Phil Goldberg Transcript

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Phil Goldberg Interview

RICK: 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 have done 620 Something of them now. And if this is new to you, and you’d like to check out previous ones, please go to bat gap comm bat gap and look under the past interviews menu, where you’ll find them, the old ones arranged in several different ways. This program is made possible through the support of appreciative listeners and viewers. If you appreciate it and would like to help support it, there’s a PayPal button on every page of the website. And there’s also a donation page that explains some alternatives to PayPal. Speaking of previous interviews, my guest today is Phil Goldberg, whom I interviewed 11 years ago, nearly 11 years ago, it’ll be in January. And Phil and I have known each other for over 50 years as and last in the last interview I said 40 years now it’s 50. And, you know, we’ve we’ve been good friends for all this time and had had some interesting adventures together. Let me and incidentally, you might like to listen to the first interview we did together. Although I apologize for the imbalance of the audio tracks in those days. I didn’t have to channel audio as I do now. And so my voice is about twice as loud as Phil’s I know that because I listened to it this week. But otherwise, it was good content. So welcome, Phil. Good to have you.

PHIL: Thanks for great to be with you again.

RICK: And let me just read Phil’s bio a little bit. So Phil has been studying the world’s spiritual traditions. Oh, and today, I got to show you guys something. So I mentioned that Phil and I knew each other 50 years ago, here’s a picture of us 50 years ago, roughly. I don’t think you can see it, but but the audience can. And that’s obviously Phil on the left that you had a funny story about this photo, Phil, I think your nephew or somebody saw it and tell us that story. I was

PHIL: giving a TM lecture and sometime in the 70s. And then to whoever took it sent it to me several years ago. And I showed it to my nephew who was then nine. And he said Who is that? And I said it’s me. It’s Uncle Phil. And he said, that’s you. What happened? I’ve gotten I cracked people up by telling them that story ever since my nephew of course doesn’t remember. But it it just says so much. Yeah,

RICK: I told I read that story. And she cracked up she thought that was great. The ravages of time. But to tell you the truth. In many respects, I don’t know about you. I feel younger now than I did then. Wasn’t there a Dylan song? I was so much.

PHIL: I was so much older then I’m younger than that now. Yes, I know exactly what you mean. Except when, you know, some of the arthritis in my hip reminds me that I am in fact older. But yeah, I do feel more youthful in many ways. And I’m I no more I’m wiser. But and one of the ways I’m wiser is I don’t think I know everything, like I did back then.

RICK: I sometimes think okay, I really wish I could redo High School in my current state of mind. I would have gotten so much more out of it. And college. Yeah, exactly. Speaking of hips, I have a friend who had both hips replaced and he regularly hikes the Grand Canyon and things like that. So go ahead and do that if you need to. So here’s your bio. Phyllis has been studying the world’s spiritual traditions for more than 50 years as a practitioner, teacher and author. He trained as a transcendental meditation teacher with marshy Mahesh Yogi in 1970. As did I were on the same course and later became an ordained, ordained interfaith minister and spiritual counselor. As a public speaker and workshop leader he has lectured and taught at major venues throughout the US and India. As a professional writer. His articles and blogs have appeared in numerous print and online publications. And he has co He has authored or co authored more than 25 books including an upcoming novel and such celebrated nonfiction as the intuitive edge understanding intuition and applying it in everyday life. roadsigns on the spiritual path, living at the heart of paradox, the award winning American VEDA from Emerson and the Beatles to yoga and meditation, how spiritual health Indian spirituality changed the West, which he and I talked about a lot in the previous interview, and is a relatively new book, which I just listened to the life of Yogananda, the story of the yogi who became the first modern guru, and his latest book, The timely spiritual practice for crazy times powerful tools to cultivate calm, clarity and courage. He has produced he courses for spirituality and practice and has taught many online courses. Most recently the yoga of intuition and creativity, four pathways to the Divine how Hindu Dharma transformed the West, and the forthcoming and immersive exploration of the iconic Autobiography of a Yogi is special 12 part series spiritual practice for crazy times for unity online radio features interviews with well known spiritual teachers. He is currently working on two nonfiction books and a sequel to his novel. In addition, he blogs regularly on elephant journal and spirituality and health co hosts, the popular spirit matters podcast with our mutual friend, Dennis Remondi. And it has a YouTube channel also, and leads American VEDA tours to India, he serves on the board of the Association for spiritual integrity. I’m an advisor to that organization and help found it and his website is Phillip So I don’t usually read fairly long autobiography, you know, biographical sketches like that. But that was good at PAX in a lot and probably wouldn’t remember to mention all that stuff. If I just asked you to wing it.

PHIL: Thank you, I appreciate it.

RICK: Let’s just kind of speaking of winging it. I have some notes here. But I think we’re just going to have a barely extemporaneous conversation and cover all kinds of stuff. And as I often say, to my guests, don’t hesitate to say whatever comes to mind. Don’t wait for me to ask a question about it. Because I might not think too, if you feel like launching into some segue, or that just go ahead and do it. All right.

PHIL: Sounds like good jazz.

RICK: Yeah, right. That’s what it is. So I just listened to your book, and I enjoyed it

RICK: a lot. I, I, of course, have read Autobiography of a Yogi which probably most of the people listening to this have. And if they haven’t, I highly recommend it. They really should. It’s quite a book and got it got a lot of us started on the spiritual path.

PHIL: I should note, by the way, that it’s the 75th anniversary of the publication of autobiography of Yogi and there’s a lot going on, to celebrate them.

RICK: And I know that people ask you well, why write a biography of Yogananda when he already wrote this great autobiography. But having now read both, there’s a lot of stuff in your autobiography and your biography that wasn’t in his autobiography and wouldn’t have been I mean, he just wouldn’t have gotten into all that stuff. But it really shows his human side, I think, to a great degree, and, you know, his, perhaps vulnerabilities if we want to call them that the trials and tribulations that he underwent, you know, as he pursued his mission, largely in the West, and, you know, some of the stuff he had to deal with and I don’t know you just gave gives you a better feeling of the man and in fact, I mean, the autobiography itself. I don’t know what percentage of it was actually about him. A lot of it was just about all these Yogi’s and saints and, and people that he had, or even just heard about.

PHIL: The the autobiography of Yogi, you know, is probably the most influential book on spirituality at least. Well, in the last 75 years, at least. When I was researching American VEDA, and I asked people what got them on their spiritual path, if they mentioned a book, it was far and away the most often mentioned book. The second most mentioned book, I should say, was, ROM Das is Be here now. But when I interviewed rom Das, he mentioned Autobiography of Yoshi. So so it’s it, you know, is a hugely influential book. And when I wrote American VEDA, I had a chapter to devote to Yogananda, because he was so influential in the saga of Eastern teachings of the teachings of yoga and Vedanta. The whole sort of Indian legacy, that I gave him a full chapter. And while researching it, I realized he had a really interesting human story. And I and, and we know a lot more about his human story than we usually do, from renunciate gurus who don’t talk that much about their past. And I felt Oh, I wish I had more space. And then after the book was published, and I was thinking, what, what to do next? I thought, What about a full on biography of Yogananda. And there are other gurus I wrote about that would deserve that. But, you know, I, my first question to myself was, well, but he wrote the autobiography. So what is there? So I revisited Autobiography of yoga. And that’s when it really hit me how much he leaves out. There are places where he says things like, and four years passed. And, you know, he’ll just as he talks about his four years in Boston, which is where he started, he came here in 1922, Boston, and spent the first four years of his what would ultimately be more than 30 years in America, in Boston, and says, In four years Platt passed in Boston, and I caught a lot of people and that was it. And I said, Wait a minute. Well, what was that? What was those four years? Like? Here’s a guy who grew up in a part of the world where, you know, it’s seldom got below 60, or 70 degrees, and he was in Boston, and he showed up in September. And what was the winter? Like? What was it like being a long haired, dark skinned man in Boston 1920 When there was so much racism alive, and no one knowing that very few people anyway, had seen an orange clad, you know, Hindu. What was it? Like? How did he get started? What? So I just I set out and I realized there’s a lot of gaps to fill. And you’re also right, that the book is called An Autobiography of a Yogi. And it is to a large extent, but it’s also other things. It’s treatise on Indian philosophy. It’s portraits of incredibly interesting people who are not yoga. Like, you know, saints and Yogi’s and sit hos, and people like Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore and Luther Burbank, and, and you know, so it’s a lot of things, not just a straight on memoir. And so I felt there was room. Given his importance and the number of people who admire him and revere him, there was room for telling the larger human story. That’s not an autobiography.

