that basket breaks.
This is why I really love the integral approaches where, hey, I mean, even the Buddha allegedly said, ‘Wherever you find the truth, you will find my dharma.’ It doesn’t matter really where it comes from. And so I very much appreciate the integral approaches and that kind of psycho-spiritual approach to waking up and growing up. I think it’s super important. It just makes you so much more humble, right? I mean, I love the Buddhist thing. But I love studying Kashmir Shaivism and Taoism and Sufism and science. I love all this stuff because I realized all these people have amazing contributions to make. And yes, there’s something about the Zen saying, ‘chase two rabbits, catch none.’ There is something about commitment in marriage. But wow, there’s so much to learn, like, raise your gaze, and yes, tradition is noble. A whole lineage thing. Oh my gosh, I bow to that. But oh, there are a lot of issues around ossification and reification of lineage and tradition, and what goes to go to hell in a handbasket pretty quick. So it keeps me humble. It keeps me open. And I’m always reading books from I don’t care where they come from.
Rick Archer: Me too. I mean, that’s my whole life these days.
Andrew Holecek: This is awesome. Look at your amazing offerings on this program. I mean, you go all over the place in the most wonderful way. So that’s why I’m delighted to spend time with you. Very cool.
Rick Archer: And to give you an alternative to that ‘chase two rabbits,’ quote, the old ‘dig one deep well, rather than 10 shallow wells,’ but how about using 10 tools to dig one deep well. Maybe that would work.
Andrew Holecek: Yeah, that’s another really good one, right, because if potholes, just pot shots just make potholes, so you just stick with one. This really implies like when I teach something like Dream Yoga, there are dozens and dozens of ways to induce lucidity. Unless you’re teaching it, the point isn’t to master them all, the point is to find your sweet spot to find out what works for you, and then dig deep there. And that’s why having a good advisor, a counselor, a teacher, can really save you a lot of time, but then you come back to the same issue, but what constitutes that. Anyway, I love it because it’s so human. It’s so messy, right? There’s no way you can shrink wrap this into tidy conceptual packets that work for everybody. People just don’t roll that way.
Rick Archer: And two thoughts about what we were just talking about. One, as you were saying, one could have this wonderful awakening realization. One might even think, ‘Oh, I’m there, I’ve made it.’ But what you’ve probably found that I certainly have is that deep awakenings like that often precede a real purging. It’s like, they provide a solvent for all kinds of embedded gunk to loosen up and start to get released. So, you could find yourself really going through a lot after having had a period of great clarity.
Andrew Holecek: Again, that’s exactly what happened in my retreat. Again, another reason why I’m a big fan of Trungpa Rinpoche, the master of the one-liner, where he said, ‘Meditation isn’t a sedative. It’s a laxative.’ That’s brilliant. When you start to release this illusion that you have control over your life in your mind, right, meditation busts those chops pretty quickly. All this crap comes up. And that’s actually, again, another quote of his, chaos should be regarded as extremely good news. It sounds good on paper, but it’s so true because, what do the neuroscientists say these days, and this is amazing, Rick, something like 95% of what we do is really dictated by unconscious processes. I mean, talk about forgiving them Father, for they know not what they do. This is what it means to be asleep.
When you start to wake up, all that stuff has to come up. And this is where right view is so important. Because if you didn’t, if you don’t take a really close look at your spiritual contract, if you didn’t bring your spiritual attorney, it’s gonna say down there. You’re asking for it. I think this is super important because people go in and somebody mentioned about shoppers, you’re just window shopping. You’re just New Age spirituality, it’s just feel-good spirituality. The path is not necessarily about feeling good unless you’re talking about basic goodness. It’s about getting real. And getting real means working with the dark side, which is why I’m so fascinated with things like death and dying in the nocturnal meditations, which are all code words for subtlety and unconscious processes. Because I’ve discovered in my own path very intimately that, Jung talked about this, the whole process of individuation, you’ve got to make these unconscious processes conscious. Otherwise, what do they do? They continue to run and often ruin your life, right? We’re just pinging off of these unconscious habits that are stored in the unconscious mind. So again, wonderful contribution of the West is an incredible capability to bring unconscious processes into the light of awareness using Western means, not just Eastern.
Rick Archer: And you might feel pretty darn good after you’ve gone through years of this purging process and purification process. The process itself might not be very much fun, like maybe it’s not fun to clean up a dusty house and the dust is flying around, but once the dust has been cleared, then you have a nice, neat house. It’s not like we’re saying that people are going to be condemned to a lifetime of dealing with their crap. At a certain point, it gets kind of cleared out.
Andrew Holecek: It does, and this is really where, again, the reason, the main reason, I’m involved in Buddhism is because of the Tibetan Buddhist approach, Tantra, which is like Eastern alchemy and, oh god, the genius there, Rick, is that obstacles are opportunities in disguise. Tantra is just so brilliant because there are no weeds in the garden of Tantra. If you look at everything in the proper lens through processes of alchemical transmutation, and like, the greater the obstacle, the greater the opportunity. I have discovered this again, like whoa, are you kidding? No, I’m not kidding. The more you’re armed with the right tools, and the kind of meditations that implement them, the more you’re equipped to go into really dark, difficult periods. And this is again, why I’m so interested in death and dying, because what is arguably darker or more difficult, more challenging than death? I can’t think of anything. And yet, according to the wisdom traditions, if you’re armed with the right teachings, death literally becomes a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
The wisdom traditions radically proclaim more opportunities for rapid, psycho-spiritual development at the end of life and beyond. We can talk a little bit more about why. But to me, this is a really, this is a healthy, brilliance of working with the stuff, letting it come up, super samsara, so that if you look, if you allow all this junk to come up, and you relate to it properly, you actually see that within that darkness is the light, or like my friend, Chris Wallace says beautifully, ‘There is no darkness within. Only light unseen.’
So how can we find the light in the darkness? How can we find the gold in the lead, the medicine in the poison? That, to me is the genius of Tantra. And that’s exactly why my retreat was scheduled the way it was. Because I had one year, so to speak, in Nirvana, right? And then one year back out in samsara, one year back in, one year back out. And it really kind of invited me, almost forced me, to realize, ‘Hey, how’s what I’m doing right now, with my complete screwed up mind, it wasn’t any different from what I’m doing in retreat?’ And what I discovered here, Rick, and I’m working on this right now, this has really, the book I’m working on now, on what I call the reverse meditations. I’m super psyched about this one because what I’ve discovered is if you go 100% into what you’re feeling, and this is really practical for right now, when everything is just going to hell in a handbasket, if you go 100% into what you…
Rick Archer: You’re alluding to the current events of Ukraine
Andrew Holecek: Or just everything.
Rick Archer: And, politics, COVID and polarization, all that stuff.
Andrew Holecek: Take your pick. Exactly. So, if you’re feeling like really bad, a very interesting exploration is, just try to feel as bad as you possibly can. Don’t indulge it. Don’t repress it. Try to be that feeling 100%. This is a really powerful, kind of like MBSR on steroids, right? A way to really get in to see the light within the darkness. And we can talk a little bit more about this, if you like, I’m super excited about introducing this in the books I’m writing now. Ways to work with really challenging, unwanted circumstances, and a deeper kind of more contemplative way.
Rick Archer: Yeah, I want to make sure we talk about all the stuff you’re excited about. Don’t let me just sidetrack you into things.
Andrew Holecek: No, no, it’s all good, this is fun.
Rick Archer: Oh, yeah. I know what it was. You’re saying chaos is an opportunity. Is that the way you put it?
Andrew Holecek: Well, yeah, again, Rinpoche said chaos should be regarded as extremely good news.
Rick Archer: Yeah. And the way I see it is, it’s not like I go looking for chaotic situations. But life has a way of hitting you with stuff, and everybody has it. And I have a great, deep sense of trust in the way the universe conducts itself or presents itself. I feel that everything is imbued with intelligence, and things don’t happen arbitrarily, or meaninglessly or capriciously, which is not to say that every, that I try to read great significance into every little rabbit that runs across the yard or something. But if something impacts my life, I kind of see it as, okay, the universe is my guru. Why is this happening? How should I respond to this? What’s the lesson in it?
Andrew Holecek: Absolutely. Again, it’s even referred to as symbolic guru, where Milarepa once said, one of my main historical teachers, phenomena is all the book one needs, that if you really open the aperture of your heart and mind, you will realize the world is always teaching, not like a twisted messianic type of thing, but if you really, most people notice this, if you’re really in tune with things, you will start to notice serendipity, tendril, auspicious coincidences, you’ll start to notice certain ways that this whatever you want to call it, is this ineffable agency, this intelligence, which Buddhism has a lot to question about that. But the more I go along my path, the more I discover. I really saw this in my retreat, this sense that I was always being held by some force, some beloved, some basic goodness, there was always some universality of love, you could say, that was somehow containing my experience, and dare we say, even guiding me. And this is why I’m, again, so fascinated with things like dreams, and how often I receive these types of instructions, and teaching suggestions, in my dream world, sometimes overtly through dream incubation and formal Dream Yoga practice.
But, because I’ve opened myself, I think, to a relative degree, especially in the nocturnal arena, I discovered the porosity of my sense of being, when those membranes are falling, dissolved when I go to sleep. And then these agencies or whatever you want to call them, disembodied intelligences, whatever you want to call them, then I feel their presence. And to me, it’s been a radical game-changer, Rick, because it completely rattles my previously dogmatic, materialistic, physicalistic view. In addition to my earlier studies, I was actually studying the physics track. But I realized it was such a degraded reductionist kind of flatland view that sucked the life out of everything. So, I said, geez, I’m barking up the wrong tree here. And then I realized, I had to completely flip this, this kind of flatland view of reductionism to a more elevationist view. There’s no such word, but you get the idea that the world is fundamentally good, it’s sacred, dare we say, it’s even divine. And when you surrender into that, whoa, that’s not a shabby thing. Because then, for me, I always feel like I’m being held, and really cared for in a certain ineffable way. And that’s been, I’m mentioning this because that’s been a big change in my own life, transitioning from kind of a Western scientific materialistic way of looking at things to one that’s more non-dual.
