Bob Nickel Transcript

Bob Nickel Interview

Rick: Welcome to Buddha at the Gas Pump. My name is Rick Archer and my guest this week is Bob Nickel. Welcome Bob.

Bob: Welcome, yeah, welcome here.

Rick: Yeah, thank you. And unlike most of my interviews, interviewees, I know very little about Bob because this was set up very spur of the moment by his friend Mark who was organizing things for him. Mark explained to me that Bob has cancer and is going to be undergoing chemo and maybe radiation also pretty soon and won’t be feeling much like doing an interview. So we kind of bumped you to the head of the queue. And I haven’t had the chance that I usually have to listen to a lot of YouTube videos. In fact, my computer was down for a couple of days. I had blown out power supply. So here we are. This is going to be a fresh, spontaneous exploration of the world of Bob Nickel.

Bob: Well, it’s really good to be able to have this interview. I’m very happy to do it.

Rick: Good.

Bob: As far as Bob’s personal life, it’s actually pretty ordinary. I was an adventurous person when I was young and just loved adventure. I sailed all over the world and didn’t really go to work until I was about 40. Although there was a lot of work, of course, involved on the boats and that. Then at that time I went back to school, got current and electronics, and went to work for Hughes Aircraft, working on flight simulators for about 8 years. And just moved from there over to a brewery and worked for them for about 8 years in management.

Rick: You weren’t a taster.

Bob: No, I wasn’t a taster. In fact, I was the guy that would come and put the recipe into the computer because we couldn’t trust the tasters to do it.

Rick: That’s funny. So you worked for a brewery for about 8 years.

Bob: Right. And then I had a stroke in 1997 and I retired at that time.

Rick: Wow. So where does the whole spiritual odyssey come into the story?

Bob: Well, that runs parallel to the work odyssey. I have a very good friend, a dear friend here in Ojai, a fellow by the name of Dr. John Nassie, who’s been a personal friend since the late 60s. And he’d always been the one that was interested in spirituality. I wasn’t that much, but I would go to events with him and I was always the skeptic, the practical realist. And it wasn’t until the stroke that I sought him out, and at that time he was showing Gangaji tapes to groups here every Wednesday night, and I started watching the tapes and it became very clear to me that there was something going on with this self-inquiry.

Rick: Right.

Bob: And I can remember just being willing for self-inquiry to happen. It wasn’t all about vigilance, as Gangaji and Ramana talk about, or earnestness that Nisargadatta talks about. It was more just a willingness to take a look. And out of this willingness I found that I was getting happier and happier and happier, and pretty soon I was one of these bliss bunnies that you see running around. And of course I thought this meant something really important about me. I thought, “Wow, I’ve really arrived. I’m enlightened.” I would go to every satsang, regardless of who was giving them, and sit up in the front row and stare at the guru, demanding my recognition that I had arrived.

Rick: And what did this taking a look amount to that had brought you to this condition?

Bob: Well, like I say, it was more the willingness than the mechanics. But what it looked like, it was actually self-inquiry was very confusing for me in the beginning, because I expected some answer. I thought that I was going to trade my identity in, from being Captain Bob to Enlightened Bob. There would be some kind of event that would precipitate that. But it wasn’t really an event, it was just I got very happy.

Rick: So you were just putting your attention on spirituality, going to satsangs and watching videos and stuff, and somehow just that new orientation in your life brought greater happiness. It wasn’t that there was any specific practice that you engaged in or anything?

Bob: No, just any time that some emotion would come up, some momentary emotion would come up, I would chase it back to its source. It was really easy to do, because the source seemed to be the blissful state.

Rick: Okay. So you were sort of, I suppose we could say, more self-referral or introspective or something than you had been most of your life, when you probably just were outer-directed and doing whatever you were doing. The attention was turning within.

Bob: Yeah, it was definitely, except for a brief stint with Werner Erhardt back in the 70s and some Transcendental Meditation, there again in the 70s, it was pretty much virgin ground.

Rick: Okay. How long did you do Werner Erhardt or TM?

Bob: Well, I actually got it, I did TM for a couple of years, and then I just, it just seemed like there was no difference between what was going on with my eyes closed, sitting in a posture, than what was going on outside.

Rick: Okay.

Bob: So it seemed, at that point, the practice dropped itself.

Rick: Right. Okay. But you wouldn’t say that you had awoken or anything at that point, back in the 70s?

Bob: Right.

Rick: It was more like you just didn’t notice any contrast anymore between meditation and activity?

Bob: Well, I had another peak experience in the process of doing the S Training in 1976. And for, oh, about two weeks there, I would look all over the place, and all I saw was myself.

Rick: Wow. So you had some stuff cooking pretty early on then.

Bob: Right. Well, even at 19, there was a discovery of myself as pure witnessing, but I was so busy with school and everything else that got put on the back burner, it didn’t stick.

Rick: Right.

Bob: And none of these experiences seemed to stick.

Rick: Right. You have them for a couple of weeks, and then they go away.

Bob: Right, or even six months, with the bliss. When I was in the bliss experience, it got to the point where the mind was saying, “When does this become an indulgence?”

Rick: Yeah.

Bob: And it became thick and syrupy, and it was like the ego felt that it had to maintain it and defend it. So there’s still, the inquiry still wasn’t deep enough, and it was almost like the mind was giving me something so that it could stay in charge, so that it could remain the spiritual director, the one that was managing the bliss, managing the clarity.

