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Rick Archer: Welcome to Buddha at the Gas Pump. My name is Rick Archer. Buddha at the Gas Pump is an ongoing series of interviews with spiritually Awakening people. I say that because this may be the first one you’ve watched, although most viewers have watched many, but if it is your first then feel free to go to batgap.com Bat gap. And check out the past interviews menu where you’ll find 320 Something previous ones all categorized in various ways. You’ll also see a donate button there on the site, which we very much appreciate people clicking on if they feel moved to do so because it supports this whole project and enables us to keep it going. My guest today is John Astin, John is the author of three collections of poetic and prose reflections on the non dual nature of reality, to intimate for words. This is always enough and searching for rain and a monsoon. He is presently at work on a new book, it’s not what you think it is Reflections on the inconceivable nature of reality. Along with his writing and teaching, John is also a singer, songwriter and recording artists who since 1987, has produced seven CDs of original spiritual, contemplative music, including his most recent release, what we’ve all watched what we’ve always been, John is a musician and sings and plays guitar. And he’s released a number of CDs of his songs. So in the course of this conversation, we may segue into a song which will splice in later on in post production, so that we won’t be introducing it, but we’ll just cut to a song that probably that pertains to something we’ve just been talking about. So if we do that, don’t be surprised enjoy the song and then our conversation will continue. Thanks. In addition to his writing and music, John also holds a PhD in health psychology and is an internationally acclaimed scholar in the field of mind body medicine, his research focusing on the applications of meditative contemplative practices in psychology and healthcare. And John’s website is John astin.com as ti n. So, John, you’re kind of a renaissance man or something.
John Astin: That’s probably a good way to put it.
Rick Archer: Yeah, finger in many pies.
John Astin: Yes, I’m a dabbler
Rick Archer: but not a dilettante.
John Astin: Hopefully not. At some time.
Rick Archer: For the non English speaking viewers dilettante means a superficial dabbler. But John’s a deep dabbler.
John Astin: sounds good. Yeah. I seem to have a lot of diverse interests, even if they’re seem connected within myself. So keeps like pristine?
Rick Archer: Does. I’m kind of like that, too. Although I’m sort of fanatical about the spiritual stuff.
John Astin: I’m kind of with you. They’re
Rick Archer: kind of all. That’s the hub of the wheel.
John Astin: Yeah.
Rick Archer: Yeah. So let’s cover it all. John, usually, it’s good to start with some kind of chronology, you know, of how you first got interested in spirituality and what what are some of your major milestones, and I think that might be a good place to start?
John Astin: Sure. Say a little bit about that. Raised very non religiously, thought of myself as atheist as a teenager, and remember getting in arguments with my brother at the time who had become a born again, Christian brother, my younger brother, although he he didn’t end up remaining in that for more than a couple years. But I felt pretty convinced that I just had kind of a materialistic view of life and the notions of God seem to not answer the question I remember when getting in some of these arguments with believers, and they would talk about well, you know, God created everything. And my response was often well, what created God somehow that it was like a cop out answer somehow, in some respects, I sort of still feel the same way. It doesn’t actually really answer the question. Where did it all begin? So we I was, went to college at Berkeley initially and wanted to change the world was very politically active and that was really my focus and a very of life altering conversation happened with a friend who fellow political activist and we were sitting outside and I had become disenchanted with what I was observing and a lot of political activism which felt like a Um, people sort of not walking the talk and the sense of speaking a lot about harmony and connection and love and healing the world. But there was a lot of anger and a lot of vitriol and a lot of posturing. And I something was like, not connecting for me there. And I felt sort of disenchanted with that. So I was speaking with my friend, and she said, Well, John, they don’t understand most people don’t understand something very fundamental, which is the real transformation happens within ourselves. And I never really thought of that ever, in my 19 years of life. And that one little phrase sort of went off like a time bomb, ad. And I think it played a major role in kind of setting me on this journey of self exploration, self discovery, and I had a good friend who we’ve had this very kind of parallel journey. And we started having conversations and sort of tracking one another’s experiences and investigations, and both kind of at the same time happened upon Eastern religions and meditation, and I don’t really, I didn’t seek any of that out, it was like, it just sort of came in, into my field. And I got very interested in passionate about, about it, and my kind of major introduction into that whole world was Yogananda’s teachings, and
Rick Archer: Incidentally just before we get off the activism thing, you know, you’re probably aware of this, but these days, their spiritual activism is becoming a sort of a buzzword, and people like Andrew Harvey and Adam Bucko. And, and others who are kind of putting their money where their mouth is, in terms of feeling like their activism, their spirituality should be applied in some kind of meaningful way in the world. And, and, you know, I was a little older than you, I think, and, you know, but back in the day I, late 60s, early 70s, I was meditating and, and there were these activists and, you know, marching on against the Vietnam War and stuff and, and I perceive what you perceive, which was there, there’s a lot of anger and egotism and stuff, and I thought, they’re not going to create world peace, they need to sort of become peaceful within themselves. But I’m sure they were thinking of me, if they’re aware of me at all, he’s not going to accomplish anything sitting on his butt. But these days, and other people who are sort of feeling like you really need to have both in order for it to be effective.
John Astin: Yeah, yeah, no, I mean, that makes a lot of sense. I mean, particularly if you’re drawn to being much more kind of politically kind of socially engaged in those kinds of those kinds of areas. So I got introduced to yogena and his teachings and was just completely enamored with the whole world of yoga and meditation and I just dove headfirst I became a student of, of his, you know, he had, of course, passed on, but really, really a serious student and, and I, it became such a focus, and I guess, obsession with sense meditating hours, every day that I felt inside myself that I, I dropped out of college, by the way, at this point, to pursue these other interests, which I felt were not getting fed and university studies. And
Rick Archer: the time that you’re going on this meditation, as you’re practicing, it was gratifying enough as to be able to absorb your your attention for hours at a time, it sounds like you must have really been getting into it, because if we weren’t there, it would have been hard to sit there that long.
John Astin: It was very hard to say. Yeah, I’ve probably kind of will touch on it probably in other ways, too. But I, in some respects, I didn’t really care for meditation that much, even though I, I felt I was finding benefits from it, I would have kind of periodic moments of what I would call sort of breakthrough understandings and a sense of sort of peace and bliss. But most of the time, it was pretty difficult. And I struggled with concentration even when I took up other practices. Later on that had a kind of a concentration mind control sort of element to them. I I found was I kept doing them. I think as much out of some sense that I had to do this in order to realize what I wanted to realize more than why I really love this. I can’t wait for the next meditation is rarely I have friends who are like that they can’t wait to go and sit for 12 hours a day. And I’m not one of those people.
Rick Archer: That but it’s not 12
John Astin: That’s a little too long.
Rick Archer: I haven’t done that. But these days, less than that.
John Astin: Yeah. So I at that time, I thought that’s all I wanted was was that and it was very felt very single pointed and I toyed very seriously with becoming a monk and you Within his order, and which I thought I had lost all desire for anything else for relationship for children, for sex, the whole nine yards. And that turned out to not really be the case was revealed shortly thereafter, when I decided not to become a monk and fell in love, like, very quickly after that, I was like, Well, I guess I’m not done with with that very human thing. And I stayed involved with Yogananda’s teachings, I, I ended up leaving that whole world. You know, the whole question of how I was, how I stepped away from different teachings that I became involved with is kind of a whole thing unto itself. But I’ll suffice it to say that I experienced an aspect of the yoga tradition as it was taught within his tradition, his teaching, that felt somewhat repressive, somewhat suppressive of our humaneness is very much and you’re familiar with the yoga traditions, I, I heard it as very much a kind of, you know, the, the lower shock was a lower energies, these very human longings and desires are somehow Well, nothing short of evil, and need to be risen above and transcended. And at first, I was attracted to that. And then I started to feel something felt not quite integrated about that. And I also wanted to teach meditation because I thought it was beneficial. And I was, you know, as much as I may have struggled with it, I also saw the value of it. And I couldn’t do that within the context of his teachings. So I end up gravitating towards more of a mindfulness kind of Buddhist orientation. And I was also becoming aware at the same time having returned to school and wanting to study meditation, since that’s what I was most interested in, that some of these mindfulness practices were starting to garner a lot of attention among researchers, and that all kind of coincided with my kind of eventually going to graduate school and, and starting to do research on on meditation at that time. I also felt something within that kind of Buddhist Vipassana mindfulness tradition that felt much more embracing of the whole of us, the whole, our whole, whole, the whole thing, all of our humaneness, and not sort of leaving any of it to the side not. So that was very attractive to me, it felt truer somehow. And so I continue to be pretty devoted to meditation. Started, as I said, started studying it academically doing research on it. And you know, within the courts, all the contemplative traditions, there’s this very strong, non dual theme. I mean, it’s there. I saw it in Yogananda, particularly in some some of his writings. But his path was also a very devotional one that had a strong kind of dualistic feel to it as well. But I always love that non dual piece. But in some sense, I. Well, I clearly didn’t completely get it experientially, what what that was all about. And I had been Ken Wilber had become kind of an intellectual mentor, and I got to know him and was one of the founders of his integral Institute way back in the 90s. And Ken, at the time, was speaking very highly of this, this guy, Andrew Koan, and I’ve never heard of them. But I really respected Ken a lot. So I said, let me check this guy out. So started reading some of his stuff. And something about it was very compelling. And I went on a retreat with him in 2000. And that was a very sort of watershed moment for me, in my own journey of maturation. And development I was playing was a five day retreat, and very early on. There was a was actually a very cool kind of way that this happened. I don’t know. These things, you know, I don’t think they can really be explained in rational terms necessarily how they come about, but it was just good, good timing, I guess. It’s Grace, whatever, some combination. And I was sitting in this meditation and he had shared something earlier about something that his teacher Papaji had said to him when he said to Andrew, and come back to see him in India, and he said to Andrew, I’m so happy that you found the friend that you’ll never see. That’s what Papaji said to Andrew and I was like, wow, that’s kind of a trippy thing to say and so happy you found the friend you’ll never see and all of a sudden, like I understood what that meant that I could never see this because it was what was looking And it was just like, something just kind of went off inside me. And in that moment, and I recognized that, while I’d been studying God now I’d been since I was 2000. I was like, 40, early 40s. I’ve been slogging away for years, you know, meditating and doing practices and chanting and trying to realize, you know, it’s a familiar story that you’ve heard many of your guests share, I’m sure in one form or another. But that discovery that I was what I had been looking for was, it was really shocking. It was like, It’s hard to describe, but it was interesting, I had a very emotional impact at a certain level, which was the sense of this kind of bitter sweetness that I had been what I had been doing, I’ve been like, looking for so so long for so hard, you know, struggling, grasping seeking for this, and all along, it was what I was, it was like, Holy shit, it was just it was just, it was mind blowing, you know. And
Rick Archer: looking back now, do you feel like all that struggling and seeking was in was a waste of time? Or do you feel like somehow in a paradoxical way, it actually brought you to the point where you could sort of see what had been there all along?
John Astin: Yeah, I there’s no way of course to know the answer to that.
Rick Archer: I’m kind of inclined to, to see it the first way.
John Astin: Yeah.
