Rick: Welcome to Buddha at the Gas Pump. My name is Rick Archer and my guest today is Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee. Welcome Llewellyn.
Llewellyn: Hi, nice to be here with you.
Rick: Good to see you. I’ve really enjoyed listening to you over the years. It’s like poetry or something, listening to you speak. I’ve seen you speak at the last couple of Science and Nonduality conferences. I missed you this year, you didn’t make it to the conference, but I’m really pleased to have you on the show. Let me read a quick bio of you and then we’ll get into it. Llewellyn Vaughan- Lee is a Sufi teacher and author. Born in London, he moved to Northern California in 1991 and founded the Golden Sufi Center. In recent years, the focus of his writing and teaching has been on spiritual responsibility in our present time of global crisis and an awakening global consciousness of oneness. More recently, he has written about the feminine and the emerging subject of spiritual ecology. He has been interviewed by Oprah Winfrey on Super Soul Sunday and featured on the Global Spirit series shown on PBS. His most recent book is Spiritual Ecology, Cry of the Earth, which is what we’re going to be talking about today. I thought that perhaps we could start, Llewellyn, by having you just give us a little bit of background about yourself. because some people might not be familiar with you. You do have quite an interesting story.
Llewellyn: Yes, I was born in a middle class English household and sent to boarding school at the age of seven, which is the English equivalent to the Tibetan monastery, I think. I was at boarding school from seven to seventeen. When I was sixteen, I had this experience that really changed me altogether, which was precipitated or sparked by a Zen koan I read, “The wild geese do not intend to cast their reflection. The water has no mind to receive their image.” This Zen koan was like a key that opened a door inside of me I didn’t even know existed. I suddenly found myself present in a very, very different world. Physically, it was the same world, my boarding school environment, but suddenly it was full of light, it was full of joy, it was full of color that I didn’t even know existed. I started to meditate in the Zen tradition of just emptiness and started to have experiences of a formless reality beyond the mind, which was completely intoxicating, completely wonderful. I loved it. While other people at the boarding school, when the lights went out in the evening, would take their torch under their bedclothes to read some adolescent book, I meditated. It was really, great. I left boarding school, I continued with this practice, but then there came a time when I was 18 and I began to realize that I needed to find a teacher. I couldn’t go further in the meditation on my own. This was, of course, the age before internet, before even many workshops or anything. Spiritual things were very secretive. So, you had to wait. But I met these people who belonged to a very secretive meditation group, and they invited me to an esoteric talk on mathematics at the Kensington Library in London. I went there and found myself sitting behind a white-haired old lady with her hair tied up in a bun. After the talk, we were introduced in the aisle of the lecture theater. I just had this experience, a very visceral, physical experience of becoming a speck of dust on the floor. She had these amazing blue eyes. She gave me one look from these blue eyes, and I became just a speck of dust upon the floor. I had no idea what it meant. Oh, for like six years later I came across this person saying that the disciple has to become less than the dust at the feet of the teacher. It’s an ancient tradition of the annihilation of the false self, of the ego, so that one can experience reality or truth or one’s real nature, however you call it. But at that time, I had no awareness or understanding of what it might mean. I’d practiced Hatha yoga, or I’d read some books on Taoism, which interested me, but I didn’t know much about anything else. But then she invited me to her small meditation group. There were about eight of us at the time in a very small English bed sitting room, what in America is eloquently referred to as a studio apartment. There was not much of a studio space there. It was eight foot by ten foot and there was so little space that Mrs. Tweedie would sit under the sink while we meditated. There was a bed and a chest of drawers and a sink.
Rick: And this is the first time you mentioned her name, by the way, Mrs. Tweedie. Irina Tweedie, who wrote Daughter of Fire, right?
Llewellyn: Yes, this was before the book had come out. It was a very small group of us. This was in the early 70’s. She came back from India in ’66. Mrs. Tweedie, as she liked to be called, when a teacher whom she referred to as Bhai Sahib who was an Indian Sufi master when he passed on, and he wanted her to bring the teachings of this particular Sufi lineage to the West. She came back to the West and started a very small meditation group. Later her book came out first in its edited version, Chasm of Fire, and then in ’87 in California as a full version, Daughter of Fire. But at that time, she was very unknown. She elected a little of the Theosophical Society. She was in her 60s then, and we were a group of artists and students in our 20s. It was a big age group. There were a few older people she used to refer to as the Golden Oldies, and we were the Spring Fevers. That was where it began. I just sat there week after week, month after month, year after year. I met my wife Anat there. Then when I was 26, her apartment was getting too small, and I’d inherited some money, so I bought a house. We lived upstairs and she and the group lived downstairs, which is another form of spiritual training. Upstairs above your teacher and all the people who came every day. Then slowly she became better known. When I was about 30, I was sitting in her kitchen one afternoon, and at that time, I was an English high school teacher. I taught Shakespeare and poetry. I thought that was going to be my profession, as an English high school teacher. One day when I was about 30, she passed by in the kitchen and said, “When you’re 36, your life will change altogether.” I had absolutely no idea what she meant. When I was 36, she sent me to lecture in America. She was too old to travel anymore. She had glaucoma and she couldn’t travel. She’d been there in ’85 and ’87. She’d come to the Bay Area. That’s where it began. I spent three years traveling around America, lecturing mainly to Jungian associations at the time. I’d done a PhD on Jungian psychology and Shakespeare, and talked about Jungian dream work and Sufism. Then there was this extraordinary day in June of ’91. It was always understood, Rick, that we lived above Mrs. Tweedie. We looked after her. My wife particularly looked after her. We had the group in our house. It was a mutual understanding. We’d stay there until she passed over. That was our work. By that time, we’d been doing this for ten years. Our children had been growing up upstairs. I always joke and say my son said the first words he ever heard spoken was, “Shh, they’re meditating.” Then one day in June, I was standing in the kitchen. It was an English summer’s day, a sort of rarity. I was hit by this incredible force of energy that almost threw me to the floor.