Rick: You probably know from all your time in India that even bliss is considered to be one of the sheaths or koshas that… Yeah, Ananda Maya kosha, right. It occludes the self even, and it can be a very alluring one, because it’s so nice.

Bob: Yeah, and a lot of people keep saying, “I lost it,” and then they go back and they try and recreate the circumstances, and they meditate their tails off, trying to regain something that’s perceived to have been lost. The truth that one is can’t be lost, and it’s very ordinary. The experiences that are associated with it can run the full gamut of experience, but that which one is never moves and never changes. And Ramana’s only real admonition or teaching was just simply, “Be still, be as you are.” Everything else was just an advocacy of self-inquiry. And then he would help people with their sadhana. He never discouraged people from whatever sadhana they found themselves engaged in. He felt everything was unfolding. I’m sure he felt just everything was unfolding exactly as it should here in samsara, but that which we are isn’t doing anything. There’s no unfolding. There’s just this.

Rick: Right. So here you were back in the late ’90s, going to all the gurus and sitting in the front row and just gleaming at them and saying, “Hey, look at me, aren’t I cool?” And so how did you move beyond that phase?

Bob: Well, I met a fellow by the name of – he’s always by the name now of – well, he was given the name Ramana by Papaji, a Japanese-American fellow.

Rick: Oh yeah, yeah, he came to my town, yep.

Bob: C.Y. Ramana, and he was basically doing a radical awakening process with people. And the way I presented to him – it was actually in a weekend retreat – at that time I weighed about 260 pounds and I was in the gym three days a week. So a lot different physical look than…

Rick: Yeah, so it was all muscle, huh?

Bob: Yeah, I was full of energy, yeah.

Rick: Cool.

Bob: And that energy, as I said earlier, was sometimes being spent defending that bliss state. If any circumstance in life threatened it, I was feeling an upwelling of extreme anger. And I thought, “This is dangerous,” because I’ve never had really uncontrollable anger in my life. I’d always, prior to that, kept a pretty tight rein on myself, you know, in that area. And that goes back to Freudian stuff, you know, and having an angry father, and swearing I’d never be like him, and all the stuff that we usually do, handling our archetypical relationships. So I was very concerned. Anyway, we did the process, which is a guided visual self-inquiry, and part of it was using him as a mirror, his eyes as a mirror for this seeing that’s happening through this body. And there was an explosive thing when he asked me to see my seeing reflected back into myself. And there’s a whole set-up to this process, and he’s very good at it. It was like there was an explosion. When I looked back, I saw, just for an instant, you know, very terrifying, actually. It’s kind of like where they, or wherever, like black was invented. It was darker than black. It was deep. I guess people would call it, if you were going to label it, it would be the void. And in that moment, it was just like the whole back of my head blew off. It was explosive. And I went home that evening, and the bliss was gone. What was here was just this. And I could describe it using words, or try to, but it’s just, I guess in the Bible, they call it the peace beyond all understanding. And that hasn’t really, it’s never changed.

Rick: Isn’t there also some phrase in Sufism or someplace about the terrifying dark, or some such phrase? Have you heard that?

Bob: I haven’t.

Rick: I was just listening to a Sufi guy the other day, and he was giving this talk, and he was saying how, you know, people are always trying to run away from that, but in fact that’s where, what we should dive into. I’m sorry, I’m afraid I can’t do justice to it, but your experience reminded me of that.

Bob: Yeah, Papaji used to say, “Just take a half step back into yourself.” And I always wondered why a half step, and then I realized there’s no place for your foot to fall.

Rick: Interesting. So that was like late 90s or something?

Bob: Yes.

Rick: Not that dates matter, but just out of curiosity.

Bob: Probably ’98.

Rick: Right.

Bob: And then there were other teachers after that. Compassion showed up, you know, with one teacher. It was almost like the whole thing’s been choreographed ever since the stroke. Just the right teacher showed up at the right time.

Rick: What do you mean, “compassion showed up”?

Bob: Well, I was at a retreat, a weekend retreat on the… I think we were doing the Longkava Tāra Sutra with a lady named Shantimāi. Have you done her yet?

Rick: I’ve heard of her, yeah.

Bob: And people were late. Somebody was late, so she decided that we’d all do the Gayatri Mantra, which I’d never heard of or done before. And we did it for about 45 minutes, and then she said, “Now send that energy out to someone who needs it.” And I knew several people who were in pretty dire straits, and it just seemed like there was an upwelling. Every time I breathed, you know, it was like the big jets of energy were coming out of my chest, and I was in tears, of course, and I asked her, I said, “What the heck was that?” And she looked at me and she just grinned, almost smirked, and she says, “Oh, compassion happens.”

Rick: Wow.

Bob: I realized that it isn’t my compassion, it isn’t Bob’s compassion. The compassion comes through us. Love comes through, you know, these bodies, what we normally take ourselves to be.

Rick: Yeah, we’re like vehicles or instruments.

Bob: Exactly.

Rick: Yeah. That’s interesting. There’s a couple of interesting things that come to mind. One is the fact that having had a stroke was not a deterrent or an impediment or an obstacle to having an awakening, which might be encouraging for some people, because some people feel like your neurophysiology has to be functioning just perfectly in order for awakening to occur.

Bob: Mine obviously isn’t.

Rick: Right. Or to be sustained, you know, and in both cases you’re doing okay on that front, despite some physical challenges. And another is, I’m sorry, go ahead, you were going to say something?

Bob: Sustaining really isn’t a question, because it isn’t an issue. This isn’t happening in time.

Rick: Yeah, yeah.

