Robert Rabbin Transcript

Robert Rabbin Interview

Rick: Welcome to Buddha at the Gas Pump. My name is Rick Archer, Buddha at the Gas Pump is an ongoing series of interviews with spiritually awakening people. We just passed the 300 mark, in terms of the number that I’ve done. And if you’d like to check out previous ones, go to and look under the past interviews menu. This show depends upon the support of appreciative listeners. So if you’d like to support it financially, there’s a donate button there. So today my guest is Robert Rabbin. And from what I’ve learned of Robert so far, reading a bunch of his books or parts of them and getting feedback from various people, I think Robert’s gonna be a fascinating guest. Robert, well, we’re just kind of… rather than me reading a big long bio here, we’re going to unfold his story bit by bit and you’ll get to know him. But for pretty much all of his life, since the age when I joined the Boy Scouts, he’s been interested in spirituality and gaining a deeper understanding of things. That didn’t kick in for me until I was about 18. So Robert, you mentioned that you were struck by a strong curiosity about life when you were 11, which propelled you into years of globetrotting adventures. Did something specific happen when you were 11?

Robert: First, Rick, thanks for inviting me onto the show.

Rick: Sure.

Robert: Good to be here. Yes, something specific happened at 11. My family and I were living in Italy at the time. And we had gone skiing on the Matterhorn. I was showing off as Leo Rising tends to do, and fell down and broke my leg. And in those days, which was about 1961, I think, they put me in a cast from hip to ankle and I had to be in bed for a month. Couldn’t go to school, couldn’t walk, couldn’t get around. So while my siblings were off to school and my parents were out – my dad was off working – I got the Encyclopedia Britannica. All maybe, I don’t know, 25 books or whatever it was, put them on my bed. And for an entire month, every day, I would go through each of the separate books. Now, I wouldn’t obviously read everything, but I did turn every page and read some of the things that I was interested in. And somewhere in that process, I looked up in my bedroom and everything just started to open and expand. And this is the story I tell, but I don’t actually remember if this happened. But since I started telling the stories, if it did, it probably did. But there was a light or a sort of a light, a spirit, an energy that came into the room when it opened. And that was just enough to make me realize that things weren’t quite the way they seemed. So I don’t call that awakening, I don’t use that word. I use the word opening and expansion, which is words I continue to use. And so that was the thing that made me aware that there’s more to life that I’m hearing about. When I asked my siblings last week for more clues about my youth, in case we got there in this interview, because I don’t remember. My sister Gina says that I questioned everything and never accepted standard answers and drove everybody crazy. My mother says the first word anyone ever heard me say was “why”. So I think somewhere in all of that, I had this questioning, disposition, a curiosity, an opening into a kind of realization that there’s a lot more going on I’m not hearing about, and for whatever reason, I remember going, “I need to go in that direction. I need to find out about what opened in front of me”. It seemed like the most important thing to do. And so really, ever since then, I’ve been headed in that direction.

Rick: That’s great. Did that make you a better student? I mean, were you always the one to raise your hand and ask questions in school?

Robert: I don’t really remember. I wasn’t a great student, but in my own defense here, I wasn’t interested in what they taught. When we went back to the States from Italy and we were in high school, I shared a bedroom with my older brother, and I remember getting stacks and stacks of Western philosophical books, which were pretty much what was available at the time. And I would read those under my covers with the flashlight. You know, Descartes, who I can’t remember who they were, but the Western philosophers to kind of keep that inquiry alive. School wasn’t much of interest to me. I was an average student. I was very active, though, in sports, student government, after-school activities and clubs. And in fact, they almost didn’t let me graduate from high school because I was a little bit of a political rabble-rouser. But I think they let… I think they graduated me because it was like, let’s get this guy out of here. So it wasn’t… and when I got to college, my mediocre – the mediocrity of my student abilities plummeted. And I became… I didn’t even go to class anymore. I thought going to college was like, you register, you get accepted, and then that’s all you do. I didn’t really even know you’re supposed to go to class and study. So that’s it.

Rick: That’s funny. You and I have some things in common. We’re about the same age. We both broke a bone skiing. For me, it was the collarbone.

Robert: Oh, OK.

Rick: I was going down a trail that had been closed, and I went jumping off a thing and landed headfirst. And I think you used to be a drummer, right? Didn’t you say?

Robert: I was a drumming student in high school. Actually, I wasn’t bad. And I really liked it. One of the highlights of that time was my drum teacher knew Buddy Rich, who…

Rick: Oh, cool.

Robert: …a great jazz drummer. And we went to see him at Disneyland with his band, and he introduced me to Buddy, or actually Mr. Rich. And we got really close to watch him play. And that guy’s left hand on his – it’s all right. After seeing that, I really couldn’t ever call myself a drummer of any kind. But I played for a couple of years. And to this day, I continue to love rhythm. Any time I hear a conga drum or some percussion instruments or trance drumming, I’m just right there with it. It’s fantastic.

Rick: Yeah, me too. OK, so one thing that we don’t have in common is that you really got a lot clearer than I did a lot younger. I mean, reading Descartes under the sheets when you were 11-12 years old is very impressive. And so it seems like that once lit, that flame stayed burning and just kept burning. And then as I recall from reading about you, and as you just began to say, when you got into college, you’re not much into classes. And you’re out in the woods dropping acid and doing whatever you were doing, just sort of looking for an experiential dimension that academics wasn’t providing.

Robert: That’s it. It was always experience that I was looking for. I went to… I think I went to three or four colleges, a number of them. And I was studying comparative religion and philosophy and stuff. But the teachers were academics. And we were learning a subject. So that wasn’t what I wanted. I wanted some experience that would give me some answers or clarity to these questions that had emerged in that original opening. The classic ones – who am I, what’s real, where do I belong, all of that, which in the rear view mirror sounds like a big movie cliche. But when it’s happening, it’s quite real. So I was looking for experience. Then one of the colleges, I had a philosophy professor with whom I started an organic garden on the college property. We’d gotten permission to do that. This is maybe late ’60s or something, 1970. And after we built this garden, the students and he and I we would gather in the afternoon. And this was the first really experiential academic sanction thing that happened. He used to give us psilocybin.

Rick: Really?

Robert: Yeah. And one day I was in this garden looking up and the sky opened. And all of these autumn leaves came down. And it was among the first hallucinatory experiences that were still very rich and compelling. So I do want to credit him with that and thank that school for providing the stage for dropping some psilocybin acid. But mostly I was studying Aikido in the north. I lived in the north of California.

Rick: Yeah, you were going to Humboldt State, right?

Robert: I was going to Humboldt State. That’s exactly right.

Rick: I actually did a course there with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. It was not an academic course. We used it in the summertime. And there was a funny story where we spent a whole month just meditating our brains out. And I got picked up by somebody. We somehow got credit for doing that. Some professor arranged for giving us credit. And it was through the auspices of a course in watershed management. So I actually have credits in watershed management for meditating 10 hours a day. And this guy picked me up. I told him we were doing that. And he got so angry. He said, “if you mismanage a watershed, it’s such a terrible thing”. So I said, “don’t worry. I’m not going to be managing any. I’m just getting these credits”.

Robert: One can only imagine that it’s a terrible thing. That’s good news, Rick, because in case this whole interview thing doesn’t work, you can fall back…

Rick: On watershed management.

Robert: …on watershed management. That’s a comfort to you. So I lived up there. And that was very formative. I started studying Zen and Zazen. I had an Aikido teacher. I was living up in the woods in a little cabin reading Castaneda, Haiku, whatever I could get my hands on, because as you know, back in the late ’60s, it wasn’t like today. There was hardly anything available of, let’s say…

Rick: Yeah, Yogananda, Castaneda, a few things like that.

Robert: Yogananda, Castaneda, some old translations of Kundalini text. And then because of that, I ended up going to Europe. I dropped out of school finally and went to Europe for a couple of years and began meeting people who had come back from India telling all these tales. And then I decided that’s where I wanted to go. And so maybe it was 1972, I headed with a friend overland from Europe through Turkey and Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, that route to India and got there in 1973.

Rick: And you went on actual buses and trains and stuff, right?

Robert: Buses and trains.

Rick: Yeah. I did an interview with this guy named Radhanath Swami, who was a head of, the leaders in, the Hare Krishna movement. And he actually did it by hitchhiking. He has an amazing book called The Journey Home, if you ever feel like reading an amazing book, where he pretty much almost dies on every page because of adventures he’s having going overland to India. In fact, when he got to the Indian border, they said, ‘We don’t want you here. Go home”. And he didn’t have any money or anything else. And there’s a whole story about how he managed to get himself in.

Robert: Well, I don’t think we hitchhiked, but we took a few buses. I remember going over the Khyber Pass on a luggage rack of a truck.

Rick: You’re sitting up top.

Robert: Yeah, we’re sitting up top. And I remember in eastern Turkey on a train, I was out in the corridor. And a drunken soldier stumbled into me, started yelling at me in Turkish, pulled his bayonet and held it against my throat. So even though I didn’t hitchhike, I feel like I could pretty well match story for story. You can’t go to that part of the world and not have adventure stories. It’s pretty wild living.

Rick: Well, maybe sometime we’ll have an overland to India smackdown between you and Radhanath Swami.

Robert: Well, I’ll just as soon not relive those days. Thank you. That was then. This is now.

Rick: So you got to India. And you were going to go up to Bhutan to go mountain hiking or something like that.

Robert: The original idea between me and three friends was to go to Bhutan on a mountaineering expedition. We wanted to sneak into Bhutan, which you couldn’t get to at that time. So this gives you an idea of how smart we were. We were going to sneak over the Himalayas as if it’s sort of a trail in the park, get to Bhutan, and then our collective dream was to track and find snow leopards and just live amongst the snow leopards. We were under the influence of Hanshan, which was an ancient Chinese mystical poet who… we just had this fantasy going. Eric and I traveled overland. And the other two flew from France to Delhi, where we met up. But they couldn’t handle India. They’d been there for about a week before we got there. They’d already made plans to come back to the States. They just couldn’t handle it. So as soon as we got there after about a four-month overland trek, Michael and Carol left. And Eric and I were like, OK, now what? We couldn’t do it on our own. So we went up to Nainital, which is the ashram of Neem Karoli Baba. And we stayed there. He had just died. And they were doing the ceremonies and so on. But we met Ram Dass and hung out a bit. And Ram Dass kept telling me I should go to see Muktananda’s ashram, and so on. And that was the second time I had heard of Muktananda. In Turkey, we met a fellow who was going back to the ashram. And he traveled with us all the way to Delhi. And then he said, if you’re ever down in Bombay, come and see me. But I said, “OK, never mind”. And then we went to Nainital. We left, got to Delhi. Eric, my traveling and climbing partner, wanted to go to Benares and study Sitar. So he did. I went down to Madras and ended up in a 30-day Vipassana retreat with Goenka, who was one of the founders of it. And after that, I went over to Puttaparthi, where…

Rick: Sai Baba.

Robert: Sai Baba. And got very, very sick. And then I got arrested and put in jail and kicked out of the state by the police.

Rick: What did you get arrested for?

Robert: There was a group of people who had been stealing jewelry and money from the wealthy Western devotees that were coming to Puttaparthi and lived in a certain area. And because I lived where these suspected thieves lived – in a little row of bungalows – they thought I was one of the thieves. And they just came in one night with these dogs and arrested me and put me in prison. And then they said, “OK, you can go, but you have to leave the state”. So I went over to Goa, which is a little Portuguese colony on the coast, south of Bombay, where I was still healing from my illness. Spent about a month there. Met some people who had come from the north, where they harvest…

Rick: What, did you have dysentery or something?