Rick: Just out of the blue?
Llewellyn: Out of the blue. It turned my attention. It was as if it turned me from here to here. In that moment, I knew that we had to go to America and we had to go right then. I remember walking downstairs. It was just before the group used to come at 3 o’clock every afternoon. She was open from 3 until 6 and people came from around the corner and all over the world. It was an open house. I went in through the garden door into her apartment and I said, “Mrs. Tweedie, we have to leave for America soon.” She thought I meant to take a holiday and I said, “No, we’ve got to go.” Two months later, our few belongings were packed up, a couple of suitcases each. We arrived in California to start a center here in California. That was in ’91. America at that time was tremendously exciting spiritually, particularly California. It was where everything was happening. There was this light, there was this sparkle in the air. It was really a wonderful place to be and there was a spiritual freedom here that I loved. It was a wonderful place to come. I used to spend a couple of months a year. I would travel around America lecturing, creating small groups over America. It was really, really exciting. That was, in a way, the next stage of my spiritual journey. I still went back to Europe a couple of times a year and sat with Mrs. Tweedie and discussed the work in America. But this was where my heart was. It was a wonderful place to be.
Rick: There’s one thing you left out of your story, which is that I’ve heard you tell a number of times that you went into a six-month period of such inwardness that you practically had to be spoon-fed. Your mother was taking care of you. Tell us about that a bit.
Llewellyn: There is this phrase “awakening”. My official awakening was when I was 16 and I was in the London subway, and I read this Zen koan. It was like things went from black and white to color in 30 seconds. It was amazing. Then I met Mrs. Tweedie and I began a different practice of meditation. In our Naqshbandi tradition, there’s something called “uways, which is one can have a connection to a spiritual teacher who is no longer present in the physical world. She told me after a number of years that she wasn’t really my teacher, that her teacher, this Indian Sufi sheikh, Radha Mohan Lal she referred to as “Baisa”, which means “elder brother”. He just liked to be called “elder brother”. That he was my teacher. In fact, when I first arrived, he had trained her while she was sitting with him, that he could reach her in meditation on a different plane of consciousness. Soon after I arrived at the group, he had told her quite specifically to leave me alone, he would look after me. She didn’t tell this to me, I was a very intense, unbalanced 19 year old.
Rick: Just to be clear, he had left his body by that time. He was communicating this to her from some other level.
Llewellyn: He passed on in ’66, but he trained her that he could reach her from the other side. I didn’t know anything about this at that time. When I was 23, it was a summer, and I was staying in a friend’s apartment that looked onto this garden. There was nobody there, it was in August. I was an English literature student at the time. I started to be drawn very, very deep inside of myself. Complete exclusion. I began that week sanding some bent wood chairs in the garden. I would just sand these chairs and do the zikr, the repetition of the name of God. I got drawn deeper and deeper inward until the chairs were left in the garden and I went inside this apartment. Then there was this one day when I was taken into this incredible, incredible pain within my heart. It was like the most painful thing I’d ever experienced, and I was drawn. I would just go deep into this incredible pain, and I would come out of it. It took as much as I could bear, and this went on for hours. I didn’t think one could experience so much pain, just pain in the heart. It was anguish, it was sorrow, it was pure pain. Then suddenly in a moment everything changed, and I was made conscious on the plane of the soul or the plane of the self. It was a completely different state of consciousness. It was unbelievable. That plane is a plane of pure light, of pure bliss, of pure oneness, however you call it. Of course, it was completely disorienting, Rick. It was completely, completely disorienting. I had no idea what was happening. Nobody had outwardly prepared me for this. Nobody had told me this was happening. I started then to have a series of very, very powerful mystical experiences, but I couldn’t live in this world. My consciousness was completely somewhere else. It was absorbed somewhere else entirely. There was no time, there was no space. Luckily my mother offered to look after me. I had been a student at the time, and she had a room at the top of her house. I just sat there almost for six months. I was not in this world. I hardly slept. I didn’t eat very much. I was in this timeless space because in that plane of the self, there is no time, so, I would sit all day in the same place. There is no space, so it didn’t matter if I was here or there or anywhere. There were just incredible states of bliss and other mystical experiences. Gradually…
Rick: Was your mother a spiritual person? Did she make you see doctors, or did she understand that something good was happening?