Bob: This is happening now, and recently it’s become very clear that now is not a moment in time. Now is not just a little slice of eternity. It’s always now, and time has its, you know, time, space, causation, everything has its appearance in now. And right now, and now isn’t some place to be here that I, you know, quotation marks, need to be here in. In other words, I don’t need to be here now. I’m now itself. There’s a great certainty to this. And I am the now itself without saying the word now. And I’m now without, and everything that now contains.

Rick: Right. Some people use the word presence as a nice synonym for now, you know, just as it implies kind of solid, perpetual, well, yeah, I could say perpetual, just sort of like continuum of presence, you know.

Bob: Absolutely. Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, now is a great synonym. And finally, we take, it’s fun that we wrestle with this symbology, with these words.

Rick: Right.

Bob: It’s somehow or another that the words contain the truth. No, now is the truth. Words are a feeble attempt at trying to point to it. The words aren’t the truth. The words point to the truth.

Rick: Sailor, go ahead.

Bob: The words can’t be the truth because they’re symbols.

Rick: Yeah, exactly. Symbols, concepts, and so on. I mean, and they’re pretty poor symbols at that in most cases. I mean, just take a common experience. Take the color red. You know, you and I could sit here for the next hour trying to put that into words, and everybody knows what red is, but our words would utterly fail at really conveying any sense of what red is. You know, we could use synonyms. We could talk about apples and, you know, fire and whatnot. But we’re only just, you know, playing around with concepts.

Bob: Yeah, exactly. It’s just conceptual. You know, Nisargadatta’s, you know, in the end, I think the final Gene Dunbook chronicles it. He finally admitted what he was up to in all of the satsangs, and he was there to destroy every concept that rose anywhere in the room. You know, his job was to destroy it, you know, and then bring us back to a non-conceptual scene.

Rick: Yeah, and ironically, he must have been doing that through concepts, because if he’s speaking words, he’s using concepts. But as they say, it takes a thorn to remove a thorn.

Bob: Exactly. I remember reading in I Am That, one fellow had had enough of it, and he said, “Words, words, words. Are we children to be fed words?” And Nisargadatta fired right back, “As long as you believe words are important, you’re children.”

Rick: That’s pretty good.

Bob: Yet I do 90-minute talks, you know, and it’s words, words, words.

Rick: What else are you going to do? Sit there and stare at them?

Bob: This whole thing is very paradoxical.

Rick: It is, it is. And I love that word, as I’ve often said during interviews, and if you can really sort of become comfortable with paradox, then you don’t kind of get fanatical about anything, you know, or fundamentalist about anything. You don’t insist that things have to be any particular way.

Bob: This whole idea of arriving, that somehow we’re going to arrive at some permanent state that’s different than the way it is now, is unfortunate.

Rick: Yeah, except speaking of paradox, on the other hand, that does happen, in a sense, you know?

Bob: Well, there are events that happen, but I can say that even after the radical awakening event, that there was still, and there still is, an unfolding here. It doesn’t seem, nothing’s been attained, but there’s a clear recognition of self everywhere.

Rick: Yeah. There’s this Zen saying, “Always being, always becoming,” which to my mind means, you know, like everybody’s very popular these days to say, “Stop seeking, give up seeking.” And one can settle into a state in which one can honestly say, “Seeking has stopped,” and yet at the same time, discovery doesn’t stop.

Bob: Absolutely. When Ramana was asked how long one should practice self-inquiry, he said, “Until there’s no one left to inquire.” Even more pointedly, he was asked when was he going to stop the inquiry, and he said, “Until this body’s last breath.” So finally one can live as a question, and it doesn’t take anything away from the certainty that arises that one is that which is now, which is context, it’s not concept or content, although it contains everything. We’re simply here, very ordinarily, living life as a question, because there’s a whole lot we don’t know. You know, religion is full of beliefs, the metaphysical is full of beliefs, there’s a lot of pseudoscience out there, posing as science, trying to, I guess, claim an understanding of what’s going on here. But for me, the whole thing is still a mystery.

Rick: It’s interesting, I find it interesting that in the last sentence you used both the words “certainty” and “uncertainty,” and you used it in such a way as to make it clear that in some respect you are resting in uncertainty, and at the same time, again paradoxically, there’s this kind of continual uncertainty, which I find a very healthy juxtaposition in one life.

Bob: It keeps you honest, and it keeps you from going around considering yourself to be special, and running around collecting devotees, which will give you reinforcement of how special you are. You know, the classic enlightenment sickness.

Rick: Yeah, although to the defense of some people who perhaps are worthy of having devotees, I would say it doesn’t necessarily have to be an unhealthy condition. You know, Ramana Maharshi had devotees, it probably didn’t go to his head.

Bob: No, no, probably didn’t. And he basically talked about the difference between the “outer” and “inner” guru, which of course is only, the words “outer” and “inner” are only relative to the fact that we consider the limit of who we are as the skin, so to speak, or maybe a little aura that’s radiating around us, these bodies. But he basically said that the outer guru was temporary, and the whole idea was for the outer guru to push the attention within, and then the inner guru, the satguru, would take over. The satguru is forever, the outer guru is just a temporary appearance in these lives.

Rick: And I presume… I’m sorry, go ahead.

Bob: Even our parents are temporary appearances.

Rick: Sure. And I presume that when he referred to “inner guru,” he was not referring to discovering Ramana within yourself, he was just discovering within yourself that which Ramana is, and we are, and everything is.

Bob: I’ve heard the word “Ramana” defined as simply that which lives in the heart of all being. I can’t remember where I read that. I read it somewhere and I thought it was right on.