The world is, in fact, made of mind, consciousness, heart, spirit, whatever you want to call it. And I think in large part, that’s part of what the spiritual path is about, is discovering that, and, then, to dovetail that into what we’re talking about earlier, can we, in fact, find that spirituality in the materiality? Can we, in fact, go into those previously highly contracted materialistic states, and realize the heaven that’s in that hell, so to speak? And to me, I think that’s the real charter of the tantric traditions, the alchemical traditions. And therefore, like I mentioned earlier, then your entire life, you don’t have to go to a three-year retreat. Armed with the right view and the right teachings, there’s nothing but spiritual path, there’s nothing but the clear light mind or Nirvana, whatever you want to talk about, it’s really just a matter of recognition.
Rick Archer: Yeah. And we might sound a little glib to many people whose grandparents died in Auschwitz, or who are getting bombed in Mariupol right now. What should we say to them? I can think of an example of where this rubber really had to meet the road, which is when the Chinese invaded Tibet and killed so many monks and destroyed art, monasteries, and sacred art. Do you know stories of monks who met that challenge in a way that proved their spiritual merit?
Andrew Holecek: Yeah, for sure. This is where we have to titrate out, again, absolute and relative truth. Because when we talk about the perfect purity of things, a little bit of what we’re talking about earlier about the trap of absolutism. When we talk about the nature of reality as being perfectly pure, divine, sacred, which really, this is the proclamation, the radical proclamation of the world’s wisdom traditions as I’ve come to understand them. How do we reconcile that with Auschwitz and what’s happening in Ukraine now? And this is where we have to centrifuge out the relative and the absolute, and the minute you leave that domain of the perfect arising of phenomena into the relative kind of iterations of that, then this is where again the integral approach is so critically important. That yes, on one level, whatever arises as horrific as it may seem, and there are practitioners, like one of the most important images here, for instance, is, it’s kind of an extreme image, but maybe not super extreme, is the image of Thich Quang Duc, the Vietnamese monk, remember, who self-immolated during the war. So, here is a man, it’s one of the most, Kennedy said, the most transformative photographs ever captured, taken. Here’s a wonderful monk protesting religious persecution during the Vietnam War, who burns himself alive. And he’s sitting there with just complete unflappable equanimity, just literally total meditative equipoise, as his body is going up in flames. And how is he able to do something like that? Well, because of his relationship to the phenomenal world, to basically entering a domain of experience where he could really see the purity in whatever is arising. And so, this, I want to, this is such a profound, deep question, Rick, that I don’t want to be glib with some kind of spiritual soundbite and not pay attention to the relativity of what’s happening in places like Mariupol and others.
I’ll pause for a second to see if this is where you want to go with this, and how much you want to back up this tree. Because this is a really deep, complex issue. And again, I think an integral approach is absolutely necessary, because it doesn’t mean kind of naive acquiescence. ‘Oh, it’s all just a dream. It’s all just an illusion, let Mariupol go to hell.’ Oh, goodness, no, not at all. On the relative level, no. Suzuki Roshi said, strictly speaking, there are no enlightened beings. There’s only enlightened activity. And so, therefore, the way I’ve taken it, a little bit like Padmasambhava, you stated earlier, your view should be as lofty as the heavens and your conduct is fine as barley power. You maintain this view for yourself. And that view then informs and transforms you from your side. But then you go in some Mariupol, you go into the gutter, you go into the darkest places, and this is what the bodhisattvas do. They go into these most horrific situations, knowing all the while from their side, that they can’t really be fundamentally harmed. Emptiness cannot harm emptiness, as it says in The Tibetan Book of the Dead. So, I’m throwing a lot of noodles against the wall here, because this,
Rick Archer: A lot of them are sticking to it.
Andrew Holecek: Oh, good. This is a really big, deep topic. And I think, again, it’s very important because it gets to the issue. This is what I’m more focused on these days myself. I riff on this stuff, I teach on this stuff, I write these books. And more and more, I’m a little bit like, hey, if what we’re doing now, with conversations like this, and our so-called spiritual stuff, if it isn’t of any benefit, if it can’t really benefit the world, right now, it’s irrelevant. What we’re doing is irrelevant. If we can’t take what we’re doing now and help this world that is on fire, basically, not only will these traditions go extinct as the sixth mass extinction, everything’s gone. So, to me, it’s applied or translational spirituality now. Let’s get up off our cushions. Let’s be a benefit to the world. I guess my summary statement here would be we take these absolute teachings, these views, we hold them in refuge for ourselves, but we don’t slip into spiritual bypassing and just say, ‘I’m just going to, it’s all an illusion, doesn’t matter.’ No, if this true knowledge, wisdom is incorporated properly, compassion is the automatic expression of wisdom. And so somewhere in there lies at least some nuggets of how to work with this, at least from my perspective.
Rick Archer: I’m sure you know the story of the Bhagavad Gita. Arjuna wanted to just sort of, he didn’t want to fight the battle. He said it’d be better to live on alms in this world than to fight this battle. Krishna, speaking as an avatar, supposedly said, sorry, this has to happen. And it’s your duty to do it. But then he said, here’s the way to do it. Get established in yoga, and then perform action. Don’t just perform action with a scattered mind. Yogastah Kuru Karmani, establishing being or yoga, perform action. Then sort of cosmic, to borrow another phrase from that tradition, Brahman will be the charioteer. It won’t just be your individuality calling the shots, which invariably gets it wrong.
Andrew Holecek: Yeah, and this also then begs, ‘Why do the spiritual work in the first place?’ Well, because just like you were saying with the story from the Gita, that if we don’t clean up first, how do we know that we’re actually being a benefit to others? Because usually what we’re doing is so infected with our hopes, our fears, our projections, or imputations that do we really know that what we’re doing is of any benefit whatsoever? Therefore, the reason to do this so-called spiritual work, two reasons. One is you get rid of all these obscurations that helps you to see clearly and the second thing is you start to realize fundamentally, and this is a really interesting track that we could go on for a little while, is that fundamentally we don’t reduce everything into, like my friend Ken Wilber says beautifully, don’t reduce everything into frisky dirt, a materialistic thing. I love that phrase. Reduce everything into spiritual principles. Therefore, what I’m getting at here that I think is super important is that if you take a very close look at everything that’s happening in the world, look at your own mind, look at your heart and look at the world. There’s no doubt whatsoever in my mind that everything, and I mean everything, can be fundamentally reduced, in the best sense of reductionism, into spiritual principles and spiritual tenants.
I’ve thought about this a lot. That everything we do is a mere substitute gratification if we’re not working with these principles, everything else is a mere distraction if we’re not working with these principles, and therefore, by working with yourself, working with your mind and heart psycho-spiritually, you’re really getting to what the Tibetans call Nyingtik, the heart essence from which everything arises. And therefore, from that space, you will realize that, yes, that person halfway across the world may be expressing their divinity in a particularly unique way. But underneath it all are these fundamental, generative principles that we all share. And, irreducibly, what does the Dalai Lama say? We all simply want to be happy. We just do it in really sometimes idiosyncratic, unique ways. So that may seem like a patronizing, even platonic approach to this, but I think it has a lot of explanatory power, that if you really break things down, it comes down to some very fundamental principles.
My friend David Loy is one of those sensitive philosophers, you should have him on your show.
Rick Archer: I’ve had him on twice.
Andrew Holecek: Oh, he’s the best.
Rick Archer: He’s a great guy.
Andrew Holecek: He’s unbelievable. And he writes beautifully in his book, Non-duality, Buddhism and Beyond. If I remember properly, in that book he says, philosophy pretty much rose to solve the problems of duality. Solve the problem of duality in other words, reduce everything into non-dualistic fundamental principles, and not only does philosophy fall away, but everything else falls away. And so this is important for me, Rick, because then, as I look at my life and all the complexities and all the seeming like, oh my gosh it’s so complex, and again, on a relative level, yes, integral approaches help there. On an absolute level, I think, and my experience bears this out, in the healthiest sense, you can bring this vast, multivarious display of the phenomenal world and mind into some pretty fundamental irreducible principles. Therefore, what did Thoreau say, I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to drive life into a corner, to reduce it to its lowest common term, so to speak. And then when you do that, it’s like, oh, my gosh, there’s so much going on. It’s a Marie Kondo of your own mind and life and heart, everything becomes super simple, because you realize this is what you really want, not all these substitute gratifications. It helps you understand other people when they go through their journeys, and it helps you understand things like death and beyond. But I’ll pause there for a second because I personally think that’s a big kind of advertisement for why spiritual practices and teachings can be of such profound benefit because they have this irreducible explanatory power.
Rick Archer: Yeah, I have a couple of thoughts on that. First, I’ll tell you a David Loy story. I was at the Science and Nonduality Conference one year, the first time I interviewed him. There was this teacher up on stage and he was going on. And David got up on the mic and said, all this is very well, all this non-duality stuff, but how about the environment, what we’re doing to the world? The teacher up on stage, I won’t name him, but he was like, ah, the Earth is like a speck of dust, doesn’t matter what happens, blah blah blah. And David really kind of kept socking it to him. I admired that because it’s like you were saying earlier, life is multidimensional, we could say, and you just can’t hide out in the unmanifest dimension to the neglect of all the more manifest dimensions. A more full-bodied spirituality, if you want to call it that, spans the whole range and takes them all into account simultaneously without sacrificing one or the other. Do you want to comment on that before I say anything more?