RICK: One thing that struck me as I was reading the book, even though I had already read American VEDA, and I was somewhat familiar with the history of the Vedanta society, and Vivekananda coming here and everything, one thing that struck me was, you know, what, a splashy made in, in the West back in the 20s. You know, 6000 people would would turn out for a lecture and, you know, it was, you know, really kind of big news sometimes when, when he would travel around because somehow I just have this bias that, you know, well, Eastern spirituality didn’t really take off until the late 60s and early 70s. Because that was what took off for us is

PHIL: we live that a lot of groundwork was laid by Vivekananda and his lineage and Yogananda and his work and the autobiography of Yogi, I mean, you’re right, it really took off from 67 through the 70s. But, you know, things were different than mass media. Right. I mean, Yogananda was that the he was here at the birth of radio. You know, the immigration laws that change jet planes, you know, we’re available. And the 60s happened and the explosion of, of interest in consciousness expansion and the Beatles happened, the Beatles went to India with marshy, Mahesh Yogi, and that was huge, but a lot of the people who turned out for Maharishi and for Muktananda and for such an Ananda had read Autobiography of a Yogi. And they didn’t all become disciples of Yogananda. They found other teachers but There was groundwork laid and you’re right in the 20s and 30s. He started filling auditoriums, but then start that way, his first, you know, public talks after he came here to speak at a conference and, and then waited around to see what would happen. And then he got invited to speak at a church and he was given talks to 1012 people in people’s living rooms, you know, they all start that way. I know, people who, you know, went to see Alma on her first, you know, times in and it was just small rooms of people. But then word grew, support grew, you know, people who were influential, came aboard his work, train, as sort of clued him in to how Americans think and what, how to reach them. And before you know, it, he was he actually in 27, I think it was filled Carnegie Hall, you know, so

RICK: you and I are quite familiar with marshy and both in his public presentation and behind the scenes, and in a way, some ways Yogananda reminded me of him in terms of his like, almost childlike enthusiasm for everything. You know, I mean, he wanted to go sightseeing. He wanted to try a different food and, you know, he would play pranks on people, you know, do do odd things. stick something in somebody’s ears. It was one of your chapters, and, you know, Oh, yeah. kind of playful things.

PHIL: That, yeah, that, that kind of playful innocence, which I’ve, you know, I’ve seen in a lot of gurus, you know, people swamis, that, that sort of innocent joy in the, in the little things of life. You know, and both of them, you know, the people we’re talking about are monks that were enunciates. But they, they like to laugh, and they like to be made to, you know, have a good time. And there was a lot of that in Yogananda, that I learned about from reading letters and memoirs and things of people who knew him. And that’s the kind of thing that when you said, there would be things in my biography that he wouldn’t write about why really write about practical jokes. And, you know, like, he may have mentioned that he liked to cook, he liked to cook for people and like to, you know, have banquets and honor people and all that, but he, you know, he went to Western movies, you know, in the 30s and 40s. So, yeah, there, there’s that part of thing he loved to travel, he collected souvenirs, he loved there

RICK: go to Yellowstone and all kinds of places like that. Another thing about him, which, again, is characteristic of several such people that I’ve known is his credible energy. I mean, he only slept a few hours a night, right? And, and he would just go and go and go. And I mean, that kind of says something about, you know, what, at least some type of enlightenment can be it’s, it’s something above the norm, and in terms of the way a human being can function. And that’s something that’s an impression you get when you meet a great soul like that is, whoa, I didn’t realize people could be like this, you know, that this is this person is so much different than everybody else I’ve ever encountered.

PHIL: Yeah, and people who knew him would say that. And, but they that business of working hard. You know, the girls were familiar with the ones who came here, especially their mission driven, they came here for a reason. And they, if they developed a following, it was because they felt, you know, they were bringing something to the West that, you know, hadn’t been brought before or was supplementing what came before. Maybe it’s a different angle on the yogic repertoire. Maybe it’s, you know, a different you know, because what we call Hinduism, you know, this Sanatana Dharma of India, and especially if you include Buddhism, and Jainism and Sikhism, and you know, it’s, it’s vast and so diverse, and they all brought different angles, different priorities, different orientations. So you know, Muktananda birth Kashmir Shaivism. And, you know, kriya Nanda, I mean, Yogananda brought his Kriya Yoga lineage. And but they’re mission driven. And they work really hard. We both know people who could barely fall asleep, you know, stay awake and marshy was going, you know, a two three in the morning, working them. And apparently, Yogananda was was very much like that. So they have a certain energy. But they’re also, you know, they, they, they have a sense of Dharma that, you know, this was there. That’s why they were here. And they were fulfilling a mission that they felt was given to them. And that they didn’t question. And they worked very hard. Yogananda work fairly hard. And when you think about what he was up against 1920s were very different from the 60s and 70s, the resistance was more racism was more, and then the Depression came, and they could barely pay the bills. You know, there was there were challenges, there were people who were trying to bring him down, there were things he had to deal with. And he, he dealt with it.

RICK: Yeah, I mean, some of the things he dealt with, for instance, like you just said, there were financial pressures. And, you know, the, the Great Depression came along, and a lot of people who had been able to support him no longer were able to, and that was a struggle. And there are all kinds of things he had to do to deal with that. And then he had some fairly, some people who were really close to him and kind of his right hand man, so to speak, who ended up leaving him and eventually trying to sue him. You know, so he had some kind of betrayal kind of situations that he had to deal with. And, and your book portrays his personal reaction to those things, both in terms of his the emotional impact it had on him. And also, you know, the strategies he tried to employ to, to deal with these folks, you know, obviously, fighting fire with fire and having to resort to legal recourse of various kinds.

PHIL: Yeah, and on top of the actual lawsuits, and our two important ones, as you said, people who had been close to him, they made front page stories in the Los Angeles newspaper. So this happened after he set up his headquarters in LA. And so he had to deal with the the media backlash and the public perception of things, as well as the actual lawsuits and hiring of lawyers and the sense of betrayal and all the rest of it. And one of the interesting things about that, that comes out that, you know, another thing that wouldn’t be in his own memoir, there were times and this is on record, it’s in letters and everything where he just felt, you know, I don’t need this. I just I, I want to go back to India, I want to do what I originally set out to do, which was to be a sannyasi to be a monk. And on the one time he did go to India, he was in India for a year, the only period that he was not here from 1920 till his passing in 1952. And he, you know, he visited the monks and then he just, he said, I want to part of me wants to stay here and just like walk along the Ganges and be with God and that’s what I that’s why I renounced you know, the householder life. That’s why I became a monk. I did not he called organizations hornet’s nest. You know, he didn’t want to be involved with all that not craziness. But he knew it was necessary. And it was the mission was the most important thing. And there were a few times where he said, I may not come back and I may, I may go back to India, and stay there. But he did. And he actually it reminded me of that scene in Godfather three, where ALPA Chino says every time I think I’m out, they pull me back in. He said on on one of those occasions, he just he went to Mexico to be by himself for a while. And he said, you know,

RICK: yoga nada did not

PHIL: try yoga raise Yogananda and he said, You know, I, I asked Mother Divine I asked the Divine Mother, please let me just go back to India via a you know, a humble monk. And she said, No, you got to go back you got you got work to do. And so he did. And and you know, you have to admire Because, and it’s one of the many ways where if you look into the lives of somebody like that, you find inspiration for your own path, and you find kind of a role model situation, because you think, I think my life is hard. You know, so did his life was hard, and he was a monk. You know, he didn’t sign up for this, but he did, what was he did what had to be done. And he did it in that spirit of establishing yoga, perform action, that is from you know, as best as he could to maintain his inner state of peace and bliss. And to be joyful, and to treat people well, and to Behave honorably. And with dignity. At the same time, he had to work really hard, and and he was up against very big challenges. So you think, okay, every time I think I want to just get out of here and renounce the world and go live in an ashram, I think, well, you know, I probably go there and get bored and get annoyed at the monk in the next room. And

RICK: when we look at the story of the stories of, you know, several, quite a few in eastern teachers who came to the west, it seems that the impact of Western culture got to them somewhat, in other words, compromise their integrity or their integrity, they, it was compromised, they allowed it to be compromised, or whatever. They weren’t able to maintain quite the impeccable image that they tried to portray. Do you feel like anything like that happened with Yogananda? Or did he really kind of maintain a very high standard?

PHIL: Well, most of what you’re talking about, which is why you started the association of Spiller, spiritual integrity and why I’m involved to so you know, there was so much disillusionment about some of the gurus in the 60s and 70s. And later, you know, and especially some of the self anointed spiritual teachers. So we’re very aware that this happened. When I was looking into yoga, and on this life, I came, I came to realize there are people to this day, this is 80 to 90 years later, arguing over whether he had affairs with some of the women in the ashram that became the the international headquarters of his self realization fellowship. This is three, four generations later, and people they’re still arguing about this and looking for evidence weren’t

RICK: any women who said that it happened were there that now that’s a difference between him and some other gurus.

PHIL: There was one woman who in a letter said, he tried to kiss her or hold her or something, but there’s reasons to doubt the veracity of it. And even if it does, she didn’t say they had sex. He didn’t say, you know, he forced himself on or anything like that. It was all very 1920s. So people

RICK: were interpreting, you know, what might have happened when they saw people go into his room late at night.