Rick: So, a few minutes ago we were talking about the fact that physical challenges haven’t been an obstacle really for you in having this realization and sustaining it. Let’s explore that just a little bit more. I mean, Ramana and Nisargadatta both died of cancer, and presumably that, even in the final throes of that, it didn’t disrupt their inner realization. I say “presumably” because I don’t know. It seems that on the one hand we need a body in order for this to be a living reality, otherwise without a body there is just… What is it? A cat’s tail walking past? Without a body there is just that being or that presence, but there is nothing living it. You know what I mean? So, I guess the question is, how intact does that body have to be for this to be a living reality?

Bob: Well, I think that one is very fortunate if one can discover the truth of now before one gets sick. You know, I think that’s a huge boon.

Rick: But you didn’t. I mean, you had had a stroke already.

Bob: Yeah, I had a stroke, but I recovered fairly well from that. I had a little aphasia.

Rick: Minor stroke. It wasn’t a big, major one.

Bob: It wasn’t a huge, major stroke. In fact, I can remember driving all the way up to Mill Valley to see Gangaji. And it was a pretty good-sized meeting, and at the beginning of the meeting she says, “Well, those of you who are first-timers, raise your hands.” So we did. She made a mental note, I guess, of who we all were. And I had a whole story in my head. I had come up there to thank her for the videotapes, to thank her for the contributions she had made over here, in this life stream.

Rick: Yeah.

Bob: And, well, it was a gentlemanly thing to do. And there was a whole story about the stroke and how it was really great to have this teaching while the recovery was taking place. And wouldn’t you know it, this fellow came up in a wheelchair right before me. He had had a stroke, a major, major stroke. The guy, he looked at his eyes, he was on fire, and he would love. They wheeled him, they got him up on the stage, and he told the exact story I had concocted in my brain.

Rick: Stole your thunder entirely, yeah?

Bob: Stole it completely. And I was sitting there, and then she looked over, he was finished, she looked over at me and says, “Well, next.” And I says, “No, I couldn’t do it.” So it was about a year later in a private meeting that I actually got a chance to thank her for the contribution, and just for being here.

Rick: Yeah, she’s very sweet, I really like her. I interviewed her a while back, and then I met her at the Science and Non-Duality Conference a couple of months ago, and she was just so gracious, and just really…

Bob: Well, I love all my teachers. I’m certainly not the sharpest pencil in the drawer. I never could have figured this out on my own. I would never have known how to look. So I’m very grateful.

Rick: Yeah.

Bob: There are all these forms that show up, and I realize they’re all my own self, and they’re all just my projection, and all of the Advaita talk and everything. But that doesn’t stop the gratitude.

Rick: Yeah, and I don’t think it should. And, you know, we’re all like, kind of like little candles lighting each other or something. You know, even though all the candles are made of wax, some perhaps could use a little fire to get the wax burning.

Bob: Right. Exactly.

Rick: So you spent a lot of time in India. I glanced at your website, and it said you were more or less commuting back and forth for quite a while, hanging out in Tiruvannamalai. Anything noteworthy to say about that?

Bob: Yeah, I just love it there. I was there off-season. I built a house over there. I was building finishing touches on a house, and I went there during the hot season, and that’s when the cancer came back with a vengeance this year, and I got very ill. And when I came back at the, I guess, the end of July, I was pretty sick. I love it there. My preference is to be there. The doctors tell me that…

Rick: That you could be.

Bob: I’m glad now that there’s nothing more they can do for me. If we’ve explored every avenue, I’ll probably go back there to let nature take its course. We were talking about the illness. When one’s in service to the model that we have in our head of who we are, sometimes something threatens what that looks like, that model, that idea of who we are. It’s almost like, even minor things, and I can remember, it would be like everything was a matter of life and death. This is a matter of life and death. That’s a matter of life and death. Getting here, getting started on time. Matter of life and death. It’s like this whole concocted idea of who I am was at stake somehow or another.

Rick: People go in and shoot up the office because they lost their job, or something, you know, they just make these radical moves over trivia.

Bob: When this self-knowledge arises, and it is a knowingness, it’s not an experience, it seems like we can look at birth and death as just events that happen within the context of life. Those are probably the two most momentous events that happen in a life, and they’re just events. We can live our lives in fear of coming events, or in anticipation of a good event that’s about to happen. To the degree that we get caught up in that, in other words, to the point where it blinds us to what’s going on now, we kind of miss out on the juice that’s available here and now. So it is possible not to live in fear, but the only way to really do it, that I’ve found, is simply to abide as the Self right here and now. And of course, once it is seen, there’s really no effort required for that to be whatso.

Rick: Yeah, and the operant phrase there is “once it is seen,” because obviously the vast majority of humanity haven’t seen it, and so they’re very much caught up in the drama. And most people, I suppose, if they were in your circumstances, would be feeling a lot of fear and remorse and sadness, and all kinds of things they’d be going through. But you seem to have a pretty balanced, a lot of equanimity about it all.

Bob: Well, I still have a full spectrum of emotions. This doesn’t turn you into a zombie. Yes, feelings and thoughts and all of that arise, but that which they’re in service to, the idea of me, is seen to be just an appearance, but it’s like a ghost. It’s a ghost in the machine. It’s not really who I am.

Rick: Yeah, and it seems to me that, sure, you have the natural range of human emotions, but it seems to me that they must have much less gravitas, much less gripping quality, as a result of this perspective that you have.

Bob: There’s a lot less momentum behind them.

Rick: Yeah.