Rick Archer: When you talk to people who have meditated for 30 years, and then they all sudden have this awakening, and then they they say, Oh, you don’t need to meditate just be awakened or something. I always think, oh, man, it’s it had to do with what you’ve been doing for 30 years, you know, even though it takes a thorn to remove a thorn, it might not make sense from your current perspective, but it had an effect.
John Astin: Yeah, well, clearly, I mean, everything that we’ve ever experienced has shaped something about how we are now so so I can’t even look back at anything. Even things I can now look at and go with that wasn’t very wise, you know, that’s all shaped me. So I’m not going to question like, somehow I was wasting my time, because I don’t believe that. That being said, I do think it’s a very open question right now. For me, and even within the whole kind of field of contemplative studies, which is can you take people who are calling meditation naive, who haven’t been doing a lot of practice and training of awareness, if you will, and introduce them more directly and more immediately to, to, to these things? And,
Rick Archer: you know, maybe Jeffrey Martin, you know, what Jeffrey Martin is?
John Astin: Yeah, I know. I know Jeffery.
Rick Archer: Yeah, he would probably concur with what you just said.
John Astin: Yeah. I mean, that’s my, that’s my sense. Is that my, my intuition is that. That at least for some people, there’s going to be a natural openness there that doesn’t require, you know, years and years and years of kind of banging their head against the wall. But I don’t know, you know, it’s the ways in which people come to discover what they discover is, there is no formula that think that’s just a myth.
Rick Archer: Yeah. Well, there’s some people who aren’t even looking for it, you know, they’re just walking down the street or eating breakfast or something. And all of a sudden, this big shift happens, I think, what is this?
John Astin: Yeah. Well, you know, the, the that, and I’ve been writing about this recently, because it feels really, you know, my observations of myself and many other people, this feels very central. Kind of a, I see it as almost like a fundamental misunderstanding that we kind of continue to fall prey to or experience until it starts to kind of wear away and let me try to describe it. So the event that happened on that particular retreat was felt quite spectacular. It wasn’t like a lot of wasn’t showy in the sense of like, phenomena, because I don’t seem to be really wired that way. But, but it was, it was very, it felt very special, very profound, very, incredibly meaningful, like, more meaningful than anything. So it was, it was very big in that sense. And it was so moving to me that I, you know, I was literally like weeping for, like, you know, a couple of days, it was like, just, I couldn’t stop. It was just so moved by it. And then here’s a very interesting thing that happened after that, that I think I’m still getting so it was his big moment, and then another meditation session a couple of days later, and I’m sitting there, and like, it’s already been recognized that there this is it. Literally, like this is it. And I’m sitting there meditating. And there’s a sense like, it’s like the oldest most familiar feeling in me of like grasping is the best way to describe it. I like looking for Something other than this one, and that’s what I was doing, I could feel it, I could feel the pain of it. And it was interesting because it was this whole sort of non dual thing was like nothing about really god or devotion happening in my experience or in this retreat. But the next thing that happened was something I’d never really experienced before and never experienced afterwards, which was a voice. And the voice said to me, right in the middle of grasping, it said, Isn’t this enough? And it felt like, you know, reality speaking to me, and then the voice went on and said, Can you feel how much grace there is in this, just as it is, and they immediately kind of broke down again, and I saw kind of the fool’s errand that I was on of, like, looking for it, you know, in it to look a particular way, I think, was the crux of that understanding. And I think that that through all of my subsequent experiences and involvement with different teachers and teachings, it’s been a process of wearing away at this idea that the truth or God or reality or spirit or whatever you want to call it looks a certain way. And that is, when I listen to other people and who are attending teachings are sought songs are speaking to me. One one form or another, that tends to be what’s at the root of the question, which is, it couldn’t be this, this particular moment of discomfort or confusion or so get me out of this. So get me in it could be in a very conventional sense, not even a spiritual sought song type person, but just somebody who wants to feel better in their lives psychologically, or mentally and emotionally. It’s like, I don’t want to feel I don’t want to experience what I’m experiencing. It’s uncomfortable with a spiritual seeker it gets, in some ways even more complicated because there’s this kind of whole architecture, the superstructure of sort of not only is this uncomfortable, but it’s definitely not an enlightened state and it’s definitely not divine and it seems so there’s an additional overlay of which leads to this kind of this sense moving in opposition to our own experience which by any other name is suffering. I have no more ideas anymore about God or the absolute. So, if you want to talk with me let us meet where there are no abstractions. All I want to know is have you noticed that something, something is here my friend all I want to know is have you noticed that something, something is here my friend. It’s only the Mystery, only the Mystery that’s noticing that only the Mystery is here.
Rick Archer: Yeah, I mean I guess maybe the ordinary person goes by the you know life sucks then you die philosophy or I saw some cartoon where these two dung beetles it was the dung beetle bar right and there’s a dung beetle sitting there drinking his drinking the bartender’s a dung beetle. And so the guy sitting there drinking his drink said, so this is this all there is to it, Louis, Eat shit and die?
John Astin: Yeah
Rick Archer: But, um, I wouldn’t say that there’s a sort of a paradoxical issue here, which is that, on the one hand, yeah, if you don’t want to be constantly looking for something other than what you’re experiencing, you need to sort of settle into and accept the present as it is. But on the other hand, that is not to say that it couldn’t get better. It’s like, there’s some Zen saying, which is, you’re all perfect, just as you are. But you could all use improvement.
John Astin: Right?
Rick Archer: You know. And I do talk to people, and I’m sure you do, too, who, who argue that, hey, every ordinary, everyday ordinary perception, that’s it, don’t look for anything more, just accept that. And I find that discouraging, I would find that discouraging if I believed it, because I realize, both intellectually, and through my own experience, that there is more, and there will always be more, and I’ve read in your writing something about ever, ever deepening appreciation kind of thing. But on the other hand, if you’re kind of like, you know, not loving what is to use Byron Katie’s term, then you’re you’re not accepting the foundation upon which that more may actually develop.
John Astin: Right. Right.
Rick Archer: What do you think about all that?
John Astin: Yeah, no, I mean, the other side of the paradox, of course, is that if there’s something deeper, more subtle, more fulfilling, more awakened, you know, did all the different versions of that it can’t be found in anything other than this?
Rick Archer: Right.
John Astin: Right. So that’s, that’s the that’s obviously the value of, you know, there, you don’t have anything but this. Now, I think what might make that one might hear that in a way that would be depressing or discouraging. has everything to do with how we’re defining this. Yeah. Right. And that, that I think, is really, you know, if I look at my own process of so let’s say we have an experience that feels very profound, and, and people will call that an awakening often in this circles, the circles and and then we have that chorus that fades, because that’s the nature of phenomena. Right? I mean, like, just like that, that’s how quickly it fades, everything. So but, you know, we, some part of us wants to recapture that because of how it felt, you know, whether it was blissful, whether it was liberating all the different dimensions of it, and that’s that it’s natural, that effort to try to have some experience that feels at a more conventional level, it feels good and we want to try to hold on to it in some way sustain it, or if it’s more, we have spiritualize that as more awakened or more enlightened, we also want Hold on to that. But it’s a similar dynamic, right? And it just simply can’t be done. And we can. I mean, I’m interested in reality, and I look at reality, and I see the reality slips away in every instance. So it seems to be that
Rick Archer: that’s one way of looking at it. Otherwise, reality continues to be here in every instance. That’s
John Astin: right. Which is the same thing. In a sense, it’s just constantly morphing in taking different shapes. I mean, it’s that’s it seems to be its nature. I mean, no, two instants seem to repeat,
Rick Archer: No. But there is a there is an underlying continuum that doesn’t morph and change, is there not? And it may not even be perceived as underlying it may be perceived as predominant.
John Astin: You know, this is an interesting question, Rick. That is not my experience. My experience is that there’s not sort of some realm where everything is impermanent and changing, and then some sort of underlying realm that’s changelessly, this is classically how it’s framed. Yeah, sort of the changeless, sort of awakeness, or awareness that somehow knowing all of that change. That’s not That’s not my sense of it.
Rick Archer: But right now, I mean, you and I are talking and our bodies are changing, and our words are changing, and furnace is going on and off. And this and that, but we’re aware, we’re aware, we’re aware that there’s a continuous awareness that doesn’t oscillate or fluctuate, depending regardless of the changing things that change. Not only we are aware, but that even puts it into personal term. But it’s almost like one one way of putting it I don’t mean to get touchy here. But imagine that awareness is like a tone. That’s, that’s playing it, it’s been playing all your life. And you know, this in the background or something. And after a while you tune it out? Because it would you wouldn’t be a point in listening to it. But but if you ever chose to do so, oh, yeah, there’s the tone still playing? You know. So there’s a bit of course, that’s just a metaphor, but it’s, that by virtue of which we’re able to hear each other and see each other, and so on, that doesn’t change even though the hearing and the seeing may come and go Yeah.
John Astin: I don’t know. It’s interesting, because even there’s traditions, and I don’t think we have to reference traditions necessarily, but like that speak about that there’s no without, there’s no awareness without phenomena. And so it’s phenomena reveal the nature of awareness. That’s how awareness is known by, by what it is illuminating. And so from that standpoint, what we call awarenesses. And I think it’s quite paradoxical in a sense, because it’s everything is morphing and changing. And what for me, what is constant is that something is here.
Rick Archer: And that something
John Astin: And what is here is what is here is constantly changing. Okay, but but continuous the continuity is, you could call it presence or, but I wouldn’t call it awareness necessarily, I would just say that something is here. And what’s here is inconceivable, and takes an infinite diverse number of forms and shapes and colors and textures. And but it’s here,
Rick Archer: fair enough. I mean, we could debate whether it actually may be awareness. You know, we could reference physics to say, Okay, there’s all this changing stuff, but you boil it down to the molecular and the atomic and subatomic. And then, you know, there’s this sort of underlying vacuum state or unified field or something, which, out of which all those things are said to arise. And, and it’s a continuum, even though those things may might assume different forms as they transmute into one another. And there there are physicists who argue that that unified field actually is consciousness or awareness, and there probably the vast majority would argue that it isn’t. But anyway, that’s just something to play with.
John Astin: Yeah, I mean, it’s it. Here’s why that’s not just like, idle intellectual speculation. Why think it’s potentially relevant to people who are exploring these things, which is, there is a tendency, and I’ve been involved with, you know, what people would call more awareness kind of base teachings where there’s a kind of a tendency to reify awareness as something like everything else is not a thing, but awareness is the thing that can that’s that’s in the sense of, Well, listen, if it if it’s something that has constancy, then it suggests sort of thingness it’s suggest that kind of substantiality to it. That’s what makes it Yeah, does that makes sense? Yeah, yeah,
Rick Archer: I think you can look at it that way. But it’s sort of a contradiction in terms because we usually reserve the word thing for things that have physical substance to didn’t. And we’re not saying that awareness does. But I people, people who would argue the way you just described would probably say, Well, this actually doesn’t have any ultimate reality because it’s changing. And one day it won’t exist, but that which is awareness will always exist. What does that the Gita says it’s the Unreal has no being the real never ceases to be.
John Astin: Right, the real never ceases to be, but the real is forever changing. That’s what I meant by something is always here. That’s the being something. This is the presence of whatever this is,
Rick Archer: okay, if the real is always changing, let’s keep playing with this. Because this is
John Astin: Right
Rick Archer: if the reel is always changing, what is the real meat of it that which is always changing? What is it made of if we boil it down to a more fundamental
John Astin: That’s the million dollar question.
