Rick: Welcome to Buddha at the Gas Pump. My name is Rick Archer. Buddha at the Gas Pump is an ongoing series of conversations with spiritually awakening people. We’ve done nearly 700 of them now. If this is new to you and you’d like to check out some of the previous ones, go to batgap.com, B-A-T-G-A-P, and look under the past interviews menu. This program is made possible through the support of appreciative listeners and viewers, so if you appreciate it and would like to help support it, there are PayPal buttons on the site and there is a page which explains alternatives to PayPal. Also, as I mentioned in some recent interviews, we have an ongoing transcription project going on and I have a team of over 50 volunteers who have been helping to proofread the transcripts and there are a number of reasons why that is important. I won’t go into them all right now, but just this last week, Nipun Mehta, who was on BatGap, offered to create a BatGap chatbot based on chat GPT-4, which if you’re familiar with that, is a very powerful technology and the core of it will be all these proofread transcripts. So, we’re in the process of getting it. It’s actually already working, but we won’t make it public until we’ve uploaded more of the transcripts. But if you’d like to help proofread them, that’s one thing that’ll contribute to. Okay, my guest today is Bob Harwood. Bob lives down in Tennessee and has written a book called “Pouring Concrete, a Zen Path to the Kingdom of God,” which is sort of a paradoxical title in that the Zen people don’t talk about God, but I guess Bob does. I read the whole book. The reason it’s called “Pouring Concrete” is his profession for most of his life was that of a construction contractor, and he poured a lot of concrete. And the book is rather concrete in the sense that it’s very down-to-earth, which I found refreshing. Sometimes when I listen or read spiritual books, I space out a bit, you know, because they get kind of abstract and philosophical, but this was very well-written and very personal and very concrete, very down-to-earth, and I just found myself, you know, easily attending to every word. A very enjoyable book, and I felt an affinity with Bob. There’s some things we both like to do, like ski and hike in the mountains, and so we’ve had a long phone conversation since I read the book in which we shared some tips and experiences on those past times, and Bob’s actually heading out in a couple weeks to do some more of it, some hiking in the mountains of Colorado. Anyway, I’m envious. All right, Bob, welcome!
Bob: Glad to be here!
Rick: Good to have you. One thing about you, Bob, that you’ll notice as we go along, he’s a very cheerful guy, and he’s not pasting a smile on his face. It’s genuine, it comes from within. He’s had a very significant spiritual awakening well over 20 years ago, and it’s stuck with him and profoundly enhanced his life, which is, I think, ultimately what this is all about. So, I think a lot of this conversation or interview will be about your personal journey, Bob, you know, starting as far back as you’d like to start, and you, and well, we’ll get into it as we go, but your zeal impressed me. There’s a line in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras in which he says that the yogi who pursues enlightenment with vehement intensity tends to get it more quickly, and I think that would characterize your path at many stages of it. You went through things that are a lot more arduous than I ever went through, and I was impressed with your perseverance.
Bob: Yep, that’s for sure! And so, should I just start off telling how this all began?
Rick: Yeah, just start off.
Bob: Okay, so anyway, I grew up in a real fundamentalist Christian tradition, really was pretty serious about spirituality and religion growing up, but when I went to college, I really began to question all these beliefs and things that I’d been culturally indoctrinated to believe, and initially the only questions that began were things like, “Is there really a God, or have I been talking to myself in my head all these years?” and you know, “What happens after we die? Where were we before we were born? Is there really a heaven or a hell?” Those kind of questions were the initial existential questions that I had no idea. I was curious to know as a scientist, since I was majoring in science and took a lot of science courses, I was curious, could there be some sort of a direct experience of these things that would be indisputable, undoubtable, rather than just, you know, being told to believe in something. So those were the initial questions, but as soon as I started taking various college courses in logic and physics and so forth, other questions began to arise, and I was just a really curious person, and so, you know, when I was in a logics class, for example, and they talked about how we make decisions, and the professor said, “Well, you know, you list the pros on one side and the cons on the other, and the longer list is how you make your decision,” and I thought intuitively I knew that wasn’t true, because there might be a hundred reasons not to do something and you still do it. So I thought there’s something here deeper than logic going on, but I didn’t know what it was, and that just was the beginning. Then when I got into the science courses and I began to read about quantum mechanics and the observer paradoxes and subatomic particles and all that, a whole bunch of new questions arose, and I would ask the professors about this, and they didn’t have any clue what I was really asking. I was sort of like asking, “What is a subatomic particle really?” You know, if I could shrink myself down to the size of a subatomic particle, what would I see? And things like, “What could explain these observer paradoxes?” and I also wondered, “Where’s the boundary between the macrocosmic world that Newtonian physics applies to and the quantum world that quantum mechanics applies to?” It looked to me like there was a smooth transition there, and I didn’t see any boundary. So those are the kind of questions that began to arise, and a lot of them were just intuitive. So like so many college students, I thought, “Well, I’ll take a philosophy course,” because I was a super optimist, and I thought, “It’s just a matter of time before I figure this out.” So I took a philosophy course, and the philosophy course just gave me another 20 or 30 questions. It didn’t answer any questions, and yet it raised a whole bunch more. I came out of that course wondering, “What is time really? What is space? What is matter? What is gravity or electricity?” All these things. So when I came out of the philosophy course, I thought, “Well, I can’t find any answers there.” So I just kept thinking and thinking and thinking about all these questions. So I just became consumed with existential questions, and later I realized the intellect doesn’t have the answer to any of this. The intellect only deals with what’s known, and the kind of questions I was asking were things that are unknown, and I had no idea how you go about finding an answer to that. So kind of a funny story, I met my future wife on a blind date, and she had taken a course in philosophy on Kierkegaard and Nietzsche and a bunch of these guys, many of whom I had read about, but toward the end of the course, she got angry because she read about their lives, and she went to a professor and she said, “Hey, I’ve been studying all these guys, and none of them live very happy lives.” And the professor was cool, and he just said, “Oh, you need to take my course in Eastern spirituality and religion.” So she signed up for that, and she brought all these books home that neither one of us had ever seen before – the Tao Te Ching, the Dhammapada, The Way of Zen by Alan Watts, a whole bunch of these books. We started reading those books, and as we read about the Zen masters, and the Sufi masters, and the Taoist masters, the Hindu meditation masters, and all these different masters from the East, we realized that in a certain intuitive sense that they were pointing to the same thing that Jesus Christ had been pointing to, but from a different cultural tradition. So as I read those books, and I read those books for nine years, and still never found a single answer, but I added like 50 or 100 more questions.
Rick: Did you actually write all those questions down, or did you keep them in your head somehow?
Bob: It was just like, it was just unbelievable. Like I read about Koans, you know, Zen has all these formal test questions, and I was familiar with at least 30 or 40 of them, and there’s about 2,000 in most of the tradition. I didn’t know the answer to any of them, and had no idea how you’d ever figure out an answer to one of these. And so, because I was familiar with those, and I read about enlightenment, and I read about all these unusual things that happen, particularly unusual experiences that people described when they would encounter a Zen master, and had these huge breakthroughs. I had no idea what they were talking about, so the questions just kept multiplying, and really the important point is for 20 years I thought about this stuff endlessly, and up to the age of 40, I was really optimistic. I thought sooner or later, as a scientist, I’m gonna figure this all out, and yet at the age of 40, for the first time, I began to feel a little bit of depression because I thought, here I am 40, I may die, and I’ve never learned anything important, you know. Everything I knew was trivial compared to what I wanted to know, so I was just consumed with all these questions. So I was really primed. At age 40, I had begun to intuit that I was suffering some business-related stress. I was worrying about customers, and clients, and projects, and money, and all this stuff, and I was driving around all day long thinking about all this stuff, and I’d begun to realize that the internal dialogue, this mind chatter that Zen people call monkey mind, it was just incessant. It was just, you know, just constant, and I began to think, you know, I wonder if this internal dialogue is contributing to this stress I’m feeling, and of course, I didn’t realize at that time, but it was really creating all the stress. So anyway, I was just really curious about that, and about that point, I lucked up. A new book came out, and it mentioned what Zen people do, which is meditate. In this little book, it just said, if you want some peace of mind, do this simple little breath awareness exercise, and I had never really meditated or anything like that, but I read about it, and I thought, man, anything for a little peace of mind, a little freedom from this constant chatter in my head. So I decided, okay, even if it doesn’t work, I’ll walk around a coliseum every day for one hour doing this breath awareness exercise, just counting breaths, and it was very frustrating because with a real monkey mind, I couldn’t get past the count of three before, you know, I’d be lost in a train of thought somewhere. So anyway, I did that for, it was amazing. I only did it for probably, maybe about 12 days, and one day, I was driving through town, and here I am, I’m an architectural designer and a general contractor, and I was driving through town, and I saw a building I had never seen before, and it struck me as really strange. I thought, I’ve driven down this road a thousand times, and I’ve never seen that building, and it was a fairly unusual house, and I thought, I wonder if the little exercise I’ve been doing just for 10 or 11 days has caused me to see that house, and man, that really generated some curiosity. So then about two days later, I thought, I’m gonna walk through the countryside in the afternoon and just see if I can look without thinking, and now I call that exercise ATA minus T, attending the actual minus thoughts. I never worked for it then, didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t think of it as a meditative exercise, but I just started walking down this country road, and within a day or so, I began to have all these memories from childhood come back, and I was just, I was really surprised. I began to remember the smell of flowers and all kinds of different stuff, and it took about, oh maybe two days, and I had a big realization. I thought, my god, I’ve been living in my head for the last 10 or 15 years, because when I would look at a tree, being a contractor, I would know that it’s a red tree, I mean a red oak or a white oak or a maple or a pop or whatever. I would think, oh that tree’s valuable or it’s worthless. It might have so many hundred board feet of lumber, and I was just curious, is it possible to look at the world without thinking all that stuff? So I began to just shift attention again and again away from thoughts, just what could be seen, and so that’s what I did, and I continued doing both those little practices, an hour a day walking around the Coliseum doing one exercise, and the afternoon I’d walk through the countryside just looking and listening, seeing if I could just look, because I became curious, what do little children see who haven’t yet learned to think in terms of form and names and so forth? You know, can you look at what a tree is without naming it, without thinking about it, or without thinking about a conversation from last week or a fantasy about next week, that type thing, and so I just kept doing that. I think I did that for about two months, and then I think it was on the third month or maybe the fourth month, I decided to add an extra exercise at night, which is kind of a formal Zen practice of following the breath. We just really sit and just watch the breathing process, and that went on for maybe five months, and then one night I sat down to meditate, and I fell into Nirvikalpa Samadhi. I didn’t know what it was, but everything disappeared, and all that remained was pure awareness. It was a very unusual experience, and when I came out of that state, I had no idea what it was, I didn’t know what the name of it was, I just knew that everything had disappeared, and all that remained was pure awareness. Do you have any idea how long you had been in it? Yes, I happened to have a clock in front of me, so when I came out of that, I thought, wow, I was in that state for about an hour, and I wasn’t there. So I just, I thought it was really unusual because there were a lot of somatic phenomena associated with it, you know, breathing slowed down to where it almost stopped, the body began to feel really cool as if it were being encased in a block of ice or something like that, and there was a certain skin surface numbness phenomena that it literally, literally felt like almost the body became encased in a block of ice, and you could feel it, I could feel it unifying up to a certain point, and then it’s like an event arise, and after that everything disappeared. All thoughts stopped, everything was gone except just pure awareness, and it was an extremely blissful state. So anyway, I sat down the next night to meditate, same this time, it happened just really fast, I just fell right into that state. That happened three nights in a row, and then on the morning of the fourth morning I got up, it was a work day on Monday, I went to work, and I was talking to a guy in his office about 10 o’clock when his phone rang, and when the phone rang it was like an electric shock went through the body, and all of reality began to disintegrate. There’s no real way to describe it except that like when I was looking at my friend, it was really hard to hold the features of his face stable, everything was beginning to come apart, and it was coming alive in some strange way, and then that really scared me, and I also felt this tremendous emotional thing start arising in the center of the body, and I didn’t know I was gonna start laughing or crying, and so rather than be embarrassed, I told the guy I need to go check on a project, rushed out of his office and got in the car, and when I jumped in the car, I grabbed hold of the steering wheel, and this thought appeared, maybe reality is not what we think it is, and as soon as that thought appeared, I burst out laughing, and I laughed non-stop for about five minutes, and the thought just kept occurring, maybe reality is not what we think it is. So I drove over to a nearby project about a mile away, and when I got out of the car, it’s like the whole world had come alive. I had been catapulted from one reality into another reality, very much like what Eckhart Tolle writes about after his big vortex thing, when he woke up the next day. It was like everything was just unbelievable, and there was a first, it was an out-of-body thing where consciousness went beyond the, it wasn’t inside or outside, but it was out in front of the body, somewhere up in the air above the body, and it stayed that way a few minutes, and then it came back inside the body, and when I walked toward the house, as soon as my foot hit the deck of the house, man, everything disintegrated, and I could not remember my own name, and it was just this incredible state of oneness, and during that experience, somehow the infinite was apprehended, and it was clear that everything was totally unified, and that everything was infinite, and there was no such thing as birth or death. It was just all kinds of realizations that occurred as a result of this, but I was conscious and coherent. I went downstairs and told some workmen what to do about a gas pipe they’re installing, and the whole thing was striking me so funny that I had to cover my mouth from my hand because I was about to burst out laughing, and I thought they’ll all think I need to be carried off to an asylum or something. They’ll think, you know, what’s going on with him, and I’m thinking I’m supposed to be a business person, but I can’t remember my own name. So at a certain point, it got really weird, even stranger, and I was looking at the superintendent, and the middle part of his body just vanished. It was like I could see his head, and I could see his feet, but there was nothing in the middle of his body, and I had to really concentrate to bring his body back into focus, and that really scared me. I turned around, looked at the wall, the same thing there. There was this big gap in the wall.
