Tom Das Transcript

Tom Das 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. There have been about 350 of them so far, and if you’d like to listen to past ones, go to and you’ll find them all organized in different ways under the past interviews menu. This show is made possible by the support of appreciative viewers and listeners, so if you’d like to, if you appreciate it and would like to support it, there’s a donate button on the right-hand side of every page on, and much thanks to those who have been supporting it, and obviously there’s no obligation, any amount of support, large or small, is appreciated. So my guest today is Tom Das. Tom is a medical doctor who lives in London with his wife and two children. He had a spiritual awakening some while ago, which we’re going to be talking about, and I’m going to just read a little bit of bio about him. Here’s a quote, first of all. “The point of this teaching is the realization of total and complete freedom in which we are free from suffering”. Tom had his first conscious spiritual awakening aged 18. Everything was seen to be one. The sense of personal self fell away, and he had a deep sense that what he truly was, was not the limited being that he commonly took himself to be. This experience was short-lived and further fueled his seeking. He wanted to try to re-experience it again. I’m going to switch to the first person here. “I think because this experience happened in the context of reading a book, I subsequently developed a voracious appetite for reading spiritual texts. I read books on everything, such as Buddhism, Zen, Daoism, Mystic Christianity, Vedanta, Dzogchen, and the core texts of each, as well as many self-help and New Age-type books. I also had a keen interest in science and mathematics, and my studies took me along this route in school, eventually leading me to study medicine and become a doctor. I later got married and now have two amazing and lovely children. Alongside my studies, career, and home life, the spiritual seeking continued for 15 to 20 years. Now, the sense of a “me” living a life and the dissatisfaction that fueled my spiritual seeking have both disappeared, leaving behind an ordinary life being lived, or living itself. I call it freedom”. So good. So I’ve read, listened to a few hours of Tom doing an interview with something called Conscious2, and read quite a few of his essays. He has some very interesting, well-written stuff on his website, which I’ll be linking to. But let’s just kind of start from the beginning. So, your first conscious spiritual awakening, aged 18, did that just come out of the blue, or had you already been seeking and reading and meditating, whatever you’ve been doing?

Tom: Yeah, I had already been seeking, so it didn’t come out of the blue. I think I’d been seeking something for a long long time, since I was very very young. Ever since… as long as I can remember, really, I was always quite inquisitive and interested in the world around me. Not necessarily spiritually, but just interest in the world around me. And when I came across the idea of religion, primarily through Hinduism and Christianity, which are both in my family, it started just provoking lots of questions. And I think I started to become really interested in the teachings of Jesus. So, I was very young, maybe 9, 10, 11, that kind of age. And then, a few years later, when I was a teenager, I stumbled across some Hindu texts in my parents’ bedroom. The Bhagavad Gita and a few books by an Indian holy man called Swami Vivekananda, who is very famous, especially from the part of India my family are from. So, I started reading his books and it really just… something really grabbed me. And then I was hooked, once I started reading those books. So, it was a few years, that was maybe when I was like, I don’t know, 15 or 16, and I started reading all sorts. And then when I was 18, I had this kind of experience while reading a book.

Rick: I’m always impressed by and somewhat envious of people who latch on to spirituality at such a young age, and stick to it instead of going through the crazy teenage stuff that so many of us went through.

Tom: Yeah, I mean, a couple of my friends who are interested in spirituality have said similar things. But, I mean, it’s a blessing, but at the time it was a complete curse. I just felt so alienated from pretty much everyone around me, because very few people… most of my friends weren’t really, well, they weren’t spiritual seekers. They certainly weren’t reading things like the Bhagavad Gita. And, not the friends – well, if they were, they weren’t telling me. And…

Rick: No, that’s great. I mean, it was worth a little bit of social ostracism, I think, to have been focused as you were. I mean, it gave you the jump start on the whole thing.

Tom: Maybe, yeah. I mean, I think it did. I think it did. But it was very very difficult. It was very very painful.

Rick: Did you try to fit in? I mean, did you try to do the stuff other people were doing, and just to sort of…

Tom: Yeah, absolutely. And I’d wanted to do the stuff the other people were doing. It wasn’t just like I was some otherworldly teenager. I was just a normal teenager. But I was also really interested in spirituality, and I had some issues as well. So, all these things rolled together as a bit of a… It makes suffering quite easy to happen.

Rick: Yeah. Let’s put it that way. Well, you weren’t that precocious. I mean, Shankara was writing commentaries on Brahma Sutras when he was 12.

Tom: That’s true. I wasn’t as precocious as Shankara. You got me there.

Rick: By comparison, you were a bit of a slouch.

Tom: Absolutely, yeah.

Rick: So, what was this experience you had when you were 18?

Tom: Well, it was… I still remember now. It was almost like everything came into focus. I remember it visually, almost. Visually, everything seemed to come into focus. And looking back, I think what happened is the sense of self and all the chatter and the mind fell away. So, I think in normal everyday life, people are aware of what’s going on around them and aware of their thoughts. When their thoughts kind of fall away completely, the visual world or the perceptive world just comes right into the immediacy. And I just had a sense that I wasn’t this thing here. But I wasn’t separate from it either. And it felt really good.

Rick: What were you reading at the time?

Tom: I was reading the Second Krishnamurti Reader by Jiddu Krishnamurti, which is a collection of a few of his writings. And he was just talking about awareness and thoughts and all the stuff that, if anyone watching is familiar with Jiddu Krishnamurti, all the stuff that he talks about. And there’s something about the words he wrote on the page and the way I was… I was very reflective when I was thinking about it. I used to read a passage and then if I didn’t understand anything when it was written in the passage, I would put the book down and just sort of let myself think about it until I got it. Or if I didn’t get it, eventually I’d just move on. There were lots of things I didn’t get. But I was reading in a very contemplative kind of way, really trying to match it up with my own experience, see if what he was saying was true.

Rick: And had you been doing any sort of practice or mainly just reading?

Tom: Mainly just reading, but I have… I mean, as you mentioned in my bio, I was taught yoga – I think you mentioned it – I was taught yoga and meditation from quite a young age. So I’ve been doing…

Rick: I don’t think I did mention that.

Tom: Oh, okay. I’ve got about three or four different versions of my bio now, depending how long you want them to be.

Rick: Who taught you?

Tom: My mom. My mom taught me yoga and how to meditate.

Rick: Did your parents come over from India?

Tom: That’s right.

Rick: Okay. But you were born in the UK.

Tom: I was born in the UK.

Rick: And were your parents like disciples of some particular guru or what?

Tom: No, they weren’t particularly religious. They were… I mean, they weren’t religious by Indian standards. So we weren’t really taught huge amounts about the intricacies of Hinduism, for example. So my family are a Hindu family, but my mom converted to Christianity when I was fairly young. And… but what I realized looking back on my childhood is that a lot of these sorts of ideas in Hinduism are sort of… they sort of diffuse into the child or diffuse into me through osmosis without me really realizing. And then it’s only when you talk to people… when I’ve talked to people as an adult that I realize a lot of the notions that I have are very different, just because it’s a different culture, you know. And I was sort of brought up in between these two cultures, like many people are if their parents are from overseas.

Rick: Yeah. So this…

Tom: But it was very secular. You know, we were taught… we weren’t taught to necessarily believe in all the gods and things like this, even though we went to the festivals and we were very much encouraged to be free thinking, free thinkers and scientific and things like that.

Rick: Yeah. I think most Westerners who are practicing something that’s derived from Indian spirituality would describe themselves that way. You know the phrase “spiritual but not religious” where they’re not into all the gods and all that stuff, but they do yoga or they do some kind of meditation practice and, you know.

Tom: Yeah. And Vivekananda, I mean the Indian holy man, was one of the books… he was very much like that as well.

Rick: Yeah. And scientific. Actually, there’s a nice quote here someplace. Let me see if I can find it quickly. Yeah. He said, this is from one of your essays, “Both spirituality and science are scientific. They are both based on repeatable, personally verifiable evidence, experience, and do not rely on belief or dogma”. And to me that’s a very important point. I think… I mean, if people ask me what I believe, I say, it’s an irrelevant question. It doesn’t matter what I believe. Maybe I believe some things I haven’t proven to myself experientially yet, but I don’t like hang on to those beliefs tightly. I’m not going to hell if I don’t believe them or something. You know, they’re just theories to explore.

Tom: Yeah. I think that’s what really really grabbed me when I read these Indian texts, because I was really immersed in… Well, in terms of religion, the religion I’d really come into contact with most was Christianity. And I was fascinated by this figure of Jesus and his teachings, but I couldn’t… and I looked at Christian friends of ours who believed, and I saw this kind of inner strength that they derived from it. I was really envious of it, and I really wanted to feel that kind of certainty that they felt, but I could never believe. I could never bring myself to believe in something. And when I came across these Indian texts, they were saying, “You don’t have to believe”. They said that there is a God, that you can know God, and that really excited me.

Rick: Yeah, I mean, I don’t know about the validity or the accuracy of all the translations of what Jesus supposedly said, but I’ll bet you that if you really talked to him, he wouldn’t have cared that much what you believed. What he cared about was what you experienced. He wanted you to experience what he was experiencing. And if he said, “Believe me”, it was only in the sense of, “Hey, I’m experiencing this thing. I have enough faith to sort of explore it”, and that’s all the belief you need, a grain of mustard seed.

Tom: Yeah, I like that. I mean, yeah, I mean, I like it. If that was true, that would be great. I mean, I guess I don’t know what Jesus… neither of us really know what Jesus intended, but yeah, I read it in a similar way to you, I think, Rick, and I like that interpretation. I like to believe that that maybe is what he was trying to say, but who knows, eh?

Rick: I’m just closing up something on my computer here. So, anyway, let’s get back to your story. So, age 18, you had this experience, and then that really lit your fire, and since you had had the experience while reading a book, you thought, “Oh, that’s the key. I’ll read books”. You started reading a lot more books. How did your explorations go from there?

Tom: Well, it all goes into a bit of a blur now, because I was 18. I was enjoying myself as 18-year-olds do. I went to university, started studying medicine, met a whole load of new friends, and it was a really great time in my life going to university and learning about medicine and still seeking. So, I was just reading a whole load of stuff, and the Internet was coming along as well now. So, now you could start to look at this. The early days of the Internet, you could start to see things online, which I couldn’t do when I was seeking when I was a teenager, because you’re just going to your local bookshop and read whatever was there. So, I used to read things like texts on Buddhism, Alan Watts, Krishnamurti. I tried to read some of the Vedanta stuff, but it was all these. So, every now and again, our family went to India, and I used to hoard up, because you could buy books really cheaply in India. So, I used to literally… I don’t know what my family were thinking, but I used to come back with half a suitcase full of, I’m exaggerating a bit, but loads and loads of these books. And I used to try and get through them, but I found them really difficult. Again, the translation issues and the style of English they use as well is not always something I could relate to. But yeah, all these sorts of things. And I used to practice different types of meditation, yoga, all quite sporadically, just dipping in and out whenever I could in the midst of being a young person and studying.

Rick: How old are you now, by the way?