Andrew Holecek: Yeah. Oh, absolutely. I mean, first of all, high five to David for that because, again, it’s, what’s it called, cosmological dualism? That if you don’t really fully understand, I wonder if, this narrative keeps coming back for us, which is awesome. That if you can’t find the spiritual in the material, then something’s wrong. There’s still this fundamental divorce, this dualism taking place that somehow the Earth itself isn’t divinity pure.
Rick Archer: And if you do find the spiritual in the material, then you can’t defile it because you’re defiling God, so to speak.
Andrew Holecek: That’s exactly right. In one of the liturgies, I do this every morning as part of my liturgical recitation, ‘Grant your blessing so that I realize the inseparability of samsara and nirvana.’ Samsara is not a state in reality. Samsara is a state of mind. Nirvana is not a state, an ontological state, it’s a state of mind. What we call material, oh we could really go up this tree, versus spiritual, there is only the spiritual. There’s only mind, heart, spirit, nirvana. That’s all there is. Therefore, this kind of statement, and I’ve heard this from others, one person allegedly said at science and non-duality, that oh, I heard it one of these ways, Rick, this teacher said, ‘Ah, it doesn’t really matter what happens to the world. I’m going to a pure land when I die … that kind of thing.
Rick Archer: Yes, screw everybody else. I’m going to a pure land.
Andrew Holecek: Are you kidding me? That is such a colossal a misunderstanding and so again,
Rick Archer: It’s like, let them eat cake, it doesn’t matter what happens to all these starving people, I’ve got my cake alright. Got my luxurious lifestyle.
Andrew Holecek: So why not? Instead, purify, don’t go to a pure land, purify your mind. Realize there’s no pure land, there’s just pure mind. This is a wonderful empowering narrative of what we’re talking about, finding the spiritual in the material. Finding that every moment, if it’s perceived properly, free from these cataracts of confusion, free from these adventitious defilements, in Buddhist language, there’s nothing but the clear, light mind. I mean, you’re looking at it right now. There’s only samsara. I’m sorry I mean nirvana. Samsara is either partial or no recognition of that. The reason this is important for me, Rick, is that at one level, at the highest levels, it completely questions and challenges the very notion of path. We’ve been talking about spiritual path, right? Well, I think that’s just a provisional notion. I’m not discrediting it. Absolutely, the path of purification is absolutely necessary at a relative level. The Hindus call it anupaya. That is on an absolute level. It’s a journey without distance.
Actually, the very notion of path will pull you away from what’s already here. I love this, Rick, because what it does to me is it’s a peaceful transfer of power, great political term, back to its rightful source. And it empowers the utter immediacy of the awakened state, the utter immediacy of enlightenment, non-duality, whatever you want to call it. It’s always already 100% right here, right now, under any circumstance. The issue then becomes one of recognition and therefore the very notion of path, it’s literally called, in Buddhist languaging, Sahaja Yana the vehicle of self-liberation, that the highest level of a path is no path. In the Kadima tradition, are you familiar with that in Jewish mysticism? Does that ring any bells?
Rick Archer: I don’t think so. Oh, I may have heard about it, but I don’t know.
Andrew Holecek: They talk about five paths. The fifth path is called a path of freedom. It’s brilliant. Because what it says is basically, it’s having the freedom to be even free of the path itself. The freedom to be a full human being, the freedom to realize that right here, right now, I am in heaven. I am in a pure land. I am in Nirvana. Right here, right now. This is not rhetoric. This is not metaphysical mumbo jumbo. This is the essence of these most supreme non-dual teachings as I’ve come to understand them. And I love that because to me, it’s like, ‘Whoa, it’s right here right now.’ And then one of, my own playful languaging around this, is then stop rescheduling your appointment with reality. Stop rescheduling it, it’s already right here. It’s right now. When Suzuki Roshi allegedly attained his awakening, another famous line he said, ‘Enlightenment was my biggest disappointment, my biggest letdown’. Because it was like, Oh, my gosh, TS Eliot. I’ve been here all along. And I think that’s so important.
Rick Archer: Discover the place for the first time,
Andrew Holecek: Exactly. Literally, dis-cover, uncover it. Here it is. Just get rid of the confusion. And you’re already in a pure land. Fifty years of faking, stumbling, tripping, falling on this path, I realized on one level, there’s a path to nowhere, or now here, right? Same languaging. And I like this because it’s empowering. It’s immediate. Wait a second, holy moly. It’s always in front of me, hiding in plain sight. What do they say in the Mahamudra teachings? It’s so obvious, you don’t see it. So simple. You don’t believe it, it’s so easy, you don’t trust it. And that’s one of the great ironies. It’s literally hiding in plain sight. And so, if that’s true, this is a great kind of punch line. What’s the fundamental irreducible instruction? Well, just open and relax, open, and relax. And there it is. Hey, I’m in succa-vity right now.
Rick Archer: I mean, I have a little bit of a bone to pick with that, but I know what you’re saying. I just have a kind of both/and attitude toward it because I’ve heard people say, I’ve heard people listen to the kind of thing you just said and say, okay, cool, I’m already enlightened, don’t need to do anything. I’m done. All you fools who are still meditating or doing practices, you don’t get what I got. And I’m parodying. But people say, essentially, that kind of thing.
For me, I was once up on a stage with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi sitting on his couch, and I was shooting my mouth off about something, really going on. And he knew me pretty well. He knew that I was the type who was always like, enlightenment or bust, yearning, and longing for something I didn’t have. And he stopped me. He said, “Every day is life. Don’t pass over the present for some glorious future”. And I got it. Now I wouldn’t trade the state of mind I’m in now for the state of mind I was in back then in the late 70s. It would be agonizing to abruptly shift back to that. Conversely, I wouldn’t trade the state of mind I may be in five years from now for the one I’m in now because there’s a progression, and yet at the same time, there’s a contentment and an appreciation of what is here, is everywhere. What is not here is nowhere at all. It’s kind of a both/and, bicycle balancing,
Andrew Holecek: I’m so glad you brought this up. This is another, this is such an important thing. Because again, Suzuki Roshi, what is the saying, you’re all perfect just the way you are. But you could use improvement. That’s it, right there. Here’s the thing, Rick, this is really interesting to me. Why can’t we have it both ways? It’s really because, let me say a little bit about this. It’s principally because we live in Aristotle’s world and his three laws of thought, especially the law of the excluded middle, this kind of binary, black, white, yes, no type of thinking and approach to reality. I think a lot of people say, well, why; you can’t have it both ways, both a relative and the absolute, right? Well, who says? I mean, Aristotle, maybe?
So, I am really, a context for this might be something like, oh, yeah, so in the early part of the last century, when physicists were trying to reconcile how light under one circumstance could behave like a particle, and under a different circumstance like a wave? There was just amazing dissonance and clash. How can one phenomenon be a wave and a particle? Those are about the two most different things you could get. And so Bohr, Niels Bohr, came along with his really important notion of complementarity and says yes, you can have it both ways. What do they call it, dialetheism? Now that you can think in these non-binary ways, these more liminal ways, which are much more resonant with reality.
Rick Archer: It’s the Certs paradox. Certs is both a candy mint and a breath mint too. Do you remember those commercials?
Andrew Holecek: Yeah, that’s good. I hadn’t thought about that in a long time. This is really important because it stretches the way we think, the way we feel, and pardon all these one-liners,
Rick Archer: No, they’re good one-liners.
Andrew Holecek: But I remember, here’s one from a Nobel Laureate physicist, Joseph Brian Josephson when he says this
Rick Archer: I met Brian. In Switzerland in the TM days.
Andrew Holecek: Oh, good for you. He has this great line. I just love it. He says, we think that we think clearly, but that’s only because we don’t think clearly.’
Rick Archer: That’s great. That’s very good. I like that.
Andrew Holecek: Like Einstein said, the same type of thinking that got us into this mess is not the same kind of thinking that’s gonna get out of it.
Rick Archer: Yeah. The way I sometimes put it is, the first thing delusion does is delude you to the fact that you’re deluded.’
Andrew Holecek: Exactly. And so, to me, it’s like, yes, we need both views. And that’s why like you’re saying, this kind of Nike approach, that a lot of people when they first came in the older days talked to Suzuki Roshi and others, the kind of Nike approach, just do it, right? I’m already awake. I’m already there. Just do it. True, but partial. Right? So, then you’ve got the integral approach. On an absolute level, yes, it’s already here, right now. Bingo, that’s it. That’s perhaps the ultimate refuge. But then you have to bring Heaven down into Earth, relate to karma, space, time, and causality.
Rick Archer: And to give an extreme example, imagine going into a psychiatric hospital and sitting down with a psychotic person and saying, it’s already here right now. You’re already enlightened. What good does that do? They need some help. They’ve got to go through some steps before they get to the place where that’s a meaningful statement.
Andrew Holecek: Absolutely. And this, again, ties into a spectrum of our identity, that we have aspects of us, the more ultraviolet that could in fact resonate with these more absolute level teachings and practices. But then we have this lower intermediate and a lower bandwidth of our identity, where depending on how far down it goes, more Western psychotherapeutic or physical methods would be more appropriate at that point. What really defines skillful means for me along these lines, Rick, is meeting situations and people where they’re at now, where you’re at. It’s a long-winded way of saying it
Rick Archer: It’s a good way of putting it. I like that.
Andrew Holecek: It is way really of just balancing and being open and honest and humble that yeah, this teaching is great. But these other skillful kinds of means and whatnot are still there for a reason.
Rick Archer: Yeah, meeting people where they’re at, not where you’re at. So, the nice analogy, when the mangos become ripe, the branches bend down so people can reach them.
Andrew Holecek: Nice. That’s exactly right.
Rick Archer: We spent about an hour talking about all this cool stuff, and we could spend the next hour just stream of consciousness, riffing on things, but I want to make sure to get to the things that really light your fire, Dream Yoga, and both nocturnal and daytime. Anything else you want to be sure to cover during our time together?