Rick: Could you see what was on the other side of his body, or you just couldn’t see anything? I realized later when I read about, you know, schizophrenics have unusual things where there’s all kind of weird perceptual stuff. I’ve read accounts where schizophrenics might be shaving and only see half their face. When I read about that, this was something perceptual that was happening from the standpoint of whatever was going on in the brain. Plus, there was a tremendous flood of endorphins. I mean, I didn’t know it was possible to feel as good as I felt. It was as if the body had been injected with every good drug in the world. So anyway, that really frightened me because I thought I’m about to lose touch with reality totally, and I told the guys I got to go check on a project. I rushed out of the house and jumped in the car, and when I got to the bottom, I’m like, “Oh, oh, oh, I’m Bob the Builder.” I remembered who I was, but as I started up the road, I thought, “Oh, everything’s back to normal,” but it wasn’t back to normal. I looked over at a tree, and for the first time I realized what the difference was between what a tree is and the idea of a tree. I didn’t know it then until I happened to read about this later, but in Zen, they call it “passing through the gateless gate.” You see through the illusion of thinness, of separateness. At any rate, the next three or four days were unbelievable, and I lost all interest in anything personal. I was ready to give away everything we owned, and it was a big problem in my family, and I freaked out my wonderful wife because it was, you know, I sort of destroyed her security because I was ready to give away the company or at least share it with all the employees. I lost interest in anything personal. All I wanted to do was go visit people in the hospital and send money anonymously to the people that needed it, and it was unbelievable. So that continued for about three days, and then I began to think about it.
Rick: There was a thing, wasn’t there, where you said to your employees that you’re gonna share the whole company with them, and they all walked off and started another company? Yeah. Was that that time or later on?
Bob: Yeah, that was the third day. I had this meeting, and it was funny because I didn’t know this until later. My wife told me that while I was downstairs trying to talk them into sharing all the profits of the company and being co-owners, she was upstairs reading about the Buddha having left his family and gone off. So it certainly was terrible from that standpoint, but all the employees thought I was, I guess they thought I was trying to pull a quick one or a scam or something, or they thought I went nuts. I’m not sure what they thought, but they quickly quit and they formed their own company and left. And so our whole construction company came to an end, and we had to shift over and use subcontractors and employees after that. So the whole story was kind of incredible, but then as I began thinking about this and trying to think, how can I tell other people how to find this incredible state of being, this amazing way of not being the least bit concerned about yourself, the more I thought about it, it began to dissipate, and that’s when I became aware of what the, or what Asians call chi, the electrical energy that moves in the body. I could feel it, and it felt like some sort of a circuit was closing down, and my wife looked at me on the third day, I think it was, and she said, “Do you still feel the same?” And I thought, “No, that sort of formalized, just quiet, it was beginning to build. I realized, no, something’s not the same.” And it’s like up to that point, I was one with everything. I mean, if I’m listening to a sound, I was that sound, you know, but then as this thing began to close down, I didn’t know if I’d survived. It literally felt like the electrical circuitry in the body went nuts, and I actually thought I was going to die on the fourth day.
Rick: Were you sleeping during those days?
Bob: Yeah. Yeah, and when I woke up the fourth morning in this, and I could feel all this strange electrical stuff happening, the heart was going nuts. I actually told my wife, I said, “I think I’m gonna die today. I hate that. I’m sorry that you have to deal with that.” But I didn’t take my notebooks to work. I went off to work thinking I wasn’t gonna make it, and I climbed this hill on one of these construction projects, and the heart beat slowed down there. They seemed to come back to normal. It was almost like some sort of electrical circuit had shifted, and I came back to what I had previously regarded normal, but that wasn’t very good because it literally felt like I’d fallen out of the kingdom of God back into this dead flat world of things again, and so anybody that’s had that sort of thing happen, they just wanted to get back to that, you know, so that really began the search from that point, but what was fascinating was that one event answered about seven of my existential questions without any doubt, and that made me realize probably everything else I want to know is somehow inside, and so I concluded, being a scientist, that if I could just become sufficiently silent that I could find out anything I wanted to know, and it turned out that was true, but it took quite a while before I found out everything else I wanted to know because I still had dozens and dozens of other questions, and there was one koan that I had read about, the Mu Koan, it’s very famous, and after that experience, I knew the answer to the Mu Koan.
Rick: Does the dog have Buddha nature?
Bob: Right, that’s the one. Yeah, in fact, usually there are three or four koans associated with that, you know, what is Mu, does a dog really have Buddha nature, who was correct, was it the Buddha or was it Joshu, the guy that said a dog didn’t have Buddha nature, there’s a whole bunch of questions associated with it.
Rick: Seems like if the answer is Mu, it should be does a cow have Buddha nature.
Bob: does what?
Rick: Does a cow have Buddha nature would be a more appropriate question if the answer is Mu, right?
Bob: Absolutely! Yeah, that’s right. But anyway, after that, you know, I was just, you know, for the next several months, and the next several months were kind of interesting because
Rick: Let me just ask you before you go, so can you tell us like what those seven questions were that God answered, or just a few of them in that initial “aha”?
Bob: One of my questions was, “Is there a God?”
Bob: What I realized was that the word God points to something that is absolutely incomprehensible, a level of intelligence, something so vast the mind can’t even begin to touch it, but I somehow, or this body, directly apprehended that, and some phenomenal way, and there was no doubt after that that there’s this vast intelligent underlying everything that’s running the whole show, really. So that was just one example, and there were many others. And so, after that, I think the next several months, I kept walking around telling everybody, “You need to meditate, you need to meditate, because you can’t believe what will happen.” Well, what was really interesting during that next several months when I was telling everybody to meditate, I could not meditate. And that should have been a clue, you know, I’m not in control of what’s happening here. But then I found there was a Zen group that was having silent retreats, and I hooked up with a group out of Providence, Rhode Island, but they were meeting in elections in Kentucky. So I went up for the first silent retreat, and I thought if I can just have some silence, this phenomenal thing will come back. You know, that’s kind of a common misconception on this path. So I went off to the retreat and did this three days of silent sitting and had another fairly significant realization. I went to challenge the teacher, the Zen teacher, and got knocked on my butt, got hit with a Zen stick, because I had another experience that made me think I’d become enlightened, and he was a real good guy, really sharp, and managed to disavow me of that idea with one good strike with a Zen stick. And that was kind of fascinating because I had read about these kinds of experiences in a lot of the Zen books, and after he did that, it so assaulted the ego that for the next day or so, it literally felt like steel bands that were crushing me. I could barely breathe. It was sort of like, it was just some sort of an internal thing that was going on, and that went on for about two days, and I thought, man, I don’t know if I’ll survive this, and then all of a sudden, boom, the bottom dropped out of the mind again, and I had another realization. So after that, I began going on these retreats, and I began, you know, meditating quite a bit, but mainly on, I would do these three days in silent meditation retreats, and as time went by, more of my questions got answered, because in the Zen tradition I joined, you know, the two Zen traditions, Soto and Rinzai, and the one I happened to join was Rinzai, and they use a lot of koans, and so they ask you these questions in an interview, and if you don’t know the answer, you know, that’s your homework. You go out and meditate, and most of the simpler koans, it may take a few hours to see the answer, but once you begin to penetrate some of these, you realize that anything you want to know, if you contemplate it, and then shift attention to the breath or whatever, you know, you can find the answer, all of a sudden the answer will just pop out. It’s like an intuitive explosion, and then you understand how to respond, what the correct answer would be, and how to interact with the guy.
