Rick: Welcome to Buddha at the Gas Pump. My name is Rick Archer and my guest today is Bernardo Kastrup. Bernardo has a PhD in computer engineering and has worked as a scientist in some of the world’s foremost research laboratories, including the European Organization for Nuclear Research, CERN, and the Phillips Research Labs, where the Casimir effect of quantum field theory was discovered. He has authored many scientific papers and four philosophy books, Rationalist Spirituality, Dreamed-Up Reality, Meaning and Absurdity, and his latest, Why Materialism is Baloney, which I am in the midst of. I’m up to about chapter 7 now and totally loving it. This latter book is a grand synthesis of his metaphysical views. Bernardo has also been an entrepreneur and founder of two high-tech businesses. To get today, he holds a managerial position in the high-tech industry. In parallel, he maintains a philosophy blog, an audio video podcast, and continues to develop his ideas about the nature of reality. Bernardo has lived and worked in four different countries across continents and today I’m speaking to him in Holland. There’s a little blurb that you also wrote about your book, I want to just read that. You say, “This is about materialism is baloney.” This isn’t a feel-good spiritual book, but a logical and rigorous exploration of reality. It looks past the cultural fog that for so long has obscured our view and negatively influenced our lives. It unveils a reality much more conducive to hope than the bleak materialist view implies. It concludes that life is pregnant with meaning and purpose and that death is just a change in our state of consciousness. It is time we opened our eyes and dropped the insanity of materialism. 21st century humanity demands a more mature adult worldview. So, I’m looking forward to a really lively conversation.
Bernardo: I am too.
Rick: I must say that it’s not an easy read, your book. You really have to put on your thinking cap and pay careful attention. And many times I read that sentence or a paragraph over again just to make sure I was getting it, and I couldn’t possibly do justice to it if I had to reiterate what it’s all about. But I was absorbing a lot and I think you’re really on to something in terms of a viable theory as to how creation comes about. And so we’ll talk about all this. But you know one thing I haven’t learned yet about you, maybe it’s on your blog or somewhere or other that I haven’t read, is what your spiritual background is. Because you do seem to have a spiritual orientation. So, how did that, what has that all been about for you?
Bernardo: Well, it’s a good question. If you ask about my past, well I grew up in a half Catholic family. My mother’s side of the family was Catholic. My father was very much into the science thing, you know, a rationalist. And that influenced me more than religion, than Catholicism. And I basically grew up in science. I went to university at 17 and science was the big thing for me. I had a dream from childhood to work at CERN and that ended up being my very first job in life. And when you were there, you know, for your first week there your colleagues always point to you who the Nobel Prize winners are sitting on the canteen close to you. And it was a kind of church. So, if you ask me what is my spiritual background, it has been science. And at some point in my life things began to change in terms of how I see the world. The word “spirituality” it’s a valid word, but it’s a word. At the end of the day it’s about truth, right? What is true? What is going on? That’s what it’s all about. And you may go about it in a scientific manner, according to the scientific method. You may go about it in terms of direct experience, experiential knowledge, instead of conceptual intellectual knowledge. That would be the spiritual path. Or you may make a mix of it all and then try to find the truth your own way. But to answer your question Rick, I don’t really have a spiritual background as such, although I am interested in spirituality.
Rick: Yeah, I mean I’ve seen you quoting Adyashanti for instance. And have you ever had a spiritual teacher or done any actual spiritual practice such as meditation or anything? Or have you just mainly been on the intellectual path?
Bernardo: Mainly on the intellectual path I have done meditation. In my second book, ‘Dreamed Reality,” I describe what I call experiments with altered states of consciousness, which come from meditation, visualization, other techniques. So I have done that, but never with a teacher. I never had a direct relationship with a spiritual teacher. My personality is such that I’m not sure that would work well for me.
Rick: Yeah, it depends on the teacher maybe. Some teachers are pretty mature and they’re not going to lay trips on you.
Bernardo: Yeah, I’m open to that.
Rick: Yeah, but you know it’s worth mentioning that the intellectual path to God-realization, if you want to call it God-realization, is a recognized valid path in many traditions. In the East, in the Vedic tradition, it’s called Jnana Yoga, and it’s primarily a matter of really fine intellectual discernment about the nature of reality. And if you’re so wired that you’re capable of doing that, that can be the best and fastest and most legitimate path for you. So, you know, spirituality isn’t necessarily all about, you know, sitting on a cushion with your eyes closed. It can be a matter of intellectual discernment and discrimination for some people.
Bernardo: I hadn’t heard about that form of yoga, and you made me curious now. To be very honest with you, I write these books, I have these ideas, I feel very confident in these ideas. I think they are correct. They give me peace, intellectually, but do I live in peace as a person? Absolutely not, and I have had my own short glimpses or non-abiding experiences, as Adyashanti would call them, of a broader reality. And those were very shocking and very profound, changing me forever, but they haven’t stayed with me. So I don’t live in peace. So from that perspective, ironically enough, I think a direct experiential path, that you don’t conceptualize truth but you live it directly, I think that has more value to human life. And then you might ask, why do I do what I do? That’s because of a cultural question. I think there is value to that other path as well at the cultural level, because it opens the intellect. The intellect then allows you to accept things that the intellect would otherwise block. So it makes it easier to have a direct experience of truth, if you can influence the culture in such a way that it’s more conducive to a direct experience of truth. And that’s what I try to do, but honestly I don’t think it replaces direct spiritual experience, so to say, or spiritual realization.
Rick: No, I don’t either, but what I’m suggesting is that for some people intellectual discrimination can be a means of going deeper and deeper and deeper, and to the point where the full experience of realization that others might arrive at through a more directly experiential process can dawn, and you would end up at the same place, but you’ve used the intellect as a vehicle instead of a mantra or devotion or some other way of going about it.
Bernardo: It’s interesting to know, there’s hope for me then. I’m not lost. I think you’re doing okay. I mean as I was reading the book I just kept thinking, “Wow, I mean to be able to write such a book one must have an incredibly clear mind, you know, and a very subtle and nuanced way of understanding things.” And I think those clarity and subtlety and fine discrimination are actually criteria of perhaps even prerequisites to spiritual realization. So I think you’re doing all right, buddy.
Bernardo: I should hope so.
Rick: Yeah, and I just want to comment on something we were talking about a minute ago with regard to science and spirituality, and you said my path has mainly been science. I can easily think of examples, as can you, of times in history where the scientists were actually really much more on the track of reality. If spirituality is really about understanding reality and living reality, I mean guys like Galileo and Copernicus were much more spiritual in that sense than the predominant spiritual tradition of the time, which was propagating a lot of BS and discriminating, you know, torturing and repressing those who actually had a correct understanding. So just because something seems spiritual on the surface, you know, is overtly kind of explicitly spiritual, doesn’t mean it’s actually closer to the truth than something which is, you know, more scientific.
Bernardo: I would concur with you, even Newton was profoundly spiritual.
Bernardo: He was a mystic.
Bernardo: Bruno, Giordano Bruno, another one.
Rick: Right, he’s the one who got himself burned at stake for being so bold as to suggest that the earth wasn’t the center of the universe. So materialism, I don’t know if I wrote this down or this was your definition, materialism is awareness restricted to the material level of life, no transcendent, no subtle perception. Is that how you would define it?
Rick: Okay, how would you define it? Thats been my definition?
Bernardo: Well, materialism is based on two propositions, two postulates, so to say. One is that empirical reality is fundamentally outside consciousness, that if there were no conscious being observing it, it would go merrily on without us.
Rick: Tree falls in the forest kind of thing.
Bernardo: It would still fall in the forest, even if nobody were looking at it. That’s one thing. Although quantum mechanics is making that shaky ground, they’re still holding on to that. There’s still an avenue to hold to that postulate. And the other postulate is that matter which exists fundamentally outside mind, specific arrangement of that matter creates mind, creates consciousness. And it’s important to say that I use the word mind interchangeably with consciousness. A lot of people when they say mind they mean thoughts. I mean the whole shalom, I mean all subjective experience, the space of subjective experience, I call that mind.
Rick: Yeah, it’s good you define that because when I first started reading your book I kept thinking, well by mind he really means consciousness because I think of mind as an excitation of consciousness, an individual expression, one of your whirlpools in your analogy. But you’re talking about universal mind when you say mind.
Bernardo: That’s right, yeah, it’s the traditional old philosophical definition of the term mind. Today especially in non-duality circles it has come to mean thought, and excludes perception, emotion, intuition. In my definition of mind all subjective experience, thoughts, emotion, intuition, perception, dreams, visions, all that unfold in the field of mind or in the field of consciousness. I don’t mind the word.
Rick: Right,so materialists
Bernardo: Yeah so then materialists would then say, the real world is outside mind, matter is outside mind, and configurations of matter create mind. In other words it’s the ultimate in projection, because what are we? We are mind, mind is consciousness. I would use the word consciousness now not to confuse your audience. We are consciousness, we are subjective experience itself, everything we know, knowledge itself is an excitation of consciousness. You cannot know what you are not conscious of and has never been conscious of. So that’s fundamentally us. What materialists do is they project an essential quality of what they are onto something external, supposedly abstracted by their own consciousness, and they say that is conscious and I am a product of that. It’s the ultimate in psychological projection and my argument in the book is this is nonsensical.
Rick: Okay, so then in summary a materialist thinks that the mind is the epiphenomenon of brain functioning. It’s a result of brain cells firing and neurochemicals and things like that happening. And what you would call an idealist is the flip side, the polar opposite of that is the brain is actually something that the mind creates or that consciousness gives rise to, not the other way around, right? Is that fair?
Bernardo: That’s fair, if you think about it, everything we know about the brain, about the body has been and is a content of mind. When a scientist looks at somebody else’s brain what he sees is a percept, is a content of consciousness, it’s something the scientist is aware of. Even if you look down to your own body and you palpate your torso and you see your limbs, these are contents of your consciousness. So fundamentally it’s much more reasonable to say that your body and your brain are in your consciousness than to say that your consciousness is in your body and your brain, which is what materialists do. So there is this double movement in materialism, they take specific contents of their consciousness and they abstract it away and they say this is separate, this is outside consciousness, and then there is a movement back in which they say, “and that thing outside consciousness generates my subjective experience of the world right now.” It’s a completely redundant movement. In mathematics you would cancel out the plus and the minus, if you would see something of that form.
Rick: So what would a materialist objection to the point you just made be? What would be the most common objection?