Andrew Holecek: Oh, my gosh, we can totally run there. My last three books, my so-called Dream trilogy, are all on the dream. So maybe we can start with that. Because that also includes the whole death thing that I’m also really interested in. And so, I can just start with what may be of interest to your listeners, this deep passion I have for the languaging of nocturnal meditations, where nocturnal is really a code word, code language, for subtle.
In my experience, in my languaging, there are five of these practices, we can talk briefly about each of them, because I think they’re really fascinating ways to explore the mind as it transitions, again using the binary thing, the western approach to consciousness, roughly as an orienting generalization, is binary. You’re either dead, alive, awake, or asleep. No black/white, like my light switch in this room. We have the western world, philosophers also, Western philosophers have this kind of light switch model of consciousness. Well, the really awesome thing about the natural meditations, which I’ll then introduce, is the replacement of the Western Light Switch model with an Eastern dimmer. So instead of just no black/white, dead/alive, you’re simply going from gross, to subtle, to really subtle, by the way, exactly the same journey that takes place when we die.
So, the five meditations and then we can pause and discuss them briefly. The first one used to be called hypnagogic hypnopompic spaces. The term I appreciate more now is liminal, liminal dreaming, where liminal is a word for a threshold. And everybody will relate to this, when you first lie down, you’re not quite awake, you’re not quite asleep, you’re not quite here, you’re not quite there, you’re in this plasma mind, this froth of perception. We all know what that’s like. That can then progress into the next. This is actually associated with clinical stages of sleep, which I work with in my own practice, or did when I did sleep medicine stuff. Then there’s the dream state. And then you have lucid dreaming, which is when you wake up to the fact that you’re dreaming while you’re still in a dream, which I would argue, and I’d love to come back and say more about this. I think this really represents the education, the pedagogy of the future. And there’s some neurological footing for this data that will eventually, with some familiarity, proficiency, can mature into what’s called Dream Yoga, where the nocturnal mind, the dream state, is now used for purposes of spiritual growth and transformation. With a little bit of stability. that can be progressed into what’s called luminosity yoga, or sleep yoga. It’s not the same as Yoga Nidra even though the term Nidra means sleep.
In case people are more familiar with that term, Yoga Nidra is more connected to liminal dreaming. So that’s when you maintain it. Right now, there are scientists studying this, getting people in the labs who can actually maintain lucidity, i.e., consciousness in deep dreamless sleep and this is Tom Metzger’s and others’ world, some of the world’s leading philosophers, thinkers, scientists. When this is substantiated, this could be a real revolution in the mind sciences.
Rick Archer: I have a friend who has been on BatGap three times. He says he hasn’t slept in about 60 years.
Andrew Holecek: Whoa.
Rick Archer: In other words, he’s clear, all the time.
Andrew Holecek: I’d like to talk to this guy.
Rick Archer: He’d be happy to. You could actually be serious
Andrew Holecek: Because we’re looking for people who we can bring into the labs, because I’m working with some of these scientists, at least acting in an advisory capacity.
Rick Archer: Yeah, his name is Harry Alto, for those who are listening, and I can connect you with him later. He’s been on BatGap a few times.
Andrew Holecek: That’s fantastic. It’s a rare population that can do that. So, there’s a sleep yoga thing.
Rick Archer: Of course, when I say that, it doesn’t mean he’s not snoring at night, and his wife is saying wake up, you’re snoring. But inwardly, pure awareness, he’s never lost.
Andrew Holecek: He’s still lucid. That’s fantastic. That’s really great. And then the last one is Bardo yoga, where Bardo is the Tibetan word, which means gap, transitional process or in between, and it refers to what the Tibetans talk about, very interesting, their term, the dream at the end of time, which is what death is in that particular tradition. What’s really cool about all five of these is this kind of Hegelian ‘transcend but include’ narrative. In other words, lucid dreaming transcends but includes liminal dreaming, sleep yoga, transcends but includes all three. Bardo Yoga transcends but includes all four. These are super interesting practices, teachings to explore these subtle, nuanced dimensions of mind that allow us, like the friend you’re referring to, to maintain lucidity. That’s a code word for awareness, through all states, 24/7. And that also means that when you die, it’s not just lucid dreaming, it’s lucid dying. You’re actually then able, according to the Tibetan Bardo teachings, to maintain lucidity/awareness, even in the dream at the end of time when you die. I’ll pause for a second there because there’s so much to say about these. Now you’re hitting my sweet spot. So, I’ll go anywhere you want with these babies.
Rick Archer: Okay, well, first of all, you threw a lot of terms out, and people shouldn’t feel overwhelmed, but we’ll talk about more. But also, they could read your books, or read your website, and catch up on some of these terms you just used. I want to translate it into my own experience a little bit so that I can understand better what you’re saying. In my case, I’ve never really done anything intentionally to try to maintain awareness during sleep. But the best experiences I’ve ever had have been in sleep, some really profound stuff. And I heard you use one example, as an example of lucid dreaming, which I hadn’t thought of as that because I had always thought of lucid dreaming as a sort of discursive recognition, ‘oh, I’m dreaming,’ but I know I’m dreaming as you might do in the waking state. But in my case, in the example you used, I sometimes find myself giving eloquent talks during my sleep, better than I would do in the waking state. Or having philosophical discussions with somebody, and just going back and forth on some really fine points. There’s a clarity and a lucidity and an orderliness, a coherence to the thought process that even surpasses the waking state. So that’s just one experience. There have been some other interesting ones, but would you define that as lucid dreaming?
Andrew Holecek: Lucidity is very interesting. It’s a multi-valent term. In other words, it has a variety of different meanings depending on different contexts. On one level lucidity has this clarity connotation. I had a really clear experience, a really lucid experience. That can definitely apply to dreams. But as you suggested, lucid dreaming, per se, is a very specific definition. And you nailed it. It’s when you’re dreaming, you’re having a regular normal dream. And then something will clue you into the fact that you’re dreaming while you’re still dreaming. In other words, with some dream sign or some experience.
This is where the practices come in. Something will wake you up, you’re dreaming, something will wake you up, and you go, ‘Oh, my gosh, this is a dream.’ And then you still, you don’t wake up into this dimension, you stay in that dream. And therefore, like you, Rick, I’ve had the same thing, many of them. That’s one reason I’m so passionate about these practices. Some of the most transformative, so-called remarkable experiences I’ve ever had have occurred in my dreams and continue to occur in my dreams. And these can be profoundly transformative and real game-changers. One of the reasons, maybe some of your listeners are maybe interested, well, that sounds cool, but why should I bother because usually right when we go to sleep, ego puts up its Do Not Disturb sign. You can mess with me during the day, but my sleep is precious. But one of the reasons somebody might be interested in pursuing these practices is that, and there’s some scientific backing to this, that in the tantric teachings, these are archetypal numbers. But you get the idea. What you do in the dream arena is seven to nine times more efficacious, more transformative than what you’re doing in the waking state. In other words, the power, the practices actually have more transformative power in the dream state. Why is that? Well, because you’re working with, mixing metaphors, the tectonic plates of your experience, with the DNA, with the blueprints of your being.
And therefore, this isn’t just hyperbole. The literature is replete with countless stories, of people going to sleep having one, especially what’s called a hyper lucid, clear, light dream, where the dream is super clear, the dream is actually more clear than this. You wake up from one of those dreams, this appears to be the foggy dream. It’s a little bit like a near-death experience. I’ve never had one. But I know a lot of people who have, you don’t need to have these babies over and over. You just need one. It changes your whole life. Why? Because it’s so true. It’s so foundational, it’s so near the source. For me, Rick, this is why I get so jazzed about this, that I do practices, 20-30 years, some of these things, the insights from these are still with me, one dream like that can really irrevocably, in the best way, transform your life.
This is helpful for people to understand, the right view behind these practices. Why should I do them? Well, this is one reason. Because what you do down there has a massive effect on what happens up here. That’s why this is like, whoa, talk about. Also, here’s another reason. You enter the dream state, at least 500,000 times during the course of an average life, that’s over six years, during the course of an average life, just in this dream state, not even asleep. You can get a Ph.D. in less than six years. Imagine all the stuff you can learn. That’s why I call it night school, how much you can learn by taking advantage of these unique cognitive, mental states. And again, there’s so much to say here in the literature. What’s really exciting is more and more studies are being done, more data is coming out. And the biggest kicker, of course, are the induction techniques, how can we have these dreams with some regularity. And that, of course, is where Dream Yoga practice comes into play. I’ll pause for a second there because I want to make sure I don’t just
Rick Archer: Oh, you’re doing fine. Just giving some examples of lucid dreaming. Another thing I would consider lucid in my own experience is I used to experience sleep as a state of dullness, and when I woke up in the morning, I’d be groggy, take me a while to wake up. These days, I experience a state of bliss. And it’s not like all night long. I’m saying ooh, is blissful. But when I wake up, oh god, that was nice. But there’s immediate clarity, it’s not fogged over. I wonder if that’s a form of lucidity.
Andrew Holecek: Yes, exactly. And these are just one of the many collateral benefits of these sorts of things. That’s what’s also really cool about this. It’s interesting that you get lucidity, a codeword for awareness, a codeword for light. That’s why the book that you graciously read, my last one actually, Dreams of Light. The light has so many interesting properties. It’s core to enlightenment. I mean, the world fundamentally, even physicists are saying, the universe is really made of the fabric of light. But the interesting thing, light has tremendous power, disproportionate power, and it doesn’t take long for these illuminating experiences in the nocturnal arena or otherwise. Hence the title of my first book, Illuminating Your Life Through Lucid Dreaming, of the Tibetan yoga of sleep. When you’re working with a source of light in the dream arena, that’s why sleep yoga, for most people, untrained, is the darkest of all states. Well, not for a dream yogi. That’s why it’s called Luminosity Yoga. There’s so much light, it’s just the expanded definition of light, and light has tremendous power. It’s hard to contain.