Llewellyn: I had seen some doctors before. Eventually they said I was okay, I could go and stay with her. They tried to give me drugs, but I wasn’t very keen on it. She had had a training in Yogic psychology. She had read mysticism earlier in her life, so it wasn’t… But I was just there. I had this experience in August, and by March I began to come back. Actually, interestingly, I used the works of Charles Dickens, but for three months I read nothing but Charles Dickens. The thing is, what happens in those… I didn’t know at the time, but what happens in those experiences… Mrs. Tweedie wrote a similar description of her own experiences after her teacher died, when she said she was in such a state of oneness that there was no difference between anything. The dog shit on the road was the most divine thing that existed. The consciousness gets completely absorbed into oneness. After her teacher died, went to the Gandhi ashram in the Himalayas for six months, because the ego has to be reconstituted after that experience. It has been shattered into a million pieces. It’s never going to be the same, because it is no longer the center of one’s life. It is no longer the “I” that rules, because it’s been absorbed somewhere else. And yet, you cannot live in this world without an ego, without an “I”. I know because I’ve tried. Otherwise, I am you, we are the same person. I am this table, I am the floor, I am the wind, I am the sky. You can’t make any choices. There is nobody there to choose. How do you know what to have for breakfast? How do you know when to have breakfast?
Rick: There is a Sanskrit phrase, “leisha vidya”, faint remains of ignorance, and it’s said that living is not possible without that, you need that. Otherwise, you can’t tell your ass from your elbow, as the saying goes.
Llewellyn: Right, absolutely, completely. The ego has to get reconstituted around this different center of consciousness. In a way, I discovered later, it was my teacher who was no longer physically present. He made me conscious on the plane of the soul, on the plane of the self, and that consciousness remained. In Sufism, we have two things, one is a state and the other is a station. A state is something that comes and goes. You have a state of bliss, you have a state of oneness. It’s an act of grace and it can last half an hour, it can last a week, but it’s a state. It comes and goes. You can get taken into a state of intoxication, a state of nearness with God, however you like to call it. Then there is what they call a station, which is where you arrived at, and you remain there until you get taken on to the next station.
Rick: So, it’s more of a stabilized, integrated sort of thing, a station.
Llewellyn: As much as it can be, because mystical states can never be completely stabilized. I remained there really for the next 35 years. One has to learn how to live from a completely different perspective. You see life very, very differently. For example, I started to have past life memories. My whole life was completely different, but I had also to come back down to earth, go back to college, get my degree. I then got married, I had young children to run a household, all of those very grounding experiences. But that was really when I was 16, I was woken up, but then there was no context, there was no container for that. I think this is something that’s maybe not so well understood in the West. You can have a spiritual awakening, which is fine, but unless there’s a context, unless there’s a container, what in Sufism we call a tradition, then it very easily gets dissipated, you get confused, you get unbalanced. By the time I came to Irina Tweedie when I was 19, I was very confused and very unbalanced. She created a container for me to have a deeper awakening, a deeper inner experience. Then again there was a container, there was a tradition of how to ground that. Years later when I started lecturing in America and I started reading Sufism, because at that time, firstly there weren’t any Sufi books, if you didn’t read Persian or Arabic, which I didn’t, there were very few. Rumi hadn’t been translated except by Nicholson, which is a very academic translation. I discovered later this Sufi phrase from one of the very early Sufis, Junaid, who lived in Baghdad. He calls it “abiding after passing away”. You get taken out of yourself, out of the ego, out of everything that is familiar, and then you get to a place where you can live from it, which is abiding. You find a certain grounding, not grounding in the ego, but you become grounded enough so you can have a life. Because in Sufism we have to live in the world, we have families, we have jobs, we have professions.
Rick: That’s great. It reminds me of the Zen ox-herding pictures, where at some point everything disappears and then eventually he’s back in the marketplace.
Llewellyn: I wish I could become enlightened around him. I wish it was so easy.
Rick: Thank you for that. I’m sure many points you made could be a springboard for a whole conversation, but we want to turn our attention to spiritual ecology. In the introduction that I read, you mentioned that in recent years your focus has been on spiritual responsibility in our present time of global crisis. That’s nice because a lot of times when people are focused on spirituality, they are so to the exclusion of worldly concerns and environmental concerns and social ethical, so-called gross mundane illusory issues. Not only yourself, but a number of spiritual people, teachers, have begun to come full circle and realize that it’s not enough to just marinate in one’s own inner experience, that they have a responsibility or a role to play in bringing that inner awakening to bear on issues that concern the whole of humanity. There are a number of beautiful essays in this book. I should mention that Llewellyn didn’t write this whole book. He wrote one of the essays. It’s a compilation of essays from a number of different writers. Llewellyn was the editor and compiler of it. I perceive a core theme coming up again and again in the essays in this book, which is that spirituality in the full sense of the word is the ultimate fulcrum or leverage by which more manifest problems can be influenced. Is that a fair assessment of it all, do you think?