Bernardo: Oh, there would be lots of objections. They would point for instance to the fact that there are very strict correlations between brain function and subjective experience. They would argue that there is even a causal link, like if you drink alcohol, which is a material substance that influences your brain chemistry, your subjective experience will change, or if you suffer trauma to the head, your subjective experience will change. So they will point to these things as evidence that the brain generates the mind. They will also point to the fact that if reality is in consciousness and our bodies are in consciousness, then reality is a kind of dream, right? When you dream you have a dreamed-up body, but that body is in your consciousness. It’s not your consciousness that is in that dreamed-up body. So they would say, okay, then you are saying that reality is a kind of dream, how come we are all sharing the same dream then, because we all seem to be sharing the same reality. So they will point to all these arguments and the common ground of all these arguments, the implicit argument there is to say that we do not have sufficient explanatory power to make sense of reality if we say that only consciousness exists. In order to explain reality we need to infer something else, namely an entire bloody universe outside consciousness, otherwise we cannot make sense of things. I say that is false and I take a lot of time and space in the book to answer each of these objections one by one to show that the explanatory power of this notion that all reality is in consciousness is identical or more than the explanatory power of materialism of this world outside mind. And if that is so, then postulating a universe outside mind is entirely redundant. It’s like believing in the flying spaghetti monster. It’s an unnecessary assumption, it’s an unnecessary multiplication of hypothesis, and that is the argument I try to make.
Rick: Well, I could ask a question here but why don’t you unfold it more? I mean elaborate now on your whole argument that you present in the book.
Bernardo: I think materialism starts from two confusions, two things that they confuse. One thing they confuse is to mistake consciousness for volition. Volition is our egoic wishes, what we want, what we don’t want, what we think we can control, what we think we can’t control. For instance, if you fantasize while awake, those images in your mind are under the control of your volition. But if you have a nightmare, those images also in your mind are not under the control of your egoic volition. Materialists mistake volition for consciousness. They say, “I can’t influence reality by thinking about it differently, right? If I fall off a building I can’t just think that I’m not falling, that I’m safe on the ground. I will still fall and I will still hit the ground and die.” The point this makes is that reality at large is not under the control of volition. It doesn’t say that reality is not within consciousness. The other mistake they make is
Rick: Let’s just pause on that one for a second. So I think that their assumption there is that if reality were a manifestation of consciousness, that we should be able to jump off the building and just fly or not fall or something like that. But they’re presuming that reality is a manifestation of individual consciousness, which has its limitations by definition. And what you’re saying is that reality is a manifestation of universal consciousness. And we as individuals don’t necessarily have all the capabilities that universal consciousness has, and it has its laws and its way of functioning that are inherent within it, which we as individuals have to abide by.
Bernardo: That’s one way to look at it, but we can even bring it even closer to home, closer to ourselves. A schizophrenic has hallucinations that are private to him. They are not collective, nobody is sharing those hallucinations, yet they are certainly not under the control of his volition. The schizophrenic does not control his hallucinations, they just play out sometimes with continuity for years. If you watch the *Beautiful Mind’ that movie, you will see that schizophrenic hallucinations can be a parallel world, a private parallel world that unfolds over years, and it’s undoubtedly in mind. Nobody would question that, nobody would say it has a reality outside mind, the hallucinations of a schizophrenic, and yet they are not under the control of volition. So it’s quite obvious if you think about it, that even our personal minds extend beyond the scope of volition. There are things we experience in mind alone, like our nightly dreams, which are not under the control of volition, and the difference is a particular type of subjective experience. If I fantasize now that I’m falling off a building, the images are the same as in a dream at night, when I’m falling off a building. Those images, that part of the experience is identical, but when I am awake there is an extra experience, the feeling of being in control. There is nothing more to that than an experience, and that particular experience is missing in the dream at night. That’s the only difference. In both cases, these are all experiences unfolding in mind. In one case you have a particular experience extra, which is the feeling of being in control. In the other case you don’t have that, but it’s still in mind.
Rick: Unless you have lucid dreaming, and some people say they have lucid dreaming and they can very much control their dreams, but that’s a different matter.
Bernardo: Then you can bring that extra experience also to your nightly reveries, so to say. But materialists in general tend to make this silly mistake to assume that mind equals what is in the field of volition. To be honest with you, even philosophers of older ages like George Berkeley, an exponent of idealism, he seemed to have made that confusion as well. When he was asked to explain why the world, the outside reality, outside between quotes, unfolds apparently outside the control of our volition, he appealed to a second mind, the mind of God, which implicitly acknowledges that our mind consists only of that which is under the control of volition. Today since the advent of depth psychology in the late 19th century with the William James, Freud, Carl Jung, since then we know that there is much more to mind than the field of volition, much more to our personal minds, let alone the collective mind that seems to create the images of consensus reality. So going back to your question, that’s one I think mistake of materialists. The other one is a simple confusion, is to confuse the image of a process for the cause of the process. So for instance, if you see flames, flames are not the cause of combustion, they are the way combustion looks. Combustion, the microscopic process, the chemical reaction of combustion that releases plasma and energy and all that, the image of that process, we call that image flames. They don’t cause combustion, they are the way it looks. I argue that our brain, brain activity, especially certain types of closed-loop processes in the brain, they are not the cause of consciousness, they are the image of a process of self-localization of consciousness when observed from the outside, in just the same way that flames are the image of microscopic combustion when observed from the outside. If you’re in the middle of combustion it wouldn’t look like flames at all, it would look like something else. And another analogy I use is to say that the brain is like a whirlpool in the stream of mind. When water self-localizes and rotates around a specific point in the stream, you get a whirlpool. But there is nothing to a whirlpool but water. Similarly, I would argue that there is nothing to the brain but mind. And then if people say, “Oh, but I can point to a brain and say there is a brain.” Well, you can point to a whirlpool and say there is a whirlpool, you can delineate its boundaries, it’s a very concrete thing. But there is nothing to it but the pattern of flow of water. I think the brain is just the image of a self- localization of the flow of mind. Because of that, brain activity correlates very well with subjective experience, because one is the image of the other. That’s why when scientists put you under a CT scan and observe your neuronal processes, it correlates very well with what you report you’re experiencing. Of course, you’re looking at the same process from two different views, an inside view and an outside view. But both are the same process. One is the image of the other. It’s not surprising at all that there are these correlations between brain activity and mind. And it does not mean that the brain generates mind, for the same reason that the whirlpool doesn’t generate water.
Rick: Yeah, so based on what you just said, that brain is a localization of mind, everything is a localization of mind, right? I mean, these glasses are a localization and the roses behind me are a localization. If consciousness is the ultimate constituent of creation, the ultimate reality, then everything that appears material is just a kind of a coagulation of that, a localization of that. But some of these localizations are more self-reflective than others, or more sophisticated than others. Well, I don’t know, go with that first before I say more.
Bernardo: I would be very careful with that Rick, because I think there is an important difference between saying that all reality is in consciousness and saying that everything is conscious.
Rick: Well, I didn’t quite say that, but we’ll get to that, but I didn’t quite say that.
Bernardo: I sensed an implication, for instance, if you say that I am a localization of consciousness, that means I am conscious. There is something it is like to be me. I ground a certain subjective perspective, a certain subjective point of view on reality. I am conscious as a localization of mind. Is this glass of water, if it is a localization of mind, it should be conscious too? I don’t think it is conscious. I think it is in consciousness. I don’t think there is anything it is like to be this glass of water. I don’t think it grounds a subjective point of view on reality. I think it’s just an image in my consciousness, in your consciousness, in the consciousness of the audience of this show. In that sense it is in consciousness and there is nothing to it that is not in consciousness, but that doesn’t mean that it is conscious. I think life is the image of a localization process in consciousness, but life, non-life are just images in consciousness, not necessarily processes of localization of consciousness, if you know what I mean.
Rick: I know what you mean. I want to dwell on this one a bit. In your book you mentioned the word panentheism, or was it panpsychism?
Rick: That everything is conscious to some degree. And so one question there is where do you draw the line? If you go down the evolutionary scale and you get down to amoebas and bacteria and viruses and then at a certain point it’s a gray area, you don’t know what’s animate or not, and then you get down into the inanimate stuff like rocks and all. So is there a cut-off point at which
Bernardo: I acknowledge the difficulty in finding the cut-off point. I acknowledge that difficulty. We have the difficulty today if we talk about life. Is a virus alive? Is a virus really alive or is it not? There are questions about it. The virus cannot reproduce itself without some other living being to help it to manufacture other viruses. A bacteria is probably certainly alive and from that point on everything is alive. So I acknowledge the difficulty in precisely defining the boundary, but I don’t think anybody would question the difference between this glass of water and me. I am alive, the glass of water is not, an insect is alive, a rock is not. I would argue that both are in consciousness and in that sense there is no fundamental separation between them. But one grounds a specific localized point of view within consciousness and the other one is an image in consciousness. That’s what I would argue. I would stay close to science at that level and let science try to figure out where is the boundary of life and non-life. And whatever that boundary is I would say that is the boundary between localization of consciousness and just the wider stream, the wider flow. On one side of that boundary you have whirlpools, on the other side it’s the broader stream.
Rick: Okay, I think I have two points here. One is that regardless of where the cutoff point is between life and non-life, if you look at anything closely like your glass of water you see that there’s a sort of a marvelous, at a fundamental level there’s a marvelous orderliness and structure to what’s going on there that is not random, that’s not billiard balls bouncing into each other. There’s some kind of intelligence permeating it. Whether it as an object can be aware of itself is, let’s just say it can’t, I can grant you that. Although in some traditions they say everything is aware of itself to some rudimentary degree but not in the way we human beings would understand. So that’s one point. Another point is that you say this thing is in consciousness but that’s a very dualistic way of speaking. The glass of water is in consciousness. So then you have the glass of water and it’s in consciousness, kind of like an ice cube is in water. And that’s a good metaphor because if consciousness is the ultimate reality, the ultimate constituent of everything, then it’s not quite correct to say the glass of water is in consciousness. The glass of water is consciousness. That doesn’t mean it’s conscious, but it’s consciousness interacting within itself, taking the form, the apparent form of a glass of water.
Bernardo: You made two points. Let me see if I can remember the first one.
Rick: The first one was regarding the cutoff point.
Bernardo: No, the first one was you said there are all these beautiful patterns in nature. Intelligent. They seem to express, to manifest a certain intelligence.
Rick: Yeah, orderliness. Laws of nature.
Bernardo: Yeah, if we say that nature is the image of processes of consciousness in consciousness, which is what I say, I don’t say that they are necessarily self localization aspects of consciousness. They don’t ground a localized point of view, a localized perspective onto reality, but they are still in mind. In that case, they are images of processes in mind and as such they must reflect the fundamental nature, the fundamental qualities, the fundamental properties of mind. It is no wonder then that we find these beautiful patterns, beautiful symmetries and sometimes beautiful asymmetries in nature, and I consider it completely valid to say that as images in mind, of processes of mind, they are reflecting that beauty, the fundamental underlying nature of consciousness. So I think your intuition applies completely.
Rick: And again by mind here you mean something universal field, not the individual.
Rick: Yeah, correct.
