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, and if this happens to be new to you, haven’t seen any previous ones, and you’d like to see more, go to batgap.com, B-A-T-G-A-P, and look under the past interviews menu, where you’ll find them organized in several different ways. Some guy emailed me this week and said, “Wow, I just discovered this great feature where you can type in any word or phrase and find exactly which interviews that was discussed in. You should tell people.” So I’m telling people now. Under the past interviews menu, the first item under there is a feature like that where you can type in any word or phrase and you’ll instantly see a list of all the interviews in which that word or phrase was mentioned. And then by clicking on the listings below, it’ll take you right to that spot in the interview, and you can listen to it. There’s instructions there in more detail. Okay, so also I want to mention a couple more things. One is we have a little project going where we’re transcribing and proofreading the transcripts of all of these interviews, and so we have a nice team of volunteers helping to proofread. If you’d like to join that, get in touch. And finally, 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 every page of the website and a page explaining alternatives to PayPal. My guest today is Carter Phipps. Carter is the author of Evolutionaries, which was published in 2012, and co-author of the Wall Street Journal bestseller Conscious Leadership with John Mackey and Steve McIntosh. I’ve interviewed Steve. He is co-founder of the Institute for Cultural Evolution, which addresses political polarization through focusing on the cultural roots of America’s challenges. He hosts the Thinking Ahead podcast and is a former award-winning journalist and executive editor of What Is Enlightenment? magazine. And I will be linking to his website on his BatGap page. It’s CarterPhipps.com. I used to subscribe to What Is Enlightenment? magazine. Today, we’re actually going to be talking a lot about What Is Enlightenment?, and if we have time, we’ll also talk about his book Evolutionaries, which I read or listened to the audio version of in the last couple weeks and enjoyed tremendously. As I listened to it, I’d wished I had a photographic memory because there was so much good stuff in there. So many interesting thoughts. I mean, you could make an interview out of every chapter. This is a sampling. Obviously, we’re not going to go on for days talking about all this. But I’ll give you a taste for a couple of hours of what Carter has to say. And the thing that got me going on the idea of interviewing Carter was that he and I and many others were speakers at a conference at Harvard Divinity School in April. I was with the Association for Spiritual Integrity. We gave a presentation, and Carter gave a presentation himself entitled “Mysticism and its Discontents: Does Spiritual Illumination Create its own Intrinsic Blindness?” And the presentation interested me because if you’ve been watching BatGap interviews, you’ve often heard me lament about the situation of spiritual teachers who are very inspiring in many ways, but then misbehave, in many cases, more egregiously than the ordinary person would. And it’s confusing because traditionally we expect spiritual enlightenment to confer some sort of saintliness upon a person and have them be exemplars of ideal behavior. And very often, the opposite seems to be true. So, it’s something I’ve been pondering for a long time now, and reading Carter’s article and this upcoming conversation we’re going to have, I think, will help us gain greater clarity on that conundrum. So, Carter, where would you like to start? Give us a nutshell version of the premise of your paper, and then we can pretty much follow the logic of the paper as you laid it out because it was very systematic. But let’s get us started.
Carter: Yeah, thanks for all that. That’s a big question. I wrote it this year, but I’ve really been thinking about it for at least 10, 12 years. I thought about it. I think honestly the very last retreat I did with my own teacher of my own community, and you can speak about that, but that community eventually fell apart. The very last retreat, I think some of these ideas really crystallized for me, and that was more than 10 years ago.
Rick: Do you mind saying who your teacher was?
Carter: Yeah, sure. Since I was really in my early 20s, I was in Andrew Cohen’s community. And that community was also the What is Enlightenment?, the magazine you spoke about, a project of many of us in that community. It was much more than a vehicle for his teachings or that community’s teachings or anything like that, but it came out of that community.
Rick: Yeah, it was a great magazine. I liked it.
Carter: Yeah, it was fantastic. It was a wonderful—that was its own wonderful, beautiful journey that we went through creating that together. And many of us who worked on it really enjoyed that process. And we were able to explore so many nooks and crannies of the spiritual life, and it gave me a unique perspective because not only was I practicing it very intensively in my own sort of spiritual context or on communal context, but then we were interviewing people in every tradition. We were interviewing contemporary teachers, Western and Eastern. We were talking about it, discussing it. The whole inquiry was—I felt like I learned so much about just the history of teachers and teachings in all kinds of East-meets-West contexts. And so that, combined with my own experience in my own community with my own teacher, all mixed together. And I just thought a lot about that question. And it’s almost even more profound than that because the magazine itself was started from my own teacher’s inquiry into what had happened with the teachers of the ’70s and ’80s, so many gurus of the ’70s, ’80s, whether we’re talking about Trungpa or your own experience. I don’t know your experience with Maharishi and Dauphrey John and Rajneesh, Krishnamurti. There was these significant teachers, many of them who had gone through these massive problems, ethical complete messes. Their communities had imploded. Just all kinds of stuff. And Muktananda, all these teachers. Then in the wake of that was our community sort of formed in the late ’80s and early ’90s. My teacher was very concerned about ethics and how we go about this living a spiritual life. And yet, even despite that concern, that investigation, we were so—he himself fell prey to a lot of messed up things that ultimately led to the implosion of our community over time. It made me think very deeply about those questions. The traditional way we see it is like someone has—well, people see it in all kinds of ways, but—someone has a spiritual awakening and then they are corrupt. They were good, but then they become corrupt. Power corrupts. While that’s true, I felt like what I witnessed in my own experience and in looking at the history of the last century (at least a century of new religious movements and new spiritual movements), it made me want to delve into the subtleties of the way in which our experience of enlightenment itself, non-duality, and deep mysticism can illuminate, but it also can blind, right? Unless we start to appreciate that, we are going to fall into lots of problems as we pursue these practices, as we pursue teachers, as we pursue communities. I was really trying to kind of help all of us to be much more awake and not put these things on pedestals that ultimately will lead to massive crashes. People are overly fawning just when they get into these mystical experiences and stuff. “These people know more than I do. This is incredible. This is all good.” Or they can become cynical on the other side of it. I’m trying to walk a middle line here. Can we engage these practices and even maybe these modalities of teachers and students while being a lot more awake to the subtleties of the problems? And not just the students, but the teachers too? A lot of the problems are bound up in ideas we have about enlightenment itself. Maybe we need to really deeply question all of these things. I try to congeal or concentrate all of that into about 6,000 words (this paper). It probably should be a book. It probably should be much more, but at least I got some of the basic ideas down.
Rick: Yeah, so when you start out the paper, you outline initially three possibilities with these teachers. One is that they had a genuine spiritual attainment or realization but then fell prey to corruption or human weakness. The second is that they were self-deluded and couldn’t possibly have attained a genuine awakening. And the third is that they were just outright frauds and took advantage of people. And I suppose all three of those are possibilities or some mixture of the three. But then a fourth, which you lay out, is that the blind spots that lead to abuse in some cases are in fact dangers inherent in the awakened state, that they may be an intrinsic feature of certain types of awakening. That’ll surprise people because awakening, by definition, sounds like it should be an illumination, which would shed light on blind spots and help to eliminate them. But if we try to look for examples of that being the case, or examples of it not being the case, it’s a very questionable theory.
Carter: Yes. Exactly. That’s the start of the paper. It’s like, maybe that’s not true. Maybe this idea that . . . . I’m not the first to point out that certain types of spiritual awakening doesn’t necessarily— You can have a profound awakening, mystical awakening, and of course it affects us, it changes us. It can be transformative, but it doesn’t mean it transforms us to a degree that it changes all of our psychological structures. It can illuminate a lot, but even that illumination can blind us as it changes the nature of our attention, as it changes the nature of our psyche, as it reveals certain truths and powerful experiences. It can also blind us to other things. It can make us more focused on these things at the expense of these things. If we just accept that this is the way, the truth, and the light, and we think this is just revealing nothing, this is nothing good, we will be blind to the ways in which this might delude us. Of course, some of those won’t show up very strongly initially, but over time, they can be very profound and have huge effects. I was trying to understand the complications and confusions that lie within the realizations we seek that can come out of the realizations we seek, not just the corruption we bring on our own.
Rick: I suppose one initial consideration is like the Power of Living magazine, What is Enlightenment? Some people seem to view enlightenment as like pregnancy: either you’re pregnant or you’re not. Either you’re enlightened or you’re not. There aren’t degrees of enlightenment. Once you’ve got it, you’ve got it. There was one guy I interviewed. Towards the end of the interview, I said, “What seems to be on the horizon for you? What do you see as the direction of the trajectory that you seem to be on?” He looked at me with this puzzled look and basically said, “I’m done. What more could there be?” I was kind of forehead smacking myself.
Carter: The fact that someone could relate to enlightenment as if it’s the end of their personal evolution and almost the end of human striving and human development, to me, it’s like we’ve taken a wrong turn somewhere in the way we understand the nature of mystical realization as some sort of pinnacle of human evolution. We really have to question that because that in and of itself (and it’s very deep in there for a lot of people) leads to all kinds of messes and problems and ways that someone would say, “Ah, I’m done. I don’t have to grow anymore. I’m done.” The subtleties of why we’ve drawn those conclusions need to be unpacked.
Rick: Let’s try to define enlightenment. Why don’t you give me your definition. I’ll give you mine, and we’ll compare notes.
Carter: I don’t have a definition. I spent 20 years doing a magazine. Someone could read those. I spent like 15 years doing a magazine.
Rick: Right, I’ll give you mine then.
Carter: Someone could read all those if they want. It’s way too complex, and I don’t have a particular definition.
Rick: Right. Well, in my case, I hesitate to use the word because it has this superlative static connotation that you’ve reached the mountaintop and you’re perfect and all that. And I don’t know if that’s even possible. One of my favorite quotes is from St. Teresa of Avila. She said that it appears that God himself is on the journey. And so if she’s right, then certainly we are on the journey.
Carter: I wrote a lot about enlightenment in The Evolutionaries. A lot of what I wrote there I still adhere to, but I completely agree with you. Seeing it as an end state, it’s a dangerous and tricky draw, either about oneself or the nature of that realization itself. And it’s delicate because the nature of non-duality, the nature of that—what we call some traditional kind of enlightenment— it has what I call in the paper a fragrance of finality. There’s a completion in it that makes it seem like an end, in a way. But that doesn’t mean it’s your end state. As I say, “Don’t turn the ground of being—” This beautiful sense of beingness and completeness and fullness or emptiness, if it can be experienced to me. “Don’t turn the ground of being into the goal of becoming for you or for me or for us.” And it can be beautiful and wondrous, and we can appreciate what it is without turning around and imagining that that represents some pinnacle of human evolution. That’s the really tricky danger that people get into. People fall for it, and I think it fucks up people’s lives when they fall for it.
Rick: Yeah. If I were to use the word, I would probably include Ken Wilber’s lines of development model.