Llewellyn: To take it the other way, at the moment we are living in a state of global imbalance. We are destroying our own ecosystem at an alarming rate, whether you call it climate change, pollution, species depletion, however you call it. I was drawn inwardly to find out what is the root of this imbalance. How did we get into this extraordinarily devastating state? It seemed to me that we’d lost the relationship to what I call the sacred within creation. In our Western culture, this is very different of course to any indigenous culture. It has its roots in the West in a certain Christian conditioning that God is in heaven and not on earth. In the year 400, the Christian church banned paganism. Any earth-based spirituality was banned and the sacred groves were cut down. The temples were destroyed, the Druids, the priests were killed. So, we lost a certain central orientation, which with of course Newtonian consciousness and the industrial revolution and then the globalization of its progeny, which is materialism, gross materialism, has taken over our world and we need to return to our roots. Rumi says somewhere, “Return to the root of the root of your own self.” It seemed to me we needed to return to a relationship with the sacred within life, within creation. Otherwise, whatever we’re going to do is going to reconstitute the same imbalance. The Zen Buddhist teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, who is what’s called an engaged Buddhist, which means rather than a Buddhist who just goes into a monastic retreat, he’s very involved in the world, he was asked what we can do most to help the world at this time. He says, “Listen to the sound of the earth crying.” It’s like we can go back to our spiritual roots within creation because there is this mystical state of oneness. You call it non-dual awareness or oneness. You realize that you are part of everything, you are everything. There is nothing separate. Separation is an illusion. It’s all this extraordinary interdependent, interconnected web of life. You are part of life. Life is part of you. We are part of creation. In that sense, I think we have a responsibility towards creation. Yes, there is a whole spiritual teaching that you close all the doors, you shut all the windows, and you go into deep states of meditation. You leave this world behind. I can say I’ve done that. You get to very, very beautiful states. There are places of incredible light, incredible beauty, and there is a temptation then to turn away from the world completely. You can do that. You can be absorbed into beautiful spiritual states and remain there. But it seems to me that is not respecting something about the physical world into which you have incarnated. It seems to me that we have a responsibility towards this world, this beautiful and suffering world. I feel passionately that people who have a glimpse of spiritual awakening, of spiritual awareness, whose spiritual light has been awakened, because that’s what happens in spiritual awakening, this light of the self gets awakened, it can be used in service to the whole. We are part of the whole. We are therefore in service to the whole. The whole needs us because there is this spiritual teaching that the world has a soul. The ancients called it the Annamumundi, the soul of the world. There’s a wonderful tribe in South America, the Kogi, they call it Aluna. And it is the soul of the world that is in really desperate need because of the harm that we are doing to the world. It is crying and many, many people hear it even without knowing what it is. And what I have discovered is that through deep prayer, through deep meditation, one can make a connection to the soul of the world, to this inner spiritual substance in creation. Just like we have our own soul, our own Atma, our individual self that is also of course the universal self. There is no difference there, it is oneness. So, while we are in this world, we are also part of the world soul, which is in need at this time. We can make a relationship to it; we can become responsible spiritual citizens of the world. Yes, there is outer action that is needed to try to heal the devastation we are doing, that our materialism, that our consumerism, that our irresponsible behavior is doing to this beautiful world, this clear-cutting of creation. But there is also an inner… I don’t know whether this is the right time to go into it, Rick, but what I find interesting or sad or even painful is that in the West we have now been given a certain spiritual awareness. Now it wasn’t there when I grew up, I remember in the 50s, it wasn’t part of our collective consciousness. Spirituality didn’t exist. You could become a Buddhist or a contemplative nun or monk, but spirituality as we know it now didn’t really exist. And it came to the West with the hippie generation, with the Maharishi, with all of the spiritual teachers who came from India. And we began to have access to the light of our own soul, to this incredibly beautiful spiritual self that we all have. And many of your viewers will have had that experience within themselves, and it changes you. You wake up, you wake up into a world of light, like I did when I was 16. A world of laughter, a world of joy, a world of presence, a world of beauty. Which is, you don’t anymore just want the stuff of materialism, you want something else. Your heart has been touched. And you realize that you have a soul, you have an inner being, you have a spiritual self, very different to just the physical self. And then sadly a lot of spiritual practices stop there. And they say, “I have this inner magical, mystical, spiritual soul, this center of consciousness that is not just the mind, not just his thoughts, this awareness of presence.” And it’s a tremendous gift to be given that experience, and it can only be given as a gift. It’s always been a gift. As Hafiz, he says, “What is all this love and all this laughter? It’s the joyous sound of a soul waking up.” And this is the tradition, it’s a gift. And then people stop there and they stay with it, which is fine, but there is always more, there is always a next step on the journey. And in Sufism we are taught that after the awareness of oneness there comes the station of servanthood. How can this awareness, how can this spiritual self be used in service to the whole, be used in service to life, be used in service to God, however you like to call it, there is no difference. Because once you have been given this gift, my sense is you have a duty to use it, and you have a duty to use it responsibly, which is why I use this phrase, “spiritual responsibility” at a time of global crisis. It’s not about you. When you awaken into oneness, when you awaken into the states of non-duality, the first awareness is that it’s not about you. Then what do you do with that awareness? It’s not about you. So, if you believe in God, you can say it’s about God. If you believe in life, you can say it’s about life. If you believe in oneness, you can say it’s about oneness. And just as you have a soul, you have an inner spiritual body, so does the world. And this is an esoteric teaching. It was known, of course, to shamans. Shamans who often say that their practices are to heal the tears in the inner world that we make through our outer behavior. It was known, of course, in Tibetan Buddhism, in the shamanism of Tibetan Buddhism, the deep spiritual practices they do with the spiritual body of creation, with the spirits of the mountains, of the rivers. It has been known in many, many traditions, but somehow, when spirituality came to the West, a lot of it stopped with the individual. It’s my awakening, it’s my journey, it’s my soul. Which, of course, it isn’t.