Bernardo: But to say that for instance, I think it’s valid and intelligent to say that the beauty of a crystal, when you look at it under a microscope, reflects archetypal features of what mind is. We don’t really we cannot pin down what mind is, because we are it. The eye that sees cannot look at itself as an object. So mind is the knower, not the known. So we cannot pin it down directly, but reality at large as an image of mind, because it’s generated by mind, is a metaphor for the underlying fundamental qualities of mind. The crystal, the beauty of that crystal, is a metaphor for an archetypal quality of mind. And I think in fact, I think the meaning of life is to observe nature with those eyes, to observe nature as if it were a dream and ask yourself, what does this mean? It’s an expression of something very subtle that underlies all this and which we cannot see directly. We can only see the metaphor that it produces. Truth manifests itself through the fictions it creates, the fiction of reality, and in that sense the fiction conveys truth indirectly, as a poem conveys truth through metaphors and analogies. So I don’t think my position denies the intuition you expressed in your first point. I think it’s completely applicable. Nature manifests the fundamental archetypes of mind and we should read nature as we read a poem, as we read a metaphorical novel. Your second point, you mentioned that there is a dualism built in what I’m saying, that things that are in mind. Let me ask you this, I could say imagine a spinning top, there’s a spinning top on the table, it’s spinning. I would say the spin is in the top, but there’s no duality about it because there’s nothing to the spin other than the top that spins. You cannot take the spin away from the top and say here is the top and here’s the spin. The spin is a state of the top, it’s a behavior of the top, yet we have two words for it, spin and top. The dualism is merely in language, the reality of the situation has no dualism at all. When I say that this glass of water is in mind, it’s like the spin of the top, it’s a behavior of mind, it’s a process of mind, like the whirlpool is a process of the water. There’s nothing to the whirlpool but water, you cannot take the whirlpool out of the water and say here’s the whirlpool, there is the water, or the vibrations of a guitar string. The only thing to a vibrating guitar string is nothing other than the string that vibrates. The vibration is a state of the string, there’s no dualism at all. It looks like it because we talk about it in language. But there is a difference, I think, going back to the analogy of the stream, between water flowing unimpeded and water circulating around a specific point and forming a whirlpool. I would call the latter life, localized consciousness, a particular localized point of view on the broader reality. The rest I would describe it as in mind, but it’s not dual for the same reason that the spin is in the top, that the vibration is in the guitar string or that the whirlpool is in the water. It’s not a separate thing, it’s a particular behavior. There are many different particular behaviors. A guitar string can vibrate in many different frequencies, in many different modes. A spinning top can rotate in many left, right and it can wobble. These differences in the state, in the behavior, in my view of reality, are what explain the variety of reality, the variety of phenomena that we experience. All of reality is a pattern of excitation of mind, but only certain patterns of excitation ground the localized point of view. The rest is just a behavior of the broader mind. That’s how I see that. I don’t know if I’m making myself clearer.
Rick: I think I understand. So the glass of water is just a localized excitation of mind and I am also a localized excitation of mind, but the difference between us is that I am such a more sophisticated localization in terms of all the complexity of my nervous system and brain, that I can have this conversation with you, which the glass of water can’t. The glass of water, looking microscopically at the glass of water or at my body, both exhibit all kinds of marvelous stuff going on, on a molecular and atomic level, but there’s just not enough sophistication in the instrument of the glass of water, in the material of the glass of water, to be cognizant in any way. Kind of like radios, you know, I mean you have a rock and radio waves are passing through the rock, the electromagnetic field permeates the rock, and then you have a nice radio and the electromagnetic field permeates that also. To a certain extent they’re made of the same stuff, you know, I mean silicon and whatnot, but the arrangement in the radio is so intricate and sophisticated and designed to be able to actually detect those radio waves and tune into different frequencies of them and thereby give us different stations to listen to.
Bernardo: I want to poke you on this a little bit.
Bernardo: I sense, if I hear you, I try to hear more than what you’re saying, if you know what I mean. And this more that I hear, the implicit thing behind what you seem to be saying is that we are all made of matter.
Bernardo: The glass is made of matter, I am made of matter, it’s just different arrangements of matter.
Rick: Yeah, but you can boil that down to non-matter. I’m just speaking on the level of matter, but anything that appears to be matter, if you look closely enough, is non-material.
Bernardo: I want to take you back to your fundamental experience of reality. Matter is a concept in our minds, an experience in our perceptual field. When we say that we are made of it, we are already projecting, we are already projecting something. I say take a step back, go back to yourself. This exists in my mind and in your mind. The fundamental thing is the guitar string that vibrates, but we can’t see it. All of existence is the vibration of the guitar string. The guitar string itself is forever inaccessible, invisible, can’t even be said to exist, because existence is the vibration of the thing. The thing itself is outside existence, outside being. Matter is a concept that arises from our experiences. What I insist on, and because I think a lot of people are tempted by this flip in assumption, what I insist on is that there is nothing it is like to be this glass of water. There is something it is like to be me. However, this glass of water only exists insofar as it is experienced. That’s what I’m saying.
Rick: Experienced by whom? By you? By anybody conscious?
Bernardo: By anybody or anything conscious, even if it is a part of consciousness that fundamentally transcends our ordinary notion of humanity. Carl Jung used to talk about a collective “unconscious”. I think the word “unconscious” is unfortunate, although I keep on using it because there is so much history behind it. I would call it an obfuscated part of consciousness. If there is this collective obfuscated part of consciousness, it manifests a certain behavior that becomes visible to us in the form of the universe. It doesn’t need a human being to look at it for it to exist, so long as it’s a behavior of an obfuscated collective part of mind that is much broader than any living creature we can pinpoint. But a living creature, another metaphor may help. You have two eyes. You’re looking at my image through two eyes. You can close any one of them and you would still see an image. These images would be slightly different, which you can see if you put a finger right in front of your head and you close one eye and another, you see that the images are very different. If what you’re looking at is very far away, they look like the same image, but they are not. There are two images. Now your experience of the two is unified. You only see this three-dimensional world around you. Imagine that a psychological phenomenon that is well known, it’s called a split-off complex of your mind. Imagine that you could split your mind into two. So one split-off complex would experience one eye, the other split-off complex would experience your other eye. These would be the localization processes of consciousness. Each one of them would ground an individual localized point of view on reality. They would be two split off complexes of one mind, namely your mind. If you can imagine your mind split into two, so you identify only with one eye on the one hand and another complex identifies only with the other eye, then you know what life is. Life are split-off complexes of the one bloody mind underlying all nature, which is the most parsimonious explanation possible for reality. Life are split-off complexes. Not everything is a split-off complex. If your one eye is a split-off complex you’re still watching the world around you, you’re still watching this glass of water and this glass of water is not necessarily a split-off complex. Do you understand what I mean?
Rick: I think so. Let’s keep chewing on it. In your book you use the word filters at a certain point in one of the chapters and how we’re all like we’re all filters which filter out most of what’s actually going on in order to make living possible. If we didn’t have such filtration we would be so overwhelmed unless we were designed to be omniscient and be able to handle it, we’d be so overwhelmed that we wouldn’t be able to function. And different filters work in different ways. A dog has much less obfuscation in the sense of smell and hearing and a bat and so on. So, how about if everything is a filter, not just living things, but the glass of water is so effectively filters out conscious experience that conscious experience is nil and yet the glass of water is a fluctuation in the membrane of consciousness as you put it, just as much as a human nervous system is, just a much less refined or complex fluctuation. And incidentally before when I was talking about instruments and talking about materiality as if it had some kind of reality to it, I’m making a concession with relative world in order to talk that way. We do that all the time, you know, even if we understand or even experience that everything is ultimately consciousness, we have to give each level of apparent reality its due in order to function in the world.
Bernardo: I think the core of your argument is that there isn’t this binary division between things that are conscious and things that are just in consciousness, that there is a continuum there.
Rick: Yeah, there’s no cut-off point, it’s all consciousness interacting within itself and over the course of billions of years more and more complex forms have evolved and at a certain point self-reflective quality began to dawn and you know now we’re at the point where we have, and we’re probably not the most sophisticated beings in creation, but you know we’re all the most sophisticated ones we know of and we’re in a very self-reflective state compared to a well compared to a dog and then compared to a rock. But you know during the first couple billion years, let’s say after the Big Bang, there were no sentient beings around but there were stars forming and stars exploding and heavy elements getting created and this whole evolutionary process taking place, all guided and orchestrated by infinite intelligence as much as things are now, all with this sort of evolutionary direction to it in the direction of more and more sophisticated forms which could eventually enable the universe to know itself or to enable that consciousness to become a living reality, a living, breathing, you know, eating, pooping reality rather than just a sort of you know an unmanifest field.
Bernardo: I will acknowledge that, and it’s the first time I will acknowledge this in any place, in any presentation, in any media, in any interview.
Rick: Holy mackerel
Bernardo: I will acknowledge that when you think deeply and rigorously about it it is complicated to say that the cutoff point is binary, that until here we cannot speak of the thing being conscious and after here we can speak of of the thing being conscious. It is tricky. The reason I don’t go there is that I think, in most situations, in most thoughts, feelings, in most perspectives of reality, we can speak of it as if it were a binary cutoff point and I think it is beneficial to think of it this way, otherwise we go crazy, otherwise we go saying, you know, my chair is conscious. Well, is each leg of my chair conscious? Because then there are four conscious beings there plus the top five, but every permutation and combination of leg with leg and top is also conscious. So you have an explosion of conscious beings, each one with a particular point of view, each one with something it is like to be it.
Rick: No, you’re attributing too much sentience to chair legs and things like that. We can say the chair is consciousness in its essence, but that doesn’t mean that the chair as a whirlpool in consciousness, as an excitation of consciousness, has enough sophistication as an instrument to be self-reflective, to be conscious in any meaningful sense.
Bernardo: But these are two different things. You can be conscious and not be self-reflective.
Rick: Yeah, like a dog or a mosquito or whatever. Yeah,
Bernardo: There you go, there you go. So I don’t think self-reflectiveness is the key thing here. Only certain beings are self-reflective.
Rick: No, yeah, so that comes in much later on up the evolutionary scale. So let’s say that, you know, the leg of a chair or a chair itself, well, here’s the basic idea that, you know, I mean, even many physicists, and you’re a physicist of course, are keen on the idea that there must be some one fundamental ultimate reality, unified field or whatever you call it, because the more they boil it down, the more simple it gets, the less diversity there is. You get down to a certain handful of force and matter fields and everything else is an excitation or a desynchronization of those, you know, an elaboration of those, and you go deeper still and some of those force and matter fields begin to unite. And so intuitively it seems that, you know, if you went deep deep enough, you’d get down to one fundamental essence of everything, which, you know, and this whole talk of depth and surface is sort of just a concession with human perspective, because if it’s that way in its essence, it’s that way on the so-called surface as well, we’re just not seeing it deeply enough. So, and you know, and there are physicists such as John Hagelin who who speculate that this unified field that physics is groping for is none other than consciousness, which mystics have have known for millennia, and that everything therefore, just as physicists would say, everything is a sort of excitation of the unified field on the physical level. The mystics would say everything is actually consciousness in their experience.
Bernardo: I agree with that. I’ve gone on a little long here, but go ahead. I agree with that. I think this is a valid model. I think John does great work in elucidating this. This perspective is out there. You have talked to John a short while ago. I was actually his TM teacher back in when he was in high school, in a body cast, motorcycle accident, long story.