Carter: Wilber was very good at beginning the process of beginning to untangle some of this.
Rick: Again, I hesitate to use the word, but in my understanding, if someone deserves the word “enlightenment,” they are very highly developed along all possible lines of development. Not just the consciousness line, but the ethics line and the compassion line, the heart, the refinement of senses. All the better angels of our nature have blossomed fully in such a person. But again, that’s very rare, and I think what is often mistaken for enlightenment is just the awakening to pure being or the ground of being, as you called it. It can be so intoxicating.
Carter: Again, a more fruitful and more realistic way to think about some of these things is it’s like when someone’s a math prodigy or something. We don’t necessarily think they’re also going to be incredibly well-developed emotionally. I’m sure that goes together. No, it probably doesn’t. Sometimes if you’re overdeveloped in one side of your intelligence or humanity, that’s a beautiful thing. You may be of a genius in a certain area, but it may come at the expense of something else. It probably likely does come at the expense of some other part of the self. And that’s not a bad thing. We all represent these amalgamations. Sometimes if we have certain strengths in certain areas, it goes together with weaknesses in others. But it’s only when we think, “No, if I’m strong in this area, I must be strong everywhere. I must not have those weaknesses.” That gets us in all kinds of trouble. Spiritual realization in various forms can be the same way. People who have unusual capacities to have powerful state, permanent or semi-permanent state experiences, that probably goes together. That may go together with confusions or deficiencies in other areas of the self.
Rick: Yeah. People did this with Einstein. They wanted him to become president of Israel, and they were asking him all kinds of questions about areas that had nothing to do with physics. Because they assumed he was just this uber genius who would be great at everything.
Carter: Yeah, exactly. It doesn’t mean he might not have wisdom. Of course he might have beautiful wisdom, but it doesn’t mean we should put him on some kind of universal pinnacle of evolution.
Rick: Yeah. But when it comes to enlightenment, though—I was in the TM movement, as you know. And one of Maharishi’s teachings was that if you water the root, the whole tree will flourish. So basically just develop consciousness, and then all other aspects of life will be enhanced. It really didn’t pan out that way. Maybe it did to some extent, yes, but not to the extent he emphasized. It became clear that one really needed to pay attention to all these different aspects of life and try to behave ethically and try to take care of your health, both mental and physical, and all that kind of stuff. There were people cheating in business and ending up in jail who were big supporters of the TM movement and enthusiastic meditators. Tapping into pure consciousness is not some magic button that brings perfection to everything else.
Carter: It is not, indeed. There’s an embedded truth in what you’re saying. There is something so fundamental about awakening to consciousness without an object—the consciousness as the ground of being. There’s something very fundamental to non-duality experience in a very deep way. That is it can be transformative, and I think it can (I say in the paper) provide a kind of an evolutionary wind in your sails. And that’s a beautiful thing. There’s nothing wrong with that. That’s beautiful. It’s just when we start thinking that that’s all, that’s what we need, that that’s all we need. We just focus on the “that,” and the more powerful “that” is, like the less we need to worry about other stuff. Then you get into some dangerous things. If people have psychological make-ups where they just want to avoid parts of themselves, that becomes a very easy way to do it. You dive as deeply as you can into that, and you can avoid the rest of yourself. Of course, that will come out, and that will be a mess.
Rick: There’s an embedded truth in that, but it’s a dangerous truth if you see it without moderation. And then there’s an historical mystique about it. For instance, Valmiki (who wrote the Romana) was a highway robber and murderer, and he encountered these sages and got inspired and sat and went into Samadhi for seven years or something when he came out. He was a saint. Or Saul on the road to Damascus had this big—he got zapped spiritually somehow and became the Apostle Paul. The people have undergone—St. Francis of Assisi was kind of a creep actually, and then he underwent a big transformation and became a saint. There are these instances where we see people’s personalities apparently transformed in every respect as a result of spiritual awakening. That’s kind of part of storyline about what enlightenment is or should be or could be.
Carter: Well, mystical awakening is a beautiful thing. We can accept that and acknowledge that. The deep and rich and complex history of mystical thought is tremendously transformative and can be. And we can accept that and honor that, that beauty without drawing these kind of conclusions about the self and about perfection and about the top of the mountain and about finality and about the end state of evolution. All these kinds of things which then we really are getting into trouble. But we can accept all that rich and varied beautiful history of mysticism and its transformative power. That’s awesome; that’s a great thing. So yeah, that is true. That’s all true.
Rick: Yeah, but then there are so many contemporary examples of that not being true, of people who have Shakti up the wazoo and they glow in the dark, but they are sexually abusing women or drinking or whatever they’re doing, alcoholics.
Carter: And there’s a lot of examples in the past too. I don’t think it’s just contemporary.
Rick: Yeah, you’re probably right.
Carter: We don’t remember probably many of them, but I think there’s a long history of that. But the tricky thing is you could make an argument that the last 50 years of mystic, East-meets-West mysticism in the West would tell you that some people who have deep realizations can be ethically challenged in all kinds of ways. It would almost tell you something more. People who have some of the most powerful capacities for mysticism and mystical states (and be able to share those in some ways) seem to be more ethically challenged than the average person. Right. They seem to fall more prey to it. And we have to be honest about that and say, “What does that mean?” As I say in the paper, you would think we just had an unlucky run of unstable narcissists that suddenly became spiritual teachers. That just it was an accident. I’m sure the next 50 years will produce all the great, all the pure hearted. This is just no. I don’t think that’s true. We have to be honest about that. There may be aspects of the psyche that are not necessarily healthy or integrated that can result in very powerful mystical awakenings. And that may be a feature, not a bug. Yeah, we can appreciate those people and say “wow, that’s a beautiful thing,” without then saying “oh, they must know everything about everything,” because that ain’t true. In fact, it could be the opposite. They could know a lot less about certain things. I used to have this.
Carter: I’ll make a point later.
Rick: I’m interviewing you. You should be doing most of the talking, so don’t worry about it.
Carter: But I was going to say I used to. This is a slightly different point, but I used to think it was funny that I remember in the later days of my own teacher could when he would teach retreats. Sometimes he would get very deep into the ground of being and into a kind of non-duality and into mystical states. And he could transmit those. He was very powerful at teaching those states of consciousness. But I used to feel sometimes, especially in the later days (because I was more awake to this) like the more he would get into that experience, the less he was able to speak really intelligently about life. Like the truths that seem real in that state would obscure his ability sometimes to speak intelligently because enlightenment is the main thing. Those states of consciousness are beautiful, and they have their own power. It’s like their own power (they’re what’s important) reveal the truth about everything else we need. And like you said, we just water that and everything else, the tree flowers. But I used to watch him sometimes when he would get asked questions about other stuff. I’d feel like it was when he was more embedded and in focus on those states that he was less able to speak cogently, intelligently about issues in the world where we were working on the magazine together or something. He might be able to speak, but when he wasn’t as much in that kind of state. I just think it’s interesting. So we have to ask these questions. We have to think critically. We can’t abandon our criticism as we enter the realms of mystical awakening. We really need not to.
Rick: That reminds me of a friend of mine who’s a professional guitar player. He said one time he took a lot of psilocybin and he sat for hours and hours doing this guitar riff that he thought was totally brilliant. The next day when he listened to the tape, it was just totally crap. He was just doing this stupid thing over and over again.
Carter: And that’s okay. And we know that the opposite can happen too, right? You might have just something brilliant come out, and that’s beautiful. Or it might not be that at all, you know. And again, I’m not saying that (my teacher in this case) his brilliance about what enlightenment in its pure form might be might increase in those retreat environments, even as his ability to speak intelligently and cogently about other aspects of life might decrease. Again, these are tradeoffs in the human character. There are always tradeoffs when we’re dealing with the finite world of human evolution, human psychology. There are always tradeoffs in a finite world, even when we are talking about gateways to the infinite. It’s like the infinite is not this world, right? The infinite is that world. And it’s a wonderful thing that we might be able to become transparent or see that, see infinity that the worlds might cross. Right? That’s a beautiful thing. But let’s not pretend that this world is infinite, that this world is perfect, that in this world that the end state of becoming can be reached in any kind of human form. Let’s not pretend those things. It is when we pretend those things that we get into trouble.
Rick: Yeah, which reminds me of something I always come out with when I try to define enlightenment. And that is that life is multidimensional. There is a dimension which is perfect and in which, in fact, nothing has ever happened—is pure unmanifest being. And there is perhaps a level at which everything is also perfect in the sense that it’s all divine. Everything is just well and wisely put, and God is orchestrating it. Then there’s another level which Vedanta refers to as Vyavaharika, which is the transactional, everyday reality in which things are obviously not perfect. And we have wars and hunger and diseases and all the problems. My understanding is that as a human being evolves, they don’t just sort of burrow down into the transcendent and hide out there, but they become multidimensional. They’re able to incorporate within the spectrum of their experience that full range that I just described and function on all levels simultaneously. Or as the case may be, there’s a level which is non-functional, so that might be there, the pure silence in which one feels “I’m not doing anything.” But then more manifest levels in which one is very much engaged in a practical, sensible, realistic way with the so-called “real world.”
Carter: Exactly. I talked about my teacher in that case, but I’ve had the experience of going on deeply into meditation and you get into it more deeply and you’re able to—it’s like it becomes all you need. And you just feel the world fall away. And the importance and conundrums of your life and all that falls away. And you just see “oh, this is all I need; this is full; this is beautiful.” And that’s a beautiful state to be able to get in. The fact that the manifest world could kind of slowly shimmer and fall away from that state that you’re cultivating. And as you go deeper and deeper into meditation, that’s a beautiful thing. That doesn’t mean the world’s not important.
Carter: That doesn’t mean that all that is unreal. That doesn’t mean that this is all I need. I just think it’s easy to draw conclusions then about all of it that are not. We can enjoy those beautiful and transformative experiences without drawing a lot of conclusions about our experience or what we should be doing that aren’t true.
Rick: Yeah, and I speak from experience in saying that you can get into a deep state like that and wallow in it and enjoy it and all, but actually be quite dysfunctional in the world. I mean, you wouldn’t even want to try to drive a car.
Carter: No, exactly.
Rick: Or balance your checkbook.
Carter: Well, in a certain way, it’s a very disassociated state. And that doesn’t mean it’s not beautiful and transformative and powerful and even very real. It just can be, but it doesn’t mean it’s going to tell us about other dimensions of life that are also important.
Rick: Right. The key here is integrationWe can dip into deep states, temporarily deep samadhis, but if enlightenment means anything, it’s a state in which that depth has been integrated with practical life such that you actually should become more capable, more skillful. There’s a verse in the Gita which says, “Yoga is skill in action. It’s not a withdrawal or an escape.” If managed properly, if one becomes fully integrated, one can enjoy. Have one’s cake and eat it too. Be deep in the transcendent and fully engaged in activity in a more effective way than if one didn’t have that transcendent dimension.
