Rick: Welcome to Buddha at the Gas Pump. My name is Rick Archer. Buddha at the Gas Pump is an ongoing series of interviews or conversations with spiritually awakening people. I’ve done well over 500 of them now and if this is new to you and you’d like to check out previous ones, please go to www.batgap.com and look under the past interviews menu. This program is made possible through the support of appreciative listeners and viewers, so if you appreciate it and would like to help support it, there is a PayPal button on every page of the website. My guest today is Ravi Ravindra. Welcome Ravi.
Ravi: Thank you very much Rick.
Rick: Yeah, I’ve been getting to know Ravi over the past week, listening to many hours of his various interviews and talks and I really feel like I’ve learned a lot, whether I retain it or not is another matter, but I really enjoyed imbibing his wisdom. We read a brief little bio here. Ravi wrote, “Proud to be born in India as a Hindu. I will be sad if I die merely a Hindu. Convinced very early in life that all boundaries are artificially created and tend to hinder the growth of the spirit, I ended up studying at post-doctoral level of physics, philosophy and religion at various universities and later teaching as a professor in these fields. Wishing to correspond to the transformational teachings of several great spiritual luminaries, especially Krishna, Buddha, Christ and Patanjali, and of great present-day masters such as Krishnamurti and Gurdjieff, I am interested in the actual journey of self-transformation and experiencing the inevitable shifts of focus of energy along the way.” Ravi has written a number of books including “The Yoga of the Christ” which was published in the US as “The Gospel of John in the Light of Indian Mysticism,” a commentary on the Bhagavad Gita; a commentary on Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, and a book entitled “The Pilgrim Soul, A Guide to the Sacred Transcending World Religions.” And Ravi, you of course, I know this but the audience doesn’t, you spent quite a lot of time with Krishnamurti from over maybe a 20 year period or something like that and had a lot of conversations with him, and also he was a big influence in your life. So I thought we might start by, you know we have all kinds of topics we want to discuss here but it is good to get a little bit, to get to know a little bit more about the person. So maybe you could just tell us a little bit about your personal history, whatever you consider relevant to the nature of the discussion we will be having.
Ravi: Well, really in a way I would be happy to tell you that even starting, I was probably a teenager when I first encountered a book by Aurobindo, sorry, by Vivekananda, I should say. And until that time, you know what happens in every country, every person, the same will be probably true for you. We look at our own culture microscopically and often at other cultures telescopically by which I mean now specifically, anybody growing up here in Canada is quite aware of all the terrible things many ministers and priests and religions have done. But they think all the great spiritual gurus in India are very elevated. But growing up in India is just the other way around. So as a kid, I was actually a member of the Communist Party in India and our program was how can we get rid of these priests. What we could see them, they were just getting fatter, getting more money from poor people or people who were not very literate, convincing them if they give money, they’ll go to heaven, that kind of thing. But then for me, a very major change took place when I read this book by Vivekananda. Specifically one remark of his struck me very much, which was that religion is not for the weak, it is for the strong. And I remember being very struck by this somehow, because what I had so far seen were actually the poor or weak people who were eager to sort of welcome these wandering priests or ministers or equivalent of that. We don’t call them priests and ministers, but there are different words for this. But anybody who’s been in India, they would see many of these people, especially at that I’m talking about a long time ago. I’m now almost 82 years old. So many things have changed in India, especially in the urban areas. A lot of influence from the Western world. So many of these things are a little different now, but still. But Vivekananda’s book changed my attitude. And he even specifically says that even going to the temples and all these rituals, etc., they are at a very low level of spiritual practice. And gradually I began to be much more clear that spiritual practice is hardly the thing being encouraged by religions. Now I would say many years later that religions have done more harm to spiritual practice than anything else, than any other institution. They just want people to believe something and to keep imitating it or keep reciting something and then that gets you to heaven, rather than what is the actual practice. And the fundamental aspect of any spiritual practice is a need for a radical transformation of whatever I am. Because if there is one common lesson, you can read any scripture. In fact, I often invite my friends or audiences, if they know any exception, please help me. And I’m sort of basing it on whatever I have read. That this is the one common feature of all scriptures and the teachings of all the sages. That as long as I remain the way I am, I cannot come to the truth or to God or to the real or absolute, whatever word people want to use. These are just labels. If the Buddha could not describe what Nirvana is, Christ could not describe what God is, how the hell do I know what God is? But one hears something, listens to something, and one has some fantasy about it. So radical transformation of every searcher, that is the call of any serious teaching. I feel this is what is required and that is not such an easy thing. But many of you, I’m assuming many people in your audience have a Judeo-Christian background, so I might end up occasionally giving references or quotations from the Abrahamic traditions rather than from the Indian tradition, although I’m happy to do that. In India, I would do the other way around. And for example, Nicodemus visits Christ, asks him, how can one get to the Kingdom of God? And what is the response of Christ? It is as radical transformation is required as to be born again, born of the spirit, born from above. So this is the call of practically all serious spiritual teachings, a radical reorientation of our whole being. So Vivekananda, he wasn’t specifically using this kind of terminology, but it began to strike me. And then, of course, as you know, in India, perhaps this is true actually everywhere, if you are considered a smart student, so you go into that kind of study, you can get a good job. And in India, it’s even more so because the population is very large, therefore competition is naturally very large. And we used to even joke about it. If you get to a good institution, maybe your dowry will go up. This is a very Indian kind of thing. In other words, when the dowry is what, how does that work? It’s alien to our culture. Well, it is. I know it’s alien to your culture, but in general, when a young man is married to a young woman, classically, now it is by the way outlawed in India, but still carries on in a way. And the bride’s parents will give some what is called a dowry.
Rick: So they have to cough up the money.
Ravi: That’s right. So at that time, the first institution called the Indian Institute of Technology, very much assisted by some people at MIT and other places, that was just started actually in 1953 or And I had graduated from school in 1956. And to get into that institution was really regarded as if you are a good student, that’s what you aim for. Literally hundreds of thousands of people apply. Very few people are taken by that. And I have never, I actually, I’m not trying to be smart by saying this. I honestly do not believe that I am running my life. There seems to be all kinds of forces that are at play. Why should I get into that institution? I still don’t actually understand. I was myself surprised. Everybody else around me was surprised. But in fact, that institution was so highly regarded, our first Prime Minister Nehru made this comment. These institutions of technology are the temples of new India. See very much emphasis because as India just became independent in 1947, not very far ahead of this period that I’m talking about. And there was a very strong emphasis on that we needed to work towards science and technology to improve the country’s economic situation, that kind of thing. But there I remember being, well, first of all, since you are an American citizen, I should tell you this. On one occasion, actually a young professor from MIT happened to be there visiting us and we were going on a field trip. And this is very Indian, even on a field trip, you have cooks going with you. Can you believe this? This is very Indian. And we had three or four Jeeps, some graduate students, I mean, some students in it and of course, professors and the drivers. No professor is driving, no student is driving. We have drivers. One Jeep, somehow something went wrong. It stopped. And so everybody just standing around and the driver is going to try to phone somebody for some mechanic to come from somewhere. This character from MIT, he just takes his jacket off, goes under the Jeep. And I have no idea what the hell he actually did, but the Jeep started. I remember saying to myself, I’m going to go to USA. Because something in me really felt. Now I should also tell you, as a young man, even now probably most Indians think Canada is just part of USA. Not exactly part in any political sense, but that it is just North America, you know, is part of in that sense. So going to USA really meant going to Canada also. And this is when I decided that I was going to come to USA. And later on, I actually was very fortunate. Maybe I have already, I may have told you this in one someplace or the other. I had a fellowship from MIT and a fellowship. This is after I finished my Master of Technology, by the way. Fellowship from MIT and a fellowship from Caltech, California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. And a Commonwealth scholarship from Canada. And the only time I have really spent literally sleepless night was how to decide between these. And anybody I asked just got mad at me. You know, it’s like a champagne problem. And they were rather than trying to help me, they were just getting annoyed with me. So nobody, neither my professors helped, nor any of my fellow graduate students helped. But finally, I decided to come to Canada largely because of a very well known geophysicist, D’Uzo Wilson. Actually, there is in Canada, they have even named a mountain after him. He was very responsible for accepting the continental drift theory in the Western world. It was actually proposed in USSR earlier. But it took some time for it to be accepted here. So largely because of him, I decided to come to Canada to the University of Toronto. So that’s part of it. But I remember being very struck while I was studying all this, that there is a remark in a very ancient text in India, which says that when a person is born, right from birth, he owes some debt. Debt to the Devas, meaning the gods. They are not just outside, they’re also inside us. But also the debt to the sages, debt to the ancestors, debt to the society. These are the four debts which you are practically born with. And I remember asking myself, are the sages only those born in India? Why is Einstein not a sage? Specifically, why Christ is not a sage for me? So what debt do I owe them? Which coming from India, these people used to sort of think this is a little weird because one imagines that Indian sages are the ones I should be honoring. The text is Indian, that is true. It’s a very ancient text. Shatavad Brahman, by the way, is the name of the text. And so when I came to Canada, for me, it was really a revolution in my life. Because here, people behave differently and they claim to be Christians, just as people in India, many of them would claim to be Hindus. These are just words as far as I could gradually begin to understand. But I wanted to, every country is very much influenced by its religion. That to me had, I never doubted that. So I wish to know something about Christianity. So I decided to go to church every Sunday. But since I was a graduate student in physics, you can imagine my fellow graduate students going to church from their point of view. This is one of the cliches here. You see people who are not really great scientists like Einstein or Newton, they are very spiritually oriented people, these great scientists. But other ones are simply, religion has nothing to do with science, can disprove all this. You see, it’s a very strange kind of idea. In any case, they used to make fun of me going to church. But one day I heard one of those students speak to another one quietly. I just overheard. Well, he’s from India. So that meant I could be weird.
Rick: You’re a bit of a weirdo. Ran; Yeah, I have to be weird. In fact, I have actually, this has happened several times in my vague hearing. Just because I’m from India, I have a certain permission to be weird.
Rick: That’s great.
Ravi: Well, let’s go ahead.
Rick: Did you want to say more?
Ravi: No, I was just going to say that. But gradually I realized that what the priests and ministers were saying here also doesn’t carry. It doesn’t carry in their being what they’re talking about. But I was very struck by many of the mystical teachings of Christ himself. And also there are some very standard texts, for example, the Cloud of Unknowing or the Theologia Germanica. Most of my so-called Christian friends have never even heard of these books. So this is the reason I ended up writing about the Gospel of John, which I actually, that whenever I spoke to my Christian friends, they would say, well, that’s not in the Gospel. So I’ll show it to them. This was the reason why that book got published. Otherwise, I wasn’t trying to write it for publishing it. So that’s how I ended up being interested both in spirituality. To me, every human being I have ever met is actually interested in these things. So I don’t understand what the contradiction is in people’s minds.
Rick: Good. I want to pick up on a few of the things you mentioned. One is about the point of belief. My sense is that the great sages, Christ and all the rest, they didn’t really care if you believed what they said. They wanted you to experience what they experienced. And they had to tell you about it in order to inspire you to aspire to experience it yourself. But, you know, belief, I mean, I could believe that the food in a restaurant is really good and I could starve to death believing that, but going in and actually having the food would be a completely different thing than actually having the experience, right?