Rick: And I guess the correct answer isn’t always verbal, right? I mean, the answer to what is the sound of one hand clapping, you’re not going to necessarily be able to give a verbal answer to that, but you have some intuitive realization. That’s right. You know, about a third of all koans are answered with a physical response, and Zen is really interested in letting the body instantaneously respond to these questions without thought. In fact, the first thing I was told when I went in for a Zen interview, the teacher said, “Leave your thinking mind at the door when you come in here,” because what they’re interested in is a body response to these questions. You want to see through the koans at what underlies them, and so forth.
Bob: So what would be a typical body response?
Bob: Well, for example, okay, so one of the real simple ones they give people, they have some that are just sort of illustrated. You know, there’s a famous question like, “How would you greet an enlightened woman if you met her on the path with neither words nor silence?” All right, well, if you’re thinking, you may not be able to answer that. If it worded differently, you’d know how to answer. So how do you greet a woman with neither words nor silence if you meet an enlightened woman? Well, there are two mind hooks in there. One, an enlightened woman. Whoo! Enlightened woman. And the other one is, how do you greet her with neither words nor silence? Well, if you’re not thinking, you’ll realize, oh, you can wave, you could bow, you could blow or kiss, you could simulate a hug. There’s dozens of ways you could greet somebody with neither words or silence. So they give you some of those just to show you they’re simple answers to all these questions. And there’s several famous – my grandfather used to love – he wasn’t a Zen master, but when I grew up, he used to love riddles. And he would ask people, he would say, “It’s the bottom of the ninth inning in a baseball game and the score’s tied and the bases are loaded and the batter hit a homerun but not a man scored. Why?”
Rick: I read your book. I know the answer.
Bob: So you know the answer, you know.
Rick: It was a ladies baseball team.
Bob: That’s right. And so Zen has a lot of koans like that. They just used to show you that there are simple answers to all these questions. All right, so anyway, I started going on the retreats and more and more of my questions got resolved as I began to contemplate the issues I wanted to understand. And somewhere along the line, I really felt like, okay, because at first I was real competitive. I thought, oh, you know, it took Renzai two years to wake up. I can beat that. And then when that didn’t happen, I thought, well, it took the Buddha six years. I can beat that. And after six years went by and I still didn’t feel like I was there, then I thought, okay, I better settle in here for the long run. And so I just I kept going on these retreats. And the big one, and the reason I titled my book “Pouring Concrete” is I really became fixated on the idea of running off to a wilderness and spending some time in isolation. I thought, if I could just go off to a mountaintop, you know, and become silent for a significant length of time, I’d find out everything I want to know, you know, wake up, so forth and so on.
Rick: By the way, was your, at this stage of the game, were you driving your wife crazy with all this?
Bob: She was having a hard time with this. What happened to this guy? It’s amazing she’s still with me.
Rick: Well, you kind of came around, but you’ll get to that.
Bob: That’s right. And she was, you know, she was always interested in existential stuff, too. That’s one of the things that attracted us. That’s why we really found each other as soulmates. So she so fully respected the fact that the Buddha ran off, that she just sort of assumed Bob would run off in the same way. But, you know, my situation was different, you know. I love my wife and my child and I really enjoyed construction, you know. I didn’t have the same reasons to run off to the wilderness that the Buddha did, but I still was really captivated by that idea. If I could just leave all my everyday activities behind and go off to a wilderness, you know, I could wake up and get the whole thing. And one day I was pouring concrete. This is probably, I don’t know, I probably been meditating off and on for seven or eight years, and I had that same thought I’d had dozens of times. I was pouring concrete. We took a break. I’m standing there beside the concrete truck in the shade, drinking a glass of water. Now, boy, if I didn’t have to be doing this stupid construction work, I could be off on a mountain. Bam! And all of a sudden, I saw how that thought separated me from the truth of what is. And I asked myself this really simple question. I love to ask seekers this one because it really cuts to the core. I asked myself, what must I be doing this moment? Not tomorrow, not five minutes from now, this moment. And it was crystal clear I had to be pouring concrete. And I realized that that fantasy, that thought of running away from my responsibilities and from all the hassles involved with construction was kind of an escapist thing. And as soon as I saw that, I thought, I have to be doing this. The Buddha needed to run off to the wilderness, but I got to be pouring concrete. That was a big deal because that really led back to my family, back to ordinary life. And I realized if waking up was ever going to happen, it had to happen right through the middle of pouring concrete and doing construction work, living a family life, being an ordinary guy, so forth. So that was really helpful. And that was one of the unusual insights I had that really had to occur twice. About a week later, I was getting a building permit and it was one of those bureaucratic things at a government office. And I was sitting there kind of bored, waiting, and I thought, oh man, if I didn’t have to be sitting here getting a building permit, I could be, bam, hit me again. Oh, what have I got to be doing this moment? It was crystal clear. So a lot of times when I’m giving talks to people, I’ll say, what must you be doing this moment? And sometimes there’ll be a moment of silence, then someone will say, I guess we’ve got to be sitting here listening to you. I’ll say, exactly, what must I be doing this moment? Jabbering about non-duality or whatever. And so that was really helpful. That was one of the biggest insights I had. So anyway, I just continued doing all this and about, I guess it was about maybe eight or nine years into this Zen tradition and I was pretty involved with them. I was on a retreat one time and I thought to intensify the retreat was already pretty intense. You know, you meditate eight hours a day on a Zen retreat. I thought every time there’s a break in the retreat, I’ll go out and do this other little exercise and I now call ATA minus T. I’ll walk up and down the street just looking and listening. And so it did intensify the retreat, but one of the odd things that happened afterwards, I realized when I’m walking down the street just looking, I’m doing the same thing as if I’m sitting on a cushion watching the breath. The activity is no different. I’m shifting attention away from thoughts to what’s happening right now. And once I realized that, I began to lose interest in Zen because I thought, Zen’s kind of rigid, you know, they’ve got all these rules, you got to sit a certain way in this posture and so forth and so on, you can’t say a word. It’s kind of a militaristic type thing in the tradition that I was in. And so once I realized that, I thought, I don’t need to go on a retreat. I can do this driving my truck. I can do this hiking in the woods, anywhere I want to go. I can keep shifting attention away from thoughts to just what can be seen or heard. And I think it’s interesting in the Gospel of Thomas. The Gospel of Thomas is a Gnostic Gospel, a little more mystical than the New Testament. And then, you know, in the New Testament, Jesus tells his disciples, the kingdom of God is within you. But in the Gospel of Thomas, he tells his disciples, the kingdom of God is both inside of you and it is outside of you. So what I realized was, it doesn’t matter which direction you look. You can look within or you can look without. In my case, since I had spent 20 years thinking and I hadn’t found any answers at all, I was just shifting attention again and again to just what’s right in front of my eyes. You know, what’s right here in this present moment. And so that’s what I began doing more and more and I just continued doing that. So really, after 15 years, every question I ever had had been answered. I didn’t have any more questions, but I didn’t feel free. And I even talked to my wife about it. I said, I don’t understand. I don’t have any more existential questions, but I don’t feel free. And I didn’t realize for about two more weeks why that was. That’s because it was a me that didn’t feel free. And so I went on a hiking trip to Colorado and I’d done this several times before just because, like you, I like to climb mountains and hike these trails and so forth. I never was able to find anybody to go with me because I hike at a fairly fast pace and most people that I went hiking with had a hard time keeping up. So I would just go by myself.
Rick: should have got in touch with me. We could have talked philosophy while we hiked.
Bob: i didnt know you were available. I would have called you. So anyway, this other thing, this other question had begun to arise. I had no more questions, but then one new question started to arise. I look back over the 15 years of doing all these meditative activities and so forth and I realized there are these periods in which selfhood disappears. It happens in cosmic consciousness. It happens in deep samadhi. Many times I would get into the zone in which selfhood would fall away. I’d become so involved in some activity. Sometimes lots of elite sports people talk about being into the zone. It’s almost mystical and among mountain climbers, many of them have written these stories of these things that happen to them where they just seem to be able to do things that they couldn’t ordinarily do. It’s almost like something else takes over the body. I was one time playing a game of tennis with an FBI agent. We were big competitors and we just loved to smash the ball at each other. One night I was at an indoor court playing that guy and we got to really slugging the ball at each other, just barely clearing it, just smashing it. At a certain point, I began to know where he was going to hit the ball even before I hit it to him. I would hit the ball and be running to where I knew the ball was going to come. You’re not reflecting when that happens. It was only after the game was over and we sat down and these guys had been watching. They said, “God, that was unbelievable what you guys were doing.” I was thinking, “I’ve never played that kind of tennis,” but in a sense, it wasn’t me playing it. Something else took over. That was one time that happened early. It happened several times hiking in the mountains. I would be hiking up some steep something rather than I would get so focused on what I was doing that I would end up in that same kind of being in this zone state. So then the question began to arise, “Well, I seem to oscillate between no self and self.” That became a real existential question. The way I formulated it was weird. I worded it like this, “How is it possible to stay in a unity conscious state of mind all the time?” Because I identified those momentary things as unity consciousness because everything seemed to be one when I was in those kind of states and selfhood wasn’t there. Anyway, I’d been hiking about four days in the mountains doing this little exercise, you know, where I’m just looking and listening and so forth. I was climbing Mount Altabun, a mountain that you climb, and I got up above the tree line. After about four days, and this has happened a lot of times on solo retreats, and I’m sure if you’ve been on solo retreats you know the same thing, the more you really are paying attention to what’s happening and you’re really looking at everything around you, there’s a certain sense of communion and unity that begins to grow. You seem to be more one with what’s happening. At any rate, I began, I had this tremendously deep experience of gratitude, just overwhelming gratitude for everything that happened in my life, good, bad, or otherwise. I sat down on a rock and actually I basically said a prayer, “Thank you, thank you, thank you for everything.” I got real emotional and I got up and never even went to the top of the mountain. I think that’s the only time I never went to the summit. I turned around and came down. I knew I was feeling really good and there was this vague sense that something was missing. A few hours later, I looked within and there was no longer within. There was no me, it was all gone. I realized it was immediately obvious there had never been a Bob Harwood. The whole thing had just been a fictional story about a fictional person. There was still a body-mind organism, but there was no separate volitional entity inside the body doing anything or controlling anything or directing anything. I was just, I was totally stunned because in the past, and I was one of those people that had a sense of selfhood, it was very hardcore. I would always sort of check inside to see what I thought about something or what do I feel about something and so forth. On that day, I looked in, there was nothing there. It was all gone, along with any sense of inside or outside and it never changed after that. There was never again a boundary between inside and outside. Life just took on a flow after that. So even though the body-mind organism is still there, there’s no longer a sense of a little bitty, little guy in the head looking out of the eyes at a world that’s out there. Everything just, it was just a permanent sense of just being one with what is and that ended the spiritual search. But at the same time I saw that there was no within and there never had been a Bob Harwood, I then realized that what I had seen 15 years earlier in the cosmic consciousness event, that was what was doing everything and the way I worded it at that time was the process of reality is what does everything. These days I use the term this, you know, Nisargadatta has a book that was titled “I Am That” but for me this feels more intimate. So I always say I’m this, you know, and we’re all this and so once this sort of a realization occurs, you realize that every person you meet is you, you know, the furthest star is you. There’s no boundary anywhere and so I love to ask people things like well how do you grow a single hair? Nobody knows. How do you see? How do you think? How does every blood cell in your body know where to go? You’re not doing that. Something much vaster and more incomprehensible is doing everything and once that’s seen, it really becomes amazingly freeing. From that point on, not only did I feel free, I knew I was free. That ended it and it also resulted in sort of an emotional openness, extreme vulnerability you might say and I was thinking about this the other day because it’s interesting that in the New Testament, there’s in one place Jesus tells his disciples, he says, “What profit of the man if he gains the whole world but he loses his very self?” Now very self is not very clear. That’s the King James interpretation. I’m not a Greek scholar but in the New English Bible it’s slightly different. The line reads, “What profit the man if he gains the whole world but he loses his true self?” That’s clear. True self is what I’m calling this. Now we could, Bankai called it the unborn. Someone else might call it Brahman. We’re talking about the infinite source, whatever word we want to use for that and so once that’s seen, it’s like it’s the greatest thing ever. You know, it’s such good news you just want to tell everybody about it. But you know, you learn only to talk about this with people that are interested. Good.