Bernardo: Oh, that’s how it started, okay. Serendipity. So, that perspective is out there. I concur with it. I think it’s valid. I think it’s valuable and important. Let me try giving you another perspective, just to add something different to the discussion. In this perspective of the unified field, the danger of that, the trick we have to be careful with, is not to objectify consciousness, is not to turn consciousness into something that is outside, that we are looking at. Consciousness is the space of subjectivity itself, is what it means for you to be alive right now. So, there is a danger that the intellect starts objectifying that. So, I’ll try another analogy that brings us back here, instead of out there.
Rick: And both our experience and our language structure tend to trip us up in that way, you know. Because our experience objectifies everything and we’ve based our language structure on our experience, so it’s real easy to slip into talking in a way which is not really valid.
Bernardo: There you go.
Bernardo: So, let me try another metaphor. Let’s go back to psychology, split off complexes. And going back to the point we were exploring before, which is, is this a gradation or is there a binary division, at which point an image of a process can be said to be conscious, as opposed to only being in consciousness. Let’s think of it in terms of split off complexes. For a while I still suffer, not as much as before, from hypochondria, which is like an external thing in your mind. It doesn’t feel like it’s me. I am still there, I am still there saying this is nonsense, what am I worrying about here? This is total baloney, it’s completely ridiculous. That person is still there, yet there is another entity, an entity that worries, an entity that is not rational and I feel its feelings, I think its thoughts, I manifest its behavior. Is it split off from me? No, because I still feel its feelings, I still think its thoughts, I still manifest its behavior, I still recognize it, I am still aware of it. But it’s beginning the process of splitting off, because while it is still completely part of my field of experience, I already begin to look at it as a growth, as a differentiation, like a finger beginning to grow out of a hand. It begins to become alien, but I’m still aware of its thoughts, I’m still aware of its feelings. Now if you stretch that a little bit more, there will be a point where it will split and then you have double personality disorder or multiple personality disorder, in which different complexes take turns in awareness and in the control of the body, but they are completely split off from each other. I think life begins at the point where a complex in the mind of the one mind, a complex in the one mind becomes split off, really. That said, I don’t deny that there is a continuum that precedes that, just like my hypochondria demon is not completely split off, but it’s not quite me really. I don’t know whether this helps, but at least it brings us back to our direct experience of reality as opposed to objectifying consciousness itself.
Bernardo: It helps. There’s a term in Sanskrit “Pagya-aparad” which means mistake of the intellect and it’s said to be responsible for this splitting off from the sort of unified state of awareness in which everything is one into the sense of individuation and ego and separation from the whole. But anyway, regarding life and you know beginning to emerge at a certain point, you know, I could argue from the standpoint, well it depends on what we mean by life, but I could argue that there’s life in the center of the sun or in the midst of intergalactic space in the sense that if consciousness is pure life and you know then there is nothing which is not life anywhere. But obviously usually when we say life we mean biological life, life which is some kind of you know aware in some functional way. But you know things are just aware to the extent that they embody that pure essence, that ultimate stuff of which everything is made.
Bernardo: I’m sorry,
Rick: I got a little off on my point there but that’s the point I think I was trying to make.
Bernardo: I agree, I don’t think there is a difference in fundamentals, a difference in fundamental quality between the subjective feeling of being the innermost subjective feeling of being me and the subjective feeling of being you or the subjective feeling of being a fish. We all think we are the center of the world in a sense because we ground this perspective and the difference is just the story we tell ourselves, there the differences come, but if you eliminate all stories that fundamental awareness, not awareness, the fundamental subjectivity I think is the same.
Rick: And when you use the word feeling it may feel different for you and for me and for the fish, because feeling has to do with some kind of cognition of some kind or some sort of registering of an impression or a sensation. But what I think you really mean to say is that ultimately the consciousness, your consciousness, my consciousness, the consciousness of the fish is the same consciousness. There’s a line from the incredible string band, “Light that is one, though the lamps be many.” Or you could take the example of electricity, it’s the same electrical field but here it’s a light bulb, there it’s a computer screen, there it’s a television, in terms of the way that electricity is sort of reflected or channeled. Well, to give another analogy, if the fish has no perceptions and no thoughts and I have no perceptions and no thoughts, I would feel exactly like the fish, that’s what I mean.
Rick: Maybe. You know earlier you were talking about how mind can’t know itself because to do so sets up a dualistic situation in which it would have to step apart from itself to know itself but it’s not an object. It’s like the eye can’t perceive itself, it’s the perceiver. But there’s a verse in the Gita, “The Self realizes Itself by Itself.” But it does so not in a sort of a subject-object perceiver, process of perception, perception structure. It does so by just merging into complete unity in which that the self-recognition, it’s hard to describe in words. And so you know, can a fish do that? I don’t think, well can the Self recognize Itself in the way I’m describing in through the instrument of a fish’s nervous system? I don’t think so. I don’t think the fish is sophisticated enough as a nervous system to have that realization, but it can happen through a human, and I’ve had arguments with people about this lady named Lori Moore, she kept saying animals are enlightened, but I think a human nervous system has reached that level of sophistication where that can take that realization, it can be an instrument through which the Self can realize Itself.
Bernardo: I agree. I think that requires self-reflectiveness. I think that’s where self-reflectiveness comes into the picture, which is this ability to take the contents of your own mind, turn them into an apparent object, and think about the contents of your own thoughts, or perceive the contents of your own perceptions as if you were not them. It’s a kind of double mirror effect.
Rick: But that’s still dualistic, because you are perceiving thoughts. Now when the thoughts settle down and down and down to the point where there is no mental activity whatsoever anymore, then consciousness can just shine in its pure nature without any sort of agitation whatsoever, without any mental activity. You’re not thinking about consciousness. Consciousness is aware of Itself in a sort of a fundamental least excited state.
Bernardo: And in that state do you think it makes a difference between being a human being or being a fish?
Rick: Yes, because as a fish I don’t think a fish has the capacity to transcend all the levels of relative experience in that way and enable the Self to realize Itself in its pure state.
Bernardo: How does the Self realize Itself in a state of known excitation? What is the realization if it’s not an excitation of the Self?
Rick: Usually the experience is that, and I’m sure there are others who could speak to this much better than I, but the experience is cognizant just on the verge of merging into and emerging from it. You know then it’s like, “Aha! I am this unboundedness.”
Bernardo: There you go, that’s an excitation.
Rick: Yes, exactly. To actually think about it in any sort of cognitive way there has to be some excitation and when this experience becomes clear, for instance there are people for whom this is a 24/7 state, it’s not just a an occasional glimpse, so that means it remains during sleep. But during sleep they’re not thinking, “Oh isn’t this cool, I’m awake during sleep.” The Pure Self is there. But on emerging from sleep where a little bit of waking state function begins to happen, there’s this recognition of, “This awareness has been here throughout the night, it’s been continuous.”
Bernardo: Yes, so you need some excitation in order for anything to be reflected because otherwise you can be self reflective as much as you want. If there is no light to form an image nothing gets reflected anywhere, but if that image, if that light is too strong, then it becomes a distraction, then it obfuscates everything and you no longer see what’s really going on.
Rick: And in Sanskrit there’s a term “leysa vidya” which means “faint remains of ignorance” and what it means is there has to be a faint remains of some kind of duality in order for this realization of oneness to be a living reality.
Bernardo: I would make a difference between true duality, which is nonsensical. Materialism implies a form of true duality in the sense that it makes consciousness a strongly emergent property of matter, in other words fundamentally different and that there’s a duality right there. I think true duality doesn’t exist, but as you said a couple of minutes ago and I still remember your words, you said the self cannot step out of itself to turn itself into an object that it can study. It can’t do it for real, but maybe it can create the next best thing, which is to fold in on itself and think about its own thoughts or perceive its own perceptions. That’s not true duality, it’s self- reflectiveness, it’s an internal dynamics of the self and maybe all reality is precisely an effort of the self to do it, to see itself indirectly. It can’t see itself directly, but it can see a metaphor of itself and by manifesting a behavior that it can observe and I think that’s what’s going on. Existence is an excitation of mind and we are the part of minds that have folded in on themselves so they can think self-reflectively about those excitations and contemplate those excitations as a metaphor for our own fundamental nature. What is life telling us about who or what we really are? Because life cannot be anything other than a manifestation of our fundamental nature, the good and the bad parts. There is nothing else it can be, it can only be that.
Rick: Yeah, I agree. There’s another saying, I forget the Sanskrit, but what the translation is, is “the lamp at the door” and what that means is that for the enlightened, the intellect is like a lamp at the door which kind of illuminates both inside and outside the house, so there’s a simultaneous kind of a you’re kind of standing, it’s like that Robert, what is that guy, the restaurant at the end of the universe.
Bernardo: Oh yeah, Douglas Adams.
Rick: Yeah, Douglas Adams. So there’s this sort of simultaneous balancing point in which the outer world is perceived and yet the inner, the pure consciousness, the foundation of it all, is not perceived as an object but lived as the essence of what one is and one just sort of resides there and lives there and by virtue of that the outer world, so-called outer world, is seen as not being outer, it’s contained within me, everything is contained within myself and is seen in terms of what it actually is, consciousness, and that’s where you get these sayings from the Upanishads like “Tat Tvam Asi” that thou art and “Sarvaṁ khalvidaṁ brahma’ ” all this is Brahman and you know words like that, phrases like that.
Bernardo: I think this is so clear, so true and so obvious that it can be grasped even by our little flimsy intellect because if you think about it we have dreams as as a great explanatory tool, right? When you’re dreaming at night you have a avatar in the dream, a dreamed up character and during the dream you identify with it because it grounds a certain local perspective within the dream. When you wake up you immediately realize that it wasn’t your consciousness in the avatar, it was the avatar in your consciousness. It just so happens that your consciousness took a local perspective within the dream, in other words within the imagery that it itself generated. Intellectually we can immediately jump from that to waking reality. It’s completely reasonable to imagine our bodies, our brains being in mind as opposed to mind being in our bodies or in our brains for the exact same reason that it was your avatar in the dream that was in your mind, not your mind in the avatar in the dream, even though during the dream it felt exactly the same as it feels now and that is a point that many materialists get confused with when we say all reality is in consciousness. They beg the question of materialism all over the place. They go like, “Yeah, but how could we all be sharing the same dream?” Well, wait a moment, if all reality is in consciousness it is our bodies that are in consciousness, not consciousness in our bodies. Therefore the fact that our bodies are separate does not imply that our minds at the deepest, most obfuscated levels are also separate. It doesn’t imply that and if it doesn’t imply that nothing is stopping us from assuming that mind is unified at bottom and therefore it generates the same dream for everybody because at bottom it’s the same collective unconscious between quotes, the same collective obfuscated part of mind that is creating the show just like it creates a dream at night. The difference being that instead of taking the perspective of only one avatar in the dream like we take in our personal dreams, that one mind is taking many perspectives within that one dream as split of complexities of itself and that’s where the fun starts.