Tom: I’m in my mid-thirties.

Rick: Yeah, okay. So, then eventually, all this reading, studying, different kinds of meditation. I mean, obviously, you were a little bit of a dilettante in the sense of trying and exploring all kinds of different things. But you were doing, dilettante implies superficial, you weren’t superficial. You were thinking deeply and experiencing as deeply as you could. And eventually, you had this breakthrough. Right? Shall we jump ahead to that?

Tom: So, what age am I roughly now in the way you’re relating?

Rick: I don’t know. I mean, you went through this whole period from 18 until you had this awakening where you were reading all this stuff and just really kind of seeking pretty intensely.

Tom: Yeah, so I had this awakening when I was 18 and that just further fueled my seeking. And then I read all this stuff, did all these practices, and sometimes I was seeking really really, you know, I was really going at it, sort of almost in seclusion, just spending evenings, just devouring books or practicing.

Rick: Did you feel like you were suffering and you were trying to escape from suffering? Or was it more of an ardent, just a yearning for deeper knowledge or truth or meaning or something?

Tom: I think at times I definitely felt like I was suffering and I was trying to escape from that. But other times it was quite relaxed and quite leisurely and more balanced.

Rick: Just you enjoyed it. Yeah.

Tom: And I just enjoyed it. I was exploring and it was maybe something on the back burner, but I was still spirituality – as I call it, this seeking, the seeking for truth and for the end of suffering – is something I’ve always been doing, but just to a greater or lesser extent. And fast forward, I just kept reading things, listening to teachers and YouTube, listening to things like Buddha at the gas pump in your early days. I was telling you, before this call, we were having a brief chat and just trying to figure things out. And to be honest, I mean, a lot of the teachers spoke to me in part, but not completely. So I just I just carried on and felt frustrated with the whole thing. But over over a period of time and it wasn’t there wasn’t any awakening over a period of time, over a period of a few years, I’ve just come to sort of where I am now, which is what I call this freedom. And I don’t know exactly when it happened and I don’t know exactly how it happened. Although we could explore that if you wanted.

Rick: We could. And we could. I mean, just something to throw in here is that some people do have an abrupt shift that they could mark on the calendar and other people, like you just described, can’t really put their finger on it. You know, when did this happen? It sort of sneaks up like a thief in the night, as Maharishi used to say about awakening. Another way of classifying is that some people are described as “oozers”. They just sort of ooze into awakening without really sort of realizing. It’s like, here’s another example. You’re in England and you have a lot of drizzly days there. You can be out walking and there’s a sudden downpour and you’re soaked, or you can be out walking and it’s kind of drizzly and you come back soaked, but you can’t quite say when you got soaked. You know, it just sort of happened sometime during the walk.

Tom: Yeah, exactly. And I wanted to be the person who just got drenched straight away.

Rick: Right.

Tom: Yeah, that’s what I wanted. And there were times when I thought I was. You see, that happened quite a few times. And after about three or four times, I thought I was enlightened. You know, I sort of got wise to this. I didn’t want to sort of fool myself, but I ended up fooling myself quite a few times. You know, when you have these amazing sorts of experiences or you feel like you’re not the body, you’re not the mind or something, and you’re transcendent to everything. And it’s great for like a day or a week or a couple of weeks. And then you start suffering. And it’s like, oh, God, not this again. And then you get back to the drawing board, trying to figure out where you went wrong. All that what happened for years on and off, on and off, feeling I’ve got it, feeling I haven’t got it. It was really frustrating. I was really really intense. And sometimes, just really wanted to know what’s going on.

Rick: Do you feel like you’re enlightened now?

Tom: Yeah, for me.

Rick: How do you define it?

Tom: Exactly. That’s the problem with the word enlightenment, isn’t it? It means so many different things. I mean, I, you can’t… The way I talk about it is seeing that there is no doer. So that’s the essential way I talk about it. I think that’s the essential, as far as I can tell. I think that’s the essential quality. But I don’t think that fully. You can’t really fully put it into words, I don’t think, because there are probably times I’m thinking back again. In my seeking, there are probably times when I thought I wasn’t the doer. But I was just kind of caught up in this concept of not being a doer.

Rick: So it’s more conceptual.

Tom: Yeah, whereas now I don’t, in some ways, whether I’m a doer or not doesn’t really matter. It’s just the not believing that, I don’t know, not believing you’re a doer. But you don’t have to believe that you’re not a doer.

Rick: I heard you say in that Conscious2 interview you did that you’re talking about believing in Santa Claus versus not believing in Santa Claus. And you’re using that as an example.

Tom: Yeah.

Rick: And you said, being a doctor, you were sort of referring to the neurophysiology of that. And you said, “There must be something slightly different in the neurophysiology of somebody who believes in Santa Claus from someone who doesn’t”. And I was thinking, “Yeah, that’s an interesting example, but we’re not talking about just sort of a minor, irrelevant, insignificant belief here”. In fact, we’re not talking about belief at all. We’re talking about a radical shift in perspective, a radical shift in consciousness. And as you know, higher states of consciousness are often referred to as distinct from waking, dreaming and sleeping as they are from each other. For instance, the Turiya, the fourth, it means fourth. Waking, dreaming and sleeping being the first three. And there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that Turiya is as different physiologically from the first three as it is subjectively. So, I could take a few more seconds to form a question out of that, but why don’t you go ahead and respond to what I just said.

Tom: About Turiya? I mean… Well, about the fact that… About the Father Christmas and the brain. I mean, I don’t really know is the honest answer. Straight off, that’s the first thing. I mean, I think to know you’d have to do brain imaging and actually… Because it’s about finding the evidence.

Rick: Which researchers do. They’re doing brain imaging on long-term meditators and all that. And they say, “Wow, very different style of brain functioning”.

Tom: Yeah. Well, so… First of all, I mean, meditation and spirituality don’t have to go together. I mean, meditation and enlightenment don’t have to go together. I don’t think.

Rick: One can meditate for decades and not attain anything reminiscent of enlightenment. Is that what you’re saying?

Tom: Exactly. And vice versa.

Rick: Yeah. One can have an awakening and yet not have meditated.

Tom: Yeah.

Rick: Right.

Tom: So, that’s saying that… Because if you meditate, you’re literally developing new habits in your brain.

Rick: You are.

Tom: By doing things with your brain or with your mind that you wouldn’t normally be doing in your everyday life. So, it’s not surprising that if you spend lots of hours chanting a mantra or being in a thoughtless state or a state with very few thoughts or whatever the meditation is. It’s not surprising that the brain is functioning differently in that state. And there are going to be advantages to that meditative state and possibly disadvantages as well, depending on what kind of situation you’re in.

Rick: Depending on what kind of state it is. Yeah.

Tom: Yeah. Going back to the father… Oh, sorry. Sorry, Rick.

Rick: Well, I was just going to say, the reason I went off on that little rant was just that you were talking about this phase you went through where you thought you had it, but then you lost it, and then you thought you had it, but then you lost it. And what I was kind of alluding to is that there’s a physiological transformation that has to take place as well as a subjective change. And it takes a while for the physiology to really thoroughly undergo that. In the Eastern tradition there’s understandings in both Chinese and Indian traditions of the changes that have to take place in the subtle physiology to support enlightenment. And so, as a physician, you should probably understand that physiological transformation like that doesn’t generally happen overnight. It can take a while to culture.

Tom: Yeah, I mean, the other thing though about this is that it doesn’t have to be… like when you listen to those great enlightened sages, they just say it’s the natural state.

Rick: Yeah, yeah.

Tom: And they also say the Turiya that you talk about, the fourth, they also say it’s not a separate state. They say it’s just here all the time.

Rick: Yeah.

Tom: They don’t say it’s the fourth distinct state.

Rick: It underlies the other three, so to speak.

Tom: It’s always here.

Rick: Right.

Tom: And they also say that it permeates through all three, so it’s not distinct from all three completely, like one block of wood might be distinct from another block of wood.

Rick: One thing some of them say is that it is distinct from the other three, yes, but it’s also initially something that, at least in certain types of meditation practice, one only experiences exclusively by itself. You shift into a fourth state, but you can’t live that along with the other three. As soon as you come out of meditation, you lose it. But then over time, it gets stabilized and integrated so that that awareness that’s glimpsed in meditation is retained no matter what you’re doing.

Tom: Okay.

Rick: Yeah.

Tom: I mean, we could go off. I’m happy to go off into the Vedanta side of things because, I mean, these are the Vedanta teachings, they’re based in the Upanishads.

Rick: We can go wherever we go.

Tom: Yeah. I mean, anything that comes up. The danger of it is that we take it away from our own experience. We make it, and so there are only three states. There’s the fourth state. There isn’t a fourth state that’s, as far as my understanding is, there isn’t a fourth state you could experience separate from the three states.

Rick: Okay. I mean.

Tom: I mean, so when you said you could, what was that referring to? What was it referring to?

Rick: Let’s say you practice…

Tom: Is that like a Nirvikalpa?

Rick: Yeah, let’s say you practice a meditation technique of some kind and you go into Samadhi. Okay, so you’re experiencing the fourth state, but you’re not experiencing.

Tom: Any particular type of Samadhi?

Rick: I don’t remember all the Sanskrit terminology, but let’s say you’re experiencing that exclusively and you’re not experiencing waking, dreaming, or sleeping. You’re just in this different state, which is subjectively and neurophysiologically different, and then you come out of it. You lose it, at least to some extent.

Tom: I would call that a part of the world. I would just call that an experience within the waking state.

Rick: I wouldn’t.

Tom: Sure. That’s fine.

Rick: Because it’s physiologically distinct and subjectively distinct. So it’s as different from waking as waking is from dreaming, let’s say.

Tom: Sure. So you could categorize. I mean, I think that’s what you’ve said is true. I don’t think you’re wrong, but the reason I’d say it’s a part of the waking state is because these teachings are meant to be describing our experience.

Rick: Yes.

Tom: So you’ve essentially got, the way I see it anyway, the way I interpret the teachings, you’ve got three states.

Rick: Waking, dreaming, and sleeping.

Tom: Waking, dreaming, and sleeping. And you’ve got a whole variety of experiences that are concurrent within the waking state. And all the meditative experiences, unless you’re into sort of dream meditations, but if we just leave that aside for now. Like if you go into a meditation in the waking state, you go into a samadhi of some kind, that would be essentially… I would, see it’s just different ways of cutting up experience, conceptually. I would just call that an experience in the waking state. Now you could make a good argument that that’s different.

Rick: Well, the brainwave signature, the EEG signature is different. The breath rate is different. The blood chemistry is different. And a whole lot of other measurable things. And the subjective experience is completely different. You may utterly transcend any sense of individuality.