Robert: No, I had a staph infection. And my entire, all my skin surface, except for my face, was just open oozing sores. So I couldn’t wear anything. And so when I finally got to Goa, I would just go under the water, the ocean, let the salt water do it, and then come back and bake in the sun. So that finally healed. And then I went – well, I’m close enough to Bombay, I think I’ll go meet Hervé, my friend from Turkey who said, “if you ever get to Bombay, come and see me” – So I went to the ashram. He wasn’t there. He was actually sick in a hospital in Bombay. They said he’d be back in a day or two. Baba Muktananda – we called him Baba – was up in the north on a trip. So I thought, well, I’ll wait for a couple of days. Hervé came back, my French friend. We spent a few days. And then I said, I need to go to Benares to reconnect with Eric, who was waiting for me. And Hervé, he was like, “No, no, no. You’ve got to wait. Meet my Baba. He’s going to be back soon”. And I said, “Look, I’m not really into your Baba, with all due respect”. I had gone to India content with the Zen orientation. Like, I’m a Zen guy. Puttaparthi was a terrible experience. The Goenka thing, I didn’t care for. It was like, “I don’t want to meet your Baba. I got to go”. He goes, “No, no, no. You’ve got to meet my Baba”. “Fine. When is the Baba coming?” “Two days”. So I stay. And then the Baba comes. And as you know, when the guru comes home, they have a big ceremony, and elephants, and conch shells, and trumpets. And he came in. I met him. I stayed another day. And then nothing happened. And I went to Hervé. And I said, “Look, I met your Baba. I got to go”. And he was a little disappointed, because he wanted something to happen. So he said, “OK, but you have to go and ask permission to leave the ashram”, which – I’m 23, maybe – I wasn’t used to asking permission to do anything. I had a huge bowling ball of hashish in my backpack that I’d brought up from Goa. I was like, you know. So I said, “ask permission?” He said, “well, it’s a formality. It’s a custom. You’ve been here for a week. You’ve accepted his hospitality”. “OK”. So in the courtyard of the ashram, which is…

Rick: Just to interject, I find it interesting that you were still into hashish, even though you considered yourself a serious Zen student. Those seem incompatible to me.

Robert: Oh, they seemed compatible to me. But maybe I wasn’t as serious a Zen student as I thought. Don’t forget, Rick, I’m the guy who was going to sneak into Bhutan and go live with snow leopards. So I’m not taking this seriously.

Rick: The neurons are still working out their arrangement.

Robert: That’s right. That’s right. We don’t want to take anything too seriously. Anyway, so Baba was sitting on the porch in his courtyard. It’s a big open space. He’d sit on his porch, marble porch, and watch what was happening in the ashram. And so I went up to him. My bag was packed. And there was a bus leaving in about 20 minutes. So I went up and said, “Baba, thank you very much. I’ve been here about a week. I appreciate it, but I’d like your permission to leave. I’ve got to go”. So through the translator, he says, “where are you going?” And I said, “I’m going to go meet a friend in Benares”. Now, this is broad daylight – about noon. And he looks at me, and he says, “you know, it’s cold in Benares”, at which time I could have said any number of things, right? “Yeah, I got a coat or whatever. I got a coat. Thank you. Don’t worry about it. I just want to get the fuck out of here”. This is… so while I’ve told this story a lot, I know this story is true, because I can still feel it living out in me as I’m telling it. It’s cold in Benares, is what he said. I went into my version of the 18 minutes of missing tape from the Nixon Tapes. The next thing I was consciously aware of, I was 30 yards away on the other side of this enormous courtyard, seeing Hervé’s face, just laughing hysterically, and hearing someone say, “I guess I’m not going to Benares”. And the speaker turned out to be me.

Rick: Interesting.

Robert: So yeah, I did try to get away again about another week after I got Shaktipat.

Rick: So hang on a second. So first of all, he could just as easily have said the moon is made of green cheese, and it probably would have had the same effect. His words were a conduit for Shaktipat, basically, right?

Robert: I wouldn’t say Shaktipat then, because a few days later, I got Shaktipat, and that’s a pretty unmistakable event. All I’m doing is reporting what I can remember happening.

Rick: Somehow or other, his presence or something shifted you big time there, or did something to you.

Robert: Yes. It sort of scrambled my hard drive for a while. But the Shaktipat came a few days later, after an evening chant. And I was supposed to go off and wash some dishes after dinner. And I started feeling like I was coming on to acid – very disoriented, lightheaded. And I told the work supervisor I had to go lie down. So I went…

Rick: Was this before or after the Shaktipat?

Robert: This is just before the Shaktipat, a few days after I decided I had to stay. So I went up to the dorm, which is where the men slept. We had just mats on the floor. There was about 60 of us. And I laid down on my mat. And that was it until late the next morning, when my eyes opened. And I couldn’t move any part of my body, because it felt like it had been crushed by trucks. There was a glass of water next to me on the floor, next to my mat. And a while later, one of the…

Rick: Crushed by trucks means you were in pain? Or just paralyzed, sort of?

Robert: Aching, not pain, aching, but I just couldn’t move. I was stunned inside and out. Someone came and said that I had been roaring like a lion all night, so loud I kept that part of the ashram awake. I didn’t hear anything.

Rick: And this is still pre-Shaktipat?

Robert: This is Shaktipat.

Rick: Well, I mean, as I understood, Shaktipat with Muktananda, he would brush you with some peacock feathers or something. And the Shakti would be transmitted that way.

Robert: That was the formal style. That would happen later in intensives.

Rick: I see.

Robert: The ashram in Ganeshpuri and the environment around Baba, from my experience, was so Shakti-rich that you would…

Rick: Just by being there, you got Shaktipat.

Robert: Which was why I stayed for 10 years, because it was such a force. So this just occurred. And so they said, look, you’ve got Shaktipat. But at that time, we didn’t have books, pamphlets. It was the Wild West. The only thing we got when we got to the ashram was a little booklet called Ashram Dharma, which was how to behave in the ashram. And basically, you had to attend every scheduled event – chanting, meditation, work, whatever it was. And it was regulated from 3:30 until 10 at night, That was the one absolute rule. You attend everything. If you can’t, you have to leave. So that was just a little context for the discipline of over 10 years, everything which you probably experienced some of yourself. So anyway, I couldn’t move that day. I laid in bed, slept the following night. And then on the second day, I was so freaked out – I had no context for what had happened – that I packed my bag and snuck out of the ashram and went to Bombay and said, I am so out of here. And I got to some room in a 10-rupee-a-night flop house or something. And that night, I had one of those super vivid dreams. I was back in the ashram in what’s called the Nityananda temple, where Baba would give talks in the evening. And in the dream, I was there. Baba was looking at me from his chair, speaking in English to me, saying, “if you stay with me, I’ll take you flying to places you’ve never imagined”. And with that, he got off the chair, took me by the hand, and sort of like Rocky and Bullwinkle, we leapt up. And the rest of the dream, we were just flying through the universe together. So the next day, I went back to the ashram.

Rick: Just out of curiosity…

Robert: And that was that.

Rick: Yeah, just out of curiosity. I’ve had some experiences like that, too, and I know other people who have. Do you feel like Muktananda, as a person, was kind of consciously doing something – “OK, this Robert fellow left and he went to Bombay. I’m going to go visit him in his dream and give him this experience”? Or do you think that Muktananda, as a person, was completely unaware that you were having any such experience? And it was sort of like the absolute, or divine consciousness or something, was just giving you that experience because it was trying to guide your life. And your life at that point was… Muktananda at that point was a very important element in your life. In other words, do masters actually consciously do these things? Or is it just the divine intelligence that does these things? And masters are just sort of visual representations that we can relate to, that the divine intelligence shows us in order to make the experience meaningful.

Robert: If and when I become a master, and if and when I ever get to talk to the absolute consciousness…

Rick: Then you’ll be able to tell me, right?

Robert: Rick, I promise I will ask that question. But unfortunately, I’m starting to disappoint you. I don’t have any idea at all.

Rick: OK, I was curious. Actually, that came up the other day, that very point. Somebody emailed me some similar question. And I remembered a story that Maharishi once told, when he was around his master, whom we’ll just call Gurudev for short here. He often heard stories of people who would pray to Gurudev and then receive very specific results. And Maharishi asked Gurudev how that worked. And Gurudev just said, it’s the department of the absolute, and he takes care of it. As if to say, it’s not something I’m doing consciously. The absolute does it. But I find it so interesting that the absolute, or divine intelligence, or whatever we want to call it, orchestrates these things with such rich, vivid content to them. Ramana Maharishi shows up for people and talks to them, and all kinds of things like that. It kind of makes you wonder about how creation actually works.

Robert: Well, I’ve asked that question of myself for 50 years – How does reality actually work? I don’t know. But I’ve developed a metaphor which satisfies me in the sense of it represents my experience, which is this. Existence is like a cosmic Disneyland with virtually unlimited rides. Non-duality, which you talk a lot about in my world view, non-duality as a philosophy set of experiences, that’s a ride. What happened in the years with Muktananda for me, that’s a ride.

Rick: Maybe bhakti is a ride.

Robert: Everything is a ride for me, because the preeminent holder or container of existence, you can even say that, what you might refer to as the absolute, I don’t use that word. I just call it existence.

Rick: Yeah, we could use any of those words.

Robert: We could. They’re important to me to make linguistic distinctions, because we can talk about that later. So for me, existence is this place in which anything that occurs has a legitimate place in existence. I don’t need to know more about it other than to go, “oh, this was a really interesting, mysterious ride”. When I was once, fast forward many many years, I was on Stinson Beach, which is a private beach up north of San Francisco. And I was walking along the beach, pretty empty, and Bhagavan Nityananda, who was Muktananda’s guru who died in 1961, suddenly appeared in his loincloth in front of me on the beach.

Rick: There’s a picture of him on the wall up behind you there.

Robert: There is. And walked toward me, said something, hit me on the head, and then disappeared.

Rick: Wow. Now, was he as concrete as an ordinary person, or was he diaphanous or something?

Robert: Probably not as concrete, but it was enough. It was physical and concrete enough to know that I wasn’t hallucinating. Maybe I was, but it was as if a person had come up to me.

Rick: Yeah.

Robert: So because I’ve had over the years – as most people have had – so many unexplainable, mysterious, yet often transformative experiences, I decided that I would just live open enough to accept and appreciate and be open to being affected by what happens without needing to know why, how, or put it into a story, a narrative.

Rick: My orientation is I don’t expect to arrive at any ultimate answers, but it’s fun to ponder and contemplate this stuff, and just speculate. It’s interesting. And it’s more than just idle entertainment, because I think if you keep at it, you do gain a deeper, more nuanced appreciation of the mechanics of creation in some intuitive way, if nothing else. I like that article you wrote about not being certain about anything, though. And I think it was that one in which you quoted Kurt Vonnegut. He said, “I don’t know about you, but I practice a disorganized religion. I belong to an unholy disorder. We call ourselves Our Lady of Perpetual Astonishment”.

Robert: Thank you for noticing that. You can’t really belong to that church, because I’ve never find any services or priest or anywhere. I think Kurt took it with him when he died. But I like to say, whenever people ask for an affiliation, am I part of this community or that or whatever, they go, “no, no, I’m part of Kurt’s church, Our Lady of Perpetual Astonishment”, because I can’t think of anything that one could articulate that is as precise and yet as open as that. I am perpetually astonished by the dream I had many years ago by Nityananda appearing, Irene’s email to me, “would you like to speak with Rick?”, the fact that I’m alive four years after a group of doctors said “there’s nothing we can do, you’re going to die very soon”. I’m like, that’s my hobby, just to refer back to what you said a moment ago. My hobby, rather than to speculate on things, is to deepen my capacity to be astonished at what happens. And in the astonishment and the appreciation, there are things that seep in, in terms of how, but it’s so pre-verbal that I never try to articulate it because I ruin it. And I have to learn how to understand things in a pre-verbal manner, which means I know how it works, I’m afraid I can’t really say more about it.