Rick Archer: Yeah,
John Astin: That is the question.
Rick Archer: Yeah.
John Astin: And to me, it the answer to that? The answer to that is, it’s the ultimate Koan. And and it has no answer. And in that is that we never get to the bottom of what it is, we never arrive at, to me both whether we’re talking because I’m also a scientist, whether we’re talking science, or we’re talking contemplative spirituality, we have as humans in search for, ultimately, it would see. So if we’re talking about the bottom of what it is,
Rick Archer: If we’re talking about the real creation here, and the actual reality of the world we live in, then taking this cup as an example. You know, 100 years ago, this cup didn’t exist. 100 years from now, it may not exist, but the atoms that comprise it existed, they’ve been around for billions of years. So maybe the atoms are more permanent than the ceramic,
John Astin: relatively,
Rick Archer: relatively, and those atoms, you know, what are they if you if you boil them down more deeply, to more fundamentally, and and if you keep going as far as one can conceivably go, even if perhaps physics doesn’t have the instrumentation to do so? Do you not arrive at something which doesn’t change or which is a continuum and eternal continuum, which gives rise to a parent changing forms and phenomenon but which in and of itself? couldn’t change wouldn’t change doesn’t?
John Astin: Well, I think it’s remember my earlier comment about the God explanation was a cop out. We’re kind of touching on a very similar thing, which is, we may get a whatever name we want. But can we actually reduce reality scientifically or spiritually to the final answer to what it actually is like the fundament, you know, what, what is it? What is it at its root, and my putting science aside because I’m not a physicist, and they certainly haven’t arrived at the final conclusion. And my my deepest hunches, they never will get to the bottom, because that’s what makes infinity infinity is that you never get to the bottom of what it is it’s unfathomable. And if we look at our actual experience, which is what I’m most interested in with respect to our conversation, and that’s what I find. When I, the only thing to explore really is our own experience, as far as I can tell, because that’s what we got, because nothing else. And if we explore our experience, speaking, from my own standpoint, I never get to the bottom of what it is, experientially. And so I never land like now I’ve landed, and I finally arrived. What it actually is, as something definite, and we as humans, because we have this thing, the mind and reason and it seems understandable. Like it should sort of make sense in some kind of nice, neat, tidy. Cure. It is you know, I’ve got the framework that tells me what it actually is. But, you know, we see this, of course, in throughout the history of the traditions to this very strong theme of the inconceivable, indescribable unresolvable nature of reality that we actually never do get to the bottom of it. And that’s what’s so amazing about it to me, that’s what’s so that’s what’s actually so liberating about it, because you can’t pin it down. You can’t say what it actually is.
Rick Archer: But you can be what it actually is. In fact, you are what it actually is.
John Astin: Right, You just don’t know exactly what that is. Because it’s not definable. It’s open ended,
Rick Archer: Because it’s beyond the intellect beyond the senses beyond the mind beyond the words and all that stuff. I mean, we’re just the way we describe it. You can’t know what it actually is. It’s indescribable, and so on, because we’re what we’re saying here. What we’re saying when we say that is, well, there are no thoughts or words or anything which can do justice. Do it or which can contain it or which can be. One can only be it.
John Astin: Right. And what’s extraordinary about that, Rick from from my the more I kind of look into this and think about its implications for us as humans kind of often feeling like we’re stuck in our lives and struggling in one form or another. Is that that in conceivability, and indescribable bility and is doesn’t merely apply to these esoteric realms, but it applies to every dimension of our human experience. Absolutely. Also,
Rick Archer: I mean, try describing to me the color red.
John Astin: Exactly. I was just writing about that this morning.
Rick Archer: Oh,
John Astin: exactly. Like, if you we have a name for it, right.
Rick Archer: Yeah.
John Astin: Which is an incredible aspect of the intelligence to the universe that it can see. And here’s one way to understand it. It’s, it’s its pattern recognition of some kind, like we’re recognizing, I don’t know what it is exactly that we’re recognizing. But here it is, and the names and concepts that we have for all of this stuff that within us and surrounding us is led to instantaneously it’s all right here, right, we know what these things are, we have concepts to describe them make sense of all of this patterning. But if we actually look a little bit more closely, at what it is, we have this name for, whether it’s red, or a human being and a computer screen and tastes, right, it’s Apple or whatever. If we look a little more closely, we realize that the the concepts that we use to kind of organize these patterns of whatever they are the patterns of information, or energy, or I don’t know what they actually are. But what, whatever it is that we’re beholding and seeing forming itself as patterns that we then give concepts and names to, when we look more closely with colors and amazing thing. It’s like, well, what, what is it we look up in the sky and on a clear day, and we have a name for this thing? It’s called Blue. But it’s like, it’s the name actually, the concept tells us virtually nothing about what it actually is experientially like. So we actually go into what that actually is. And it’s just It’s unfathomable, isn’t it? I mean, what that is, actually, and what’s so to me just mind blowing, is how this is the case with everything we experience. And yet language is so powerful, that in conceptualization is so powerful that and facile in the sense of Oh, yeah, I know what all these things are. Because I’ve got categories to place them in, right?
Rick Archer: Yeah. And as a species, as a society, we we agree upon certain concepts and terms. And so we can function. You know, I mean, we all, we all agree what red is, and we know how to all stop at stoplights. And
John Astin: It has some kind of functional utility.
Rick Archer: Yeah,
John Astin: For sure.
Rick Archer: And that’s because most of us experience red unless we’re colorblind. And even then we would know, okay, it’s the top light, you know, so we have a concept of top and yellow is the middle one. But I think the significance of this for our conversation is, what if the experience of pure consciousness or whatever we want to call it, were as common as the experience of read in our society, then, you know, we might have more readily agreed upon terminology for it. In fact, I mean, you look at the Vedic civilization, or perhaps even Buddhist civilizations, and enough people were experiencing that stuff and talking about it all the time, that they actually have a lot of words for it and words to sort of define the various nuanced differences between types of experience of it right. And, you know, as much as the input people have 30 words for snow, you know,
John Astin: right? Well, what if the experience of what you’re calling pure consciousness or pure awareness or whatever, is equal to the experience of looking at the color red?
Rick Archer: What do you mean equal?
John Astin: You know, the dzogchen teacher long Champa he he is just one of the most beautiful articulators of that tradition. And, and he would sometimes talk about equalness and evenness of everything, and I never really understood exactly what that meant, but but something about it felt had their sub ring of truth. And so the experience of red is equal to the experience of pure consciousness or any other experience in the sense of it’s inconceivable in nature. What it is. It’s, there’s a word that characterizes some aspect of it in a very crude over generalized way. Like every word does. As every concept, but what that experience actually is, is bottomless infinity. And that’s true whether it’s the most blissful moment of inseparability you experience on retreat or wherever, to the moment of complete confusion and chaos, reigning supreme and your consciousness. And in that sense, they’re equal in the sense of their infinite nature, their inconceivable nature. And that turns out to be incredibly. And I can say a little bit about this, we can get into talking about the psychology piece to this. But that, to me holds the keys to our freedom ultimately, that that understanding.
Rick Archer: To that I would say that if you’re in a state of confusion and chaos, you’re probably not going to be appreciating the infinite quality of everything. But I think it’s possible to inculcate a state of being state of functioning, in which, throughout your normal everyday experience, you do apprehend and appreciate the infinite nature of everything, because that’s what everything actually is comprised of, is the sort of infinite stuff, so to speak of the non stuff of, of consciousness, or being or whatever you want to call it. And, you know, and I don’t claim to do this, but I have friends who do who say that as they walk down the street, or, you know, eat their lunch or whatever, everything is appreciated in terms of pure consciousness in terms of the self, primarily, predominantly, secondarily, it’s appreciated as mashed potatoes or trees or, or whatever, right. But but but really, that’s their sort of ordinary, everyday way of living. But again, to, you know, to say that somebody who’s in a mental hospital or something utterly confused and psychotic, that you could actually say to them, Hey, this is freedom to it’s not going to do much good I don’t think.
John Astin: Well, no, I wasn’t suggesting.
Rick Archer: Well, just to take an extreme example of confusion.
John Astin: Yeah, no, no. It seems that for most of us, it requires a little bit of looking a little bit of experiential exploration to actually, because again, as I was saying, because of the nature of language and conceptualization, we’ve sort of formulated conclusions about what things are, we’ve already most people would say, I know what these things are. And they feel that way. Because they have a kind of familiarity with something and they have a way of framing it and categorizing
Rick Archer: You mean everyday things like trees and cars and stuff like that?
John Astin: Yeah.
Rick Archer: Okay.
John Astin: Any any, any human experience, but yes, everyday, as well. And so, you’re, I’m talking about a kind of a deconstructive inquiry in the sense of like, let’s actually take a look like, if you think you know what this is, like, look, again, like, let’s look a little bit more carefully. I’ll tell you kind of a story as it relates to psychology. And that’s one of the hats that I wear. So I teach a class, the graduate school class on it’s called Evidence based approaches to therapy. So it’s looking at these different schools of therapy and psychotherapy and counseling, and understanding, I’m teaching people about what’s the state of the science of that the effectiveness of these different approaches. So a little bit about the approach and the theory behind it. And, and I talk in the class a lot about I use the example of the blind man and the elephant and I say, these different schools of thought of cognitive behavioral therapy and psychodynamic therapy in the mindfulness tradition, they’re each person in a sense, they’re looking at reality from a particular perspective. And it’s the kind of the map that that theory is bringing right to reality and their understanding the client all very much in terms of that framework that they bring to it, right. So we look at the evidence. And basically, if you look at the evidence of psychotherapy research, including drugs that are used for oncology, it’s sobering in the sense that after, whatever, 50 100 years now of scientific psychology and psychiatry, our capacity to actually really liberate people from their the things that distress them in their lives in some kind of enduring way, is very poor, very poor. So even the best evidence based methods that science would say, right, the most effective methods help some people to some degree, but many people, they’re not very help effective. Okay. So, at the end of the semester, I asked the students that say, so let’s explore this a little bit. Why do you think that might be the case? Like, what are we missing? Are we missing something fundamental about our understanding of human psychology? And, you know, people come up with some interesting ideas, and then that’s when I kind of save what we’re talking about. At the very end of the class, and they say, Look, just try this on as a hypothesis. I’m not saying this is the way it is. But and basically what I say to them is, it’s a curious thing. We, as human beings are obviously very fascinated by studying the things in the world and getting, like we were speaking about earlier getting to the bottom of what they are. So the chemist is, you know, diving into chemicals to explore them, and the neuroscientist is looking at the brain and trying to get to the basis of neural functioning, and the physicist is looking at the quantum realities. And trying, again, trying to understand what is this made up, right? And I said, What’s interesting, I said, to my classes that, as humans, we we haven’t, it would seem, for the most part applied a similar sort of curiosity to, to our own experience. So I said, Let’s take anxiety, okay, lots of people go to therapy to deal with anxiety. So and then we come up with all these treatments, and we measure anxiety. But throughout this whole process, really neither the client nor the therapist or the scientists studying these methods, has asked this fundamental question, which is, what is anxiety? What is it not as a an intellectual question like, well, it’s the neural firings in the amygdala or, which is cool, you know, that we can explore that a question like that through those means. But I’m asking it much more as a first person kind of inquiry, like, what is, as an experience? What is it in the same way that we would say, what’s the table made of fundamentally, what’s the experience of anxiety made up? Because, in a way, we’ve skipped over the most, most important question, we’re trying to solve a problem about something that we don’t even know what it is yet. But we’ve assumed that we know what it is. And we have a very general sense of, it’s painful, I don’t like it, it’s uncomfortable, and I want to experience something else, which is very natural. But my, my very strong sense of this is that the freedom comes from actually investigating what it’s actually made of experientially, because what we discover is that it isn’t what we thought it was, as we were beginning it beginning our conversation with then it’s much, much more, it transcends what we think it is. It’s utterly beyond what we think it is. And it turns out to be it’s God. It’s made of, it’s made of infinity, it’s made of the, the, whatever it’s made of, it’s made of reality.