Ravi: Yeah. I agree with you that in fact we don’t need to be even against belief or faith. In fact, actually the root of the word belief is ‘epistis’ in Latin, from which we also get the word ‘epistemology’ – theory of knowledge. It is really, especially in John’s Gospel, some scholars have even written about it, wherever the word, whenever the person says or a disciple says to Christ, Lord, I believe, what they are actually saying, Lord, I see, Lord, I recognize, but then a few sentences later they no longer see. So it’s actually very much to do with seeing something. But even at the very ordinary level, I don’t think we need to be against belief. If I really believe, let us say, that the Buddha was enlightened, why wouldn’t I bother to try to practice what he’s teaching?
Rick: So, it’s like a first step, you know, you have to believe that there’s a possibility of some benefit there and then if you really, if you believe, okay, it’s like a hypothesis, right, in science. You think, okay, this might be viable, maybe I’ll, I think I’ll spend my time studying this because I think I might get some results.
Ravi: Yes, yes. No, I agree. So, we don’t need to be against belief but just to stay with it, well, Christ was the son of God and if I believe this, then I’ll be saved. To me, that’s not the sort of belief that’s going to help anybody.
Rick: Right. Another thing is that the point you made about Vivekananda saying religion is for the strong, I guess, you know, he was obviously defining religion a little differently than it was commonly being defined. And I’m reminded of another verse in the Gita somewhere where Krishna says, you know, whatever people offer by way of devotion or worship or anything else, you know, at whatever level, I accept that, you know, I appreciate it. rav; That’s right. It doesn’t matter which devas they worship, as long as they do it wholeheartedly, I will bless them, Krishna says.
Rick: Yeah, and you’re very much appreciative of there being many levels of development and you know, so people have to start somewhere, but you just don’t want to get stuck at some level where you’re merely spending your whole life believing things that you, you know, can’t ultimately experience.
Ravi: I agree. This is the reason I’m saying there’s no reason to be against belief or faith. Anything can help. For example, one could even say, after all, just reading a book isn’t going to take me to heaven, but there’s no harm in reading a book if it indicates something that I might try to practice or it might listening to. Ultimately no teacher is going to take me to heaven either. It always has to be my own journey, but listening to some teachers can help me. So there’s no reason to be against. This was one of the things which I generally did not actually agree with Krishnamurti. He somehow ended up being more or less as if he’s against teaching or teachers.
Rick: Yeah, he did have that bias, didn’t he? A friend of mine, he met Maharishi Mahesh Yogi on an airplane one time and a friend of mine was there and Krishnamurti and Maharishi sat together for a while and afterwards my friend kind of ran into him when they were in the airport lounge or something. Krishnamurti was really kind of annoyed because he hated the whole guru scene, you know, and there was very much a guru scene around Maharishi.
Ravi: Yeah, I know, but so it is around Krishnamurti as well I can tell you in the Krishnamurti Foundation. It is inevitable. It happens everywhere because in a way Krishnamurti Foundation just like the Guru or any other foundation is after all set up to celebrate him, to promote his books, his writing. So he obviously has to be the center of everything.
Rick: I guess the reason he disliked it so much is that he, well you tell me, he probably felt that it should not be about a particular man or particular personality because the truth is much bigger than that. Was that the attitude?
Ravi: Yeah, no, that is very much the case. There is actually a very strong suggestion, different words are used but practically all teachers convey this in one way or the other, namely you cannot get there. You see even in the Bible, you build this wall and people are fighting with each other. You know, you can’t build a wall from the earth to heaven. If I directly quote Krishnamurti, you cannot ascend to the truth. The truth can descend to you. The suggestion very much is that this is a great mystery which nobody can as it were capture or figure out. On the other hand, where I partly I often had a bit of a questioning with Krishnamurti, how the hell is the truth going to descend on me? Should I just go and have another beer? What do I have? Is there anything I need to do to welcome the truth to descend on me or even to allow the truth to descend on me? To me, this is a very important question, not and in a way to be fair to him. I don’t think he would wholly disagree really with any of this, but somehow one ends up having a kind of a terminology. He had a very famous expression called “truth is a pathless land” and all his followers keep repeating it and there is even a books by that title. But really, if one seriously looks at it, what he’s suggesting is it cannot be anybody else’s path that is going to take you to truth. It has to be your own path.
Rick: But it can be a path then as long as it’s your own.
Ravi: Well, yes, but path meaning you can’t lay it down for somebody else.
Rick: Right, because I’ve sort of heard, I don’t know a whole lot about Krishnamurti, but I’ve heard that he was a bit discouraging of any kinds of techniques and practices. He didn’t teach any and I’m not sure how supportive he was of the notion of doing some kind of practice. Can you fill us in on that?
Ravi: Well, in a way it is certainly true because he felt if he says this is what you should practice, then people will take that to be the injunction. But on the other hand, constantly reminding people, asking people to engage in self-inquiry.
Rick: Which is a practice of a sort.
Ravi: And then he himself, I can guarantee this, you can check with anybody who knew Krishnamurti, he was very happy to sit down in meditation or go for walks in nature. Why would he be a vegetarian? If he, is it okay just to eat beef? So what I’m saying is that his own practice in his life and he was very happy to chant many of the old Sanskrit Vedic shlokas and mantras. And he even on occasion actually says it nourished him, it helped him. But on the other hand, he would not say to anybody else, this is what you must do.
Rick: Yeah, maybe he was reacting to the, I mean like you said in the very beginning when you were a young man and you had become a communist and all you were disillusioned by the apparent corruption and greed and disingenuousness of the priests, the sadhus, the gurus. And I know that at one point Krishnamurti was put up as the world’s savior or something by the Theosophical Society and a certain priest said, “I don’t want that.” So maybe he was just kind of trying to strip all the fluff and the folderol away from the essence of truth and just he didn’t feel that a spiritual path needed all that embellishment and all that stuff which people get very much distracted by.
Ravi: I agree. I think this is where it was coming from, especially Leadbeater who was really the person who actually as it were found him on the beach and recognized his potential. So then later on as if Leadbeater had a certain specific stages of initiation and Krishnamurti began to feel that this is just becoming too rigid. But even there, you know, he literally said this to me and I’m actually quoting Krishnamurti, “I did not leave the Theosophical Society.”
Rick: It left me, right? Oh, they kicked him out, good.
Ravi: Specifically, he actually then I asked Radha Burnier at that time who was the president of the society for 30 odd years. Is there some truth to it? She said she will do some investigation and it was actually true. After this Krishnamurti sort of like a revolt almost after his great awakening and then he was sort of revolting against many of the things that the Theosophical Society people were saying. Then at that time the president of the Theosophical Society literally put his suitcase, Krishnamurti’s suitcase on the road. So it is in that sense true that he was kicked out rather than that he left the Theosophical Society.
Rick: I got kicked out of the TM movement for similar reasons. I just became too independent in my thinking and I was questioning everything and I was just doing whatever I thought I ought to do rather than what I was supposed to do and I just wasn’t a good fit anymore.
Ravi: that’s probably what happened to him.
Rick: So there’s a number of things I want to explore with you and again, you know from your side if there’s some thought that comes to mind and you think I’d really like to talk about that feel free to bring it up even if I don’t ask about it. In fact right now is there anything on your mind?
Ravi: No, it’s not specifically. I’m happy to have a conversation with you because I know you were a little offended by my remarks about this non-duality business, so maybe we should certainly talk about it.
Rick: Yeah, actually I printed out your email here and the point you made is very good. You said, “My concern is much more in living an idea of non-duality from which love and compassion will naturally ooze out.” In other words, if it’s a concept, if it’s just an intellectual thing and you’re not really living it, if you’re not walking your talk as they say, then you may not be displaying much love and compassion and that’s the problem. You said you were struck by the competitiveness and ego assertion that you ran into among these people who are sort of into non-duality. And this has been a concern of mine over the years too, I feel that very often certain people have read a lot of books and immersed themselves in the subject and then begun to mistake an intellectual understanding for actual realization and they’ll actually dismiss the notion that there has to be a sort of a continual purification and transformation of all aspects of our makeup and just say, “You know, just realize you’re enlightened and that’s it, you’re done. Don’t need to practice. Practice implies that there’s a practicer,” and they go on saying things like this and then again not showing a great deal of human development.
Ravi: Actually, this area is particularly important, so if you don’t mind, allow me to speak about it for a few minutes.
Rick: Yes, please.
Ravi: Speak about oneness and uniqueness.
Rick: Good, let’s do it.
Ravi: There are two words because these non-duality people are not interested in the uniqueness of everything.
Rick: And we should say not all of them because there’s some good eggs in there, but it tends to be a thing. So continue.
Ravi: First of all, we need a rather larger perspective in the whole of the Indian tradition by which I mean whatever gets called Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism. That’s what I mean by Indian tradition. I’m more interested in the spiritual part of it, but it gets philosophically expressed also. Strong emphasis on oneness of all there is. Only the one, not the two is a very standard expression from the Upanishads. On the other hand, in the entire Abrahamic tradition by which I mean Judaism, Christianity and Islam, the whole emphasis is on the uniqueness of everything and everybody. People often don’t, what has also happened, which actually slightly surprises me, I have made this remark several times in other places also, including in the Galileo Commission.
Rick: Which we’ll talk about.
Ravi: Western scholars or educated people seem to never quote anything from the Gospels or from St. Paul or anything as if they are completely disillusioned with it. They can happily quote something from the Yoga Sutras or from the Buddhist literature. But almost wholly disenchanted with what goes on in the name of religion here. This is my personal impression. So therefore, they don’t even seem to realize that in the whole of the Abrahamic tradition, there is so much emphasis on uniqueness of everyone. You can never find in the last, I’ll be happy if you show me an exception, remarks such as my spirit merged into the cosmic spirit. This is the kind of thing you’ll find in the Indian tradition frequently. But nowhere in the whole Abrahamic tradition.
Rick: Even if you read St. Teresa of Avila or St. John of the Cross or people like that?