Bob: They don’t carry you away. They don’t seem to carry me away. I experience them fully in the moment, and there again, it’s not a strategy. They are experienced fully, and then they just flash off, and I’m here, which I’ve always been. So it’s like a little storm or a little squall happening on the ocean. It really doesn’t affect the ocean. The waves may pile up for a little while and look very tumultuous, but if one were in a submarine and just dove down 200 feet, you’d never even know what was going on on the surface.

Rick: Yeah, and do you find that when the waves churn up a bit, they take over for a little while, or is it always that the depth of the ocean is there kind of in addition to the waves?

Bob: Yeah, this knowingness is here.

Rick: Yeah, it doesn’t get obscured by the waves.

Bob: Yeah.

Rick: So I would say, and I mean, the circumstances of my life are relatively undramatic compared to yours.

Bob: Oh yeah, I’ve had lots of drama.

Rick: But I would say that that is a radically different perspective than the average person would have, and is a great blessing, among other things. But it seems to me it would just deflate about 99% of the fear that one would otherwise feel if one were just locked exclusively into the notion of oneself as a mere individual.

Bob: Yeah, that’s why this must be shared.

Rick: Yeah, exactly.

Bob: In August, when I finally got my scans back, the doctor said, “Well, it looks like maybe you’ve got six months.” And that was a bit of a wake-up call. I said, “Well, perhaps I need to share this.” Just as life would have it, Mark showed back up in my life, and he’s this dynamic guy. None of these satsangs would be happening without his presence. He’s doing the computers, he’s doing the website, he’s doing everything. He just props me up in front of the room and I run to him.

Rick: Pulls the string on your back.

Bob: Off I go. And the website is, of course,

Rick: Yeah, I’ll be linking to that from mine.

Bob: Yeah, great, because we’ve got a lot of YouTube videos up, little clips from satsang and from interviews. And then also the schedule is there. As much as we can schedule events now, we’re going to continue to do so, for as long as I don’t fall over when he props me up in front of the room.

Rick: Well, you know the Hare Krishna people, I went to their center in Detroit one time. They had a nice restaurant there. And you go into a different room and they had a life-size mechanical model of AC Bhaktivedanta sitting there. And it turned its head and looked at you when you walked in. So maybe Mark can work something like that out.

Bob: Perhaps.

Rick: Well, I think there’s all these voices out there these days. There are so many teachers, and a lot of them are quite young. And sometimes they can seem a little glib, but it’s like they haven’t necessarily been through all of life’s vicissitudes. And they’re talking about non-duality and saying all this stuff. But I feel like each person has their contribution, and it’s valuable. And people gravitate to whoever resonates with them. And I think your contribution is in some ways unique and really valuable, and I think it’s great you’re doing what you’re doing, because we’re all – no one gets out of here alive, as they say.

Bob: No body.

Rick: Right, no body.

Bob: Nobody gets out of here.

Rick: And it’s great to hear someone who is facing his mortality more immediately than most of us, who is still blissful and confident and grounded in oneness. Forgive me if I’m using the wrong terms, but just speaking that truth. I think it’s good for people to hear.

Bob: Well, I think it’s great that there are young people giving satsang. And of course they don’t maybe have a lot of experience, you know, life experience, but that will come.

Rick: It will.

Bob: And I would love to see a day that on a Sunday morning there would be as many people giving satsang in this country as there are giving sermons in the various churches and temples.

Rick: Yeah.

Bob: I think this knowledge should be in the schools. I think we should be teaching children from an early age, you know, fostering self-inquiry at a very early age. I see a quickening. I see the possibility that this whole thing could reach critical mass someday and that everybody would just wake up together. And if we were to see each other constantly, we’d see ourselves in each other’s eyes. I think a lot of the laws would no longer be necessary. We’d cooperate and we’d transcend all of this nationalism and we’d actually start working together, you know, to create a unified approach to the problems that seem to be plaguing us now. And I think a lot of the problems would just dissolve. I don’t even think they’d have to be solved.

Rick: Yeah, that’s very well put. And it’s interesting you should say that, because a lot of teachers seem to say that there’s no sort of practical implication to this realization. There’s no sort of mundane significance to it. And I tend to disagree. I mean, I think that we structure our entire society from top to bottom based upon the level of consciousness we’re living, whatever terminology you want to use. And what you’re suggesting is that living oneness or living self-realized state would have practical implications on all levels, economics and politics and everything.

Bob: Absolutely.

Rick: Yeah.

Bob: As a philosophy, I get a kick sometimes going to some of the Dwight blogs or websites and you’ll see these guys in the name of non-dualism, they’ll be attacking each other.

Rick: Yeah, fighting like cats and dogs.

Bob: They’ll completely ad hominem on each other, which is probably the worst fallacious argument if you were going to have a debate. So it’s kind of funny. As a philosophy, I guess there’s some value to it, but as the living truth, it’s not even a matter of value and quality. It’s just what’s so. And coming from what’s so, there’s the possibility for all of these self-generated problems. And self, I’m talking about, I guess, I hate to use the term, but with the small “s”, the ego-generated problems. And ego at the level of race, ego at the level of sexual identity, whether you’re a man or a woman, in a man or a woman’s body. The whole liberal-conservative thing, it’s all self-generated divisiveness that really doesn’t need to be happening in the light of who we really are. We could actually raise our arguments a little bit to a different level.