Rick: Hey, that was a mouthful. That’s a lot of good stuff in what you just said. So, you know, now when you say I’m hungry or you tell your wife I love you or let’s say you whack your thumb with a hammer, isn’t there still some sort of personal self? However, even if it’s not the predominant thing, isn’t there some element of that in there?
Bob: Sure, yes. As a matter of fact, what really disappears is this false sense of identity that you’re culturally conditioned to imagine. Right. It’s like, yeah, there’s still a body-mind and there’s obviously some, still some, you know, you know that you’re, you know, Bob Horwood is an entity and it has a conventional meaning. It’s like a placeholder for what’s here. But yeah, there is, there is that. It’s just not the same. It’s not like the past sense of selfhood.
Rick: Yeah, I have this good friend, I won’t name her, but she’s been on Batgap. She recently had a very serious car accident, which wasn’t her fault, and has numerous broken bones and she’s in the hospital even now. And her part, she just happened last Saturday and her partner sent an email out to a bunch of her friends explaining all the ordeals she’s been through and is still going through. But at the end of the email he said, “But you know, throughout all of this, she’s had this,” I forget how he phrased it, “this sort of subtle smile on her face or glow in her eyes,” or something like that. Because she is a very self-realized person and has been also saying the kinds of things you’re saying about having transcended or lost a sense of personal self, or at least a sense of personal self being the sort of center point of life or the predominant aspect of one’s experience. So, even under this extreme ordeal, that apparently has abided.
Bob: That’s right, and it leads to a very simple way of life. It’s very down-to-earth, it’s very ordinary, nothing special about it. It’s just you do whatever needs to be done and then you do the next thing that needs to be done and so forth. So, there’s almost no reflection about the future or the past. Just because I did this little exercise for so long, and one reason I tell people about it, a lot of people don’t like sitting on a cushion. They don’t like formal meditation and what I point out to them, you don’t have to do that. You can do this driving along in your car, walking in the woods, anytime there’s some free time you can be shifting attention away from all these nonsense thoughts. Well, as you do that, the mind becomes more and more silent and pretty soon you can have long periods of total silence and there’s awareness of the silence without any comments about that. So, the mind can actually become totally silent, sort of like what Gary Weber has written about, Terry Stevens and a whole bunch of other people. Some people, it happens all of a sudden, the mind just goes silent. I met a guy one time that it happened to him and that’s what brought him to a non-duality retreat. He was so shocked by the fact that when his mind went silent, he could function effectively in total silence than when the mind had been jabbering all the time. And so, that can happen and it’s a lot like, it’s as simple as learning to speed read. You know, when somebody learns to speed read, you got to break three habits. You have to break the habit of reading horizontally with your eyes across the page, if you’re in an English-speaking country. You have to then break the habit of sub-vocalization. And finally, you have to break the habit of mentally saying the words in your head. And this is like that. It’s that simple, but it does require some persistence. And so, the mind can become extremely silent and you discover that like
Rick: Yeah, so are you saying that 5% is still appropriate or necessary? Like you’re planning a trip to Colorado. You gotta figure out, okay, what flight am I going to take and how am I going to get a rental car? You work things out.
Rick: That’s right, and if you’re a physicist or you’re, say, a rocket scientist and you’re designing something like, you know, I’m an architectural designer, so you know, thinking is appropriate there. I’m imagining spaces in my head, you know, of some future building that hasn’t been built yet. I mean, that’s the power of imagination.
Bob: The problem is, it’s such a habit for most people. They have no freedom from that habit. The mind jerks them around. They’re constantly thinking, “Well, I’ll be happy when I do this,” or they’re thinking about the future or they’re regretting something about the past. And they have all these habits. I’m comparing myself to the Joneses down here. Those kind of habits. All that can fall away.
Bob: And then things are simple. I remember when I interviewed Gary Weber and later met him at the S.A.N.D. conference and I don’t know if we ever quite resolved it, because I was saying, “Well, you’re talking to me, therefore you’re having thoughts,” because words are just an audible expression of a mental idea. So, those mental ideas are there, but you know, my idea of not having any thoughts anymore is sort of like not having five radio stations playing in your head at the same time, which is, you know, the way most people function. You know, there’s just so many, so much blah blah blah going on and your mind just becoming simple and efficient in its functioning.
Bob: That’s right. In other words, for most people, the intellect is dominant and it’s sort of like, rather than having the intellect as a master, it becomes a servant. It’s just like a tool. You know, if I’m going to design a new house, it’s just like a tool. One of the reasons that humans are the dominant species on Earth, unfortunately for the Earth, is because we have this power of imagination. You know, and so, it’s a tremendous gift, but it’s also, it can be a real curse, because if you really believe these thoughts, you know, you get jerked around by these thoughts. So, it’s not just the thoughts, it’s the attachment to the thoughts, and that’s one reason that most Zen people point to what they call non-abidance in the mind. In other words, thoughts occur, but like right now, I’m not thinking these thoughts up before they’re spoken.
Rick: No, it’s spontaneously coming out, just like what I’m saying now.
Bob: Yeah, so it’s freedom from that habitual mindset that, you know, hasn’t been investigated.
Rick: Yeah, there’s a line in the yoga sutras, I think it’s the second verse in the first chapter, it’s “yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind.” In other words, usually, you mentioned monkey mind earlier, so usually the mind is all chatty and agitated, and so yoga, which means union, is the settling down or the cessation of those chittavrittis, those fluctuations of the mind. And some people misinterpret that to mean that you can’t have sort of an enlightened style of functioning unless you’re in a quiescent state all the time, which is, it’s not possible to live that way. And so, what you’re describing, I believe, is a state in which, you know, you’re doing stuff, you’re climbing mountains, you’re running a business, you’re whatever, ballroom dancing, and yet the mind is no more agitated than it needs to be to perform those functions. It’s just operating in, we could say, a state of maximum efficiency.
Bob: That’s right.
Rick: Yeah, okay. Sometimes it’s good to state these things, so because otherwise people, if they misunderstand what you’re saying, they might feel that they could never attain it, because they never do attain it, you know, and they’re looking for something that they’re not going to find, because that’s not what it is they’re actually looking for.
Bob: Right, and I used to call this little practice ATA. I used to tell people, do attend, you know, if you don’t like sitting on a cushion, do ATA, attend the actual. Yeah. And by that, I’d say, look, this is actual, all right, thinking that it’s a hand is imaginary. You know, when we say this is a hand, that statement’s true and false at the same time. Yes, we can make the distinction that this is a hand, and that’s true in that limited sense, but whatever this is is also what this is, and this is, and this is, and everything else is. There’s no boundary here, and just for fun, I’ll ask people sometimes, if you don’t believe this is true, get a magic marker and show me where a hand stops and a wrist begins, and as soon as they try to do it, they realize, oh, it’s imaginary, you know, all this stuff’s imaginary. All these boundaries, there are no real boundaries anywhere, and that’s why I tell people reality is non-dual. Imagination is the only place you’ll find duality.
Rick: But it serves a function to have these distinctions. If I say, hey, Bob, please pass the salt, you know, it’s useful for you to know that, okay, this is a salt, and it’s not the pepper, and he wants it, so I’m going to hand it over, and here goes my hand, you know.
Bob: Yeah, exactly, and as we grow up, you know, we’re taught millions of distinctions, and they’re all internalized in the subconscious, so we already know all this stuff. You know, you know that this is a glass, you know, you know this is a hand without having to think about it. It’s all internalized, so there’s no real problem with that.
Rick: You know, I think I’m reminded of what you said a few minutes ago about the Gospel of Thomas, and what was the phrase, how was it in, how was it stated in the Gospel of Thomas? He says the Kingdom of God is both inside of you and outside of you.
Bob: So, he also says the Kingdom of the Father is spread out upon the earth, but men do not see it.
Bob: And so, anyone who discovers what the term “true self” is pointing to is going to be a pretty happy camper, because anybody who discovers that wouldn’t trade that for all the money in the world.
Rick: Yeah, so let’s think about that for a second. So, a lot of people believe the Kingdom of God is off in heaven someplace, and they’re going to go there when they die. And some people believe that, okay, deep within me is this Kingdom of God, or transcendent field, and the world sucks. You know, that’s not, the world’s not it. But, you know, if God is supposed to be omnipresent, then obviously God is within and without, and by God, again, we mean this field of underlying or unifying intelligence that you alluded to earlier. So, it’s everywhere, you know. Some people use the analogy of fish in water feeling thirsty and looking for the water. It’s everywhere. And if we don’t see it everywhere, it’s just that we’re not perhaps seeing it clearly yet.