Tom: So within the waking state, there are lots of different states that will all be physiologically different to each other. So, for example, you go for a run, after about 10 miles, your brain and your physiological brain state will be different to when you’re just watching TV or something. There are a whole host of physiologically distinct states within the waking state. And I would just say, for ease, that is one of them. And don’t forget, the way these states are designed, they’re designed to lead us towards liberation, to lead us to this freedom, to moksha. That’s the whole point of these teachings. So these teachings, the way they’ve cut up experience into the waking, dreaming, and sleep, the reason they’ve done it this way, in my view, is they’re trying to show you something about your experience. They’re not looking at EEGs and physiology. They’re looking at your own experience. And that’s why they’re distinguishing into three states. And the understanding of Turiya, the fourth, is meant to be showing you that there’s a consciousness, that is, or an awareness that’s aware of all these three things, regardless of what’s going on.

Rick: Yeah, yeah. So, I mean, that is not characteristic, for instance, of waking state. You’re not in the waking state when you’re dreaming or sleeping. They don’t mix. But the fourth, that experience of, what do you want to call it, pure consciousness or pure awareness, Turiya, can underlie or can actually be a continuum as the waking, dreaming, and sleeping states cycle along. So it’s like a foundation.

Tom: It’s not that it can be a continuum. It is a continuum and it always is a continuum.

Rick: Yeah, but the key point is whether or not you’re actually aware of it.

Tom: And you’re always aware of it in one way, in the sense that it’s always here and whatever you’re seeing is it. But obviously what happens is that there’s a belief, there’s a limiting belief that you’re believing in that obstructs it or that appears to obstruct it. And that’s what the teachers are trying to remove. And that’s what I call the notion of doership.

Rick: Yeah.

Tom: So that’s the way I see it. I mean, you know.

Rick: No, that’s good. Let’s come back to the term belief then since you just mentioned it. If you… I mean, let’s distinguish belief from experience. There are a lot of people who believe all kinds of things and they believe all kinds of things they don’t necessarily experience. And the belief that they have is very different from what the experience would be if they actually had that experience. You know what I mean?

Tom: Say that again.

Rick: You with me so far? There’s a distinction between belief and experience. I mean, sometimes they concur. I believe I’m holding up my hand here and I experience that I’m holding up my hand.

Tom: Sure.

Rick: I believe that there is extraterrestrial life but I’ve never experienced it. The actual experience of it would be different than the belief. So you hear a lot of people saying, “Well, I believe that I am the self, that I am not the doer”, and so on and so forth. But is that really their experience? And is the belief, is adopting that belief sufficient to inculcate the experience, to trigger the experience?

Tom: It might be.

Rick: It might be.

Tom: And traditionally it’s been a method. I mean, there are lots of different traditional methods. But traditionally one of the methods is just to sort of hypnotize yourself into believing that you are pure consciousness. And do it for like years.

Rick: Yeah. That’s kind of what Nisargadatta did. He said, “My Guru told me I was the self and I just believed him and I just hung on to that for dear life and after three years I realized it”.

Tom: Yeah, exactly. And that’s like a faith-based teaching.

Rick: Yeah.

Tom: You have to have a lot of faith in your Guru or in the teaching. And often, going back, people would often know the Gurus very well. They’ll maybe live with them in the forest and they’ll almost be like, I mean, they tend to be men, right? So they’ll often almost be like brothers or father and son. So there’ll be like an intimacy there and a connection which will generate faith. Like if someone you care about and someone who cares for you tells you something that you haven’t experienced, like they might say, “Oh, I saw an alien”. If it’s someone you know really well and you respect and you love and you’ve got a relationship, you’re more likely to believe them.

Rick: Yeah.

Tom: Whereas if someone off the street tells you or someone like someone you listen to here on YouTube tells you that relationship isn’t there. So great faith can come through those relationships, I suspect.

Rick: Also, there’s an intensive immersion in a situation like that where you’re just in breathing the breath of the teacher, as it were, you’re in that air, you’re in that atmosphere 24/7. And there’s a sort of an osmosis that takes place, I think.

Tom: Definitely. I mean, I think, yeah, the idea of satsang, which is just being in the presence of truth or being in the presence of a person who’s in touch with that reality. I mean, I think it’s really really beneficial in so many different little ways.

Rick: Yeah.

Tom: I never really bought into that when I was seeking, but I can see how that can be the case now.

Rick: Sure. You know, you read stories about Ramana and it wasn’t so much what he said. People would just, they’d go and they’d sit in his presence sometimes for the first time and their mind would stop. They just experienced this deep, deep silence and this transformational influence just being in his proximity.

Tom: Yeah, I can imagine that. I mean, I can well believe that.

Rick: Yeah.

Tom: So you’re talking about the two types of belief, though, weren’t you? I mean, so I distinguish between the belief that concurs with experience, I would call seeing. And I would call or understanding or knowing. And then the belief that is not based upon experience or evidence, I would call belief.

Rick: Or faith.

Tom: You could call it faith. I mean, the problem with the word faith is that the word faith can mean belief in terms of the way I’ve just explained it. It can also mean trust. So when you trust someone, you have faith in them. It doesn’t mean… it’s not the same as holding a conceptual belief. So going back to Jesus, we mentioned earlier, I think a lot of the times when he said, “Believe in me”, I think he was saying, “Have faith in me”, meaning trust me, but not necessarily in the way you put before.

Rick: Yeah, it’s like, “Hey, I’ve got something here now, believe that and I’ll lead you along so you can experience it yourself”. I mean, you go to graduate school, for instance, to study physics, and you believe in Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, even though you don’t understand it yet. And then you study it for a while and you get to do some experiments and you say, “Sure enough, it works”. You know, then you have some experiential verification.

Tom: Absolutely, and in science, we have to believe, like when I read something in a medical paper, for example, and I have to believe that the write-up is accurate. I have to believe that they’re being scrupulous when they’re writing it up. I have to believe the results are genuine results and they haven’t just made them up. And there’s a whole infrastructure of belief and you have to trust your scientific colleagues, that their experiments are legitimate.

Rick: Yeah.

Tom: You can’t do every single experiment in the world.

Rick: No, you wouldn’t have the time to do it.

Tom: Exactly, there’s no time, not enough time, not enough resources.

Rick: Now this is actually very relevant. This is interesting, what you’re saying right now, because regarding spirituality, there are all these books, you and I and people watching have all read a lot of them. And in many cases, these people are describing experiences that we may not yet have had. And so, are they describing them merely because they want us to believe them? And what good would that do us? No, they’re describing them as kind of like lures. “Hey, here’s what I’m experiencing, you can experience it too. And here’s what you do”, or whatever, if they’re offering a means to do it.

Tom: Yeah, I think in the scriptures, there’s a lot of what I call carrots. So, the carrot and the stick, and people, the donkeys, or maybe like walking towards the carrot that’s dangling in front of him by the person sitting on his back. And so there are a lot of incentives there in scriptures to try and, and you can see some of them are really obvious, aren’t they? Like, if you read this scripture and repeat it, then all your family will become really successful and your daughters will all get good marriages. You read things like that in the Upanishads, don’t you? And it’s just like a little meme, I think, they’ve inserted in there. Or maybe they believed it, who knows? But I’d like to think that it was a meme they inserted there to try and ensure that the teachings are perpetuated by people who are interested in marrying off their daughters, perhaps.

Rick: Yeah, which brings up an interesting point, which is that you really always need to have discrimination. As the Buddha said, “Don’t believe something just because I said it”. You need to investigate it by your own logic, by your own experience. So I don’t think any scripture or spiritual teaching or teacher is above scrutiny and discrimination, you know? I mean, I give everything the benefit of the doubt, but I take everything with a grain of salt.

Tom: I think that’s very… I mean, that was one of the reasons I flitted between so many different types of teachings, I was just too skeptical of them all, really. I didn’t really buy most of what they were saying.

Rick: Yeah, that’s good. And here we can distinguish maybe between skepticism and cynicism. I happen to like Sam Harris a lot, if you know who Sam Harris is.

Tom: Yeah, yeah.

Rick: Yeah, I’ve read several of his books, I’m reading one now, I listen to his podcast, and he is a self-avowed atheist. I also like Bill Maher a lot, who’s a political comedian.

Tom: Yeah, he’s quite funny.

Rick: And it’s like, I would say that in their case, they’ve taken too adamant a stance. It’s like they’ve kind of lost the holding beliefs lightly and always regarding them as theories open for investigation. Maybe they feel like all the research has been done that could possibly be done on whether or not there’s a God, whether or not God exists and so on, and the case is closed. I think it’s still very much an open question, especially when you consider all the great saints and sages and seers who have described the experience of God-realization.

Tom: Sure, I mean, it’s clearly an open question. I think what you’re talking about is what maybe in science we call hypothesis.

Rick: Yes. Hypothesis – is that synonymous with theory or does it mean something different?

Tom: No, hypothesis usually means, a hypothesis is a theory that’s not been tested.

Rick: Okay, so theory is more settled and a hypothesis is more open to…

Tom: Well, hypothesis is you observe some phenomena. This is the basic scientific method. You observe some phenomena, you try and come up with an idea that might account for that phenomena. I say, okay, well, I can see X, Y, and Z happening. I think it’s happening because of this. That would be your hypothesis. You don’t know if it’s true, but you just postulate it. And then you test your hypothesis. And then maybe it’s completely wrong. And so you throw it away. Maybe part of it makes sense, but the data shows the other part of it doesn’t. So you keep that part of it. So it’s iterative. Now you postulate a new hypothesis. So the hypothesis is the idea that you have germinating in your mind that may or may not be true, that accounts for all the available evidence that you currently have before you. And you then test. You have to keep on testing it. You don’t just say it fits the evidence, therefore it’s true. Which is dangerous. If you observe phenomena and you come up with a theory that fits it, that doesn’t mean the theory is true.

Rick: So then – I hope people find this interesting, I do – Then what is the difference between hypothesis and theory?

Tom: So a theory then is that once you have tested it and it seems to hold, that would be a theory. Now, then you could, if you wanted to test that theory again in a new experiment, that theory would then become a hypothesis. But basically a theory is something that’s got a lot of evidence behind it.

Rick: A little bit better established, yeah.

Tom: Yes. And a hypothesis is something you’re testing. You’re not sure whether it’s true or not. That’s the general gist of it.

Rick: Okay, by definition it’s hypothetical. Yeah. Well that’s good.

Tom: That’s the theory anyway. Or the hypothesis. Sorry.

Rick: So we can take all the scriptures, either official scriptures or books by people like Ramana or Nisargadatta or whatever, and regard them either as theory or hypothesis. Maybe if enough people have concurred that, “I investigated this and found it to be true”, maybe it deserves to be called a theory. And if we prefer, we can regard it as hypothesis. But to dismiss it as nonsense or as fanciful imaginations, which a guy that I’ve been sort of debating lately does, is I think close-minded and non-scientific.

Tom: Yeah, I just say it’s unscientific because it’s not evidence-based. You can throw a theory out if you’ve got evidence that it’s not true, but with a lack of evidence, you can’t throw it out. It’s pretty straightforward really, isn’t it?

Rick: Yeah. Now the tricky thing is that a lot of spiritual points, I mean scientific points – let’s say, about the speed of light or the boiling point of water or various ways gravity behaves, all that stuff – have been tested a lot and can be their objective phenomenon, and generally scientifically-minded people agree upon them because so many different experiments have corroborated them. What do you do with spiritual things, which are in most cases completely subjective experiences, and that you can’t show any objective evidence outside your subjective experience? Do they deserve to be considered scientific or scientifically verifiable?