Rick Archer: Yeah
John Astin: And that’s not that’s not something you can say what it actually is, because it’s infinite. But that turns out to be incredibly liberating, when you realize there’s not something it’s really the basis kind of event, emptiness, emptiness teachings is that we discover that things don’t have the kind of substantiality that we actually are sort of labeling and conceptualizing means us to believe that they actually have,
Rick Archer: Well, if you take that leap, of course, then you can immediately reduce everything down to God or to to the infinite. It might be also good to have a few waystations on the way to fill in the gaps. I mean,
John Astin: what do you think?
Rick Archer: Yeah, okay, well, I mean, the New York to take anxiety as an example, the neurophysiologist might say, well, it’s certain chemicals and psychologists might say, well, it has to do with your upbringing as a child or something. The in spiritual circles, the Upanishad say, all fear is born of duality if we want to throw in, equate fear with anxiety, and, and that kind of brings it into our ballcourt here, which is that, you know, if we are anxious if experiencing fear or anxiety, is because we’re functioning holistically, and if we could sort of transcend the subject, object, split, split and experience or know the unity of things, like you were saying, it’s all God, then the anxiety hopefully would, would dissolve. But that you can’t just do that intellectually. You know, it’s not enough to just say, Oh, it’s just God, you know, and meanwhile, you go on feeling anxious.
John Astin: Right, but if you actually I mean, there’s sort of, you could break it down, including spiritual teachings into sort of two camps, if you will, because really think of it this way. And they’re not necessarily mutually exclusive, but one is, in either subtle or not so subtle way still sees state like anxiety or fear as a problem that must be solved. And the spiritual teachings are going to solve it transcendentally by realizing some dimension, that’s not afraid, let’s say or get to the root of it, say if it’s a dualistic understanding that’s giving rise to fear and anxiety, whatever, it’s but it’s still actually seeing that particular x Question of reality, for lack of a better word as a problem that needs to be solved. And there is, I think that that’s a look where you and I are using language, of course, and we’re bringing perspectives to bear upon a reality that can’t actually be contained in any of our language are prospective. So let’s just like lay that out there. So that what you’re describing that kind of person is a particular perspective that can certainly benefit people. But there’s another perspective that I’m sharing, which is, I would consider it a different approach to this, which is considered considering that what we typically think of as problems that we have to solve either medically or psychologically or spiritually may not actually be the problems we imagined them to be. But that, in large part, we are defining those problems into existence, by the way in which we conceive of those things to be there, actually. And if you start to look at something like anxiety is a great example. And you start to actually see what it’s, it doesn’t hold together. It’s an abstraction. Actually, it’s an abstract thing. There’s no such thing as anxiety, it’s an abstraction. As a as a, as an experience, it’s tangible. But the deeper we go into what it actually is, experientially, the more we discover how open it actually is, how open ended it is, how undefinable it actually is. And the more we explore that, and my own sense of this, my own experience and working with other people, the more people begin to discover a sense of freedom in the midst of that rather than freedom apart from those experiences or transcendent of those experiences. Yeah, that makes sense. It does. Let
Rick Archer: me throw a few points back at you. Yeah, yeah. The way you just hopefully I’ll get this right, the way you just phrase it, but it? I mean, it doesn’t actually exist as you think it is. How did you say that? It doesn’t actually, it’s not what we imagined it, not what we imagined it is. And I mean, but nothing is
John Astin: inconceivable. And this is true of everything, of course. Yeah. So the notion that, if I am stuck in anxiety, aspect of that conceptualized framework of myself being stuck in some state of mind, all of those are abstractions, right? Because when investigated, each one of those breaks down or opens up and is discovered to be utterly transcends what we imagined that it is. So the transcendent, doesn’t lie outside of the afflictive state of mind, in some space of dispassionate awareness, it’s actually in the belly of the beast, the beast itself is made of, you know, call whatever you will natural perfection or reality, or God or, you know, it’s made of infinity. It’s, it’s made of the inconceivable reality itself, what else could it be made of?
Rick Archer: Yeah, I agree with that. And I think I’m cool with what you’re saying. It’s just a little not that, you know, the truth hinges by what I think so any
John Astin: questions you have about are fantastic, because that’s, that’s good. You know, I mean, I’m interested to hear whatever about it strikes you as maybe not quite, you know, understandable, not understandable, but but maybe, maybe not practical or maybe. Yeah, I’m, I’m, I’m, I’m very open. I’m just laying out kind of my own experience. And, and I have a strong sense of the utility of this for people in their in their day to day lives. And it’s not an abstraction. Well, that
Rick Archer: would be the key word for me as utility. And also, I have a caution about dumbing down awakening or Enlightenment, you know, you hear people saying, well, you can be enlightened and still be angry and depressed, and a total screw up, you know, and, and, and all that stuff. And I think, well, you’re really not doing justice to the idea of what it’s supposed to be. And I don’t even use the word because I feel like there are so few examples of it in this world, and most people are making good progress, but they’re, you know, I kind of reserved that for a more superlative degree of development. But I would hope, and maybe you’re saying this about when you mentioned the word utility, that, you know, spiritual development, however, we want to define it would dissipate, you know, at least the predominance of experiences of anxiety and fear and other negative traits. And in traditionally it’s characterized as doing that. And because, again, you mentioned the word utility or utilitarian, I think there’s a practical value to this stuff. Hopefully, it should actually make one happier in life and make life go more successfully and smoothly. It shouldn’t just be some pie in the sky thing that and you’re, you’re still a jerk, you know, ya know, you’re still miserable or whatever, you know,
John Astin: right? I mean, you know, to use an extreme example people who recognize, you know, what I’m describing here are it’s not likely that they’ll be flying airplanes into buildings, people, right? And there’s a reason for that, right? Because well, maybe that might be a good example, because that’s a classic example of fixating on a particular map of reality imagining it to be true, which is, you know, the essence of dogma. Right?
Rick Archer: Yeah, I think you addressed that nicely in your rain in the monsoon book. Yeah. In fact, I took some notes on that, you know, fixation and fundamentalism and the assumption that we, you know, we know the truth and all that is very dangerous.
John Astin: You know, and your, your question, I mean, it’s a good one, Rick, about course of like, well, how does this roll out in a person’s life and, and I, the paradox here, say, around some, like you say, you know, you would expect as someone matures as a human being, if you want to take it out of esoteric language, and they just develop themselves, they develop greater awareness, greater sensitivity, greater awakens, sort of clarity and wisdom that that, that they’re going to tend to be less reactive, they’re going to tend to be less fixated on their own ideas and points of view, they’re going to tend to be less defensive, they’re going to tend to be less conflictual, they’re going to tend to be less fearful, all of that. And makes complete sense. I think that but the, if you will, the radical proposition and it’s not like my own I mean, it’s chaired by other people, teachers and traditions as well, which is that the paradoxes is that we don’t, we don’t get to the freedom from fear by making an end around, but we actually discover it right in the middle of yeah, whatever. Right. Right. Because it’s right there. And that. So it isn’t necessarily kind of a Oh, yeah. Well, anything goes, although, in a sense, anything does go because reality could show up in any number of ways. And, and then it’s always a question of like, in the moment that it’s showing up and appearing, however it’s appearing, what’s our understanding of it? What’s our engagement with it? What’s our, and that’s just a, that’s a moment by moment thing, you know, my sense of it. And that’s not whatever we may have realized a moment ago or two weeks ago or a month ago is, in a certain sense, irrelevant to what’s actually happening right now. Where’s our where’s our where are we defaulting? You know, where are we going back to as our own understanding, and our one thing I was gonna say to that, that, I think is a really important piece. And
Rick Archer: Is this is related to what you were just saying?
John Astin: Yeah, unless you had another question.
Rick Archer: Well, I was gonna throw something in. But if this is related
John Astin: No please
Rick Archer: keep going,
John Astin: Oh, go ahead. I can bring this up later.
Rick Archer: Okay, well, not too much later. But I was just gonna say that, you know, relating to my own experience, if I’m meditating, let’s say and, and this could also apply to the waking state, if I’m experiencing some emotional discomfort or physical discomfort or something, I mean, my attitude is not to try to do an end run around it to get and get to the transcendent, but to sort of, you know, dwell right on it, and, you know, kind of go to the heart of it. And and then usually, you find that it does dissipate. And I just also wanted to throw in Ken Wilber since you mentioned him earlier, and, you know, he says, Well, there’s waking up, but there’s also cleaning up and growing up. And he has this idea of lines of development, and that, you know, one can these these various lines of development, emotional intellectual consciousness, this and that can get a little bit out of correlation with one another, or greatly out of correlation, whether
John Astin: we have many examples of this. Yeah, we do. ourselves. Well, problem.
Rick Archer: Right.
John Astin: No, no, I mean, yeah. And I think that the one thing that is we’re talking about experience, and that’s really kind of that’s what I’m inviting kind of us to explore and other people to explore what is the nature of our experience, because that’s what we got. And, and we are kind of walking around running around in our lives, sort of really assuming that we know what things are. And we’re not necessarily stopping to question that and, and it turns out that that stopping to question it. My sense of it is, it’s a really, it’s an exciting exploration. It’s a remarkable exploration. It’s, it’s a awe inspiring to actually look into our own experience and begin to discover that things are way beyond what we think that they actually are, you know, the little, it’s kind of like I in some of my recent writings, I keep finding myself returning to the map and the territory, you know, that that language or any of our conceptual frameworks to make sense of our experience. Answer the world or other people are, they’re just that they’re like a map to that territory, let’s say you know, I have a map of who you are, I’m and I’m your partner. And I kind of have a working model of who you are at some level. And this is all very implicit. It’s not very explicit, right? But mind map of you of who you are my concepts of who you are, which is based on a lot of my experiences of you, of course, just like the map of New York, couldn’t hope to capture what you actually are right? Not even close to the actual experience of like, think about this experience, like, Okay, if you were to describe what’s going on here, well, two guys are having a conversation about the nature of reality over this thing called Skype, and they’re using a computer. And that’s a basically like a shorthand way of explaining what’s actually happening. But what’s actually happening is, it’s unbelievable, isn’t it? I mean, think about the I mean, I’m gonna say infinite array of phenomena that are taking place in the midst of what I just described. Oh, yeah, I mean, sensations, to memory, to consciousness to thoughts, feelings, subtle sensations, and energies and things that we don’t even have words to describe. And all of that is happening. I mean, it’s like each instance is so information dense, it’s so packed with, right, it’s just,
Rick Archer: no, it gives me goosebumps to hear you say I think about this all the time. I mean, look at your finger, it has billions of cells in it, each one of them not, not to mention all the sort of the structural and anatomical and, you know, nervous and venous, and all the different systems in it. And each one of those cells is more complex than Tokyo. You know, in all its detail, they’re just incredible. And it’s self repairing, and self replicating. And that’s just your finger, you know, and it just goes on and on throughout the entire universe, every square cubic centimeter of it is just packed with unimaginable complexity and, and, and intelligence. And you know, and we just kind of saunter along. And without even kind of thinking about this stuff, we take it for granted, you know, because I suppose it wouldn’t do as much practical good to think about it all the time. But when you when you do when you pause to think it’s like, awe inspiring?