Ravi: Any of them, great mystics come very close to it. But if they ever said anything like this, they’ll be either excommunicated like Eckhart or they will be even Christ himself said that the father and I are one. What happened to him? He was crucified. And in the Islamic tradition, we have another example. Al-Halaj said something very similar. He was also crucified. This is actually the case throughout the Abrahamic tradition that even after death, each person remains completely unique himself. In fact, one of the things I want to, this is the reason I said give me a few minutes about it, it’s a very large area because uniqueness is necessary for manifestation. For example, one of the Upanishads even makes this remark, which I very much, if you like, dispute. That once you understand, you look at every part is just clay. There are people who would pay $10,000 for a lovely Chinese vase and not even one cent for a broken tea. You know, in India at a railway station, they’ll give you tea in one of these parts. So all works of art are unique. They are not just all clay. Uniqueness is required for manifestation. Oneness is actually hinting at something which is beyond manifestation. And both of these things have their downside. This is also important to realize because from the perspective of uniqueness, I am unique, you are unique, then gradually, oh look how unique I am. It becomes more and more individuality, egocentricism. The other side, everything, for example, Shankara, who is the great non-dualist, “Brahma Satya Jagat Mithya”, only Brahma is true, everything else is false or Maya. You’ve been to India, anybody going to India can see, people can even take care of their own home, but not the neighborhood area. It’s almost the notion that which we have in the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.” You won’t find this anywhere in the Indian context. The reason I’m saying this, that the downside of that other side is completely forgetting the requirement of seeing the individuality of each person. After all, what any of the great sages or great artists, when they come to understand something, Bach is not going to do what Einstein is doing, that would be crazy. So we need to really understand and appreciate the uniqueness. Then we will be now looking at it from a scientific point of view, very modern scientific point of view, your DNA, my DNA, we share 99.9% of it is the same. So one can get carried away about non-duality here, but that 0.1%, take my word for it, if you like, I can give you references for this, gives you enough distinction equivalent to more atoms in the whole universe. So absolutely each person is unique. This is what CIA relies upon or FBI relies upon, my fingerprints, that’s right. And we keep talking about this human genome. There cannot be one human genome. Every individual is unique. As I said, it’s actually, if you’re interested, 10 to the power 3.4 billion times. It will take you 500 books to print that number if you write it down here. So it’s a very large number of more than the atoms in the universe. So what I have been trying to say that uniqueness is absolutely necessary for manifestation and for responsibility. Whereas oneness is necessary to give significance to our life. And one without the other makes no sense. And then we look at any of the great, I will take example from the Buddha and Christ. One could hardly doubt these are great sages. They loved everybody but they had a unique person whom they loved very much. Why do they call the beloved disciple of Christ? Similarly the Buddha had many disciples but Ananda was his favorite disciple. Why? So what I want to point out that logically oneness and uniqueness seem contradictory. In practice if we look at any of the great sages simultaneously they were aware that everybody comes from the same divine energy but that each one has a unique song of praise for God. What you need to do is not what I need to do. This is the reason I said what Einstein needs to do to follow his connection with divinity is quite different from what Bach needs to do or what Uday Shankar, the great Indian dancer needs to do. So each one is different. So I have been trying to emphasize that don’t get against uniqueness. That would really mean lack of responsibility or lack of one’s celebration song that I need to have my own song of celebrating. Your song needs to be different from mine. Some places it coincides, that’s fine. So I think both uniqueness and oneness are required and Ramana Maharshi gives a very good example of this actually in one of his remarks because he was often asked by people what happens when one is enlightened. So I’m more or less quoting him. If you like an exact quote I can send you later but this is more or less from my memory that when one realizes the divine the I loses its usual importance but the I still remains.
Rick: I’d like you to send me that quote later. That’s a good one.
Ravi: But the I still remains. So the point is it’s not a question of just getting rid of myself or obliterating it but to find what in me can in fact relate with something which is permeating the entire space. So that has to be my unique journey, my unique song of praise. So uniqueness and oneness really need to be brought together and in a way I also often think if half the sages in the world in the Abrahamic tradition emphasize uniqueness the other half emphasize oneness. Why should I just assume that the half of them are wrong? These are just expressions. Expression of truth is not the truth. This is another thing I have been trying to emphasize. Truth is indicated by somebody living the truth. They then exude vibrations of truth. They exude aura of truth. Expression of truth is not the truth but expressions are needed. In fact you can find this even in the Gospel of Philip which is non-canonical. Anything which is good is become non-canonical. That we need the words but every expression creates its own difficulty. So of course not therefore to be against language. You and I are now using a language. We need the language to say something. But if I get stuck only on this word or that expression or something therefore I repeatedly say to all my friends expression of truth is not the truth. We have had this kind of example in physics history very much. Are the basic particles particles or are they waves? In fact to have more than one expression in my judgment can be a very great help. Personally I believe this is a great value of studying more than one tradition which is why I actually go out of my way to study more than one tradition. Because then it can free you from getting attached to this. Otherwise at their best any expression, any tradition is a finger pointing to the moon. If I get so attached to the finger I can never get to the moon. Then I’m stuck with the finger. And for example Christ says the Father and I are one. I have never heard any sage in India ever refer to God as father. They would say I am Brahma or that you are that. But if one is not stuck with the expression then one can see that both of them are trying to point to some very great mystery with which one can actually connect. Not so easily connect. What is the practice that is required? So if I’m seriously taking either the expression of Christ or the expression of let us say some of the Indian sages like Yadubalakya or many other people have said something very similar that then one would not get stuck with the expression but wonder what are they hinting at and how do I actually relate with this in my own life. This is what I mean by saying expression of truth is not at the very best it can point to truth the very best like a finger pointing to the moon. So this is another example I feel.
Rick: I think this whole uniqueness and oneness point has very deep implications because if we as some people have done if we just sort of see life as something we want to get out of as soon as possible as some kind of mistake we’ve fallen into that needs to be corrected and eliminated once and for all, in a way to me it’s kind of insulting to God as if the whole universe was some kind of error and you know it needs to be just dismissed as illusion and told it doesn’t exist and so on and so forth. But I see it as a profoundly beautiful divine play which is in no way in conflict with the notion that everything is one. And I don’t know if this is correct but my understanding of Brahman and maybe I’m reading something into it is that it’s a totality that is more than the sum of its parts and that its parts can comfortably include oneness and diversity simultaneously, that there’s no conflict between them.
Ravi: In fact, among the modern sages or thinkers Aurobindo was the one who specifically is very concerned about this point. So he actually goes out of his way. First of all, much to my pleasure, he refers to Shankara as that medieval philosopher because I’m on the one hand Shankara was a very great philosopher actually and a great poet also but it’s his followers who are more the trouble. They just keep repeating something and get stuck on it. But in any case, Aurobindo is the one who was very interested, I’m more or less paraphrasing him in spiritualizing the matter rather than just getting away from the matter.
Rick: Yeah, and if we actually look at matter, I mean I brought this rock today because I’ve heard you use the phrase “dead matter” several times, and I don’t really think that you think that matter is dead, at least I don’t think it is. Because if we analyze what we’re actually looking at here, even a tiny little flake of it, you know, and all the trillions of atoms that are in that little flake, and then you know how miraculous each of those is, what such orderliness, so many interesting laws of nature, you know, existing in order for them to operate the way they do within themselves and among themselves, then you’re left rather awestruck with the sort of vast intelligence that orchestrates every little bit of creation.
Ravi: It was actually the so-called mechanization of nature that took place in the starting in the 16th century, much more in the 17th that has created that kind of feeling, but I should hear there is a very important point that is relevant here. In the Indian spiritual traditions, strictly speaking, there is no creation myth. There is what one might call an emanation myth. The reason I’m mentioning that is very relevant to what you just said. Brahma, by the way, which literally simply means the vastness or the largeness, that’s the literal meaning of that word. Brahma did not create the world. Brahma became the world. Everything that exists has Brahma in it, including this so-called dead matter. Everything has, from that point of view, consciousness in it. This is a very important distinction from the Western world. By Western world, here I mean the Abrahamic tradition, where God created the world and no creature can possibly be like the creator. Whereas in the Indian tradition, every creature already is the creator, but they don’t necessarily discover this or find this in themselves. And the call, especially to human beings, is to find that part in them, which is one with the creator. Creator is not the right word. One with Brahma will be the right word. But then there is a very interesting thing. Brahma became the world, but the oldest Upanishad, Braharanyaka Upanishad, has this very interesting analogy that is helpful here. Just as the whole spider web oozes out of the substance of the spider, but then the spider can move anywhere on the web or even away from the web. So Brahma is not stuck in the manifested world. So in that sense, it can be transcendent. It can be imminent. You see the difficulty that arises otherwise. If God is transcendent, this was actually one of the reasons in Christian theology, Christ is supposed to be the connecting link between the imminent world and the transcendent God. In the Indian way of putting it, it’s not required because Brahma is both imminent and transcendent, and this analogy of a spider web, people think they could think of a better analogy. This doesn’t sound so nice. Why not? It’s a good example.
Rick: Compare a God to a spider.
Ravi: Even a mosquito or a piece of metal or stone that you were just showing actually has Brahma in it. And Krishna actually repeats this in the Bhagavad Gita. I now quote him, if you like. I’m a great fan of the Bhagavad Gita. It’s probably the single most important text to originate from India in my judgment. And Krishna says everything that exists is a combination of the field and the knower of the field, and I am the knower of the field in all fields. So in everything Krishna exists.
Rick: Even in, you’re a professor of religion, don’t Western religions feel that God is omnipresent?
Ravi: . Yes.
Rick: Well, if they do, then obviously we’re looking at him.
Ravi: . Yeah, but this is where it becomes troublesome. They would say it’s omnipresent, but that doesn’t mean it is in everything.
Rick: Oh, well, that seems like a contradiction to me.
Ravi: Well, you can ask a Christian theologian about this.
Rick: I mean, if he’s not in everything, entirely permeating everything, then he’s not omnipresent.
Ravi: Well, even there, for example, why was Eckhart excommunicated? He makes this remark, “Our soul is as infinite as God.” This is one of the reasons. Or even Lucifer, you know, Lucifer was the highest of all angels. Literally the word means the one who is bearing light, Lucifer. Why was he expelled from heaven? Only the prophet Isaiah actually has said something about it. No other book seems to say about it. But this is what Isaiah says, “Because he wished to be like the Most High.” So in a way, what you’re saying needs to be understood why people don’t buy this idea that God is everywhere. Everywhere in the sense, he’s present everywhere, omnipresent. In fact, one of the things I’ve been trying to say in one of my other articles, people forget it’s not only that God is omnipresent, omnipotent, omniscient. These are the three words which are often used. But we should also remember that he’s omnidelectabilis, loved by everybody, delectable, and also omniamorosis, all loving. I don’t know why people don’t remember these other expressions. I had to actually ask my Latin professors to let me know these words. Some of these words are in Latin, so I don’t know Latin very much, but omniamorosis.
Rick: To me, I feel like science has helped us to, well there’s a whole theme we can get into about whether science and religion, or science and spirituality, let’s use the word spirituality rather than religion, can have a mutually enriching influence on one another. And it seems to me they can, because you know, a scientific approach to spirituality can help us cast off some of the magical thinking that one can somehow sometimes get hung up in on the spiritual path. And what spirituality can offer, as I’ve heard you describe this, that this is an instrument that we are operating in, and it’s an instrument of exploration of subtler and deeper levels of reality, which science has not been able to contrive anything so marvelous. You know, science comes up with the Hubble Space Telescope or the Large Hadron Collider and they can do certain things the human nervous system can’t do, but by the same token, the human nervous system can explore realities that no man-made instrument can hope to explore. So if we really want to approach knowledge as a total package, we’d like to know all aspects of it, gross and subtle, near and far, then it seems to me that the two can work hand in hand if understood properly and each playing its appropriate role to achieve that.