Rick: I guess then the question is, how could it be different? I’ve been on a spiritual path for 45 years or something, and I spent 25 years or so teaching meditation, and I’m doing this show, which is something. But basically, other than recycling and a few little things like that, I’m not doing a heck of a lot to help the environment or the world. I still drive a car and fly on planes and things. Most of the “spiritual teachers” that I know are basically doing spiritual teaching. They sit up in front of groups and they talk. So is the contribution that so-called spiritual people can make largely an esoteric one, an inner one, where they’re just kind of enriching the collective consciousness with their awakening awareness and perhaps propagating that awareness to others, who can then in turn enrich it? Or is there something even more concrete and manifest that one can do, aside from signing petitions?
Llewellyn: I don’t think petitions have much awareness. I think the global corporations have a firm grip upon the outer political world. First of all, my sense in the past is that real change, my sense from the past and also seeing how things are, that real change isn’t going to come from big groups. But from small groups of people, it is like an organic structure of life. I believe very much in life. I believe very much that there is a wisdom within the planet itself. And that we are part of the organic structure of life. The difference is that people who have a spiritual awareness, there is a spark of divine consciousness in their cellular structure. First of all, I think it is necessary to recognize the world is in trouble. The world is suffering. We have a responsibility towards it. That’s the first step that takes us out of “me” towards “we.” It takes us out of our own awakening, our own spiritual practice, into an awareness of the whole. Then there is a need to listen. That’s why Chetanath Ghani says, “To hear the sound of the earth crying, we are so caught up in doing, we need to listen, we need to be attentive.” And the Sufis have what they call the listening of the heart. They see with the eye of the heart, they listen with the heart. And you listen within yourself. And then there will be a response. Because we are connected to the earth, it is not something separate. We are not a strange alien species that has been left here for a short while to go on to planet Xeron or somewhere afterwards. We are part of the earth, our spiritual body is part of the earth, and we are needed by the earth. I say this is what was always understood. Tibetan Buddhism is very deeply rooted in the magic of creation. Just like Zen Buddhism and Taoism, very deeply rooted in creation. You have to read Zen poetry or Taoist poetry. The wisdom of the Tao is deeply rooted in the patterns of creation. We have to re-establish this connection that we have within ourselves and the soul of the world and the spiritual body of the world. We have to feel it. We have to make a relationship with it. This is part of the wisdom of the feminine. To listen is also feminine. We have to learn to listen inwardly as much as we watch outwardly and make a spiritual relationship with the earth, with our soul and the soul of the world. You feel it because I call it the great unspoken tragedy of this present time that we have forgotten about the spiritual body of the earth. We have forgotten about the inner worlds. We have been censored. We live in a culture that has very, very efficiently told us that the outer physical world is all that exists. Even when we do spiritual practice and we discover our own inner spiritual self, there is a sort of blinker that stops us from then saying, “Well, this spiritual self we have must be part of the whole.” What is the relationship I then have to the whole? Then once we make a relationship with the spiritual intelligence within creation, with the soul of the world, then we begin the groundwork. Then we begin the deeper healing because, again, if somebody, or if you relate to your own soul, then you can heal yourself. That is understood. This is part of new age consciousness, if you like. If you are sick and you are out of balance, you go within yourself and you make a relationship with your own soul and you bring yourself back into balance. In indigenous cultures, they would use the same understanding in relationship to creation. If it seemed that the tribe was out of balance or there was a sickness in the tribe, they would go within through their vision quests or their deep meditations or their shamanic journeyings and they would talk to the gods, they would talk to the spirits, they would find out what is out of balance. We need to do that because all of the technological innovations are not going to save our present situation. All of the recycling has gone too far. We are either one minute to midnight or we are already past the tipping point. Those of us who have been awakened, who have had a glimpse of a different consciousness that is not just a physical consciousness, I feel we have a responsibility to, in a way, create the inner stepping stones to a really sustainable, holistic life. Sustainability for me is not just the sustainability of our present civilization, which I think is living in a psychotic way, but it is the sustainability of all of creation. Why are human beings allowed to dominate? Surely if we believe in oneness, then sustainability is about the sustainability of the whole. Then we start to bring things back into balance and then we start to work together with creation from a spiritual point of view. And then maybe healing can be given because, as far as I understand, the earth is very magical, it is very mysterious.
Rick: At this point in the interview, Skype quit unexpectedly. I restarted it, reconnected and resumed the interview, unaware of the fact that the audio on my side was no longer recording. So, for the rest of this interview, you are just going to hear Llewellyn’s remarks, except for a couple of points at which I recorded an approximation of the question I had asked him to put his remarks in context.