Rick: Yeah, it requires kind of intuitive shift. It’s like if you meet somebody who is searching for their glasses and they’re wearing their glasses, you know, you tell them, hey, what you’re looking for is what you’re looking through, you know, your glasses. Everybody has this. Everybody already is this. It’s just a matter of waking up to it, and it requires an intuitive shift. So, I love this one quote. I don’t know whether it’s an accurate quote by Einstein. Someone questioned that. It’s listed on the internet many places, but Einstein has a quote that goes something like this, “I think 99 times and find nothing. I stop thinking, swim in silence and the truth comes to me and I don’t know how or why.” And what he’s really referring to, what we call eureka events in the field of science or math, and there’s just dozens of those examples, you know, the benzene ring, the double helix, relativity theory, the French mathematician, Henri Poincare, whatever his name was, he was struggling with some mathematical issue and he had struggled for days and he finally, I’m going to take a break. He takes a break, maybe goes to the zoo or something. Late that afternoon, he’s getting ready to get on a bus. Bam! The whole solution is there, complete, you know. So, in my, the way I sort of describe it, the intellect is like the intelligence of a flea riding on the back of an elephant. The big mainframe that’s running the whole show is vast, all right? And so, what’s really happening when we have these existential questions, we’re actually trying to access this deeper level of intelligence. It’s already there. We’re just so used to trying to think up the answer and really, the intellect only deals with images, ideas, and symbols, nothing else, you know, and what we’re looking for in an existential question, we’re looking for something the intellect can’t touch. It’s beyond the intellect. That’s why Nisargadatta told a seeker one time, he said, “To find the truth, you must go beyond the mind.” Well, by mind, he meant intellect. So, if you’re just looking, that’s beyond the mind, right? If you’re just listening, it’s beyond the mind. If you’re contemplating, in other words, all these meditative activities, and they’re just dozens of them. I experimented with lots and lots of them. In each case, basically, you’re shifting attention away from thoughts to something that’s present and happening now, to what’s actual. And so, you know, at some point, I was on, I don’t know, I was on some sort of a non-duality meeting, and somebody challenged me about this ATA, and they said, “Well, aren’t thoughts actual?” I thought about it, I said, “Yeah, thoughts are actual.” So, I realized I need to make a distinction. Mindfulness would be ATA plus two, because when we do mindfulness meditation, you’re sort of standing back, and you’re watching everything – thoughts, feelings, the exterior, well, everything. All right, but thoughts are sticky, and so people do mindfulness, and they wake up 10 minutes later, following some thought train. In my case, what I’m talking about, ATA minus two, just forget thoughts altogether. Just shift attention away from thoughts to what you can see, hear, and interact with the world like a little child does. You know, little children, everything’s direct. You know, they’re operating directly through their senses. And so, it’s actually a little bit simpler. If you sit, let’s just say you close your eyes, you sit, and you listen to a particular sound. It can be an ambient sound, or there’s a white noise sound that we call universal sound that’s always there once you become aware of it. You can focus on that, but if you just listen to a sound, it’s much simpler to hold your attention on that than something visually, because we have so many visual associations. So, it’s just two different approaches. I just think the ATA minus two is so much more effective, because it’s not special. Nobody’s going to get attached to that activity. You know, a lot of Zen people get really attached to hard sitting. Yeah, I’m sure you’ve talked to people like this, you know. They’re like spiritual athletes, you know. But this is not special. This is just ordinary. You know, all you’re doing is just shifting attention to what you can see, or hear, or feel.
Rick: Would you remind us what the letters stand for again?
Bob: Attending the actual minus thought. Attending the actual minus thought.
Rick: Okay. It reminds me of Jesus saying, “Except ye be as little children, you shall not enter the kingdom.” Because the children are, they’re innocent. They’re simple. They’re not over intellectualizing about stuff. But I guess one question is, can an adult who has gotten him or herself deeply conditioned over decades, and is full of samskaras, impressions, stresses, unwind all that? You know, can they actually get back to the innocence of a child?
Bob: Yes. Yeah, the bottom line is yes. It just takes persistence.
Rick: Must take a while.
Bob: I really think that’s why Jesus taught two parables about persistence. And even Rumi wrote some poems about persistence. I think Rumi has a poem somewhere, and he says, “If you keep knocking on the door to God long enough, God is forced to answer.”
Bob: That’s pretty heavy duty.
Rick: That’s true. I’ve talked to so many people who, once they made a sincere, earnest, entreaty of some sort, a response came. It’s like, God hears you.
Bob: That’s right. Yeah, a sincere prayer is really powerful. And I’ve read many cases of people that were sort of on their last leg, and they prayed a really sincere prayer, and it’s amazingly often answered.
Rick: Yeah. What was that line from William Blake about cleansing the windows of perception and then seeing everything as infinity or something? How’s that go? I know there’s that line, “Infinity in a wildflower, eternity in an hour,” but there’s something about cleansing the windows of perception.
Bob: Yeah, it’s like if the windows of perception were clear, everything would be seen as it is, infinite.
Rick: There you go. That’s what I was getting at. Yeah. And so, what does that, let’s consider what that really means, cleansing the windows of perception. I think it’s a neurophysiological thing. There’s a lot of, conditioning is a neurophysiological phenomenon that actually involves probably chemical or structural things in the nervous system, both the gross and subtle nervous systems. And cleansing it, that’s what all these practices are about, you know, yogic practices, Buddhist practices, to sort of restructure your neurophysiology, gross and subtle again, because there’s a subtle physiology, and to enable it to eventually be restored, or if it’s never had it to be purified to the extent that you can function as a pure mirror and not a, there’s a line like that in the Bible too, about seeing through a glass darkly, and then eventually clearly. And you know, so we’re like a nervous system, a body encumbered with a lot of conditioning and stresses and impressions, sanskaras, is like a muddy glass. It can’t pass the sunlight through very clearly. And so, you know, this practice you’re describing, and I think many other practices, are intended to not only alter the mind’s functioning in some way, but to actually alter the whole mind-body system.
Bob: That’s right. As a matter of fact, we’re right on the verge of more and more being found out about this, because I think it’s Poland’s book, How to Change Your Mind. I don’t know if you’ve read that.
Rick: I interviewed him about it.
Bob: Okay, great. I missed that one. But you know, in there he talks about how brain scientists now refer to self-referential network as the default mode neural network.
Bob: Because when you think self-referentially, a certain part of the brain lights up, and they now know that the brain has plasticity, and if you do these meditative activities, whatever they are, they could be Tibetan, any of these activities, Christian mysticism, same thing, you’re essentially altering the way the brain functions.
Bob: And I actually think that probably what’s happening, I think about people like Jill Bolte Taylor, you know, who shifted back and forth between these two hemispheres. That’s the way she describes it. You know, one hemisphere seemed to be holistic, oneness, and then the other, she’s back to like parts and pieces, you know. And I do think there’s, as you do these various activities, and I don’t even call them practices, because there’s a whole negative connotation to practices, especially in the Zen tradition, because Zen really emphasizes practice, but you know, you can’t practice your way to being what you already are.
Rick: Yes and no. I mean, you know, I don’t know, Coco Gough, you know, probably was born with the potential to be a great tennis player, but she’s had to do a lot of practice to get to the level where she can play at that, you know, professional level. And I don’t like to compare sports to spirituality, but I think there are some practices which are downright sadistic, you know, making people sit there where their knees are in agony and they’re being yelled at, they move a little bit, and stuff like that. But, and there are different kinds of practices which have different kinds of effects, but I think certain practices can be very beneficial. I mean, I’ve been doing a practice for 55 years and I totally enjoy it, and it’s been good. So, I’m just not an anti-practice guy. Yeah
Bob: and it can be, some people are really anti-practice, others are not. I just, I’ve just started calling it an activity because it eliminates that whole issue.
Rick: Yeah, I mean, you know, there’s so many other examples in life where if you want to get good at it, piano, anything else, you have to practice. And it’s not like spirituality is a skill, but as we’ve been discussing, there is, as with piano or tennis or many other things, there is some kind of neurophysiological training and reconfiguration that takes place through doing an effective practice. And that eventually enables you to just function spontaneously that way all the time. You know, I mean, George Gershwin or, you know, any great expert in anything can sit down and do it quite extemporaneously once they’ve mastered it.
Bob: Right, no argument.
Rick: Yeah, okay. So, what next? So, you had that big breakthrough. What’s happening? I’m just going to adjust that. Oh, you can go ahead, it doesn’t matter. Adjusting the dog seat. You’ve had, you had that big breakthrough on Mount Audubon. By the way, did you see airplane Kulur when you were climbing Mount Audubon? No. It’s this thing which you see as you’re climbing that mountain where an airplane crashed into the side of the mountain over there and the wreckage of it is still there. It was when I think it was still covered by some snow, but it’s there. Anyway, so you had this big breakthrough climbing Mount Audubon and as I recall from your book, you were never the same since.
Bob: Right, that’s right. Yeah, because really once you realize that you’re not a separate volitional entity doing all this, there’s a relaxation. You know, everything’s just unfolding and you, there’s just total acceptance of that. There’s no resistance. So, it’s sort of like you just do whatever you have to do. I mean, you still have your interests, your proclivities, your talents, whatever, and you just continue to do that, but there’s no longer, it’s just so many things just fall away. The whole patterns of thought fall away as a matter of fact.
Rick: Would you say you have more energy because you’re not burning up a lot of energy with extraneous mentation and worry and stuff?
Bob: Yeah, to some degree that’s true because, you know, thinking, I think I read somewhere, thinking takes 20% of all the oxygen that you, you know, just to think requires.
Rick: The brain burns a lot of glucose.
Bob: Yeah, there’s a lot of energy there, a lot of glucose, and so, yeah, there’s some degree of that, but basically, there’s just a more relaxed attitude toward everything. Then, you also, you know, you want to share what you found, you know, anybody that’s found this, everybody I know in the non-duality field that has found this wants to share it with others, and there’s a natural inclination to want to help others because many people, you know, when they read the New Testament, Jesus says, “Treat your neighbor as yourself,” they don’t realize he’s being literal. This is not figurative. Your neighbor is yourself. You naturally want to help. It’s just an automatic response.
Bob: and your basic, you know, you’re happy, and you’d like for everybody else to be happy, you know?
Rick: Yeah, of course, there’s a dark side to that in terms of people proselytizing and, you know, brow-beating people and, you know, give them, tell them they’re going to hell if they don’t do what they do, and so on, and that perhaps could be a perverted aspect of that very same drive or tendency to want to help others. I also think that is a kind of a symptom of insecurity, of not being confident in what you’re talking about, so you somehow gain or think you’ll gain greater confidence by converting others to your perspective. But I think compassion is the bright side of it where, you know, you’ve realized how beautiful life can be, and you see people suffering, and you realize they could see the beauty in it as you do, and you want to help them see it.
Bob: That’s right, that’s right, and then also in a lot of the, you read about this a lot in Zen, for example, when people have these huge breakthrough experiences, there’s a lot of euphoria, and there’s what we call the stink of Zen.
Bob: You come out of that, and you feel, you know, the ego wants to grab hold of that and take possession of that, and that’s a fairly common phenomenon you see, and that usually wears away pretty quickly. That didn’t happen on the final thing. It did on some of those earlier realizations, but you don’t feel special in any way because you see the same thing in everyone. You realize everybody has this, and it’s right in front of everybody’s eyes if they could just see it.