Ravi: No, I very much agree with this. In a way, one of the things which we need to realize, rather than calling it science and religion, I very much emphasize spiritual search and scientific research. Then we look at what is it that a scientist is actually trying to do. Similarly, what is it a spiritual searcher trying to do? Then you would see what is their aim, what is their practice, and now because we always have shortage of time, a spiritual searcher is undergoing more and more a transformation of his being because of this standard call from all the teachers that I mentioned earlier that unless I am radically transformed, born of the spirit, born from above to use Christ’s expression, I cannot come to the kingdom of heaven or come to enlightenment or understanding. So the undertaking of a spiritual searcher is actually, if you like, transformation of himself. No scientific research is involved in this. I have met many, many Nobel Prize winners in one context or the other. Some of them are quite remarkable people, I can assure you. It’s not a good idea for me to mention names now here, but some I’m sure you don’t want to invite home for tea. Quality of their being has nothing to do with the quality of their science. In fact, science in principle goes out of its way to remove the person out of the way, whereas in the spiritual search, person is the whole damn thing. That’s the whole center of the whole enterprise is that changing of the person. So one needs to realize that these two are quite different enterprises. On the other hand, all the great spiritual sages are very scientific in their outlook, by which I now mean they don’t simply believe something that somebody has said. Even if the Buddha said something, a great Buddhist searcher would wish to experience this himself, not just simply because the Buddha said. He might begin from there, but that is not what convinces him.
Rick: And the Buddha himself said that. He said don’t believe something just because I’ve said it, you know, investigate it for yourself.
Ravi: The Buddha, or similarly, Guruji from contemporary times repeatedly said this, don’t simply believe what I say. Question it, tell it. So this is a very scientific spirit. And also there is another thing which people often forget. Religions become very much occupied with one place, one country, one nation, etc. All spiritual seekers are saying truth is not, if it is true, it is true. I occasionally give this example, Newton happened to be a Britisher, but if the law of gravitation applies only in England, it can’t be a true law of nature.
Rick: Yeah, I remember hearing that Hitler made some disparaging comments about Jewish physics because Einstein happened to be Jewish.
Ravi: Or similarly, if only the English can understand this law of gravitation, then it can’t be a true law. I think all spiritual teachers, Christ is a very good example of this in spite of whatever the two billion Christians want to say, Christ speaking to this Samaritan woman specifically says, she says, well, you people worship in Jerusalem, we worship here on this mountain. Christ actually goes out of his way to say God is spirit and he’s to be worshipped not here nor there, but in spirit. All the great teachers are very inclusive just by definition because they are experiencing the oneness of all there is. So they can’t exclude somebody just because he happened to be male or female or happened to be English or German. This will be silly from their point of view.
Rick: Yeah, I haven’t been phoned up by a Christian fundamentalist lately, but last time I did, I started talking astronomy with him and going into how many galaxies there are in the known universe and how many, you know, the fact that we now know there are more planets in our galaxy than there are stars because the Kepler telescope is seeing all these planets and the probability of how many intelligent civilizations are on all these planets and you start going on like that and you think, alright, well, there must be trillions of religions throughout the universe and yet there’s only one reality.
Ravi: Yes, now this is why I often, like everything else, not to get stuck on this, religion literally as you know, comes from the Latin expression, religio, to reunite, to reconnect, which is to say I’m now disconnected from the ultimate reality, how can I be connected with it, which is by the way, the root meaning of the word yoga. I often think that yoga and but so we don’t need to be against religion, but what usually goes on in the name of religion, that’s where the problem comes. So spiritual practice, in fact I’m going to give a set of four webinars being organized by the Theosophical Society. There I’m not calling it science and religion, I’m actually calling it spiritual search and scientific research.
Rick: A question just came in actually on spiritual practice, this is from Johnny somewhere in the USA, he says, “I have a question about practice. I hear the word all the time but don’t understand exactly what it’s referring to. Does it mean meditation or yoga or study of a belief system? Is it a worship of God or saints?” That might be worth addressing.
Ravi: No, it’s a very good question actually. Any of these can be the practice as long as one doesn’t get stuck with this, but in my personal judgment, what most of these teachers wish you to undertake is an impartial self-study. And if you impartially look at yourself deeply without making excuses or without wanting to be important or whatever, then you would see there are two dangers of any impartial self-study. One is despair because you would actually see many demonic tendencies in yourself, jealousy, competitiveness, looking for self-importance, all this. This is not surprising. After all, all the great traditions actually say in one way or the other that the entire external cosmos in principle can be mirrored inside us. So why not the demon? He’s also part of the external cosmos. And I keep reminding people that the devil did not create himself, he was also created by God. He is also a son of God. Actually I often remind my Abrahamic friends, look at the book of Job twice, both in first chapter and the second chapter it says, “When all the sons of God were gathered together, among them was Satan.” He’s also a son of God. And then God actually asks him to go and test this character Job who is claiming to be very devotional to God. The whole book is about that. So Satan or later on other names Beelzebub, Lucifer, devil, he’s the head examiner. Nobody can come to enlightenment or come to God unless he’s been tested by the saint. Christ tested, the Buddha was tested. In Buddhism we call it Mara, but it’s the same thing, devil. And what is the test? We can take this very simple examples from Buddhism. Maybe this will speak to this young man who’s asking this question. I’m saying young man, I don’t know who. Well he calls himself Johnny and not John, so probably he’s young. Okay, but no, it’s a good question. Then what is the test of the Buddha? Mara sends his own daughters to seduce him. Any person can see this is a very strong force. You and I first of all won’t exist unless this was a force existing. And it is said in the Buddhist tradition that the Buddha himself makes this remark that if there was one other force as strong as sex, he’s not sure he would have made it. This is the remark of the Buddha. And then that doesn’t work for Mara. What does he do? I will make this mountain into a mountain of gold. I think for most of us a million dollars will do, maybe a billion for some. But honestly one has to face this. This is the thing I’m saying that self-knowledge or self-inquiry is a very dangerous enterprise. It can lead to great despair because we tend to take things personally. The other danger is fantasy. Oh, I am the son of God. This is why every serious teaching actually recommends to have a group of fellow searchers. You look at any of the ancient monasteries in Buddhism, in Christianity, I have spent a fair amount of time in these monasteries. Part of my search has taken me here, there, everywhere. None of these monasteries would allow beginning monks to be alone because using now a very Christian expression because the devil tortures them more if they are alone. Pride will come or despair of some kind or the other. Sexual fantasies, wishing for more money, more honor, more prestige. Then occasional person, but there is also the other side, fear. I will die as if I alone will die, forgetting that everybody will die. Therefore, only an occasional person, as it were, graduates. This is the reason why none of these big monasteries are always on the top of the mountain. They are three quarters of the way up. Then the person can further go up and then the mother monastery actually takes care of them. There can be wild animals. They can get sick. They can get completely starved. These days, they also protect them from tourism because tourists are going everywhere. So the mother monastery is actually very responsible for this person who is alone, but even there, what I am trying to say to you is that a group of fellow searcher is almost a necessity. Sangha in Buddhist literature, you know, Buddha Sharanam Gacchani, Sangham Sharanam Gacchani. Sangha means community literally.
Rick: Yeah, the sages actually in many cases have placed great emphasis on the importance of the quality of the company you keep. That if you are a sincere aspirant to truth, then you need to hang around like-minded people and that, you know, hanging around the opposite sort of people is like going into a coal mine in a white suit or something. You can’t keep it clean.
Ravi: And you know the word satsang is used in India, literally means what? Company of the truth seekers.
Rick: Yes, yeah, there is a kind of a resonance that develops or a coherence or something between all like-minded people. It sort of builds, it is like, what is that word? Synchronicity? No, the whole is more than the sum of its parts. There is a single word for that. But anyway, it creates something greater than the individual pieces and it mutually strengthens all the people.
Ravi: And so this young person can begin, when we say practice, maybe if something strikes him, he can begin, if something strikes him in the gospel, you know, one can see in any great text, not everything strikes us. This is certainly my experience, but certain things strike you. So then try to see what the sage is saying, whether it’s Christ or Buddha or anybody else who appeals to you. We have modern sages also. Then try to see how it speaks to me and in general, the call for any serious searcher is really to see what I am. Who am I searching for anything? Why is it searching? Am I just eager to get to heaven with my boots on? Am I willing to submit to some kind of a discipline?
Rick: In this conversation, we’re talking a lot about sages and saints and Christ and Buddha and Vivekananda and all kinds of people, and I guess one thing we assume about these people is that they are “enlightened,” but do we really know what we mean by that word? Someone named Deborah, whom you may know because she’s from Nova Scotia, Truro, Nova Scotia, asks, “Do you think there is anyone alive in the world who is enlightened?” In the process of answering that question, maybe you can help us arrive at a definition of what the heck enlightenment is supposed to be.
Ravi: Yes. Now first of all, I should say I cannot speak about this from my personal experience. I don’t think I am enlightened, let me assure you. And again, as in everything, one doesn’t need to jump right away to Mount Everest. Whatever we mean by enlightenment, there are people who I have absolutely no doubt I have met, and I give examples of this, Madame de Salzmann, who was, as it were, representing the whole of the Gurdjieff teaching after his death in 1949. I was very fortunate to work with her for about a decade. And similarly, Krishnamurthi, and there is a great Zen Roshi, Roshi Kabori, who was head of Rinzai Zen in Japan. These three people I mentioned specifically because I spent a fair amount of time with them, worked with them. Now are they enlightened? I don’t know. I would not have the knowledge to know this, but they were much wiser than I am, and had much more, almost as if a sense of compassion, or love, or sympathy oozes out of them. And then after meeting them, I felt as if I was heard, and also that I was seen, almost sometimes seen through. In fact, I think you may have even come across this. I mentioned to Krishnamurthi on one occasion, while we were just going for a walk, that it seems to me you know more about myself than I do. Why don’t you tell me what’s deep inside me? It will save me some trouble. Because I had that feeling very strongly that he could see more deeply inside me than I could see.
Rick: Yeah, I’ve had that with some people too. Yeah, and his remark was very interesting. He said, “No, that would be like reading your private mail.” So he wouldn’t, because in a way I needed to find out myself. It’s not a question of him telling me, then I would wonder, I would doubt, I would question. You see what I’m saying? So whether there are enlightened people or not, I don’t know. I have certainly met two or three, four people in my life who were a hell of a lot more enlightened than anything I could possibly donate to myself. I used to use the word enlightenment, think of it as a sort of a final resting place of some sort that one could attain and then you just sort of, that’s it, you can’t go any higher. These days I think of it more like the word educated. Someone might say, “I am educated,” and you would immediately say, “Well, does that mean you can’t learn anything more?” You know, I mean you can obviously get more educated. So I kind of have come to the conclusion that however great some sage or saint may have been, there was yet more evolution that might be possible. What do you think about that?
Ravi: Sure. In a way, my own impression is that none of these people themselves claim to be educated or to be enlightened. But for example, the remark of Christ, “The Father and I are one,” is not in a way, in the same gospel, he also makes the remark, “The Father is greater than I.” It’s only in certain state of consciousness. Sometimes I say only at the Mount Sinai of consciousness, one can feel that oneness. In general, one doesn’t feel this. Even Christ doesn’t feel this all the time. Because otherwise, why would he say these two things? Now of course, there are theologians who keep arguing, for them it’s a logical contradiction. This is the kind of theology that doesn’t interest me at all. It’s obvious to me that even the Buddha, for example, himself says, “Every morning he needed to renew himself.” Now what does that mean?
Rick: And he would meditate or something.
Ravi: That’s right. Or Krishnamurti, throughout his life, he went through what he called the process. Started when he was only about 23 or 24 years old. Actually I think 26 or 27 years old. But then it continued throughout his life. There is reports about this. This is not something I’m making up. Actually a friend of mine is writing now a whole book about Krishnamurti’s process. And Krishnamurti himself actually took me to this tree under which initially his process began, what he calls the process. It’s almost as if some great forces were entering into his body and doing a surgical operation practically. Especially in the brain, but everywhere else in the body. And causing a great pain, but also a great shift in his understanding.