Carter: Yes, I generally agree, although I think there’s a myth in there though that we want to be careful. Again, life is complex. There’s a lot of ways of focus. There’s a lot of trade-offs we make as we focus on this part of life or this part of life. Sometimes people get the idea that this experience I had in meditation—that now the goal is to bring that into the rest of my life somehow. Like I should be in this beatific or Buddhistic state as I go through life. And they almost judge themselves against that state—judge their normal. That gets into very tricky territory because that doesn’t mean, like you said, we can’t integrate some of the insights and beauty of that state. It can be transformative on its own terms. But if we’re trying to hold on to something and if our integration isn’t like with our hands free, if it’s trying of fit all these worlds together (and that are actually in polarities with each other), you that gets challenging. Sometimes people forget that’s not really—the goal is not to be dangerous.
Rick: I agree. It’s not something you hold on to. If it’s really integrated, you don’t think about it. It’s like you take a shower in the morning. You’re clean throughout the day without remembering the shower. So whatever benefits accrue from this deep immersion should be there spontaneously if they’re there at all. But they’re not enhanced by some conscious attempt to retain them as you go through your day.
Carter: Or to judge yourself against that state just because you’re not. Look, if you’re a Thich Nhat Hanh or a saint in that, maybe that’s your path, and that’s fine. But for many of us, we’re going to be engaged in the world in all kinds of ways. Retaining some beatific state is not only not possible, it shouldn’t be the way we think about the goal of our own practice.
Rick: No. I mean we could take an example of getting a good night’s sleep. You just feel better throughout the day because you’ve had one. And the same would be true of sort of deep immersion in being. Let’s say you do it with meditation or something.
Rick: And throughout the day, you don’t have to think about the fact that you had that experience in the morning or whatever. But the experience kind of permeates or enhances your functionality.
Rick: Yeah. And your mind-body system has been a little bit more fine-tuned by virtue of it, you think? You agree?
Carter: I agree. Yeah, I’m agreeing.
Rick: Okay, good. Let’s move along here. We’ve kind of touched on this, but we can touch on it a bit more. Is mystical attainment seen as an end state? And I’ll let you just riff on that a little bit. I’ve got some notes from your paper here. But is there such a thing as an end state? That may be even a better question.
Carter: Yeah, I think that, again, this is a day in so many— You have these— I write about this in Evolutionaries. A lot of traditional teachings, the goal of transcendence— There’s this extraordinary in human history, the discovery of this transcendence, of transcendent realm, of transcendent consciousness. That plays a huge role, I would argue, in the Axial Age of that era of human history in which all the religions formed. That discovery of transcendence is a powerful, beautiful thing. But in so many of those traditional religious contexts, that becomes what is real, and the world becomes sort of unreal. Whether it’s heaven is what is real, and this is sort of unreal, or this is Maya. Every tradition has their own version of “that’s real and this is unreal.” And there’s some mitigating traditions in there, but I would say that— Count me on someone who believes “that may be real, but this is also real.” This is an illusion. This matters. There’s different ways in which the Aurobindo (the great Indian saint) has some beautiful ways of talking about the dangers. He calls it the refusal of the ascetic. When you kind of imagine in the overwhelming power of the mystical realization that this world is not real. There’s all kinds of ways in which mystical realization is so powerful. It can be deluding. And I would argue that’s one of the ways it can be deluding. The embedded truth that you can experience can blind you to another truth that’s not part of that experience. So the delusion is embedded in the truth itself, right? I think one of the delusions that can be embedded in deep mystical experience is that sense— Part of the beauty of it is the sense of finality, as I talked about. That completion, that fullness, nothing missingness, right? But that “nothing missingness” is about consciousness, not about Carter. It’s not about Rick. It can be easily flipped over into “I’m something that’s finished” about me. And I think there’s been a whole mythology of what enlightenment is: the top of the mountain, the pinnacle of evolution, whatever it is in the East-meets-West, progressive spiritual world. This mythos that I very much came of age with. I began to realize at a certain point that mythos about enlightenment being like the— You know, this is a school and that’s how you graduate, all these various things. I’m not saying there’s no truths embedded in there. I’m just saying that there’s some fundamental mythos that the goal of human becoming is to merge with that. And when you do that, that is like “that’s it.” There’s something complete about that. And it leads on to when we start thinking about that attainment and realization as an end state of our personal becoming or our collective becoming. Instead of this, as I said, “Ground, not goal.” You know, ground is beautiful and powerful, and it can help us with our own evolution and human evolution. Ground is beautiful, but to turn it into a goal is a very dangerous thing to do in this world, in this time, in this evolutionary context of this manifest universe. That’s a very dangerous thing to do. But it’s very, very, very (and can I say very?) tempting for people to do that.
Rick: Yeah. Well, there’s a small fraction of people who are probably maybe naturally cut out to be recluses. It’s very small. But there are kind of a disproportionate number of scriptures which have a recluse emphasis, such as the Ashtavakra Gita, the Mandukya Upanishad, and various other texts which do keep denigrating the world as illusion and involvement in it as some kind of a fool’s errand. If people who are not naturally cut out to be recluses dwell on those kinds of teachings excessively, it can really skew their psychology and cause a rather disinterested, nihilistic mindset to develop. I think the Neo-Advaita world is guilty of that to a great extent.
Carter: Yeah, they’re guilty of several of these elements.
Rick: Yeah, and in my own case, when I was in my early 20s, Maharishi began advocating living a monastic lifestyle if you were really gung-ho. He was going to set up this group of monks that would spend a lot of time around him and be celibate and all that. I was really gung-ho, natural-born fanatic, so I signed up for that and did that for 15 years or so. One tended to psych oneself into this attitude that the world sucks and I don’t want to be involved in it and it’s not real and all this stuff. And it was just sort of a self-brainwashing process.
Carter: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, but it’s brainwashing that is, I would say, sort of supported by a deep and rich history of religious thought, which is not all of it— A lot of it doesn’t. There’s a lot of mitigating in traditional culture. Anyways, complex questions of history of religious thought, but there’s a lot of support out there if you want to find people who are going to help you do that. And look, if someone needs to be a monk, that’s great. That can be a beautiful path in and of itself. That’s fine. I’ve got nothing wrong with that. But like you’re saying, sometimes we have to recognize that can come along with a whole set of presumptions about the self and the world that I think we probably want to be very careful of before we just embrace without careful consideration.
Rick: Yeah, I don’t think it’s most people’s dharma.
Carter: Yeah, no, that’s true.
Rick: Better is death in one’s own dharma than the dharma of another, as they say.
Carter: I shaved my head at 22 and became celibate for a while, too. I didn’t call myself a monk necessarily, but my mother did. So maybe that qualifies. I know the renunciate path. I understand what that is like. And I didn’t do it in a permanent way, but I did it for a period of time.
Rick: Okay, so mystical enlightenment is an end state. And of course, there are examples of the Buddha and people like that whom we have always revered as somebody who finally reached the goal, you know?
Carter: I know.
Rick: And he could just sort of—
Carter: Oh, wouldn’t that be nice? Who knows what was going on with the Buddha? We could talk about that for a long time. But he was obviously a beautiful, extraordinary religious teacher, and had this incredible effect on the history. We can acknowledge all that without being careful about the conclusions we draw 2,500 years later about what was his personal state.
Rick: Yeah. If you live in a culture where a bad cavity in your tooth could end up killing you and there are all kinds of other difficulties, it might be really alluring to get off the wheel and never be reincarnated again.
Carter: And if you live in 2,500 years ago, I’m sure that could be very appealing too in its own way.
Rick: Yeah, that’s what I’m saying. Yeah.
Carter: If you’re a Christian in Roman times and you’re watching all your people, I’m sure martyrdom, you know—history’s complex.
Rick: Yeah, you want to go to heaven for all eternity and just get out of this difficult world. The tendency to view enlightenment as an end state might, to a certain extent, be based upon how content one is, you know? If your life is difficult and you’re suffering, you want to break out of this and be free of that. And I used to feel that way very strongly, and over the years, contentment grew to the point where that was no longer an issue. I’m happy just living out whatever my destiny is, no matter how many lifetimes it involves or anything else because it’s all sort of in service of the divine. This desire to sort of reach some terminus point and be finished just dissolved.
Carter: Yeah, that’s an interesting question in itself, right? Like that when we have a seeker who is in the mythology of enlightenment, you have to want to be enlightened so bad. I remember my teacher was very focused on that in his own life. He’s an example of that. The intention to be free, to be enlightened, you have to want it in the traditions, right? More than a drowning man dying of thirst, or sorry—dying of thirst, dying of thirst.
Rick: Hold his head under the water, right.
Carter: Sorry, drowning man, you know, desert dying from thirst, a drowning man dying for air, whatever it is. There’s all these kind of traditions,. But then you think, okay, interesting, what kind of psychology wants to get out of their own psychological state so bad? Now, in the tradition, you say, well, it’s the kind of psychology that has such a burning to be awakened that that’s part of their karma. And that’s because they’re so developed over lifetimes of whatever, who knows? There’s whole mythologies about that. But there’s also types of psychology that there’s a reason they want to get into a different state of being, because they’re very unhappy with their own psychological state. And that also can play a massive role, I would suggest, in the impact and the nature of our seeking path. We have to be aware of that. We can’t just pretend that our deep understanding of modern psychology and the complexities of modern psychology is not relevant here. You know?
Rick: And I would agree with that, but I would also say that there could be cases where a person is psychologically healthy, but just has a vehement desire for enlightenment.
Carter: Definitely. There are all kinds of reasons for people to be seeking. And they’re complex, and they can be based on this or that. I’m not in any way by pointing out that it may not always be this entirely pure experience of intention for the sake of merging with God. I don’t mean to say that it can be healthy at times. It can be all kinds of things. I’m just saying we have to look with open eyes at some of the mythos of enlightenment that we’ve been given and say, “Okay, there’s obviously some deep relevant truths embedded in there. But it may not be as simple as the picture we imagined.”
Rick: Yeah. Okay, good. Your next major point is “how does mystical awakening blind as well as illuminate?” And you give four examples. So, let’s get into those four examples. I have them noted down, but maybe you remember them off the top of your head. Do you remember the first one?
Carter: I have no memory.
Rick: Okay, I’ll read it to you. You say, “First, if we start with the presumption that we have a limited awareness or capacity for attention in our individual psyches, then we might think of spiritual illumination as a light or spotlight that brings the background of an always already present consciousness into the foreground. Questions about life and the world that cry out for complex ethical considerations might seem unimportant, irrelevant, already resolved when seen through the eyes of the fullness of the core of self.” In other words, someone might brush off and say, “Oh, the world is an illusion.” I was actually at a SAND conference, and David Loy (you probably know David) got up on the mic and challenged a well-known spiritual teacher about climate change and the fate of the ecology. And the guy just brushed him off. He said, “The world is like a speck of dust. It doesn’t matter what happens to it.” So there’s a perfect example of that.