One of the things I’ve done over the last couple of years, Rick, is a book called Dark Retreat, where I go into these dark cabins and do some interesting profound practices. Just one brief little anecdote here is it often takes me one to three days, even though the cabin is specially prepared. I have to come in with duct tape and cardboard because once my eyes acclimatize, I dilate my eyes, interesting metaphor for the opening and the dilation of consciousness. Science has shown that you can detect one photon. So, light has so much power. When you’re working with this stuff in the nocturnal arena, the real kicker here is you don’t just keep these insights tucked under the blanket darkness of the night. No, lucid dreaming leads to lucid living. That’s the kicker. So, what you do in the nighttime arena, doesn’t just stay there. Like those annoying pop ups, it’ll ping, it’ll pup up into your mind. Your insights from the nighttime experience into your day. And sometimes maybe get you in the nick of time, bring a flash of lucidity and awareness in a moment of otherwise known lucidity.
Let me give you one very specific example. One stage of Dream Yoga is to literally transform dream images. This is like a video game. Here, I’m holding a pen. Let’s say I’m dreaming. Here’s a pen. I’m in my dream, and I become lucid. And then usually what I’ll say is, okay, what was I going to do tonight? Oh, yeah, tonight, I’m going to do stage three, Dream Yoga. Stage three Dream Yoga is my mapping, and this comes from the tradition, is transforming the dream object. So, here’s a pen, I’m in the dream, I’m going to change that pen into this glass. So, I’m in the dream, and at first, oh, I can do that. That’s easy. Ah, well get back to me. It’s not that easy, right? Because we tend to reify. We tend to solidify mental content. Okay, so here I am changing my pen into this glass of water or whatever, it doesn’t matter. Oh, okay, why will I do that? Well, because the next day, I will be in a difficult conversation. I’m about to lose it. I’m about to really break out in rage or something. Then some stupid little insight from last night’s dream, a pop-up, will ping into my awareness and says, ‘Hey, last night, you transformed that pen into a glass. You can transform this anger into compassion. You can transform that jealousy into kindness. I cannot tell you how many times this has happened to me. And so, this is what I kind of call stealth help, helping you work with the stuff at night. It works on the ground, so to speak, it’ll ping into your life, during the day, bring about a moment of lucidity/awareness, and therefore make you lucid, aware of the contents of your life and experience now.
Really, arguably, Buddha literally comes from a root meaning, the awakened one. The Buddha was arguably the ultimate lucid dreamer. He really explained as do the Hindus and other traditions, how you can use this wonderful, distilled arena of consciousness to work with your life altogether. So just a quick example of how the stages of dream yoga might work and, why bother with them by doing them during the day.
Rick Archer: I would say that’s true of spirituality, in general, is whatever amount of spiritual development you have under your belt it’s going to serve you spontaneously and naturally. You’re just operating from that different way of functioning. It’s not like you have to conjure it up all of a sudden, in a difficult circumstance. It should be there as a continuum to whatever extent it’s really been developed and stabilized.
Andrew Holecek: Exactly. And then really the ultimate equivalence of a whole thing. It’s a little bit like the gentleman you were referring to. Eventually, what happens when these practices are brought to fruition is the ultimate equanimity equivalence of all these different states that in the mind of a really awakened one, there’s really no difference between waking, sleeping, dreaming, and dying. Dreaming is code language. This is the way I run with it. Dream is code language for manifestation of mind. Really when you look at dream in this larger rubric, this is a dream. This is what the Buddha woke up. When the Buddha woke up, very interesting, what did the Buddha wake up from? What did he wake up to? Well, he woke up from the nightmare of reification, the nightmare of solidity, the nightmare of duality, he woke up from that nightmare. What did he wake up to? He woke up to a dreamlike, empty, fluid, malleable reality. He basically he woke up to realize that everything, because we’re talking about this earlier, everything fundamentally is really an event of the nature of mind, a dream in this larger sense.
So this is really, we’re jumping way over now to the fruitional aspect of these practices. It’s to realize what the Buddhists talk about is a one taste quality, Rick, where there’s what did Milarepa say, not seeing day and dream as different, this is as meditation as it can be, not seeing the here and hereafter as differing. This is meditation or whatever it can be, pointing out the ultimate equivalence of all these different states. That it’s just again, gross, the subtle, to very subtle.
Rick Archer: So, as you know in the Vedic tradition, they have the word Turiya, which means fourth, and the other three being waking, dreaming, and sleeping. It’s said that Turiya underlies the three. When I think of lucid dreaming, like my friend, Harry, in his case it’s the fourth state, is so awake, that he can be sound asleep with no mental activity whatsoever. He could be dreaming, which means there’s some mental activity going on, or he could be awake and doing ordinary things in the ordinary world. But there’s that continuum of pure awareness that just is never overshadowed by any of those states. When I think of lucid dreaming, in terms of being able to change a pen into a glass, that would be somewhere in the middle state where you’re not in deep sleep. There’s some mental activity going on. And there’s a little bit of volition or in that mental activity, which is ordinarily non-volitional.
Andrew Holecek: Correct. That’s exactly right. To take it to using that languaging from the Hindus. This comes from the Mandukya Upanishad, arguably the most important Upanishad where the notion of Turiya the fourth was brought in. It’s exactly like you said. This also ties into what we were talking about earlier, Rick, where the idea is, yes, Turiya is the fourth. It’s that which in a certain sense, subsends, the other three, and then this is where also this ties in. This is deeper than Dream Yoga. This is sleep yoga. What is often, this is one of the things that distinguishes Advaita Vedanta from Kashmir Shaivism, that Turiya is in many ways the kind of goal of the Advaita traditions. But Turia Tita is really I think, the more, if I might be more presumptuous, the more fruitional component. What this means it’s exactly what we were talking about earlier.
Turiya Tita literally means beyond the fourth. It doesn’t mean the fifth, it means you take, like Harry, the insight, so to speak, of the fourth, and then you bring it into the other three. And therefore again, you then start to see the inseparability of all states. This is exactly what we were talking about earlier. The ultimate fruition is you take this Turia quality, the fourth, beyond space time, beyond, beyond but you don’t just hang out there. That’s the problem or potential problem. Because it’s so ecstatic and so blissful, it’s so formless, you think that might be it. Well, if you do, then you’re stuck in a very subtle god realm kind of thing.
The fruition, as I’ve come to understand it, is the tree of detail. You take that insight, and then you take that transcendence, and you infuse it back into the imminence so that you then see, hey, just what we talked about an hour ago. You then see the spiritual in the waking state, the spiritual in the dream state, you see the spiritual in all things, so to speak, material. I mean, high five to Turiya and spot on. That’s exactly the fruition of these sorts of things. Again, it’s available to us. It’s not like. This is something we can really work with in practice, not only in the nocturnal arena. One of the ways to grease the skids to this type of experience at night is to do the correlative meditations during the day. Work with subtle dimensions of mind during the day so that you can then recognize those dimensions when they’re revealed at night. One final reason why you want to do this, well, especially according to the Buddhist tradition, this is the journey you’re going to take when you die. You’re going to return to the dream at the end of time, and this entire phenomenal process is just going to take place in a more extended fashion. So that’s again, why lucid dreaming is like a center. It’s what they call a bi-directional. It’s tri-directional. The insights from lucid dreaming ping back to wake you up during the day. That’s lucid living. That’s what my dreams of life book was all about. It pings forward to lucid death experience. That’s what my book Power and the Pain, I’m sorry, Preparing To Die, was all about. This wonderful and middle way ground of working with a nocturnal mind can help with both waking and dying. It’s not just a two-fer. It’s a three-fer.
Rick Archer: I think there’s a way in which Turiya Tita could be thought of as a fifth. And that is that Turiya could be thought of as, the world could be defined perhaps as Samadhi, the state you can dip into for a little while, and then you come out of again and lose it. Turiya Tita could, as you’re saying, would be a state of integration or stabilization, where it’s never lost as waking, dreaming, and sleeping roll along. There’s that continuum at their foundation. I think that just as waking, dreaming, sleeping and Turiya have unique neurophysiological signatures, there’s research to show that Turiya Tita does, that those who are in that perpetuum of pure awareness in the midst of all activity, their brains and neurophysiology function differently than the ordinary person.
Andrew Holecek: Yeah. And they’re people like Mingya Rinpoche, for instance. I mean, do you know the story? They brought him into Ritchie’s. I know, all these people, they’re wonderful. Mingya Rinpoche is just a rock star. He wrote, his most recent book, In Love with the World, A Monks Journey Through the Bardo of Living and Dying. It’s an absolute classic, but a very interesting story along these lines. Richie Davidson and Antoine Lutz, who were the principals at the Center for the Investigation of Healthy Minds in Madison, Wisconsin. This was, someone invited, at the behest of His Holiness Dalai Lama to start to study these really advanced meditators, to get some, like you’re saying, some neurological signatures and correlates to these experiences. They brought Mingya Rinpoche into the lab, and when they first put him in, they looked at each other and said, ‘Ah, man, problem with the machinery. There’s something wrong here.’ So, they fudged, they adjusted, they fudged, they adjusted, and they realize there’s nothing wrong with machinery. He came in with a baseline neurological signature that they’d never seen before, a signature that had only been attained at the highest states of people who take an hour to get there. He came in, and that was his baseline. It’s exactly what you’re talking about, and this
Rick Archer: I think, that’s the whole idea with all this stuff, we don’t want it to be a flash in the pan. It should be a normal way of functioning.