Tom: Well, let me answer it in this way. I mean, my approach is that you can verify these things for yourself, which I know is not exactly what you’re asking. But my simple approach to spirituality is that it’s about subjective experience, it’s about suffering. And suffering is a subjective experience. It’s very difficult to measure it objectively. I mean, there are objective measures, but they’re not very good. So the exploration of it is also in our subjective experience. And we can discover it for ourselves. Now, science might be able to contribute towards that. And I think it does. Like the way we’re talking about this, for example, already, is because we’re talking about it at the moment in the scientific framework, essentially. So science does have a contribution, but ultimately for the freedom to suffer, freedom from suffering to arise, for freedom to arise, you need to see it for yourself. And that’s what this is really about. So if you approach it from a scientific point of view, meaning your… Science, I think, has been more the exploration of external phenomena that are observable by two or more people equally. So you can look at a chair and I can look at the same chair and we can both verify at the same time it’s there. Whereas I can look at my thoughts or be aware of my thoughts, but you can’t. So that’s what makes it subjective, is that only I’m aware of it and no one else has access to that realm of experience. And suffering comes into that domain.

Rick: Yeah, but then with spirituality we’re kind of talking about universal truth, ultimate reality and so on. And supposedly spirituality can lead us to that or enable us to experience that. And so then the question is, if 10 people all engage in spiritual practice for X number of years and all say, “Yes, I’ve arrived at this experience of ultimate reality or deepest truth”, are they all experiencing the same thing or are there subjective variations in what they’re experiencing? You’ve heard of Aldous Huxley and his perennial philosophy and so on. And what he suggested and others is that it is the same thing and maybe people express it in slightly different language and so on. But there is an ultimate reality which we can all investigate scientifically and arrive at the experience of.

Tom: I mean, I see what you’re saying. The key for me is freedom from suffering. So it’s like playing tennis. So if you’re trying to learn to play tennis, say you’ve trained to play tennis for many years and now you’re a pretty good tennis player. And I’ve trained for quite a few years and I’m a pretty good tennis player. So what’s your experience of being a tennis player and mine? Well, it might be the same, it might be different, but the key is we’ve both got to the same place. We’re both pretty good tennis players. And that’s the same with this. I don’t know if what I’m experiencing is the same as what other people are experiencing. But are you free from suffering? Well, that’s, then, maybe then you could go on and scientifically pose the question is, are these two enlightened people the same? Are they experiencing the same thing? But let’s actually get the realization. That’s what I’m really interested in doing is sharing that realization with people. And then you could ask questions about the scientific aspects of it if you want to afterwards, or during, before if you want. But that’s my approach.

Rick: I’m going to hit you with one more science point and then we’ll get off this topic and talk about suffering. And I think that this is quoting from your essays. You said, “Science can never actually prove something is true. It can only say that a theory is false by disproving it or that a theory has so far not been proven false. Spirituality is not physics. Is doing spirituality a great service if we do not use fuzzy logic to extrapolate our own insights gained from our own experiences into grandiose statements about the workings of the entire universe and pretend we now understand how the whole universe or universes work?” I’d like to take slight exception to that and just say that I kind of think that the human nervous system is a scientific instrument so sensitive, so refined, that it actually can experience the ultimate foundation or reality of the universe, which is what enlightenment is, and that we can actually understand the laws of nature in a sense. Not that we’re going to necessarily be able to understand it as a physicist would, because he’s using a different approach. But that some people sort of dismiss the notion that there’s any connection between the subjective experience of a so-called enlightened person and theories that physics has come up with regarding the ultimate nature of reality. I would say that there actually may be a connection and that the human nervous system is a tool, more sophisticated in a sense than the Large Hadron Collider, that can allow us to directly experience the ultimate reality or the ultimate nature of the universe.

Tom: That’s really interesting. I mean, I probably would disagree with you on a fair amount of that actually.

Rick: That’s okay.

Tom: Should we go into it? I mean, because I think it’s interesting.

Rick: Okay, let’s go into it a bit. We have plenty of time.

Tom: Yeah? I mean…

Rick: Yeah.

Tom: So, the thing about hypothesis is that you don’t know if it’s true or not. You formulate some kind of theory that accounts for what you’re seeing. But you genuinely don’t know if it’s true or not.

Rick: Right.

Tom: And you’re looking to find out.

Rick: I suppose you think there’s a possibility it is, otherwise you won’t spend the time in pursuing.

Tom: Yeah.

Rick: If you think this is total bollocks, you wouldn’t go after it.

Tom: Exactly. Exactly. So, a true scientist will… it’s like Sherlock Holmes and Watson. They will be open to anything possibly being true.

Rick: Yes.

Tom: And what was that? What did Sherlock Holmes used to say? There was a phrase he used. It was something like, “If you remove everything that is impossible, then whatever remains – no matter how improbable – is the truth”.

Rick: Okay.

Tom: Something like that.

Rick: Yeah, that sounds good.

Tom: Did you get that? Yeah? I probably said it a bit wrong.

Rick: It made sense to me.

Tom: Good. I hope it made sense to other people as well. So, you’ve come up… you’ve said quite a few things, which I would say the answers are, “We don’t know”. So, like, for example, the human body…

Rick: And I would agree with you. I would agree with you.

Tom: Yeah.

Rick: These are hypotheses.

Tom: So, these are hypotheses, which means we don’t believe them to be true, nor do we believe them to be untrue. We hold them up in our minds as possibilities, which are untested.

Rick: Right.

Tom: And we don’t know the answers to. So, for example, the human body is undoubtedly fairly pretty sophisticated, and we can… it has a whole range of experiences. But it might not be sophisticated compared to other things in the universe, or it might be very sophisticated compared to other things that we… because we only know very little, but we don’t know very… I mean, the universe is, as far as we can see, is huge. I mean, it’s humongous. I mean, I think there are more stars in the universe than there are grains of sand on the planet Earth.

Rick: I’m sure.

Tom: I mean, you just… the mind boggles. So, and then you said that you think the human body is more sophisticated than the Hadron Collider. I mean…

Rick: Well, that’s not to say the human body can experience the Higgs boson, or would want to. It has unique capabilities, just as the Large Hadron Collider does, or the…

Tom: Ah, so that’s different, isn’t it?

Rick: Or the, the…

Tom: So, they’re different, aren’t they?

Rick: …telescope, yeah.

Tom: They’re different.

Rick: Different, different…

Tom: Like a speedometer is different from an altimeter, a barometer.

Rick: Yeah, they measure different things, right.

Tom: You wouldn’t say a speedometer is more sophisticated than a barometer.

Rick: Right. So, maybe let’s qualify the statement. It’s more sophisticated in being able to do certain things, which so far no man-made instrument has been able to do.

Tom: Yeah, exactly. It’s got different functionality. You know, like an analog watch can do things that a digital watch can’t do, and vice versa, you know. And maybe that wasn’t the best example, even though it’s true. But they’re different, like a telephone is different to a television.

Rick: Right. So, let’s ask ourselves…

Tom: If you want to watch video, then you probably want to do it on a television, as opposed to an old-fashioned telephone.

Rick: An old-fashioned one, right.

Tom: Realizing as I’m saying it, that they’re…

Rick: The new ones are, right, the lines are blurred.

Tom: Yeah, exactly.

Rick: But I mean, you’ve read a lot of books, and you know that all the sages say that your essential nature is the essential nature of everything. You know, it’s the ground from which the universe appears to emerge. It’s the ultimate reality, so on and so forth. There are so many phrases that are used by all…

Tom: How would you know if you come into contact with the ultimate reality?

Rick: Well, good question. Let’s explore it. I mean, I’m just saying this is what the sages have given us as hypotheses to explore. And they presumably are speaking from their experience. So, how would we know if we are having the experience that they have predicted?

Tom: Well, they also say that it’s just the normal everyday experience. They say this ultimate experience is just the normal world around you. I mean, in all the Eastern traditions, they say that as well. And it’s the same text that say when you repeat two lines of this text, you will get untold riches in your next life, in the Diamond Sutra. And interspersed with these great truths are these… So I think these things about ultimate truth, ultimate reality, are not to be taken in a scientific view. These aren’t written in scientific times. They’re not thinking about particle physics. And, or maybe they are, but if they are, I’d say that is going too far. I don’t think you can make those conclusions from your own personal experience. So say you had this amazing experience, you felt and you realize some deep truth. You would have no way of knowing if there was another truth that you just weren’t able to experience at all.

Rick: Yeah.

Tom: So if you were a frog, if you were a frog and you figured out that 2+2=4, I mean, that might be the height of frog mathematics. And you just can’t imagine anything going beyond 2+2=4. You don’t realize there’s calculus out there because you’re a frog. And frogs, not only can they not do calculus, as far as I’m aware, I mean, this is a hypothesis. We need to test this, right, Rick?

Rick: Right.

Tom: But a frog, I don’t think, can do calculus. But not only can a frog not do calculus, it has no idea that it can’t do calculus. So it might be perched there on top of its rock in a pond, thinking it has discovered the ultimate truth of all of mathematics. But actually, all it’s done is figured out 2+2=4. Are we that conceited and arrogant to think that if we have some deep spiritual experience that we think is ultimate reality, then it definitely must 100% with all certainty be ultimate reality? Or is there room for doubt where we can say, “You know what? I’ve found this deep truth. I’m free”. It’s different to what Joe Bloggs around me is experiencing. And I think it’s beneficial to them, but how do I know there’s nothing more? I don’t know.

Rick: Well, first of all, I agree with you that it’s sort of a pitfall, I think, that so many people have some sort of spiritual realization and jump to the conclusion that it’s the final one, that it’s the ultimate, that there could be nothing more than this, that this alone is it. And you speak to them of further possibilities and more progress and so on and so forth, and it’s like you’re speaking nonsense. The word “progress” is anathema to them, because there’s only this now. But, on the other hand the Gita says, “The self realizes itself by itself”. So it’s not like the individual is somehow, from an individual perspective, looking at ultimate reality and thinking, “Oh, isn’t this cool? This is ultimate reality, and I, Tom Das, am experiencing it”. No, ultimate reality has woken up to itself in its own sort of status as ultimate reality. And if that is the case, then individual doubt and so on and so forth has been transcended, has presumably been dispensed of, and reality knows itself with ultimate certainty.

Tom: It’s just a statement of non-duality. The self knows itself by itself. It’s a statement of non-duality. It’s just saying there’s no two things, there never was. And that’s an experiential truth.

Rick: And who or what experiences it?

Tom: The self, it tells you, the self experiences the self by itself.

Rick: It experiences itself, so to speak.

Tom: It’s just a phrase. The thing is, you can’t put it into words. So you end up with this kind of slightly poetic language. It’s basically seeing through the illusion of duality, which is the idea of subject-object, which is the idea that there’s a me and a not me. I mean, Shankara talks about the nature of ignorance, and he says, liberation is when ignorance is removed. And then he says ignorance never existed. And he says, “What is ignorance? It’s the idea of me and not me”. That’s the definition of ignorance according to Shankara.