Carter: What a wonderful— I’m tempted to just point out the absurdity that someone could— Is this a beautiful thing that someone could experience this and come to that conclusion? We have to be honest about that. That conclusion is not a bug of mystical awakening. It can be a feature of it, unless we’re very awake.
Rick: Yeah, and it seems like some of the great spiritual luminaries that we really respect from throughout history were very concerned about people’s welfare, material, physical welfare, as well as their spiritual welfare. So they would try to feed people and house people and clothe people and just take care of them on material levels as well as their spiritual needs.
Carter: I think in a more traditional culture, what you do is you have the realization and then the action in the world is to sort of mitigate suffering, right? That’s a beautiful mix. That’s fine. But we have to realize that in our—at least in the way I understand human culture and the nature of cultural evolution, which is its own massive thing—mitigating suffering is not our only accountability to human culture and to the world. Helping this all move forward, helping the culture evolve. I see that as a huge part of what we’re also potentially here to do. Not just mitigating suffering so we can all go be in heaven together or whatever that looks like. Mitigating suffering is its own beautiful thing, but I don’t think it’s enough.
Rick: One thing I like about you is, and if one looks at your website, you have all these essays on contemporary issues. Even in the intro I read, you’re focusing on political polarization and things like that. And you have essays on climate change and other issues. Personally I respect a person’s spirituality more if it makes them more engaged in such things rather than less engaged. More passionate about solving relative problems. Not that we all need to become specialists in all the technologies that would be involved in solving all the world’s problems. But at least we can be supportive of those efforts and see them as important rather than brushing them off as some kind of maya.
Carter: Yeah, that has been an important part of my own journey—realizing that culture and consciousness are connected. The evolution of consciousness is not just the realization of consciousness without an object or pure consciousness, the way that you said. It’s the evolution of consciousness and culture connected together. That part of the way we evolve culture and the external parts of culture is we involve the interior, (the internal parts of culture). Part of the internal parts of culture is the internal parts of us. The cultural structures we share together and the agreement spaces that we share together. You start to realize that my own efforts to evolve myself, not just to experience transcendence, as we’ve been talking about, but to evolve in all kinds of ways, psychologically, intellectually, cognitively, emotionally, is also— and the ways in which we share those evolutionary spaces with others is connected to the evolution of this whole thing in terms of the evolution of culture as a whole. You start to link up those, and it becomes much more than just doing good works or something like that, just mitigating suffering, which are beautiful. But it becomes part of this larger enterprise that we’re all participating in and sharing, and that’s the evolutionary point that I really try to get at in Evolutionaries.
Rick: Yeah. A healthy, green, thriving forest is comprised of healthy, green, thriving individual trees, you know? And if each individual tree is sick and stunted and has pine bark beetles or whatever they’re called, then the whole forest is not going to look very good. That’s a good analogy, but for society, its overall quality is dependent upon the quality of all eight billion of our lives, in all of their aspects.
Carter: Sorry, yes. I probably should confess that in 2013 when the community I was part of ended and in 2011 when the magazine I was part of ended, I’d written— And because of the difficulty of that era in my life, I didn’t really want to write at that time about spirituality. I’d written a lot about spirituality, and I’d written a lot. I’d been so immersed in those worlds for a long time that I wanted to write about other things. Some of that was just because I wanted to write about other things, and I got really interested in culture. I’m fascinated by cultural evolution in all kinds of ways. I wanted to write about all those. It’s only this year that really I came back to write. Also I wanted to give myself time to let the dust settle of the intensity of those last periods and everything that happened in that last era of our community. I didn’t really want to write about spirituality for a while, so this is kind of my first effort to come back and start to reengage some of those things that I thought back then but didn’t really want to put down for a while.
Rick: Yeah. Okay. So then your next point under the major topic of “how does mystical awakening blind as well as illuminate” is that we may be much less inclined to look at ourselves and our own conclusions with the critical eye of an outsider. In other words, this awakening may liberate us from unhealthy self-doubt, even while diminishing our ability for healthy self-criticism. That’s a good one, and I can think of so many examples of that, where a person buys into their own myth that’s built up about them in terms of their perfection, their infallibility. And people (their students) try to get in tune with their thinking but don’t dare give them critical feedback. And they don’t want critical feedback. Students are shown the door if they offer critical feedback, and so it becomes this sort of unhealthy dynamic, in which the emperor has no clothes but no one dares to say it.
Carter: Yeah, exactly. And there can be very gross versions of that, but there can be subtle versions of that too, which can still have profound effects. I said this awakening may liberate us from unhealthy self-doubt.
Rick: And that gives you confidence and kind of an inner strength. You’re not walking around thinking, “Oh, I’m worthless.”
Carter: We all kind of have a neurotic self-doubt and self-criticism, and our superego can be very strong in ways that don’t allow us to be liberated, kind of express our natural gifts and talents. And one of the things about certain types of awakenings is they can liberate that, and you can find confidence in that. And the confidence that flows from awakening can be very beautiful and powerful and attractive, right? Because we all want that kind of confidence. We all want the confidence that’s free of self-concern, right? But free of self-concern has its own challenges. That has its own problems because you don’t want to compromise that confidence in order to question oneself in the ways maybe you need to in order to be the healthy kind of integrated psyche that we all need to be. We all have to question ourselves, and that can be very uncomfortable. And it can prick at the confidence bubble, you know? None of us want the confidence bubble pricked, least of all someone who’s had a very powerful awakening. That can be a big part of it. So yeah, it can diminish our ability for healthy self-criticism, and that’s a real thing. I saw that with my own teacher, no doubt. But you can see it with a lot of other teachers as well. It wasn’t just him. I think it’s very common.
Rick: Yeah. A related facet of this is that one of the characteristics of enlightenment is sometimes said to be spontaneous right action, where whatever you’re doing is completely in line with cosmic intelligence or divine intelligence, whatever you want to call it. And I’ve seen examples of people who buy into that with regard to their own behavior, and who, for instance, are seducing a series of women in their Sangha, and when it finally comes to light, they say, “Whoa, I wasn’t doing it. God was doing it.” You know, it’s just, “I’m just in tune with the divine, you know? I’m not responsible.” It sounds absurd, but this is literally the alibi somebody gave.
Carter: It sounds absurd, right? But how do people come to that conclusion? Well, I think we can see that the experience that something else is acting through you can be very compelling to people who have deep mystical states or the capacity to access those states. That experience that “my motive is pure” can be very compelling, and combined with the lack of self-doubt and confidence, that can be a very compelling experience in ways that the history of religious—I think we had a little back and forth email about this, but the history of “religious thought is pure motive” is a very dangerous concept, you know? And when people experience themselves—
Rick: Define pure motive.
Rick: Define pure motive.
Carter: Well, like the experience that I’m doing this only for the best reasons. I’m doing this for completely self-altruistic reasons. I’m doing this because spirit is working through me. I’m doing this because I’m just acting on my intuition, which comes from a higher source, all of that. Now, all of those can be in any given moment. Maybe we are. Maybe there’s something acting through us in some beautiful way. Maybe we are in touch with something else. But to assume that means we are just this empty vessel, that therefore whatever happens, whatever that motive happens to be, must be good, is a very tricky, dangerous concept, and something that is in a lot of religious history, you know? As I often say, the history of religious thought and also cultural thinking of the history of cultural evolution is not why bad people do bad things. It’s why incredible people who think they’re doing the good things do bad things. That’s the challenge, and that goes way back in history, right? There were times, of course, when we thought burning someone at the stake was— they came up with the reasons why that was in service of God. Now, we look at that as an absurdity today. But the way sometimes people relate to their own intuitions can be beautiful expressions of being in touch with something beyond us, but aren’t something that we should—it doesn’t excuse anything, you know? The experience of pure motive can be very deluding, and if you have a teacher or a realizer who is convinced that whatever their own instincts are is an expression of pure motive, that’s not a good recipe for human behavior.
Rick: And if he is surrounded by students who have bought into that idea and who condone anything he does because they figure he’s cosmic and “it might seem crazy to me, but what do I know? I’m ignorant, and so I’m just going to go along with it.” That’s a recipe for disaster. This would be a good time to throw in one of my favorite quotes from Padma Sambhava. He said, “Although my awareness is as vast as the sky, my attention to karma is as fine as a grain of barley flour.” My video editor, Angel, said I should elaborate on that quote because she thinks a lot of people misunderstand it. Basically he’s saying, “Okay, I’m really cosmic, but I have to be very careful about my behavior every moment. I have to be on my toes, self-scrutinizing, not taking anything for granted, just being precise or impeccable, as Don Juan Matus would say.”
Carter: Yeah. I think that we all have strengths and weaknesses in our character. Sometimes maybe a certain type of awakening can illuminate those strengths in a beautiful way. But they won’t necessarily get rid of the weaknesses. Again, all of this is to say that’s not a problem. It’s a problem if we think it will, right? That’s when it becomes a big problem. And of course if people are sleeping with a lot of women or gross ethical behavior, we can say “okay, that’s wrong.” But I wanted to also point out that these mistakes can occur in a lot of subtle ways as well, and they can subtly cause all kinds of problems. They aren’t maybe just gross ethical abuses, but they can cause massive problems nonetheless, just in the subtleties of these issues.
Rick: I think actually the more you advance spiritually, the subtler it gets and the more fine-tuned you have to be in discerning those subtleties.
Carter: Again, I think I say here, “Being somewhat undistracted by one’s own problems and neurosis and aware of consciousness as a foundation of being is a powerful, wonderful quality. But even a hint of that quality can be like a moth to a flame for anyone with significant narcissistic tendencies or anyone troubled by neurotically low self-esteem. The freedom to not worry about oneself, to be released to a large degree from self-doubt, to be unburdened, at least partially, from the inner critic of the superego, and to have others affirm you as such can prove a difficult prize to handle with care for those who deeply crave the freedom of self-confidence, either because they have too much of it or because they deeply lack it.” For either of those, that can be a problem. So that was kind of my point in that area.
Rick: I forget who said it, but some well-known person in the spiritual community, maybe it was in the context of something in the Association for Spiritual Integrity, suggested that a disproportionately large percentage of spiritual teachers have narcissistic tendencies. Somehow, people with that sort of syndrome are attracted to the profession.
Carter: Yeah, that’s interesting in and of itself. We should ask why that seems to be true.
Rick: Well such people like sitting in front of audiences and being showered with praise and adulation.
Carter: Yeah, it is a danger of the position, I guess.
Rick: And even if you have a seed quality of such tendencies, it can sprout. It can be nourished when you step into a teaching role.