Rick: Among the articles you wrote that I read, I really like the science-y ones a lot, because for me, even though I have no scientific background, reading a layman’s version of scientific stuff amplifies my astonishment. I mean, for instance, in this same article you said, did you know that in four square centimeters of skin there are approximately three meters of nerve fibers, and three meters of blood vessels? Did you know that except for your brain cells, will have died and been replaced with others, all while you have been reading this sentence? I hope you – I don’t know if you have your facts straight or not, but if you – presuming you do, I mean, that kind of stuff makes you just… it boggles the mind, and it makes you amazed at the vastness of the intelligence that seems to be orchestrating creation.

Robert: Yeah. Thank you for picking on those articles. One reason I write is so I don’t have to keep anything in my mind. So I can just go… I just offload it. Those aren’t my facts. I did a lot of research. When I do science-y kinds of things, or when I use…

Rick: You check your facts.

Robert: Exhaustively, as exhaustively, as I can, because part of the work I’ve done professionally for 10 years primarily has been as an authentic self-expression teacher and coach. So I work a lot with language, self-expression, communication, and all that. And one of the elements of that is to be sure when you’re using facts or statistics that they’re accurate.

Rick: Yeah, good. Well, I’m going to steal a bunch of your facts for some talk I’m developing.

Robert: So those were researched quite a lot. I’m not a science myself. Like you, I love the way you spoke about it. That deepens my astonishment when I go from, “oh, I’m not this body, I’m not the body-mind”. I’m like, well, hang on. You know, OK, OK. Been there, done that. Got the t-shirt. But let’s come and give a little love to the body.

Rick: Yeah, I like that article.

Robert: You know, before we’re so willing to throw it away and not be it, I would be thrilled if all I was, was the body. Because when you look at it in the way that you did, there’s no end to the astonishment and the miracle of what this body is, at any level of it, all the way down to the quantum level.

Rick: Yeah. So I interviewed a guy recently named Michael Dowd. And one of his favorite lines is that evidence is my scripture.

Robert: Mm.

Rick: And…

Robert: That’s nice.

Rick: He has a very religious background. And now his… well, anyway. But to me, considering things like you’re just discussing, it evokes a sort of reverence. And again, the word “astonishment”. Because if you actually… don’t just gloss over it and take it for granted, but actually consider what’s going on here…

Robert: Yes.

Rick: …in your fingertip or in anything. It’s…

Robert: Absolutely.

Rick: It’s so amazing. And so obviously not just some arbitrary, capricious, random, accidental thing, but just such an incredibly complex, sophisticated, well-orchestrated phenomenon that it just makes you wonder, whoa, what is behind that? I mean, how is that happening?

Robert: Where I get jolted into an intoxication of the divine – a word I don’t use, but the sacred. These days, it isn’t Rumi and Hafiz, and it isn’t an old Zen story. It’s watching Discovery Channel.

Rick: Yeah. They do, man.

Robert: Or I got, a year or so ago, a DVD set of… it had been produced a couple of years ago, I think either in Sweden or by the BBC. And it was using microscopic cameras. It was actually a photographic, real-time visual record of pregnancy, of…

Rick: All the stages of gestation.

Robert: …all the stages from the sperm and the egg coming together and over time. And you can see that. And if someone can then say, in a very dismissive manner, I’m not the body. I’m like, well, dude, OK, good for you, but you don’t really know what it is.

Rick: Yeah. My pat answer to that is, of course you’re the body. You’re not just only… you’re just not only the body. I mean, fine. It’s like a wave saying, I am not a wave. You are a wave. You just also happen to be the ocean.

Robert: We’re all… I do remember part of my searching in the old days was a kind of who am I, where do I belong? A question of identity, I suppose, and belonging. I never, even in 10 years of Muktananda, living in a very hardcore, old-fashioned ashram, studying Vedanta, Kashmir Shaivism, and so – for whatever reason, I never personally developed antipathy toward my body or my mind. I never rejected it. But whenever I would have an experience of light or bliss or transcendence or whatever, instead of having that cancel out my body, mind, and the world, it just made me open and expand my body, mind, and world to include that. So it was always, we’ll start here, and we’ll just get bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger to where everything that is or could be is me.

Rick: Yeah.

Robert: It is my… so over the years, it became… there’s not even a distinction between me the person, and me the transcendent self, and no me existing in infinite, absolute consciousness, because really, those categories and distinctions do live in the mind. And because I had never pit one thing against another, I began to include all of those distinctions as a placeholder for me. You can call me the body, and I’ll go, thank you for that honor. You could say I’m absolute consciousness, and I go, thank you, that’s as much me as the body. You could, as some people, go, you’re a fucking asshole, and I go, bless you, my son. I can’t disagree. You’re right on that account. So it’s just to where you live in not duality or non-duality, in my view, or even tri-duality, which is better still. But my experience is you end up living in perpetual astonishment. And all that happens is you get bigger and bigger and bigger.

Rick: Isn’t this somewhat related to Kashmir Shaivism, which was Muthunanda’s foundation? As I understand it, Kashmir Shaivism tends to be much more inclusive than strict Vedanta, and doesn’t just summarily dismiss the world as an illusion, but kind of takes into account the Shakti, the miracle of creation, as much as the Shiva nature, the silent aspect.

Robert: If you had asked me that 30 years ago, I could have given you a pretty persuasive commentary, because I had studied both those systems. I would say in terms of Kashmir Shaivism, call Sally, because she is that… I don’t remember squat, except to say this – the distinction that I remember making many years ago between Vedanta and Shaivism was their approach, that Vedanta was “not this, not this”, and Kashmir Shaivism was “this and this and this”. In the end, you get to the same place just by a different methodology. I always preferred the this and this and this, rather than not this, because the this and this and this gives you wood-fired pizzas, for example. It gives you the Ramblas in Barcelona, the walking street in the evening. You can do this, this. If you’re a Vedanta, you kind of go, “no, not that, not that”. Doesn’t seem like it’s as much fun.

Rick: Interesting.

Robert: But I’m not a scholar in either of those areas.

Rick: Yeah. OK. So let’s get back to your story. So you went to Bombay. You had this dream of Muktananda coming to you.

Robert: Yes.

Rick: Presumably, then you went back to Ganeshpuri after that.

Robert: I did for the very next day. And I stayed. That was in maybe the fall of 1973. And I stayed until January of 1985. Muktananda died in October of ’82. But by then, I was an executive of the foundation, the organization that was created. So I wanted to stay and help the successors and the transitions. I stayed with them for a couple of years.

Rick: Now, there was some story you related in one of your books where you had been working in a kitchen or something, and you came out from the kitchen, and you sat down on a bench. And then you had this profound transformative experience. And things were never the same since. Would this be a good time to throw in that story?

Robert: Yes. Any time that you have a story about my past, that’s a good time, because I can’t remember.

Rick: OK, “if I remember it, good”.

Robert: That’s why when I sent you the reading list… The viewers – when you get selected to be a guest, Rick and Irene ask to send some materials to give them some background. So I did. And in the introductory paragraph to my material list, I said, Rick, these are really self-serving. Because I think these things I’m asking you to read do represent the arc of my journey and certain milestones, but I won’t remember them. So if you could be kind enough to bring these up, I can talk about it. So thank you.

Rick: Yes. Well, incidentally, while I’m preparing for these interviews, if I’m listening to audios, mostly I’m riding my bike or cutting the grass or something. In your case, I was actually reading your books in the evenings. But I really have a hard time writing down questions these days. I just feel like I just want to get to know this guy. And I’m going to read his book, and then I’ll see what I happen to remember during the interview. And that would probably be more important than anything I write down.

Robert: Exactly. So I do remember that experience. I sat down on the concrete surrounding of a big tree. And just let me just get into that for a second. Everything changed into light. And so there was a little bit of an outline of the trees in the building. Whatever physically was in front of me, there was still a vague outline. But everything was just pouring light out of it. And I don’t know if my mind got totally still or disappeared. There wasn’t a sound anywhere. The only sensation was just light from everywhere. And I was gone. There was just someone – something – was aware of light everywhere for a long time. And then things slowly came back into form. But I was quite stunned by that. Couldn’t speak for a while. When I wrote the narrative to the experience, that sounds like I said I was changed forever. That was like, I think, my first book reflecting on one of the early experiences. The thing about Muthunanda’s ashram, which is very different from how people seem to be studying these days, is the environment was so thick with Shakti and the discipline was so rigorous that those kinds of experiences would happen to almost everyone every other day. When Irene invited me to your show, I wanted to see about your interviewing style and what your themes were. So I watched quite a number of your interviews, partially, to get an idea. And so, oh, he’s got a lot of the non-dual people, which is, “I had a sudden shift in consciousness that is irrevocable and permanent. And I am now established in the absolute truth of pure consciousness or awareness being aware of itself”.

Rick: Are you saying that that’s what the non-dual people say?

Robert: I’m not making fun or being disparaging.

Rick: No, that’s what you’re saying, right?

Robert: In a general sense, that represents a certain sort of philosophical or spiritual outlook and experience base.

Rick: It sort of does, except I don’t think that actually happens to too many people.

Robert: No, no, but hang on. Just to make the point, I’m not saying this is just what I heard people say a lot. I’m not discrediting it. I’m just saying this is what I heard. But in the ashram, because of how it was structured, those would happen on a regular basis. The thing is, we couldn’t then go out to teach. We’d have to go back to work, sweeping the path of chanting over years. So there was a kind of grounding that would take the experience we’d initially language as “absolute, and I’m one with Brahman” and so on, and go “OK, but there’s another way in which this is going to occur to you if you are willing to go beyond it”. When I had left the ashram in 1985, my mother gave me a stack of letters that I had written from the early ’70s to her from the ashram. “Dear mother, your son is no longer. He has merged with Brahman, the absolute. I will never see you again. I’ve never seen you in the beginning. There is nothing” – my poor mother. My poor mother, my poor Jewish mother who raised me and my siblings has lost a son. Thank God my older brother became an attorney. She could at least endure one casualty. And I read this letter after letter that was like ’73 to maybe ’77, the first half of my stay. And because that was the idiom, the dialect I learned to represent experience, because we were studying all that. And the experiences were so overwhelming and so enormous that your languaging would be, “this is real, this is permanent, there can’t be anything more than this”. Nothing but pure bliss and pure light, no self, utter delight everywhere. This, I have become Brahman. In fact, there was a guy who started saying that pretty loudly, an American guy in the ashram in India. No, what happened? So Baba caught wind of it and he sent him back to New York. And he said, I want you to go back to New York and drive a taxi for a while. And then I’ll send word when you can come back. And so he’s like, I am absolutely established in Brahman. But then when he got to New York and started driving a cab, apparently Brahman didn’t make the trip with him. So I’m not making fun of what I’m saying here.

Rick: No, that’s good.

Robert: The discipline we had and the way we were always made to keep what’s called the transcendent and the practical or the relative, they were so joined that they could never become separate. A quick example.

Rick: I just want to throw in something here. You’ve probably heard Ram Dass’ expression that if you think you’re enlightened, go spend a week with your parents. But also along the same lines, I think what you’re highlighting here is the value of a disciplined spiritual practice and structure, and also the value of a guru. Because in this day and age, a lot of people are dissing gurus and saying that the age of the guru is finished and there’s no point in gurus and we can all be our own guru and this and that. And there’s all kinds of people who have awakenings of various degrees and run out and start teaching, and very often prematurely, in my opinion, and often get themselves in trouble. So I think you’re bringing up some important points here. Thank you.