Ravi: Interesting. Well, you know, a minnow could say the ocean and I are one, and also a whale could say the ocean and I are one. But the minnow and the whale are different. So I think one can, you know, be one with God or one with the oneness and yet still grow in one’s stature and also in one’s functionality, you know, the degree to which one can embody and express that oneness that one has merged with. And also, in a way, there can be an occasional experience of something or there can be repeated experiences of something. And also really personally from my point of view, it seems to me to be obvious, you, I, everybody is exuding vibrations. And in the presence of some people, it obviously affects you quite differently than in the presence of other people. So if they are not, in fact, this was one of the things which especially Krishnamurti especially emphasized, this might interest some of your people here too. This is an illustration actually provided by Laura Huxley, Aldous Huxley’s wife. Aldous Huxley had died by that. He was quite a good friend of, close friend of Krishnamurti. But in any case, at Laura Huxley’s place, a few people were gathered, her friends, and they were speaking about doing this good or that good in the world. And apparently Krishnamurti intervened saying, “Oh, please don’t go out doing good.” And then Laura Huxley said to him, “But you’re going around the world doing good.” Krishnamurti said, “Not intentionally.” This is actually very important from his point of view, that goodness needs to ooze out of you. If you decide to do good, it’s still coming from your ego. Well, you know, the term do-gooder is actually a sort of an insult, you know, it implies a hypocrisy of some sort.
Ravi: That’s right. And Krishnamurti used to use this very interesting example, a rose does not decide to smell like a rose. We recognize it is a rose because of its fragrance. So a person doesn’t decide to do good, but goodness oozes out. I occasionally say that if we were to say that the Buddha was enlightened but not compassionate, it will be an oxymoron.
Rick: Yeah. Well, that kind of gets us, I mean we were trying to define enlightenment a minute ago. I would think, I like to think of it if I use the word at all as a very full, if not complete, I don’t know if there is any such thing as complete, but a very full blossoming or unfoldment or development of all the different faculties and facets of our being, head, heart, everything. Like you were talking about scientists who could be brilliant Nobel Prize winning physicists but could also be a jerk. You know, so fine, they were using one of their faculties to a great extent while another faculty was quite atrophied. I like to think of an enlightened person, if I use the word, as someone whose heart is just as developed as his mind, as his senses, which we can even talk, that’s a whole other field of refinement of the senses. The whole instrument has been thoroughly…
Ravi: Actually, there are two remarks here which, let me just mention them. If you are interested, we can discuss them. I had a great discussion with Krishnamurti about it. One is, every impression influences our body at a cellular level, which is one of the tragedies of our modern times. The terrible impressions being conveyed by the films, by all kinds of terrible music and violence everywhere. All the kids are growing up with that.
Rick: Video games, yeah.
Ravi: That’s right. But I am repeating that remark, every impression influences our body at a cellular level. That’s one. And the other one is that a new body is needed for a new consciousness. On the other hand, it’s a spiral movement that a new consciousness is needed for a new body.
Rick: Yeah, there’s a correlation. Yeah, it’s always, every development is spiral. It’s never linear. You know, if I am a little bit interested in mathematics, then I studied more mathematics, then it gives me more interest. So it’s not that I’m interested, and then suddenly I become a Nobel laureate in mathematics. But they don’t have Nobel prizes in mathematics. There is a prize called the Abel Prize. So one doesn’t jump right away to the maximum. There is a spiral movement in everything. All development is like this. On this note of the, we could say the neurophysiological aspect of experience and the neurophysiological correlates of enlightenment, you mentioned Krishnamurti going through stuff which actually was painful to him but his brain was getting restructured. And somebody here sent in a question, Ramon from Madrid, Spain asks, “How can Gurdjieff’s negative stance on Kundalini be reconciled with that of classical Indian traditions?” And of course that gets us into the whole Indian notion or Vedic notion of the neurophysiology, the subtle physiology of Kundalini and chakras and nadis and all that stuff which they very much feel has to be purified and enlivened and all the blocks and impurities removed from it in order for a full blossoming of consciousness to take place. So anyway, Ramon’s question again was, “How can Gurdjieff’s negative stance on Kundalini be reconciled with that of classical Indian traditions?” Well, first of all, this gentleman needs to know that this is not the classical Indian tradition. It started largely at the end of the 19th century, mostly in the Theosophical Society literature. The Kundalini thing? The Kundalini thing. And if he is interested, he can read the book by Desikachar, who is a highly regarded yoga teacher, son of Krishnamacharya and whose, I think, brother-in-law or son-in-law was Iyengar. So Iyengar and Desikachar, these are the great movements teachers, yoga teachers. So he can read this book by Desikachar called The Heart of Yoga, where he indicates that Kundalini was regarded as an obstacle to spiritual search. Rather than, it’s much connected with sexual energy, which to be sure can be used for spiritual enlightenment requires all of our energy, including our sexual energy. That is true. But in fact, the entrance of real spiritual energy doesn’t come, it comes from the Sahasrarar Chakra, from the chakra which is above the head. That’s where it comes from, not from below. But the energy from below needs to receive it. So this business of Kundalini, I know it has become a big deal. Many people keep talking Kundalini Yoga. This is what the reason I’m giving him a specific reference if he wishes to read that. And then he can read much more discussion about it in one of my books called The Spiritual Roots of Yoga. I have an article there discussing this.
Rick: That’s interesting, I never heard that. You know, I hear all the time from people who say that they’ve had some sort of Kundalini awakening and sometimes it happens to people who haven’t even done any spiritual practice, but they start having all these symptoms and they don’t know what it is and they start looking it up on the internet and they come across the word Kundalini. I mean I myself have had experiences of all kinds of things, but the nicer ones have been bliss running up from the base of my spine up to my head, energy flowing through the body and all kinds of stuff. So something’s going on there.
Ravi: Nobody needs to deny that we have energies everywhere in the body. The question is what is the quality of that energy? Is that energy able to receive something subtler energy or is it that is the one which is doing all this work? But again as I said, it will take me a lot of time to more discuss this.
Rick: It’s a big topic.
Ravi: It’s a big topic and to imagine that all the ancient Indian sages regarded that as the source of our enlightenment is quite, this is not true. There are many, many, Deshikar actually gives references to ancient teachers suggesting that Kundalini is the source of darkness rather than it needs to be overcome rather than to be worshipped.
Rick: Interesting, and so the whole notion of the subtle physiology with the Shushumna and the Ida and the Pingala and all that stuff, that just kind of came about with the Theosophical Society or is that somehow tangential and actually is more traditional?
Ravi: That is more traditional. The yoga literature is much more traditional but even there many changes have taken place and in any case Ida and Pingala, I mean this energy coming from above also needs a channel. How is it going to enter the body? So these various Nadis, Ida, Pingala, I mean on different sides of the spine. In fact, one of the suggestions I often make to people if they are really seriously interested in becoming more and more sensitive to their body, which is a fundamental requirement by the way for anybody in spiritual search to become more and more sensitive to their body, then to watch just like during the day the nostril through which I breathe in changes. Similarly which side of the spine is more active changes during the day and one side tends to get more towards activity, the other side more towards receptivity, which is one of the reasons why people often don’t realize why, for example, one of the Sanskrit words for a woman, these days people are not happy to call this male-female but receptivity is usually called feminine, activity is traditionally called masculine and the woman, one of the words for a woman in Sanskrit is Vamangi, the left-sided one. If you see the pictures of any of the sages, for example, Ramakrishna with his wife or Shiva and Shakti, whether these are mythological figures or historical figures, the female will always be sitting on the left side. This is not just getting addicted to something, there are reasons for this. So to become more and more sensitive to one’s body, one then begins to see whether at some time in my day I can be more receptive, at some other time more active. Just as the nostril through which I breathe changes, people often don’t seem to be aware of some of these things.
Rick: Yeah, people may not have even heard that idea before but the idea is that if you notice throughout the day that sometimes the breath is predominantly coming from one nostril and sometimes from the other and I imagine pranayama where you’re going back and forth has a balancing influence on them. But I’ve heard it said that there are actually two nervous systems in a sense on some subtle level and that they take turns maintaining the function of the body while one rests and the other is active.
Ravi: If you would allow me to make one or two more remarks, especially for this person who asked what is the practice that I was saying impartial self-knowledge or self-inquiry. The reason for that is that self-awareness is actually the mechanism of transformation. It’s a very fundamental law. Whatever I become aware of changes in its quality. This is the reason why we feel if I meet somebody like Madam De Salzmann or Krishnamurthi, if I feel I am seen, something in me changes.
Rick: You can feel transformed in their presence. They look at you and all of a sudden you feel like your consciousness expands or shifts or gets quiet or something.
Ravi: Certain kind of silence enters and in a way what I’m trying to say is that self-awareness and self-transformation are not two things. This is a spiral thing, which is the reason why it is so much emphasized. You can read really any of the spiritual teachers. Sooner or later they invite you to look within, to see what you are, what is hindering you, what is going on. Of course, religions don’t do it. I sadly point this out often. You can look at the concordance of the whole usual Bible. Hundreds of entries under faith or belief, some entries under knowledge, not a single entry under self-knowledge. But you read any of the Christian mystics or the non-canonical Gospels, Gospel of Thomas for example. This is very strongly emphasized. If you don’t mind, I can even quote this from Gospel of Thomas from memory because this struck me very much. Kingdom of God is within you and without you. If you would know God, you must know yourself. When you know yourself, you would realize that you are the son of the living father. If you do not know yourself, you are in poverty. In fact, you are poverty. I don’t actually know a stronger statement almost anywhere else. It is very strong. This is the Gospel of Thomas, but non-canonical.
Rick: And this implies that we can know God and of course I think that Indian sages say the same thing. They refer to God consciousness and they actually, my understanding is that God consciousness might be a more exalted stage of development than self-realization, that self-realization could be the foundation of it. In fact, I heard one teacher say that without the foundation of self-realization, nice solid foundation, God couldn’t even telephone from a distance. You’d be crushed. I’ve heard you reference this too. Who is it, Moses said, God said it would kill you if you saw me and when Arjuna had the revelation of Krishna’s divine form, he was basically begging for it to stop because it was too much for him.
Ravi: I know because the mind cannot figure this out. Mind always wants to control whatever it knows. See in the sciences we have institutionalized that idea. We understand something if we can predict it or control it. That’s what the mind. This is the remark of Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita when he sees the great, although my heart is glad, but my mind is afraid. That’s what he said.
Rick: His overwhelming.
Ravi: Yeah. This is the 11th chapter in the Bhagavad Gita. And then he asks Krishna, this might also interest you. He asked Krishna to take your usual four arm form, which he can wear up to four arms, not thousand arms.
Rick: He can handle that.
Ravi: I often actually remind people that don’t be so much in a hurry to have a great spiritual experience. You probably know in the, especially in the late seventies and early eighties, many people used to take LSD or this or that. And some of them actually literally would have a great spiritual experience, but they were unable to bear it. Some of them may jump out of a window thinking they can fly. So one has to be not only prepared to understand an experience, but to withstand an experience. Spiritual experiences can actually completely make you crazy.