John Astin: Well, maybe yeah, it is awe inspiring, maybe that is actually talk about, I mean, that may feel like some sort of luxury or something, but maybe talk about a, an incredible practicality. I mean, if that kind of investigation, which can be very light and playful, it doesn’t need to be a heavy handed, you know, onerous, I’m slogging away at this and an overly dramatic thing, but it can be a playful investigation into what’s here experientially and of course, that includes the circumstances within which I call it the external world, if you will, but but that is awe inspiring. It’s the fact that it’s even here. And appearing is awe inspiring. So that’s pretty practical to me, because that gives rise to a sense, a felt sense that human beings deeply aspire to, to touch, you know, in their lives. And that’s pretty damn practical to me.
Rick Archer: This, to me is where God comes in. Because if we, if you consider what we’re actually talking about here, we’re talking about a display of intelligence that is vast, beyond, you know, imagining, and that is just continuing to orchestrate this, this amazing thing, and has been doing so for all eternity, probably throughout all conceivable space and time. And, you know, and we’re at and it completely permeates an inner penetrates us we are that ultimately, essentially. So, you know, that, that kind of thing. You know, that sense, just grows and grows and grows. And who is it? I think Albert Einstein said that if, if you’re, if you’re not continually in a state of awe, you’re not paying attention, right? You’re not paying attention.
John Astin: Right, right. No, I mean, it’s, it’s, I mean, to me, it’s just, it lights me up. It just excites me with a kind of, it’s a it’s a it’s its own ecstatic exploration to fit in. It’s also not, I mean, there’s kind of the contemplation of it and a more mental level with that, which is also beautiful, you know, of like, that maybe a scientist is investigating, you know, the 100 trillion neural connections in the brain. I mean, come on, it’s just like, it’s unthinkable, right? So that’s, but but even at the experiential level of like, you know, the sense of touch and Like what’s actually happening there, you know, you touch your friend or you touch your lover, you feel what’s actually there. And you go into that, like, it’s a whole universe inside of that. Literally, there’s the whole universe. And that’s, I’m just laughing, because I’m thinking about I was talking to a client, I was doing a Skype session with her. And she was struggling with some different emotional states. And, and I was speaking kind of like, you and I are speaking. And she said, it sounds like you’re on some sort of drug or something that you’re describing. goes on. And I just laugh because I hadn’t taken any drugs for the last, well, 4030 plus years or something. And, and I was like, and I wrote this little piece of that it says, reality, the greatest drug? Because it’s like, it’s a total 24/7 acid trip. I mean, if you actually,
Rick Archer: well, we’re full of drugs, you know, it’s by virtue, by virtue of chemicals that were able to have this conversation in part. But
John Astin: oh, I mean, and maybe that substance, part of what the substances do, I don’t actually know this in terms of the biochemistry of it, or whatever, the neuroscience of it, but I have a sense that it, it’s simply opening up some, in a sense, it’s, it’s revealing, and we’re talking about the information density, and the ways in which we sort of for seemingly utilitarian reasons are censoring out so much of that the richness of the ocean of data that we’re swimming in of experiential phenomena, that it’s as if that censoring apparatus, maybe through some of these substances gets quiet and a little bit enough so that we start to actually touch into, wow, how much is actually here of a subtler nature that we’re just sort of overlooking because of the overlay of ideas about Yeah, yeah, I know what that is. That’s a tree or that’s a really take another look. I mean, it’s a, you know, it’s quite something.
Rick Archer: There’s a lot of threads to this conversation that we could pursue. Well, just on the censoring one, no. If you ever took acid back in the old days, which you probably did, yeah. Obviously, you wouldn’t want to have that go on perpetually you happy to have it shut down after a while. But I think you want one way of looking at spiritual development is it builds in us the capacity to be more and more and more uncensored, or on Koan closed down. And, you know, if you were somehow able to pop from where you were 40 years ago, to where you are now, it would probably be too much. I mean, there’s a verse in The Gita, chapter in the Gita where our Juna begged Lord Krishna, she wants to see wants to see wants to see as divine form, you know, as basically as asking for omniscience. And, you know, Lord Krishna first says, Now you can’t handle it, general kind of planes, and they said, Okay, here you go, that it’s pretty much spends the rest of the chapter begging him to take it away, because it’s just way too much. But I think that we can, it’s kind of interesting to consider that we can build the inner strength or capacity or whatever it is, to be open to a huge range of phenomenon and to integrate that with practical, everyday life. And it makes life a lot more interesting than it, then if we’re all shut down.
John Astin: Yeah, absolutely. And I think that, you know, in keeping with kind of what some people call the direct path kinds of teachings that, for me, it’s, it’s like when I was more in a kind of an awareness sort of model, if you will, I found it very much more powerful to help people to recognize that awareness is already present, that this is already a functioning thing that you don’t have to contrive, you don’t have to cultivate, you don’t have to create, I would say, in the same sense, the sensitivity of these subtler kind of nonconceptual, if you will, dimensions of experience is also happening. In fact, it’s happening all the time. I mean, it’s it’s, it’s how. Here’s a simple example, that you and I are processing this conversation, there’s a processing of this conversation, and the use of language and conceptualization and understanding one another’s, presumably, what’s being said, that is all occurring, completely non consciously. Whatever, there’s no intentionality really very little, if any, we don’t know how we’re formulating concepts. We don’t have access to that how that process is actually occurring. That to me is the and so I’m not going to like have I don’t have to create that intelligence that intelligence is already operating. I can simply recognize that it is operating and the recognition of it, like the way it works with attention at work. We recognize tends to kind of come alive. Yeah, but we’ve spent a lifetime or so we’re recognizing kind of these, these defenses of ourselves that aren’t really typically being noticed and recognized.
Rick Archer: True, but we’ve spent decades, you know, playing with concepts and, and using and practicing using words to express them, and so on and so forth. And so, you know, we wouldn’t have been able to have this conversation, you know, 4050 years ago, maybe at least not the way we’re having it. And you’re a musician, I’m kind of reminded that, you know, let’s say, a professional level, the conductor of the New York Philharmonic, when he listened to an orchestra, he hears all kinds of things that I wouldn’t hear, because he has the training, and he’s he’s cultured the capacity over the course of his lifetime Sure, to have that sort of appreciation. So I think this this is also true of what we’re talking about in terms of perception and the experience of life. It is what it is, obviously, but there’s also a vast range of potential for culturing a deeper appreciation of it.
John Astin: Absolutely. Absolutely.
Rick Archer: Okay, guess what,
John Astin: just a little bit, just a little bit ago, you were your image was starting to freeze a little bit, I don’t know, if it was a problem on your end, or mine,
Rick Archer: I think your bandwidth is a little choked up there, I’m on fiber optic. So I have no end of bandwidth. But we’re okay. It would have recorded my side of the conversation anyway, because I’m doing that independent of Skype. So let’s see, um, let me just double check my notes here from you. But in the meanwhile, feel free to bring up anything that you feel like you want to bring up or that you know, related to our conversation, or maybe something we haven’t even pursued yet. You want to do that, before I start looking at notes.
John Astin: You know, one of the things that I wanted to touch on that, that I was going to say something about earlier and was even going to begin our conversation without bringing up now, an hour and a half into it. You know, I started to share some of my spiritual journey. And I stopped, you know, quite a ways back in 2000, when I was hanging out with Andrew Cohen a little bit, that didn’t last very long, but I’ve been both involved directly in then also an observer of, you know, people and engage with different teachers and teachings. And I think a question that I, I think is really worthy of people’s exploration is this question of authority? And how it is, we do it in these circles in these worlds that you and I are in having conversations within and without even thinking sometimes about who it is we referenced as sort of authoritative voices in the world of spirituality and consciousness exploration. But why do we do that? It’s a really interesting question. And we we do it, as I said, often without even thinking, people have a certain stature, that’s whether their various, you know, sort of exemplars like from traditional religions, like Jesus, or Krishna, or more contemporary, esoteric teachers like Ramana, or Nisargadatta, or and then, you know, living teachers as well, with the same process goes on when we start to study with a teacher. And I’ve just well, I’ll share a story with you that that happened as I was transitioning from stepping away from Andrews teaching. And I met Adria and became close with him and both as a friend as a mentor. And he said, maybe the most important thing he ever said to me, was in a private conversation. And he said, John, no matter how many spiritual authority figures we appeal to, we always come back to the aloneness of our own experience. Like that’s the, that is the ultimate authority. It’s our own experience. It can’t be anything. That’s all we have. That as far as I can tell, as I was saying, throughout our conversation, and it’s just, I think, useful for people to I mean, one observation that I’ve made, and I’ve seen it, and I feel it’s just I think it’s just whatever grace or dispositional, wiring or karma, whatever that I, I have a tendency to not quickly turn authority over to another voice, even one that many people are perceiving as a spiritual authority, which doesn’t mean that I’m not open to being mentored by them in profound ways. But my observation has been that people frequently do turn their themselves over to the authority of the teacher. And I think it’s highly problematic. I think it’s And I think it’s an it’s a really interesting question why it is that we do that, and seemingly do it so, so easily. It’s, it’s, and we see the same thing in traditional religion, I mean, people are just seeding authority to the Pope or to Mohammed or pick your favorite authority figure. But what’s that based on? We are the ones granting them the authority, but we never really stopped that. Consider that, like, you’re giving them the authority. Right? Yeah. It’s not like it’s just there. What you know, so we are the ultimate holders of that authority, but we give it over to the other intern are, it’s just a it’s a perplexing kind of thing to me. And,
Rick Archer: Yeah, and, you know, there’s a phrase that Tammy Simon uses sounds true. When she doesn’t interview she and her mellifluous voice, she says, sounds true, your trusted partner on the spiritual path. And that’s a nice phrase, you have a trusted partner. It’s it’s like you there’s a certain trust and respect in the transfer this to the issue of teachers. And yet, there’s a sort of a partnership things sort of that a friend Mitra, I believe in Sanskrit means friend, and there. So it kind of helps to undercut the, the, the hierarchical dichotomy that often creeps in. But, but that is not to say that, you know, we should shoe all teachers are a no, no, because because we couldn’t even get through high school, if we did that there has to be sort of a recognition that there are that some people know, know more than us about certain things, you know, whatever field of endeavor, but but, you know, obviously, there have been so many unhealthy situations in this in the spiritual scene that, as you say, it’s an important thing to take a look at.