Robert: I learned more about the nature of my own mind from cutting carrots. But under the eye of someone who says, you have a whole mound of carrots, and you’re supposed to cut them at a certain angle and a certain thickness. You get the knife. You’re taught how to stand. You do one or two. “This is what I want”. And she’s then the supervisor, who’s watching you and the others. OK, I make one cut. Great, I’ve done this. And I’ve got like 500 carrots to do. And then every time I miss the thickness or the angle that’s wanted, I would get hit in the head with a potato or a pan, or someone would scream. And she’d go, “what’s wrong? You have a knife? I told you what to do. You did it once. Why can’t you do it? Over and over and over”. Well, there’s only one answer, isn’t there? You’re not paying attention. And if you’re not paying attention, where are you? You’re in your thought stream. So that was the way – that was part of the discipline, as well as hours of meditation, study, chanting, and so on. Years later, when I had become a manager of that facility you were mentioning in Fallsburg, which was – oh, we’d have like 3,000 people in it residentially, I was the manager of that facility. And one day I went into Baba’s room to review a budget for a project that had been a couple hundred thousand dollars or something and answered all of his questions, which was great. I passed muster. So then I started to leave. And just as I was leaving his room, he said, well, hang on a second. We were, as you know, Rick, we were, what, two hours north of New York City. We’d have drivers that would go down to the city to buy things and then we’d have a car that would go down to the city to buy things there that we couldn’t get locally. And this is, again, maybe mid to late ’70s. So we’d give them, I think it was $10 out of petty cash for lunch and bridge tolls and so on. So I just cleared every hurdle of a budget, let’s say $300,000. And as I’m about to leave, he goes, “well, wait a sec”. David was the name of our driver. “Didn’t David go to the city the other day?” “Yes, he was”. “Do we give them some money for lunch and gas?” “Yes, we give them $10”. “And he goes, what happens if there’s money left over?” “Goes back into petty cash”. So you know the size of this facility. It’s 100 acres, 3,000 people, $300,000 budget, no problem. Now we’re talking about what’s left over from $10, which may have been $0.50. So he says, “So how much did David bring back the other day for petty cash?” “Dude, I’m managing a small city. I handled $300,000. Everything is going well. I didn’t get to notice where the fucking $0.50 went to”. I didn’t say that. So then he does this thing. He goes, “you don’t know what happened to that money?” I go, “no, but I’ll find out”. He goes, “is that your money?” And I’m like, “no, Bob”. Now we’re playing this game that was always played over the years. “No, Bob, it’s your money”. He goes, “well, aren’t you the manager?” “Yes, Baba, I’m the manager”. “Isn’t part of your job to take care of my money for me?” I’m like, yes. I’m like, you know, I can’t get out of this. I say, OK, well, just play this out until he gets tired. And he goes – and he was the one who made me manager, by the way. He gave me that job. So then at the end of this little ordeal, he says, “is managing too much for you? Should I get another manager? Is it too hard for you?” I’m like, no. He goes, “well, you should try to do a better job”. I’m like, “I absolutely will. Thank you”. I leave. So you’re in this shockingly rich environment in which you’re experiencing random sudden shifts and expansions and elevations, the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat, as I like to say. And you’re chanting and meditating, and that’s the focus and the inner self. At the same time, at the same time, without any division or separation or hierarchy, where’s the $0.50? So that’s how I learned. That’s how I grew up.

Rick: Yeah, this seems to be kind of standard routine for gurus, in my experience. I mean, Maharishi was the same way. Amma is the same way. You’re in this environment in which there’s a tendency to just get unbounded and vast, and it’s like, who cares about the details? And at the same time, they’re on your case to be precise and focused, and every little thing has to be just right. And I would often wonder, especially with Maharishi, because I had a lot more personal direct experience around him, how could he care about this stuff? He’s fussing over these little tiny, teeny weeny things, and there’s such a bigger picture. But it’s almost like enlightenment itself is characterized by unboundedness along with the ability to focus attention sharply. And so there’s a kind of a discipline taking place in which that capability is being cultured.

Robert: I can only say how I experience things. There isn’t a difference. There never is a difference between, why do they care about that? Because that detail is not different from the majestic transcendental experience at a certain point in sadhana. It is in the beginning. And unfortunately, a lot of teachers don’t get past that, so they keep subtly reinforcing this. And you can see a spiritual dialect being created. “Well, I’m not really the body from a relative standpoint”, so on and so forth. But there’s a place one gets to, and I’m speaking from experience, where awareness, being aware of itself, fades into awareness, being aware of something, what you’re doing, being aware of what’s happening around you, as not being different. Because anyone who says they’re not a person, the world is an illusion, is still eating from the same trough. As the people who they say are just people living in a real world, I’m not. But you fly on a plane, you live in a house, you turn on the faucet and expect water, you eat food, you expect the people to pay for your program. So in other words, my view is, if you’re sincere about you’re not a person, you really don’t exist, and the world isn’t real, get off the grid. If you’re here, then even if that isn’t your experience – if let’s say you’re kind of in the formless, I understand – at least don’t disparage the form. If there was one person that I’ve met – and I’ve met a lot – that I, in my experience, would say, “look, you’ve got the right to say you’ve gone beyond form” it would be Muktananda, nobody else. But here’s what he did, other than beyond our case for everything. Walk out of the room, if you get to turn the fan off, you don’t get to use the fan all summer kind of thing. Here’s the thing that I was impressed with at the time, and I still am now many years later. When he would go on these tours through India, America, Australia, people would go in advance of him to prepare – build an ashram, a hall, whatever – work our asses off. And when he would get to a new place, or after an intensive, a big program, – for by then thousands of people – when he would begin his concluding talk at the end of a program, he would always start by saying, “I want to acknowledge the people who have worked with such love and devotion to make this happen”. And then he would name specific names. “I want to thank Radhananda and her cooks in the kitchen”. And then he would talk about what they did. And then he would talk about… And that, it would sometimes make you cry if he mentioned you, or if he mentioned others whose work you knew. This is long hard work, tedious work. These are real acts of devotion. Because when he said that, it wasn’t a corporate manager acknowledging a subordinate because they learned that in a team-building activity. He was speaking from his heart to your heart to acknowledge the beauty of your devotion, of your work, of your effort, of your attention, of your contribution to the whole thing as a person. And I’ve never forgotten that. Wherever I go, whatever I do, it’s among the first things I do. When Jerry…

Rick: …Bixman.

Robert: …got in touch with me the other day to do a little…

Rick: Video check.

Robert: …video check, thank you. As soon as we were done, I wrote him an email. I just said, on behalf of all the interviewees and all the visitors to Rick’s website and myself, I want to thank you very much for your part in Rick’s wonderful show. It’s automatic, but it’s not unconscious automatic. It’s automatic as that’s how I see the world. And I know there’s a place where it all disappears and becomes empty light. I know. To me, it’s not as much fun as to write someone to thank them or to look someone in the eyes and go, “thank you for what you’ve done”. If we abstract our humanity, if we cancel that out, how does the spirituality even show up? I don’t know how it does. And because… my training, when I came into this with Muktananda, I was never allowed to separate form from formless, physical, to transcendent, however you want to name those dualities. They became one. And then it was like you just play in a cosmic Disneyland. And there are some things that I learned to do because they made me happy, which is to acknowledge what people do and who they are. I don’t know how I got into that track.

Rick: No, it’s a nice track.

Robert: There you go. There’s one of my rants.

Rick: I have my rants too, and that tends to be one of them. I think that there is a, in certain niches of the non-dual world or the contemporary spirituality, there’s often a sort of a motionless flavor, a sort of a cavalier dismissal of the human and the significance of our feelings and our worth as human beings and so on, because we’re often dismissed as not being human beings, and all this “relative stuff is illusory” and so on. If a person grounds themselves in that perspective, there can be a disinterest in all kinds of things. I mean, you wrote this book, Radical Sages, about your passion with regard to political situations. A lot of spiritual people probably can’t relate to that because it seems like such an illusory world. But if you look at the great sages, I mean, Ramana Maharshi used to read the newspaper and listen to the radio and carefully follow what was going on in Indian politics back in the day, probably during the time of Gandhi and Indian independence. And most of the great spiritual teachers I know about, having read their stories and so on, were attentive to the details of the lives of their students, as you just described about Muktananda, and were concerned. I mean, I’ve seen Amma many times shed tears when someone comes to her and says, “Oh, my husband beats me” or “I have this disease”, or something. She doesn’t try to tell the person that the husband is illusory or that the disease isn’t real.

Robert: Before Radical Sages, I was transcendentally oriented. But then I had these openings and expansions to include that. But here’s a point I would just like to make, and then we can move on. The point is this. Anyone who lives in America – not anyone, sorry, that’s not very precise. In general, in this country, especially if I can just focus on the world we’re talking about, sort of the spirituality world and the way that we might know it, there is an extraordinary privilege to the lifestyle that is taken for granted. If we are enjoying a privilege in the real world from the labors of real people, and we live in a social and cultural and political climate that even allows us to do what we do, then I think it’s at a minimum good manners to at least acknowledge that. We are able to do what we do because of the economic, social, cultural, and political environment in which we live. And therefore, I think we have some responsibility to participate consciously in the system that allows us to do what we do. That’s all I really want to say.

Rick: End of rant.

Robert: End of rant. No, and you had a cool thing going during –

Rick: I don’t remember which election it was – in which you were trying to get all the people who practice yoga and that sort of thing to get out there and vote, because it’s a huge voting bloc and could make a huge difference. And I thought that was pretty cool.

Robert: I had had, post-9/11, I’d had a series of openings and expansions that brought the world into my body to where I could feel in this body the disturbances in the physical world. And so I felt I better do something. And I developed a premise that other people, meditators, yogis, and so on, cultural creatives, members of the low-host demographic, I figured there’s probably enough of these people joined by common philosophy and values that if they would vote, we could keep Bush out of office the second term, which was the goal. And the premise was that they would want to do this. They would want to get engaged. They would want to move off the mat into the electoral process. That was my premise. And then when I… so I launched this project called First Truth for President and Radical Sages. And when I started getting hate mail from yoga teachers and meditation teachers and Buddhists for Bush, I realized my premise was faulty. I said, Robert, you cannot – this is a faulty premise. And people that had… I mean, I’ve never really primarily been an, in quote, “spiritual teacher”. But I’ve always done programs and written. And so there’s a few people who would follow what I would do. And as soon as I went from silence to political activism, I lost all… they all went away and said, “oh my god, you’re totally lost”. We believe you when you’re talking about silence. But now that you’re saying we have to get involved in the electoral process and social issues, you know, Robert, this happens to everybody. Sooner or later, they fall from the heights into the mud and dirt of the earth. And we’re not…

Rick: Well, you know, if you want more corn, you’ve got to throw the corn you have in the mud. And…

Robert: I don’t know. So that whole process was very educational and helped to disabuse me of certain unexamined notions I had about the willingness of spiritual people to get involved socially. Because for me, it had happened. It wasn’t an issue. It was like, of course we are. We are involved. We do participate. It’s like Thich Nhat Hanh when he left the monasteries in Vietnam and the bombs were falling. So I can stay in the monastery and keep doing my practice, or I can go out into the world with it, which he, of course, did. And it was… at a certain point, it’s not even a choice. The world is you. There’s a disturbance in the world. There’s a disturbance in you. You do something. And it had become so apparent to me that I just went, “OK, team, you know, there’s 40 million of us. Let’s go”. And I look back to see if they’re following me. And they’re like, you know, fuck you.