Rick: That’s beautiful. Bob Dylan said, “I’ll let you be in my dream if I can be in yours.” So, what you’re saying is that there’s like a cosmic dreamer and you and I and the glass of water and everything else are just, you know, avatars. They’re just sort of characters or objects in this cosmic dream and that’s how we get a consistency between between different observers. We’re all in the same basic dream.
Bernardo: Yes, to go back to the whirlpool metaphor, we are all whirlpools in the same stream. It’s one way of putting that and there are ripples in the stream containing information and these ripples penetrate multiple whirlpools at the same time. So, the whirlpools register these ripples as experience and the experiences are consistent because the ripples come from outside the whirlpools, from the broader stream in which all the whirlpools are actually unified as patterns of flow of a single stream.
Rick: Yeah, you drive some interesting conclusions from this in your book about the unconscious and about being able to know things that we couldn’t ordinarily know or we don’t ordinarily know and you’re just saying, I guess this relates back to the filter idea, though ordinarily we filter out most stuff, but that all kinds of things can be known if there’s a little bit less filtration here or there.
Bernardo: Yeah, I think from an idealistic perspective, I use idealism because it’s a traditional philosophical term, but I don’t like the term to be honest with you, I feel forced to do it because you see, if all reality is in consciousness and it’s merely an excitation of consciousness or mind, there is no point in using the word consciousness and mind. Consciousness is simply what is. We don’t need a word for it, it doesn’t identify a discernible subset of reality. The only reason I use the word is that materialists invented this hallucinated abstract universe that supposedly is not consciousness, so they gave artificial meaning to the word. So I just wanted to make this disclaimer here, but from this perspective of idealism, I continue to use the word, what we have to explain is why you, I or anybody else is not aware of everything, because if we are all in this one mind and it’s all in that one mind, why don’t we know, why don’t we experience everything, what the hell is going on?
Rick: Why doesn’t my finger see the garden outside, because the finger isn’t designed to see, you know, each individual aspect of my body has a particular function. So we as individual expressions each have a slice of reality that we’re designed to tune in on and you know, I don’t see what’s in front of you in your room, you don’t see what’s in front of me in my room, but both those things are contained within the universal mind.
Bernardo: I would even go beyond that. Why do you need sense organs? If we are all in one mind, why do I stop seeing when I close my eyes? Bloody hell, it’s the same mind, why do I need eyes? Why do I need a tongue? If my mind is not inside my skull, why do I stop perceiving if I close the sense organs on my face?
Rick: How do you answer that question?
Bernardo: That’s what we have to explain under this idea that all reality is in consciousness. Most people who experience that reality directly know it’s true, but then they come back to the ego and the intellect starts telling them this can’t possibly be the case. I mean, you have total cognitive dissonance, you know, it’s a form of schizophrenia, because our culture is so twisted in its assumptions about reality. So just to make an insert something else in the discussion, Rick, because I think it’s important. That’s the reason I write these books, to try to influence the culture in such a way as to reduce the cognitive dissonance between our models of reality in the culture that we absorb from education, from other people, from the general cultural milieu, so to say, and the direct experience of the truth, which is it’s all one big dream in one mind. These two things shouldn’t be so dissonant and the only way to resolve that is not to change the truth, because the truth is what it is, it’s to change how the culture models our worldview, our view of reality, so one becomes more conducive to the other. That’s why I write these books, not because I think what I do is in any way more valid or more important than the direct experience of truth. It isn’t. If it were, I wouldn’t be hypochondriac, I wouldn’t be suffering. I suffer every day and it’s essential for my creativity, by the way, I noticed that. But how do we then answer the question, if it is all in one mind, why do we need sense organs? Why don’t we have total clairvoyance of everything that’s going on across time, space and beyond? Right, that’s what we have to explain. I see two ways, two necessary steps to explain that. One is already built into the metaphor of the whirlpool. A whirlpool is a localization of mind. The water that gets trapped in the whirlpool for a little while is going nowhere but the whirlpool itself. If that water is consciousness, our consciousness is then localized. If this body is an image of a localization of consciousness, then the consciousness that is experienced from this body is localized. That’s the first step of the explanation. If it is localized, whatever is not in that whirlpool can only be experienced if it comes from the outside. I think our sense organs are the rim of the whirlpool. They are the interface between the whirlpool and the rest of the stream outside the whirlpool. And the ripples, information, experiences that come from the broader stream and penetrate the whirlpool through the rim, we have a name for those ripples. We call them photons, scent molecules, taste molecules that touch our tongues, temperature, heat that touches our skin, touches our skin, pressure, and that’s sound waves. These are the names we give to the ripples of the stream that penetrate the whirlpool through the rim. The name we give to the rim of the whirlpool is skin, eyes, tongue, nose, ears, our sense organs. Our sense organs are the rims of the whirlpool. But that still doesn’t explain everything. It only explains that there should be a qualitative difference between your perceptions through the sense organs and subjective clairvoyance of everything else, because you’re still part of that one mind. Whatever is going on in that mind you should know. Why don’t you know? I think we don’t know because as part of our psychic structure, the mind has folded in on itself to create self-reflectiveness. And this self-reflectiveness amplifies mental contents. Just like if you put an image between two mirrors facing each other, it reflects on one, the reflection reflects on the other, creates a double reflection that reflects on the first, and it goes ad infinitum. It’s an enormous amplification of that image. That amplification I think works like the glare of the sun obfuscating the stars at noon. At noon the stars are all still there. Technically you are still seeing them because their photons are still hitting your retina. But you don’t know that you are seeing them because they’re obfuscated by the glare of the sun. I think the ego creates this obfuscation. For instance, I love this example because it brings it right back to people. For the past several minutes you have been conscious of your breathing, but you have not been self-reflectively aware of your breathing. In other words, you didn’t know that you were conscious of your breathing. You were not conscious that you were conscious of your breathing. Why? Because the consciousness of your breathing was completely obfuscated by this bunch of words and difficult concepts that I’m throwing at you. That was in your field of self-reflection. You’re trying to make sense of that. You’re thinking about your thoughts and about the thoughts of your thoughts and you know you’re conscious that you were conscious that you’re conscious etc. that you were conscious of what I was doing. Therefore, the rest was obfuscated. Your breathing, the dog barking, the flow of air around your earlobes, whatever else was going on. And whatever was going on in China, whatever was going on in the mind of God, whatever was going on in the center of a black hole, or the volition of our collective obfuscated consciousness, that particular experience that we call volition, that is creating the rest of the universe, creating the rest of reality. All that is obfuscated. It isn’t unconscious in the sense that there is no fundamentally different part of the psyche that is not conscious and another part is conscious. That’s a duality already and it’s as problematic as the duality of materialism or any other duality. It also entails a hard problem of consciousness. How can consciousness emerge from the unconscious? There is no unconscious. There is only deeply obfuscated contents of consciousness that become obfuscated by the glare of self-reflective awareness. That’s my explanation for why we need sense organs. Sense organs allow vibrations of the broader stream of mind, ripples of the broader stream of mind, to enter the field of self-reflective awareness and become amplified. That’s why we think that we are no longer conscious of the world if we close our sense organs. Tell that to a blind person who was born blind. Some people can intuit it, although they don’t have the senses themselves. They have less obfuscation. With less obfuscation the background comes up, it rises, because it’s less obfuscated. I think that’s what’s going on.
Rick: Okay, there’s a lot in that. So, using your whirlpool and stream analogy, the stream knows everything that’s going on within the stream. You have a fish here, you have a rock there, you have a whirlpool there, you have all this stuff and this little snag of a branch there. The stream, as a stream, is aware of everything within its course. But the whirlpools, by definition, are localizations in the stream, and they are so constructed that they are only designed to know what’s within their little whirlpool boundaries. So, like that, you could say that consciousness, or if we want to get a little bit more religious in our terminology, God is omniscient, knows everything. Everything is completely coordinated and orchestrated. If I drop my glasses here on my desk, it actually sends out, it influences the gravitational field of the earth, it sends vibrations through the earth. There’s nothing, even though it’s infinitesimal, the influence, there’s nothing in creation that is not infinitely correlated in some way with everything else in creation, and all that is contained within that totality of intelligence that we’re calling consciousness, or that we might call God. But there’s been an individuation, obviously, an apparent one, in terms of what we call the manifest creation, and by design, each individual expression is not meant to have that omniscience that the totality has. If it did, there’d be no point in creation to begin with, and it wouldn’t be able to function either. You know, if you knew the thoughts of everybody in the world, if you could hear them in your head, it would be awfully hard to discern your own thoughts and, you know, carry on. So, I think,
Bernardo: I’ll go along with your terminology. Yes, I think, since reality is only experience, and there is nothing to reality that is not experience, then yes, God experiences everything, God knows everything, but I don’t think that God, in the sense of the broader mind, knows that it knows. To know that you know is self-reflectiveness, and the image of self-reflectiveness, as far as we can discern today, is the human body, the human psyche. If it’s not correlated with the human body, it’s not self-reflective, as far as we know. Maybe this is wrong, but as far as we know today, that’s the case. I think that is what human beings add to the broader mind, to God, if you will. It’s self-reflection, it’s to know that you know, and not only that, it’s to know that you know, that you know, that you know ad infinitum. So, yes, God, I think, is omniscient, but not self-reflectively so. It knows everything, but it doesn’t know that it knows. That is our job, that’s our role in the field of existence. And if you think about it in practical terms, there isn’t that much of a difference between knowing, but not knowing that you know, and not knowing at all. Think about it, whatever you know, but right now you don’t know that you know it, is there much of a difference between that and things that you really don’t know, like what happens inside a black hole. So, I think our role is enormous, it’s crucial. I don’t think this is a cosmic mistake, I don’t think reality and our incarnated form, to use religious terminology, is meaningless or useless, not at all, on the contrary. I think we are the means through which the universe not only knows, but knows that it knows and thinks about it self-reflectively. That’s the only way you can interpret the metaphor, you can interpret the poem of existence, otherwise you’re just immersed in it, like in the stream of instinct, you’re just carried away with it, like a ragdoll in a tsunami. You can’t make sense of it, you can’t stick your head out of the flow and say “Hey, what’s going on here?” and ask yourself the important questions. I don’t think God can ask itself or herself, let me not discriminate here, I don’t think God can ask herself the important questions. It is not self-reflectively aware enough to even formulate the question, in the same way the fish doesn’t ask “What is water?” The fish is immersed in it, it’s not asking the questions, we are asking the questions. The price of it though is that to create self-reflectiveness consciousness needs to fold in on itself and the moment it does it, it localizes and obfuscates whatever is not in the field of self-reflection. It’s a cosmic trade-off, you gain self-reflectiveness but you lose awareness of the rest because of obfuscation. And nature is struggling with it clearly, and just look around, that’s the struggle of nature, that’s what’s going on.