PHIL: That’s right. They saw people go women going into his room late at night. And then, you know, as we said earlier, some of these Yogi’s, they work till three, four in the morning asleep for a few hours. So he had people coming in, they were working, that’s the story. And you think, Well, if he was going to be doing that, if he was going to have affairs, he certainly wouldn’t do it. By you know, parading women as room in this place where everybody would see them it would be more more clandestine. And they were accusations of that. There’s people who claim he fathered children and they can show you look how much this one looks like this person all that and I went into the project thinking okay, maybe he did. Maybe he did have some fall from grace. Maybe he did, as other girls have. It wouldn’t detract from my respect for the work he did. But I’m writing a biography I’m I have to be objective. I’m going to look into the evidence. And you know, people were hoping I would be the one who blew the whistle on Rogen, Ananda, and of course, on the other side are people for whom such a thing would be totally unthinkable because he was He’s the sainted figure is impeccable human being, how could it possibly happen? And I was thinking, well, let’s see where the evidence leads. And I didn’t find anything really convincing, just sort of speculative and inferred. And

RICK: and there were some DNA tests, which didn’t pan out.

PHIL: There were DNA tests about the one of the alleged children. And then there are people to this day will say that SRF tampered with the DNA samples, and it was not really you know, and so there are people who, you know, Will, who were disappointed that I didn’t find, you know, that I didn’t declare the the truth of Yogananda his transgressions. And there were other people who thought I shouldn’t have even mentioned it, because it’s so unthinkable. That’s the extremes on this thing. And I found the same thing when writing American Veda and looking into the scandals of the 60s and 70s. There would be those extremes as well, even in the light of very convincing evidence there would be people said, no, no, no, it can’t be he would. My girl would never do that, you know, so they’re human. And one of the things I liked about working on Yogananda story was telling the human story, he was worried about money. He got angry, that when, you know, people disappointed him and all that. And, you know, I thought, This is great, I can see it in the letters that were made available to me. He was, he was annoyed at some people, he was upset about this and that, and worried about money and the future of his organization and the, you know, whether it would endure all that throughout his his time. And you think, Oh, he’s an enlightened yogi. He wouldn’t worry. You know what, me worry, right? He wouldn’t, he wouldn’t be concerned about that, you know, the God will support him, and he would have had faith. And he had a certain equanimity it would seem and a certain grace. But he did worry. And he did get angry. And he there was a human part of him. I loved that. And he was also very kind and very loving. The other human qualities come out. He was very close to his family, a lot of renunciate in certain orders, they rent they don’t they just disassociate from family life. Now he was in touch with his father, it was so sweet to read about his reunion with his family, when he went back to India and all that. So he had a sentimental side, you know, they’re human, the human part of the equation. This, to me is terribly important for us to emphasize. So, you know, people love to put gurus up on a pedestal, and then they love to tear them down. And Meantime, they’re still human beings,

RICK: that you approached it in a very fair way. And you were just trying to get through with as best you could, you didn’t have a bone to pick one way or the other.

PHIL: No, and I was fully prepared to say, hey, look, you know, I really admire Yogananda and, you know, I, I his impact, and his influences is so incredibly important. But look what I found. It looks like it No, he had, he did have a fall from grace. But I didn’t, nothing was convincing enough.

RICK: One interesting aspect of his personality that I found that that your book highlighted was his indomitable will. It’s like there was this story about when he was a child, and he fancied some orange candies that were in a shop. And until that little story,

PHIL: well, you’re it’s fresher in your mind, because Okay, sir. Yeah, I raised

RICK: that he just really was fixated on these orange candies. He really wanted a man he was like, you know, not taking no for an answer and making a big fuss. And finally, his mother had to go late at night and wake up the shopkeeper because I guess the family couldn’t sleep until Yogananda got these candies. And, and that’s interesting because I’m always a little bit fascinated, both philosophically and in my own experience, with the balance between asserting one’s will versus not insisting that things happen in any particular way so as to be more in tune with the will of God.

PHIL: And if you reach a certain level of consciousness, presumably then your will is the will of God. And and you’re you’re you’re a vehicle for it. and Canadian

RICK: God really wants orange candies and you’re gonna scream until you get them.

PHIL: Well but but Here’s another thing about there are people, first of all, let me say, human will and strength of mind. He taught that a lot. He, he spoke about it a lot, you want to accomplish something will powers. And he really emphasized that a lot. And he did, he had this indomitable will. And you know, he showed up. And there’s many other examples of that. But the other part of that is, when he, a lot of his closest disciples, the people who you know, are for whom he’s master, they call him master. There’s people who think, you know, he was born enlightened, and is maybe an avatar and, and all that. But in my reading my evidence, you see, the evolution of his spiritual life, throughout through time, he was writing about breakthroughs of consciousness. And you wrote long letters to people that I read that describing, you know, these experiences that, you know, people like you and me would probably say, sure, that wish that would happen to me, you know, breakthroughs. And if you, if you look at them over time, they they’re indicative of the kind of stages of growth of spirituality or conscious evolution of consciousness that, you know, there are prototypes for, there are models for, and there are, for example, periods of going into deep samadhi is on spontaneously and then coming out and, and describing them to people, and writing in letters and, and there was one moment where he said, From now on, I will always have this inside me, and you won’t know it, you won’t be able to see it, I won’t look any different, but he just knew it had that breakthrough into some permanence, of, of that higher consciousness and realization of the Self. Well, that to me is the sign that he, he experienced spiritual growth. He wasn’t born that way. He was a seeker. And he had his own sadhana and his own pursuit of higher consciousness, and moments of realization and breakthroughs. And, you know, we don’t get to

PHIL: see that in the so called enlightened ones very often, but he left behind a record of that, and, and I love i and there were stuff that, you know, I just couldn’t put it all in my book about him. I just had to choose some of them carefully and make choices, but it was there. And the other piece of that is that indomitable will as a kid. He knew that he was meant for the monastic life of a seeker and spiritual leader. As a kid. I always I always joke when I’ve talked about this, it’s like when we were all teenagers, and we all had people that we knew were called ringleaders. And they were they would like be the ones who threw a party or did some mischief. You know, shocking. Let’s go shop live. Let’s go do this. Let’s, you know, whatever. Borrowed dad’s car, you know, Yogananda was the ringleader. But he was organizing sought songs. As, as an adolescent, he would gather his friends and go see you, you know, this guru who’s in town Swami, they heard about or go to temple because it was a festival of some kind. And he was going to see every guru, every Swami every person he could meet and talk to. He was also pretty athletic. He was he was a good athlete. You know, he, he ran races. He was apparently very fast. But his main activity as a teenager was spiritual. And when he was 15, he started an ashram. You know, that’s a mark that was there. And he he went off, beginning at age like 12 or 13, three different times, just left home, to go off to the Himalayas to find his guru. And family had a go running after him and bringing bring him home. You know, he got pretty far. from Calcutta. To have the mileage and what it would take, I don’t remember the details. But I said wait a minute, he was like 12 1314 or whatever. And he went from he, he took a bag of stuff and created some subterfuge and got on a train and went on his way to Russia cash, but only got as far as hardware before they found him and brought him back. So I calculated how long that would take now on that. And it was a major undertaking to do this. He was a, you know, an adolescent. So you know that the passion, the pursuit of the Divine was just that strong and that obvious even when he was a kid.

RICK: Who did he think he was in past lives? What was it Alexander the Great or some such thing? William the Conqueror? I forget.

PHIL: William William the Conqueror? Yeah, or junuh. But, you know, well, that one? Was that him saying it? Or was it somebody saying it about? Yeah,

RICK: I heard that he said that? I don’t know. Maybe somebody said it about and,

PHIL: you know, I’m asked about that I you know, and I’m agnostic. I don’t I don’t know about people’s past lives. People have told me who my past lives. And I don’t know what to take seriously or what not to. But, you know, they’re, you know, when he he told followers, he had been William the Conqueror. So now, those followers wanted to be the people around William the Conqueror, so they made their choices. Another

RICK: thing about him was that, and we’re not going to spend this entire interview talking about Yogananda but so far we are we know, we can’t, but nothing about him was he would often have visions of something that was going to happen, and then that very thing would happen.

PHIL: Yeah. And you know, that’s part of the autobiography of the yogi. People talk about the, the the number of miracles and wonders and super normal psychic experiences that he describes not just his own, but even more, so. Those of great Yogi’s and, and they’re all there, you know, the miracles of, you know, people levitating. And people being in two places at the same time, compared to a lot of the Wonder works in the book, his own, you know, premonitions and psychic insights seem almost ordinary compared to some of the other stuff. And in my experience, there’s two kinds of people who read the autobiography of Yogi and for whom the book had an impact. People who are drawn to the miracles and wonders and there’s a whole lot of them in the book and think, you know, that’s what opened their eyes. This is great. They can’t get enough. And people who don’t believe a word of it, they, they’re skeptical. They think he made it up, or He’s gullible. And yeah, he did. These things didn’t really happen. There’s, but they like other aspects of the book. And they’re, so they’re fans of it, nevertheless, and he makes an effort in the book, you know, he came out in 1946. of putting those things in the context of the science that was available at that time yet laws of physics as they were known, he has a whole chapter called the law of miracles. And so he attempts to you could say, sensationalize but make a big deal of them. And at the same time, explain them rationally and scientifically, with the emphasis on these are things that are possible if you you know, if you’re a yogi, and you do your, your, you know, you evolve to those states. But, like all the other great teachers, he also said, Don’t get caught too caught up in that stuff.