Rick: Well, there’s an old Bengali saying, which is if no one comes on your call, then go ahead alone.

Robert: Which I did. I did. I worked really, really long and hard until the election, which didn’t go the way that I had hoped. And then did it for another couple of years. The only reason I stopped doing Radical Sages is because I moved to Australia suddenly in 2005 and had a different life there. I did. I don’t think I ever worked as long and hard on something as I did with them.

Rick: Well, I want to get to a bunch of other stuff.

Robert: Sure. Sorry.

Rick: No, it’s OK. I’m keeping going here. A bunch of people sent in questions. And we want to talk about the five principles of authentic living, I think. But you told me that nothing is off-limits, unless you decide that it is. And so I just wanted to ask. I mean, there were these rumors about Muktananda and getting a little bit more interested in the ladies than he should have been, given his public persona. How did you deal with that? What do you make of that?

Robert: The topic, in general, is one that I don’t want to deal with in a kind of hot take fashion.

Rick: Hot take meaning just off the cuff?

Robert: Yeah, just a quick couple of words, this or that.

Rick: You can spend 10 minutes on it if you want to deal with it.

Robert: I don’t. But if you were ever to have a whole call, like sometimes you have several people on a panel, to discuss what this would represent as a theme, I would be happy to be there. I’ll just say this, that I didn’t catch wind of this until the very, maybe the last six months before he died. And then after he died, there was all this transitional stuff. So it didn’t become front and center. And it was a few years later that it became a very explosive topic. I’ll say that I don’t know why he did that or what it was about. You can read the testimonies of people who say they had been with him. And that will range from “it was a blissful experience” to “it was really nothing to it was very traumatic”. So I don’t deny it happened because I’ve talked to a few women who say they have been with him. I’ll tell you how I dealt with that in my life because I would rather be more responsible for my actions than someone else other than to say I did it. I was disappointed because of the secrecy of it and because some people really hurt. That’s my basic response. When I was teaching in about 2003 or somewhere – I was up in the Bay Area where I lived – and I was doing a series of weekly, what I called meditated inquiry classes. People would get together. We’d meditate. I’d give a talk, answer questions. I just started dating a pretty free-spirited woman who, when we were getting to know each other, told me that she and her previous boyfriend had liked to go to sex parties, the orgies that were held sometimes in the south of San Francisco. Big warehouse, 200-300 people get together. And the good news, being Jewish, is that there was a buffet. Any place that has a buffet next to the S&L and bondage room is like, there can’t be all of that. So she said, “would you be willing to go with me? I’d like to do them”, she said. And in my travels in my youth, I’d experienced a lot, although I’d never experienced being with 300 people having sex. But I told her, I said, look, I will try anything that you want to do once and then give you my report. So I won’t say no just because of a previous bias or prejudice. How’s that? She goes, great. So a couple of months later, she goes, good news. This Friday, orgy in San Francisco. The next day, Saturday, I had a class, meditative inquiry class. So we go to this orgy, and there’s easily Every conceivable type of person, age, race, gender, probably a few ETs doing everything. My friend and I were seated here, kind of looking around. And then all of a sudden, two women come, and they knew my friend and said hi. They were a lesbian couple. They had just come from Temple Synagogue. And they’re talking about that. And then they strip down and start making love with a strap on. I’m going, well, synagogue to orgy, here we are. This whole thing’s happening. Then I had this massive thought that terrified me, which was – what if someone I know sees me here? I wasn’t afraid of being there. I told my girlfriend I would. There’s nothing wrong with anything, but it was suddenly, what if someone I knew saw me here, especially a student? I couldn’t shake that. And I thought, well, it’s one thing to disclose and announce things inappropriately, but to be afraid of being found out for something you’re actually doing, that’s not sustainable, especially if you’re living publicly. So the next night, I have my meditative inquiry class. And I had asked my girlfriend if it was OK. I didn’t want to expose her. She said, “fine”. So I thought, look, I’ve got to just say this. I can’t be afraid of being found out. So I started out by saying, “Good evening, welcome. Usually, for those of you who’ve been coming regularly, we start with a meditation and then a talk, and then questions and answers. But I’d like to start with a little bit of a talk about what I did last night”. And I proceeded to tell them what I had done. And then I said, OK, now let’s try to have a meditation. Let’s see if we can calm our minds and quiet our minds. But I felt like I had to do that because the thought was, what if someone sees me? And it was from then on that I said, I don’t want to be afraid of anything that I do being found out. I may not voluntarily disclose it. It’s none of your business. But that’s different than creating secrecy, a false persona. “I practice celibacy. I’m not a person. I’m above it”. And then they’ve been stooping someone for three years. So I would rather say that’s how I dealt with that and everything else, and saying that I was disappointed in what happened because of the secrecy, and that to this day – well, I’m not involved, and I haven’t been for since ’85 – none of the people, the officials of the ashram or the foundation will ever honestly deal with that.

Rick: Well, I mean, the same stuff was happening with Maharishi, and none of the officials of that organization will deal with it either. And it’s a puzzlement to me that this stuff happens. But then again, it isn’t. But I just try to sort of have the attitude that there’s a lot of things I don’t understand. And basically as the band sang, in the night they drove old Dixie down, you take what you need and you leave the rest. And I derived tremendous benefit from the whole thing. And if there’s parts of it that were strange or I don’t know what to make of them, what can I say? And as far as whether these gurus should have been public about what they were doing, to give them a little bit of compassion, I don’t know how they could have been, given the whole hoopla that was built up around them. How could they have made that transition to publicly doing such things?

Robert: I’m not saying he should have. I’m not a guru. I’m not within the Indian cultural system. So I just wanted to go – well, I might teach, live a public life in some way or another. This is how I want to live. And if what I do or what you hear I do, discredits me in your mind, we’re not a fit anyway, that’s fine. Sally, I think, at one point said, having a guru like Muktananda is not for sissies. It isn’t a safe place. My primary, my predominant feeling about Muktananda was not love. It was terror. I was terrified of him.

Rick: Because he was such a taskmaster.

Robert: No. No.

Rick: Because he knew how to push your buttons and how to bust your ego, no?

Robert: No,no. Because he was so enormous and immense that it terrified me. The enormity of who I saw him as. Maybe it was, was it Moses who saw the burning bush?

Rick: Yeah.

Robert: OK, so I don’t have that. And it probably went like, whoa, that’s heavy. Muktananda for me was this sort of walking, burning bush.

Rick: Well, is it even better a metaphor from the Gita where Arjuna asked to see Lord Krishna’s form, you know? And he’s like totally pooping his pants. It’s too much for him. He says, take it away. I can’t handle it.

Robert: He just terrified me because of his immensity. That’s all I can say. There’s also, when I first met him in India in 1973, there was about 25 Westerners in the ashram. That was it. And then we’re talking fast-forward toward the end of his life where there are ashrams throughout the world and thousands of people and so on and a big organization, of which I was an executive. Then you had to go, well, there’s an organizational reality. Then there’s the sort of spiritual social reality. Then there’s what to me is really the essence of it, the individual disciple’s relationship to his or her guru. One-to-one, that’s what it is. There isn’t a guru in my mind. There’s either one’s guru or it doesn’t matter. I don’t see any of the leading teachers out there as gurus or teachers because they’re not mine. And for me, there’s only my teacher. There’s no teacher. I don’t think there’s a class of teachers. So for me, it was what happened between me and my guru over a decade. That to me is what I was there for, what I focused on, what was significant and meaningful, even as I ended up participating at a senior level in the organization of it, which was easy to get lost in. But I still go back to that. And so just to maybe echo what you were saying, it’s really hard to bring a judgment to it if you recognize what that trip is. I don’t think living with a guru is a safe adventure. And I think it’s… I tried to get away and I couldn’t. I’ve never, ever once told a person go find a guru. I’m glad I found a guru. I’m glad I lived with him. I’m glad I experienced what I did. And that’s it.

Rick: That’s good. Good answer. OK, now I have eight questions here that people have sent in. And I want to make sure to get to them. So we’re going to jump around a bit topic-wise because the questions are all over the place. So I’m just going to ask them and you answer. Keep in mind we have eight of them. And we might also want to talk about five principles of authentic living or something. So let’s budget our time.

Robert: I will refrain from further rants. And I will be a Zen teacher, very succinct. Five words per answer. Ready, go.

Rick: You can do more than that. So first of all, Joseph Bernard from Oregon Coast asks two questions. One, how does one take their inner growth consciousness and make a positive difference in the world?

Robert: And you said he had a second question?

Rick: He does, but they’re separate. So let’s do the first one first.

Robert: Is the second one easier?

Rick: OK, let’s do the second one first. What remains of a person when they examine and eliminate most or all of their beliefs? Who are they then? Second one’s harder, right?

Robert: No, Joseph is a friend of mine. He’s a teacher and an author. He’s a very lovely guy. Because we are an inextricable and inseparable part of the world, even if only at the quantum energetic level, everything we do has an effect. Everything we do in some way is a tiny pebble thrown into the pond and has a ripple of some kind. So knowing that then brings a sense of responsibility to notice what is the effect we’re having through our speech, our thoughts, and our actions. And I think Joseph is. He and I have talked about this. If we’re talking about a social impact, how do we take consciousness, not a political ideology as our motivation, but how do we take a spiritual sense of things and bring that into the world as the motivation for social change, which I tried to do for years with that Radical Sages project. I think there’s a lot of different levels and ways one could answer. I’ll just make it short and say this. Arthur Ashe, the tennis player, has a formula for engagement that I like. “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can”. That’s how we do it. Because we can’t… I wouldn’t recommend, anyway, even though I tried to do it – I wouldn’t recommend changing the world or changing this huge, monstrous, big thing out there. It’s too big. It’s too complex. But we can still move toward a shift in a mindset and a policy. Look, 20 years ago – ask any gay friends you had – that in 20 years, same-sex marriage will be constitutionally legal throughout the country, they’d think you were on acid. If 20 years ago, you said there’d be a black president, it’d be impossible, and so on and so on and so on. But what brings those changes about? Well, we can look at it at the macro level. But also, at a different level, it’s an individual getting together with other individuals, getting together for an evening, doing something, and then connecting to something. So the way I see the world, it’s a series of what’s next and what’s next. Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can. I’ll keep it short for now.

Rick: Sure. I heard an interesting little…

Robert: And… sorry – Try not to hate the people that you think are the walking devils.

Rick: Right, right. Yeah, realize that we’re all blind men feeling the elephant. And there’s some validity to their perspective, too.

Robert: From their perspective.

Rick: Yeah.

Robert: Whenever I hear people go, corporations are ruining the world, I’m like, I’ve worked in corporations. There is no such thing as a corporation. The people in the corporations are doing it. It’s got to become personalized. And I’ve met some of the most wonderful people in corporate environments. So that is important. Let’s stay away from the labeling. Try to keep it real, open, and not hate the other people.

Rick: Yeah, good one. I heard an interesting play on words recently. “What’s so? So what? So”. Get it?

Robert: You’ve gone all Zen on me, Rick.

Rick: Yeah. Well, it’s like, “what’s so?” – it’s like, all right, what’s the reality of life? “So what?” – What’s the significance of that? And “so” – what are we going to do about it?

Robert: That’s right.

Rick: Yeah.

Robert: I like that.

Rick: OK, question number two. I believe it was just question number one that you just answered. Question number two, what remains of a person when they examine and eliminate most or all of their beliefs? Who are they then?

Robert: That question wouldn’t arise when – I’m just trying to use his language – when the person is…

Rick: When they examine and eliminate most of their beliefs, it’s like, what’s left of them? In other words, I guess the implication is, if we are largely comprised of what we believe, and we kind of strip all those beliefs away, then what’s left of us?