Andrew Holecek: Exactly, like we were talking about earlier, with the people who do the avulse thing. It’s the difference between states and traits, where you have to basically, the real process is this maturation, because otherwise what can happen is you can become like a state junkie. This is really problematic. I’ve been a meditation instructor for 30 years. I look at my own experience. You can have these amazing transcendent experiences, which by the way, are always brought about by degrees of opening, and then if you don’t relate to those experiences, those states properly, which principally means letting them go, you can again become somewhat addicted because we’re all addicts. You can become addicted to these really delicious states of mind. This is where things really become problematic here, where you have these deep samadhi experiences. They’re not stable, they’re fleeting. I’m not saying they’re not authentic, they’re totally authentic, but they’re not stable. Then you just want to keep getting another hit, another hit, another high, another high. Until, of course, those states are integrated, and then they’re transformed into traits. And then that’s like Mingyur Rinpoche, you’re just living at that dimension of awakening. You’re never distracted. You never sleep. Distraction and sleep are two sides of the same coin. You’re basically just
Rick Archer: Your body sleeps, but you don’t sleep.
Andrew Holecek: Right. Exactly. Your body restores.
Rick Archer: There was a sage named Tat Wala Baba who lived up in Rishikesh, and a bunch of people went to him, and they were pretty amazed by him. One of them, one person said, you should come to London, and he said, ‘I am London.’ And then somebody else said, ‘Do you ever sleep?’ And he said, ‘What would happen to the world if I slept?’ [laughing] I was going to say something else, but I forgot.
Andrew Holecek: It’s an extremely rich dimension to work with. If you want to say more about the science end of it, I think it’s actually quite important with some qualifiers because, yes, it’s great to have, so to speak, scientific footing and backing because we live in a scientific culture, but when the researchers were first heading over to India and Nepal to study these people, they wanted nothing to do with it.
Rick Archer: The yogi’s didn’t, or just the monks?
Andrew Holecek: Yeah. I know a number of people, I won’t name names, but I know a number of very high-ranking teachers who say that this is potentially quite dangerous that these metrics that are being brought about through this neurophenomenological research is, yes, we both, see the benefits, because it does help substantiate the power where there are 8000 studies now, showing the transformative power of meditation. But there are also near enemies to this sort of thing. If people, if we started setting these bars, it can get because it could set metrics for realization. I think that’s a low.
Rick Archer: Why this is dangerous?
Andrew Holecek: Well because it can set metrics for realization. I think that’s a lot
Rick Archer: In other words, if somebody has their brainwaves measured, and they don’t have the same brainwaves as Yogi such and such, then they might think that they are not in that state or something is wrong with them. That kind of thing?
Andrew Holecek: Exactly. I’m somewhat open-minded and agnostic on this. I think the benefits are without question, and because we live in a scientific culture, that type of footing, grounding, so-called proof, or I wouldn’t say,
Rick Archer: I think the Dalai Lama is big on the research, isn’t he?
Andrew Holecek: He was the one that really ignited this whole thing, almost 40 years ago, when he started doing the Mind and Life series, remember, with Francesco Varela and those people. Adam Engle. So yeah, he’s the one that started this. And since then, it’s just gained as you know, you’ve probably had some of the scientists on your show -just tremendous traction in the West. And I do think it’s of value. But wherever you find light, you will find shadows. We must be a little bit careful how far we go up to the scientific.
Rick Archer: I think it’s good in the sense that we know so little about the brain and about consciousness, at least from a scientific perspective. Most scientists have it wrong. They think that consciousness is produced by the brain. Science has a long way to go to really understand and appreciate this stuff and measure it properly. But I think it’s part of the package. If we want a holistic, complete body of knowledge about life, then we should develop our subjective and objective technologies to the fullest possible extent.
Andrew Holecek: I agree, I totally agree. And I also think what you’re saying, this is a fundamental, as you know, the hard problem of consciousness. We can go into that drain if you want. I love this sort of thing. Where does consciousness come from? They’re never ever, ever, I think you know this, scientists will never be able to prove that consciousness arises from the brain because it doesn’t. I mean the brain is a reducing valve. It’s a filter, basically. So, they’ve got it on that level, they got it ass-backward.
Rick Archer: Even an out-of-body experience in which a person in surgery under full anesthetics sees a red sneaker on the fifth-floor balcony of the hospital that you couldn’t possibly see except from outside the hospital at that height.
Andrew Holecek: Go look at all the, I mean it’s very interesting, all the experiences that actually heighten and expand consciousness, where consciousness should, if it was really related to the brain, there should be no consciousness at all. I mean, read the work of Eben Alexander.
Rick Archer: Yeah, I’ve interviewed him.
Andrew Holecek: No cortical function at all, you’re basically brain dead, and you’re having this completely mind-opening experience. Or the other people that have had near-death experiences, or even psychedelic agents, right, people who have most of the brain, aspects of the brain, brain activities are actually reduced with these agents and psychedelics. There are just so many issues that come about when we try to reduce everything into neuronal function in the brain.
Rick Archer: Yeah, it’s just, it’s part of the picture. And if scientists are so egotistical as to think that everything has to fit through their lens, or it’s invalid, then that’s their problem. But I personally, I gave a whole talk on this at the SAND conference. Also, I really think that science and spirituality have a lot to offer each other, and each is lacking in certain areas that the other can provide.
Andrew Holecek: Absolutely. I couldn’t agree more. They have, again, the integral approach, they have an extraordinary capacity to cross-pollinate. And like you, I’m more and more excited, especially with the younger generation of scientists who are coming up mostly neuroscientists, but also others, who are really willing to engage in conversation with contemplatives, mystics, meditation masters on the light and really help expand their paradigm or expand their views. So I mean, authentic science, that’s what it’s about. But as you know, most people have a lot more involved in their scientific agenda than in a search for truth.
Rick Archer: Yeah, they’ve got careers and university professorships and tenure and all that stuff.
Andrew Holecek: Exactly. I think we live in a very rich, fertile time when we can use great resources again, in an integral way from the east-west to just expand our understanding of things because, again, there isn’t one particular discipline that’s going to be able to explain everything and be ultimately curative under all domains. And so why not engage them all with humility, openness.
Rick Archer: I wanted to loop back to something you were saying a minute ago when you were talking about addiction to states or addiction to flashy experiences. And I was reminded of a Roman orgy, while you were saying that, where they would induce vomiting, so they could eat some more because they’re just trying to perpetuate the pleasure of eating. Obviously, that was terrible for the body, and yet a balanced diet on a regular routine of eating and not eating is essential for the body. I think that if we have a balanced approach to spiritual experiences, using the food analogy, then those deeper states are enriching, and transformative. And they have a cumulative effect, just the way good nutritious food does over time. They may seem to wear off over the course of the day if you’ve had a nice morning meditation, but something has changed. And every day, it’s changed a little more. And the whole thing just continues to stabilize as the physiology transforms. And speaking of studies, they’ve done studies on people who’ve been meditating for decades, and like you just mentioned, that guy who walked into the lab, where not only their subjective experience, but the way their brain functions, and even the physical structure of this, the thickness of the cerebral cortex has changed. We’re fine-tuning and improving upon the instrument as we go along.
Andrew Holecek: Yes, exactly. And that’s a wonderful theme to introduce because there’s so much talk these days about waking up. I actually prefer, and you’ll see where this is going, the notion of waking down. And by this, what I mean is you take these insights, and you digest them, you metabolize them, you incorporate them almost literally, so they quite literally become you and part of this process, this is where the inner yoga has come into play. Where when you’re working with opening, things like your mind, well, you’re also working, whether you know it or not to open your subtle body processes. I loved your interjection of the physiology of it, that when you’re working with spiritual dimensions, you’re working with subtle, and then extremely subtle dimensions of the spectrum of our being.
So, when I talk about the spectrum of identity, this is not just psychological, spiritual. It’s actually a physical spectrum of identity. And so, when we work, we have a terrific mind-opening experience. And then it really it takes time, sometimes lifetimes, to wake down, to digest, to let the subtle body itself work to sustain that openness. The reason this becomes very interesting is because, and at some point, oh my gosh, if science could in fact, come along with some, spiritual fMRI or whatever, where you could see the structures of the nadis and the chakras and the whatnot opening. What takes place when the mind opens, as the subtle body also opens. When the subtle body opens all the energy that’s trapped in these knots in these tied up chakras, and that has all released and that’s why, what did Milarepa say, hasten slowly. Yes, we want to practice as if our hair is on fire, because life is so precious and short. We also need time to digest, metabolize, and otherwise, mixing stories, otherwise, you’ll throw up the experience, right? You have to let the body, the body has to have time to digest, metabolize, process these experiences, and therefore, like the place I did my three-year retreat was called Sopa Choling which means Dharma place of patience or forbearance. It takes patience, it takes a quality of forbearance, that when you consume this experience, you have these spiritual experiences, the body, the subtle body, needs time to digest and process.
Rick Archer: That’s really good. I think that patience is an extremely important quality on the spiritual path, not only with regard to your spiritual development, but with regard to life circumstances. You just all, as George Harrison said, all things must pass, I think that was the name of his album. It’s a hackneyed phrase, but it’s a marathon, not a sprint. And some marathon runners can run a marathon pretty fast. I couldn’t, and if I tried to run it, the way they’d run it, I’d fall flat on my face after a mile or two. You have to sort of pace yourself at your own pace, what works for you.
Andrew Holecek: Yes. And be honest with your own experience, and have again, if possible, if you have the capacities to work with other community sangha, whatever, legitimate teachers can support you in this process of digestion and metabolism because otherwise you get all these eating disorders.
Rick Archer: Yeah, you do. You get people flipping out because they push too hard. Or I’ve talked to people who have friends in the psychedelic world, who, and you and I talked, I think, this morning on the phone about the value of psychedelics, but there are people who are trying to crash the gates of heaven, so to speak, by taking too much of them. And then they end up, talk about subtle body, I mean, then it ends up damaging the subtle body and who knows how long it might take to repair that damage?