RICK: I tend to think those things are possible myself, but as some skeptical friends of mine have pointed out with, with whom I’ve been having conversations, this stuff always happens in the past. You never, you never see anybody now, even you know, who can do this stuff. And there, therefore you really wonder whether it ever happened. Why wouldn’t it be happening now? If it happened then?

PHIL: Well, I know those arguments and counter arguments to that are saying Like, you have no idea how much they’re going on, just because you haven’t experienced them, but there are Yogi’s in the Himalayas, and all that, that are doing these things all the time. That’s one reaction to that, whether it’s true or not, I don’t know. And people will say, but you know, people have psychic experiences all the time. And, you know, some people have more intensely than others.

RICK: Yeah, psychic. I mean, there’s people like Dean Raiden, and all who, who studied this stuff, and but it’s this this sort of, you know, you have to be a master of statistics to to actually discern the significance of various measurements. And now there’s nothing obvious going on, like walking on water.

PHIL: Bright, but no, but people might say, Oh, yes, but it happens up in the Himalayas, and wasn’t happening on the streets of Calcutta in Yogananda, his youth, but they heard these stories, and then he claims to have witnessed some of them. Well, you know, a skeptic would say, well, he, you know, he’s, he’s seeing what he wanted to see, or was a trick. The guru’s do. You know, they knew how to make you think they’re levitating or manifesting things.

RICK: You know, our friend, Dana Sawyer, who has been all over India many times, and he knows all these tricks like it and so he, he would, you know, see these guys on the street making their Pokestop. And so you have a wall not under your armpit, you know, or, or the milk is dripping down? Oh, yeah, you did something with a sponge in your hair, whatever. But then he said the one thing he ever saw what she couldn’t explain away was this guy who could swallow us alive snake, and then regurgitate it. He said that that was not some hocus pocus. He said he saw the guy do it.

PHIL: I do it every Thanksgiving. Yeah. You know, and the other thing they’ll say is, well, the atmosphere in the world is so much more corrupted now. And you know that when the atmosphere was pure, and, you know, in the along the Ganges, and you know, in the Himalayas, then these things were more possible. I don’t know. And I much care. But I’ll tell you, there’s one. One thing that I have to bring up. I always wondered why so many, why did he put so much attention on the in the autobiography? It because in do it to that extent, in his teaching life? And I said, you know, what was the reason for that? Well, turns out, you know, he was he wanted to write a book about what he called the yogi Christ of India. And he was gathering stories and materials for that book, and then was persuaded to write this memoir. And so it became a kind of combination of autobiography and but at one point, I asked the my liaison people at SRF when I was researching the book, and I said, to one of their leaders who was really master historian of Yogananda, and I said, why all the miracles and wondered, why did he do it? And he and he said to me, have you looked at the title page of the book? You know, we’re here on the inside, where?

RICK: What does it say that we can’t quite see? Okay,

PHIL: but it’s on that title, what’s called the title page of the book. He has a quote from the New Testament, Except you see signs and wonders, he will not believe. He said, There it is. He told you the purpose of it right at the beginning. And I never noticed that. And I realized, okay, he was getting your attention. So he could talk about things.

RICK: He did something like this in his public presentations. And he had he had a guy come out and warm up the crowd by lying on a bed of nails and sticking needles through his tongue, all kinds of kinds of ways.

PHIL: And I thought, you know, that’s a little to show because that’s a little too vaudeville for my tastes, but it got people in the door. So you know, whether that was a compromise, whether that was you know, PT Barnum’s kind of stunt you can, that’s up to you to to decide, but he did make those choices, especially in the 30s when money was tight, and, you know, getting people in the door was not necessarily easy. He had those people doing those things.

RICK: One reason that I, you know, find the whole idea of cities. Tangentially interesting is just that if if people really could perform them, demonstrably, you know, verifiably, it would blow some minds in terms of, you know, What the laws of nature are and what are what human beings relationship to them is. I mean, if someone could levitate, for instance, and it can be totally proven that they were doing that, you know, by any kind of scientific scrutiny anyone wanted to put on it, you know, people would really have to rethink what is the mind What is gravity? You know, what is the relation? What is consciousness? What is the relationship between consciousness and laws of nature, such as gravity? I mean, it would, it would completely upset the applecart paradigm of current scientific thinking, which I think needs to be done.

PHIL: Yes, yes. And that’s why some people, well, trained psychologists and neuroscientists have been studying this stuff for a long time. I mean, I know Charles Tark, who was one of the early researchers in sigh phenomena. And that was his whole purpose, try to, you know, you verify these things, try to show that these things are possible, not for their own sake, but because of what it would open up in terms of our understanding of consciousness and the possibilities of human potential. And people like him have always been troubled by the fact that their research wasn’t taken as seriously as they felt it should have been, but I think that’s why Yogananda did it as well. He wasn’t there to tell you you could levitate or you could appear in two places at once. He was there to tell you this is what is possible. This is the relationship between consciousness and matter. This is these are the things that are you know, the kind of things that are possible, as as you evolve in consciousness. But yeah, you know, and yes, to some degree,

RICK: another rather little bizarre chapter in Yogananda, his life was his praise of Hitler and Mussolini. Here’s a, I think this quote is on Hitler, he said, the average man cannot think clearly he needs the mastermind of a dictator in order to think right and do right. And then on Mussolini, he said, a master brain like that of Mussolini does more good than millions of social organizations of group intelligence. This was like in 1934, when those guys had not yet come into their full

PHIL: and, and maybe maybe even earlier, he later changed his tune about those people, obviously. But, you know, when I found those things, I thought, Oh, my God, what does that mean? Well, then you do you look into the history, and you realize a lot of very responsible grown up people in the period between World War One and World War Two, didn’t get the rise of fascism. When that was happening at the beginning. They saw you know, Mussolini was stabilizing Italy and unifying it. And, you know, helping the recovery after World War One and, and the early days of, of Hitler, which seems so unthinkable to us now. But there were some people who just thought, yeah, they need a strong leader. He was democratically elected, blah, blah, blah. And, you know, the country is in bad shape. And he’ll, you know, that’s what what they need. There was a lot more of that than we realize, especially in the late 20s and into the early 30s. But by the time, Yogananda on his way to India, at that time, went through Europe and spent a little time in Germany and Italy. He was starting to be troubled by what was going on then. And then of course, you know, became outspoken, and that’s one of the things I came to admire about him. He was a monk. He was a spiritual teacher in a foreign land, he was not able to become an American citizen till toward the very end of his life. He was a British subject until India independence, and yet he spoke out he spoke on behalf of Gandhi, and the Brits were spying on him. And, you know, thought he might, he might be, he thought he might get deported, but he spoke out against bigotry and he spoke out against racism and militarism and all kinds of things. And I thought, okay, good. An example of somebody trying to who’s in the world and not have it in that usual way and an argument against spiritual teachers who tell us you know, all this as well. And we shouldn’t be bothered with, you know, current events and politics and foolish human things like that no one knew better than Yogananda, the reality of non dual oneness. No one talked, he talked about Maya all the time and told people not to get too caught up in the world and blah, blah, blah. And yet, he was very aware of world events and spoke out when he needed to,

RICK: which highlights one of my favorite reflections about enlightenment, which is that it’s, it’s really a blossoming of multi dimensional ism, we could say, in which you know, you can simultaneously regard the world as, you know, illusory in a way and yet, take it seriously. And, and you can, you know, you can reside in a state at which you are not doing anything, you the essential you your true nature, and yet you are dynamically engaged in activity. So it’s really kind of a growth of the ability to incorporate, paradoxically opposed dimensions of reality within one human experience.

PHIL: I couldn’t agree more, as you know, and I think it’s a terrible misunderstanding of concepts like Maya, and non dualism, to adopt an attitude of our human story, being meaningless, or being indifferent to, you know, the suffering of human beings embodied human beings. And to, you know, turn away from it because, you know, it’s very, one of the earliest lessons in reading the Bhagavad Gita for the first time was Krishna telling our Juna, you must act, there’s no such thing as not acting, you know, in the world, you know, you you have to You’re you’re an embodied human being and action is necessary, then it’s a question of what kind of action and what you do. And so all the teachers said, Yeah, this is all the Dream Yoga. And I’ll do use the use MOVIE SCREEN analogy. You know, we’re, you know, it’s just all illusionary, you know, light and shadow on the movie screen of oneness, no formlessness. And we’re just, you know, like the characters on screen. At the same time, you have to act as if it really matters, and do what you do well, and do it with integrity and do it impeccably, he worked his people around him very hard, while telling them not to get too attached to the things of the world, he would make them work very hard to get things done.