Robert: [AUDIO OUT] What’s left cannot be articulated in the way the question wants. It would have to be experienced in a pre-verbal way by whatever is left after the beliefs disappear. And then there would be a knowing that is not communicable. I’m not being lib, I’ve really looked at that. And over the years, as you can imagine, those kinds of questions come up all the time. And I hear a lot of teachers also answer it, which I could, except I know that my answer would be false and misleading.

Rick: Let me ask you about your experience on this point, because this is my experience. And let’s see if this helps answer it. And that is, do you find in your experience that there’s often, if not almost always, a very palpable sense that there’s actually no one there and that you’re not doing anything? And yet at the very same time, paradoxically but in complete compatibility with that, there is a very real sense that there is someone there, and you are doing things, and all this stuff matters. It’s like it’s just different dimensions of a broad spectrum.

Robert: From about three years ago, when I had a series of pony rides to a…

Rick: Yeah, we’re going to get onto those in a minute.

Robert: I’ll just say, I don’t want to speak historically, but from about three years ago, I have two distinct senses of being that aren’t reflections of me in any way at all. The first sensation is silence, with a little bit of the sound of like a conch shell on your ear that sort of… [whoosh] You know, the little sea sound. And by silence, I mean if you’ve ever been to the desert.

Rick: Sure, yeah.

Robert: So that’s my experience punctuated by surges of Shakti, or energy, in the wake of which I do something. And honestly, that’s all I know. That’s all I experienced from three years ago. And so when I hear questions that I can vaguely remember asking myself, I can only say, at some point the question won’t arise, and the fact that it doesn’t arise is the answer. Which is not the kind of answer that the mind wants when it asks the question.

Rick: I think that thing you just said about silence makes sense to me, and it may be your way of expressing what I just expressed, which is that the deep, kind of desert-like silence has a quality to it of there being nothing here and nothing going on, and yet there’s this sort of emergence from that of expressions of Shakti. I think you used the word “Shakti” – creative impulses, activities, and so on.

Robert: That’s right. That’s exactly how it is. So sometimes if I’m laying in bed watching TV, I’ll sort of watch the TV, then I’ll notice my legs on the bed, and I’ll just go, “Wow, look at those. What is that?” And I’ll go, “Oh, dude, those are your legs”. Sometimes it’s like that. But I used to be able to reflect on myself. No, no, in some way. You know, how am I doing? What’s left? I don’t have any point of view from which I can reflect on me in any way at all. There’s silence and surges of Shakti and action. And if I want to, I can go to my mind, which is always active. If I want to drop into a free movie, I can certainly go there, but I usually don’t spend that much time there anymore.

Rick: Got to throw in a little humor here. There was a Farside cartoon where these two insects were out on a date and they had just come home and the boy insect is saying goodnight to the girl and he says, “Well, I guess I should kiss her, but where are her lips? I wonder if those doohickeys are her lips?” These insects with all these gangly things.

Robert: You know, Rick, that’s not funny. That’s the story of my whole actual romantic life, which is why I’m old and alone. I could never figure out the basic stuff.

Rick: You want to elaborate on that or should we move on?

Robert: No, this one we’ll move on from. I don’t want people feeling sorry for me, although, you know.

Rick: I think I can relate. Okay, your sister brought up the question of, “I would love it if you could speak about what you experienced or learned from having stage 4 lung cancer”. And we’re going to talk about pony rides now. And first of all, how in the hell did you get lung cancer? Were you a smoker or did you live around too much incense?

Robert: I was not a smoker. I asked my oncologist that. And because of the type of lung cancer I have, he said something like 10% of all lung cancer patients have this particular kind. And 80% of the people who have my type of lung cancer get it from environmental or other sources, not from smoking.

Rick: Living in Los Angeles, for instance.

Robert: Well, I grew up in Italy post-war. Could have been asbestos in the building things. I lived in India for 6-7 years. I asked him, he said, “Robert, I don’t know how long you’ve had it. I don’t know how you got it. It could have been from 300 things”. And, by the way, my oncologist is the director of oncology at Cedars-Sinai. He’s a very specialist in lung cancer. He doesn’t know, I don’t know, I got it.

Rick: All right, well, let’s talk about it. I mean, as much time as you want to spend on it. And this pony ride thing, I presume you’re saying it was the effect of chemo and it has had a profound influence on you.

Robert: That’s my baby sister, Sandra.

Rick: Right.

Robert: Who, for a year, became like a team of healthcare workers. She lives next to me. I was totally out of it for about a year. She’d come over 20 times a day. I wouldn’t be alive if it weren’t for her, so I’ll just say that. When I was diagnosed in early January of 2011, I was in Australia. And they said – I’ve been having a lot of back pain and we couldn’t sort it out, it got worse and worse, and then I went to the hospital – and they said, “You’ve got stage four lung cancer. The tumors are riddled throughout your spine, hips, and pelvis. Your spine is about to collapse because the bone’s been eaten away by tumors. And there’s nothing we can do. Statistically, six months, seven months, you’re gone”. Okay. So I came back to the States thinking, “I’ll arrange my affairs”. I was in a lot of pain. And I moved to LA, got some insurance, went to an oncologist here. I had radiation treatments in Australia.

Rick: Lucky you could get the insurance.

Robert: Well, it was serendipity. This story has miracle after miracle along the way because I didn’t have it when I got back. The hospital actually had a program to help people without insurance that I found out about. So anyway, when I first met my oncologist, he said – based on the reports that had been forwarded to him from Australia – he thought that I would be paralyzed below the waist and in a wheelchair. And I was on a walker. So it was that bad. So I went into a series of chemotherapy treatments. I don’t want to say that cancer was responsible or chemotherapy or anything that was related to cancer and the treatments produced these pony rides to oblivion, which I’m about to tell you. I think it was a trigger or a catalyst, almost a kind of Shaktipat initiation. It was an event. What determines the nature of the event is your response. So I’ve got these tumors everywhere. My spine might collapse. I’m in chemotherapy. I’m supposed to die, et cetera, et cetera. Okay, I still can play the game of what am I going to respond? How am I going to respond? From where will I respond? I converted chemotherapy infusions to infusions of primal Shakti. And every time I’d go to the hospital and get them, my sister would come. I’d put on chanting music and go, “This is fantastic. This is not chemo. This is not toxic. This is not going to kill every living thing in me. This is a gift of the goddess. This is pure Kundalini Shakti energy coming into me to heal me”. You know, like, “Well, why not? I might as well. I don’t have to play the other game”. So I would do that and I would come back to my little apartment here in LA. And I would be out of it for a week, two weeks. By “out of it” I mean I would wake up periodically to go to the bathroom. My sister would come over, wake me up to feed me. I wouldn’t remember. When I asked my oncologist about how other people reacted to the chemo and the pills that I was taking, nothing ever like this came up. They would talk about loss of appetite, which happened to me. They’d talk about depression or this, this. But they weren’t these long shamanic journeys that would go out of my being, out of me in some way, and vacate the premises for days and days in a kind of oblivion. But there was still a hint of consciousness in there, but it was nothing else. And it would come back, and as my body would kind of come back to life, I would realize that a lot of what had gone on that journey didn’t come back. And that these pony rides to oblivion, which is what they felt like, would be post-chemo or Shakti infusion, come back. And then I would be… everything that was in me as me in any way you want to talk about it was taken away. And at some point it would come back with less of what started that journey, until one day my eyes opened and I just, there’s no me in it. There’s no there there. And the image that came, because I tend to think of images and metaphors, was my older brother goes on trips. And when he goes – he’s very meticulous, he’s an attorney – “Hi Rick”, he’s like… And he makes these albums of every trip that starts with the date that he leaves, and it’s a chronicle of the journey with pictures and notes and tickets and restaurant menus and so on. And so I imagine my life as being one of these long albums, except that there were no pages anymore. There was nothing, there was no chronology, there was no history, there was no “remember when”, there was no memory, there was no narrative, there was nothing, except silence, just sound. The sound of silence and surges of Shakti. There was nothing else that I could notice or be a part of or talk about. And that’s continued.

Rick: So let me make this a little bit more concrete, because I think some people might be spacing out right now trying to understand what you’re saying. So you would do the chemo and it would send you off into these pony rides to oblivion, and yet they were shamanic journeys. So oblivion implies blackout, you didn’t know anything. Shamanic journey implies you were experiencing different realms or something, and these would last for quite some time, and you’d come back. So if I could distill this into some specific questions. What exactly did you experience during them? Were you conscious that you were experiencing this, or was it in retrospect when you kind of woke up that you remembered, “Whoa, like a dream at night I just had this fantastic experience”? Let me start with those questions.

Robert: Okay, thank you. And by the way, I have been trying for three years to language this without much success, I admit that. So I didn’t have experience when I was gone.

Rick: You were out of it.

Robert: I was out of it. It wasn’t oblivion. When I said shamanic, I’ve never actually said that before, but only because when I would come, when I would sort of reawaken, I did have an awareness that something in me was different. That something had happened there. I didn’t know what it was, but I’d go – sorry, just give me one second. The – Monty Python?

Rick: Yeah.

Robert: Did a movie where one of the movies he was guarding a bridge as a knight, and he got into a fight, and they’d sword fight, and he’d cut an arm off, and he’d go, “Ah, that’s nothing”, and he’d cut the other arm off and the leg, and to his own, I felt like when I would go out on these journeys, I would come back with one arm less, no, until I was nothing. So it was really in the realization that I was different in some experiential, if not articulate way, until the final journey, and when I was able to move around, it was – my mind just… either my mind was working and I was so at a distance from it that it didn’t matter, or my mind stopped working. The predominant thing that I was aware of, which continues today, is that language ceased to be a medium for communicating anything existentially, by which I mean we could talk about enlightenment, realization, non-duality, duality, whatever, and any conversation about spirituality or existential matters didn’t make any sense to me at all. There were two features of these pony reps. Time disappeared and language collapsed.

Rick: And it didn’t make sense not because you didn’t understand the terms and concepts, because you’d been living those for decades, but because…

Robert: That’s right. Thank you for giving the time for this because it really is, I mean, insofar as what I’ve experienced has any value to people, it’s probably the most significant thing, which I’m still working out. Can you tell me quickly, Rick, a time when you have – meditation, lovemaking, being in a desert, whatever – when you have been totally absorbed in utter stillness and silence? Can you just bring one of those experiences up?

Rick: Yeah, for me it would have to be my deepest meditations. I also had something in a dream one time that was very, very powerful, the most transformative experience I ever had, and I woke up out of it with such a deep silence, indescribable. But anyway, I mean…

Robert: No, no, hold right there, hold right there. So you said, “I woke with an indescribable silence”.

Rick: Right.

Robert: If someone had talked to you, asked you to explain something or explained something to you when you were in that state, it wouldn’t have made any sense to you at all.

Rick: I mean, I could still talk with people and understand what they were saying, if that’s what you’re getting at.

Robert: If you go right into the core of that silence, right when you’re there, and someone came and asked you about some existential question or so on, my guess is it would be really hard to understand what they’re talking about because a lot of the meaning and significance of what we say is in the world of language, not in what I call the world of silence or what others might call pure awareness or consciousness. My experience of it is silent. So to me they’re two entirely different domains. They’re entirely different dimensions in which… if we take language away, if we take certain language or all of language away, we have to orient to an entirely other modality of being and experiencing and expressing.

Rick: Yeah, they are different dimensions, but I’ve found over the years that they’ve gotten more and more and more and more integrated, so that in the midst of dynamic activity there’s silence. In the midst of silence even, there’s dynamism, sort of inherent within it. And so it’s not an either/or situation.