Rick: I don’t know whether God is self-reflective or not, and you may be right that it’s through us, through conscious beings that self-reflection takes place. In fact, there’s a whole interesting explanation of this which I can’t fully do justice to, but that is that and it kind of begins to relate to your membrane analogy. So let me put that aside for just a second to say one more thing before I do, which is that whether or not God is self-reflective or consciousness in the universal sense is self-reflective, there’s a kind of a mechanism to creation which is far beyond human intellect to understand or fathom or calculate, which continues to work just fine with or without that self-reflectiveness. So all the various laws of nature that govern the functioning of subatomic particles and atoms and molecules and gravity and all the different forces and everything, all that stuff is just rolling along with a beauty and precision and perfection and orderliness that evidences vast intelligence, whether that intelligence is self-reflective or not may be another question. But so then the next part that I put on the shelf is … oh, do you want to respond to that?
Bernardo: i want to respond to that. I think it’s very interesting. I can see two ways to look at it. One way to look at it is to say whether it is self-reflective or not or not at that broader level, it’s still whatever behavior it manifests, in other words whatever exists at that level, is still fundamentally a reflection of the inherent intrinsic properties of mind.
Rick: Mind again in the universal sense.
Bernardo: God, let’s go back to the G word to make it easier. Mind at large.
Rick: Right, got it.
Bernardo: Whether it’s self-reflective or not, what it manifests can only reflect its intrinsic properties. Maybe its intrinsic properties are such that order, pattern and beauty are the only possible outcome. Maybe that’s the case and then you don’t need self-reflectiveness. It’s just what is. It’s just the nature of what exists. Another way to look at it is to say maybe there aren’t only these two levels us and mind at large. Maybe there is a hierarchy of localization, a hierarchy of self-reflection, and what we see is just a very thin slit of what is really going on. We are seeing a small projection like shadows, like a Plato’s allegory of the cave in which somebody inside the cave only sees shadows on the wall of what’s happening outside the cave. Maybe we are only seeing shadows on the wall. Maybe there is an entire hierarchy of being, to use a mystic term, behind, underlying, transcending what we experience through our five senses.
Rick: I think you’re right.
Bernardo: And if there is that hierarchy, we go back to the Gnostic legends, to the Gnostic myth. The world is not a creation of God, it’s the creation of a demiurge, and the demiurge is the creation of God. So, maybe there is a still very broad, not very much self-reflective, but partially self-reflective mind whose activity is the universe we know. And we just emerge from that mind and underline that mind, there may be much more going on until you reach the level of total undifferentiation or the Godhead or God, whatever you want to call that.
Rick: Well, if I understand what you’re saying, I mean, I talk to people fairly often and have friends who perceive a lot of that stuff that’s going on, I mean, who perceive celestial beings, you know, and perceive their function in the management of, you know, the universe and creation and manifestation. And that’s part and parcel of their daily ordinary experience to actually cognize this stuff. So, there’s that.
Bernardo: Usually, I’ll just explain this, because I think it’s relevant. I’m open to that and I have my own private thoughts and reveries about those questions. I entertain those thoughts a lot, but the thrust of what I try to do is to make ontological sense of empirical reality as we all share, ordinary reality.
Rick: But one man’s ordinary is another man’s, you know, I mean, there are people who have whose ordinary reality would seem extraordinary to us.
Bernardo: But the more idiosyncratic parts of reality that we don’t share collectively on a broad level, they don’t construct culture.
Rick: But there are outliers who are way ahead of the curve. And like you were saying in your book, there was a time in the 1500s or something where suddenly perspective dawned in human life and artists began to draw things with perspective, whereas before everything was sort of two-dimensional. So, there are outliers in our culture now who, you know, might be living life in the way that it’ll become, you know, commonplace 300-400 years from now.
Bernardo: It’s possible, yet the focus of what I’m trying to do is can we interpret ordinary shared reality, the mean, not the outliers, in a way that is much more conducive to truth, that is closer to truth than the insanity, the absurdity of materialism. That’s what I focus, that’s why.
Rick: That’s good, yeah, and you’d be speculating if you tried to interpret the outliers experience, because it’s not your experience, but that somehow they have to be taken into account also to paint the whole picture.
Bernardo: Well, maybe that’s my experience as well, but it’s certainly not a collective experience. So, I usually refrain from talking about the hierarchy of beings, celestial beings, and transcendent realities and all that. I try to focus my message on, “Hey, we don’t need to talk about that, let’s just talk about what we all share, what we all agree with. Do we need to say that there is an entire world outside mine? BS! We don’t! It’s insanity, it’s the flying spaghetti monster.”
Rick: Good, so now there’s another thing, which is that your whole thing in the book about the universe, the creation being the result of fluctuations in an underlying membrane, and I guess that’s sort of metaphorical, but I think it’s really interesting. And one thing I just want to throw in and then let you talk about that is that there’s kind of a Vedic cosmology which holds that you know, conscious… and there’s even iconography about this, where Vishnu’s lying on the cosmic ocean and all kinds of things like that, but and the ocean gets stirred up. But there is the understanding that consciousness is the foundation, it’s the fundamental reality, and that because it’s consciousness, it becomes conscious of itself. And the minute it becomes conscious of itself, there is a threefold structure set up of observer, observed, and process of observation. And that threefold structure continues to diversify and bifurcate, resulting in the whole elaborate dance of creation. And that this isn’t… I’m not saying that it’s happening in a historical sense, like that happened 14 billion years ago, but it’s happening now, continuously. Consciousness becoming aware of itself, resulting in this sort of manifestation of greater and greater diversity. And I think that relates to what you were trying to explain in your book about a membrane in 10-dimensional space, vibrating in so many complex ways, and being self-reflective in so many complex ways, as to give rise to the infinite diversity of creation that we see.
Bernardo: Yeah, well that is metaphorical, of course. I run the same risk that everybody else runs when I talk about mind as a membrane or anything else. I objectify it. I turn mind into an object, as opposed to the field of subjective experience. That starts with an error already. The problem is that it’s an error you can’t avoid if you are to speak, if you are to utter words, you can’t help but objectify mind if you want to talk about it. So it is metaphorical. I don’t think mind is a membrane in any literal sense whatsoever. Mind is the space of subjective experience. Now I use that metaphor and I talk about 10 dimensions and all that in an effort to bring this philosophical perspective closer to science. Physics is talking about M-theory, membrane theory or mother of all theories. I mean there are many different explanations for the name M-theory, but the idea is that the universe is a manifestation of a hyper-dimensional membrane that vibrates according to different patterns, different modes, different frequencies, and the vibrations of that membrane are then the subatomic particles that we see which combine to form everything. That’s physics. They consider the membrane an object and they consider themselves and their consciousness as emerging as particular patterns in that membrane. What I’m saying is, you know what, maybe the membrane is mind itself, it’s subjectivity itself, it’s not something outside from which we emerge, it is us and the outside emerges out of us. It’s the opposite way of looking at it. That’s the source of that and the motivation for that metaphor. And still along the lines of the metaphor, the membrane, this object that is not an object which is subjectivity itself, if it is not vibrating, if it’s not moving, then there are no experiences. The definition of the metaphor is that experience is the movement, the vibration of the membrane. And since experiences are all there is, because all reality is experienced, since all reality is in mind, you find yourself in the interesting dissonance in language, where you have to say that the membrane itself doesn’t exist, it has to be void, because existence is the vibration of the membrane. The membrane itself without vibrating has therefore to not exist.
Rick: Or it’s pure existence, it’s not objectified existence, it’s pure unmanifest existence.
Bernardo: That’s where language breaks completely, language cannot take us there, and it’s not because it’s a highly spiritual transcendent experience, it’s still very conceptual and intellectual and still language breaks, language cannot take you there. If you define experience as the movement of the membrane, the membrane at rest does not exist, yet what is the vibration of the membrane other than the membrane itself? What is there to a vibrating membrane other than the membrane? And if you grasp this you understand for instance why Adyashanti talks about emptiness dancing. What exists is the void dancing, and you see you can make sense of that intellectually to some extent, it won’t change your life, it will not give you that “aha”, that experience that will forever change the way you relate to reality and to the world, but it will give you a little “aha”, like “oh now I know what these people are talking about, existence is the movement of the void, therefore existence isn’t void, because just look around, it’s not nothing, but it’s also nothing, because there is nothing to the medium that vibrates other than the medium itself.
Rick: Yeah, and I would suggest that Adyashanti is not just intellectualizing when he says emptiness dancing, that’s his experience. When he looks at a flower he’s not just seeing the material flower, he’s seeing the emptiness quality or the consciousness quality predominantly as being what that flower is.
Bernardo: Yeah, I never had that experience but I arrived at the conclusion through another path, and if you think about it, forget M-theory which is highly speculative, let’s just go to the leading edge acknowledged mainstream part of physics today. This is something you could explore with John Hagelin next time by the way.
Rick: Maybe I’ll get you and John together sometime for a group discussion.
Bernardo: That would be cool. What physics would tell you today is that reality is the excitation of a quantum field, some call it a quantum meta field, but this field basically when it’s at rest it doesn’t exist, it can’t be said to exist, it’s pure abstraction because existence is an excitation of that quantum field. And physics will tell you that particles pop in and out of existence all the time, all around us, countless times, right now as we speak. So they’re popping in and out of existence out of that field. John would call it pure potentiality which is his way to say that it doesn’t exist but it’s also not nothing, it is a potential to exist and it’s a potential with structure because existence is what it is and it’s not something else so it has some structure. So even physics does not escape this contradiction, this cognitive dissonance of saying that existence clearly exists, we’re talking about it, but it’s also void because it’s a behavior of the inexistent or the unmanifest or whatever you want to call it.
Rick: I’ve heard John say that in a cubic centimeter of empty space at the level of this pure potentiality he talks about there’s more energy potentially than there is displayed in the entire manifest universe. So it’s like this you know just incredibly potent field of potentiality that we only actually see a fraction of in terms of the manifest world.
Bernardo: Yeah, I envy people who have experienced that directly as opposed to arriving in that conclusion through conceptualizations, abstractions and thought. I do envy them.
Rick: I think you’re well on the way to experiencing it yourself, you don’t need you won’t spend your whole life as an envious hypochondriac.
Bernardo: I hope so, but if I don’t that’s also fine you know. Whatever will manifest through me will manifest, I mean for the right whatever.
Rick: Yeah, see that’s the right attitude, you’re doing okay. What was I going to say? You know relevant to what you’re saying a minute ago, there are actually, I think Papaji wrote a book called “Nothing Ever Happened” and I’ve heard other sages sort of express that same phrase, which is that from their perspective the universe actually never manifested, it just appears to have manifested. But in reality ultimately it hasn’t, you know fundamentally, and one can arrive at that level of perspective, that level of experience. But as you say, we are filters, we are sort of instruments through which manifestation appears to have happened and we go through this whole rigmarole of being all caught up in the Maya, in the Maya of it, until we eventually turn back and come back to whence we came and attain that perspective.
Bernardo: Hopefully when we turn back and go back we take something with us, a knowing of knowing that wasn’t there before, hopefully.