Llewellyn: I’m saying is that when you’ve had an awakening, when this light of the Self has been woken up, when you’re aware of your soul, that you have a spiritual responsibility to the spiritual body of creation. Just like you make a relationship with your own soul, you should make a relationship to what is sacred within creation. And first of all I would say that the difficulty here, Rick, is that we have been censored from an awareness of the inner worlds. That, for example, indigenous cultures have, and for example, they have in Tibetan Buddhism, many different, they’re aware of many different inner worlds. And somehow, we have been in the West, our rational mind, our rational education, and our whole present civilization has censored us from an awareness of the inner worlds. For example, in the medieval time, they saw human beings as part of the great chain of creation, the great chain of being it was called, that went all through all the angelic worlds. And humanity was just one part of this great chain. Now we see ourselves as separate from it. And it is like Thich Nhat Hanh, he says that we need a spiritual revolution as much as if we’re going to resolve this ecological crisis, because at the root of the ecological crisis there is a spiritual imbalance. And just to take the, okay, I can give you another example. I work with human beings and spiritual teacher, and there is a way that you can change, or the human being, spiritual body can be changed so that their whole life then changes. And in Sufism it is done through what’s called turning the heart. Certain spiritual energy is given to the heart chakra, which then turns the heart and the whole consciousness of the human being changes. And once that consciousness changes, then they will change their life, because you see things differently. Your values change. You don’t want to fight for things you don’t believe in anymore. Your values change. For example, maybe you’re not so easily caught up in addictions or materialism, because you’ve been given a different set of values. I would take it in a different direction as to say that those of us who have a spiritual awakening have to be a little bit more revolutionary and say that then we have to interact with life from a spiritual point of view. For example, once you have an awareness of oneness, once you’ve really experienced oneness, Sufism is called the unity of being, then how are you going to interact with life from this place of oneness? And the difficulty is, in the West, we don’t have a spiritual or mystical tradition to fall back on. For example, in indigenous cultures, they have a shamanic understanding that we are part of, one part of many different worlds, and they have practices about how to relate to them. And so, in a way, it falls upon us, upon those of us who have had an awakening, to then explore within ourselves and within the world, how can I make a contribution in the Western consciousness as the grail legend, which is a very powerful myth. And Percival, the young man, discovers the grail castle. But what is significant is he forgets to ask the question, and then the grail castle vanishes, and he has to go through many, many tribulations until he discovers the grail castle again. And then he asks the question, which is, “For whom serves the grail?” And the answer comes back, “The grail serves the grail king.” And in the Fisher King legend, in the grail legend, the Fisher King is wounded, and he needs to be healed. Because my sense, Rick, is this civilization is over. We cannot sustain it. It doesn’t make sense anymore. It hasn’t made sense for quite a long time. It’s been running on empty. All the recycling, all the wind farms, all the solar paneling, we live in an energy-intensive, consumer-driven culture that is over. It’s defunct. But then how, out of the debris of this civilization, how is a new civilization going to be born? Well, there are two questions. I do think that a lot of people who have a spiritual awakening, they get caught in the idea that it is their awakening, that it is their inner journey, that it is… And it’s not, because a couple of years ago somebody on a panel asked me about my awakening into oneness. I said it doesn’t exist. Oneness is awakening. You don’t awaken. Oneness awakens to itself. Life awakens. We are part of this cosmic explosion that we call life. Life awakens. And there is a danger in that we live in such an ego-centered society that people have an experience, then the ego gets hold of it. And it says, “I am awakened. I have an awakening.” Which of course then limits the whole process, because as I say, one thing is to be awakened, the other is to stay awake and to use that awakening in service to the whole. And when people have had an awakening, do they then ask the question, “For whom does this serve?” Do they ask it sincerely into the oneness in which they have been awakened? And then I think if you are sincere, you will get a response, because we are all part of this oneness of creation, and life needs us. It needs us to participate in its own healing and its own redemption, not with our own ideas, but with the deeper understanding that belongs to oneness. Because my sense, Rick, is this civilization is over. We cannot sustain it. It doesn’t make sense anymore. It hasn’t made sense for quite a long time. It’s been running on empty. All the recycling, all the wind farms, all the solar paneling, we live in an energy-intensive, consumer-driven culture that is over. It’s defunct. But then how, out of the debris of this civilization, how is a new civilization going to be born? Well, there are two questions. I do think that a lot of people who have a spiritual awakening, they get caught in the idea that it is their awakening, that it is their inner journey, that it is… And it’s not, because a couple of years ago somebody on a panel asked me about my awakening into oneness. I said it doesn’t exist. Oneness is awakening. You don’t awaken. Oneness awakens to itself. Life awakens. We are part of this cosmic explosion that we call life. Life awakens. And there is a danger in that we live in such an ego-centered society that people have an experience, then the ego gets hold of it. And it says, “I am awakened. I have an awakening.” Which of course then limits the whole process, because as I say, one thing is to be awakened, the other is to stay awake and to use that awakening in service to the whole. Not just the language, the thought forms that are behind the language. And I actually feel quite strongly that a lot of the spiritual traditions that came to the West got caught up in a certain self-empowerment, self-development movement and lost a certain spiritual integrity that belonged to the East. They got caught up in Western individualism. I don’t know what the future will be. I don’t know what the next stage of human evolution will be. I’ve seen visions about its potential. I think what is more important is that we keep a certain integrity at this time when so much is commercialized, when so much is exploited. There is outer exploitation of the environment, there is inner exploitation of the environment. And that’s why you have to stay true to something within yourself. I would call it the light of the self or the love of God, to stay true to there and again to think, “How can I use this in service? How can this be used in service to the whole?” Now in our tradition, we then turn towards God. We say to the beloved, because for Sufis, God is the beloved. We say, “Beloved, how can I be in service to you?” And a lot of Sufi practices are learning to, in meditation or just in daily practices, learning to be receptive, to learn to listen. There’s a saying, “I have placed my signs on the horizons and in themselves.” And you learn to watch the signs both in the outer life and in the inner life to see where you can be of service. I think that different people are called in different ways. Some people are called very obviously to be in service as a doctor or a nurse or a therapist