Andrew Holecek: No, it’s so true. Rick, this is a really good caveat to throw into the mix. Because we’re in the West, we tend to be a bit impatient. Again, this exceptionalist elitist attitude, I don’t need these preliminaries, I don’t need the morality, I don’t need the ethics. I’m just going to go right to the highest goodies. No Mahamudra, no non-duality. Well, get back to me in 20 years, and let me know how that turns out. The quality of just the steady gait, just never like what does his holiness the Dalai Lama say, just never give up, just steady, steady gait, And the issue of looking for state experiences, this was a big deal in my three-year retreat, because you’re doing these practices, and some of them are the practices, have signs they have the inner heat yogas if you do those, you feel the heat. You do a Phowa Practice the ejection of consciousness thing, you have signs. So, there are metrics, again, somewhat connected to what we were talking about earlier. And so what would happen, I saw this in retreat, you’re in there, and you’re like, Okay, you know, what? Let me share this story with you. This is hysterical, a true story. You’ll see how this fits in. I was teaching a program. And there was a hysterical lady there. I mean, she was just a gas. And she was running up to the little shrine room where I was about to continue with day four for this event. And I overheard her say, she goes, ‘come on inner peace. I ain’t got all day.’ [laughing] Sometimes it takes all day, right? I would see people in my retreat who like, they weren’t getting the signs. And so what do they do? Just like you said, they push, they push. And that’s when you get in trouble. When you just don’t have, just, I don’t mind what happens, let whatever happens or doesn’t happen is all grist or non-grist for the mill. This is an important point for impatient Westerners. I see a little bit of this from my own experience, that if you try too hard, what is the maximum, not too tight, not too loose, there has to be some quality of effort, otherwise, it’s not a practice. But if you try too hard, it’s gonna backfire. If you don’t try enough, nothing.
Rick Archer: There’s a bunch of verses in the Gita about that, too. This Yoga is not for him who eats too much or eats too little, sleeps too much, or sleeps too little, exhausts himself, or is lazy. There’s a kind of, didn’t Buddha say the Middle Way, wasn’t that a big one.
Andrew Holecek: Yes, exactly. So, especially in the West, for people who feel like, again, they have to just crank it up and have these experiences. This is my languaging. One of the ways that the natural state, non-duality, whatever you want to call it, is referred to in the Tibetan language is literally ordinary mind. And what I see very often in the impatient West is, and I love Kansas, so you’ll get the tongue-in-cheek thing here, where we tend to look for Hollywood-type experiences when it’s actually more like Kansas. These experiences are literally extraordinary. And so, the reason this is so important to come back to the state junkie thing or what my friend Zvi Ish Shalom, the Jewishness that he talks about is because…
Rick Archer: I’ve interviewed him. He’s a great guy.
Andrew Holecek: Oh, he’s the best. He’s the best the god addict. You have this experience, oh, this, this resonates with my definition of spirituality. That’s a spiritual experience. I want more of that. Well, then guess what happens? You’ve just replaced the chain made of lead with one made of gold. Now you’re chained to that experience. Therefore, once again, how does that blissful spiritual experience relate to when you’re sick or dying, or whatever? Where’s your spirituality then? Why can’t you relate to equanimity, to both states? And I think that’s really important because then spiritual experiences then become this golden chain, the golden cage. Sufism. Where you think that’s it. The minute that happens, Tai Situ Rinpoche said these are among the most dangerous of all spiritual traps, because they’re so delicious. They’re like mental-spiritual candy. And they’re okay, little candies, okay. But if you feed on it, it’s just gonna make your meditation very sick.
Rick Archer: Or your teeth. You’re a dentist, right?
Andrew Holecek: I see this a lot in the West. I think it’s important for impatient practitioners in the West to, there are no real shortcuts. The only shortcut? Well, this is worth sharing, my teacher Kim Rinpoche once taught us. He said, karma, you can’t really rush things, karma really has to have its own way. Things have to be worked out in their own particular way. Then he emphasized the importance of patience. But he said, however, there is one thing if you really want to accelerate your practice, do it for the benefit of others. In other words, have the aspiration of the bodhisattva that you’re doing your practices for your family, you’re doing your meditations, not for you, you’re doing them for others. And therefore, he said, that’s the secret sauce, in Buddhist language, bodhicitta. The secret sauce of doing your meditations, not just for yourself, but basically for the for the planet, for others, for the world. This is a wonderful way to come full circle to this notion of relevance. If we can’t really employ these teachings, these practices, to work with ecological situations, to work with everything that’s happening in the world, what are we doing here? What relevance is it? Are we just philosophizing? What’s the point in that? So, this stuff has teeth. If you really do spiritual practice properly, it absolutely has incredible traction and how to be a benefit in the world today.
Rick Archer: Yeah, I have two thoughts about that. Two thoughts about that have been kicking around my mind last few minutes. And let me throw them both out, and you can comment on them. One is, based on what you just said, I kind of have the belief if you want to call it that, that there’s something we might call collective consciousness, which analogously might be compared to a cloud, which accumulates static electricity. Eventually, lightning has to strike out because the imbalance has gotten too great in that cloud, between that cloud and the ground, or that cloud and another cloud. Every single one of us in the world is emitting influences all the time. Those influences accumulate in the cloud, so to speak, of collective consciousness. Eventually, they have to break out somehow, a war or some kind of catastrophe or something. And by the same token, we, through spiritual practice, can diminish the accumulation that has grown in the cloud. We can contribute, kind of a healing, soothing, nourishing influence to it, so that it won’t have to break out like that. There’s a line from the Yoga Sutras, ‘avert the danger which has not yet come.’ If we don’t avert it, it’s got to come, but we can defuse it. I think when you’re talking about benefiting the world through spiritual practice, I think that’s one of the main ways in which it happens.
Andrew Holecek: That’s such a great topic, Rick, and subtle things come to mind there. This also ties into the incredible importance of having a right view. If you think that the world is made of matter, and it’s solid, lasting, independent, and there’s people out there separate from you, and the world is separate from me, then what I do with my minuscule mind, and my little meditation is, ineffectual. actually. But, again, if reality is of the nature of mind, not matter, then what I do in here, because there is no in here out there. What did Wheeler say, the physicist, ‘There is no out there out there.’ What I do in here so to speak, absolutely, positively has rippling effects on what happens out there. And to show you one, I wouldn’t say extreme, but one very insightful comment from one of my main teachers, Trungpa Rinpoche, he’s the guy, the master who put me in my three-year retreat. In one of his texts, he wrote the most interesting thing. He said that in environments where people are really aggressive, they hold hostile thoughts, aggressive, bitter, nasty, violent thoughts, he said that the landscape will respond in kind, that eventually that rippling effect will manifest as earthquakes, ecological disasters, natural repercussions of these unnatural states. Therefore, conversely, exactly like you say, if you work with beneficent loving thoughts, you’re doing spiritual practices like Tonglen and others that are designed to connect you to others, that has a lot more power than you think. Because reality again is made of the nature of heart, mind, spirit, the same heart mind spirit that I have. Therefore, what I do has effects, and you probably remember this book, Rick, from maybe 40 years ago, the Maharishi Effect? Remember that book?
Rick Archer: I was in those. I spent three months in Iran generating an influence, hopefully with a bunch of other guys.
Andrew Holecek: I wondered.
Rick Archer: I left three days before the Shah did.
Andrew Holecek: Exactly. Our mutual friend, Chris Bache, and his book, a lovely book, The Living Classroom, talks about this, the connective tissue of consciousness, how it applies in a teaching capacity and pedagogical approaches, how it applies in a world approach like this. Therefore, really what we do with our minds, the state of our minds, whether we know it or not, has an effect on the state of the so-called external world, because there isn’t one. Every little vibration that we put, has this rippling effect. And then, like you mentioned, with the Maharishi Effect, and others, the more we do this, and I think there’s some interesting data coming out that Chris writes about in his book, supporting this kind of thing, that it’s not just metaphysical mumbo jumbo, using Sheldrake’s work with morphogenic fields and whatnot, that what we do sends a vibratory impact, a signature, across the rest of the land. Again, I love this, because just like with what I was talking about earlier about absolute approach, and the immediacy of things, this empowers my view, my understanding of what I do with my practice, the dedication of my merit, the aspirations around my work, that I actually have a lot more power in a non-egoic sense than I think. More a Eco-Sense, I can really affect others, with what I do with my own being.
Rick Archer: And if people have a hard time with earthquakes, because we’re talking about tectonic plates, forget about earthquakes, think about the Pacific Garbage Patch, or global warming, or toxic, what’s happening with the tar sands in Canada, or any number of things. Anything we see in the world is just a reflection of the quality of the individual minds of 8 billion people, being projected or manifested into material creation. And if all those 8 billion minds were enlightened, or somewhere in that direction, we could have heaven on earth, in my opinion.
Andrew Holecek: 100%. I mean, absolutely, absolutely. This is really the kind of the tantric interpretation of pure land that we can discover and actually bring about. This quality of purity through the collective power of our being. Again, I love this because it’s not metaphysical, philosophical mumbo jumbo. This is really a wonderfully empowering set of teachings that can really, the more you feel this, the more you think it, the more you believe it, the more you’re going to do it, because you realize, every breath I take, I’m in intercourse with my world. I’m having an effect. And you notice when you’re around people, when you’re really in the physical presence of someone who’s done this sort of work who’s really fully… I love the Tibetan name for his holiness the Dalai Lama, is Kundun, which means presence, the one who lives presence and when you’re around him, you know. It’s like whoa. Oh, here we go, questions are coming in?
Rick Archer: Okay. Questions! Yeah, and before I ask these, I just want to touch on one other point you brought up about the subtle body. Because somebody might look at an old yogi or whatever, the Tibetan equivalent of what that word is, who’s dying, and he is decrepit. Maybe he has cancer, his body is shot, maybe he even has Alzheimer’s or something. But that’s just the gross body. Obviously, none of us are going to look too pretty at the point of death. But the gross body could be very pretty if you could see it. And that doesn’t decay when the gross body decays, and that’s what we carry on with when the gross body dies. Everybody, most people know this. But I just want to give you an opportunity to emphasize that point.