RICK: You know, different spiritual teachers and teachings and movements seem to place different degrees of emphasis on different aspects of spiritual development, as you were kind of alluding to there. I mean, some are just, it’s all about consciousness, they don’t pay much attention, anything else? Some are like, it’s all about behavior, you know, being a good person, and they don’t even consider consciousness. So, you know, in terms of that consideration, what what would you say Yogananda has balance was of the various facets of, of potential development. Did he cover all the bases? Did he placed a fair amount of emphasis on ethical development, for instance? Or what

PHIL: I think he would have been in line with your way of thinking that oh, we have to the priority is consciousness. The priority is your sadhana. Do your do your practices every day. Don’t compromise on that. Make that your highest priority. associate with you know, a the sangha of fellow seekers, don’t get too caught up in the world. At the same time, do what must be done, do your Dharma to two, your action with honesty and integrity, behave in accordance with ethical principles and good morality? And you do both. And he would not have thought that expansion of consciousness alone would necessarily automatically lead to right action it would just make the odds better But you had to, you know, people who had proper training and proper upbringing, you knew how to behave. And, and, and he would get upset with people if they you know slapped off or they didn’t do their jobs well or they got lazy, he didn’t like laziness. And I think most of the Guru’s I’ve ever met would be in the same boat priority is, you know, he would have said, your, your relationship to God, your relationship to the true self, this is what matters most. But you’re also a human being. And every I don’t know of any respect guru these days, even now, who doesn’t have some kind of serious service project going on that their ashram or their lineage is sponsoring, if you know, they’re in India, they’re, they’re, you know, helping villages get, you know, toilets and clean water. They’re growing trees, they’re, you know, feeding the hungry, they’re doing that, and you know, that. That is in every tradition that, you know, God is first. But you also have to serve, and, you know, serve humanity in a way. And I, you know, I’ve seen that many, many, many times. I’m sure you have as well. I mean, Alma. Alma has programs going on all the time. It’s not just about hugging. It’s about it’s about service. And, you know, and I, you know, when I take groups to India, and we visit gurus and stuff, it’s, you know, it’s it’s very impressive, how much of their efforts are around service.

RICK: And I think that there’s more to it than just helping the people because it’s, it’s spiritual practice for the helpers as well.

PHIL: Yes. That’s right. That’s right. It’s karma, karma yogi, karma yoga. And that’s a big part of it. Because, you know, some of it is, you know, go clean the toilets in the ashram and chop vegetables in the kitchen. And that’s, you know, that’s a practice.

RICK: And it’s not just that it’s you’re earning good karma or something. It’s also I think, that it kind of attenuates the ego. You know, it’s not all about Yeah, Mimi, there’s, you know, what can I do for this person? What can I do? So it kind of takes the attention off of the individual needs and preferences, and, and so it makes you more universal, it’s

PHIL: kind of conscious. That’s right. It’s a kind of consciousness expansion, because we’re all we’re selfish human beings, we’re always thinking, what do I need, what do I want, and when you’re forced, or encouraged, at least, to do something for others, it’s in a way liberating. I was I once heard a guru say, if you want to be depressed, just think about yourself all the time. And when you’re, when you see people in true need, and you’re able to bring something to them, or you just know that you’re doing something, even if it’s just well, my guru told me to, you know, I’m going to do whatever this is, or, you know, whatever the task is, it’s not selfish. It’s a form of expansion, you’re bringing something from the inner self outward, and, you know, connecting it, it’s, it’s, that’s why it’s considered spiritual practice to do acts of service. And I think

RICK: we’ve all seen examples of people who have left that out of their spiritual practice repertoire. And the result it has on their personalities. I mean, there’s, it’s almost a caricature of, you know, the, what was that? Somebody used the term flow, bro. These guys who just sort of live for themselves and bounce from one relationship to the other, and Coach surf around the world. And, you know, there’s just kind of this self absorbed. I don’t mean to sound holier than thou or that, you know, I’m free of any such tendencies. But um, I mean, chuckled. But But I guess the point I’m trying to emphasize is if a person is really sincere about spiritual growth, then this needs to be part of the toolkit. And if the teacher is offering it great if they aren’t, maybe you need to find a different teacher or kind of freelance in order to engage in something like this.

PHIL: And sometimes it’s something very simple. I knew, like we were all spiritual narcissists at one point in our lives, and and many of us still are, but I’ve seen people who were very self absorbed and all they wanted was their own enlightenment. You know, all this stuff and then suddenly their parents and suddenly they’re thrown into or their their, their parent needs caretaking. And they’re suddenly thrown into a situation where you can’t be selfish, where love just brings out doings, the priority becomes the care and of another human being that you love. And that’s a form of service that comes naturally to people. And often it’s a revelation. It’s like, oh, that meant so much to my spiritual life. It’s a form of bhakti that love and devotion, I’m often asked, or I have been in the past to describe my, you know, most memorable spiritual experience. And I used to talk about, you know, transcending and you know, on long meditation courses, and you know, this feeling of this, and that, because I never had spectacular experience. And then about 20, some odd years ago, I was visiting my father when he was ill. And it was a whole thing. And I had to rush into the hospital, and I had to clean up a mess after him. And it was an all night thing. And I came home and I back to his house from the hospital after being up all night, and just doing and doing and doing for him. And I sat down to meditate, because I want to go back to sleep. And I just felt bliss, and this oneness, and I said, What the hell is that about, you’re exhausted. And I realized, I hadn’t thought about myself in like six or seven hours, it was just pure, giving and doing instinctively. And that’s when I realized, that’s why people do this service. That’s why people, you know, go to work for Mother Teresa, or, you know, emptying bedpans. There’s something powerful about that. It’s not my way, I you know, it’s not like I gave up everything and, and, you know, became a hospital orderly, but it was, it was really, really interesting. And so, you know, we, that’s why gurus, you know, whatever your dharma is, like, you are doing a great service with bat gap. You know, Dennis and I are doing a spirit matters podcast, you know, it’s just service and our own enrichment. We learn a lot and all that. And so, you know, we do what we can. And some people are just, I bow to their, you know, spirit of, of service in the world, and many of them could use the spiritual practice, because they’re, you know, busy saving the planet, and social justice and all that, and they don’t have that spiritual, inclination. And there’s a lot of burnout and a lot of some balance there. For the individuals terribly important.

RICK: Well, I think we covered that point, but we can always come back to it if that’s a good point. That’s an important point. There are some, well, anything. Just I was just about, say anything more about Yogananda, but there, there were some poignant pages towards the very end of your, of your book where he was approaching death. And when he actually did did die, even the very last day of his life. And for one thing, he saw it coming, he maybe that was yogic ability, or maybe he just felt really lousy, and he thought he was gonna live much longer. But he was telling the people close around him, and it was a really sweet scene where he, he sat in his chair in his room, I guess it was at Mount Washington and his close disciples are around him. And he just looked into each of their eyes one by one, and it was this, this beautiful blessing scene that happened out of the want to comment on that, but the whole thing about the end of his life,

PHIL: oh, well, I’ll say, yeah, those pages, writing about the last period of his life. And as you said, he knew he was not going to live a long life. He knew that a long time, I will just say when he died 1559 And, and had been not well, in many respects, you know, over the last few years, but at one point he knowing that he stopped all his travels and everything and just, you know, just worked really hard, probably too hard. Securing his legacy for the future after after he’s gone and a big part of that was writing Autobiography of a Yogi He was going to be the thing that, you know, lasted after his death. He said it wouldn’t and he was right. And the you know, the organization and the finances and the training people he would, that’s what he focused on. But to end the, the most poignant part of writing, the book for me was writing about those last days and the last night of his life. And some of it was uncanny. Like he had said earlier, earlier, when I die, my beloved, you know, India will be on my lips. Because he loved his homeland. He was very happy when it achieved independence, always wanted to go back for another visit, but only had that one. And the night of his death. The occasion was a big banquet for the visit of the first ambassador to the US after India’s independence. And Yogananda was keynote speaker and blah, blah, blah. And he gave the keynote speech. And he read a couple of stanzas from his poem, which was a, an ode to India, so to speak, and his beloved homeland. And as soon as he finished he felt, you know, at the podium and died of a heart attack. It was really pretty uncanny. And that scene, that of course, I learned about because disciples who were present wrote about it. Yeah, he knew he didn’t have long. I don’t know if he knew this was his last night. But he knew it was one of the last and and he had the people closest to him is very tender, very beautiful thing. And you never know how much of it is exaggerated by people after his passing.

RICK: But there were a lot of people at the banquet and they saw that happen. Yeah.

PHIL: Oh, that that part? Yeah. But the other little things, premonitions and all that. But you know, it’s there. There were people who felt certain about him so strongly that you kind of expected to hear of a resurrection. Scary.

RICK: Well, there was the body not decomposing story. Yeah,

PHIL: that, but that’s different. And people that felt him come to him, them in visions and stuff, but nothing, nothing like you know, the Christ story. But it’s very, it’s very beautiful. He was beloved by the people around him and it shows and what they wrote about him after he was gone, and while he was alive, and you know, like all the other gurus he had people very close to him, who loved him and supported him and wrote checks and, you know, open doors for him and, and then got close to him and had the darshan, special Darshan, that made others jealous. So, you know, it’s very typical girl’s story in many ways, and therefore, there’s a lot to be learned about the girls and girls and disciples. But it’s also unique because of his written his having written Autobiography of a Yogi. Not many, not many gurus write memoirs like,

RICK: Well, I think we owe him a debt of gratitude. You know, I mean, everything he did, like you said in the beginning, really paved the way for whatever teacher we may now align ourselves with or have aligned ourselves with. I mean, he was a big contributor to what I believe, and I’m sure you do, because he wrote American VEDA has been a significant influence on the west. I mean, yeah,

PHIL: one of the big three, if not the most important, and I hate to rank people, but there were clearly three of the girls who came here who had the biggest impact, the biggest influence Vivekananda Yogananda Maharishi in sheer impact.