Rick: Yeah, Theo wants to join the interview. Okay, he gets to sit on my lap. There you go. Yeah, I think you and I talked about this on that phone call we had when I was out walking in the woods about the stink of Zen and how there’s often this little bit of an obnoxious quality that sometimes dawns when a person initially has a realization and wants to tell the world about it, and also perhaps jumps to the conclusion that they are finished or that there’s no further need for them to, you know, become more mature or more refined in their personality or things like that. They end up getting into trouble and giving other people a lot of grief.
Bob: Yeah, and there doesn’t seem to be any bottom to this. In other words, you know, I’m free, I’m happy, I love life and everything that happens, and yet I know that this continues to unfold however it unfolds, and realizations can continue to occur. I read the other day that Hakuin, who was a famous Zen master around 1800, you know, after he had attained enlightenment in the Zen tradition, they call it Satori, he said that a few years later his deepest Satori occurred when he heard the sound of falling snow when he was meditating one night, and that tells me that there’s no end to the depth, you know?
Rick: Yeah, I’m just looking for, I had this thing for Nisargadatta, let me see if I can find it. It’s basically a quote from Nisargadatta where he just says, he says, “Forget I am that,” he said, “I’ve realized so much more since then, it’s so much deeper.” That’s right, that’s right. It is kind of a deepening process, it appears to be never-ending.
Rick: Yeah, and some people, I mean, I was interviewing a guy one time and I said something like that towards the end of the interview. I was like, “Okay, well, what’s the next horizon for you? Where does this seem to be going?” He was looking at me like, “What, are you crazy? There’s no more, this is it.” And so, I think that there are many stages of the game. I’ve heard Adyashanti talk about this too, where there are many stages of awakening which are so enticing or enjoyable or they feel so complete that you can easily conclude that they are complete and that there couldn’t be anything more and that you’re done.
Bob: Yeah, and he also talks about sort of an intellectual enlightenment, a heart enlightenment, a gut enlightenment. He frequently talks about that, and I think that’s true. It just seems to go deeper and deeper and deeper as one proceeds.
Rick: Yeah, okay. I often emphasize this point in interviews, and maybe I talk about it too much, but I think it is important. In fact, I was having a discussion with some friends the other day about what enlightenment is, and it’s, of course, I’ve had many such discussions, but it’s clear that there isn’t in the popular spiritual culture a clear, agreed-upon definition of what it is. People have all kinds of different ideas, and so it’s a little bit like a Tower of Babel situation where we’re using the same words but saying and hearing different things.
Bob: That’s right. Yeah, if somebody said, “Oh, you’re supposed to be enlightened,” I would say, “No, I was just lucky enough to find all the answers to my existential questions.” No one that sees into this thinks that they’re a teacher because you can’t teach this. All you can really do is just sort of point, and I recommend that people experiment. I experimented with 20 or 30 different meditative activities and find out what you resonate with. Trust yourself 100% because each human is the authority about themselves, and it doesn’t matter what somebody else tells you. What do you resonate with? What approach feels good to you? The reason I like to tell people at ATA minus T is there are a lot of people that hate sitting on a cushion. They just don’t like either leg pain or the back pain or just having to sit motionless, whatever, and I say, “Forget it. Go for a walk in the woods. Go to the park. Watch the ducks on the pond.”
Rick: I have one of those little bench things where you put your legs underneath. You’re kind of kneeling, but your butt is on the bench, and some of the weight is on your knees, and you don’t have a back rest. You just sit like that.
Bob: Much more comfortable.
Rick: Yeah, and sometimes I’ll sit on that. Sometimes I can go a whole hour sitting on that. Other times after sit on the bed, lean back. Anyway, I do think there’s something to be said for comfort and not straining. I interviewed a guy, Jeff Carrera, about a month ago or more, and he was talking about how when he was with Andrew Cohen’s group, they did these marathon retreats where they’d go from like 4 in the morning till 10 at night, meditating most of the time, and he had a tendency to fall asleep. The people who had a tendency to fall asleep sat in a circle so they could slap each other if they noticed the other guys were falling asleep, and he said it was sometimes like popcorn with all the slapping taking place. I thought, “Yeah, it sounds like torture. If you’re that tired, why don’t you just take a nap and wake up and meditate some more when you’re fresh?”
Bob: That’s right, and people ask me sometimes, well, and I think Nisargadatta talked about this one time. He was talking to somebody. He said, “You didn’t get into this mess overnight,” and what he was talking about, “You didn’t get in the mess of thinking you’re separate from everything overnight,” and I happened to be reading.
Rick: You’re not going to get out of it overnight. I think he was probably implying.
Bob: Yeah, well, in the Gospel of Thomas, it’s really interesting. Jesus has a parable about this. I think it doesn’t specifically say exactly that’s what this is pointing to, but I think it is. He tells his disciples about a parable. He says this woman buys a big jar of meal, puts it on her shoulder, and starts walking home, and the jar of meal springs a little bitty leak, and the grain gradually spills out on the road behind her, but she’s not aware of what’s happening, and he said when she gets to the home and she sets the jar down, she’s surprised to find that it’s empty, and I think what he’s saying by that is we get into this mess of thinking we’re separate very gradually from childhood to adulthood. We don’t realize how we’re shifting from a direct interaction with reality to this simulation of reality because really the intellect creates a meta-reality, you know, out of images and ideas and symbols, and it happens so gradually, and we’re so unconscious of what’s happening, we don’t really realize until we’re lost in our heads, you know. We’ve left reality behind, and now we’re reacting with this, interacting with this meta-reality that the mind has created.
Rick: And that actually has a flip side to it, which, like, to relate it to your experience, you know, you’re doing all this intense practice and going to Zen retreats and stuff for a number of years, and then finally you’re hiking up Mount Audubon, and you had this big shift. Well, I think probably at that point your grain had finally all spilled out. Your meal.
Bob: Or emptied out.
Rick: Yeah, it’s like, but it’s incremental, you know, and so you don’t notice a big contrast. If you could somehow jump from a year back or a year ahead, you know, you would notice this big contrast, but instead it’s moment by moment, day by day, so we just don’t notice the change as it takes place. Just like, you know, when you measure a kid’s height, you put them up against the wall and make a mark. You don’t see them getting taller from day to day, but every time grandma visits and you do that, oh, he’s grown another inch, you know.
Bob: That’s right.
Rick: So, can you define or describe, like, you know, we’re on the theme of there’s no end to it, it goes deeper and deeper. Can you define or describe the kind of growth that you have undergone since your shift on Mount Audubon?
Bob: Well, one of the things that happened, I had a little minor realization, you know, I had practiced so often and so long shifting attention away from thoughts that at a certain point a year or so later, it dawned on me, it doesn’t matter whether the mind talks or doesn’t talk, you know. I had made a concerted effort to have a fairly silent mind and the more silent it became, these intuitive jumps, you know, these intuitive insights would occur, but at a certain point, I realized it doesn’t matter because there’s no me doing this, you know. I’m being lived by a vaster intelligence and so it no longer mattered and those type of small realizations can continue.
Rick: So, in other words, you could relax and stop meddling with your mind, just let it do what it’s going to do.
Bob: That’s right, and at the same time, who knows, I didn’t meditate at all formally for 20 years after this happened, right, but lately I’ve actually been drawn to, like, just sit and stare at the woods or, you know, it’s strange, it’s just, that’s the way it’s unfolding.
Bob: There’s just, you just relax and accept whatever’s happening, whatever it is. Yeah, and I assume it would be different for different people. I mean, there’s no prescription that people should be feverishly taking notes about here to do it the way you did it. It’s going to be a little different for every person.
Bob: Yeah, there’s certain commonalities. I’ve talked to Tess Hughes and a whole bunch of different people. I’m probably, I probably know 25 people that I would consider free, and every story is slightly different, but there are some commonalities, certain things that I’ve experienced, they’ve experienced, and some things that are completely off the wall. So, each story is really different because we’re just all such unique human beings and how it unfolds is different.
Rick: Yeah, but would you say among these 25 people that a common denominator is this sense of being in tune with that underlying intelligence that orchestrates the universe?
Rick: And having it orchestrate your life?
Bob: And each person sometimes will talk about this in different ways. Like, I like to tell people, because a lot of times people wonder, well, am I meditating correctly? And I like to tell people, you can’t make a mistake because who you think you are isn’t what’s doing this, you know. And people look back in the past and they’ll say, well, I had a choice between A and B, and I made the wrong choice. No, you didn’t. At that time, you did exactly what you had to do. And you can always check that by simply asking yourself, what must I be doing this moment? You’ll always find out you’re doing exactly what you have to be doing. This is how it unfolds. And that’s, some people have found that helpful because it takes you away from abstraction to what’s right here, right now.
Rick: Yeah. I mean, when you look at your past and you think of dumb things you did when you were a teenager or something, do you find yourself feeling now that, okay, I think you should get down, there you go. Okay. Do you find yourself thinking that now, in retrospect, that you can’t beat yourself up for having done those dumb things because you did what you, you only did what you could do. You did the best, you had no choice at that point.
Bob: And mainly, I point that out because there are a lot of people that wonder, well, am I doing the right meditative activity, you know? And I’m saying, just find out what resonates with you and see what you’re doing this moment. You know, what is it?
Rick: I think that’s good advice. And see if it’s bearing fruit, you know. See if you see, if you feel like you’re you’re getting some benefit out of it.
Bob: Yeah, I mean, I met people that would go on retreats and they would fast. If that helps, find out, you know, try.
Rick: I’m laughing because I went through a fanatical fasting phase on a six-month retreat and I really messed myself up. I, you know, the instruction was fast for three days, so I did it for weeks. And I just really threw myself out of balance. I, you know, it’s crazy. But anyway, applying what I just said, it was the best I could do at that time given my makeup. So, how about now? I mean, do you feel like, I mean, the way I feel now, let me see if you feel this way, is okay, past is past. I can’t critique it. I did what I, the best I could do. But now in the present, there is a sense of everything is running on automatic, but there’s also a sense of discernment, you know, oh, a little bit go this way or go that way. And so, in terms of the free will and determinism thing, I kind of feel like in a sense both are true and we do in the present have some latitude, some free will with which to direct our, even if it’s only a matter of allowing ourself to be guided as opposed to being obstinate and trying to push in the opposite direction of the way the divine river is flowing. But there does seem to be some choice, at least for me. You get that?
Bob: No, I don’t feel there’s any choice.
Rick: None whatsoever. So, like if you’re making a decision,
Bob: I’m happy with that. I’m satisfied with that. There’s no resistance. You know, it just unfolds however it unfolds, so there’s no problem. So, if like, if you have a couple of different options of do this or do that, I don’t know, go to see Barbie or go see Oppenheimer or some other decision, is there some sort of process you go through where you’re making up your mind, do I want to go to Colorado or Montana or you know, or do you find yourself just automatically booking the plane ticket to some place and that’s the place you’re supposed to go?