Rick: Exactly, and sages say that too, that you know what is that phrase, contact with Brahman is infinite joy, that there’s a sort of a sumptuousness and a quality to knowing reality as a living experience, which reality prior to its manifestation never had, which is why it manifested. So it could you know have the living experience as well as just the unmanifested experience.
Rick: Yeah, so I mentioned to you that I had gotten to chapter 7 in your book and you said, “Oh, that’s where the good stuff starts.” So, you know, spoiler alert here, tell me, like what are we getting into now in the latter parts of your book?
Bernardo: Well, we covered some of it in chapters 8 and 9. I wrap up the system I tried to bring across in chapter 7, actually. The metaphors end there. I answer the questions that idealists are confronted with. Normally, I finish answering them in chapter 7, explaining why do we need sense organs, why are we sharing the same dream if it’s all in mind, why does the brain correlate with experience and all that. In chapter 8, I give myself more freedom to speculate a little more, to talk about clairvoyance and other psi phenomena. How could we interpret them, to talk about what happens when you meditate or when you are on psychedelics that reduce brain activity. How can we interpret that in the context of this world view, this idealist world view, many other things like that. And then in chapter 9, I just share some more general thoughts about the state of our culture, why materialism has become so predominant, how it came to pass that something that is so wrong has become so dominant, how that happened. And there is one section which is my favorite section which you touched upon today, in which I go a little bit against what you normally see in non-duality neo-advaita circles, which is the part where I talk about reality being a metaphor for the intrinsic qualities and properties of mind that mind can never see directly. And the reason I make that point is to say that you could say that all reality is an illusion in the sense that it doesn’t exist outside mind. If you define illusion as something that is built in mind and doesn’t have an external existence, then fine, all reality is an illusion, but to say that something is an illusion doesn’t mean that it’s meaningless. If you dream at night, your dream was an illusion, but it does tell something true about your psychic state, about your state of mind. If you have nightmares where you’re running and being persecuted, it may reveal an inner anxiety, a feeling that you’re threatened, and that’s a truth about your psyche, manifest through a metaphor, namely the dream that somebody is running after you and trying to kill you in a dream. So illusions in my view carry truth, it’s just metaphorical, allegorical truth, not literal, but it’s truth nonetheless that requires self-reflective interpretation. A psychologist will hear your dreams and he will tell you amazing things about your psychic state, that you will hear and you will instantly recognize it’s true. I knew it all along, I just didn’t know that I knew it, I just wasn’t conscious that I was conscious, I was not self-reflectively aware of it, and that insight came because you looked at an illusion with the eyes of an interpreter, and I think the meaning of life is precisely that. It is an illusion, but it’s a very meaningful, important illusion. I think we are deputized by God, mind at large, not to know, but to know that we know and to ask the self-reflective questions that will bring more and more of our true intrinsic underlying nature into the field of self-reflective awareness. I think that’s the name of the game.
Rick: And carrying on that theme, I think we could see everything that’s going on in the world as symptomatic of underlying qualities in collective consciousness. And you know, we were talking before about hierarchies, so it doesn’t just jump from individual consciousness to universal mind, there are larger and larger structures of organization in between the two, so you could have family consciousness, well I mean break it down even farther, there’s cellular consciousness and then organ consciousness, and then individual consciousness and family, community, national, global, universal, galactic or whatever, there’s all these just sort of like the Russian dolls, the sort of broader and broader structures of consciousness. So you can sort of see things like climate change or what’s going on between in Israel right now, between the Palestinians and the Israelis, and all these things are surface manifestations of qualities of collective consciousness, or at least of a particular level or organization of collective consciousness.
Bernardo: What else could they be?
Rick: Yeah, what else could they be? So as you say, it’s not if it’s an illusion, fine, but it’s a very interesting illusion, very rich illusion, full of meaning, things are full of meaning and significance, even though you can ultimately dismiss them as being unreal, you can’t just wipe everything away like that if you want to live in the world.
Bernardo: Yeah, it’s an illusion that tells something about ourselves, even if it’s not literal, it tells something about ourselves, because what else could it be telling? You see, reality is what it is, it’s not something else. Why is it this and not something else? That is the question. What is the fact that it is this and not something else telling you about what’s going on, about who or what you really are, which is the same question as to ask what’s going on.
Rick: Yeah, some teachers actually say the world is your guru, that things aren’t happening arbitrarily or capriciously, every single little thing that happens is pregnant with meaning and intelligence and significance if you only have the eyes to see it.
Bernardo: I agree with that, I don’t think it is a kind of school though, in which the teacher has all the answers and it’s prepared a packaged lesson just to make you find out the hard way what the teacher could have just told you in an easy way. I don’t think that’s what’s going on. I don’t think the teacher knows what he knows, if you know what I mean. I think this is really a natural unfolding process, it is not artificial, it’s not a school, it’s not a game, it’s a manifestation of what it is, just trying to make sense of what it is and what’s going on.
Rick: Yeah, I may disagree with you on that, I tend to think of it as a school that nothing is arbitrary and that again we’re kind of like fish swimming in an ocean of intelligence and that every little leaf falling and bird flying and everything that happens is sort of like a perfectly orchestrated part of a vast cosmic play and if you want to think in terms of the law of karma, that things which come to you in your experience come for a reason, that you encounter this person or you stub your toe or you break your arm, all these different things, they aren’t just sort of happening accidentally, arbitrarily, out of the blue and it’s not like you can apply logical explanations to them, but they are experiences which you are meant to have given the whole makeup of your life and the whole history and future of your life, in order to facilitate your continued evolution to higher and higher realization.
Bernardo: I give credence to synchronicities, so I think certain things happen and they are fragment with meaning, you should pay attention to them. You could explain them though as a manifestation of what is, it just reflects what is and since what is is mind, it has the qualities of mind. I think if I understand you correctly, your intuition is telling you that there is intentionality behind the design of what’s going on, there is intentional design in a certain way, it’s not just random.
Rick: Yeah, but don’t think of it as orchestrated by anything resembling human intelligence.
Bernardo: No, no, no, I concur, I concur, but I would use a different analogy then. I would even agree with you that come on, if you just look around that there seems to be intentionality behind what’s going on or certain things happen sometimes if you go like, whoa, as Terence McKenna used to say, you can see the thumbprints of the editor, where they glued the frames together in the right order. Another analogy could be that yes, there is intentionality, there is some degree of design, but it’s not a school, it’s a research lab. The difference being that in a school the teachers have all the answers and just checking whether you learned. In a research lab you’re not learning, you’re discovering, you’re the leading edge of knowledge, you’re finding things out for the first time and there is intentionality behind a research lab. The equipment is put there for a reason, it’s designed in a certain way for a reason, the activities are planned in a certain way for a reason, it’s not all willy-nilly by chance, random. There is purpose, there is method and yet it’s a discovery, it’s not just a school.
Rick: I like that, I think that might be a better metaphor. Of course there are a lot of research labs in schools, but no, I think it’s good. It’s not like there’s some kind of predetermined packet of stuff you’re supposed to learn, but you’re given opportunities and perhaps the whole script is continually rewritten according to how you respond to each situation as you move along.
Bernardo: Yeah, that pleases my intuition more.
Rick: Yeah, mine too actually. So tell me, have you ever converted a materialist?
Bernardo: Huh, no.
Rick: All this effort, you haven’t turned anybody around.
Bernardo: No, I focus on the people who are on the wall, and the wall is very large, most people are on the wall.
Rick: Agnostic so to speak.
Bernardo: Yeah, people who, I’ll be very specific, I focus on people whose intuitions are bringing them closer to the truth but whose intellect does not allow them to move. People who are so critical, in other words, the person I used to be. I had certain intuitions always, I would never allow myself latitude to explore certain ideas because I just couldn’t reconcile them with my world view, with what I consider to be infallibly true, because it was empirically demonstrated. And my target are the people whose intellects are at war with their intuitions, but they have to have the intuition, because the intuition is what gives the drive. Militant materialists, I’m not worried about them, I debate them, but I don’t debate them to convert them, I debate them for the sake of the people who watch the debate. To be honest with you, I have no hope for the people I’m debating these days. You know, I just wrote an article criticizing Brian Cox, I have debated Steven Novella. I don’t have hope for them in the sense that I don’t think they are lost souls, I think they are part of the same mind I am a part of, but I think their roles in the game now are purely oppositional. We don’t need to save their souls, they are not in danger, they are not committing sin.
Rick: No, they’re playing their role.
Bernardo: They are playing their role, it’s just that they are not my targets, they are just proxies. I debate with them for the sake of the people who watch the debate. I’m not out to convert anyone, I’m not a priest, it’s not my game.
Rick: You know who one guy I think might eventually turn around is Sam Harris. I don’t know if you’ve ever read or listened to any of his stuff, because he’s very honest and he gets actually a lot of flack from materialists because of his spiritual inclinations. He’s been practicing Buddhist meditation intensively for years and if that meditation actually is effective, he’s undoubtedly going to come to realizations which pull the rug out from under his atheistic perspective.
Bernardo: I don’t know, I don’t know, I’ll be very honest with you, I don’t know, because I look at myself and for as long as I did not find an intellectual avenue, not proof, not a conclusion, but an avenue that made space for a different way to look at the world, for as long as I didn’t find that crack through the defenses of my intellect, I would never, never allow myself to entertain the ideas that I began entertaining from my early 30s on. The intellect for me and I think for Sam and for many other people who are of the same makeup that we are, the intellect is the guard at the door, it controls what is allowed in. The intellect defines the field of what we consider potentially true, it defines the field of what is allowed to be true. If you don’t find a crack through that field, if you don’t broaden the scope of that field, you can have whatever intuitive experiential insights you want to have, two hours on you’re back to baseline, you’re saying, just hallucinated.
Rick: So what turned you around? I mean how did you go from being a materialist to an idealist? I don’t know if we’ve covered that.
Bernardo: I found the crack in the intellect.
Rick: Exactly, what was that crack? I mean you’ve elaborated it over the last two hours, but what’s the key point that sort of did it for you?
Bernardo: I would have to reconstruct the history of my intellectual thoughts. I don’t know actually, I would have to think about it to find out what was really the first crack. Okay, what began motivating me, it was not a crack, it was the motivation, was the commonplace and midlife crisis. When you start asking yourself, okay, I’ve achieved all my goals, everything I dreamed of when I was 15, I checked those boxes already, what the hell am I alive for, what is this all about, what am I doing, who am I? You know, who am I other than the car I drive, the title I hold, the job I have? So that was the spark, the motivation to look at truth instead of strengthening my ego. That’s what Jung called, you know, the afternoon of life, the second part of life when you’re interested in truth and not in establishing a role for and carve a space for your ego in the world. But what the first crack was, I think it was consciousness studies. I think it was David Chalmers, an Australian philosopher who talks about philosophy of mind.
Rick: He’s the one who came up with the hard problem, right?