RICK: Did you know that Vivekananda and marshy had the same birthday?

PHIL: Same birthday? Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. And he Yogananda is January 5. So make of that what you will. He was born in the year Vivekananda came here.

RICK: Okay, so we have about 45 minutes left. So what else do we want to talk about? You there’s your book, spiritual practice for crazy times. And these are certainly crazy times. There. There’s a so the Oh issues that we consider in the Association for spiritual integrity. We talked about those quite a bit in our first interview, and we’ve touched upon them here, but helped me prioritize what should we cover in our remained

PHIL: Well, the most the most important thing is for me to plug. The course I’m going to be teaching starting in January, going through Autobiography of a Yogi, in 10, sessions, weekly sessions for Hindu University of America. So if you want to anybody out there wants to deep dive into the book and supplemented by stories I know from my own research, go to And

RICK: site, you’ll read a section of the book and then you’ll everybody will discuss it.

PHIL: Yeah. Yeah. Right. proximately 50 pages per week, and then we’ll discuss and talk about the messages and all that.

RICK: And since this interview will be up for a long time past January. I wonder if that’ll be online?

PHIL: It’ll be it’ll be our Yes. Being taught online. It’ll be archived. Thank you for allowing me that’s shameless self promotion. Sure. You have.

RICK: Okay, so issues around the dilution of yoga, cultural appropriation, perennial philosophy, whether all roads really do lead to the same mountaintop. That’s an interesting topic, whether all roads lead really do lead to the same mountaintop. I’ve had discussions with Dana about this to

PHIL: me, too. And we’re about to interview him all about that on spirit matters.

RICK: Oh, and I really just sent me a question. Let’s do the question first. This is from let’s see from Dennis Sullivan in Beaverton, Ontario. Oh, maybe it’s Denise but it’s spelled Well, that’s French speaking people say Denise Denis de and I guess, anyway, his wondering or she? I am curious if Yogananda ever spent time with Mother Teresa. I’m also curious what other Saints he met? Well, he met a lot of saints, but I don’t know if his life and Mother Teresa’s overlapped. No,

PHIL: no, no, no. There’s a beautiful chapter in the autobiography of about a Nanda, my MA and his footage of them together. There’s a beautiful chapter about his time with Ramana Maharshi. About which I was able to find out stuff from the Ramana Maharshi people about that visit. That’s not an autobiography. There’s a chapter about his visit with Gandhi and his and others, saints. But Mother Teresa was not they did not overlap in India.

RICK: In fact, it was he did he spent a year in it. What was the year he spent in India? What 30 Something?

PHIL: Mid 35 to mid 36. So

RICK: Mother Teresa was still young girl then probably Yeah, that the section in the book about him meeting Anandamaya Ma was beautiful. In in the autobiography yogi, and okay, so that answers that question. So the thing about whether all leads roads lead to the same mountaintop? Why don’t you sketch it out so I don’t talk too much.

PHIL: Well, that’s that’s essentially you know, the, the position of classical Vedanta and, and of the perennial philosophy, which you know, our mutual friend Dana’s an expert on and is written a lot about as a scholar. And, you know, people like Houston Smith and Aldous Huxley and those people who are very much influenced by Vedanta philosophy are were perennial lists, and there’s there’s other well known scholars and the end, the essential point is that in the mystical branches of every spiritual tradition, if you look at how the people describe their experiences, there’s a remarkable similarity if not identical, if they if they’re not identical, different languages, different terminology centuries, even even different centuries, different cultures, even different theologies. Houston Smith had a very important distinction that he mentions in his introduction to American VEDA between the exoteric e x o Tarek aspects of religion and the esoteric, the exoteric, binning the the theology is the belief systems, the doctrines and dogmas, the view of history, the rituals, all the external stuff. That’s where you find differences. And that’s what most people focus on and fight about and argue about and go to war about the esoteric, the inner experience, of religious experience and engagement, this what we think of as spirituality now. That’s where you find unity. That’s where you find sameness and oneness. And people have argued with this. But people who are spiritual practitioners, and who look at people like Ramana, Maharshi, Shri Rama Krishna, who decided to test this out, by doing Christian and Muslim practices, to see if it gave him the same experience of oneness that his traditional Yogic and, you know, Hindu practices did and came out and said, yeah, all roads do lead to all paths do, they all give you different views, and they have different terrain, but when you get to the mountaintop is the same, he is the analogy of two different analogies. If you go down to the gods along the river, the steps down to the river, you see, people you know, who speak different languages now have different words for water, and the different methods of extracting it, but it’s the same water. And you can get to the roof of a building by climbing a rope, or taking the stairs, or you know, many different ways. But when you get to the roof, the view is the same. So there’s a lot of different metaphors. And in practice, and in my experience, by talking just the interviews I’ve done talking to people, the verification is hidden how ordinary spiritual practitioners describe their spiritual experiences. And so to me, it’s, it seems perfectly obvious. But at the same time, the descriptions can be just different, very different enough to give you doubt whether they mean the same thing, whether they intend the same thing, but on the level of experience. And here’s, here’s something I learned. I didn’t make this up. I was part of a group. And we used to do this exercise that somebody had come up with, where you were, you got together people from different paths, and you described your most meaningful spiritual experiences. And it rules where you couldn’t use religious jargon. So you couldn’t, you didn’t use God. It didn’t say, Brahman, you didn’t say Allah, you didn’t say atman Samadhi. In none of those terms, you just had to say what you experienced in plain language. And then you say, people describe the same things. vastness, you know, Transcendence

PHIL: unconditional love, you know, don’t worry, all the different qualities bliss. But, so, this is, you know, been argued as, especially in academic circles forever. But it would be a big remedy to, you know, religious discord, if we got away from belief systems and dogma and talk more about people’s personal experiences. You know, I know a Christian minister, when he when we get him to talk about his spiritual experience without invoking Jesus is very much like what many of us would have experienced,

RICK: and we can throw psychedelics in the mix to the kinds of experiences people have on those?

PHIL: That’s right. And, in fact, people who do that research have told me it’s, it kind of bears out the the premises of perennialism, that the experiences are, in fact, of virtually identical very, are very similar.

RICK: I think the reason this is significant, and as much as some interesting intellectual thing is that all the traditions are telling people that what they’re aiming for, is something that is indeed, universal and fundamental and essential. It’s kind of foundational to the universe and whatever terminology they use, but it’s the it’s the essential constituent of everything is its essential constituent view, it’s what you ultimately are, and so on. I mean, then so Some of them say this in clearer terms than others. But that is significant be significant, because it suggests, and the fact that people across all cultures and times have experiences like that is significant, because it suggests that consciousness is not merely a product of the brain, which is a predominant scientific understanding or paradigm these days, and consciousness doesn’t die when the body dies. And, and, you know, we are not isolated to this flesh and blood form, you know, we’re more like a field that transmits through or reflects through this form, and many points like that. But, you know, that understanding and, and moreover, that experience can be profoundly transformative to a person’s life.

PHIL: And I agree, and even if you’re not, and I know people like this, who are not willing to make that leap into u, turn from RC, into, into that thou art that we are, you know, the real Self is eternal and infinite, beyond form, and so forth. Even if they’re not willing to go there, even if they’re not willing to go to consciousness exist outside the brain or in the body, they they definitely have to go to these experiences are transformative, and they change your life for the better. And that if you realize you can have these experiences, and be a Buddhist, and be a Christian, and be a Jew, and be a Muslim, and be whatever, then there must be some commonality that’s more important than the differences. And, and if nothing else, it gives, it’s a blow to exclusive ism and triumphalism, and that my path is the only way for everybody. It’s a more ecumenical vision. And if you look at the surveys of Americans attitude toward things about religion, spirituality, see more and more people over specially since the 60s. moving in that direction of yeah, all the paths are useful for different people. That’s a big deal. And that that means a lot. I’ve also noticed that there are people who hold strongly to dualism,

RICK: there are branches of Indian philosophy that hold that. Yeah, that’s right. And then

PHIL: they won’t go to a hung brim hast me, I am Brahman, and thou art that. But when you when you ask them, you know, when you probe their inner experience, especially if they have a contemplative or meditative practice that’s deep. And you ask them, you know, have you ever had the experience of being conscious being awake inside? Without thought, just gonna stop talking with my hands? Just even even for a moment? They’ll say yes, and many of them will, will describe what we call pure consciousness, you know, TURia. But they won’t use that language. They may never have heard that language. But yes, I’ve had that experience of just consciousness alone by itself, I was awake. And then thoughts came in and, and had you feel during that time, and after one, oh, is perfectly at peace, I felt I was in the Fae of religious, they might say, oh, you know, I felt like I was in the embrace of God. And if they’re not, they might say I was never more content in my life or something like that. And so they’ve, they can acknowledge that experience, of non separation of, of their inner self with anything. And yet, you know, they’ll still want to maintain the dualism, but the experience is still the same. Now, I

RICK: think it a step further. And I think you would, too, especially since we’re both old tn teachers, but you know, it’s not just that this experience is personally gratifying and enjoyable, and perhaps improves your life, you know, you begin to adopt healthier habits and drop unhealthy ones, and you get along better with people and all that stuff. But this potentially has huge implications for the world. And I think we’re all concerned about the world and we should be There are so many problems that beset society, you know, I mean, racial and societal unrest and very difficult situations that people in various countries are going through. And we have this huge influx of migrants coming up from Central America, and those people are going through such a hard time and Syria, and there’s the environmental, you know, situation, which potentially could wipe us all out, and the bees are dying. And I mean, we could go on for hours in numerating, all the problems, any one of which might be able to do a sin. And, you know, I, I really feel have all have felt since I first heard the concept that consciousness is fundamental, and that all problems on the surface of life are expressions of inadequate contact of a tremendous field of potentiality, which lies at the depth of life. And if the, you know, the, if the hose could be connected from that reservoir to the various relative fields on the surface, they could all flourish, and we would find solutions to these problems, or maybe some of them would just sort of drop off without even applying a specific solution. So anyway, I’m as optimistic and idealistic as I ever was on that particular theme, which is one of the things that motivates me to do what I do.