Carter: Yeah, I saw it in some of my own fellow students. Sometimes, these subtleties are hard to explain. But sometimes the students who would look best initially were ones who had less—the ability to be undivided in life. To have a certain kind of confidence can be a very attractive thing. Narcissists can sometimes do that, right? They have this kind of confidence; the charisma of the narcissist, right? It’s the confidence in that, right? The undividedness, that sense of “I’m not,” and that can be an attractive quality. You add mystical awakening to that, and that’s a tricky, toxic, potentially toxic brew. And sometimes there’s a spectrum of people who have various forms of self-doubt and various forms of neurosis and psychological. It’s like they will take a lot longer. Yeah, it was, anyway, that longer point. But I think that basic point is tricky. Sometimes, especially when we are less mature and we have a less mature understanding of life and people and as we get older, I think we are a little more attracted to that. At least I was. A little more attracted to that kind of confidence. Instead of the kind of confidence that comes from wisdom and deeper integration and a more complex understanding of the self and life experience. There’s a different kind of confidence that comes from all that. That is not as thin and as brittle, and ultimately I think it’s a better kind of confidence, but nevertheless that is very attractive to people.
Rick: Well, you can think of religious fundamentalists or political fundamentalists or whomever who are just adamant about their opinions. They’re very confident. There’s no nuance, no self-reflection, no wiggle room, no compromise. It’s just like “my way or the highway.”
Carter: Yeah. These are tricky questions because sometimes people like that might be more prone to types of spiritual experience.
Carter: We’ll get to that in a little bit.
Rick: A question came in from my friend Linda Weber, who may be your friend also because she lives in Boulder. She’s been on— no, she hasn’t been on Batgap, or has she? I don’t remember. Sorry, Linda. Out of 700 people. Here’s her question. She says, “It seems like ‘what it means’ is that absolutely no one can get away from being a human being. We must never separate spirituality from the rest of life.” Do you agree? Life on Earth, she said. Yeah, go ahead.
Carter: Do I agree? Yes, I agree. Yeah, absolutely agree. Absolutely agree, yeah, absolutely agree. As long as we’re here, this is what we’re dealing with, you know? That fully includes mystics in India; maybe they’ve gone into that world, and they’re going to sit by on a mountaintop or in a cave or whatever. Ramana Maharshi’s out in a cave for 15 years, and he went deep into that experience. I’m not saying that doesn’t have its own magnificence and beauty, but “A,” it’s very rare that that’s the path for someone, you know? And “B,” as long as we’re part of this culture and part of this world, everyone’s listening to this. Yeah, it’s like we’re part always part of the world, whatever we’re doing. We’re part of this culture. We’re part of this larger evolutionary process. Trying to draw a harsh line between the spiritual and the manifest world is a kind of a—
Rick: Yeah, so the next point under “how does mystical awakening blind as well as illuminate” is something I think we’ve already covered. Maybe we don’t want to talk more about it, but it’s a domain creep—assuming that someone is an expert in things that they’re not expert in simply because they have this spiritual realization and certain aura about them.
Carter: Yeah, this is a little more obvious thing. People do this in all areas. Sometimes when people become a super expert in any one area, they suddenly feel a lot more confidence about everything else. And that’s not always bad. A lot of our public intellectuals are public intellectuals because they were, like you said, Einstein. They had a breakthrough in one area. And then we asked them about everything else. Maybe there is wisdom there, but it doesn’t mean they know about everything else. And this is doubly or triply or ten times true in the spiritual world because it’s so foundational, like understanding that that experience of being is so foundational to being human. But then the temptation, “we really know a lot about all the other areas of life because we can see clearly now.” The clouds have gone and is incredibly tempting, you know, and, you know, and you see spiritual teachers sometimes all the time just opining on all this stuff. You’re just like, are you kidding me? I mean, it’s like, and it doesn’t, you know, it just, it just seems to go with the territory because we all opine on all a bunch of stuff all the time, but I guarantee they feel a lot more confident about it. Suddenly, like they have a special, you know, special knowledge, you know. And I usually see this all the freakin’ time, and it’s just like, it’s a funny thing, but it speaks to the deluding nature of what are even authentic realizations, right? You know, so it’s something to be aware of, you know, as I say here, I say, like, it’s like, it’s like that kind of—whatever the confidence that is derived from mystical attainment. It’s like, it just, it just, it’s like, it can’t be contained. It overflows its boundaries, you know. It can’t be contained, you know. And again, that’s the experience. That’s the reality. I think we can judge that that’s the reality of the experience because everyone seems to do it, but we can all like have a little bit of awareness of that, even maybe. And if we can all start to culturally have a slightly different relationship with all that, maybe even those people who have those experiences will have a different relationship to it.
Rick: I’ll tell you a funny story. So in the summer of ’76, I was in New Jersey because there was a court case there where the TM movement was trying to teach in the schools and the Christians were opposing it, so it had gone to court. And so Maharishi sent a small group of us to live in New Jersey, five of us. And John Gray of the Mars-Venus books was one of them, I was another, and we were living in this house. And so we set up this symposium-conference thing, and there was this physicist who was in the TM movement named Larry Domash, and he was supposed to speak, but the lawyers who were fighting the court case decided that he shouldn’t speak because it would entangle the university or something if he represented him, if he got up and spoke. So Johnny Gray gets up and gives this talk about physics. It must have gone on for 45 minutes or an hour, and it was complete gobbledygook. And I was just sitting there. I was the MC of the thing, and I should have just gotten one of those hooks and pulled him, but it was very embarrassing, and he was going on and on full of confidence. He was a very confident guy, and he had deep experiences and all. Sorry, Johnny, you’re probably not listening to this, but that was an example of that kind of thing. He just felt like he could do it.
Carter: Yeah, and I say that, sometimes I feel like I’m trying to take people’s candy away. But it doesn’t mean that spiritual illumination or experiences or awakenings can liberate us in the sense that it can’t liberate our ability to maybe have insights into our lives or other people’s lives or culture. It’s not that it can’t do that. It’s just that the idea that—but it’s just like, so often people can’t leave it at that. They just have to opine on everything under the sun, like with incredible confidence. And like the history of—I think the history of mystics’ statements about the world and the nature of it may be true if you’re meditating in a cave. But I think they probably—I remember reading about Eckhart Tolle when The Power of Now came out. I remember reading, and of course The Power of Now is a beautiful expression of a certain type of mysticism, and there’s an authenticity to his awakening. But it doesn’t mean he knows about evolution. It doesn’t mean he’s thought deeply about the nature of life in so many other ways. I remember reading some of the statements he made, it was just like, oh my God. It’s like, anyway. So it doesn’t mean he’s not authentic. It doesn’t mean he doesn’t have things to offer.
Rick: Yeah, but you wouldn’t want him to perform brain surgery on you or land a jumbo jet that you happen to be a passenger in. So, here’s another point. “We need to stop treating mystical truths, even the most beautiful and sublime, as beyond the scope of well-intentioned and respectful analysis. It does not deny or denude their glory to look at their revealed wisdom with a careful, critical eye.” I like that one.
Carter: Amen. Amen. Sometimes I write better than I speak, so I’ll leave it at that. Most of the time.
Rick: Well, the reason I like it is that I feel that there’s some mutual benefit to be had between an interface between science and spirituality. Spirituality could use more of the empirical, rigorous thinking of science, and science could use more of the depth of spirituality and stop being so materialistic in its orientation.
Carter: Well, I think one of the things that happens, and one of the reasons I wanted to write about this subject is because I kind of had a unique catbird seat in my role as the editor of that magazine because we were trying to analyze all these questions. And we were trying to have—we didn’t always succeed—but we were trying to look at all these things with a critical eye. But many people who look at spiritual realizations or mystical realizations with a critical eye are doing it from outside. So it’s like you have these outside people who are critical and have certain views of it, or you have people who are inside the church and they’re more just accepting of it all. And so we were inside the church, but then trying to look at it critically as well. So looking at it critically, but sympathetically as well. And I think trying to find that balance is something we need to do a lot more. Look at all the elements of inside our own church with a critical eye and not just defend it against the outside critics, if that makes sense. And so, I tried to do that. We tried to do that in the magazine. And that’s what I want to do here. And I think until we can do that, I just think we’re going to—we’re not going to have the cultural impact on spiritual seeking that will help mitigate a lot of the various disasters that have happened in this world.
Rick: And that ties in with science too, because true scientists welcome criticism. I mean the whole point of publishing a paper is for your peers to try to pick it apart and see if they can do so. And you tell them exactly how you conducted the experiment, and they can use the same equipment if they want to, and either confirm or refute your hypothesis. And that’s how knowledge progresses.
Carter: The modern world, really, this is something that wasn’t as true in the traditional world, I think. But in the modern world, religion, but in the modern world, that’s a gift of the modern—of modernity. That kind of open-ended criticism, self-criticism; that’s a gift of modernity. It doesn’t denude beauty of those things to be able to be critical. And that’s a gift of the modern world. And we should take that forward.
Rick: Yeah. One interesting thing is back in Shankara’s day, public debates were very much a part of the scene. People with different philosophical viewpoints would get up on a stage and debate one another, and it would be like a sporting event. And very often the tradition was that whoever won the debate, however that was judged, the other guy would become his disciple.
Carter: I remember that. I know. I’ve been told those stories too. I always wonder if that really happened quite like that. I know that’s the myth, but there was a tradition of debate in those days. In some of those high traditions in the Indian subcontinent, there was some extraordinary— There were obviously periods of cultural fluorescence that gave rise to some beautiful things like that.
Rick: Yeah, I think I was saying to you before we started recording that I wish we could do that more in our society, not only in spirituality perhaps, but with issues like climate change and gun control and abortion and all these things. Let the opposing parties, rather than just shouting from their respective siloed positions, get up on a stage with proper moderation and the opportunity to speak at length to present their issue, and then put it on CNN and Fox News and all the others, and let the public watch it and hear both sides. I think that would be really healthy.
Carter: Cool. Good.
Rick: Okay, finally, a fourth way in which mystical awakening can both illuminate and blind has to do with the quality of presence we often associate with realizers. I think that’s kind of a big one because there are some awakened people, or whatever they are, who walk into a room and it hits you like a blast furnace. You feel it. And you think, “Whoa, I’ve never met a person who could have that kind of influence just walking into a room.” And then one thing leads to the next, and anything that they say must be true because obviously they’re awesome.