Rick: It’s interesting that you should point out the little catfights that take place on some of the non-duality blogs. It points to a theme I often bring up, which is, I believe there’s a tendency these days for people to gain an intellectual or intuitive familiarity with non-duality and then mistake that for the actual living of it. And then if that’s all you’ve got, is the intellectual thing without the living of it, then there can very easily be a kind of a fundamentalist attitude or perspective which causes altercations and arguments.

Bob: Right. What happens is a new orthodoxy gets built. I looked up the word “orthodox” in the dictionary and it simply means having the correct opinion.

Rick: Right, right.

Bob: And a heretic, of course, is one who seems to have the right to choose.

Rick: Oh, interesting.

Bob: Maintains the right to choose. But it’s almost impossible. That’s the problem with sticking a guru above you. And if there’s a possibility that new orthodoxy will form, then the spontaneity goes out of it.

Rick: Yeah, and you see that even in groups that are founded by people whom I would regard as genuine gurus. The followers or the people in the group tend to get into all kinds of fundamentalist and hierarchical and petty ways of behavior. And there’s not much that the guru can do about it sometimes, although some of them are more effective than others. There’s always this sort of politics that comes into it, you know?

Bob: And then if the guru themselves starts becoming an iconoclast, in other words, starts poking at the other ways of looking at things, it gets worse, you know?

Rick: Yeah.

Bob: The religious wars even, you know, are made out of that.

Rick: Yeah. It sounds like we both speak from a little bit of experience with this sort of thing, firsthand.

Bob: Yeah.

Rick: Well, what haven’t we talked about that you like to talk about in your satsangs, that you typically say to people? Are we missing anything here?

Bob: Well, we’re not missing a lot. I just keep saying, “Be who you are. Be still. Be who you are.” A fellow by the name of Carl Renz, I think, said it very well. I watched his satsangs in Tear of Anomaly up until a couple of years ago. He drew huge crowds there. And some of his one-liners were pretty good. He said, “Be what you cannot not be.” Of course, if you cannot not be it, no effort is required. However, however, however, in the beginning, in this experience, effort is required. Personal effort is required. Ramana Maharshi was asked one time, “Well, isn’t the ego being asked to inquire or delve into its own roots, into its own identity?” And Ramana said, “Admittedly so.” But then he brought out the analogy of the stick being used to stir the funeral pyre, evidently referring to the ego. And eventually the stick burns along with the rest.

Rick: Oh, that’s a good analogy. Yeah, I like that.

Bob: He said that effort is required until it can no longer be maintained. Not until it’s a good idea to stop the effort, until the effort just drops away on its own.

Rick: Yeah, it just turns to ashes.

Bob: And then after that, no matter how one would effort, you find that you just can’t. You can’t, that effort isn’t required, and it isn’t even possible in this arena. And then one just simply abides as that. And at that time, it seems, although this seems like it’s progressive in time, and I guess it is, when looked at from outside, there’s no possibility of efforting, and a certainty shows up. But it isn’t a certainty about anything in particular.

Rick: Right.

Bob: There’s just certainty that just starts building, and that happens very slowly in this experience. And then finally it’s unshakable, and there’s this solid knowingness. It’s not an experience. It’s not something else that one is experiencing. And I think somebody coined the word a few years ago, called “imperience.” It’s not even that. It’s just this raw, but not raw in the point of being irritable, just uncooked knowingness. And there again, words fail.

Rick: Yeah. But if people are having that to any degree of clarity, they’ll know what you’re talking about. And if they aren’t, then I think hearing it helps to enliven it to some extent. And in fact, I was going to say, do you feel that a lot of times when you’re sitting, saying just “abide as the Self” or whatever, it falls on deaf ears? Or do you feel that somehow sitting in a satsang and hearing that sort of thing enough times, and from someone who’s speaking with enough clarity, helps to sort of inculcate that in the listeners, awaken that in the listeners?

Bob: Well, it’s a great privilege to be able to sit in the front of the room and look in the eyes of everybody out in front of you. What a privilege it is. And you can see in these satsangs that almost everyone… I mean, you’ll see a few frowns here and there in the mind. You know that the mind is doing its “yeah, buts,” you know, “adapt, adapt.” I sometimes say that the only thing between you and whoever I’m speaking to in full Self-realization is the “yeah, buts.”

Rick: Yeah.

Bob: Yeah. So, the “yeah, buts” drop away.

Rick: And maybe sitting in satsang…

Bob: You’re simply left with yourself.

Rick: And maybe sitting in satsang helps to dissipate the “yeah, buts.” It helps to decondition the mind from doing that habitually.

Bob: Yes. I went through… I mean, it was very fortunate for me that my ego wanted all this verification and my enlightenment when I was in that bliss stage, because I would drive 200 miles to go to a satsang. It was one I had to be in satsang. I love satsang. It didn’t matter to me who was giving satsang.

Rick: You were a junkie.

Bob: I was a satsang junkie. And it’s an addiction I highly recommend.

Rick: Yeah.

Bob: It doesn’t matter. It didn’t matter to me. There were teachers that made huge contributions, but some of them were like fingers pointing at the moon. To me it would have been a mistake to have gotten distracted by the finger and start worshipping the finger. There were others who didn’t perform that function, but were equally valuable. It was almost like I say, in this life, very fortunate, it was like there was a choreographer. I don’t believe in a choreographer, I want to make that clear. But it almost seemed like it was choreographed. The right person showed up at exactly the right time. And as I said earlier, I would like to see satsang everywhere.

Rick: Yeah.

Bob: Nisargadatta said something quite interesting. He said, “If you see people need help or assistance, by all means give it.” And then he said, “Don’t wait until you’re perfect.”