PHIL: Yeah, me too. And I, I adopted that perspective, back 50 years ago, like you did, and I have seen, I’ve experienced nothing to change my mind about it. With this caveat, it’s more nuanced than I originally thought, and I know you agree that we thought, if you raise consciousness, and the evidence, bears this out, people become, you know, make better decisions, they become more creative, they become a little more compassionate, they become more effective in their lives, you know, the, the evidence of anecdotally and through science is, supports this notion that if you if you do these spiritual practices that expand consciousness and bring you in contact with the source of consciousness, then there are practical results. And and that would lead to better behavior and better solutions in the world. The thing I’ve come to modify that with is, it’s not automatic. And just that the growth of consciousness isn’t enough to make people behave in an exemplary way, or not do foolish things. And this was never more clear. Then, you know, this last several years, when, you know, we’ve beset by all the problems, you were that back in the 70s, we would have thought would be long gone by now. And they’re not. And you can say, well, that means not enough people are meditating, not enough people are expanding their consciousness. And that’s no doubt true. But the other disturbing thing was how many people who do do these practices are either indifferent to the state of the world, or are caught up in strange and destructive things like conspiracy theories, and that, that came as a shock to me. And I don’t quite know what the solution to that is. And if you add to that, what we talked about before about presumably, you know, enlightened or at least highly evolved spiritual exemplars misspeak misbehaving usually around sex, sometimes around money and power, then you realize it’s not necessarily a one to one correspondence with elevated consciousness and ethical and moral behavior. And, and so, something has to be done on that level, which is what motivated you to start the Association for spiritual integrity and got me hooked on making a contribution to it because it sometimes there’s a disconnect between the expansion of consciousness or and the the deep inner experience of realization and awakening and moral behavior and this You know, karma to be considered and upbringing and you know, whatever else.

RICK: That’s a really good caveat. And let’s let’s, let’s talk about it for a little bit. I think about it a lot. I, you know, I live in a community where, you know, a lot of people, few 1000 have been meditating, doing spiritual practices for many decades. I know at least half a dozen who went to the January 6 event. And who will tell you that, oh, it was just like a peaceful tourist visit, or something like that. And there are spiritual communities around the world, as we saw in our presentation with Jules Evans and Dan Wilson at the in the ASI. Where, you know, vaccination rates are so low that whooping cough, and all diseases like that are cropping up. Because the people have been convinced that they should take vaccines. I mean, probably about, we probably just got about a dozen thumbs down on this YouTube video, because probably some of the people watching. And I guess there’s still this into a central question. I keep coming back to we’ve got to evolve a form of spirituality, which is well rounded, which, which doesn’t have any important missing pieces? I don’t think that most, which is why I asked you that thing about Yogananda earlier, I think most spiritual movements you look at have some missing pieces, something hasn’t been emphasized enough. And if you look at some of the traditional texts, like Patanjali, I mean, he seemed to cover a lot of the pieces and the yamas and niyamas. And

PHIL: he wasn’t running an organization.

RICK: And if it aside from I mean, I don’t really consider myself part of any organization these days. But I think a lot about this, well rounded this aspect of spirituality, I sort of feel like, you can really handicap yourself by neglecting certain aspects of your makeup or of your development by ignoring your blind spots, I mean, some people like for instance, our friend, Miranda McPherson, and others, you know, an advocate, you know, seeing a therapist every now and then, or going to a variety of spiritual teachers just to sort of like, you know, get outside your comfort zone and broaden your perspective. And so I don’t know, if it will be a one size fits all solution. And you can you can elaborate on what I’m trying to say here. But somehow, I think spirituality may be evolving. Not that there isn’t anything new under the sun. But that, you know, it’s there’s something new about spirituality, coming into this culture, the 21st century, with everything that’s going on in the incredible pace of change, and all the challenges we face, it somehow has to rise to meet the challenge. And, and failure to do this can really throw person off the rails, and I’ve seen so many examples of where people have just gotten off into lala land, you know, gotten into very, you know, how cult indoctrination happens kind of incrementally, and you don’t even realize it’s happening until you’re deep into it. Well, in a way, even though some of these people I wouldn’t say are in a official cult. I think a lot of people have just drifted out who have really dedicated their lives to spirituality have drifted off into some very strange places. And there are numerous articles. I mean, I could send you have sent good dozens of links. Yeah, and you’ve written some stuff on it. So I you get my point?

PHIL: Of course I do. And there’s a lot to be said, in what you just said. One is that, you know, every spiritual teacher, we’ve already talked that they’re all human. And so their teachings might be missing stuff, you can, you know, be No, no lineage, no organization could be all things to all people. And that’s true. I’ve never I’ve researched all the spiritual to Lee, organizations that were created by gurus who came here and by inference others and they’re all imperfect, they’re all dysfunctional in some way or another. They all have followers who complain about them, and who, you know, think that perfect on the other hand, and that makes sense because the founders were human. The people around them were even more human and less evolved, as we know, you know, as we fixed we experienced ourselves. And so that’s part of the deal. The other is, you know, I always come back to some people having a finat of personality that is drawn to fanaticism. If you look at Vivekananda, ‘s famous speech in Chicago in 1893, one of the things he talks about is fanaticism, religious fanaticism, and hoping that gatherings like the one he was at which you know, people from all the traditions would be an end to fanaticism, and all the damage it’s done. Well, here we are 130 years later, practically, and fanaticism of different kinds, is still a problem. And you see it in spiritual communities and, and some people then get drawn at in a fanatical way toward things that can be destructive, and not based in evidence. I think one of the things you are alluding to with spirituality for this time in place, is that we are evolving and evidence based spirituality. America, one of the reasons people often asked me when I talk about American Veda and Yogananda and all this, why Americans were so drawn to these teachers from the East, including the Buddhist teachers, you know, all those Zen teachers and all the others. And it was one of my explanations as always, Americans, there’s a, a segment of Americans that are very open minded and curious. And that pragmatism runs through the heart of America, we’re very pragmatic, something works, even if it seems strange, hey, it might work out, I’ll check it out. That’s, and that led to the, you know, people, all these gurus becoming very popular, because they didn’t ask you to believe in anything, they asked you to try out these, these methods of meditation and yoga and everything and see if they work for you. They didn’t ask you to convert, they didn’t ask, you know, tell you to adopt a belief system. It was a pragmatic, evidence based spirituality. And we’re, you know, that is still evolving, you know, you and I remember when there was, you know, a couple of studies on TM. And now, you know, there’s 1000s of studies on different meditation practices and the utility and I think that the evidence based quality of it is an important piece of it. And people’s, I think people need in this should be part of ordinary education. Training, then how to sort out information and separate speculation, and lies, from things that can be proven and things for which there are evidence, and we’re living in a media landscape. Now that makes that very difficult. But at and then we come back to consciousness and the the well of the mind that the information is coming into and how it is processed. So I still like you come back to that as fundamental.

RICK: Yeah, another thing I come back to these days is that I think that a lot of people when they get into spirituality, underestimate the amount of transformation that it’s going to be necessary to undergo and the, the range of possibilities that, you know, the vastness of the spectrum of spiritual, of spiritual development that they’re embarking on. I mean, when we first started, we were told that we’d be in contact cosmic consciousness in five to eight years. And, you know, what you end up realizing is that it’s really a lifelong undertaking, and you never rest on your laurels. And that


there’s, it’s,

RICK: it’s a, it’s really a huge thing. And you can get tripped up even after decades there. They’re sort of the razor’s edge. You know, there can be pitfalls at any stage of the game. And there are actually Vedic stories about this who great rishis who ended up falling because they got tripped up, they made some mistake. So I think that it’s always important. It helps to have that realistic perspective. I think, to me, it’s realistic.

PHIL: I agree. And even the people who did slip into you know what we used to call cosmic consciousness, they turn out to have more evolution.

RICK: I remember reading in the local paper, one of them got busted for marijuana possession about 10 or 20 years ago.