Bob: Well, you know, anytime I’m going to the mountains, I’m a happy camper. I love the mountains, so I really wouldn’t care what mountains I go to, but I love the ones in Colorado because they’re really fun to climb and I’ve climbed a lot of them. But no, there’s no real abstract thought about it, all right? It’s sort of like I just almost always know exactly what I want to do, but that’s been true ever since I was very young and I was really lucky that I had parents that just supported whatever I was interested in. Some people aren’t that lucky.
Rick: No, I’d say most people. Most people are probably thinking, “Wow, as they hear you say this, I wish that were the way my life worked because I have all these issues and things I need to figure out and it’s complicated,” and so on. I’m not doing what I want to be doing, you know? I’m stuck in some job that I don’t like.
Bob: Yeah, that’s the very kind of thought that creates all the problems, you know? And really, even a personal koan, that’s kind of a personal koan. Let’s say you’ve got somebody who’s trying to decide, “Well, should I keep this high-paying job that I don’t enjoy or should I take this lower-paying job that I would really enjoy?” You know? And that’s the kind of thing that really that’s an existential question and you can use the same approach. And so when Einstein’s talking about, if he’s the guy that said that, I think there are a lot of us that would say the very same thing. If you explicitly state what you want to know and you mull it over, then shift attention away from that entirely. Bam! Intuition will very often just pop out with the answer because this intuitive thing is sort of like grace. I can’t think of any other word, you know? Almost all the realizations, you can’t ascribe it to anything other than just grace, but it’s an intuitive breakthrough. It’s sort of like this deeper level of intelligence reveals the answer if you really want to know. And that’ll apply to even a personal koan. You know, “Should I marry this person or not marry this person?” You know, all those kind of questions are also susceptible to this.
Rick: Yeah, there’s a thing in the yoga sutras called Samyama, and it’s a practice where you focus on something, but then you relax your focus and fall back into the transcendent, and then a result pops out.
Bob: That’s right.
Rick: And I remember hearing this scientist named Itzhak Bentov speak at a conference in 1970. He was later killed in that DC-10 crash in Chicago, but he was an inventor. He would invent all kinds of, I don’t know, artificial heart contraptions, different medical and other kinds of contraptions, and he said his practice was to just really focus on the thing and focus and focus and try to figure it out, and then just forget it and kind of relax, whether in meditation or whatever, but just kind of relax from it. And then he said, boom, the solution would just pop out of his intuition. It would just rise up.
Bob: That’s right, because if you have something you really want to know the answer to, the question might be intellectual, all right? But it’s also in the subconscious, you know. If you really want to know the answer to this, and it’s not available in the intellect, because the intellect only deals with what’s known, and what you’re looking for is what’s unknown, all right? So, in a certain sense, and I don’t know whether this is – it’s simply that the answer is already there, and it just pops out once you sort of relax, or whether this deeper level intelligence goes to work, going deeper and deeper and deeper to get the answer to what you’re wondering about, you know. I’m not sure which.
Bob: I actually had a case where I had a specific question that was like a personal koan, and I felt like I had to resolve it, and I was so used to resolving so many of these others that I thought, this has got to be resolved, and I sat down on a Saturday morning, thought about the issue, and then just shifted attention to universal sound. That’s what I was listening to at that time. It took about four hours, and all of a sudden, bam, the answer was crystal clear, and it just popped out. There was never any doubt, and I’ve had that happen so many times. After a while, you develop confidence in that, that anything you want to know, you can find out.
Rick: Yeah, this is an interesting topic, actually. Sometimes that field of underlying intelligence is referred to as a kind of a home of all knowledge or a home or field of all possibilities, that kind of phrase, and obviously, our individual intellect and mind are not a field of all possibilities or a home of all knowledge. You know, they’re isolated, they’re localized, but they can be used as a sort of a tool to evoke from that universal field specific results that we want to have, like you just said, that decision you had to make or Dr. Bentoff’s, you know, inventing practice, or the thing Einstein said. I think we could probably find hundreds of examples of inventors and scientists throughout, and poets and musicians throughout history that were aware of this phenomenon. So, that’s interesting. It sort of adds a practical value or a practical layer to this whole process of spiritual awakening. It’s not just about contentment and freedom and all that, it’s actually about being able to know things and achieve specific things in life which we might otherwise not be able to. Okay, any questions come in, Irene? Irene’s going to check the questions. Oh, you did, I didn’t check, I’m sorry. Let me look and see what she sent. Here’s my email. Okay, there it is. So, question from Mohan Rao in Cookville, Tennessee. Your town, you must know this guy. “When I tell people that you didn’t make that mistake, since there are no mistakes, they think I’m crazy. Can you elaborate on there are no mistakes?”
Bob: Yeah, Mo’s great. He’s a good friend. He teaches meditation here in town. I think I’m aware of him, or maybe he’s asked questions on Batgap before, or maybe we’re on Facebook together or something. Anyway, go ahead.
Bob: Yeah, so what I realized was, reality simply unfolds however it unfolds, right? And our normal inclination is to look at what we’ve done and think about whether we made the right decision or the wrong decision and so forth. But all that’s based upon the idea that there’s a separate volitional entity that’s doing this. And when you realize there’s not, when you realize it’s just how this vast incomprehensible cosmos is unfolding, it just takes away that whole issue entirely. So, in other words, you can’t possibly make a mistake. I don’t know how to explain that much clearer than that in the sense that who you think you are is not what’s doing everything. And so, it’s sort of like asking, “Can God make a mistake?” No. God just unfolds however it unfolds. Call it true self, source, Brahman, whatever we want to call it. What is? What is just manifest however it manifests. And as humans, we have this intellect that makes us think that we’re making these various decisions rationally or logically or whatever, and who we think we are is not what’s doing it. It’s happening at a far deeper level. And that’s one reason I give people all kind of little experiments to do. And one of the ones I use a lot of times is, Alan Watts wrote an essay years ago about, he said, “When you make a fist and you open your hand, it’s like a verb was masquerading as a noun.” All right. Well, I like that example. And so, I’ll say, “Okay, look. Watch this. All right. A fist appears, it disappears. A fist comes into existence, it goes out of existence. A fist is born and a fist dies. Everything’s like that. All right. But we’re the process of that whole thing. So, it’s sort of like an existential question I would ask somebody is, “Where did the fist go?” And that always reminds me of Ramana Maharshi, who supposedly was asked on his deathbed, “Master, are you leaving us?” And he said, “Where could I possibly go?” You know, if you really get this, you realize the fist is still here, you know, even if it doesn’t appear that way now, you know, and everything’s like that.
Rick: Kind of reminds me of Ramakrishna when he was on his deathbed and everyone was lamenting about how much pain he was in because of his cancer. And some guy came to him and he said, “But sir, I see that you are in bliss.” And he said, “Ha ha, the rascal has found me out.”
Bob: Exactly. Yeah, and Ramakrishna is another good one because, you know, he was familiar with a wide range of religions and he’s pretty famous for saying all these pathways lead to exactly the same thing. It doesn’t matter whether it’s Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu, you name it. And I didn’t even know there was a Ramakrishna before Ramakrishna. There was another older Ramakrishna and they were all pointing the same thing. They were all saying exactly the same thing.
Rick: Oh yeah, I’m sure that, you know, on some galaxy far, far away there are, you know, spiritual people saying the very same thing and then there are also, you know, religions killing each other, believing that theirs is the only true one in the whole universe and, you know, I think these, Brahman are universal. There’s something else I was going to ask you. What was that? Anything come to mind at the moment?
Bob: No, I’m just looking to see if there are any notes here that might be fun things to kick around.
Rick: Oh, I know what I was going to ask you. You’re talking about you never make a mistake. Do you ever apologize for anything?
Bob: Yeah, I do. I apologize anytime that I feel like I’ve done something that might have hurt somebody’s feelings or something like that. I’m aware that I couldn’t have done anything different and I know that they have to respond whatever, but if I’ve said something that hurt somebody’s feelings and I become aware of that, then yeah, sure. That’s just, that’s part of being human.
Rick: Yeah, it’s like maybe you screwed up but you’re aware that you couldn’t help but screw up because that’s the way you, that’s the way it rolled at that point.
Bob: That’s right.
Rick: And so you apologize for having done that.
Rick: Yeah. There is a little bit of a sticky wicket here though and that is that sometimes people who have had some kind of spiritual realization get too cocksure of themselves in terms of their inability to make mistakes or they’re being guided by God and so on and then maybe they’re like, you know, seducing all their female disciples or something and then when it’s discovered, they say, “Oh, I wasn’t doing that. That was just God.” You know, so, you know, I think there’s a kind of a need to also be a little bit practical and down to earth and apply some real world values to our behavior.
Bob: That’s right and the more deeply you see into this, the less special you feel and the more you realize that everybody you’re interacting with already has, they’re all part of the same vast field of being unfolding and manifesting however it’s unfolding.
Rick: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
Bob: And there’s really no way to predict what will happen next and to a certain degree one develops a comfort in not knowing, you know?
Rick: That’s true. In a way, it makes life more entertaining because it’s like a really good movie where, you know, you don’t want to know the outcome and you can’t know the outcome and you’re just thinking, “Where is this going? This is so fascinating.” Then you kind of appreciate the intelligence with which everything is orchestrated and sometimes after a while you realize, “Okay, you know, at a certain point I thought this should happen. Now I see that that has happened and now I can kind of see how that was so much better or appropriate to have happened than the thing that I was thinking might happen.” And it’s cool.
Rick: Maybe I’m describing something much more complicated than the way your mind works but that’s the way I see it sometimes.
Bob: Well, I once wrote a newspaper article and I used to write newspaper articles in the local newspaper mainly about mystical Christianity and just for fun I said, “Okay, let’s imagine that God said you can create the heaven that you want to live in but you have to live in it forever. All right? What would you create?” You know, and what I was trying to point out was even if you like to play golf sooner or later you’ll get tired of playing golf, you know? If you really look deeply into the issue, this is the reality you would create because it’s totally unknowable. It’s mysterious and it’s entertaining and one of the things that we don’t talk too much about in spiritual circle is joy de vivre, you know, just the sheer joy of living and finding out what’s going to happen tomorrow morning, you know? Who knows? I mean, it’s pretty – when you live in that kind of a happy state of not knowing, maybe we can put it that way, you know, it’s really fun.
Rick: It is. It’s endlessly entertaining.
Bob: That playful aspect is missing sometimes.