Rick: Right. So there’s not a me who kind of gets it, right?

Tom: There is, and it’s the me that gets it. And it’s the self.

Rick: Does the me get it, or does the me step out of the way and that gets itself?

Tom: Well, the language I use is the latter. So when I say self, I talk about the individual, because if you’re an everyday person walking down the street, you say me or I or myself, you’re talking about the limited individual.

Rick: Yeah.

Tom: And I talk about that being seen as an illusion. And then I don’t really talk about big self. That’s just that I don’t use this sort of a dander language in the way I talk about it.

Rick: What language do you prefer?

Tom: I just say that it’s seeing through the doer, because the doer is the idea that there’s a me doing things, who thinks, who acts. And then when that’s removed, then all that’s left is life living. And that’s just another way of saying the self realizes itself.

Rick: It is. So it’s really the same thing. You’re just phrasing it differently.

Tom: Exactly. That’s the phrasing I use.

Rick: Yeah. Yeah, I’ve heard others use that phrasing too, sort of life living itself.

Tom: Yeah. It’s just the self seeing itself, or the self living itself, or the self being itself. I don’t use the word self, because even though it has its plus points, the negative points, which I see a lot, is that basically there are a lot of egos who take themselves, who identify as the self. But really they’re just an ego identifying as a self. They haven’t really seen through that.

Rick: They think they have, but they haven’t, right?

Tom: Yeah, yeah.

Rick: Well, that’s cool. I mean, some traditions don’t do that at all. Buddhism, I guess, more so, is just emptiness, emphasis on that, emptiness on there being no person, so on and so forth. Whereas Hinduism, as I understand it, uses self with a capital S to designate your true nature. I think personally, I think they’re talking about the same thing. It’s just a different angle of going about it.

Tom: Yeah, I think so. And Ramana Maharshi, for example, pretty much says so. And a lot of people around Shankara’s time used to accuse him of being a Buddhist, a bit of a Buddhist, believe it or not, even though he was trying to rally against them.

Rick: Do you think?… okay, well, we won’t get into all that.

Tom: Because of his guru, because of like Gaudapada and things like that, and the way he talked about Vedanta was slightly different to some of the people around at the time. But you’re right, we shouldn’t go into that. That is getting a bit too…

Rick: It gets a little nerdy. Here’s a question that came in. Let’s ask this. Mark Peters from Santa Clara, California asks, “What is your relation to ‘your’ thoughts”, your in quotes, “and how has that relationship evolved over the course of your life? Has the internal chatter quieted with your enlightenment, or is there simply less or even no identification with the thought dream?”

Tom: Okay, that’s a good question. So, where to start? So my relationship with my thoughts is that they’re just probably, well, in terms of my experience, I think like anyone else, I have an experience of thoughts appearing within my consciousness, which is what we call thinking, right?

Rick: Yeah.

Tom: And I find that is very useful to me in lots of my day-to-day activities, thinking about things, understanding things, remembering things. I don’t take my thoughts personally in the sense that I don’t think that I’m creating my thoughts. And when I say “I”, I’m talking about me as the doer, not me, not self. Do you see what I mean?

Rick: Yeah. You think that thoughts just… you are not the doer of thoughts anymore than you are the doer of actions. Thoughts just flow along as appropriate.

Tom: Yeah, I mean, I’m not the doer of any of this stuff, just as like I’m not the doer of the leaves blowing in the wind, or the grass growing, or the clouds going through the sky, or the earth rotating. I’m not doing any of this stuff. “I” meaning the doer.

Rick: Yeah, I mean, one hang-up people might have with that is, if you’re sitting there in the park and the wind is blowing from the west, you can’t say, “Okay, wind, now blow from the east, nothing’s going to change”, although Christ was said to have calmed the storm. But you could decide to get up off the park bench or stay on the park bench. So there seems to be some greater ownership of the entity that we call “Tom Das” than there is over the birds flying across the sky or other things that are outside that apparent entity.

Tom: Yeah, so that which you’ve really very eloquently described, I’ll say, is the illusion. So there’s the illusion that we have more control over some aspects of our spirits than others.

Rick: Seems like it.

Tom: Yeah, it definitely does. And that’s the way I think we’ve been conditioned and brought up. And that’s the essential illusion of being an individual self or what I call a doer. When I say the word “ego”, I mean “doer”. That’s all I mean. So that sense that actually I can choose what I’m thinking or I can choose to respond to a certain situation in a certain way. And I have control over that, whereas I don’t have control over something else. That’s the duality. Whereas what this teaching is saying really is that that’s an illusion, that in the same way you’ve got no control over the leaves, there’s no control over the thoughts. The decisions are made, but no one making the decision. There’s no entity there. In the same way the leaves are being blown, there’s no one blowing the leaves. It’s the same. So we’re just all one part of a natural process that’s happening.

Rick: Let’s dwell on this for a second. Okay, I’m sorry. Go ahead.

Tom: I was just… because the second part of the Questioner’s Question was about whether thoughts decrease or not.

Rick: Yes, whether your mind becomes less agitated and cluttered and so on.

Tom: I mean, so what happens to me is that when I first… so I kind of drifted into this freedom and then I sort of realized, “Oh, I’m not suffering”. And I thought, “Am I really free?” because I haven’t found this ultimate truth that is written in all the texts and all these sort of massive experiences like fireworks and stuff. I didn’t have any of those things. So I was quite confused because I was thinking, “Well, I’m not suffering”. But I also don’t have all these amazing things that’s written in all these texts. After some time, I realized that this is freedom, as far as I can tell. And at that point, my thoughts started becoming… they started increasing. In fact, in the build-up to that, my thoughts started increasing. I started getting more and more thoughts. And I think it was like a brake, my foot being taken off the brake. And all this stuff started coming in, all these emotions started coming in. I found myself getting quite irritable sometimes. And I wanted to go out a lot more and meet up with friends and sort of socialize more and lots and lots of thoughts. But over time, that’s really settled down quite a lot. So it just resulted in a calmer person, I think.

Rick: Yeah. I think sometimes when one has some sort of awakening, there’s… like you said, foot being taken off the brake. There’s a sort of a freedom for stuff that’s been repressed or bottled up to just flow out, be purged, be gotten rid of. And then when it’s cleared away, then the dust settles down again.

Tom: I mean, that seems to be what’s happened and happening to me.

Rick: Yeah. All right. Well, that answers that question. It’s interesting, in your notes…. Are there any remnants of what we were just talking about that we didn’t…

Tom: You said there was something else you wanted to go into.

Rick: Yeah, now I forget what it was. Do you remember?

Tom: I don’t know what you’re going to.

Rick: Oh, I know what it was. Like just to dwell on this no-doer thing, although we’ll come back to it. But someone might say, “All right, Tom, you’re sitting there at your desk. I can say, ‘Tom, don’t raise your hand,’ and you can go ahead and raise it anyway. You have the volition, the freedom, the will to do what you want”. Or you could be sitting there, like I said, and there could be birds flying outside or whatever. You have no control over what those birds do. So it almost seems like there is some…

Tom: Yeah, I get you.

Rick: You know what I’m getting at? I’m trying to answer that doubt.

Tom: I mean, what do you think?

Rick: I think… I don’t know if it matters, but I think there’s validity to this experience, but I don’t know if I… it’s not my experience, clearly, and I don’t feel like I completely understand it, but I try to give people who describe it that way the benefit of the doubt. But there’s this conundrum when you actually observe from the outside the way a person seems to be functioning, because there does seem to be a person who has choices and so on. Now, I understand that ultimately, if we get right down to the real nitty-gritty of reality, to the unmanifest level, there’s nobody there. But isn’t it more of a both/and kind of situation, where simultaneously there’s nobody there, and yet there is somebody there? Kind of like, I’m nowhere, I’m everywhere, and I’m right here, and all three paradoxically coexist.

Tom: Yeah, I think that’s… I mean, for me, the experience is non-verbal. It’s just the experience of living, of being alive, or as I say, life living itself. But that’s not… so it’s not like I interpret my reality as, “Oh, I’m nobody, I’m some… ” You know what I mean?

Rick: Yeah.

Tom: So it’s just the experience of what it is to be alive. And it’s no different to my experience of what it was like to be alive ten years ago, when I was still rampantly seeking and unhappy. And I don’t think it’s any different to what you’re experiencing now. It’s just the way we see the experience and the sort of… For example, if you believe in God, and you believe that God is always giving you signs of what to do. So you walk into a room and then a cushion falls on the floor. And that means, I don’t know, that might mean something to you. Maybe that means you’ve done something bad, because, well, God put the cushion on the floor. I don’t know. Do you know what I’m trying to say? You can interpret the world according to your beliefs, is what I’m trying to say. And that’s what’s happening. We all have, as far as I can tell – through talking to people, through listening to people – we all have basically the same experience of life as human beings. But it’s how we interpret that. And we interpret that through this notion of being a doer. Now, when that notion of being a doer is not there, then there isn’t… what’s left isn’t a notion of being a non-doer or being a doer. It’s just life without the concept of self. Self meaning doer.

Rick: Okay, I think that helps to clarify it. Or not. I don’t know. It’s kind of a sticky wicket, you know.

Tom: It’s a difficult one. It’s something I have… I don’t like… I mean, I talk about this in terms of non-doership, but it doesn’t feel quite right either. Because I do feel like I’m a person at the same time. I do feel like I’m a… If I have a difficult decision to make, anything, I’ll think, “Oh gosh, what do I do?” You know, I’ll deliberate about it, and I might not be sure about what the best course of action is.

Rick: Well, I can relate to that, and that relates with my experience. But these people who say, “I am not a person whatsoever”, that seems a little bit lopsided to me. It’s like a friend of mine, Francis Bennett, always says, “Of course you’re a person, you’re just not only a person”. It’s like the wave saying, “I’m not a wave, I’m not a wave”. Yeah, you are a wave, but you’re also the ocean, which is much more significant than just being a wave. It doesn’t mean because you’re the ocean, you don’t rise up in waves.

Tom: Yeah, and the thing is, when you know what you are, you don’t have to describe it. Only when you’re trying to communicate to somebody else who’s made a mistake do you have to describe it. For myself, I don’t have any notion of what I am. You see, but it’s only when talking about it, then do you have to try and figure it out. The words that I use sometimes vary depending on who I’m talking to, because I’ll try and use language that is consistent with their own vocabulary and the way they use their words. Because the key is to try and get the import of the words across, not to actually just have these concepts that we can then say, “Oh, now we know the answer, we’re a wave and not a wave”. That’s no answer for me either. We’re not a person and not a person. We are what we are. You just can’t really put it into words.

Rick: Yeah, but this is an interview, and so in interviews you try to put things into words.

Tom: Definitely.

Rick: There are books which consist of words, and there are people teaching satsangs which consist of words. So we’re trying to find ways of clearly expressing these concepts or these experiences, which really… and it’s not unusual that it’s difficult to express experiences in words. I mean, try to describe the color red to a blind person, what are you going to say? But when we speak of the color red, it’s more of a common shared experience that billions of people have, and so we kind of agree on what it means. But when we start speaking of experiences that are more rare and unusual, then we’re really in a pioneer stage of trying to formulate our expressions clearly.