Rick: Yeah, you have to sort of have the capacity to bear them. It takes a great, well, like we started out, you said Vivekananda, religion is for the strong. So literally there has to be a certain physiological strength to bear the impact or the intensity of higher states.
Ravi: Yes. No, this is the reason why I keep saying that every impression influences our body at a cellular level. So what kind of impressions I subject myself to. So the body needs to be prepared, mind needs to be prepared, feelings need to be prepared. So this is a long journey. But one of the things which is actually a very interesting shift, maybe I should mention this to you, in the journey, because somebody was asking what is the way to look, initially one has this question, that question. But sooner or later one comes to a point when says I am in question. Not that I have a question, but I am in question. This is a great shift. Nobody can answer any serious question for you except yourself. It needs to become a quest, a real search.
Rick: What do you mean by that phrase, I am in question?
Ravi: Because all the problems are in here, solutions are right in here.
Rick: I see, I see. So you are kind of looking within rather than expecting to find some kind of resolution outside.
Ravi: That is right. This is a very standard idea even in the Shiva Sutras, for example, that people keep searching for Shiva outside. It is a person who has, they actually use the word, a laddu in their hand and they are looking for it elsewhere. You know laddu.
Rick: Yeah, Indian sweet.
Ravi: Yeah, Indian sweet. So it does not need to be looked outside. It is in here that I need to look. And so this is first shift that is very important. Another shift that is very important is more and more interest in the journey rather than in the destination. Because the destination always remains unclear, mind made. I have heard something, I have read something, but as I said even the Buddha could not describe what Nirvana is. How would I know what Nirvana is? So I am looking for Nirvana, I have just idea of it. And we have a very interesting remark of a great Christian mystic actually, Meister Eckhart, naturally excommunicated, but a great Christian mystic. And if there were a God of whom I had any idea, it will not be worth having him as God. But you see the reason for that, any idea I have, it is just my mind is making it up. So how can I get more and more interested in the journey rather than in the destination? Then the journey becomes very interesting. Sometimes I need to sit down, sometimes there is a fire there or there is an iceberg or I am tired, I need to rest. All that is part of the journey. That becomes interesting.
Rick: I mean if you are climbing a mountain and you are thinking about the mountaintop and you are not paying attention to where you are putting your feet, you could easily fall off.
Ravi: Exactly, exactly. Which is why one of the reasons people often invite me because I am from India or he is a Hindu, so invite him for Hindu-Christian dialogue or inter-Christian dialogue. I often keep saying this is all nonsense. What we need are inter-pilgrim dialogues. If I am on a journey and you are on a journey, one of us could say, look there is a fire over there, that is not the right place to go or something is broken there. We can help each other. But we are on a pilgrim so our path can change. Interfaith dialogue, it is a little bit like international dialogues in the United Nations. Imagine if an Israeli person were to really be sympathetic to the Palestinians, he would be called back home. They will send another one. This is what happens in this so-called Hindu-Christian dialogues. I have often been involved. Everybody is quoting wonderful things. Then they go home, they don’t, they hate the other guy or whatever. So they are just trying to prove that their thing is best. That’s right. So interfaith dialogues personally don’t interest me at all. Inter-pilgrim, this is what I have been recommending for a long time.
Rick: Would you like to talk about the yoga sutras a little bit? You wrote a commentary on them and I think maybe not too many people have actually read them. So what are some of the highlights that you think we might want to discuss? Well the yoga sutra actually speaks about, is really like an eight limbs of yoga. First Ashtang. Ashtang literally means eight limbs. Yam, niyam, these are very much what are my attitudes. For example, the very first thing he speaks about is non-violence. Ahimsa. I, by the way, often suggest that that is the translation that has been used very much, especially since Gandhi was promoting this very much. The more appropriate translation is non-violation. Because non-violence seems like a physical journey. In fact, we had most of the cases of violation or violence. A woman is being violated but there is no physical sign of it. The skirt is not torn. There is no wound here on the arm. But she feels offended just the way he looked at her, what he said. So I actually recommend the word to use is non-violation, not to violate somebody. Something I said to somebody, unless you marry me, I’m going to kill myself. What am I doing? I am imposing something on her. So that is Ahimsa. To be free of that kind of imposing myself, violating somebody. So there are several things like this. But to imagine that I can wholly practice them before I can go to the next flight will be crazy. Everything is spiral in development. Then yam, niyam, certain things I need to be free of, certain things I need to practice. That’s what yam, niyam is. Yam means what I need to be free of. And niyam means what I need to practice. And then asana is posture, if you like. But one can get wholly occupied with it. The two great texts of yoga, only the Bhagavad Gita and the Yoga Sutra don’t mention any asana by name. This is all a kind of a separate development. But for them, asana really is the right posture. And I try to point out that right posture is not only the physical posture, also requires an emotional posture, even an intellectual posture. I need to be clear that I don’t know everything. Even if I was a combined intellect of Einstein, Nagarjuna and Shankara, I still cannot know all there is to know. So it requires a certain humility, a wish to learn something. Really, in fact, generally they would call it a state of unknowing, not a state of ignorance, but a state of unknowing. Similarly emotional relaxation. That’s actually more important than even physical relaxation. So asana is mostly misunderstood by people as simply some particularly fancy pose. These days, of course, you probably have seen this. They would have some sexy woman sitting on the front on the hood of a car, trying to sell cars. That’s yoga. Increasing your sex appeal. Well, that’s yoga. That’s not what yoga is. Yoga is a whole science of transformation from connecting with the highest reality, which is the aim of all spiritual teachings, including the teaching of Christ. He calls, in fact, Gospel of Philip, again non-canonical, actually says Christ came not to make us Christians, but to make us Christ. That’s the direct quote from the Gospel of Philip. So one realizes that that is the call, but this is very high. It’s not going to be done in any great hurry. One needs to be clear about it. So the Yoga Sutras speaks about asana. Then pranayama. Pranayama literally means regulation of breath, not control of breath. And subtlest pranayama in the Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra is just being aware of pranayama. He doesn’t mention any specific Anuloma, Diloma. There are many different kinds of pranayama. One doesn’t need to be against any of this, but any of these things one can get too carried away with it. Maharshi Ramana wasn’t doing any of these things, I can assure you. But to be aware of my breathing is very important because one realizes I did not create myself. To say I am breathing is completely a wrong sentence. I am being breathed. If I am breathing, can I stop breathing? Can I start breathing? Did I create this breathing apparatus? It’s completely silly. I am being breathed. In fact, there is a very interesting comment. This is in the book of Genesis in the Bible. God created human beings from the earth. Then he breathed his own breath into them to make them alive. That is what is keeping me alive. It’s the breath of God keeping me alive. To actually become aware of this is a very important movement in actually yoga practice. Not fantasizing doing this or that, but awareness of my breath and then an awareness that I did not actually create myself. I am being breathed. That naturally brings a sense of gratitude that I am being breathed and also a sense of wonder. Why? Why did God take the trouble to create me? Only for a few decades. So the asana, pranayama, then these four are regarded. Then there is pratyahara. Pratyahara literally means, actually the analogy that is given, like one turns all the senses inside, more and more bringing attention inside, rather than being taken by this or that. But these five are regarded as external aspects of yoga. Then there are internal aspects, three others. Dharana, Dhyana, Samadhi. Dharana is if I am looking at somebody or something, I am looking. Next stage is a different quality of attention called Dhyana, which is that half is coming from me, half is coming from the person or the object I am looking at. A little bit of the analogy might help here. If I go into a dark room, have a flashlight, I could see a cat sitting there and I put my flashlight on the cat. But I don’t see that there is a dog sitting elsewhere in the same room. But if I have an overhead light, then I don’t see anything so acutely, but I see everything in relationship. Then Samadhi, that is considered to be the highest state and Patanjali actually defines it what is Samadhi. The expression is Swaroop Shunyam, free of oneself. I am not there. It’s only the object, which is why I say spiritual search actually wishes to lead to completely objective truth. The subject is totally out of the way. I am not there. In fact, this is a very classical way of actually even this text I have mentioned earlier, Shatapath Brahman, a very old text, actually says when a person knocks at the sun door, meaning coming to the enlightenment, he will be asked, who is it? If the answer is anything other than nobody, he may not enter. So the whole spiritual search is really for becoming nobody. To be free of myself. This is a very fundamental requirement. This is also also required by Christ is in the Gospel of Matthew. Unless you leave yourself behind, you cannot be a follower of mine. This is everywhere. This was actually one of my concerns about this conference that you were asking why was I so critical? Have I left myself behind? That is the requirement. It’s all very nice to talk about non-duality and this and that. And so the recommendation in all of these teachings is how can I be free of my usual conditioned self so that I can actually then hear, see, relate with and act from the real particle of divinity or the breath of God that is animating me. But this requires really coming back again and again to the simple obvious fact that I did not create myself. Who could deny that? But we don’t often remember this.
Rick: It’s interesting. I sometimes heard that the eight limbs explained that they kind of develop simultaneously and commensurately just the way our limbs as a human being develop all at once. We don’t just first develop one arm and then the other arm and then a leg and you know it’s like everything grows to the same degree sequentially or progressively. Is that part of what you just explained?
Ravi: Yes, certainly they are not a linear development. One thing can assist the other if I am really interested let us say in non-violation. As I mentioned this is the first niyam, ahimsa. Then if I begin to also swadhyay, self-study is very highly recommended as you know. I mentioned this earlier also. Then if I see that I am actually not free of this, then something in me wishes to try how do I practice to be free of it. So these things are self-awareness then brings about a requirement for self-transformation. It assists self-transformation. So many of these things are spiral in nature. If I try a little bit of finding the right posture, what Krishna actually in the Bhagavad Gita says the right posture is simply sitting straight and thinking nothing at all. That’s what he describes as the right posture. Thinking nothing, it’s not so easy to just sit there thinking nothing at all. But if I then can gradually find just a simple posture, then I would see that my breathing changes. On the other hand if I bring attention to my breathing, it calls for my posture to change. So things are not linear, they are very much.
Rick: Yeah, like a table you pull one leg and all the other legs come along. And maybe you can pull two or three legs at once and then it’s even easier to move the table.
Ravi: Yeah, but one of the things which by the way since we spoke about Shankara a little bit earlier, I should mention here. There is about 15 or 16 volumes called World Spirituality, History of Spiritual Traditions. So they have two volumes on Hinduism, two on Buddhism, two on Christianity, etc. This was published in the 1980s and 90s. In the first volume on Hinduism is called From the Vedas to Vedanta and the second volume is called Modern Flowerings of the Hindu Spirituality. I was invited to write an article in both of those volumes. In the first one I was invited to write an article on yoga and the second volume on Krishnamurthi is regarded as flowering of the modern tradition, of the Indian tradition. But on yoga, partly actually because of my physics background, I was much less interested in what anybody else has to say about it. I said I would just read the text, the Yoga Sutras. After all, that is the classical text of yoga. And so I wrote an article and the editor was absolutely horrified by my article because he was a Vedantist. And I tried to say that the very fundamental wish in Prakriti is to serve Purusha. You can read this in the text and he was so horrified he sent my article to somebody.
Rick: Explain what those words mean, Prakriti and Purusha, so people will understand what you mean there.
Ravi: You could more or less call it body and spirit, if you like. So Prakriti means nature but not only the nature that we know, all of nature. There is a lot to nature that we don’t know.