John Astin: Yeah, I think as it relates to our discussion about experience, and what is experience, that kind of inquiry that I’m speaking about, I wrote something the other day about this that in a sense, if you think about conceptual conceptualizing, there’s kind of an analogue here, I think, with the the the teacher as authority about reality, which is that, in a sense, with our, our interpretive mechanisms interpreting reality, we’re in a sense, one way to think of this is we’re in a sense, telling reality, what it is, through those interpretations, and it’s natural, in fact, if we make it impersonal, which, ultimately is that this is the intelligence of the universe that’s doing this interpreting you, we wouldn’t even know how to begin to formulate these conceptualized frameworks to describe reality. And intelligence of nature is doing that. But it there’s another, there’s an alternative, which is what I’ve been sharing about really, which is, what if we let experience tell us what it is, in a sense, because what it is, is beyond what we imagined it is, as we’ve been saying, what we conceive of it to be because we can’t conceive of it, it’s beyond our capacity to conceive of it. So that kind of invitation I’ve been speaking about of looking at what is the nature of our experiences, this is another way to kind of understand what I’m saying, which is, let your experience be the authority. What is it? Does that make sense?
Rick Archer: It does remind you of something marshy Mahesh Yogi once said, some reporter asked him how many followers he had. He said, If any followers everyone follows their own experience. Of course, he kind of course violated that later on. But, you know, but that that was the that’s the point he was trying to make that ultimately, it’s your own experience. That is, should be the acid test of whether any teacher teaching is is worth spending time with.
John Astin: And the acid test of what’s real, actually, because if you say the only reality is the reality of our experience, then there’s only one thing to investigate, which is that domain of experience, call it a field of experience or a ball, this room of experience or whatever, it’s this vast, boundless field of experiencing, there is no other reality than that, until there is one and that will be a new field of experiencing. So that’s the thing to investigate and, to, to me, the best teachings and teachers are the ones that are really directing us to that they’re directing us not to kind of a this this has been one of the reasons I’ve stepped away from many of the teachings and teachers I’ve been involved with, despite getting a lot from my involvement was I found this sort of tendency, which is an old story of, of the teaching, develops its own kind of framework. work of making sense of reality. And it’s a sort of a teaching tool in part and but before too long, that framework starts to become the object of devotion, right? Yeah, rather than the inconceivable territory that that map is trying to illuminate. And that’s how you end up with religion and dogma and more contemporary terms. You know, teachings that are either cult like in nature or bordering on that in terms of a kind of a framework becoming. Or, or as part of that the personality of the teacher and the ideas of the fantastic nature of the teacher and the supernatural nature of the teacher. And, to me, maybe those have their own benefits. But more often than not, they don’t think they actually really liberate people to investigate their the nature of their own experience.
Rick Archer: There’s a tricky thing here, and I just was listening to Adya talk about it the other day. And that is that it’s natural in a certain stage of our development for devotion to begin to blossom. And devotion likes to have a point of focus. It’s not just an abstract sort of feeling, it wants to sort of focus on something. And it was mentioning, you know, Shankara, writing wonderful devotional poetry. And of course, there’s Rama, Ramana with Arunachala, and, you know, Nisargadatta, singing buttons and doing poojas, and all that stuff. So all the other sort of the non dual Giants had a devotional nature to them. But question is, if the devotion is focused on a living teacher, does the teacher have the capacity to handle it, without going into their heads it without it becoming an unhealthy thing for his students? There’s a very popular teacher these days, I guess I won’t mention his name. But I’ve heard that these days, people are prostrating at his feet and even kissing his feet and so on. I’m thinking, Oh, is this thing going off track? You know? Is that really healthy? Does he have the capacity to allow that? Or should he allow that, you know, without it becoming, you know, going off on a tangent. So it’s a delicate issue, I think it’s something that has to be considered on the spiritual scene, because again, I think, the blossoming of devotion and love is an inevitable stage and one’s development. And it needs, it needs a channel of expression. But it just has to be healthy.
John Astin: I wonder why. Let’s say it’s a natural, there’s something about the movement of devotion. And I think it’s related to what we’re speaking about earlier around this sense of awe and, and just complete, you know, bowing in the face of the inconceivable and intelligence of the universe. And, and I have a sense of that, particularly in certain moments where there is a sense of like, you know, falling in love with that, which is, of course, what’s giving rise to everything? And clearly, you can’t What else could it be? So, but I’ve never quite understood why what would be the value of directing that towards a single human being? I mean, there’s certainly schools of thought that that is not only beneficial, but even a requirement in some sort of Google Yoga. But I don’t my observation at least has been is that that that is a it’s a distraction from the heart of the matter, which is, what is this? Not? Can I imagine that someone has greater access to it than I do somehow, and continue to believe that, but it’s like this is fundamentally about us discovering what we are not worshipping it in the form of some other and imagining that they have, you know, somehow, that’s not to diminish the value of mentoring and being taught because I’m not mean to imply that at all, but those are feel like different things somehow. Yeah. You know, and I think that that the, the kind of worship of the teacher, though, has a lot of staying power. I mean, I’ve seen it keep, even in very educated, contemporary, you know, Western culture, there’s a strong draw to, I actually believe here’s what, here’s my own hunch about this, Rick, because I’m just exploring this for myself, like, what’s at the root of that, and here’s one piece of it, which is that, remember how earlier we were talking about the big experiences and that we, we, we tend to kind of associated that with Liberation with freedom with with God, they’re really big. And then we feel like, well, somehow this isn’t quite that like this sort of ordinary moment of tapping and conversation. So there’s something we I was talking with someone the other day about this teacher and their focus was all about this trip amazing transmission that they could get from this teacher and how that made them feel so extraordinary. And to me, that’s really to miss the point. I mean, that is not the point, the point is not to have extraordinary experiences, unless those extraordinary experiences. The real extraordinary experiences in my mind, are the ones that reveal the extraordinary nature of all experience. That’s, that’s the that’s the experience to have. And that can sometimes be feel very extraordinary to recognize that. But then there you are, you know, it’s the old like, you know, chop wood carry water. I mean, it sounds so ridiculous. But it’s like, it’s 100%. Right, like we’ve been saying all along, it’s 100%. In each and every momentary instantaneous flashing of reality, you just, it’s just this, it’s always just this. Yeah,
Rick Archer: it is. And that is that since you mentioned transmission, I wouldn’t totally dismiss the value of that either. I mean, you always have to kind of play devil’s advocate with every point that comes up, because there’s always the other side to it. Absolutely. Like, for instance, you see a picture of arm over my shoulder. And a point she made one time is that, you know, it’s it’s valuable to be in the presence of an enlightened person. It’s like, if there’s a sort of a brightly burning log, and you have another log, and you want to get it burning, put it close to the burning log, and it’ll catch. So there’s definitely something to that. I mean, audio has his retreats. And a lot of people say they wake up in the presence of him and the people in the room all kind of creating a collective consciousness that is conducive to waking up. And so I’ll let you respond to that in a second. But I also just want to throw in regarding the devotional thing, a question, which is that if you’re feeling well, let me just ask it in a general sense, is it possible for the heart to be really full of love and just overflowing without it wanting to take a particular focus or a particular channel, I can think of so many examples where it has taken and does take a particular focus, I can’t think of too many where it doesn’t even you know, I know a great sages, they’re always like, prostrating to a mountain or to their guru or to somebody, they kind of choose a point of focus for their devotion. So two points,
John Astin: yeah, it’s, it brings me back to an experience I had many years ago where I won’t name the teacher, but I was invited to sing at a satsang, very well known teacher in a lineage and so that that was happening in someone’s home. And all the devotees were just, I was not a devotee, but I was invited to perform there.
Rick Archer: They were all whooping it up.
John Astin: the devotees were really like, buzzing around, like, they were so excited that the guru was coming to their home. And, you know, it was just like, all the preparations were being made. And first of all, right off the bat or something about that? I just, I don’t grok
Rick Archer: Yeah,
John Astin: I don’t understand that.
Rick Archer: Have you ever? Have you ever been in a phase when you were that way?
John Astin: No. I mean, been. I’ve, I’ve been involved with teachings that were that was definitely happening.
Rick Archer: Yeah.
John Astin: And, you know, I never quite, to me, it seemed like, missing the point somehow. But,
Rick Archer: I mean, I’ve been there, myself, but you know, it’s like, okay, moved on.
John Astin: But there’s, you know, there’s different forms that this can take to around kind of the surrendering one’s authority. This is a more extreme example, but here they are, it’s to answer your question about the direction directing that energy of devotion. So and they were certainly directing it towards her and they were, I remember I made the terrible mistake, or unbeknownst to me of using the bathroom that was being reserved for they had already cleaned it and they literally went back in the bathroom and cleaned it spend another half an hour in there cleaning out. And it sounds ridiculous, but it right, it speaks to the sort of belief that the in the specialness of this one that we’ve you know, that we’ve elevated and, and in a sense, it’s there’s two sides to it’s it’s accurate in the sense that they are worthy of the the ultimate respect and devotion just as everyone else’s right. Yeah. And that was the piece it’s like, why are you not treating everybody that walks in the door the way you’re treating her? And I
Rick Archer: Now that’s, that’s a good point, yeah, I mean, you see situations where people are all gaga over the teacher and yet they are treating everybody else like crap. Or you know, just not. They’re not . We’re supposed to see God and all beings, right? Ideally. So, I would say that that kind of respect and appreciation shouldn’t be reserved just for the special teacher, although there might be something, something special about your relationship with the teacher just says they wouldn’t be with your wife, but you should treat everyone with the kind of decency that with which you’d want to be treated.
John Astin: Compassion I’ve had, I’ve had experiences you asked if I’ve been involved in those kinds of relationships with teachers, I mean, where I felt such a sense of, you know, gratitude for what, you know, the relationship and what I have been learning from them that I just, you know, broke down, and, you know, shed tears of just feeling grateful for the presence of my life. So, I’m actually pretty wired to be quite devotional in a certain way, but it’s just not as a follower in the sense
Rick Archer: I gotcha. And that’s good. I mean,
John Astin: And it’s really more a question of like, what that piece of us of that audio one time said something about, you know, we keep putting it out there until we’re willing to see where it actually is. And that sounds simplistic, but I think it’s really profound because it’s, we’re, that’s what we are, that’s what we are through and through and through and through and through and it’s all about just growing in the appreciation of that like the possibly impossibility of being anything other than the absolute reality that that’s we can’t be anything other than that. And that that doesn’t diminish that there’s people in our lives who can help us to discover that because that’s what teachers hopefully are all about in the end
Rick Archer: let’s take a quick break
John Astin: There’s nothing I can to bring You closer Nothing I can do to bring You near, Everything I seek is always present, everything I seek is always here. There’s nothing I can to do to brighten this awareness nothing I can do to make it clear. It’s already shining oh so brilliant Illuminating all that’s here. So how can I grow closer to Thee when You are this thing I call me. Yeah, I was just reflecting on this conversation we’re having about the, sort of the special beings and, and, and the attraction that we have to I think it ties into some sort of romantic ideals that we have around. You know, we’d see it in the spiritual literature, literature of these extraordinary beings doing miracles and, you know, that also often go to credible lengths of discipline and to realize what they’ve realized, and whether they’re sitting in retreats for years and years. And, and I, this is a kind of a newer sense that I’m kind of intuiting. And I’ve shared a little bit this with people and people seem to find this helpful in some way. So I’ll share it here. And, and I wrote a piece recently about what I call the over dramatization of the spiritual path and how I don’t see that as often very helpful. And just wanted to read a little piece. That’s okay.