Tom: Absolutely right. And I’m writing my blog in words. I’ve written loads of essays, and I’m on your wonderful show as well. We’re trying to sort it out. The reason I said that was because I don’t want your viewers to go away thinking that when you get this understanding, it’s like, “Okay, now I know the truth. There’s no person here”. Or, “Now I know the truth. There is a person here”. Or, “Now I know the truth. There is a person”. The truth is not the concept. The truth is just this in terms of spirituality, when we talk about spiritual truths and the truths of our experience. And the ultimate truth of our experience isn’t the same as a scientific truth, like maybe understanding how airplanes work, which is a completely different understanding to freedom from suffering. It’s not the same. You’re free from suffering. You might not understand how airplanes work. They’re different types of understanding.

Rick: Different types of understanding, yeah. And I think you can have a pretty…

Tom: Like the thermometer and the ruler or something. Again, they’re doing different things, they’re different insights into different things.

Rick: I think you can actually have a pretty good understanding of the mechanics of being free from suffering in terms of realizing one’s true nature and all that stuff, and yet still be suffering, because your understanding is not the same as the actual experience would be. And I think conversely, one can actually shift into the experience of one’s true nature, but not have a really clear understanding of it, and even actually be fearful, because, “What is this? What has happened to me?” There’s a book I talked about with my guest last week called Collision with the Infinite by Suzanne Siegel, and it’s going to be coming out again in print. And she had this sudden shift into not having any sense of a personal self, and it terrified her. It took her about 10 years to work it out, what had actually happened. So I think understanding and experience complement each other nicely, and neither is sort of sufficient unto itself.

Tom: Absolutely, I think so. I mean, the thing with me is that I’d studied a lot of these teachings for many years, especially Buddhism and Vedanta. And when I realised I wasn’t suffering, I thought, “I was quite annoyed at a lot of these teachers, because they’re not explaining it clearly enough for me”. And so I thought, “When I figure this out, I’m going to explain this really clearly. I’m going to sort it out. I’ll define all my terms at the beginning”. That’s the first thing. I was really fed up of teachers talking about things and not explaining what the words mean. So I’ll define all my terms at the beginning, which actually I think is quite a good idea. And then use a set form of nomenclature to describe everything in a very consistent way, and I’ll have it all mapped out. And then when I realised what’s happening to me, it’s just like, “It’s just this”. I felt like I became one of those neo-advaita people. “It’s just this. This is it”. And I heard myself, I was like, “Oh my gosh, what’s happened to me?”

Rick: Yeah, slap you in the face.

Tom: I was like, “You can’t just say all there is is this”. But it was. It was like, “This is it”. It’s true. And I felt gutted. And at the same time, it was such a relief because it was like, all those teachings and everything, I can see what they’re getting at now. But you can also see how they over-complicate things at the same time. And people can have a conceptual understanding of a teaching, but one thing that you get in common with people who really get it, really woken up, is they always say, “It’s not what I thought it was”. And they always say, “It’s also what I’ve always been experiencing”.

Rick: Yeah, both those things.

Tom: And it’s true, because you never think it’s what you’re experiencing already. You always think it’s some sort of supernatural Turiya, for example, Rick.

Rick: Yeah, well, the trick is, I mean, you work in the mental health field as well as physical health, right? And you don’t go into a group of psychotics – if that’s the kind of people you deal with – and say, “Hey, it’s just this. What you’re experiencing right now, this is all there is to it”. I mean, “Just be happy with this”. Because it could be so much better for them. I mean, give me a break. Somebody who is suffering, it seems to me it could be rather discouraging if you come to them and say, “Well, this is it”. Just grin and bear it. I mean… Go ahead.

Tom: So, I mean, I completely agree. I mean, there’s this, in the book, talks with Ramana Maharshi, there’s an encounter described where Yogananda, whose Autobiography of a Yogi, goes to Ramana Ashram and meets Ramana. And Yogananda is basically saying to Ramana, “Look, I’m going to go to the US and I’m going to teach all these people about knowing the self. What’s the teaching that you’d recommend I teach?” And Ramana just says, “There’s no fixed teaching. You can’t instruct people en masse. It depends on who you’re talking to, where they’re at, the time, the place, the culture”. I mean, he didn’t say all the time, place, culture things. He said it in the writing in the book. It just says there is no fixed teaching. And you read Talks with Ramana Maharshi, it’s such a lovely book. You get the whole landscape of the teaching from highly, highly dualistic teaching, teaching faith and ritual, all the way to like, “This is it”. And he quite often says, “All you need to do is remove the notion of doership. All you need to do is remove the ego. That’s all you’ve got to do”. And then he’ll say, “All you’ve got to do is realize that you’re already realized. All you’ve got to do is remove the idea that you’re not realized”.

Rick: Yeah.

Tom: So, again, these teachings are going to be helpful to different people. If you go to somebody who’s really in their conditioning, really suffering, got lots of stuff going on in their life, and you tell them, “All you’ve got to do, mate, is just realize you’re already enlightened”. I mean, it’s just not helpful.

Rick: No, it isn’t. And it’s actually, I find it rather annoying, people who are online in chat groups and say that kind of thing and presume that they’re already enlightened just because they kind of have accepted that notion. And I think probably they’re kind of far from the actual experience of enlightenment. So, the concept of it does not equate with the actual living experience of it. And if you settle for the concept, then you’re just shortchanging yourself.

Tom: Yeah. I mean, in a way, yeah.

Rick: I mean, Ramana, he said that to people, and that’s great. But if you read all the stories of life around him and all, he didn’t assume that everybody in his ashram was as enlightened as he was. He realized they were all at various stages of development, and he spent years and years and years helping them to become more clearly realized.

Tom: Yeah, there’s this other story in talks in that same book where these people come, I think there were two guys came – I’m trying to remember it properly. Basically, there were two guys who came into the ashram and spent some time there, and they were basically thinking they had it. And after some time, you can see Ramana’s basically saying, “Look, guys, just be quiet. You haven’t got it. You haven’t figured it out. I wouldn’t have said anything, but you’ve been here for a while now, so I’m telling you, just stop with it all. You don’t think you’ve got it. You ain’t got it”. And you can imagine him biting his lip for about a week or so, watching these guys pontificate. And then after, eventually he goes, “Look, guys, just shut up”.

Rick: Yeah. So let’s just put a cap on this point, summarize it maybe by saying, “Yeah, sure, here’s a nice handy verse in the Gita. It’s, ‘The unreal has no being, the real never ceases to be.’ So, sure, that which is real, that’s all there is, and that’s all there ever has been, or ever will be. The unreal has never existed. But, just the mere concept of that, the mere idea, does not equate with the actual living experience of that 24/7. So it’s paradoxical, you know. You are that now, and all this is that, and so on. But it may take years to actually grow into the full, genuine, abiding experience of that.

Tom: Yeah, exactly. I mean, the thing is, we’re always experiencing it. It’s just that we’re interpreting it. It’s like the rope and the snake – the good old rope and snake analogy – where you’re always seeing the rope, but you’re just mistaking it to be a snake. And then that’s causing problems, because now you’re scared of a snake that doesn’t exist. So you could say, “Look, the snake never existed, but the illusion of the snake existed”. You see? And that’s why I use the belief in Santa Claus. I mean, Santa Claus never existed, but your belief in Santa Claus, the illusion that occurred in your own mind, existed. And that’s why Shankara says, “The whole of ignorance, the whole of illusion is only in your mind”.

Rick: Yeah.

Tom: I think that was in Viveka Chudamani, one of his, one of the most popular, ones of his more popular texts. Not got such a catchy name, has it?

Rick: Crest Jewel of Discrimination, it means.

Tom: Yeah.

Rick: Yeah, it is. And I guess the point I keep harping on, trying to dwell on, is that rooting that out of your mind is not a trivial thing. I don’t mean to make it sound difficult or hopeless, but…

Tom: That’s right.

Rick: …for the average person, it’s a project that’s going to take a while, because it’s very deep-seated.

Tom: We don’t know.

Rick: Well, we do know, actually. For the average person, I mean there are millions of spiritual seekers in this world. They all haven’t just woken up on day one.

Tom: Okay, fair enough, fair enough. That’s true. I think the reason I questioned that was just because, for me, when I’m meeting people, for that individual person, I don’t know.

Rick: You don’t what?

Tom: I don’t know. I mean, when I meet somebody, like if I’m talking to someone like yourself, or someone comes along to one of my meetings, or one of my Skype sessions, or something, whatever, when I’m talking to that person, I don’t know if that person is going to get it in that conversation, which is possible.

Rick: Yes.

Tom: Or if it’s going to, they’re never going to get it, which is also possible. Or somewhere in between. So, maybe on average, people, it takes a long time and not many people get it. But actually, when you’re talking to somebody, you don’t know the potential of that person.

Rick: No, and I think it’s a good attitude, actually, to have, that full realization can happen every time. I think that’s a, any time, I think it’s a much more healthy attitude than, “Oh God, it’s just going to take me lifetimes”, or “I probably won’t get it this time around”, and that kind of stuff.

Tom: Exactly. I mean, that’s what I was trying to counter, really, is that kind of way of thinking. It’s like, well, average people, it takes a long time. I’m an average person, therefore it will take me a long time. No, I mean, we just don’t know.

Rick: Well, that’s one of the reasons I started this show. It’s one of the reasons I started this show, and it’s implicit in the name of the show. I was running into people who had had very profound and genuine and abiding awakenings. And I was running into other people in the same town who were saying, “Oh, it’s never going to happen to me”, and so-and-so who says he’s awakened, he’s just deluded. And I thought, “I’ve got to somehow bring these people together and show people that their peers are actually getting it”. You know, it can happen to anybody.

Tom: Yeah, you’re giving us hope. It’s fantastic.

Rick: That was the motivation.

Tom: Really, I mean, that’s wonderful. I think it makes such a difference, can’t it?

Rick: Yeah, absolutely.

Tom: I think your show has. I think your show has made such a difference. I’m sure you know that already by the feedback you get.

Rick: Yeah, it’s really had an impact on people. It’s beautiful to see. Here’s a question that came in from Dan in London. “You have experienced, excuse me, you have mentioned several times that I am not the doer, just life living itself. I agree that the ego or supposed doer is an illusion, but the transcendence of that has the eventual realization that you are the ultimate doer, that it’s you that is blowing the wind, etc”.

Tom: Yeah, sure. I mean, I don’t tend to talk about it like that, because my experience… Because when I use the word “I”, I mean it to mean Tom. Like if I say, “Look, Rick, I’m just going to… Can we pause this video, because I’m just going to go down to the shops?” I’m talking about the body-mind Tom. So I don’t think that I am blowing the leaves and the wind. I am a phenomena that’s appearing in my awareness, just like the leaves blowing the wind is a phenomena in appearance. So that’s why I don’t use that language. But if you use the word… What I think your questioner Dan is talking about is the use of the word “self” to mean life, or to mean that transcendence, which is a concept of the universal doer.