Andrew Holecek: Oh, yes, I definitely wanted to put an exclamation point on that. Let me share, do this in the form of a story. When I was conducting interviews for my book, preparing to die, I had the great good fortune because I was working in Nepal and India, Tibet, at that time to interview a number of amazing individuals, which I compiled that data in the back of my book. And one of the people I met with, his name was Tenga Rinpoche. T-E-N-G-A. I hadn’t seen him in years. When I was admitted into his quarters, to ask him my silly questions. I literally I was just taken aback when I saw him because he was a physical train wreck. His legs had been amputated from diabetes. He was blind. I mean, the guy should have been in ICU. And he sat there, Rick, with the most ineffable countenance in joy and radiance. I mean, here was a guy, his physical body was like, this guy should be in the hospital. And he was beaming and smiling and laughing, that I didn’t need to ask him any questions. That’s all I needed was right there. His view of who he really was, that he is not the outer body, that there’s a dimension within him that is literally called the changeless nature that is untouched, that does not enter the world of space and time, does not get Alzheimer’s, dementia, AIDS, Parkinson’s, whatever. He had taken refuge in that, and it didn’t matter a whit what was happening at the outer level with his own body, because he realized, ‘that’s not me. That’s just an outer temporary manifestation of me.’
He was taking refuge in this inner being. And that was a really powerful transmission. Hopefully, if I have the great good fortune to die in those kinds of conditions, to really take refuge, Inner Refuge in this inner subtle body, that is not affected by space and time, the ravages. That’s a game-changer when it comes to the end of life. This is great because as I age, and I look at my body, I’m slowly falling apart. It’s all coming undone. And I use him as a role model. It’s like what Eckhart Tolle says it beautifully in one of his writings, he said, ‘what is lost at the level of matter is gained of the level of spirit.’ And in a very real way, when we’re aging and dying, in Tibetan, it’s called Ngondro. It’s a type of preliminary practice, is basically inviting us and then eventually forcing us to what, to let go of this exclusive identification with form, which is what ego is, transfer that identity and to these more subtle, truer dimensions of your being, because hey, guess what, this is exactly the transfer that’s going to take place when you die. So why not make that transfer now? Why not die before you die? Why not shift your identity from exclusive identification with form into the formless, deathless nature of who you really are?
Rick Archer: This guy you just mentioned who’d had his legs amputated and everything, it’s not that he really fervently believed that he was anything or other. It was that he had transformed his inner experience through a lifetime of practice. It was not anything he had to think about or psych himself into or anything like that. That was his living reality.
Andrew Holecek: It was his living reality. Yeah. It really affected me. So beautiful.
Rick Archer: Let’s get some questions here. We have three questions all from Elizabeth. Question number one, and our time is a little bit up, but we can go a bit late. What is the difference between a lucid dream and the experience of the waking state? In other words, once we know we are dreaming, how is it still a dream? Rather than a sense of perception or imagination?
Andrew Holecek: Yeah, that’s a great question. Well, again, it depends on how you define dream, Elizabeth. If you talk about dream as a manifestation of mind, from an absolute, more like an awakened perspective, of someone who has ultimate lucidity in all states, there is no difference. There is no difference. They see that dimension and expression of mind exactly the same way we do, or they do this. But for the rest of us… repeat the last part of the question. I’m sorry?
Rick Archer: How do we know once we know we are dreaming, how is it still a dream rather than a sense of perception? And I would just ask you to add to her question. Wouldn’t dreaming be mental activity without physical activity? And physical activity is mental and physical activity both, so you’re just taking a layer off, but the other layers.
Andrew Holecek: Yeah, my friend, Steven LaBerge, really the father of Western scientific, lucid dreaming, proved, what did he say, that waking consciousness is dreaming consciousness with sensory constraints. Dreaming consciousness is waking consciousness without sensory constraints.
Rick Archer: That makes sense, and it’s also, it’s a waking consciousness, a state in which we are sharing, a world in which there’s some intersubjective agreement,
Andrew Holecek: Exactly.
Rick Archer: Whereas you could have 50,000 people in a baseball stadium, all-seeing pretty much the same game, although they might be rooting for different teams. But if they all fell asleep, you’d have 50,000 different dreams.
Andrew Holecek: Well, that’s actually very interesting. Let me just say one brief thing there because this might take us too far away from the other questions. It’s very interesting, because, I think you’ll see where I’m going with this, we often say things in an unexamined way, that well, I have a perspective or right perspective of. Well, it’s really at the deepest levels there’s perspective as, there’s no perspective of because if there’s perspective of, there’s one game. Then that implies there’s something truly solid, lasting, independent, dualistic out there. But if you take a very close look at things, there’s simply just perspective. Yes, we agree in the collective state. And that’s a really interesting, important distinction. But that’s why the nighttime dream on one level is not the same, because we have this kind of collective thing going on. But I’ll let that go for now. Because this starts to get into something it’s a whole kettle of fish.
Rick Archer: The whole kettle of fish.
Andrew Holecek: Exactly.
Rick Archer: All right, let me get to Elizabeth’s second question. She said, for the realized or someone who is stable in their recognition of mind, is it necessary to prepare in any way for the death of the body? In other words, someone who’s already established, is there any further preparation?
Andrew Holecek: No, not. That’s it. That’s it. That’s all you’ve got to do. One small thing here in relation to dreams that may be of some interest is, if I had a nickel for how many times I’ve been asked this, I could retire. The question is, where do you go when you die? Well, if you really understand the real nuances of dream yoga, and dream as a manifestation of mind, you simply transition from one dream to the next. That’s it, you simply transition from one dream to the next. And so for the ultimate lucid dreamers, who have lucidity awareness, like Harry, across all states of mind, then basically that’s it. You just simply naturally transition from one dream to the next.
Rick Archer: Question three, which schools of Buddhist philosophy are most similar to Advaita Vedanta?
Andrew Holecek: Oh, what a great question. Yes. Well, those would probably be Mahamudra and Dzogchen. I’m principally a student of Tibetan Buddhism, Vajrayana, also, Tantric Buddhism. Four main schools, and allegedly, the highest school, the highest traditions within those four schools are called the Mahamudra, the Great Seal tradition, formless meditations, non-dual traditions, and then what’s called the Nyingma Dzogchen school. So those are the two main practices. But there is a difference here, Elizabeth, and I’ve engaged in some wonderfully rich conversations with probably people you know, Swami Sarvapriyananda, Rupert Spira, and others. Yeah, wonderful.
Rick Archer: I was actually going to, Swami Sarvapriyananda is going to start a podcast at my urging, in which he interviews all these people. He already did one with Rupert, which I moderated, but I was thinking as you were talking, he should have you on as a guest on his podcast.
Andrew Holecek: I actually interviewed him for two hours a couple of months ago. Yeah, what a beautiful, in fact, he’s coming out again later for this preparing to die thing. But what a beautiful soul. I’ve had these conversations with Swamiji about this. Where because again, just briefly, about his genius, he’s so open and he’s studying Buddhist Madhyamaka and all this stuff.
Rick Archer: He spent a year at Harvard studying all this stuff.
Andrew Holecek: I bow to him. But one big difference, in Rupert Spira as well. And I actually questioned him on this. One of the subtle issues with Advaita Vedanta is its potentially monistic or absolutist approach. And by this, what I mean is, it may seem subtle, but it actually is a bit important. That there’s a subtle monism implied when people don’t approach Advaita Vedanta properly, that everything is just the one consciousness, the one mind. Well, not really, because when you really look at it, non-duality is a term of negation. A non-assertion is a non-affirming negation. Again, this is such a rich topic, maybe we don’t need to go completely into these weeds. But here’s the kink, the kicker. When you get into these really subtle distinctions between Advaita Vedanta, non-dual Shaiva Tantra, Mahamudra, Dzogchen, and Swamiji agreed with me on this. He said it’s actually these tiny little rubs that turn out to be the ones you want to really pay attention to. Like where does Advaita Vedanta not agree with Shaiva Tantra or with Dzogchen? That’s the stuff you want to pay attention to. Because that’s where the insights come from. That’s what I love about him. He was so willing to go outside of his comfort zone, outside of his box, and say, oh my gosh, the Madhyamaka, boy, do they have some really interesting things to say here that I don’t see as Advaita Vedana from my own side, and I so appreciate that.
Rick Archer: That’s great.
Andrew Holecek: These are great topics. Wonderful, good stuff.
Rick Archer: Yeah. Well, you and I should stay in touch. I’ve really enjoyed getting to know you.
Andrew Holecek: Thank you, Rick. Thanks for the opportunity. It’s really a delight. You’re so easygoing, and you’re obviously a wealth of knowledge and experience. It’s really fun to hang with you.
Rick Archer: Yeah, likewise. Our paths will cross again. Thanks to those who have been listening or watching. If you tried to submit a question and we didn’t get it, sorry about that there might be some problem with the form. There’s always some technical thing. Today was my computer breaking, as I said in the beginning, so I will get it fixed and tested thoroughly before next week. If you’d like to see what next week is, and you might be watching this five years from now, I don’t know if I’ll still be doing this five years from now but go to batgap.com. Go to the upcoming interviews page, and you can see everything we’ve got scheduled.
From time to time, occasionally, we have a guest suggestion forum that we opened up and then it gets so flooded that we have to close it down again. If you have guest suggestions, just keep an eye on that page, and you can suggest them when we open it again. Thanks so much. Thank you, Andrew, and we’ll see you again.
Andrew Holecek: That’d be great. Thanks for the opportunity, Rick. I really enjoyed it.
Rick Archer: Talk to you later.