Robert: No, that’s where I used to be with stuff, and I might end up there again. I’m saying something a little different, which is, if I place myself in language, then yes, I can communicate in a certain way. But what I’ve realized is that language itself is actually a kind of dialect of silence. It’s a different language altogether. When Joseph asked the question about what’s remaining when all the beliefs go, well, you can make up any answer you want, because the actual answer can only be experienced before language. And there’s a knowing that’s pre-verbal. So what I’m saying is, look, you and I have been talking for two hours. My professional motto is “Have mouth will travel”. I love to talk. But the difference is, in that final return from the journey when I couldn’t find any self to refer to or to reflect upon, for months I couldn’t understand what anyone was saying because I wasn’t in language. I wasn’t living where language is significant.

Rick: So you were kind of residing at a level that precedes language, that’s deeper than language, yes?

Robert: Well, that’s how I would say it. I mean, I can’t. I’m not a scientist. I’m not a neurobiologist. So I’m only grappling for words to express what my experience was and continues to be. Because Muktananda said something many many years ago that suddenly clicked in. He said, because he was asked questions all the time, mostly he would answer. Sometimes, I remember, he would say, “If you go to the place in you from where the question arises, you will know”. So it’s like, where did the questions arise? Then you find out it arises where thoughts arise, where everything from a kind of…

Rick: Yeah, I could say the source of thought or something.

Robert: The source, and then you realize most of the questions that are problematic for us in life or on a spiritual path in life are problems in the world of language. That if we can get to that source place or the place of silence, a pre-verbal reality in which is intelligent and creative and expressive, but maybe it’s like the Zen thing, it’s the thing itself, it’s not the name of it. Then most of the issues and the questions that we ask and want answered in satsang would never arise, which doesn’t mean you don’t know the answer to it. It just means you’re living in a place where that question doesn’t arise. Who would you be when all the beliefs are gone? Doesn’t even make sense to me.

Rick: Yeah, I think that’s pretty clear. I mean, almost all language, if not all, is a symbolic representation. If we say “apple”, that sound has little or nothing to do with the actuality of an apple, but we agree upon that sound as being something, so we can talk about apples.

Robert: That’s right. There’s a correspondence, but when we start getting into the abstract part of language, concepts and what they point to, then it requires a kind of agreement about what these symbolic sounds represent.

Rick: Yeah.

Robert: And if they don’t represent an apple or a headphone. Patriotism – what is patriotism? Well, I don’t know, we’ve got to have another two-hour conversation about that, because it’s a sound…

Rick: There are many, many interpretations of the sound.

Robert: There’s a thousand… But the thing I’m saying is that we tend not to realize that we make up and invest meaning and significance in a word, from our own point of view, but we think the word is that.

Rick: Yeah.

Robert: We think the word is that.

Rick: Okay.

Robert: Sorry, enough of that.

Rick: So, just to wrap this point up, would it be true to say in summary, that the chemo kicked you into a place from which your whole conceptual verbal framework was dismantled, and you no longer took for granted the concepts that words represent, or the representation of actualities by words, because you were realizing experientially that those words are very faint, blurry shadows of that to which they’re ultimately pointing or referring, and you were so deeply established in the experience of that, that those shadows just didn’t have much traction for you? Probably I only got about 10% on the mark there.

Robert: No, no, no, no, no. If you had been able to tell me that three years ago, you’d have saved me a lot of time trying to figure it out. No, that’s about 90% of what happened.

Rick: Okay, great.

Robert: When I hear you, I’m going, “Yes, yes, yes, yes”.

Rick: Maybe, yeah.

Robert: No, no, no, yes, yes, yes. I’ve got to give 10% to the mystery, but that’s exactly what I experienced in the simplest language.

Rick: Okay, good. Part of what I try to do is mind-meld with the people I interview and understand actually what they’re saying or trying to say, and I often repeat back to them what I think they said to see if it resonates, to see if I have the right sense of it. Because if I can get it, maybe the audience can get it also.

Robert: Well, usually I’m pretty good at articulating things, but the last three years, I have to admit, I’m like, “Don’t ask me, ask the horse”.

Rick: Yeah.

Robert: I’m supposed to be dead, you know, don’t ask me anything. I’m just happy enough to be alive.

Rick: Let’s do another question. Miriam Negre from Barcelona, Spain asks, “When we find ourselves in situations where speaking truthfully creates a great conflict to the other person and blocks the negotiation, how can we proceed? For example, a conflict with an ex-couple dealing with the issue of their child”. And I’m kind of reminded of Patanjali’s saying from his Yama, “Satyam priyam bruyat”, speak the sweet truth. So, you emphasize speaking the truth, and we talked earlier about what you told your students after attending that orgy. And so, Patanjali seems to be advocating, yeah, you don’t want to just sort of be blunt and in your face in speaking the truth, you want to speak the truth which is sweet. What do you say to that? And in terms of Miriam’s question.

Robert: The first thing I do, Rick, whenever I’m working in any situation, and I feel like I’m working in the sense of answering the question, is I ask a lot of questions. I don’t ever just take the first question or situation as what it is. Always more inquiry so I can more fully understand the subtleties and complexity of the scenario. If Miriam asked me that question, I would have a series of questions that I would ask before I would offer anything.

Rick: That’s a good idea.

Robert: So I would just say that – and she’s a good friend of mine whose two and a half year old daughter I’m wildly in love with – I’ll just say this, is we’ve got to be careful from the labeling and categorizing of anything. And the five principles to me unhook me from the need to exist in any kind of predetermined manner. In other words, yes, to speak the truth sweetly sounds like a good thing. But sometimes the situation is that’s not going to be appropriate or effective. And what does speaking truthfully mean? I speak truthfully as in I feel like I’m transparent and open so that my motives and intentions are visible to all. But I do personal coaching, I do group work, I give talks. And I have to be able to pick and choose what to say that’s going to have the best positive effect. So that might be what you’re calling speaking truthfully sweetly. But for me, I need all this more information to know what to say. The one thing that – I had a webinar just last night about this. One thing that people will use as a reason to not speak their truth, which is how I work with it, is I don’t want to offend or upset or hurt someone else. But if your intention is to not do that, if your intention is not wrapped in being right and making someone else wrong, if what you’re trying to do is bring your inner truth out into the world to be seen in as skillful a manner as possible, if someone takes offense at that or their feelings get hurt, it’s probably on them to work that out. If we’re going to withhold what is true for us, if we’re going to move in the world behind a mask or a false persona in fear that our inner authenticity, expansion, truth speaking is going to in some way be hurtful to us or others, the game’s over. We’ve got to be willing to trust the integrity of our truth speaking, trust the integrity of our authenticity, trust the integrity of our engagement and participation. People are going to get offended, their feelings will get hurt, they’ll get insulted.

Rick: Yeah, well there’s something to it. I mean, some people are just very brash and in your face and rude and they think they’re being truthful. And they’re not, they’re being brash and rude. Sometimes things are better left unsaid.

Robert: That’s also true and someone might be speaking the truth and being brash and so on. That’s called skillful means.

Rick: That can also be, yeah.

Robert: You know, skillful means we need to use but what happens is people tend to be afraid of their own sort of inner, I call what I do, authentic self-expression. You know, we want to take what is true and real in us, not as being right or truth capital T, but what is it that we truly think and feel and want and don’t want and can I bring that out in an honest and open manner without trying to be right, without afraid of being wrong, not to criticize or condemn, but I’m going to make the first move of the chess game – being real, honest, open, connected, unafraid. That’s truthful speaking and then we’ll see what happens after that.

Rick: You know, one thought that occurs to me is that if you really want to speak truth, it might help to be established in truth, you know, to actually sort of be in a deep integrated place within yourself and grounded in some deep level that’s more real than the superficial. And then truth speaking will kind of be spontaneous, you won’t have to work at it that much.

Robert: Well, truth for me is a very loaded word and I’m not talking about established spiritual truth. I’m actually talking an individual’s truth, but I totally agree with you in the sense that we have to know what that is and that is an excavation beneath the surface condition line, absolutely.

Rick: Yeah.

Robert: Absolutely agree.

Rick: Okay, let me throw another question. Phyllis from Boulder City, Nevada wants to hear you explain the difference between being silent – not talking – and being the silence, capital S, that which is already within but usually is never tapped.

Robert: In the first couple of years of being in India, in the ashram, I went native and for a few months I decided I wasn’t going to talk. So I got a chalkboard and I slung it over my shoulders and I had a piece of chalk and I wouldn’t talk. I drove everybody crazy.

Rick: I’ve seen those people, very annoying.

Robert: I was very annoying, I fully admit that. I didn’t speak. And in not speaking, I was able then to see the screams and the rants that were going on in my mind that would normally be dissipated through my mouth, but weren’t. So I went, “Whoa, there’s a lot of noise in there”. And over the course, I think it was two months, something like that, it would start to dissipate. But it was really hard because you’re letting it go. So that’s where I first recognized the difference between not speaking and inner silence. Not speaking is an interesting experiment.

Rick: It is, yeah.

Robert: So you can…

Rick: Maybe ten days for me.

Robert: That’s all. What I do sometimes is I’ll assign my speaking students with a word allowance. I go, if you can do it professionally, “for the next week, you get 50 words a day”. Whatever, just to develop the awareness and understand the concept. So, not speaking is not related to silence at all, other than it could trigger an awareness of what’s necessary.

Rick: Yeah, I mean a yogi in a cave could have a very noisy mind, a person who’s a stockbroker could have a very silent mind.

Robert: That’s right, in my view.

Rick: Although a silent life, like you were saying when you were using the chalkboard, does tend to cultivate a more silent mind. Which actually leads on to the next question. Let me actually ask this one. Jerry Bernstein from San Francisco – you know Jerry? all your buddies are asking questions – asks, “I understand you’ve spent years involved in some kind or other of formal practice to diminish the chatter of your mind stream. From this effort, have you found any approaches or developed any advice that you think is more effective than another toward this goal?”

Robert: Yes. Sorry, I’m not laughing at anybody or anything. Alright, two things briefly, and I’ll follow up with Jerry when I next talk with him. Follow what is an authentic impulse in you toward a practice, a hobby, wherever you’re naturally drawn to a place you find some peace and focus. Jerry is, among other things, a nature photographer. When I talk to him about what it’s like, that’s a spiritual practice for him because of what happens when he’s out in nature taking photographs. What I tend to do with people these days is facilitate a conversation whereby an individual or group can have a chance to recognize where in themselves they already experience silence, peace, equanimity, and expansion. And I’ve never met, Rick, a person who can’t go there. I’ve developed a very flexible languaging because I’ve worked in companies, I’ve worked in a lot of places where I couldn’t use ashram language. So what I try to do is facilitate a conversation where in their terms they will tell me what it’s like, and then I’ll go, “Great. Now you tell me, since this experience is yours, you have it, it’s internal, it’s intrinsic, even if triggered by something else, not how do you get there, but what do you do to cover over what you’ve told me is already there?” Which is a different conversation. So I’ll just let that stand because rather than say there’s a practice, I’ll say the practice is to notice how in your life you sometimes spontaneously connect with that, recognize it’s an intrinsic capacity, and then what do you do to pretend that you’re not who you’ve already seen that you are.

Rick: Okay. Rafael from Portland, Oregon asks, “How do you see the role of personal work in the life of a spiritual teacher, and what personal work are you engaged with currently?” Let’s try to keep the answers relatively short.

Robert: Okay, thank you. You know, I didn’t speak for about three years, Rick, so I’m very excited that I’m speaking.

Rick: Making up for lost time.