Rick: Yeah, Dan’s question and your answer just gave me a sort of a little taste of a clearer insight into this whole thing, I think. And that is that… Okay, if you know that you are that kind of universal intelligence or universal consciousness or whatever, then it is the essence of everything. There’s a quote from the Gita, “You see the self in all beings and all beings in the self”. So all of this is happening within me. I am the self of the birds and the ants and the worms and all that. And it’s sort of absurd to say, “Well, why can you raise your arm and you can’t make the birds fly in a different direction or make the wind blow in a different direction?” Well, because you, essentially, are the intelligence pervading it all. And it’s absurd to assume that Tom Das should be able to make the wind blow in a different direction, because that’s not the you that pervades it all. Tom Das is just this individual wave on that ocean of intelligence. And so it’s kind of a matter of identity shift or perspective shift. And if the perspective is from that universality, then all is well and wisely put. And the Tom Das character has volition and this and that within his sphere of influence, and everything else is being orchestrated perfectly in each in its own sphere of existence. Does that make sense?

Tom: Yeah, it does. Yeah.

Rick: Talk about trying to put these things into words.

Tom: But it’s different uses of the word “I”.

Rick: Yes.

Tom: “I” meaning the body-mind, Tom or Rick, or “I” meaning the universal doer.

Rick: Right, which is the kind of ultimate “I”, so what we are deep down, essentially.

Tom: Well, I don’t say that actually, because that is actually not… See, anything you put into words isn’t completely true. That’s also not completely true. And it’s the positive statements that you make aren’t true. So when you say that’s not true, you can say that. But if you try and state it, which is a negative truth, if you say something is not true, then you can call that a negative truth. You’re saying what something is not. But when you’re saying what ultimate reality is, then you can’t really put that into words. That’s why you can only say what it’s not. So if you say the ultimate truth is “I am everything”, that’s not actually… You can’t say what it is. You can say that it is, but you can’t say it’s me or I’m…

Rick: Well, maybe. I mean, you know the Mahavakyas, right, from the Upaniṣads, that “I am that, thou art that, all of this is that”. I mean, “that” sounds like an external thing. “I am that”, it sets up this duality even in the sentence.

Tom: Exactly.

Rick: But “that” alone is…

Tom: It’s “thou art that, thou art that”. Isn’t it?

Rick: Yeah, I mean, but “that” alone is kind of like… puts a cap on it in terms of… It gets us beyond the dualistic language and takes us…

Tom: I mean, all the way through the Upaniṣads, it just says you can’t… One sentence, it says, “You can know this”, and then the next sentence says, “You can’t know this”. And it says, “You can know this, you can’t know it”, and then it says, “You are that”, and then you read another text, and it says, “No, there’s no that”. And then you read one text, like in Nisargadatta’s lineage, they talk about Brahman, and then they say, “Well, you’re not Brahman, you’re Parabrahman, you’re not even Brahman, you’re…”

Rick: Well, then we get into semantics. I mean, we’d have to…

Tom: What they’re trying to do, they’re trying to break down all concepts, you see. So, if you’re an ego identified as Brahman, then they say, “Oh, no, you’re not Brahman, you’re Parabrahman”, just to show that… because what happens, you get a bunch of egos walking around thinking, “I am that”, and what they’re doing…

Rick: I don’t think that’s what the Upaniṣads are really alluding to. The writers of the Upaniṣads wouldn’t have settled for egos thinking, “I am that”. They were referring to that knowing itself as that, not an ego separate from its…

Tom: That’s the self knowing itself by itself.

Rick: Right, exactly.

Tom: But that’s using the word “self” in a completely different way to we normally would use the word “self” or “I” in everyday language. That’s where the confusion comes in.

Rick: But if you read enough of these books, you realize that there is that usage of it commonly, and they usually designate it with a capital “S”, and actually the Sanskrit name is completely different than the Sanskrit name for the individual self. I mean, you have Jiva, and then you have Atman and Brahman, so they use different terms, they don’t just capitalize the same word.

Tom: That’s right. Yeah, that’s very true. And if you’re talking about Jiva and Atman, it becomes much clearer.

Rick: Yeah. That’s very true. It’s like I always like to say the Inuit have about 30 names for snow and we just have one. They’ve had enough experience of snow that they’ve got it all sort of parsed out and nuanced.

Tom: I mean, that’s the beauty of these Eastern traditions. They’ve developed that language to describe this in much better ways.

Rick: Yeah, they’ve been chewing on it for thousands of years.

Tom: Yeah, but then you also get problems with that as well. It becomes very intellectual. You get a lot of people stuck in the concepts as well.

Rick: Yeah, but I think if you’re really going to undertake attempting to understand and explain it, then you kind of have to go in the direction of nuanced language and really kind of find discrimination between various terms used and agreement upon terms used and so on. You can’t just sort of start kind of batting out words and expect everybody’s going to understand what you’re saying.

Tom: That’s true as well. Although I think the key is that the person has a genuine realization, the teacher has a genuine realization, because then if you’re with that person, usually it comes through the language. But you’re right, you’re right. I mean, there is a skill and there’s a skill in being able to talk about this, in using language in an appropriate way that doesn’t just confuse people. I think you’re right.

Rick: Yeah.

Tom: But Ramana, again, he said to keep on going back to him, he used to say how it’s the people who read all the Vedanta aren’t the people who get it. He made several comments.

Rick: Because they’ve over-complicated the thing.

Tom: They’ve just made it too complicated. And that was my point really, is that, and you look at Zen, and Zen has got a very, a lot of the Zen masters have read all the Buddhist texts, which are highly philosophical, highly conceptual, and then they kind of go beyond them all. And they talk about a transmission outside of the sutras or the texts, you know. So there are lots of different ways this can be transmitted. It doesn’t have to be through this overly verbal conceptual way. I’m sorry, not overly, but highly. There are other ways, and there are devotional ways, and what works for one person might not be the way in for another. So it’s really amazing teaching, and it’s completely open. There’s no one particular way of it working. And I’m still learning about how to teach it to different people in different ways. It’s wonderful.

Rick: I think it will be a lifelong enterprise because there’s never going to be a shortage of variety among the people you encounter, and there’s never going to be a time at which you have it completely nailed in terms of actually the perfect ultimate way of expressing or teaching or anything. It’s always going to be an evolution.

Tom: Well, the thing is, some people think they have got the perfect way, don’t they?

Rick: Well, that’s scary though.

Tom: You know, like some people say, “Well, this teaching is the way, and we’ve got it all figured out”.

Rick: Yeah, and you see how they behave. They tend to be the ones that blow up buses and things. Okay, so feel free to just pipe up if there’s anything that you think of as we’re going here that I’m not asking or we’re not talking about that you want to talk about.

Tom: Well, maybe I could just talk about what I’m realizing, because as a seeker, I was reading lots of books, approaching it through my mind and through lots of concepts. I’m just realizing the importance, as I talk to people, of generating what I call generating peace. So just relaxing and not becoming too agitated and caught up with the mind stuff. Just the importance of coming into the body or coming into what’s going on around you and just grounding yourself in the sensory perception of what’s happening and learning ways of becoming more peaceful. I just think that’s actually a really important part of the teaching, and traditionally it’s always been there, of course. But often people train in developing peace, yogic practices or in Buddhism various abiding as peace practices, before they would teach the sort of insight practices or Vedanta.

Rick: Yeah, you wrote a nice article on your blog about two types of spiritual practice, one being that which brings about peace and the other which brings about knowledge. I liked it, it was an interesting article. One little phrase from it is, “The fewer the thoughts, the more peaceful the mind, and the less the ego distorts one’s vision. This increases the chance of self-knowledge”. So, it’s funny because on the one hand you make these statements in some of your essays about spiritual practices kind of just being akin to trying to change the snake into a rope or deal with or remove the snake. And on the other hand you say, “Well, yeah, but actually the spiritual practices do tend to increase the likelihood of self-knowledge. They prepare the ground or they remove the clutter or something, which makes it more likely that you’re going to have some sort of realization”. So, I mean, do you kind of just hold both views simultaneously or has that been an evolutionary progression from one view to the other?

Tom: I think what happens in those essays is that I will put a view forward and I often don’t always put the counter view in the same essay. You know, so the essay isn’t – because otherwise everything I write, there’s always a counter to pretty much everything. Everything you put on paper, there’s almost always something wrong with it. So, then you have to write the caveat to that and then there’s something then you have to write – you end up with this really messy essay with lots of footnotes on it. Maybe I’ll do one of those one day. It might be my book. So, I mean, going back to the rope and snake, if insight is realizing that the snake isn’t real and there’s just a rope and this reality is benign and there’s no need to suffer, there’s no need to be scared, then if you see the snake and you’re trying to calm the snake down, you’re trying to tame the snake, you’re trying to run away from the snake, that’s all the wrong – you’re going in the wrong direction. Because the key is not to try and better deal with the snake. The key is to look at the reality that’s presented in front of you, which appears to be a snake. But when you look at it closely, you realize there is no snake, meaning there is no doer. But if you’ve got somebody and they can see this apparent snake and they’re just besides themselves, they’re just completely in utter chaos and they’re really distraught, then what you can say is, “Look, why don’t you sit down and meditate?” Now, they’ll go, “But there’s a snake there. There’s a snake there”. “Just relax. I’ve done this before. Just meditate. It will really help. And then just chant this phrase, just chant it”, and it just calms them down. And maybe they’re worried about work, maybe they’re worried about this, that and the other. Maybe they’re neurotic about something or anxious about something. What the spiritual practice does is it just calms you down. And then what’s happened to that snake? It’s a rope because now they’re calm and they’re not beside, they’re not just petrified. Because that’s what people are. People are petrified and weighed down and burdened by life. And then there’s no energy and resource to actually look. There’s no inclination. They don’t want to look. I mean, you tell somebody who’s petrified of a snake, just look at the snake. They’re like, “I don’t want to look at the snake. I want to run over there or I want to learn how to pacify that snake”. And there’s a teacher over there and he’s really good at snake-charming. And that’s what I want to learn. And you say, “Okay, well maybe that’s what you need to do then”. You go to that teacher, you learn how to charm a snake. And then maybe after that, or maybe through doing that, you’ll realize that there’s no snake.

Rick: Let’s step out of the analogy for a minute and discuss what we’re actually talking about. It might have been Shankara who originally used the snake and string analogy. I don’t know.

Tom: It was in the Upanishads.