Carter: Yeah. And again, here I was trying to make the point that, as I say, this sweetness and innocence and loving presence can be a powerful and delightful quality that may naturally arise as we inhabit the less distracted inner universe. And as consciousness becomes more transparent, the depths of being become more transparent to the self. That’s a beautiful quality, right? But that can have its own downsides. And again, I’m not saying it’s a bad thing. I’m just saying we should be awake to the problems that that can lead to. And I saw this in people. I saw this in my own teacher. It can lead us to become more convinced by the truth of what arises in our experience. This is a subtle point, but even as we become less just caught up in the passing of thoughts and feelings in our mind’s eye and in our inner world and we become even more present in the now, everyone wants to be in the present moment, right? Well, that has its own challenges, right? You become more present. You also can be more convinced if you have an insight. Well, the reality of that insight is just it arose. It didn’t arise from my thinking mind; it arose from its authenticity, the intuition. The ability to focus on your immediate little universe can be enhanced in ways that allow you to become more convinced of the reality of what arises in it and of your convictions and conclusions, right? So I say, “Even as we become less attached to the passing of thoughts and feelings in our mind’s eyes, we may become more attached to the perceived relevance of the insights that flow from our inner intuitions.” Again, that isn’t always a bad thing. It can be a really good thing. It can be beautiful. But it can definitely be deluding and lead us astray and make us much more confident in the quality and truth of those inner intuitions than we really have any right being. Ken Wilber talks about this: the myth of the given. The idea that what is given to our inner experience is real. And that can be a very powerful—I think that can be enhanced by spiritual awakening, not diminished.
Rick: Yeah, and just to dwell on that a little bit more, so there have been teachers obviously like Muktananda and Maharishi Mahesh Yogi himself and others who really have some Shakti pot, you know? You get in their immediate presence and your whole consciousness shifts. And that can be a real wake-up call. I mean it can be quite an eye-opener for people who have never experienced anything like that, that someone could have such a remarkable influence. And it tends to make you attribute all kinds of other credibility to that person. Someone who radiates that kind of influence must be so wise in every other respect and worthy of listening to or obeying and serving and so on.
Rick: It’s intoxicating. You want to be in the presence of such a person. I’ve seen people practically kill themselves driving like madmen trying to get close to Maharishi’s car and things like that.
Carter: Yeah, it can be very intoxicating, very beautiful. That can be a beautiful experience. And again, it’s a beautiful, beautiful thing. I remember my own teacher at times could have this kind of vulnerability that could be very intoxicating and beautiful. You know, it could be very powerful. And that vulnerability is something that you often don’t see in people. And it can also be an expression of it. But then I also saw at times, I saw how he could become very convinced of things that were in his immediate presence. And he would then start to discount other forms of knowledge that were really important to the situation. And in that discounting those other forms of knowledge, he made some big mistakes about people and about how he responded to things because of a certain type of vulnerability. It’s like, for a good reason, but those are some big mistakes because he was convinced of something because it was very real to him in that moment. And then I saw his ability to not be accountable to a previous experience because “that’s in the past.” It’s like what was real now is what was important. And it made him less able (not just with him, I saw this with other people) less able to be accountable. Not more able to be accountable and responsible to all of the choices he’d made, but less able to be accountable to the choices he made. And you see this with other teachers too. I read plenty of—in my trying to understand enlightenment, reading about other teachers and other people’s experience, you can see this as well. So these are delicate and complex questions. Again, we’re talking about deep polarities and trade-offs in the human psyche that are often in the service of some beautiful things. And we should acknowledge that and appreciate that. But don’t pretend that it doesn’t come with real-world consequences and trade-offs. And the more we can all be aware of that, the better we will do. If we just pretend, “Well, he must know because look at the vulnerability, look at that presence, therefore that must be true.” Well, maybe not.
Rick: Yeah, yeah. Okay, this next one is really juicy. “Does enlightenment select for psychological instability?” And sometimes I’ve wondered, “Does spiritual pursuit make you crazy, or are crazy people attracted to spiritual pursuits?” Maybe both.
Carter: Yeah, maybe both. I think we have to be a little bit aware of that.
Rick: Yeah. And you started out by mentioning that trauma and some forms of abuse, including sexual abuse, can be a catalyst or set the stage for a personality or psyche to have a propensity for spiritual, mystical, and paranormal experiences. The same is true with near-death experiences and psychedelics and a number of things that sort of disrupt our normal state of functioning in a rather abrupt way. So you want to comment on that?
Carter: Yeah. Sorry, but my cat has been sleeping here next to me for a while.
Rick: Oh, your famous cat. I heard about your cat in your book.
Carter: Oh, yeah, that’s another cat, actually. That cat died a couple of years ago.
Rick: Oh, yeah, that was a long time ago.
Carter: That was a cat I had for 17 years, very close to that cat. That cat was my companion through a lot of my spiritual life, and I sort of honor—that cat was a wonderful companion. Yeah, so this is a tricky, and all these are tricky and subtle, and this even more so. And I want to acknowledge that these are complex issues. I don’t want to pin anyone in any particular situation. But I think we have to answer the question. As some people have pointed out, and I know this at a certain point in my spiritual life, that some people who are most prone to— people made the connection, I think, between certain types of trauma, maybe as a child, and certain types of tendencies toward paranormal experiences, borderline issues, or you’re able to slip into other states of consciousness. Or sometimes I talk about one—if I can find—sorry, I’m using the wrong glasses. These are my reading glasses. Those are computer glasses. I talk about—”We can imagine how it might work. It seems that when normal ego or self-structures become dislodged or some type of trauma forces the self to protect itself by retreating into other parts of the internal universe, the doorway might open to another reality.” It’s like, oh, there’s an—I’m not so focused on this—the manifest world, the physical universe. I’m going to retreat into this other dimension a little bit. And that might open a doorway, and so we might be more familiar with other dimensions or other things that are happening. And so that might open us up to paranormal experiences or certain types of—I think that can happen. I said, “Some people survive a lightning strike, wake up to find a paranormal doorway open. Some have near-death experiences and find they’re more prone to spiritual states or paranormal experiences.” So I think it’s the same kind of thing. The same kind of thing can work in spiritual states of consciousness. We might be—and I saw this with different people. Sometimes people who maybe had a little less of an integrated sense of self could have very profound spiritual experiences. And as if they—the self-structure was a little more loose. They could have lots of experiences, a little more maybe a stable, integrated self-structure, but it could flip over into lots of different experiences. But they could also flip into very profound states of consciousness. And they might be more prone, more vulnerable, to those states of consciousness. And there’s nothing wrong with that. That can be a wonderful thing. I’m not in any way saying that that is a bad thing. It could be a beautiful thing. But I think we have to realize that it’s not all—again, there might be types of psychological traces in the character that make us more prone to mystical experiences and make us more prone to those experiences becoming semi-permanent or permanent. And I think this is a whole area to be investigated, and we should be curious about. But so again, that’s not to impune anyone who has those experiences because that can be a wonderful thing. It’s just there’s this kind of mythos that the person most prone to enlightenment experiences is the most highly evolved person. And they’re right on the edge there and they’re just going to flip over into that enlightenment experiences because their karma has taken them to this point. Well, no, that may not be true at all. And I think we need to kind of reevaluate all this a little bit. And I just think it could be the opposite of that in the sense that people who have a lot of trauma also might be very prone. And again, I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. I’m just saying we have to—it can be a good thing. We have to look at all this honestly and look at our own self-structures and other people’s self-structures. And when we see someone who’s in an altered state of consciousness or seems to have some access to some deeper realization, it might not be because they have this incredibly—they may have a beautiful gift to share, but that gift may not have to do with a healthy, integrated sense of self. And so I just think these are complex questions, and we need to ask them. But we need not be overly simplistic about these kind of mythologies that we’ve been raised with, you know, or the East meets West spiritual world.
Rick: I forget who said it. Maybe many people have said it, but I’ve heard it said that you have to develop a healthy ego before you can transcend your ego. And—
Carter: That was, I think, Jack Engler, right?
Rick: Might have been. I don’t know. But you—
Carter: I actually think he’s wrong. I mean, I think he—no, maybe that’s ideal, but I think the opposite happens for a lot of people.
Rick: Right, but if we employ the principle of safety first, I think it’s good advice because there have been so many train wrecks among spiritual practitioners. I participated in long courses—three months, six months of long meditation—and there were a lot of freak outs. There were some suicides. It was quite a scene at times.
Carter: Yeah, exactly.
Rick: And I myself, I became very kooky and weird and disintegrated and idiosyncratic and obsessive and all kinds of stuff. And it took a long period of time afterwards to stabilize and integrate what I had experienced.
Carter: I did a lot of long retreats. I have this unique ability, we all do, of watching hundreds of people do deep spiritual retreats and work and watch their experiences and watch their personalities, how long those experiences lasted, how they lasted, how they integrated them, what types of self tended to have what types of experience. I got a chance to just have this incredible laboratory and watch all this happen as well as my relationship with my own teacher. And just so I think these are all really interesting and open questions, and I just think we need to—the simplistic narrative of some linear path up to the top of the mountain, it’s just sort of absurd. In a sophisticated, psychological, informed world, we have to ask all these questions about the nature of realization and the nature of what it means. I use an example. Eckhart Tolle and Byron Katie are just kind of two examples of teachers. Obviously, people have gotten a lot of value out of their teaching. I’m not saying there’s not real value in the way they teach or something, right? But if I’m—I haven’t read in a while their stories.
Rick: They both had some kind of breakdown before they had a breakthrough.
Carter: If I’m remembering their stories, well I think I am, they both had a breakdown.
Rick: Byron Katie was in some kind of halfway house or something, and Eckhart Tolle was contemplating suicide.
Carter: Thank you. Suicidal ideation was part of the vehicle for their awakening. So these weren’t just like—so again that doesn’t mean their awakening doesn’t have value. It just means that the self-structure that had that awakening might not be the self-structure we want to aspire to either. And maybe it was right for them. I’m glad that that happened to them. I’m glad that they’re able to turn that—those issues that they had—into something that is valuable. But it doesn’t mean they represent the pinnacle of human evolution of the self. I mean, come on.
Rick: No, and I also don’t think it means that people have to be on the verge of psychological breakdown in order to be eligible for a spiritual breakthrough. As a matter of fact, I think it can be gone about in such a way that—well, responsible spiritual teachers these days and also responsible psychedelic therapists screen people pretty carefully before letting them get involved. Because if they’re unstable to begin with, the last thing they need is a long meditation retreat or psychedelics or something. It can really put them over the edge. And I think one way of looking at it is we all have our conditioning, and many people are just deeply conditioned. The impressions are very deeply ingrained, and they’re pretty well locked into their personality, and they don’t even contemplate spirituality. But if we’re going to transition from that condition to an enlightened state, there’s a whole lot of internal reconfiguration that’s going to have to take place. A whole lot of purification and elimination of samskaras and modification of the nervous system and whatever may be going on with the chakras and all that stuff. A whole makeover has to take place. And that can be very disruptive when you’re going through the process of it. So I think the key thing is to find ways, and maybe different teachers have found them to differing degrees of success, of facilitating all that transformation without causing damage or without causing psychological instability or breakdown. There is going to be some instability, I think, as you go through. On a long course, you’re kind of like Jell-O that hasn’t molded, and you could mold into the wrong shape if you’re not careful. But we’re talking about a radical transformation of our mind-body system, of our nervous system, of our subtle body, and that can easily tip over into psychological instability, and it has to be handled very carefully.