Rick Archer: Yeah, sure.
John Astin: It’s one section. So I say, it sounds so dramatic, doesn’t it to give up everything for the sake of truth, you know, this kind of like, are you willing to really like, you know, you helped your teachers talk like this and it, and it stimulates something. And I think it ties into kind of beliefs that we have that that’s what they’ve done. And that’s how they’ve managed to become so enlightened is that they’ve sacrificed it all for the truth. And it sounds very dramatic. And I’m just raising the question as to whether that’s, we talked before about how, how much utility does that perspective actually have for us? And I’m questioning that. So it sounds so dramatic, doesn’t it to give up everything for the sake of truth? All our desires, all our beliefs, all our control? The question is, Is it really true? Must everything be given up or let go of in such an absolute dramatic fashion in order for profound transformation to occur? What if all this dramatizing, romanticizing an absolute tising of the spiritual path wasn’t necessary? What if we didn’t need to surrender anything or everything? What if it wasn’t necessary or even possible to give up our beliefs, to stop thinking, interpreting, conceptualizing or surrender the ego into the fires of truth? Could it be that it’s possible, maybe even more effective, to engage in spiritual practice and inquiry, without this dramatic sense of urgency and seriousness, but instead come to it in much more the spirit of light hearted curiosity and playfulness? Could it be that the overly romanticize Do or Die must surrender and die to the separate self at all costs? mentality is precisely what perpetuates the sense that we are in fact bound stuck separate selves in the first place.
Rick Archer: Yeah, well, those are all interesting questions, possibly rhetorical. I could probably give my opinion about every single point you made there and but If I were to do so I would do so in a kind of a both and nuanced kind of way. Because there are arguments to be made on both sides, if there are many sides, perhaps of different ways of interpreting all those different questions and different different ways of interpreting what it means to give everything up. I mean, you might give everything up in a very real sense, and yet still have the nice car and the nice house and everything else. And yet, you might be more actually renounced than some guy living in a cave. So
John Astin: Well, you know, if if reality is all that there is, then does it actually make sense that you would have to give up anything to recognize what you are? That doesn’t even make logical sense?
Rick Archer: Yeah. Again, there’s, well, you know,
John Astin: You are it with all your warts, and the whole nine yards, now, does the recognition of that transform the human being in some profound ways in the way that they move in the world? I’m not denying that for one second. So it’s to your earlier question about that could easily sound like a kind of a nihilistic, what you do whatever you can continue being until, you know, full and acting in ways that create suffering. And that’s not what I’m talking about. But as the entry point into discovering that we, that we just have, we have it’s built into so many of the way teachings are talked about and formulated about people engage with them with this sense of the truth, or God or reality is something that I enter and then can exit. I mean, that’s really how it tends to be. And what if we’re clearly entering and exiting experience, as fast as I could snap my fingers and faster. But as far as I can tell, the only thing we’re ever entering and exiting is reality. And so there is no entering or exiting, we’re always that, and we’re always this, there isn’t anything but this. So the recognition that of course, can bring such like I said, such profound gifts into one’s life of greater ease and greater relaxation and less fear and more openness and less. So yes, those are byproducts of recognizing that. But if we fall into that what I was really speaking to with this over dramatization, it sets up this kind of opposed framework of, well, if we’re not surrendering it all, if we’re not dying to the ego, if we’re not really giving it all up with full 100%. I’m going to stay awake and sustain this. And, you know, if we don’t come at it with that sort of warrior like spirit, somehow we’re going to miss the boat. But meanwhile, we’re in the boat. Yeah, there is no missing the boat, we’re in the boat.
Rick Archer: Again, it’s also nuanced and paradoxical. Well, I’ll give you an example of
John Astin: To be sure.
Rick Archer: Yeah,
John Astin: and I’m not just saying that.
Rick Archer: And there’s the question of like, which is the cart and which is the horse, for instance, you know, I took quite a lot of drugs for a year or so, before I learned to meditate. And some people might, it might be said, Oh, well, you really have to give up that sort of thing, drugs, in order to get spiritual in a serious way. Well, in my case, you know, when I learned to meditate, I totally lost the desire for drugs, because I found that it was providing probably what I had been looking for with drugs, but in a very wholesome way. And, you know, my life totally turned around. So I didn’t feel like I had given up anything, I had just lost interest in something because I had found something that interested me more. And so I think the whole thing of, you know, renunciation, if you if you force somebody to give something up, but don’t provide something better, they’re going to be unfulfilled, and it’s going to be a strain. Or if you impose that upon yourself, you know, that you’re I’m giving up relationships, and I’m giving up money, I’m getting it. But you don’t really have anything to fill to fill the void, you’re not going to last very long, or you’re just not going to be very happy. But you can begin to fill the void, so to speak, without giving things up. And then certain things might drop off because they’re no longer needed. They were artificially providing something that you actually begun to genuinely have without the art without the need for the crutch,
John Astin: for sure, but it would came out of some sense of lack that imagine that we possessed and yeah, and we discovered that we down and yeah, absolutely, absolutely. So. But again, I mean, in that example, the letting go if you will, if you want to call it that as a simply a symptom of discovering that we don’t have to hold on to a lot of things we imagined we had to hold on to.
Rick Archer: Yeah. And your point about
John Astin: You can discover that yeah, go ahead.
Rick Archer: I was gonna say your point about zeal, you know, and yeah, I think I think there’s, again, it’s always this both and kind of thing. There’s a place for zeal if you’ve, if you’re feeling zealous, and maybe even Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras said that those were the vehement intensity, realize the most quickly. But I’ve seen so many people, you know, try to be that way and to strain and ended up cracking up or, you know, snapping back to the other extreme, or something like that,
John Astin: And Rick, all I’m really doing is I’m not saying that that’s not a legitimate way to approach it. That’s don’t get me. What I’m questioning is just what the supposed that authority figure Patanjali said, that that’s the way to do it, essentially. That’s what he’s saying. And we hear that and it comes from a supposed that authority figure and we take these things on, and I’m just this voice kind of in this way, was long as I can remember, being a little bit of a renegade, just in the sense of saying, you know, what is it? What is the old bumper sticker? No question re out. But in this question, authority,
Rick Archer: right,
John Astin: right. So don’t question that tells you how reality is, or should look or be, and it’s like, reality looks like it looks, and it has its own intelligence and its own way. And, and this is, of course, I think, also one of the problems with kind of cookie cutter approaches to human growth and maturation or Enlightenment, if you want to use that word, it’s a problematic word. But, but just that we, we have our own. We’re so utterly unique, you know, in a very incredible way, you know, and that it makes sense that we would find our own way in a very in a way that is like, no other one’s way.
Rick Archer: Yeah, that’s totally, totally with you.
John Astin: But But I think it’s important for you, you know, to make sure that what I’m saying isn’t sort of misinterpreted as somehow, if one feels that fire of zeal and earnestness that they shouldn’t just totally go for it in that kind of way. Because that’s awesome. If that’s how you’re inclined. All I’m saying is that it may not be a requirement, and maybe in some cases could function as a, something that that you had to wait, that sense that there’s something wrong with me. Yeah. Which it’s, you know, maybe one of the fundamental delusions, which is the belief that there’s something wrong.
Rick Archer: And I think it’s good to remember that every day is life, you know, and we don’t want to pass over the president for some glorious future. Also, I mean, you remember that quote from the Buddha, where he says, you know, don’t believe something because somebody else says, or even if even if I say it, you know, you have to go by your own judgment, your own your own experience. I think that’s good.
John Astin: Do the experiment, check it out yourself. Yeah, don’t take, don’t take anybody’s word for it. And, sadly, my observation of a great deal of Buddhism is that there’s a lot of deference to authority. And it doesn’t always take that, that particular piece of it to heart, but it is what it is.
Rick Archer: Well, you know, I’m glad you brought up the word experiment, because I think that spiritual practice, or spiritual, spiritual progress, or whatever, it should ultimately be regarded as a scientific endeavor, a scientific experiment. And you know, in science, you don’t just believe something, because some guy said it through you check it out for yourself. And you don’t, you know, we respect certain scientists, Newton, and Einstein, and so on, but that doesn’t make them infallible. You know, maybe, you know, we’ve learned a lot since those guys lived. And so I think it’s really healthy to take an experiential, experimental, you know, rigorous approach to spiritual progress. And, you know, you were saying earlier, I’ll try to keep this
John Astin: I agree. 100%.
Rick Archer: Yeah. And I just want to add one thing, you’re talking earlier about whether science could ever discover ultimate reality. I think that ultimately reality can be discovered can be known can be lived, but we have to look at what kind of scientific instrument we’re going to use to discover it. And I would argue, if you if you watch my talk from the science and non duality conference, that the human nervous system is the ultimate scientific instrument, it’s far more sophisticated than the Large Hadron Collider or the Hubble telescope or anything. And if we know how to use it, we can discover all sorts of things that cite that contemporary science with this instruments hasn’t even come in and we’re close to discovering.
John Astin: Well, that same body mind mechanism, you know, whenever for lack of a better word is what’s creating the scientific instruments anyways,
Rick Archer: It is, yeah.
John Astin: Clearly, that’s where the juice is, isn’t that intelligence that and of course, you know, the intelligence just seems to be here. You know, not something that we appear to have created somehow in the same way that, you know, we might have made a computer.
Rick Archer: Okay, I’m gonna look at some notes here from what you wrote just a little things I want to pick up on. Oops, type the password into my eye thing here. Come on. Sorry. There we go. Just I’ll just riff on a few things that I picked up from the rain and the monsoon was is that the title of looking for rain in the monsoon searching for rain, and I’m searching for random onset. Let this not be a one time discovery but an ongoing ever deepening realization in your life. Let’s go read a few things that you’ve said in that book. And you just interrupt if you’d like to riff on those a little bit. But I’d like that one. What we call Go ahead. Yeah, say that,
John Astin: Can I say one thing? To me it, it connects directly with all that we’ve been discussing around the, the, this quest for ultimacy. About what this is. The notion of having sort of, I’ve found out what it is and kind of foreclosing like, we figured it out to me just it doesn’t comport with my own experience. And so it feels endless. It feels bottomless, it’s infinite. So it just makes intuitive sense and real living sense that the discovery of what’s the nature of reality is unending, and inexhaustible. And so that’s anything else feels like a pretense somehow of a kind of an arrogance like, Oh, yeah. I figured it out. Really? Come on. I mean, I, I can’t seem to adopt that point of view. So
Rick Archer: Right. And Adya said that too. And if he said it, it must be right, right? I’m just getting
John Astin: spiritual authority.
Rick Archer: Okay, here’s another one. What we call reality is really an interpretation, the organism is rendering upon whatever is being experienced. Yeah, we’ve already kind of covered that one. Quite a bit.