or to work in a third world doing humanitarian work. I think there is also some people who are called to be in service to be in prayer. There is a need to pray for the world. I like Mother Teresa when she says, “Small things with great love.” It’s not what we do, it’s the love that we put in the doing. Again, it’s looking at it quantitatively rather than quality. One thing I’ve experienced on the spiritual journey is that sometimes your outer situation remains the same but the values change. And if you’ve been given the gift of awakening, what is your responsibility with this gift you have been given? Things are given freely just like all this beautiful spiritual teachings came to the West in the ’70s and ’80s because when I grew up, they weren’t here. What are you going to do with them? Who are they for? Are they just for our individual self-worth or do they serve a deeper purpose? And what responsibility do you have to live that deeper purpose and how are you going to find it? I believe more in telling people what to do. I’d rather say there is a wisdom within each of us that can take us, that can show us. The work you do, for example, is to do this Buddha at the gas pump. The work I do is to have a meditation group. The work somebody else does may be to help with deforestation somewhere or to help the regeneration of the ecosystem. Again, what matters is the attitude that we bring to it. Do we do it out of an ego-centered attitude or are we really in service? Are our hearts open or from another point of view are we prepared to give it all up at a moment’s notice if the inner prompting comes, if something says you are now needed over here or you now need to do this, or it is that certain freedom of spirit. But behind it all, oneness, non-duality, it means we are all together. Nothing is separate. Nobody has their own journey. It doesn’t exist. We are all part of this extraordinary story of creation while we are in this world, while we have a physical body. And we are all together in this. And some of us have been graced with an awareness of the light of the self. It is very beautiful. As I told you, when I was 23 I was woken up so I could see it. I see it in a human being. I see that light. I know how precious it is. And how are we going to use it? What is our relationship to it? Are we going to be in service to it? And are we going to really live it in the deepest, most compassionate way we can? And then I think you will find that there are these groups of people around the world who are not necessarily big groups, small groups of people, who are inwardly connected through the links of oneness, through in a way this organic web of light throughout the world that enables us to have this conversation, that enables us to share certain values. They are not religious values. They are deeply human values. There is compassion, loving kindness, understanding. And out of that I think a new era will be born. Out of those deep human spiritual values that are our birthright. And if we can live from there, in whatever form they take, the form doesn’t matter. The moment we are just surrounded by this debris of a dying civilization, with its malls, with its ridiculous patterns of behavior that have… I always think are human beings really meant to spend eight hours a day watching a computer screen? No. Even if they are valuable for exchanges like this. We are made of stardust. We are here for just a few short years. What are we going to do with this experience? How are we going to give our light back to life, back to the soul of life that needs it at this time, because so much damage is being done?
Rick: I know you appreciate that there are many levels of creation, not just the gross material world as people commonly perceive it, and the transcendental field of pure consciousness, but also, many relative strata inhabited by subtle beings, such as angels, devas, elementals and the like. I don’t perceive these myself, but I have friends who perceive them routinely, and see many of them helping human beings in mysterious ways. Since the relative world is composed of polarities, there are also subtle beings which apparently don’t have our best interests in mind. Would you say that the opposing influences we see displayed in the world, forces of good and evil, to put it simply, are symptomatic of these more subtle beings engaging in some sort of cosmic struggle?
Llewellyn: Wow, that’s a very big question. You need another hour to answer that. Yes, I agree there are multiple levels of reality, and until our present civilization this was always understood. And in these levels of reality there are beneficial forces and there are less beneficial forces. One thinks of the angels who generally work together with human beings or like to help human beings, and then there are other forces that don’t like us to evolve, don’t like us to change. Many people see their handiwork in certain big multinational corporations that are degrading the environment, or political structures that don’t want change, that don’t want humanity to evolve. And I think it’s good to work together with those forces in the inner world that want to work together with us. In the same way as something Mrs. Tweedie explained to me years ago, there are some trees that don’t like people, and there are some trees that like people. And you learn to, if you like to talk to trees, to be with the trees that like people and they can help you and they can, for example, absorb sickness from human beings and transmute it, and to keep away from trees that don’t like it. I think, again, if you ask with a sincerity of heart, look, the Sufis say, for example, that you can’t go towards the truth without help from the other side. If you take one step towards him, he takes ten towards you. There are many inner beings that need us to look towards them for help, to help the world at this time, and they are waiting for us. And I say, sadly, many people don’t look towards them. They don’t open themselves to that level of experience beyond their comfort zone. Well, again, we have been censored, and there is no other word to talk about it, just as other cultures have burnt the books. We have been censored from an awareness of inner beings, particularly in our Western culture. For example, if you go to Bali, the houses have little spirit houses, and those are not just for tourists, it’s because every house had a spirit. That was looked after. In indigenous cultures, the shamans work with the inner beings. Sadly, for some reason, we have been denied that heritage once you have awareness of… I say there are many, many different sorts of inner beings. I’ve written about it in some of my books, different levels of reality from the angelic world, the devas, who are the forces behind creation, and elementals. I’ve had experience, particularly in the angelic plane, with incredibly beautiful angels that are here to help humanity. Many people have had experience. In fact, I recently read somebody who has worked a lot with dying people, and there are often angels that help them. One of the angels said, first about any situation, he said, first you need to pray, and then actions that come from prayers. In the Bible, there’s this beautiful image, Jacob’s ladder, the angels ascending and descending from heaven to humanity. There are many, many different levels of reality, and as I say, part of the poverty of our present culture is we look only outward, and we don’t have the training, we don’t have the shamanic training about how to be with the inner world. I think that will come in the next age. There’s much teaching and wisdom we have to relearn that was known to our ancestors. We focuson the outer world and the world of the ego. And again, oneness for me includes all the levels of reality, because otherwise you have a very censored oneness. It’s just oneness on the physical plane. If oneness doesn’t include the angels and the devas and all the other beings, physical or non-physical, then what sort of oneness is it?