Rick: So in other words, the purpose of nature is to serve spirit. That’s what you were saying.
Ravi: That’s what, or the purpose of the body is to serve the spirit. And this person Shankara apparently was against the philosophy of yoga. Shankara sadly in my judgment was more interested in winning than in truth. Yeah, he had these famous debates. That’s right. And so he puts down the whole yoga philosophy because it is dualistic, separates Purusha and Prakriti. Whereas what I am trying to say that’s not what Patanjali says, that the whole purpose of Prakriti is to serve Purusha. So in any case, this editor sent my article to some character called, he has even told me his name in Calcutta. I actually asked him if this other person is such a valued scholar, why did you ask me to write this article? Why not?
Ravi: And he said because his English is not very good. So I was obviously a second choice. But this scholar then actually honestly said what Ravindra is saying is actually true. That’s what the Yoga Sutra says. But somehow Shankara disputed it and all his followers have been just repeating Shankara for the last 1200 years.
Rick: I once heard a quote about Shankara that he said that the intellect imagines duality for the sake of devotion and Shankara was actually very devotional. He wrote beautiful devotional songs and poetry and stuff. So he did seem to have some appreciation of duality as well as oneness.
Ravi: Yeah, I often say that Shankara himself also was a great poet. He even said one of his poems actually, Oh mother, I just wish to sit at your feet. I don’t care for moksha.
Rick: There you go. I mean, that sounds like it would horrify that guy.
Ravi: But what I’m saying is that it’s mostly the followers. They take some remarks of his and just get argued philosophically one way or the other and get carried away. It’s the same thing you see in Christian theology, whether God is Trinity or unity. I keep arguing about it. If you are interested, you can look at, there is a journal called New Testament Studies. Many years ago, it had one article called, Oh, St. Peter must be left handed. Why? Because when the various soldiers come to arrest Christ, he cuts the right ear of Malchus. The soldier’s name is even mentioned, surprisingly. And then the argument is so he must be left handed because he cut his right ear. Then somebody has another article. Somebody has another article. Well, maybe he came from behind because he must be surely right handed. That is supposed to be the right thing. And then somebody is arguing that, well, maybe he could use both of his hands. This is what goes on in the New Testament studies.
Rick: It’s crazy. I was reminded a minute ago when you were talking about people catching on to a particular aspect of Shankara’s teaching and this could be said of many, many other teachings and then focusing on that to the exclusion of everything else. There is a great line from a Simon and Garfunkel song where they say, a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.
Ravi: That’s right. Exactly. Which is why again and again, we come back to an impartial and sustained, serious look at myself. What am I? What is it that I am for? What I am against? Why? What conditioning has brought me here? Unless I can be free of that conditioned self. I’m conditioned by my age, by my parents, by my culture, by my religion, even the language I use. Actually, more and more studies are being done now. If I grow up listening to Chinese music rather than European music, my DNA changes. And you can see many of these studies. So we are very much influenced by all this and all the sages are calling us to become more and more aware of this and then not to be completely hung up on. If I come from a rich family, I behave differently. If I come from a poor family, I behave differently. If I’m male, I behave differently. If I’m female, I behave differently. If I’m Indian rather than American, I behave differently. You see what I’m saying? We are conditioned by so many things.
Rick: And the admonition there I suppose is to be careful what you give your attention to because that to which you give your attention is going to grow stronger in your life. It’s going to change your DNA and leave impressions.
Ravi: Yeah, very much. As I said earlier that the impressions actually, every impression influences us at a cellular level. This is a serious issue to understand.
Rick: By impressions is that what they mean by, what is it, kleshas or samskaras, those terms?
Ravi: Well, klesha really means hindrance.
Rick: Hindrance, okay.
Rick: The samskara is more the impression.
Ravi: More the impression, yeah.
Rick: Okay, and as I understand it, there needs to be a working out of these impressions, not that you are going to like become a blank slate and you don’t remember anything, but that the sort of, I guess by impression we could maybe define it as some chemical or structural or very subtle abnormality that there’s an impact on the nervous system on a subtle level which renders it less ideally functional than it could be, and all that needs to be repaired in the process of spiritual development so that the nervous system can adequately reflect the infinite.
Ravi: We can actually look at the law of karma in this context. In general, I feel it’s good to express this in two sentences. As I am, so I act. Then you put a semicolon. As I act, so I become. That’s the law of karma. Now, of course, as I am, literally I should say so I react. The whole spiritual development can be actually expressed in two words, to move from reaction to response. If at that semicolon I become aware of why I am reacting the way I am reacting, then I can act otherwise. I can respond. Then the next sentence will be as I respond, so I become. Then there is a change, otherwise I’m just repeating myself in a circle. It can become a spiral if I can at the–semicolon is the magic. That’s where I need to be aware. In fact, I should tell you this. I was once giving a talk in India. One businessman was so struck by this, he started his business is called semicolon.com.
Rick: That’s great.
Ravi: So struck by my [?] That semicolon really means can I move from reaction to response.
Rick: Yeah, and I think the word discrimination comes in here. If we can, well, remember that poem by Rudyard Kipling, you know, if you can keep your head while those around you are losing theirs, then you are a man, my son.
Ravi: That’s right. You use the word discrimination. These days it has become a little, I prefer the word discernment.
Rick: Discernment. Yep, closely related. Good word.
Rick: M Yeah. I guess one way of thinking of it is that if the thought overshadows you so that you are not even, so that you are kind of forced to act compulsively, then you can end up doing all sorts of things, but if you are well enough grounded in the pure awareness or in the self, then the thought doesn’t grip you. You have the thought, but you see it and you can choose to act or not. Or maybe, I remember hearing the analogy that the thought can become like a ball of sawdust and if you think it’s inappropriate, poof, it just disintegrates.
Ravi: That’s right. Right. Now look at, of course, one naturally thinks of traditional very high examples. They may even be mythological, but look at Christ on the crucifixion. Even any other human being, they would wish to get away, blame somebody, cry, shout or something. What does Christ say? Father forgive them for they know not what they do. Now this is a response. This is not a reaction.
Rick: Yeah, and beforehand he said, you know, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me, but then he said, okay, as thy will be done, whatever.
Ravi: Yeah, that’s the evening before. That’s in the garden of Gethsemane.
Rick: Right, right. Before we run out of time, let’s just spend a couple minutes on the Galileo Commission. I think you’ve been involved in them and I recently signed up. I think it’s very interesting and I think this whole notion of the materialist paradigm, you know, being fundamental to Western society and all the damage that’s being done to the world as a result of that paradigm, and then a shift from that paradigm to one in which consciousness is placed at the foundation and everything else emerges from there. You want to kind of talk about that a little bit?
Ravi: Well, basically it is really many, many people, including some Nobel Prize winners in science. So it’s not that only outsiders are interested in it, but especially people who are coming from what we might call the mind sciences. They are much more struck by this, that not everything can be explained in terms of matter in motion, which has been the fundamental program of physics. Then the idea of matter has changed, connecting with energy. Motion has to do with space. The idea of space and time has changed. So all the revolutions in physics have been to do with matter and motion. Basically, those are the two issues. And then the suggestion, which is part of this materialist reductionist, is an assumption really that everything in the manifested universe comes starting from the lowest level of consciousness. Whereas in all spiritual teaching, it comes from the highest level of consciousness. Whatever word we may want to use, whether you call it God or Brahma or Allah, it doesn’t matter. But the idea is that it has the highest level of consciousness from where the manifested universe at different levels, different levels of consciousness, therefore a different kind of materiality is required, different material manifestation. So there are many people who are beginning to now question this. Some of this is arising from so-called near-death experiences, where a person’s brain is actually dead. So if the mind is completely coming from the brain or consciousness is coming only from the brain, the brain is actually dead. But then sometimes a person comes alive after maybe a few minutes or a few hours, sometimes longer than that. And they can even, it’s clearly they had consciousness. They can even say what the doctor said to the other doctor. It’s quite amazing actually, some of these experiences. Or somebody is dying away in Australia and at the moment of death, he conveys something to his friend or lover in England, something. So there are many experiences now being gathered. Of course, some of them may be not as reliable as others, but a lot of data is being gathered where it is quite clear that consciousness can certainly exist without the material functions. Now whether it is the starting point or not, I mean, some of these questions need to be raised and discussed. So the Galileo Commission is really set up initially or largely in order to see if science can include other levels of reality also. And I keep saying that just as St. Paul says, the eyes of the flesh see the things of the flesh, eyes of the spirit, the things of the spirit. Every spiritual teaching says that there are levels of reality subtler than the mind. In fact, that’s almost the meaning of the word spiritual. But the spiritual zone is very large. There are nine orders of angels, for example, in the Bible. So they’re all spiritual, but very different levels. So it’s a very large zone, but that the mind, this is subtler than the mind. So what I’ve been trying to emphasize that we need the right instrument. Eyes of the flesh are not going to see things of the spirit. And all our telescopes, microscopes, however fine they are, they still remain eyes of the flesh because that’s the attitude that is going behind them. And so my contribution really largely is trying to suggest that we need the scientists who are willing to undergo a transformation themselves, come to some connection with the spiritual world. Otherwise, we don’t have the right instrument. After all, Blake didn’t have any trouble seeing angels. Christ didn’t have any trouble seeing angels. The Buddha didn’t have any trouble seeing angels. How can we say, oh, so-and-so went to the moon, but they didn’t see any angels? Of course they didn’t see any angels.
Rick: Who said they were there? So one forgets that the right instrument is needed for this. But the Galileo Commission is not going to easily succeed or something. Personally, by the way, I myself feel that the difficulty is not only in the mind sciences, even at the level of physics. For example, I give you an example. I try to say this. I haven’t yet succeeded in persuading anybody. Maybe I won’t persuade you either. If we say an iron filing is attracted to the magnet, we can say this is a physical law. Why can’t I say that the iron filing has some consciousness?
Rick: Yeah, well, what is that term? Panpsychism, the idea that everything has some degree of consciousness. And I prefer something called panentheism, which is that consciousness is all-pervading and fundamental. It’s not that things have consciousness. It’s that things reflect consciousness to some degree.
Ravi: Yes, that would be a good way to put it. But the point I’m making that even what we call laws of nature may be actually manifesting different kind of qualities of consciousness being perceived by different objects. So even at the level of the physics, one may begin to question it. Although, as I said, I haven’t yet persuaded anybody else.
Rick: So a lot of people are talking about that, though. It’s a lively topic. And panentheism is sometimes seen as a concession to materialism because they’re basically saying, “Well, things are still material, but okay, they have a little bit of consciousness,” as if consciousness is somehow generated by the matter. But it’s still trying to keep it in that order matter first, then consciousness whereas panentheism and there are surely other phrases for it is that consciousness is fundamental and everything emerges from that universal field. But one thing that might interest you, when the Galileo Commission report was initially published, Peter Fenwick in England, they pronounce it as Fennec, but it’s written as Fenwick, Peter Fenwick, he wrote a brief introduction to that. And I was really quite struck. In his introduction, he says that there are two factors that very much have caused us to question the modern materialist science. One was meditational practices coming from the East, he said. And the second, which slightly surprised me, but I’m not completely surprised, he said, were the writings of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky. This is in the introduction to the Galileo Commission, written by Peter Fenwick. He’s the overall editor. Because in a way, Gurdjieff is actually bringing some quite remarkable things, which can be a challenge to science, but also he’s trying to be actually scientific in a way, not against science, but trying to place it in a slightly different foundation, as it were from above. By above, I mean highest level of consciousness, coming from the absolute, rather than coming from what we would call dead matter. But as you rightly pointed out, even the so-called dead matter isn’t completely dead. It seems to be remarkable in its complexity. And more and more, you know, geologists, for example, are often actually surprised and struck how the rocks seem alive.