Carter: All development and evolution involves some level of instability with what came before, right? So that is its own challenge, independent of what I, sort of, the point I was trying to make. That’s its own challenge. I think that’s true individually and culturally, too, right? It’s like you want to—one of the great challenges of cultural evolution is like we want to imagine utopias and how we should be. The challenge is to evolve culturally in ways that make things better without making them worse at the same time. Because the history of trying to make things better has a lot of making things a lot worse at the same time, you know? Sometimes much more worse than you made them better, you know? And yet we still have to try to move things forward, and in terms of the evolution of the self, I think it’s the same thing. Where inevitably when you try to reach forward, when you try to reach beyond, you’re introducing an instability to the system. And inevitably that has its own challenges, and we have to be kind of ready for those and understand those, you know?
Carter: Yeah, that’s a good point. In fact, the cultural thing is a nice analogy, if not an actual example of the point I was trying to make, which is that— Let’s say we can envision a much more ideal society than the one we live in, in which we don’t have all this environmental degradation, and agriculture is done in a holistic and organic and wholesome way, and medical systems are much more enlightened, and all sorts of things. But, as it is now, we have deeply entrenched, multi-billion dollar industries representing all these areas who are not going to just turn on a dime. And so how do we get from here to there? Let’s say that it’s inevitable we’re going to get there. Do those industries have to collapse, and does there have to be economic upheaval and unemployment and a depression and all that? Or is there a way of going from here to there in a much more willing and conscious way in which things can evolve? But you see, what people tend to do is they tend to resist. The fossil fuel industries have known for decades that their product was going to create the kind of disaster we’re now beginning to experience, but they were looking at the next quarterly bottom line and didn’t want to change. I’m getting off on a bit of a rant here, but…
Carter: I think when we talk about cultural evolution, I just think—one of the things I talk about in Evolutionaries is that it’s easy to imagine perfect worlds. And then we try to enact them, and unless we understand where we came from, unless we understand more about where we’ve come from, it’s easy for those imagined perfect worlds to cause all kinds of problems in the getting from here to there, right? And utopias don’t have a very good history in terms of enacting cultural evolution. Quite the opposite. They can fuck it up, right? So there’s this beautiful—As I often say, we need more evolution, less revolution. Often a revolution is, as I say, sometimes people reach for revolution when they’ve lost faith in the evolutionary process, that we can move things forward. We can’t just make the world anew. We have to work with what we’ve got. Without being trapped or stuck in history, we have to work with what we’ve got to make a better—to continue to evolve. But we can’t just remake the world anew, and I think that’s true of individual evolution, that’s true of cultural evolution. And there’s this idea I love in cultural evolution called the adjacent possible, which is it comes from an evolutionary theorist named Stuart Kaufman, which means that what is possible in our evolutionary moment that’s adjacent to the space we’re in right now, like as an individual or as a collective, as a culture, what’s in our adjacent possible? As I often say, for me to go bench press 500 pounds is not in my adjacent possible. It’s not adjacent to where I am right now. Maybe in the future I could do that, way in the future. But there are certain types of evolution or change that are in my adjacent possible. So understanding the difference between the adjacent possible and what some imagined future is is critical to successful development, both individually and culturally. And so that’s an important thing when we really want to care. We really care about evolution and not just imagining some future that we may or may not be able to achieve and may cause a disaster in the meantime.
Rick: Yeah, I interviewed Rhonda Byrne who did The Secret, and at one point towards the beginning of the interview, I said, “So you mean if I want to play basketball as well as LeBron James, despite the fact that I’m in my 70s and I’m only 5’10,”
Carter: It’s not your adjacent possible.
Rick: “If I want it bad enough, could I have it?” And she was kind of like going into her thing, “Yeah, yeah, if you want it bad enough.” I didn’t say it, but I was going to say, “Well, that’s what gives The Secret a bad name.”
Carter: You think? Anyway, it’s like any sense of limitation. It’s again, yeah, it’s all another question.
Rick: Here’s a question from Irene (a statement): “Perhaps it is more the surrender than the imbalance that brings about the awakening. The extreme hardships bring one to a state of complete surrender, which often precludes profound awakenings, precedes perhaps profound awakenings. That surrender can happen from things other than hardships and bring about the same results, such as a fervent yearning for God or years of meditation or service to others, etc.” But I guess what she’s saying is that whatever can bring about the appropriate degree of surrender could be a trigger for or a catalyst for awakening.
Carter: I think that’s what Byron Katie or Eckhart Tolle would say in that situation, and I think it’s true in some sense, but it doesn’t change my point.
Rick: Yeah, okay. I have this friend named Rob McCutcheon, whom I sent you an email about the other day, and he read your paper, and he was a professor at a university in the Pacific Northwest, and he was at one time Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s personal secretary back in the early ’70s and got rather disillusioned. But he still maintains a belief that enlightenment could actually resolve all problems of the ego and make us better at dealing with life’s vicissitudes. And so he disagreed with some of the premises of your paper, and maybe I could go through them and you could comment a little bit.
Carter: Sure. I think he disagreed with the entire premise of my paper.
Rick: Yeah, pretty much. Idealistically, if we could see examples of enlightenment in our current time which live up to the historical hype, we could agree with all these things, but the proof of the pudding is in the eating, you know?
Carter: No, we need to realize that in a psychologically sophisticated world in which we understand the nature of the personality much better, in a world in which we understand the nature of the cultural evolution, the cultural forces that are impacting our self-structure, evolutionary psychology, all of these, there’s so many elements of knowledge that we understand now. We need to appreciate that the idea of some perfect enlightenment as the pinnacle of human evolution and the top of the mountain is absurd, prima facie. It’s just absurd. It doesn’t mean there’s not tremendous beauty and power and awesome realizations that can be transformative and can put the wind in the sails of our personal and collective evolution. It’s beautiful, but the idea of the kind of perfect enlightened figure who only acts out of spirit or something, I just think that that’s a kind of a myth that we need to put aside. And then, so we can deal with the beauty of awakening on its own terms and all the benefits of it and all the power of it, you know?
Rick: Yeah. My next guest on Bat Gap is a guy named Bob Harwood, and I just finished listening to his book. And he went through years and years and years of really intense seeking and long Zen retreats and things like that, and he eventually, like 25 years ago or so, had a profound spiritual breakthrough that has abided ever since. And he feels like his life is just an effortless flow and he has no problems, but that is not to say that he doesn’t have many human emotions and might get angry or this or that or the other thing. I think it’s just a matter of understanding what is meant by this idea of perfection. Jesus said, “Be ye therefore perfect.” If God is running the universe, then the universe is perfect, but still, asteroids crash into inhabited planets and stars blow up and all kinds of violent stuff happens, which in the big picture, I guess, is perfect. But it doesn’t seem perfect to those who are suffering the consequences.
Carter: Yeah. I guess if we define perfection in some totally zoomed out way, we could say it’s all just perfection. And that’s okay. We can say that. But as long as we zoom back in a little bit and we’re talking about the actual development of the human character and soul and culture over millennia and the nature of personality and self-structures and psychological structures, perfection is kind of a silly concept. But it doesn’t mean that people can have beautiful awakenings like your friends and express those in beautiful ways. And that doesn’t mean they can’t be a beautiful expression of a human being. And that’s awesome. That’s fine. I don’t have any disagreement with that. But I think if we start assuming “wow, everything fundamentally I do is an expression of spirit and I’m just an empty vessel.” None of us are empty vessels. We all bring stuff to the party. That’s a beautiful thing. But if we think we’re just empty vessels and that this is not being refracted through the strengths and weaknesses and inevitable imperfections of our human character, then we’re deluded. It doesn’t mean that we’re not expressing spirit in some beautiful way and in maybe a profound way. But that’s mine.
Carter: Yeah, well, Rob has a bunch more points here, but we only have about 10 minutes left. I also want to mention an essay that a friend of mine named Jerry Freeman wrote, which I sent to you called “Why There are No Perfect Teachers.” And he made some interesting points, but a lot of times people say that they’ve totally lost all sense of a personal self. And like we were talking about this earlier, and that everything they do is just sort of on automatic. Jerry contends, and actually has some scriptural references to back it up, that no matter how enlightened a person may be, there must remain a kernel of individuality. That as long as you have a human body, there must remain some sense of “the little me.” It might be more abstract and not be experienced as the center of one’s being, but it has to be there if you want to actually function as a human being. At least that’s the way it seems to me. Do you agree with that?
Carter: Yeah, if we want to do anything in the world, you need a self and a personality and a self-structure, and you need this whole body-mind thing. And people might be able to get into states where they’re so focused on some transcendent sense of self that it seems to overwhelm them. And it seems to be all that is. I am that. And maybe if you’re Ramana Maharshi and you’re just living in a cave for 15 years, maybe that sense of the personal world and the personal self-structure becomes so diminished, so small relative to that— But if you want to do anything in the world, anytime we get up and do anything and talk and think, it’s refracted through this self-structure, and it’s inevitably. So understanding the nature of that kind of self-structure and the way it might refract something like that is rather important, much more important than pretending it’s irrelevant.
Rick: Yeah, and with Ramana, like when he was dying of cancer, for instance, pain was being experienced in that body.
Carter: Ramana had all kinds of ideas about culture and style, were they accurate? Well, from his point of view, he expressed a certain point of view with great integrity and beauty, right? Does that mean that’s the point of view we all should embrace? No. Do I agree with him on that? No. He thought his cow was enlightened, right? That was kind of part of his thing. It doesn’t diminish the majesty of these realizers to be able to critical or to say that doesn’t make any sense. Or to say that they didn’t know everything about everything. It seems funny to even say that, but people actually think stuff like that. So, I mean, my spiritual hero is kind of—I’m going to get a picture of him, I don’t have the picture yet—Sri Aurobindo, who live at the same time as Ramana Maharishi and had a whole different vision of what the spiritual life was than Ramana. But that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate Ramana. I wrote about Ramana in my book. He’s a beautiful expression of mysticism and enlightenment, not one that’s available to most people and not one that most people are going to pursue. But he’s a beautiful example of something. And we can honor that without putting him on almost an absurd pedestal. We can put on a beautiful pedestal. We don’t have to pretend that therefore every word that drops out of his lips is some magical incantation of truth about the nature of reality in all its forms for all times. People get into silly things.