Bernardo: Exactly, I think it was my recognition of the hard problem as a real problem that created a crack in my intellect. It was when I realized that there was no conceivable way to make a logical step from mass, momentum, charge, spin to the redness of red, the warmth of love, the pain of anxiety, the qualities of experience. You couldn’t translate the quantities measured to the qualities experienced. There was a gap in between that you couldn’t bridge and that opened a crack. That was like, hey, my model of the world is full of holes. Actually, there is one glaring hole that not only can I not bridge now, I can’t even devise or conceive a path to have a bridge in it. It seems fundamentally unbridgeable. That’s begun it, created a crack in the armor of the ego. And then, you know, when a fast-flowing river finds a crack, it rushes through and widens the gap and when you see it, now it’s an avenue, it’s no longer a crack.
Rick: Yeah, there’s the famous story of the Dutch boy putting his thumb in the hole in the dike. Did you ever do psychedelics?
Bernardo: I have tried, I have the luck of living in a country, the Netherlands, where that stuff is legal. It’s not only, well, not all are legal, but it’s not only illegal, it’s not taboo and you can go to a doctor and get orientation and do it under proper supervision and all that. I have experimented with it. That’ll create some cracks. Now, in my case, that was, yeah, maybe it compounded the situation. I don’t think psychedelics are a panacea.
Rick: No, I wouldn’t say that, but they can definitely open your eyes to the fact that reality is not what you thought it was.
Bernardo: But it’s a very noisy channel. The trickster is loose in a psychedelic trip. It’s very hard to make something out of it, other than to say whatever I think is true I have to question again. I think that is the main takeaway. Everything else is the trickster is in control and it’s very hard to, I consider personally, very hard to be able to come back and say what I experienced was literally true. On the other hand, nothing is literally true. This is an illusion too. It’s a kind of dream. Psychedelics just open up the dream to more degrees of freedom, so to say. But it’s also an illusion. In that sense it’s real because it’s as real as the illusion that we are experiencing right now, but I don’t consider them a panacea.
Rick: Sure, well it’s interesting, we’ve kind of come full circle in a way by what you just said, which is that in the beginning I was saying that for certain people who are wired that way, intellectual path to realization is the most effective and is perfectly valid. And some people listen to discussions like this and they say, “Leave me alone, it’s too much complication.” And so it’s not their thing, but it’s traditionally, I don’t know about other cultures, but at least in the Vedic culture, it’s traditionally considered to be a very potent and entirely legitimate and important path for those who are so constituted, you know, jnana yoga, as I said. So it looks like that’s your path. And I kind of got hints in listening to some of your other interviews that you felt like, “Well, I don’t really have all these spiritual credentials like some of these people.” But I think you’ve really, from my own simple perspective, that you’ve really made tremendous strides in not only understanding intellectually, but you’ve laid a foundation, I think, a groundwork for the experience of reality, of ultimate reality. And there’s other paths to do that. I mean, there are people who do simple service, you know, seva it’s called, and they might just clean streets or tend to the sick or whatever, and they’re laying a foundation which can result in complete realization. In fact, Shankara, who was one of the great founders of Vedanta or non-duality, he had four principal disciples, and one of the guys just washed the laundry. He wasn’t an intellectual, he couldn’t do that kind of stuff. But through his service in that way, his intellect awakened and he had complete understanding and became Shankara’s principal successor. So there are all these different paths, and part of the reason I do this show is to illustrate that all roads lead to Rome, so to speak, and that there’s a great variety of expressions out there of people seeking truth, seeking enlightenment, seeking understanding, and I think you’re a great representative of one of those channels, one of those expressions.
Bernardo: Thanks Rick, it’s nice to hear this. As I mentioned to you before, I will confess this to you because in the context of what you just said, I think it’s relevant to share this. I am absolutely, well absolutely is too much, never absolutely, but I’m very highly convinced of the perspective I have and what I think is going on. At the same time, and I feel that with inner certainty, inner certainty that drops to the chest, it’s not only in the head, I feel it, I experience it.
Rick: It’s experiential.
Bernardo: Yeah, at the same time, emotionally I don’t live reality from that perspective. I still live reality from the perspective of a separate ego that sees the world as a relatively threatening place and who is engaged in a fight, a very dualistic fight. In a sense it’s a necessary part of what I do, otherwise I wouldn’t be locking horns with the materialists as I usually do and trying to change the culture or to influence the culture in a certain direction. But I don’t live from the perspective of what I seem to know. And I do think I know, I don’t think it’s an abstraction, I feel that it’s more than that, but I don’t live from that. I don’t have the peace, the serenity, the presence that I think other people have because they irradiate that peace and that presence.
Rick: But you pull one leg of a table and the other leg has come along. And you’re pulling one leg pretty well. And yeah, most of us, almost all of us are works in progress. I don’t completely live all the stuff that I say, I’m just progressing and continuing to come along. And you’re a relatively young man, so don’t worry about it. We’re each following our own path and and kind of unfolding into what we’re meant to experience in our own time, in our own way.
Bernardo: I’m not too much worried about it anymore, that I’m proud to say. There was a time I was very worried about it, like, “Oh man, when will I actually finally find peace?” I’m not too worried about it now, I’m completely in peace with the idea that I may never find peace in this life, if you know what I mean. It’s okay, but I’m just doing what I feel I need to do on a day-by-day basis. Whatever wants to manifest through me that way will manifest. And I’m not delineating paths or making plans about when I’m going to find peace. My daily assumption is there is no peace and it’s okay.
Rick: As it says in the Gita, “Because one can perform at one’s own dharma, though lesser in merit, is better than the dharma of another. Better is death than one’s own dharma. The dharma of another brings danger.” So, you’re doing your dharma, you’re a lot of duty.
Bernardo: I don’t seem to have a choice.
Rick: And you might find at some point that you resonate with some particular teacher that could really push you over the edge. You know, Adyashanti maybe, or Rupert Spira, or Marlies Cocheret, who’s right there in in Amsterdam, whom I interviewed last week, or some teacher who can really kind of awaken your experience more and bring it more into line with your understanding.
Bernardo: Maybe, who knows. I would have to win first one prejudice that’s very strong in me, which is the very idea of a teacher. Life is a teacher, recognize life as a teacher, but I have an ego problem and I see through it. I know it’s a prejudice. I know it doesn’t have essential reality in itself, but it rings all alarm bells. When somebody approaches me and I have this notion, “Okay, this person is supposed to teach me.”
Rick: Yeah, well you have a good education. You must have had a lot of teachers in a ordinary way.
Bernardo: Yeah, and today I think most of them were full of, you know, one.
Rick: Yeah, well let’s see what happens. You know, we were talking earlier about how things just kind of unfold and there’s a saying, you know, “When the student is ready, the teacher appears.” So, who knows, you know, you might end up finding somebody who just clicks with you and who doesn’t set off your BS meter and who is not on some kind of weird trip himself or herself and you feel there’s some resonance. Because, you know, there are people who wake up without teachers. It does happen, but probably it’s the exception to the rule that usually one is in association with some teacher, then that the one flame lights the other flame, you know.
Bernardo: I don’t even know if what needs to manifest, if the game plan of the unconscious, between quotes here, is that I wake up. I’m not even sure that that’s what’s supposed to happen. You know, there is a strong sense in which I don’t know what waking up is. I have had my glimpses, non-abiding glimpses. I think I have some intuition, but I can’t say that I know what it is.
Rick: And the term is too static by the way, it has too much of a final quality to it. There continue to be awakenings and unfoldments.
Bernardo: Yeah, but although I don’t know what it is, if I go from my intuition of it and what I hear, or that people describe, Adyashanti talks a lot about what life from a awoken perspective is, which is the first time I see somebody talking from that perspective, which I find interesting. So, I have an image, of course, it’s a thought, it’s not the reality. I have an image in my mind about what it might mean, and then I wonder whether this is really what should happen to me, because there is a strong sense in which if I were in that place, if I imagine, I wouldn’t be able to do what I do today.
Rick: I don’t think so.
Rick: No, why not?
Bernardo: I need the foot in the illusion of materialism in order to be able to communicate and argue against it.
Rick: Well, you know, there’s the old chopped wood carry water saying, you know, whatever your life has been doing before awakening, you tend to keep doing the same things afterwards and have the capabilities to keep doing those things. So, I don’t think you’d lose it. In fact, referring to Shankara again, he was a great debater. He went around and around India having these debates with the kind of the materialists of his age, people whose perspective he felt were inferior to his own, whose understanding was inferior to his own, and defeating them. And the tradition in those days was that if you defeated somebody in debate, they became your disciple. But I guess people were honest about that. But in any case, I don’t agree that if you were to have a “spiritual awakening,” you would lose touch with the ordinary perspective to the point you wouldn’t be able to. I think it’d be more effective in doing what you’re doing.
Bernardo: Maybe what I just said is just the story my ego tells itself in order to avoid awakening.
Rick: It could be. I don’t know.
Bernardo: I’m open to that possibility.
Rick: Yeah. All righty, well great. I’m sure that we could probably go on another two hours and poke into more and more things, but then I’ll miss the farmer’s market. I’ve got to go down and get my fresh vegetables.
Bernardo: Sure. It was an interesting conversation. You extracted much more out of me than I ever thought you would.
Rick: I don’t know. Well, you’re easy to extract. You’re like a big water balloon. All I got to do is poke it and something comes out. Let me make a few concluding remarks. I’ve been speaking with Bernardo Kastrup and I highly recommend his book, “Why Materialism is Baloney.” I’ll be linking to places where you can get that book and to his website and his blog and his YouTube channel and everything from his page on batgap.com, B-A-T-G-A-P. You can go to bernardokastrup.com or you can come to Batgap and follow all the links to all those things. The book is not for the faint of heart. You really have to focus and settle in and understand what he’s saying. But I found it fascinating and intend to finish reading it, which I don’t always do with all the books that come across my desk. Let me say a few more general things about… Will you be speaking at any conferences or anything, Bernardo? Science non-duality or anything like that?
Bernardo: I have nothing scheduled right now.
Rick: But you have spoken there.
Bernardo: Yeah. I have spoken there last year. SAND, Europe.
Rick: Okay, good. Maybe you’ll do that again this summer. Yeah. Okay, so some more general points. We’ve been working a lot on the website lately on batgap.com and there’s a fellow named David who has developed a really nice categorical index of guests, and we intend to keep refining that and subdividing it. There’s an alphabetical index under the same menu as the past interviews menu. There’s a chronological index. And also, someone is working on a database back end which will give us a geographical index which can be sorted by guest, by location, or by date in terms of events that people are scheduling. So that’s all under development. Then for each guest, there is a section in the forum that’s on the site where people discuss what has been going on, what has been discussed in the interview. So you’ll see a link to Bernardo’s section on his page, his section in the forum. What else? There’s a donate button which I very much rely on people clicking if they feel the impulse. There’s a place to sign up to be notified by email each time a new interview is posted. You’ll see that on the menus. There is a link in each person’s interview page to the audio podcast of this, so click on that you can subscribe to the podcast. So I think that’s just about it. Thank you for listening or watching. Next week is Harri Alto back by popular demand. And thank you again Bernardo, it was great fun talking to you.
Bernardo: Thanks for having me Rick, it was fun.
Rick: All righty, bye-bye.