Rick: Yeah. I don’t think anything is dead.
Ravi: And the biologists are more and more discovering how the trees help each other underneath the ground.
Rick: Yeah, the mycelium, I think they call it. There’s a sort of network of communication and they warn each other of, you know, threats and share nourishment and all kinds of things.
Ravi: So all kinds of remarkable things are happening. In a way, it is, in my judgment, completely silly to be against scientific work at any level with whatever assumptions, because some very remarkable things have been discovered. Why wouldn’t one be wonderstruck by many things we discover in astrology or astronomy? Astrology, right? Not astrology. It has become a wrong word these days, although they will come. You know, in India, what is translated as astrology is called Jyotish, which means light bearer, bringing light. So it’s a slightly different meaning behind it. But in any case, not to be against any kind of science, but on the other hand to question. Similarly, we need to question many of the so-called religious or spiritual teachings also.
Rick: Everything is subject to it. This is one of my objections to much of this non-duality thing. If the whole manifested world can be just ignored or neglected, that surprises me completely. Yeah, you know, even at that conference, they’ve moved away from that. There was a complete turnaround over the years where the sort of emphasis on non-duality to the exclusion of the relative world and all the important things that we deal with in relative life, that’s come back to the fore and there’s a much kind of greater integration of those two values.
Ravi: Well, I was invited many years ago to give a talk there, but since they found me rather difficult party, I guess, they haven’t invited me again.
Rick: Well, if you ever wanted to go, you could always apply. Usually they invite people the first time and then in subsequent years, they’re supposed to just put in an application if they want to come. But anyway, you know, it’s a big trip. It’s probably not going to happen this year anyway because of the virus.
Rick: Alrighty. Well, thanks. It’s really been great. I had a feeling we would only scratch the surface because, well, we went deep, but at the same time there’s so much to your work and, you know, there’s so many interesting things and, you know, some guy just sent in a question that we don’t really have time for about how you’re influenced by Madame de Salzmann and Gurdjieff. Have you written a book about that that you could refer people to if they’re interested?
Ravi: Yes, I wrote a book called Heart Without Measure and the subtitle is Gurdjieff Work with Madame de Salzmann.
Rick: Great. So this fellow, it looks like Inigo from Spain, if he wants he could get that book. And I’ll list those books on your page on batgap.com so that people can just click and, you know, check them out if they want to. >>Sri M This is my understanding of Madame de Salzmann that she had a heart without measure. That’s the reason for.
Rick: She was one of your main teachers.
Ravi: Yes, very much. >>Rick Once you talk about her for just a couple, two, three minutes because I’m sorry we didn’t really get to that and I know that was an important influence on you. So you want to take a couple minutes just to say something?
Ravi: No, but basically really she, if you like, Gurdjieff died in 1949 and she has been regarded after his death as the main keeper of that tradition. She’s the one who actually started the Gurdjieff Foundation. She made the film called Meeting the Remarkable Men, which is based on a book by Gurdjieff. And she traveled many, many places, especially these four foundations. She had one in London, in Paris, in New York, in Venezuela. And she went to these places practically every year, even until the age of, she died at the age of 101. And I met her even actually on her deathbed. And even there she said like this, I have many things in my head here to tell you. But the last remark she made to me anyway was, I see that everyone comes from the same energy.
Ravi: No, she was a very remarkable person. I feel very blessed to have spent time with her and that she would spend that much time and energy with me. I must have had, I’m not entirely sure, but I may have had a hundred private meetings with her. She was a very remarkable person.
Rick: So I’ll link to that book and if people can get it and read it. So it’ll be a whole area of conversation that we didn’t get to today.
Ravi: And we didn’t speak about my scientific work. After all, I was trained as a physicist.
Rick: Yeah, you were.
Ravi: That was my job. And I had a book there called Theory of Seismic Headwaves. I should maybe just take a minute to tell you, this was not something, it’s a colleague in Czechoslovakia and myself. We are joint authors of it. He had been reading my work and in 1968 when they had a slight freedom there under Dubčák. So he wrote to me, can he come to work with me for a year? So we gave him a scholarship and so he came. So he and I, we were just going to write a review paper, but it ended up being 303 printed page book published by the University of Toronto Press. And one of the implications of what we did, this is not we set out to do, but it came out as that we could distinguish between an artificial earthquake and a natural earthquake. Now, this may seem like just a pedantic thing, but-
Rick: Oh, underground nuclear tests.
Ravi: The Senate, US Senate refused to pass what they used to call the Vela Uniform Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty because they said, the Ruskies, they used to call them. These Ruskies are exploding nuclear bombs and they’re claiming them to be earthquake. But now we could distinguish them. Our book was published in ’71. So in ’73, the Senate actually passed that. So that is my only contribution to world peace.
Rick: No, that’s not your only contribution. That’s an important one.
Ravi: But in any case, there were several implications of that because a year before the book was published, or three, six months before it was published, the University of Toronto Press wanted to ask some questions, the editor, and they were all dealing with the publications in Russian or in other languages, which I did not know. So I tried to call my colleague in Czechoslovakia. The phone was very bad. It was 1971, I’m talking about, beginning of ’71, height of Cold War. So I just decided that I’ll just go there to see him because I had all kinds of research grants I could actually buy. People don’t believe this. Pentagon used to fund physics research grants because, you see, so much, people don’t often realize where the research grants are coming from. Pentagon used to give them. But in any case, so I went there. Unfortunately, that very morning, Dubček, not Dubček, Brezhnev had just come from Russia to impose a whole curfew on us. So no other airplane was allowed to land. Our airplane was allowed to land because this was the first flight of the Czechoslovakian airlines connecting New York via Toronto to come to Czechoslovakia. In any case, my friend whom I had sent this, he had been given a prize, so he didn’t even read my telegram. But next morning when I arrived, he comes and shows something to the people there at the military. And I’m stuck in there like a lion in a cage. Suddenly this military person comes and salutes me. And then I’m taken out. And I said, I don’t even have my passport. They had taken it away. So he goes and brings it. Suddenly I’m invited by the university in Prague to give a talk. And I spoke in English, obviously. So I have no idea what they translated it. But I was paid more for that talk than my friend’s one month’s salary. And then, but of course, when I returned to Canada, within a few weeks, we have what we call mounted police people here. One of them comes to talk to me and closes the door behind him, very politely speaks to me. He says, we have no concern, but we have been asked by Washington to find out what were you doing in Czechoslovakia. And we have this letter that was signed by the rector of the university, why I was being saluted. And so he read that letter in translation. Presence of Professor Ravindra is necessary for the security of the country. And I was in a hell of a lot of trouble with CIA for this. And so they’re asking me, I had an Indian passport at that time. And also, ironically, this is a whole big story. I mentioned this actually of the Institute of Advanced Study to all the gathered people there. John Wheeler, whom I had met at Princeton, had invited me for basically a family gathering, if you like. And this family gathering, I went there with my wife. He was there with his wife and four Nobel Prize winners with their wives. Because one, Wheeler’s sister is married to Wigner, Wigner’s sister is married to Teller, Teller’s sister is married to Van Vleck, Van Vleck’s sister is married to Dirac. So these were a family gathering. There were only six couples. So this is where I met these people. And I had a lot of conversation with Dirac as well as Teller, especially these two. Because Wigner I had met earlier at Princeton. And so the main concern actually was that Teller was that very year leaving the position of the scientific advisor to the president of USA. And Wigner was becoming now the scientific advisor. And they are both of Hungarian origin. That was the concern of FBI. And then what the hell am I doing there? And I go there soon after coming from Prague. You see the problem? Yeah, yeah. It was all very suspicious. That was their main concern. But in any case, I was rather concerned that they might ask me to leave Canada, go back to India. But my, you know, the chairman of our department, they were all on my side. I mean, I was not doing anything wrong. But in any case, for the next seven years, whenever I went to USA, clearly I was being examined. I could see that. Interesting. Seven years. And even that somehow.
Rick: Somehow they decided you were harmless.
Ravi: So my presence was necessary for the security of the country. That’s quite a story. Now, I often wonder whether the rector of the university was a CIA agent or somebody in the office. How does the CIA know that I have this paper?
Ravi: You have no idea.
Rick: They keep track of things. Yeah, it’s amazing what goes on in the world. Yeah, there’s all kinds of subterranean complexity. It was translated into Russian within one week of its publication. Wow. Without asking. They didn’t give us any money. You can be sure of that. This is the height of Cold War. But the book was considered. Yeah. Yeah. So there we are.
Rick: Yeah, there we are. All right. So your website, I’ll show it on the screen here. You have a website. It’s www.ravindra.ca. That is right. Not .com. Often people use .ca. Right. Canadian websites are very often .ca. So people can check that out. And you mentioned webinars a little while ago. I imagine there’s things that you do that people can tune in on even if they’re not traveling. That’s right.
Ravi: Something called forthcoming events on my website.
Rick: It’s on your website.
Ravi: Okay. Yeah. So they can check some of these events. Good.
Rick: And if you look on YouTube, you’ll find all kinds of talks and interviews and stuff that you’ve done previously. And as I mentioned, I’ve listened to a lot of them over the past week. And there’s all kinds of, I learned a lot, you know, listening to what you had to say. So I’ve really enjoyed getting exposed to you.
Ravi: Thank you very much for interviewing me. It’s very nice of you. Actually, I shouldn’t say interview. It’s a very good exchange. Conversation would be a better word.
Rick: I actually changed that on my website. We used to say interviews. We used to say interviews with spiritually awake people. And then we thought, no, awake doesn’t make it because people are always still awakening. So we changed it to that, to awakening. And then after a while, I thought, you know, this is a conversation. It’s not just an interview. So now it’s conversations with spiritually awakening people.
Ravi: Oh, okay. I appreciate that.
Rick: It makes more sense.
Rick: All right. Well, thanks, Ravi. Good talking to you and it’s been an enriching experience. I really appreciate it.
Ravi: Thank you very much. I’m very glad.
Rick: Okay. And for those who have been listening or watching, next week I’ll be speaking with Donald Hoffman whom I’ve seen speak at the Science and Non-duality Conference a number of times. And he’s written an interesting book called “The Case Against Reality” and I’m sure it’s going to be a lively conversation. So tune into that. And if you’d like to be notified when new interviews are posted, you can just go to batgap.com and there’s a mailing list sign up thing there and you’ll get like one email a week announcing each new interview. And there’s some other interesting things on the site too if you want to explore the menus. So thanks for listening or watching and we’ll see you for the next one.
Ravi: Thank you very much. Namaste.
Rick: Namaste, Ravi. Bye-bye.
Rick: There’s this guy named Swami Beyondananda, he says, “Namastgo!” when it’s time to end something.
Ravi: Now I must go. All right, thanks.