Robert: I’m making up for lost time. Well, I don’t see myself as a spiritual teacher so I can’t answer personally. But what I’m working on, what I sort of work on, I prefer to say, “What am I noticing? What do I pay attention to?” It’s the 5 principles.

Rick: And since you mentioned that, and I did want to cover these briefly, or not briefly, but I think we’ll have to cover them briefly. What are the 5 principles? And say just a sentence or two about them.

Robert: Sure. The 5 principles are, be present, pay attention, listen deeply, speak truthfully, and act creatively. That’s 50 years of hard slogging. There’s not much content in them because they point to a source. The reason I wrote the book very quickly is I suddenly realized that for decades I’ve been giving people my content – my opinions, my insights, and so on. And I thought, “But they all come from a certain place. Why don’t I just start telling people to go to the place I go to and then get your own stuff, which is probably going to be more relevant and appropriate anyway”. And I said, “Okay, how do I do that?” And it was just that. So this is how to access, or live from, source consciousness. Be present means to not be defined or determined by the thought stream – thoughts and emotions. Which means that there’s a place outside the thought stream that you can live in and from. I call it silence. Leave your thoughts alone. Leave everything alone. It’s just you don’t live there. You live and act from this place. So when you’re no longer blinkered by your thoughts, your extreme emotions, and your beliefs, you now begin to pay attention from silence. “Wow, let me notice the world that I can see for the first time”. When I used to study Aikido years and years ago, I learned that in Aikido on the mat, you want to have a one-degree focus. Pay full attention to what’s coming right here, while simultaneously maintaining 360-degree awareness. This is what noticing is, paying attention inside and out, to develop a field of constant noticing in detail. Where’s the 50 cents? Which moves to deep listening. Some people might call it prayer, meditation. Deep listening to me is when you become a living receptor, receiving, listening carefully not just to yourself and to other people, but ear to the ground, distant horseshoes, distant galaxies. It’s where you become open to receive all kinds of impressions, insight, experiences, information from multiple levels because we’re now open to do that. Speaking truth, it’s a little bit what you said a moment ago, Rick, about you can’t speak your truth until you know your truth. So deep listening is where you get down beneath the conditioned, busy mind and go, “Ah, there’s some truth here”. Then in order to now take that sort of internal reality, be present, pay attention, listen deeply, into the world, well, we’ve got to start speaking it, don’t we? And then we do something which speaking truthfully is not bullying. It is skillfully and elegantly bringing what we hear in the depths of openness into the world. And then we move to the place where spiritual folks tend to be really action-averse, act creatively. Now, take an action on behalf of this rich, inner, deep, open, connected life so that your actions actually become a bigger advocate for who you are than what you say. I’m always interested in what’s the behavioral corollary of something. If you know absolute reality, I’d like you to stop talking and let me just watch you for a few days to see if I can see how it’s distinct from anyone else. And if I can’t, good for you, but I’m not interested. So those are the five principles which is really point, this is where you need to go. I don’t want to confuse more content. My opinions are irrelevant, my experiences are not helpful. This is where I’ve gone, this is how I’ve lived, and I believe if you practice these, if you embody these, you’re going to have a rocking good time.

Rick: That’s great. And one thing that I gained from everything you just said, and you did say it at one point in all that, is that there are so many self-help things in the world and they all are analogous to painting the roses red, to use that from Alice in Wonderland, or to watering the leaves on a tree, as opposed to watering the root of the roses or the tree, getting right down to the actual source of all this stuff. And if “Seek ye first the kingdom of heaven and all else shall be added unto thee”, “Establish in yoga, perform action”, as the Gita puts it, if you can really get established in that deep wellspring of creativity and all other good stuff, then most of these things are just going to flourish. And it does help to have some attention on them, to culture them, like you might need to prune the roses, but at least you need to water the root of the roses for them to be healthy. So you need to establish your awareness in that deep level from which all this springs.

Robert: I used to love Rumi and Kabir and different poets like that, but after a while I got tired of listening to their expressions of source. I said, “Well, I’d like to be my own poet, so I don’t really care what you know. Where did you know it from? Where did you go to know what you know? Where did you go to be as expressive as you are?” And I figured out for me these five principles is how I’d been doing it even before I articulated it. And it is, to answer Raphael’s question, it’s my practice to remain consciously within the framework of these five principles. And, of course, breathing is a good practice. I try to keep that going every day.

Rick: Yeah, otherwise you die.

Robert: Something like that.

Rick: All right, here’s one from Gina in Westminster, California. We have two questions left. This one is the first. “In today’s world of instant gratification with the desire by many for that lightning bolt of immediate and profound awareness with little effort, can you speak to the value of everyday discipline and appreciation of the small amounts of understanding that, over time and with practical application, bring us to a clearer awareness of our true hearts? Thank you”.

Robert: I think we’ve talked about that, about discipline. I will just say again, very succinctly, almost everything I’ve learned and experienced at any level I can attribute in some way to a discipline. I’m not going to say necessarily a spiritual practice that has a spiritual outcome, but a discipline against which you can see your mind, which to me is really the crux of the whole spiritual game anyway. And I also have a lot of respect for people who, over years, have done something to acquire great artistry. I was watching a video of Misty Copeland, who was just announced as a prima ballerina at the American Ballet Company, and how she has attained that level of skill for years and years and years. There’s no direct path to becoming prima ballerina. There’s no direct path to becoming Buddy Rich. And I just happen to have a high regard for people that do that. George Leonard, who’s an author and Aikido teacher, wrote a book about just showing up for Aikido practice every day for 40 years. He said, “You get to these plateaus where nothing’s happening. Just do it. Then there’s going to be a spurt that you can only experience because you’ve done this day after day after day. I’m old school. I’m all for discipline”.

Rick: Great, me too. And even those who have spontaneous, unexpected awakenings without having had any discipline or anything, maybe it’s past-life discipline they did, but still even then it seems to me it’s often helpful for them to create a container for it and to begin to establish some discipline and to gain some understanding of what they have undergone.

Robert: Just go drive a cab in New York for six months and see what happens. And if you’re still permanently established in absolute consciousness, knock yourself out. But part of the discipline is you get tested along the way.

Rick: Yeah. Someone just said our live stream stopped working. I’m not sure why. But we’re almost done. So, one final question here.

Robert: Yes.

Rick: And that is, Judith Ann Nappo from St Gallen, Switzerland asks,

Robert: Oh, Switzerland.

Rick: In another interview you said, if I remember correctly, that we can easily access the creative consciousness in the self from which place all the content has come. The place where one can find out exactly what one needs for each moment of the journey. And one can do this by following your five principles. My question is, when I am being present, paying attention and listening deeply, for instance, while sitting in silence as part of a morning spiritual practice, how will I know which of the thoughts or chain of words or inspiration coming to me is the one to act on? Will it have a different sound from my usual thought stream? How will I be able to recognize it as the voice of my soul or as the voice of the creative consciousness in myself?

Robert: All right, quickly, I will say, over time, we get to discern a textural difference between thought and the impulses of silence, which she’s calling her soul, by textural as in cardstock versus rice paper. You can actually feel the difference over time. That’s one thing. The other thing is, the reason the Speak Truthfully and Act Creatively are such important components is, when we put something into play through speech and action, if it isn’t supported by that deep energy, not just the silence but the energetic aspect of silence, we’re not going to get very far with it. Sometimes I don’t know in my consciousness, I’ve got this feeling, this impulse, I want to join a mentoring group in LA and mentor kids. It sounds like a good idea, I’ve got time to do it. Should I, shouldn’t I? I’m not quite sure, so I do it. I put it into play. And then the action of it is a feedback loop that if I continue to be present, pay attention, listen deeply, if I’m at that level, that will then tell me if that’s really coming from a deep place and I need to do it, or no, let’s back out of it. So the action is another way to get feedback about the different place in us from where an action can originate, as well as over time discerning the textural difference.

Rick: Yeah. I’ll give you an example, my inspiration to do this show was originally to have it as a talk show on a local radio station that has a 10-mile radius, and I was taking steps to try to make that happen, and they were being blocked at every stage, I was getting absolutely no cooperation. And then finally when the emphasis shifted to making it a bigger thing and putting it on the internet and getting it out there, then all kinds of support and all that.

Robert: Which you wouldn’t have figured out unless you had put it into play.

Rick: Yeah, it had to start somewhere.

Robert: You had to start. But if it just wasn’t working, wasn’t working, wasn’t working, and finally it petered out, then you know. So I’m also big on, well, sometimes you walk your way through life, sometimes you listen your way through life, sometimes you speak your way. If we’re being constant with those principles, then everything we say and do becomes feedback mechanisms for where are you living from.

Rick: Yeah. I think it was Goethe or someone said that you have to just begin an action, and then all kinds of support and means and stuff will come to your disposal, which is just not going to happen unless you actually begin.

Robert: Yeah, that’s right. That’s how I feel about it.

Rick: Good. Well, I am also kind of a have mouth, will travel kind of guy, and we could probably go on for another two and a half hours, but I think we better wrap it up. So, thanks. This has been great.

Robert: Well, thank you. Thank you, Rick. Thank you for the people who wrote in, who suggested me. I apologize if my answers were long and rambling, but please forgive a guy who loves to talk and hasn’t had much opportunity to have intelligent conversations. So, Rick, thank you.

Rick: Hey, hang out with the wrong crowd.

Robert: I don’t hang out with any crowd. I’ve been in my pony rides to oblivion for three years.

Rick: Are you off chemo now?

Robert: Oh, yeah. Yeah, I have been. I still take what’s called targeted therapy medicine, a pill every day that’s supposed to keep the core tumor from metastasizing again. And although every time I see my doctor, he says, “You know, Robert, one day that medicine won’t work and the tumors will come back”.

Rick: Yeah.

Robert: I’m going, “Okay, well, when that happens, we’ll cross that bridge”.

Rick: Well, they were wrong the first time. Maybe they’ll be wrong this time.

Robert: Yeah, and I don’t particularly care one way or the other.

Rick: Yeah, you’ll be fine. Well, I hope you live long and prosper. How do you do that?

Robert: I can’t, but thank you for that blessing. I appreciate it. And, yeah, thanks for inviting me. And 300 talks, to me, shows a level of devotion and dedication and persistence that I think really needs to be honored and recognized over and over because I’m just doing this one talk with you and I’m out, but this is the next thing, you’ve got another, and you prepare in between, and you have a team of people that help you. So, for whoever is listening to me speak, Rick ends with a pitch for donations. I’m saying, “Give him some money to help him do this and send in some notes of deep appreciation. Don’t take it for granted”.

Rick: Thanks. So, one guy sent in $300 the other day, and we thought, “Wow, $300”. I bet you it’s because we just did 300 interviews, and he thought, “Okay, they’re worth a dollar apiece”. So, that was cool. All right, well, thanks. Let me just make some general wrap-up points that I always make. So, anyone who’s gotten this far in the interview probably knows that this is one in a series. The series is ongoing. We have them scheduled almost through the end of the year already. And if you’d like to be notified each time a new one is made available, then there’s a place on the website for that. It’s obvious. It says, “Join the mailing list”. You get about one email a week. There is an audio podcast, which I was having trouble with for months, but has been fixed, and so you can subscribe to that. There’s the “Donate” button, which you just mentioned. I’ll be putting up information about you, links to your website, links to your books, and so on. And I think that’s just about it. Oh, and there’s also the “Past Interviews” menu, which you see on the website, under which you’ll see all the old interviews categorized in about five different ways. You can explore that. So, thanks for listening or watching, and we’ll see you next week. Next week is Guy Findlay, and I’m already halfway through listening to a whole bunch of stuff about him. See you then. [music]