Rick: To give it, you mean?

Bob: Yeah.

Rick: Huh.

Bob: Yeah. C.Y. Ramana put me up in front of my first group in 1998. I think I did it again in 2000, and then it didn’t happen again until 2004. People were asking for it. So it was always a response to a request.

Rick: Yeah.

Bob: It was never my own idea. But when the request came, it was nothing I could say no to. It was impossible to refuse.

Rick: That’s interesting, “Don’t wait until you’re perfect.” Sometimes people grumble that there are too many half-baked teachers out there, that we’re teaching prematurely. But I’d say that as long as people are honest about it, and don’t claim to be the ultimate grand pooh-bah of creation, and acknowledge that maybe there are some things that they’re still getting clearer about, then they can make a great contribution. It’s like you go to kindergarten, you go to first grade, let’s say, and you learn A, B, C, and you come home and your little sister says, “What did you learn?” And you say, “Well, this is A, and this is B, and this is C.” And then she says, “Well, what’s next?” And you say, “Well, I’ll tell you tomorrow.”

Bob: Right. Probably the most important thing is your own effort, your own willingness to put yourself in a position where the burning takes place, where you start burning in your own juice. There’s this willingness for things to unfold the way they’re apparently unfolding, and the way they’re going to unfold, and to not plunge, not run from that.

Rick: Do you feel there’s any danger of dilettantism if one is going to a thousand different satsangs? Because some teachers say, “Well, dig one deep well, don’t dig a whole lot of shallow wells, and then you’ll really get water.”

Bob: Yeah, but… Yeah, but… You can make a good case for that if what you’re going for is just to feel good, just to say, “Oh, this one gives me more Shakti Pat than that one.” And you’re just going for the good feeling. Some gurus get, I guess, probably quite a few, if they’re effective, get accused of being, what would you say, “mood makers.” I think that was a phrase that was being used a few years ago. And then people would come and they’d get high off of it. For sure, feeling the peace and solid beingness that one is in satsang is a good thing. It’s unfortunate that we blow it off so quickly after we walk out the door, and we’re wondering where the next place to eat is, and where the next experience is. But it still does its work. A seed is being planted in satsang.

Rick: I think so. I think so.

Bob: I would say it’s… Everybody has their own process. I’m not sure there’s a particular right way for everyone. I think that the way it imposes for you is the correct way for you.

Rick: I think that’s a good point. I think for some people it might be completely appropriate for them to be with one teacher and not go running all over the place. For others, I think it can be very valuable to take a more hybrid approach and go to a lot.

Bob: And for some people, wherever they are, maybe just sitting home at night and doing japa, nama japa for 8 hours is the thing that they should be doing now.

Rick: Yeah. I think it’s really important. I think one should just relax and realize that everything is unfolding exactly as it should.

Rick: And that leads me to something you said a few minutes ago. Everything is unfolding. You said you didn’t believe in a… I forget the word you used, like in an organizer or something that is actually orchestrating the events of the universe. You were about to say something in response to that. You want to go ahead?

Bob: I think, from a singular point of view, that in each of our heads, I think C.Y. Ramana calls it the spiritual advisor. The mind takes on many guises. There’s a familiar metaphor of the thief pretending to be a policeman so he could get in and steal the jewelry. In this case, the jewelry is peace. In order to be in its job, it loves drama. It’s kind of like a good politician. If there’s not a problem, we wouldn’t need them. In the meantime, we wouldn’t need all these egoic identities. We wouldn’t be in service to them as if they were ourselves. And we could just relax and follow Ramana’s admonition, just to still be as we are. And we’ll still find that the body will be doing the needful. Just whatever comes up that needs to be done, the body will do it just out of the exigencies of the moment. Just what’s necessary in the moment.

Rick: Maybe I misunderstood what you were saying earlier, when you were saying there’s no organizer. But to me, when we say things like, “Well, this just happened at the right time,” or “What I’m experiencing is what I need to be experiencing now,” and even aside from that sort of thing, looking down at a cell under a microscope, you just see this incredible intelligence functioning and structuring and operating there. And I just get this feeling that everything is like this big ocean of not only being or presence, but intelligence, and that there’s this marvelous orchestration taking place, and we’re all just kind of little cogs in a great cosmic machine.

Bob: Yeah, I think the tendency once we see that is that we anthropomorphize it.

Rick: Well, yeah, we might think of a…

Bob: There’s a being there that actually reasons and thinks.

Rick: Yeah, I’m not saying that.

Bob: And I can see that you’re not, but I think it’s an important distinction.

Rick: No big old guy in the sky with a beard.

Bob: No big old guy. I would have to imagine that guy. Now if he showed up, I’d be the first one on my knees.

Rick: Yeah, yeah.

Bob: Saying, “Hosanna,” or whatever.

Rick: I’m not thinking that way. I’m just thinking every iota, every particle. It’s like we’re fish in an ocean of intelligence. It’s not only consciousness, but there’s this intelligence with organizing power inherent within it that structures this marvelous universe. Illusory as it may ultimately be, it is nonetheless incredibly mysterious and profound.

Bob: Beautifully put. I mean, I’m not even going to comment on that because it’s perfectly stated. And this is the mystery.

Rick: Yeah, yeah.

Bob: This is the mystery. And I could anthropomorphize it, or say, just depending on where I am and what I know about this, I could say it’s the sun, and we could worship the sun this week, and we did for a long period of time in some areas. But it is a mystery.

Rick: Yeah.