PHIL: Okay, and they may, you know, they may do unethical business practices or have bad relationships, there’s, you know, we’re humans, and we always have to keep growing, regardless of whether we’re witnessing it all. And, you know, from this state of pure consciousness, and maybe there’s, there’s always further development, as long as we’re in these bodies. And one of those areas of development, it says, it seems, is ethical and moral behavior, it’s a key one.

RICK: Because if it’s neglected, I mean, if you don’t do your pranayama, or something, no big deal. But if, if, if ethical moral behavior is, is neglected or violated, seriously, it can really, there’s, there’s a saying Punia as your spiritual merit that has been accumulated, it can really pop your Punia balloon. And, you know, cloud the mind and cause you to, to start doing even worse things.

PHIL: And the notion that right behavior automatically follows from, you know, Samajik, from from spiritual experience is, you know, it just doesn’t turn out to be true. Um, you know, it’s just not automatic. I think there’s some correlation, you’re more likely to behave in the right way, you’re more likely to obey, you know, those sort of rules of the road. But if you’ve never taught those rules, or you had contempt for them before, you might still misbehave, you might, you know, because that part of your curriculum in this life needs to be addressed.

RICK: We know how Jesus was tempted by the devil during his 40 days and 40 nights and he could have succumb to that temptation, perhaps. Or how Buddha under the Bodhi tree on the brink of his enlightenment was assailed by Mara, and all the demons and temptations and you know, that it’s like, there’s almost in a way, something that even at a very advanced stage, if these stories are representative of actual mechanics, tries to throw us off the track or, you know, tries to test us to see if we’re really serious about this. So again, there’s a quote, I’ve used many, many times from Padma Sun bhava, he said, although my awareness is as vast as the sky, my attention to karma is as fine as a grain of barley flour.

PHIL: I, you’ve shared that with me in the past, and I love it. And, and that’s very good advice for all of us. You know, we may be in bliss, we may, you know, be, you know, feeling spiritually exalted. But then, you know, as the Zen people say, you have to chop wood and carry water. You know, there’s that old saying is then Before enlightenment, chop wood and carry water, after enlightenment, chop wood and carry water. And, and people don’t quite realize that part of that. The meaning of that is, you still chopping wood and carrying water, but your experience of it may be vastly different. But you still have to chop the wood and carry the water. Otherwise, you know, you don’t have you can’t build fire and you can quench your thirst. And part but the you know, the implication of that is, you should do that with integrity, and you should chop wood and carry water with dignity and concern for others and compassion. Look, you know, a big part of the Buddhist teachings is about Nirvana, getting enlightened. But what, what else, also compassion, and they have practices for cultivating compassion. And you have people like the Dalai Lama talking about compassion. Both of us interviewed Robert Thurman for our podcasts. And I I was interviewed by him not long ago. And one of the things that I admire about him, he’s not only a scholar of religion, and he’s so close to the Dalai Lama. He’s passionate and fiery. You know about climate change, and the importance of it and I’ve met other gurus. I’ve seen them in India working to combat climate change and make people aware that this is real. So being in those states doesn’t mean we’re not also So human

RICK: love thought that comes to mind is that in the early years of my spiritual path, I was just going along, being myself, but I did things, which by my current standards were completely outrageous would be egregious Lee, wrong, and insensitive and cruel and, you know, crazy by my current standards. So I think you know, what happens is, you know, this publice Ababa, quote about the grains of barley flour. At first, you know, maybe to take your chop wood thing, you know, we’re just swinging a big double axe and whacking big pieces of wood. But later on, we’re kind of becoming this fine sculptor, you know, just carving this intricate thing. Your discernment has to become refined. And the, the sort of the, it’s not difficult. But the the row, your walk has to be more and more fine tuned. You know, I’m trying to say

PHIL: I do. Yes. And and maybe part of that is you start chopping wood and carrying water to people who need some help, and not just not just for yourself and your household. But I’m glad you use the word discernment. Because that’s always been a big part of the yogic path. You know, Shanker the great non dualist wrote a book that has been translated crest jewel of discrimination. Now, they might say, discernment and Ziva discernment, intellect, discernment of the intellect is highly valued. And often in spiritual circles, oh, we should be in the heart and you’re in your head too much. And you think too much. And there’s an almost denigration of the rules of logic and rationality. Well, the yogi’s were much more balanced about that, you know, they were, you know, all about the heart and feeling in love and compassion, but they were also about discernment and discrimination. And thinking clearly, and following the rules of rational discourse,

RICK: if I understand Shanker correctly, what he says is that, you know, the, the final stages of enlightenment are the higher, higher stages of spiritual development require a really subtle, refined intellect. But he said that at the earlier stages, you just don’t have that, and you can’t have that. And what you need to do is purify yourself to the point where you can, and therefore Karma Yoga, you should just engage in activity and good works and, and things like that. And through that, you’ll eventually become pure enough that a more subtle intellect will begin to dawn and it’s that subtle intellect that accomplishes the final stages of realization.

PHIL: And that and that is using the mind to go beyond the mind. So ultimately, the sermon takes you to the door beyond which there’s nothing to discern. That’s just, you know, there. And but yeah, that’s, and we haven’t even mentioned bhakti, you know, we mentioned Raja Yoga in the sense of doing meditative practices, but bhakti is also you know, the devotional activities and the the traditions that emphasize bhakti and, you know, all the practices around doing so ceremony and chanting and singing. Yeah, all that can be very purifying. Yes. And it’s, you know, you can transcend doing that. You know, people have great experiences doing that, and it opens the heart. So, you know, we should we all need balance. He mentioned razor’s edge. You know that that comes out of that images from the punish shots. And when I remember writing somewhere, you know that if you’re going to be walking on a razor’s edge, you need balance. That’s,

RICK: I think that’s the point of the image. Yeah,

PHIL: you need to because we go too far in one direction or another, you know, you get in a big trouble. So extremism and fanaticism

RICK: he was a big time fanatic before he founded. A question came in from a fellow in Portland named Emil Picard, and he said that he actually had a visitation from Yogananda about 1010 years ago. He said it was comforting. The visitation he said Yogananda told him things would be hard. And he’s wondering if Yogananda ever appeared to you in a dream and if so, if you feel comfortable sharing about it,

PHIL: I am not inclined to such experiences. But no, he has never has and people have also asked me when I was writing about him, did I feel his presence, you know, Was I being guided by Him and I know people have had these experiences and I, I don’t want to appear cynical about them, they may very well be real, but didn’t happen to me, I did feel at times being guided by something, you know, that that, you know, there was something right about doing this and it was going to be, you know, it was important to do and, you know, all the obstacles sort of seemed to dissolve as soon as they arose in it, you know, became doors opened and all this and so I felt, in a sense, guided and supported by something beyond the ordinary, but I can’t say it was Yogananda or came to me in a vision or anything like that. I feel closer to him, of course, because I just spent all this time researching and writing about him. But, but I was never a disciple. I was never a devotee, or even a student. Other than, you know, drawing a lot from his books, like many of us did, this copy of Autobiography of a Yogi I first read in 1970. But I was already on my path. And there’s been there are a lot of people like me millions like you, you know, you got something out of his book, you are inspired by it, you learn from it, but you you, you had a different path. But then there are those who read this book. And their whole lives change, and they become devotees, and they become disciples, and some of them become monks in his tradition. And that’s a different level of engagement.

RICK: Even now, you can still do that. Right?

PHIL: Yeah, people still doing that.

RICK: Any final thoughts, Phil?

PHIL: No, I thank you for doing this. It’s all great joy, always fun to talk to you.

RICK: And I’m really glad that our lives are intertwined these days with ASI, that we get to sort of talk to each other often. It’s it’s a lot of fun. And it’s a meaningful thing. And if anyone wants to check that out, it’s called it’s spiritual hyphen,, the Association for spiritual integrity. And, you know, there are many events we have, which you can participate in without being a member. And then there are some other things that are just for members and members. Yeah, I guess you have to be a spiritual teacher, or therapist or healer or something along those lines to actually be a member, although I’ve been arguing for open membership for

PHIL: Yeah, mate, maybe we’ll maybe we’ll change that someday or find something. We’re new. But I would hope to encourage people to check us out and supported and become a member, there’s nothing, no obligation or anything. And we hope to be able to make a difference.

RICK: Okay, so I’ll be setting up a page on bat gap calm, as I always do. And it’ll have links to your books and to your website, and to the ASI that we’ve just mentioned, and you know, everything that you gave me in your bio. So people can just if they’re watching this on YouTube or something, if you want to get to all those links, go to Phil’s page on bat gap, which is actually in the description under the video on YouTube. And then you can jump from there to all the links and things that I just mentioned. So thank you, Phil, for your time. And thank you for writing such an interesting book. I really enjoyed it.

PHIL: Thank you, Rick. Keep up the good work. And it’s been a joy to interact with you. Thanks to

RICK: those who have been listening or watching next week, I’ll be speaking with a gentleman in Australia named Colin Blake. Drake, right. Great. Colin Drake. And I’ve been listening started listening to his book and it’s good stuff is very interesting. So it should be a good conversation. So see you then. Thanks a lot. Thanks for Thanks, Phil.