Rick: Yeah, there’s a term in Vedanta called “lesh avidya,” which means “faint remains of ignorance.” And it’s said that you actually need that in order to attain Brahman. Here’s a quote: “What lesh avidya does is create a separation in the state of unity, and it is this separation that is responsible for the emergence of Brahman, Brahman being the whole, which is more than the collection of parts. So unless unity is in parts, that wholeness of Brahman will not be created.” And there’s a verse from the Brahma Sutras which goes, “But only those former karmas whose effects have not yet begun are destroyed by knowledge.” And what that means is that those actions whose effects have begun and whose results have been half enjoyed are not destroyed by the knowledge of enlightenment. And those are the very karmas to which there is due the present state of existence in which the knowledge of Brahman arises. That was a direct quote from Shankara. So in other words, these people are saying that we actually need imperfections in order to attain and live a high state of realization, which might be called Brahman consciousness. And that actually we’re going to retain some of those imperfections as long as we have a body. And that will be reflected in certain behaviors which may not seem ideal, even though we are presumably enlightened.
Carter: I think that is probably, in a very traditional mystical context (of which Shankara was), I think that’s probably a way of trying to capture some of these truths in maybe that limited frame. I think we can do better today because we have a lot more understanding. It doesn’t mean there’s not profound truth there, but I think we can fill in some of those elements. At least we can add to that knowledge because of our understanding of psychology, because of our understanding of culture in ways that may, our evolution, in ways that maybe they didn’t have access to. It doesn’t mean there aren’t some profound truths there, but I just think we can add to those.
Rick: Yeah, always. I don’t think there ever will come a time at which we cannot add to what we know or experience.
Carter: But yeah, sometimes it’s funny that people—
Rick: What’s the cat’s name?
Carter: This is Piper.
Rick: Piper. I have some old videos of cats that are walking in front of me.
Carter: I love cats.
Rick: Yeah, me too.
Carter: Anyway, I forgot what I was saying.
Rick: Well, okay, no problem. So let’s make some grand, sweeping, overarching concluding points. You go. What would you like to say?
Carter: Yeah, well I think I did this. I’ve written a lot of different things over the years, and I just think I wanted to make this statement. It made me all expand on this paper. This paper probably needs a lot more expansion, ultimately. But I wanted to get down some thoughts. I got the opportunity to be very close to my own teacher and watch him over 20 years. But to look at the history of mysticism and to interview and engage with communities and mystical teachers and mystics and in every tradition and over a period of a long period of time, it was just a very unusual opportunity to be inside something I loved. At that point in my life, I was so committed to that world to try to understand it. And I think to be able to then step back, and we need to again ask hard questions about some of the myths that we grew up with—that I grew up with—in these worlds and that a lot of people still hold on to that don’t really make sense. And that have caused a lot of human suffering because teachers and students held to them, and they don’t really withstand a lot of careful scrutiny. And we can do that from a position of cynicism, or of like “this is all not as important as I once thought it was.” Or we can do that from a position of appreciation and love for a lot of these types of practices and types of seeking and types of communal engagements, and that can be very profound. But they need a serious dose of questioning a lot of conclusions. And look, when I was 22, maybe I would have just said, “No, I’m going to do this. I’m going to learn the hard way everything.” Of course, a lot of people are going to do that. That’s fine. But I do think there’s still the myths that surround the modern postmodern idea of enlightenment and mysticism are pernicious and strong and need to be questioned as maybe some embedded truths but also very partial truths. And maybe important truths but not complete and whole and entire truths. And I saw that was my purpose of the paper to kind of push that forward open up that question, and to get inside these and say this. We need to pursue this. I hope maybe at some point I’ll write about it more, but I saw how relatively subtle distinctions and problems and confusions caused a lot of human suffering. And it’s more than just “so and so was a bad person and did bad things.” These are good people who tried hard to do the right thing and did really messed up things because of these confusions. So that’s what we’ve got to pursue.
Rick: That’s really good. And I just want to say from my own experience, most of the people listening to this show, I would say, are spiritual seekers or aspirants. They’re interested in the topic obviously, or they wouldn’t be listening. And I interact with a lot of people, and I see examples of people sort of being blindly enamored of and obedient to spiritual teachers, and then eventually getting disillusioned and becoming cynical and losing interest in the spiritual endeavor altogether. And in my own case, I have been through both those phases, but these days I’m as gung-ho as I ever was about spirituality, which is very gung-ho. It’s my primary focus in life, and I would say that it’s genuine. It’s worth pursuing, and keep on trucking. And at the same time, all the stuff you said about using your intellect, being discriminating, questioning, and don’t take things on faith, and anything that’s worth its merit should be testable and questionable, and any teacher who’s worth his salt should be open to testing and questioning and happy to answer skeptical questions and open to constructive criticism, and so on. So we can be mature about all this stuff and not be sort of bug-eyed cult zombies who just go along with the group think.
Carter: And authentic, beautiful, genuine, authentic realizations can contain within them. Don’t remove the possibility of mistakes and problematic views and all of that. So sometimes people will say, “I know it’s authentic. Well therefore then I can kind of release my certain types of maybe critical awareness.” No, it can be beautifully authentic, but that doesn’t mean that we all don’t have to be awake still and very aware of what’s happening And the nature of human personality, which is great—I’m not saying it’s all a zero-sum, not at all. But great strengths in any area often come with significant weaknesses. And that tendency of the human personality doesn’t end at the doorway of mysticism. Quite the opposite. It can be also true there.
Rick: Yeah, so in a very real sense, the spiritual path is a razor’s edge, and you have to tread it very carefully and continually scrutinize yourself, your teacher, the teachings, and not to be just shooting down everything. I mean, a lot of it can—
Carter: Yeah, or always suspicious or anything.
Rick: Yeah, no, not like that. But again, any teacher or teaching that is genuine is open to scrutiny, and a good teacher, I think, will welcome scrutiny, and a good teaching can stand up to scrutiny.
Carter: Well, I hope that’s true. I think there’s a lot of authentic teachers that aren’t probably as open to scrutiny as they should be.
Carter: That’s the challenge. I think that can be true.
Rick: Yeah. Not that you want to sit in the audience and badger the teacher constantly.
Carter: This is not about being overly critical or cynical or suspicious or anything like that. Again, we’re trying to walk that line.
Rick: Right. But if something unhealthy starts to crop up, you see the teacher selling dirt from the ground that he walked on or something like that or having his feet kissed or something, then…
Carter: There’s a lot of ways that I suppose that these kinds of things can manifest in gross ways that we all probably should be awake to. And some of us gave our teachers way too much latitude. Myself, I fully confess that I did.
Rick: And it’s incremental. It’s the old frog in the heating pot thing.
Rick: I’m just saying it’s incremental. It creeps up on you. It’s the old frog in the heating water thing. And that’s why you need scrutiny at every step of the way. Because if you sit there and keep excusing it, then you end up excusing more and more egregious violations.
Carter: Yeah. And things can be subtle, but they ultimately those subtle problems and mistakes can be profound. And I think the best way to inoculate ourselves against maybe some of the more grosser abuses of this kind of thing is for the whole culture around these kinds of pursuits to evolve. The whole conversation to evolve. And I feel like the more that can happen, the better off we’ll all be. And ultimately that’s what I was trying to help—maybe inject another element into this whole conversation that we’re having and that you’re pursuing in this podcast. Because there’s always dangers when we get involved in any extreme pursuits. That’s just part of it. But that goes with it. But I think the best way to maybe mitigate against some of those dangers is to uplevel the whole culture around it.
Rick: Yeah. And I’m not trying to have the last word here, but I just keep having ideas. When you mentioned culture, it brings me back to why I think spirituality is important in the larger sense. It’s not just for personal edification. It’s critical for the evolution of society, I think. And for perhaps the survival of the human race. I think we really need a dose of the best of what spirituality has to offer in order to continue as a species.
Carter: Yeah, I think that there are gifts in these dimensions. Again, we’ve been mostly talking about the idea of enlightenment and mysticism and non-duality, and there are so many expressions of spirituality and the religious impulse that go well beyond that that aren’t just that. So, I don’t mean to limit it to that, but there are tremendous gifts to be had in these pursuits. And I think those gifts will be much more significant and useful if we they come with less of the mistakes and burdens and disasters that they have come with in some form. And the way to do that is not to reject them altogether or to pretend that that’s not true. It’s to face into that and continue to evolve how we think about these areas of life and how we relate to them so that we’ll all be better. It’s a little bit like I’ve got interested in psychedelics recently. You see, the conversation around psychedelics that continues to evolve, it’s very different than it was in 1965. And I think that probably helps all kinds of people have better experiences. It doesn’t inoculate any chain. It’s still challenging. It can be dangerous. It can be all kinds of things. But as the conversations evolve, that’s probably helped evolve people’s experience of engaging in those modalities. And the same in this area. I think that ideally it would.
Rick: Yeah. As George Harrison’s saying “with every mistake, we must surely be learning.”
Carter: I think that he expressed in that beauty of hope, but the fear that it might not be true. Surely, surely, let’s hope. But we all must hope for that.
Rick: Well, thanks Carter. I really enjoyed not only this conversation, but the last couple of weeks of reading your book and thinking about the things you have to say. It’s been a lot of fun. And if people have enjoyed this interview, what do you have to offer? Anything in a public sense? Do you do retreats or webinars or you have a podcast? I don’t do many. I don’t really do a lot of teaching, but if I do at some point in the future, you can always get, I have a mailing list at CarterPhipps.com, and I do writings. I have a think tank that I’m part of. I’m probably going to do more of my own writing going forward. But, and who knows? Maybe I’ll do some kind of group things or teaching things or maybe I will at some point, but I don’t really do much of that. I don’t do any of that now, really. But you can always get my list. I have a podcast. Whatever the latest I’m doing, if you get on that list, you’ll find out about it.
Rick: Well, we’ll just all wait for the emergence of Sri Sri Carter Phipps Anandaji.
Carter: Yes, exactly.
Rick: Coming on clouds of glory.
Carter: Trailing clouds of glory. Do we come from God who is our home, right? Isn’t that Wordsworth?
Rick: Oh yeah, there you go. I knew that clouds of glory was in there somewhere.
Carter: Yeah, that’s Wordsworth, good.
Rick: Yeah, so thanks a lot. And thanks to those who’ve been listening or watching. And as I mentioned, my next guest is a fellow named Bob Harwood, who wrote a book called Pouring Concrete because that’s what he has done for a living. He’s a construction contractor, who at the same time was an avid spiritual seeker, and it paid off for him. I don’t know if he’s retired. He may still be pouring concrete. No, he’s 80 years old. I think he stopped pouring it. But it’s a great story, and it was a really down-to-earth book. I didn’t space out in the slightest while listening to it because he has very interesting examples. So those of you who are relatively new to BatGap, if you want to visit the website, there’s a lot there. You can just explore the menus, and you’ll see what’s there. But there’s an audio podcast you can sign up for and various ways of accessing Pat’s interviews. And there’s a quotes collection. There’s transcripts of most of the interviews. All kinds of things. So just check it out, and I appreciate your participation. Thanks, Carter.
Carter: Thanks so much. Thanks for taking the time to really deeply explore the subject matter. I appreciate that.
Rick: A lot of fun.
Carter: All right.
Rick: All right. Talk to you later.