Bob: And the only thing I really know, the only thing that I can argue is, “I am.” And if I were to say, “I am not,” you’d say, “Aha, I got you. Who said that?”

Rick: Right.

Bob: Who said, “I am not?” So it’s quite obvious that that’s the one thing, I think, Nisargadatta said, that this is our capital, is this “I am,” because it’s the least changing thing that’s happening here.

Rick: Yeah.

Bob: However, in Vedanta, it’s been said that “I am” is the first ignorance.

Rick: Can you elaborate on what they mean by that?

Bob: Well, I’m not sure I know what they mean, but they’re basically saying that “I am” is, the way I see it, it’s kind of a pregnant statement. The “am” is just crying out for an object. In the sentence “I am,” it’s crying for an object. “I am what?”

Rick: Right.

Bob: In this inquiry, from “I am,” this inquiry can proceed. Well, then what am I? It’s what we want to know. It’s a question. It’s part of our natural curiosity. What am I, really?

Rick: Good question. And if everything is one, if there really are no two, ultimately, in creation, then I somehow must be that which is actually giving rise, manifesting the universe, orchestrating the rotation of the planets, creating tulips, all that stuff. I think perhaps a direction for maturation would be, initially there’s that realization of “I am” presence, unshakable, it’s not going anywhere. But then, we were talking earlier about how perhaps there could be further exploration of the mystery. And maybe the direction of growth is in terms of somehow more subtle appreciation of that intelligence quality that seems to be inherent in “I am,” you think? I mean, I’m rambling a little bit, but…

Bob: Well, you know, I’ve been rambling all morning. Science is a wonderful exploration.

Rick: It is.

Bob: Yeah, they’ve just… the CERN supercollider in Switzerland right now, they’re looking for what they call the “Higgs boson,” the God particle. So, you know, science is a wonderful tool for exploring this whole thing. And scientific method is kind of the best thing we have for separating the wheat from the chaff, so to speak. And Ms. Nisargadatta advocated it, you know, just finally this work in self-inquiry, this effort that happens at the beginning, is an individual effort, you know, because we’re coming from a sense of being separated and individuated from the rest of what we consider to be “not me.” And the possibility is to do it… you could do it in a scientific way.

Rick: You could, and some of the greatest scientists are really mystics, you know.

Bob: Right, yeah, and theoretical physics is starting to look like… it’s starting to look very spiritual.

Rick: It is. I attended that Science in Nonduality conference a couple of months ago, and there were several physicists who spoke there, but one of them gave a talk entitled, “Is Consciousness the Unified Field?” And he kind of went deeply into what physics understands about the unified field and what mystics understand about consciousness, and made a very convincing case that they’re talking about the same thing.

Bob: Right, yeah. Earlier on, J. Krishnamurti and David Bohm had some interesting dialogues, similar to what we’re having, you know.

Rick: Yeah. Alrighty, well you and I are kind of just rambling, both of us now, about… you know, and people can read books about this kind of thing, and I’m sure that many people are interested in it, so maybe we should just wrap it up now. I think we’ve covered a lot of good ground, and it’s been kind of really, really interesting talking to you. I’m glad that Mark got in touch. You have a good PR man there.

Bob: Yes, I do. Mark Sawyer is his complete name, by the way.

Rick: Yes, I know. Mark…

Bob: He deserves a lot of credit.

Rick: Good. So I will make a couple of concluding remarks, if I may. First of all, I’ve been speaking with Bob Nichols.

Bob: Nickel, actually.

Rick: Oh, Nickel, not plural, I’m sorry. Singular.

Bob: We’ve got to get that right. That’s my identity, right?

Rick: Very sorry. I’ll be linking to Bob’s website from If you live in California, in the Ohio area, or Southern California, you can probably see Bob in person. As I understand from your website, as long as your health allows, you’re willing to travel someplace if people pay your expenses. Do you also do satsangs over the phone or Skype or anything like that?

Bob: We haven’t explored that yet, but I can see from this morning’s talk that it’s absolutely a possibility.

Rick: Yeah, it’s just like sitting one-to-one with somebody.

Bob: I think George Herman’s doing a lot of that these days.

Rick: Yeah, so there’s that possibility. You can go to Bob’s site and whatever he wants to announce about what he’s going to be doing, you’ll see it there. On my site, there are several possibilities. Firstly, there are all the interviews I’ve ever done archived there, and new ones get put up each week. If you’d like to be notified when new ones get put up, there’s a little email thing you can sign up for to be notified. There’s also a chat group there, which develops around each interview, and usually 100, 150 messages or posts come in after every single interview I do, and people get discussing what’s been discussed in the interview. So that’s there. Sometimes the guest himself will come in if somebody has a question for Bob, for instance. They might want to pose there, and Bob could come in and answer it. There’s also a podcast, so that if you like to listen to these things on your iPod while commuting or whatever, you can follow a link and sign up for that. So that’s about it. There’s also a “Donate” button. I actually just invested in a new computer because this one that I have has really been having some problems, and I need a faster one for all this video stuff. So if you feel like donating, there’s a button there you can click, and that would be appreciated. So that pretty much covers it. So thank you very much, Bob, and good luck with your health. I hope you stay with us a long time. You’re making a wonderful contribution. If you don’t, get in touch from the other side and tell me what it’s like.

Bob: It’s been a real pleasure. Thank you very much for inviting me.

Rick: Yeah, I’ve really enjoyed talking to you. Very interesting man. Or non-man.

Bob: Whatever.

Rick: Thanks. And so thanks to the listeners and viewers, and we’ll see you next time.