Rick: In most interviews I ask my guests what they see on the horizon in terms of their spiritual development. Most say it’s a mystery that keeps deepening and unfolding. A few, whom I consider quite advanced, such as Adi Shanti, say that they always have a sense that they’re just beginning. A few others can’t relate to the idea of spiritual progress or levels of development. To them such concepts seem to contradict the idea of non-duality. How do you see it?
Llewellyn: There is a Sufi story about that. One great early Sufi stood on the edge of the shore and there was a woman beside him and he said, “What is the end of love?” And she said, “Love has no end because the beloved has no end.” No, the journey continues. There is a Hindu saying, I think, about the knowledge of Brahma, “Thousands of years and thousands of years are not enough.” One of the great things about the mystical journey is one doesn’t know and one’s always just beginning. I’m beginning from where I am and there’s always a new horizon. It’s only in the last ten years that- I was taken into the inner worlds when I was 30. In my early 30s I worked with archetypes, with certain powers in the inner world for seven years. Then recently I was taken back into the inner worlds. My adventure at the moment is trying to understand the forces within creation, the forces within the world. Particularly to do with our relationship with the world soul, with the Anima Mundi. This is a part of my journey that’s really very much developing at this time, trying to understand what is our relationship with creation, how can we help creation in its time of need. I do a simple prayer for the earth in which one puts the earth as a living being into one’s heart in one’s meditation and offers it to God or to the beloved or to the oneness. I think for me this is the frontiers that need to be explored spiritually because it is like the return. Spiritually you realize this inner state and then how can you bring it back into your life, into your inner life. This is very, very important, Rick. If we are talking about oneness then our inner life has to include the inner life of the whole. There can’t be my inner life separate from the inner life of creation. I think we have to rediscover what that means. We have to reclaim our spiritual heritage. We have to go to the center of the maze. In the Chartres Cathedral when you walk to the center of the maze, then you turn around and there is the rose window reflecting right into your heart. We have to rediscover our love for creation and what this means for creation, not just for us. We have become very self-sensitive in our spirituality. We are part of something much bigger than we realize. I think we need to be able to embrace that. At least I try to. Always at the end of the day I go into prayer and I say, “Beloved, how can I be of service more? How can I be of more use to you? Where do you want me? Where do you need my attention to make this relationship?” Because it’s the relationship that’s got broken. The beloved includes life, creation. It’s not separate. Sufis talk about intimacy. He is nearer to you than your very neck vein or the beloved is nearer to you. Your neck vein is closer to you than yourself to yourself, Rumi says. How can we bring back that spiritual intimacy into our life and into the life of the planet? Then I think something can happen. You see, what matters to me is somewhere that we work together. In this moment you and I, there is a connection. When people view your programs, there is a connection. Out of that connection something can be born. There is a network of light around the planet. Here modern technology can help us because the internet and Skype make this available. All around the world, and we are all around the world, there is no separation. I remember actually seeing that when I was 17. I was traveling in the Philippines and it was the beginning of the hippie time. And I met people, and there was this connection because we were part of something that was beginning. And I still feel it now and I think it’s very important. How can we be of service to each other and to the whole?
Rick: So, thank you for watching this somewhat jointed interview. We had a few technical problems. I’ve been wanting to interview Lewellyn for a long time. I have great respect for him, and I will certainly be interviewing him in the future. In fact, he just sent me another one of his books which I will read, and we will have a discussion about that. But for those who have been listening or watching, this interview has been part of an ongoing series. There are over 200 interviews now, more to come. You can find them all archived at Buddha at the Gas Pump, which is www.batgap.com. There you will find both an alphabetical and a chronological list of all the interviews I’ve done so far. You will also find a discussion group and each interview has its own page in that discussion group, its own section. Feel free to join in. There is a link to an audio podcast, in case you would like to subscribe to this in iTunes and not have to sit in front of your computer to watch it. There is a “Donate” button, which I appreciate people clicking if they feel motivated to do so. And there is a place to sign up to be notified by email each time a new interview is posted. So again, thanks for listening or watching and we’ll see you next week.