John Astin: Right. And we’re all filters. And like, like many things, if there’s something valuable to that, which I my sense of it is, it sums up a lot of what I say. There’s no and to what the implications of that actually are for our lives, because so much of our lives are driven and dictated by our definitions, and our quick and dirty sort of sense of Yeah, kind of know what’s going on here. I got a handle on this, because I’ve got language and languages. Amazing at giving me that quick and dirty kind of caricature of what things are. But it’s just that it’s not really telling me what they actually are. So that that one sentence, you know, you I could live with that one. Inquiry and in a sense, do you know in a, in a wonderful sort of never ending ly entertaining way, I mean, this, there’s no end to the entertainment about exploration. What’s actually going on here, because it’s way more than we think.
Rick Archer: Absolutely incredible String Band, whatever you think it’s more than that. Here’s another one, by allowing the river of experience to move and flow as it does a flow are really powerless to stop anyway, we increasingly discover an ease and comfort that is naturally present and available within and as the flow of experiencing itself. And then a little bit later on, I think you said life is naturally at rest.
John Astin: Yeah, yeah, it’s not. It’s not fighting with itself, because it is itself. Yeah. So it can’t fight with even when it’s seemingly fighting with itself, in apparent opposition to one of its expressions, it’s really not because it’s still that expression in that moment. And so yeah, I mean, a very human level. Attempting to kind of alter the flow of experiences, that just doesn’t work very well as a, as a method for gaining well being that tends to not work well at all, even even if we been trying for generations to do that as human beings to sort of manipulate our way into a better state of mind, but turns out to not be necessary because the present state of mind is really amazing. You don’t need to have another one, even though you will have another one in the next instant. Guaranteed.
Rick Archer: There’s a principle in physics called the law of least action, which is that you know, in natural phenomena such as, I don’t know, acorn falling out of a tree or even throwing a ball or something like that. It takes out of all the infinite number of courses or you know, paths that go Take, it naturally takes the most efficient one. And so if we can sort of get ourselves functioning from that level at which nature itself functions, then I think our life is going to take on that quality of, of Max optimum degree of effortlessness and the least possible expenditure of energy. And that kind of relates to that another point you made here, relaxed mind and body completely, that’s easier said than done, I would say, because the mind and body are, you know, they get all keyed up and conditioned. And, you know, if you just, let’s say, you just sit and close your eyes and sit in a chair, you notice that my mind is still cooking along here, my body feels kind of agitated, maybe you can relax, relax it to a certain extent. But to me, to my mind, complete relaxation would be like, you know, practicing, you’re going into samadhi, and there’s no mental activity and the, and the body is in a state of deep, deep stillness. So I think it’s really good to
John Astin: I would, yeah, I would, I would probably read, I would probably reword that maybe now in a way, I mean, I think, because my understanding of when I say relaxed body mind completely, and that’s sort of an old, you know, kind of instruction anyway, in certain traditions that we tend to think of contemplative practices going from state A to state B. So state a is one of turmoil or tension or agitation, I’m gonna go to state B, it’s more relaxed. So you hear an instruction like that, it’s like, I’m going to definitely get from where I presently am to something that’s more relaxed. Wow, even said completely what’s definitely not completely. So it’s a bit of a setup. And, you know, and, and so I would say, rather, to see that, in the sense to make no effort to try to have experience be other than it is, that feels more. Because something like agitation when left in as it is. It changes that experience, often dramatically, it’s recognized to be part of the flow of existence itself, it’s recognized, you begin to discover more of its transcendental inconceivable nature. So that in a sense, is. So it’s not trying to get to relaxation, it’s just leaving things as they are.
Rick Archer: Yeah, no that’s really good. And actually, that was the next point of yours that I jotted down here, which is you said, much of the internal suffering we experience stems from our efforts to try to escape what is arising. And I would actually extend that to meditation as well, that there are many different ways to meditate. But to my mind, in my experience, if they involve trying to get your experience to be something other than it is at that moment, then you’re you’re struggling, you’re straining, you’re you’re interjecting some effort, which is only going to impede purpose for which you sat down.
John Astin: Right, right.
Rick Archer: Yeah.
John Astin: Yeah and it suddenly reinforces that the sort of, you could say, we could say a fundamental MIT innocent misunderstanding that, you know, the fulfillment and satisfaction that we’re searching for lace somewhere other than right here.
Rick Archer: I would recommend people to listen to these there’s on Adya’s website, there’s some really nice, kind of like free videos or audios you can download about kind of a natural way of meditating. And he describes I think, I think it’s spot on. Embracing uncertainty, I think we’ve kind of touched upon that a fair amount, although we’ve both been expressing opinions, we’ve not total uncertainty here. But you know, it’s always good to take everything with a grain of salt.
John Astin: When Socrates said, you know, the only thing I know is that I don’t know anything that was apparently Socrates. So that’s pretty much about where I’m out these days. At least not anything definitive need anything definitive. I know all sorts of things. I have knowledge about this that the other thing but it’s it’s provisional.
Rick Archer: Yeah. Provisions don’t want to be adamant about it.
John Astin: parsha
Rick Archer: right. No, I mean, it’s like am I absolutely sure.
John Astin: Well, yeah, because that knowledge is is yet another map, interpreted map. And as we said, you know, the maps not the territory and never can be the territory always outstrips the map in terms of its complexity and richness and subtlety and dimensionality and that’s just seems to be the way it is. In reality is can’t be put into a box. Yeah. because we might do it.
Rick Archer: Yeah, I think there’s a natural tendency to try to.
John Astin: Absolutely. It seems to be we’re doing it. And I don’t think we actually have to shut off that mechanism, by the way. And or I think, can we, that the interpretive mapmaking model building mechanism of consciousness because a, I don’t think we can. And B, it has its own utility. And see, we can recognize that the it’s like the map of New York and the city of New York, we don’t have to throw the map away, to recognize that the map doesn’t capture what it’s actually portraying. And so you don’t have to discard the map. You can, you can keep using the maps to whatever extent you find them useful, but recognize that they’re just like barely touching on what’s actually here, which is
Rick Archer: Yeah, hold them loosely.
John Astin: Operable, hold them very loosely. And that has a lot of practical application in life, too, in terms of other people and sharing perspectives. And right, you know, right. And we look about, we talked about the world and the crazy state that the world seems to be in I mean, you can boil a lot of it down to people adopting rigid perspectives, and being willing to recognize the partial nature of those perspectives.
Rick Archer: Boy isn’t that true? Politics, religion, all those things? And even even kind of search for reality
John Astin: My map’s better than your map.
Rick Archer: Yeah, really. I was chuckling earlier, because you were talking, we were talking about God and the immense intelligence governing everything. And I started to laugh because I was thinking about these sort of materialists who’s who, you know, say that the world is the universe is this mechanistic thing, and that there’s, you know, no meaning or purpose to it. And it’s all just a random, chance occurrence and all that, I think, kind of how can they think that is just, you know, and they’re so adamant about it, you know, and so dismissive of anybody who tries to attribute any kind of intelligence are, you know, to what’s actually going on?
John Astin: Yeah, no, it’s, yeah, I mean, who knows? I mean, even if it was mechanistic, in that sense, our actual experience of it is seems to be anything but that. So, you know, it’s who knows, you know, it’s like, even if consciousness is being produced by the brain, which I don’t happen to think that’s very likely. But let’s say that somehow it’s materialistic. And you have the firing of neurons gives rise to qualia. I don’t know how that would work. But let’s say that it does. It doesn’t take one thing away from the qualia, the qualia is continues to be astounding inconceivable. You know, really, for me it kind of blissful to feel the qualia, you know, because it’s so rich and so without, and
Rick Archer: I missed the opportunity to tell this funny story. But there was a, an episode of The Office where, you know, Steve Carell was driving and he’s following the GPS, right? And the GPS says turn, right, and there’s a lake there. And the guy, the other guy in the car saying, Stop, stop, you know, said no, no, it’s telling us to go this way. And he drives his car right into the lake. So kind of a funny point about following maps.
John Astin: Exactly, exactly. And yeah, we do that, more often than probably that we realized. ways but yeah, yeah.
Rick Archer: And maybe this is a point we can end on. Another thing I jotted down that you wrote, he said, in allowing ourselves to be totally vulnerable, we come to find a profound invulnerability, the discovery that experiences cannot harm us because they are not separate from us.
John Astin: Yeah, that’s amazing. You know, that’s amazing to feel that sense of phenomena like these difficult states of mind that we spoke about earlier that many people struggle with, and we have this sense of the framework is one of setup as the perceived and the perceiver. And to actually look at that and see what’s the actuality of it. And the actuality of it, of course, is that you can’t really find a clear dividing line between what we would think of as the one perceiving this phenomena and the phenomena being perceived. And it’s much more a sense of experiencing, I think, is the best way to put it, and that this is the states to see them as expressions of life expressions of us as life rather than as things that we’re sort of feeling at the mercy of a victimized by completely turns it all upside down. Out beyond ideas of right and wrong there is field where I will meet you. Out beyond ideas of right and wrong there is field where I will meet you. When the soul lays down in that grass the world’s too full to talk about When the soul lays down in that grass The phrase each other doesn’t make any sense.
Rick Archer: Thanks John, this has really been a great conversation I think we could go on and on. Very interesting guy to talk to. And as always, I’ll be creating a page on that gap dedicated to this particular interview. And on that page, we’ll have links to your website and to your books on Amazon, and so on. So people can go there and follow the links if they want to find out more about you. And I presume you mentioned you do a Skype set you’re doing a Skype session with someone so you do Skype sessions. Maybe
John Astin: I find working individually. I think you I’m not I’m not gonna say more potent, but I think it can just be very helpful more clarifying. And that can sometimes happen more in group sort of settings, but just to have that kind of individual ability to kind of inquire into a person’s experience and understanding. And so we I find them very rich.
Rick Archer: Do you also do group things like you have retreats or anything like that sometimes gifts, that song, you know,
John Astin: I, I, I have some in the past, and I haven’t, and I’ve been feeling some pull to do more recently, it feels like I don’t know, I feel like I’ve been cooking for a long time and, and feel myself having come into some way. I mean, I’m always kind of endeavoring to find the loo simplest, least esoteric, most accessible ways to communicate about this stuff, because I sometimes have found, you know, teachings to be, you know, filled with lots of difficult to access jargon and language. And so I don’t feel like I’ve arrived at like, you know, the optimal way to communicate about what can ultimately be spoken of very well. But I keep sort of trying and feel like a sign of just a strong compulsion on this to try to do that. And, but it feels to me like I just have a kind of sense of, I actually have more to share than I have before. And so maybe there’s a poll to start to teach more. So we’ll see. Yeah, sounds like you have some
Rick Archer: kind of signup thing on your website where people can be notified via email. And,
John Astin: yeah, people can find me on and be in touch with me directly via email through the website. Yeah.
Rick Archer: Great. All right. Well, thanks. Um, so thank you to those who’ve been listening or watching. As I mentioned, in the beginning, this is an ongoing series. So go to batgap.com to check out all the previous ones to sign up for to be notified by email with each new one as it’s posted to sign up for the audio podcast cast if you wish to donate if you wish, and explore the website. There’s some good stuff there. And we’ll be continuing to do this. So see you next time.
John Astin: Thanks, Rick. it was a pleasure talking with you.
Rick Archer: Thank you, John. Yeah, it was really fun.
John Astin: Yeah, enjoyed it.