Rick: Yeah. There was a whole phase where you read Suzanne Siegel’s book about eight times. Oh, I know. And that’s interesting. We can talk about that a little bit. And there was this whole phase where like you, your wife was like getting really unhappy because of your fanaticism, I guess we could say. Absolutely. And then that all kind of resolved itself and she really got into Gangaji for a while. I mean, there’s some interesting bits in your book about your journey that we could milk for some entertaining –
Bob: Well, yeah. The first time we went to hear Gangaji speak, it was kind of a mind-blower. I’d been in the Zen tradition and, you know, I had sort of a model of reality, you know, from the Zen tradition. Oh, you know, you meditate and such and such and such. And when I first heard her, for one thing, I realized there was a whole different attitude about the people that were there and a much more relaxed attitude, for one thing, which I liked. And as she talked, the first time I heard her speak, I thought, “Where is she coming from?” You know, it was like, it just seemed like she was all over the place. But then the more I listened to her, I realized, “Oh, yeah, she’s pointing to exactly the same thing. This lady’s free.” And the words are alive, you know. And Mooji, I mean, you know, I’ve watched so many of these folks and talked to so many of them and friends with a lot of them that they’re all pointing the same way in different ways.
Rick: Yeah, Gangaji’s a Southern girl.
Bob: Yeah, Mississippi, I think.
Rick: Mississippi, right. Yeah. Okay, so here’s another question from, this is from Edgar Selms. “Can you please elaborate more on the practice of listening to the universal sound? What is it and how do you recognize it?”
Bob: Yeah, that’s kind of interesting. There’s a, I don’t know what it is. There’s probably some technical name for it. It’s not tinnitus, because it’s not objectionable. But once you become aware of it, and I’ve talked to a lot of meditators, most people who meditate have heard this and are aware of it. And a good friend of my wife had never heard about it, and Carol told her about it. And several days later, she said, “Oh, now I know what you’re talking about. I heard it.” It’s like sort of a white noise or maybe like a distant feeling.
Rick: Is it the blood rushing in the ears or something, like you hear when you’re underwater?
Bob: No, I’ve heard people, I’ve heard scientists talk about it. Maybe it’s neurons firing in the brain. I don’t know what it is, but like I can hear it right now. I can hear it anytime. Once you’re aware of it, it’s there all the time. And what’s kind of neat is, I mean, you can listen to it driving down the road. You can listen to it sitting in a chair. It doesn’t really matter. It’s there all the time in the background, and once you become aware of it, then you can pick up on it.
Rick: Is it like an ohm sound that’s sometimes said to be universal sound?
Bob: It’s really more like a white noise machine.
Rick: Okay, like a hiss.
Bob: Yeah, and you can use that as a focus. I mean, it doesn’t have to be that. Sometimes I used to sit in an easy chair and listen to the sound of the hissing gas logs beside me, and sometimes maybe the hum of a refrigerator in the other room. If I’m outside, I might be listening to birds or, you know, whatever sound, whatever ambient sounds are there in the environment. But because the universal sound is always there, that’s a really strong thing that you can focus on if you’re interested in doing that.
Rick: Can you hear it even if there’s music playing or something, or does it have to be quiet to hear it?
Bob: No, you can hear it anytime. I mean, normally your attention doesn’t go there unless you just happen to be listening for it. But as soon as you turn your attention in that direction, you immediately hear it.
Rick: I wonder what it is. Do you think it’s something that you’re actually hearing with your ears? Would a deaf person hear it?
Bob: Well, that’s a good question. Yeah, I have no idea.
Rick: Like if you were in a soundproof room, would you hear it?
Bob: I think it’s something that’s coming from the body.
Rick: Oh, from the body. So it could actually be blood rushing through the cochlea or something like that.
Bob: It could be something like that, or it could be, for all I know, it could be neurons firing or electrical connections or something. I don’t know.
Bob: In fact, I probably ought to read about that just to find out if there’s any scientific thought about that.
Rick: Yeah, okay. So I think maybe one other point that’s, you know, we alluded to the difficulties you had in your marriage for a while there because you were such a fanatic. I don’t mean to be critical. I mean, you’re just so gung-ho, you know, so zealous. This is probably something a lot of people can relate to, either in terms of a marriage or family relations or anything else. When they get on this spiritual path, I know one of my sisters learned to meditate when she was in high school, and she stopped pretty soon because she said she didn’t want to be different from her friends. And in my case, I dropped all my friends once I learned to meditate because they were obviously intent on continuing to take drugs, and I wasn’t. So sometimes you kind of have to part ways with people. It’s in your best interest to do so. Other times, I think you really don’t want to and shouldn’t, and maybe there’s something wrong with your flexibility or, you know, selfishness. I’m not saying you specifically, Bob. I’m saying one’s own. I’ve seen people who are so into their spirituality that they’re really getting quite selfish about it and are like not concerned about other people very much because they’re so concerned about their routine and their, you know, this and that and the other thing. So, I don’t know. What are your comments on that whole phenomenon?
Bob: Well, as I mentioned that day we talked on the phone, I really feel like it’s luck of the draw. You know, some people are just really lucky to find somebody they want to be with all the time in the case of a husband-wife type thing, or husband-husband or wife-wife, it doesn’t really matter. So, there’s a certain amount of luck involved in that, I guess. It’s great if people, you know, it’s really rare for people to age and have common interests as you age and for one person not to veer off in some other direction and so forth. You know, if it’s really a deep cosmic love, let’s call it agape, then I think I heard Byron Katie talk about this one time. It’s sort of like if your partner decided to leave, you would want them to be happy. You know, if it meant they would be happy with somebody else, you would be in favor of that. You would bless that. You know, there would be no jealousy, there would be no acrimony about it. It would be whatever makes you happy will make me happy. You can never destroy my feelings for you. And that kind of relationship, that’s lucky.
Rick: I think there was a story in the Tale of Two Cities by Dickens of this guy who was in love with this woman, but she was married to somebody else. And he loved her so much that when her husband was going to go to the guillotine, this guy arranged for him to go, himself to go instead, so this woman wouldn’t be heartbroken by the loss of her husband. Now that’s selfless love.
Bob: That’s it. That’s it. Sums it up right there.
Rick: Yeah, but I think there is something to be said for patience, tolerance, compromise, a sense of patience, especially the word “patience.” I’ve heard various respected spiritual teachers say that patience is so important on the spiritual path, you know, and one can become really kind of annoying if one is seriously lacking in that quality because, again, one disrespects the kind of cosmic orchestration of life and wants things to be different than they naturally are, and they want it to be different now, you know, than they actually are, not realizing that if they just kind of go with the flow, things will go the way they’re supposed to go, and everything will work out ultimately. Okay, well, is there anything else that we can talk about? That’s fun talking to you.
Bob: Let’s see if there’s anything else. No, we’ve covered a lot of territory.
Rick: Okay, good. So, I do recommend your book. Is it on Amazon? I guess it’s on Amazon.
Bob: It is. The Tat Foundation is getting ready to reissue that in paperback form, and I’ve included some additional information there that sort of explains about ATA-T, how to find answers to existential questions. I put some addenda on the at the back of the book, along with an epilogue, and then made a few minor changes, you know, just to update the book.
Rick: When’s that coming out?
Bob: It should be very shortly. I heard from them two days ago, and I think within the next week or so, it very well may be on Amazon.
Rick: Oh, so by the time people hear this, they can probably pre-order it even on Amazon, so, and that would be the paperback. So, those of you listening, if you go to buy the book and you don’t see the paperback available yet, just wait a few days and it’ll probably show up there.
Bob: Yeah, and it’ll also be an e-book edition because postage overseas has really gotten expensive.
Bob: The only copy that’s available right now, the original paperback edition sold out, and the hardback copy, I mailed a copy to Australia. It was like, I don’t know, $33 to mail it, you know?
Rick: It’s more than the book.
Bob: Yeah, you know, if somebody’s in Australia and wants to download an e-book edition, that’s what we really need.
Rick: Yeah, I’m also a big fan of audiobooks, you know, if you can get it on Audible, that’s fun. You should read it yourself in your lovely Southern accent.
Bob: Well, I searched everywhere for all the computers trying to find the copy of that other book, the one about, you know, when I wrote “Path to Christ Consciousness,” I can’t find the computer. I had them open up a hard drive trying to find where that file is, but you know, that was written in 1998 or something. I don’t know whether I ever kept that computer, and I’m afraid I threw away all the disks that it might have been on.
Rick: Yeah, you know, one thing we might do with this chatbot that I talked about is upload authors, people I’ve interviewed, upload their books to it, which wouldn’t mean that people could just download the whole book or anything like that or read the whole book online, but it would mean that the body of all the information in that book, if somebody asked a question, some bit of – it might contribute to the answer that the artificial intelligence gives. And so, I’m just sending that as a teaser to people because if I end up with hundreds of books like this as part of its knowledge base, it’ll be a really rich repository of wisdom and it’ll get really useful, I think, for people to engage with. So, I might be asking you for permission to upload your book at some point.
Rick: Good. Okay, and so, do you do stuff that people can connect with? Do you have webinars or do you teach retreats or anything like that?
Bob: Periodically, we’ll give presentations at chat retreats, participate in some zoom calls, you know, non-duality zoom calls, that type thing. Yeah. Anybody that’s interested in non-duality, I’m pretty interested in talking to them. Can people just call you? That could get out of hand, but
Bob: I agree.
Rick: Could they email you? Do you want me to, like, put your email on there?
Bob: Yeah, they could email.
Rick: Okay, I’ll put that on your BatGap page and if people want to get in touch, they can do that. And you don’t have a website, right?
Rick: Okay, but you do have a Facebook page, but I don’t know if you do much with it.
Bob: I don’t have a Facebook.
Rick: Oh, you do, actually. I found one, but it’s pretty stagnant.
Bob: Oh, okay. I don’t even remember having a Facebook page.
Rick: Yeah, I think I sent you a friend request, but it didn’t look like there’s been much going on there. Okay, good. So, I’ll put your email address on your BatGap page and if people want to get in touch, they can. And if it gets to be a bit overwhelming, it might be a bit of a deluge at first, but after a few weeks, it’ll taper off.
Rick: Yeah. All right. Well, thanks, Bob. Just lovely talking to you and getting to know you better. And I hope we get a chance to have an adventure together sometime.
Bob: Sounds great.
Rick: A mountainous place.
Bob: Absolutely. Yeah, you’ve got me interested in going to Glacier now. I’m ready to go.
Rick: Oh, Glacier is so gorgeous. It’s really a cut above Colorado, in my opinion, in terms of the beauty and the wildness of it.
Bob: That’d be great.
Rick: Yeah. Okay, and so for those listening or watching, this has been another interview, as you know, and the next one is with a lovely Irish woman named Lorna Byrne, who has been seeing angels all of her life since childhood. It’s really a beautiful gift and I’ve listened to two of her books already and now I’m listening to her YouTube videos and I have a lot of questions for her. So, next week, it’s not, it is about a week from now, it’s going to be all about angels. If you don’t believe in angels, check it out anyway. I think you’ll learn a thing or two. So, thanks. Thanks, Bob.
Bob: Thank you. Enjoy it.
Rick: Thank you. Talk to you later.
Bob: See ya.