Rick: So it goes way before Shankara. But anyway, the idea is that due to a lack of clarity, which might be analogous to a lack of light, if there’s a rope in semi-darkness that’s mistaken for a snake, due to a lack of clarity, you’re mis-apprehending things. You’re afraid of that which should actually not be a cause of fear. And so the idea in the analogy might be to bring in more light, to illuminate the scene a little bit better, and then you’ll actually see what it is you’re looking at. Or in terms of what we’re actually talking about, to inculcate, develop greater clarity. Because if the mind is occluded, if our whole mechanism is cloudy and confused, then it’s just the concept that, “Oh, it’s only an illusion”, or, “It’s only a snake”, isn’t going to really enable us to see through the illusion. There’s all this clutter that has to be cleared. So Shankara, for instance, advocated, he said a sattvic mind is better able – a pure mind, a clear mind – is better able to apprehend the reality than a rajasic or tamasic mind – an agitated or a dull mind. And so here are methods. If you’re kind of tamasic, then you do this, rajas destroys tamas”. And if you’re rajasic, then you do this, sattva destroys rajas”. So there’s this progressive techniques or methods offered to get to the point where you’re going to be pretty clear and you’re going to be able to pierce through the illusion and see it for what it is. That’s my little synopsis on the whole snake thing.

Tom: Yeah, and he brought in the three gunas, the three energy states of tamas, rajas and sattva, which is a teaching, it’s in Shankara, I think it’s in the Gita as well. And yeah, it’s a wonderful, I mean, it’s a great teaching for a teacher. Because if I see someone, I can quite quickly, through talking to them, through listening to them – very important to listen – you can start to see where that person predominantly is. Are they predominantly tamasic? That means they’re dull and depressed and feeling weighed down. Are they rajasic, where they’re very high energy or conceptualizing a lot, caught up in the mind and…

Rick: Agitated.

Tom: Or are they quite calm and peaceful and quite mature actually, emotionally mature? And then the different teachings for those different, I mean… And the other thing about not having a calm mind is that if you get it – because this isn’t a hard and fast rule, I don’t think. I think you can be tamasic, for example, quite dull and slow and your mind is quite heavy and you can just have a moment of insight. I mean, why not?

Rick: Yeah, there was a guy named Durgatamas in the scriptures who was… tamas, that guna, that was his predominant thing and he loved to sleep all the time, but he somehow had this, he awoke and yet he spent most of his life sleeping still.

Tom: He might have become sattvic, who knows? There is an overlap and these three energies go through us all, all the time in differing amounts. But the thing is, often if you’re not peaceful, when you get the insight, when you see through the self – like I did, I think, when I was 18 – it doesn’t stay, because then all this other stuff just comes up and you just lose it. And then the ego is back again, the doer mind is back again. You take yourself to be the body-mind and all that identification comes in. So, it doesn’t last, whereas if you’re sattvic, I think it’s more likely to take hold.

Rick: Yeah, we could throw in the whole concept of vasanas and clearing, uprooting the vasanas from the system, which tend to lurk there and cause disruption. They might allow temporary realization, but…

Tom: Will your viewers understand what the vasanas are and things like that?

Rick: Mostly, yeah, just deep impressions in the system that have been created by experience over who knows how long, that can render the system incapable of clarity, if we’re cluttered with them. And so, various traditions have ways of purifying them out, and then the nervous system, the psychology becomes more capable of clear realization. It’s just a… I mean, there’s Christ’s parable of the sower, throwing seeds on various kinds of ground stony or fertile or thorny or this or that. I mean, all these seeds of knowledge that you’re throwing out here, they fall on different sorts of…different degrees of receptivity.

Tom: That’s right.

Rick: And so, it’s not enough just to hear the bits of knowledge, one can actually do something to improve one’s receptivity, as you’ve done over the years with all that you’ve done. I mean, you had glimpses at first, and then you set about trying to improve your receptivity, and then eventually those glimpses matured into something more abiding.

Tom: That’s right, that’s right. And I think in the end for me, it was a lot of surrender, a lot of just letting go and surrender and letting go. And I wrote in my “About Me” section of my website how I spontaneously started feeling the sense of devotion that just came up. And I’m not really being someone who’s interested in devotion, I’m more interested in understanding science. But this sense of devotion came, and I think looking back, I mean, I didn’t know what was happening then really, but looking back it was just a whole purification thing going on, I think.

Rick: Do you find that still happening, growing?

Tom: Sometimes, yeah. Sometimes I’ll feel like, spontaneously just feel a sense of devotion, a sense of gratitude, a sense of love. Or I might feel like I want to meditate. I mean, I don’t really meditate now at all, but I might feel like, okay, I want to just relax the system a bit and calm everything. So these things sort of, but it doesn’t feel like it’s an integration or a… you know, this is just the way it works now. It’s just an unfolding, you could say. I mean, you could probably object if you look at it and see it as an integration, but it doesn’t feel like there’s an integration, because it’s not like I’m trying to do anything.

Rick: No, it’s spontaneous.

Tom: The system is just unwinding and doing what it’s doing.

Rick: I would see it as a blossoming of a faculty that we all have, and we have hearts in addition to minds. And all the great Vedantic masters were also great bhaktas, they were great devotees. You know, you read the accounts of any of them, Shankara, Nisargadatta, Papaji, and it’s just a feature that’s sometimes not really talked about very much in, you know, Advaitic circles or non-dual circles. They tend to be a little dry sometimes, but it’s something that will blossom, I think, almost inevitably, if genuine realization has taken place. Sometimes it follows it later on as that foundation has been established, then the next stage begins to come along. But anyway, I think it’s beautiful.

Tom: Yeah, I think it’s lovely. But for a lot of people both in the West and increasingly in the East, that kind of approach, the devotional approach, it kind of makes people shudder, because that’s kind of all the religious baggage that we’ve been brought up with, that we’re trying to get away from, perhaps. You know, all the superstitious, ritualistic, devotional stuff.

Rick: Yeah, but that’s not what we’re talking about.

Tom: Exactly, exactly. But for a seeker maybe coming at it from that way, there’ll be an instinctive maybe, like repulsion towards the idea of devotion because of that. And I think it’s worth someone like me and people like us acknowledging that there is this often habit or tendency to push away that. That’s what I see in a lot of people who are interested in these teachings, is that there is this idea. And I had that in myself, you see. Maybe it made me, you know.

Rick: Well, here’s a way of understanding it. If we don’t know who we are, then how can we properly evaluate or know what anything else is? But once we know who we are, then there’s a foundation for properly evaluating everything else. And on that foundation, appreciation really begins to dawn, begins to become more profound. Appreciation of everything, every little leaf, everything. And that appreciation kind of equates with a sort of devotion. The heart begins to grow, it’s synonymous, almost synonymous with what I’m saying, that the heart begins to blossom as the appreciation grows and vice versa. It’s kind of like a feedback loop. And just gets to the point where every little thing can stimulate a wave of love and bliss.

Tom: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, again, Ramana used to say, and it’s in the texts as well, I think it’s in the Gita, I think, that one of the greatest forms of devotion is silence as well. So the devotion kind of merge into a silence and then out of the silence, what we’d call a devotion, these things can naturally sort of blend in. I think it’s just a part of being a human being. I mean, people who aren’t interested in spirituality often have a deep appreciation of things. Maybe the cosmos, maybe the stars, maybe nature, maybe music. I mean, a lot of my friends aren’t really into spirituality. But there’s this natural part of being a human being, isn’t there, where we just have a capacity to experience and feel a lot of gratitude towards things in life. And often we don’t feel that enough because of our daily lives. But there is something wonderful and magic and mysterious about this present moment. And there can be a lot of gratitude when we’re in that present moment. But not to say that we have to be in. You know, we can be off in thoughts as well. It’s all good.

Rick: Yeah. Here’s a question that came in from Krishna in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He said, “Does your non-personal awareness also expand to the surroundings? For example, the way Ramana knew when a tree was being cut down close to his ashram”. In other words, there was a story where they were cutting down a mango tree or something and he said, “Stop it. I feel the pain in my own body and I’m feeling the pain of that tree”.

Tom: I don’t really tend to have that. I mean, it’s funny because before this when I was seeking I used to get experiences not quite like that. But these kind of, I guess you’d call them paranormal or psychic or more psi-type experiences. But since this happened, it’s actually become really really mundane. Like none of that cool stuff like knowing when trees are falling down when you can’t even see them. No, it’s literally just ordinary awareness. And it’s not non-personal. It’s just the same awareness. I mean, you can call it non-personal, you can call it personal. It’s just the same awareness that’s already here.

Rick: Well, here’s a related thought, a related question. And that is that when you look at the world, what do you see? And this is sort of a leading question, but a certain stage of spiritual realization is described as that in which when you look at the world, you actually see yourself. Because that which you are is also that which the world ultimately is. Shankara said the world is Brahman. So there’s this sort of greater unity than just the dualistic experience that sometimes initially dawns where I am this non-person or this unbounded awareness and the world is an illusion separate from me.

Tom: I mean, I don’t really experience myself. I don’t think of myself conceptually or have an experience that I am you, for example, that I’m talking to myself.

Rick: You’ve never been in a situation like that?

Tom: Well, I’ve had that. I mean, I’ve been through those kinds of experiences where I feel like the sofa is me, the carpet is me, and the wall is me. I mean, for me it just came and went. So it stayed around for a while. I’ve had those kinds of experiences quite a few times where I felt like, okay, wow, it’s one of my enlightenment experiences, you see, one of many I’ve had. It’s like, wow, I finally got it. You know, I feel like I’m the clouds and the sky. I’m the carpet. I’m the ant. You know, these kind of fantastic experiences. But then what’s happened to me is that those have just gone and you’re left with something much more ordinary. And I think when I hear like, the world is Brahman, I feel like that’s what this means. It just means the world, the actual normal everyday world, the phenomenal world is Brahman. Not that you think that you’re everything, necessarily.

Rick: But if you are Brahman, which is what the Upanishad says, then shouldn’t there be the experience that you are the world or that the world is you? That it’s all really the same thing.

Tom: Brahman is just a concept.

Rick: Well, it’s a concept. It’s also an experience.

Tom: No, it’s just, I mean, the way I see it is that you’re having the, whatever you’re experiencing is Brahman. And I’m not saying, and then Brahman is a concept that arises within that experience. Brahman is a concept that has been created to try and point at something that we’re already experiencing. It’s trying to point at a… it’s trying to show that there’s an illusion that you’re buying into. And when the illusion is got rid of, then what remains is called, they call it Brahman. Brahman is a word that doesn’t really… it’s a very, in a way, it’s quite a vague word. They don’t use the word consciousness all the time. They use the word Brahman quite a lot because it’s kind of a word that’s a bit, it’s a bit vague really in a way.

Rick: As I understand it, it comes from a Sanskrit root that means “great”. And it’s supposedly the idea that it’s the totality, sort of reality in and of itself, not a state of consciousness that a human experiences, but the totality. And that the realization can eventually dawn, that totality can become a living reality. And that living reality is not merely, it’s not some idea, it’s not some concept. The word is used to refer to a state that can be lived.

Tom: I mean, no one knows where the word Brahman comes from. One of the theories is that the etymology of the word comes from the Sanskrit root word for “great”. But that’s just a theory. I mean, that may or may not be true. I mean, Brahman is often taught of as being infinitely great and infinitely small.

Rick: Yeah, “Anoraneeyan Mahato Mahian”.

Tom: Yeah, absolutely. So it’s a concept. And in some Hindu texts, they say there’s no Brahman. They deny Brahman. It’s incredible, really. It’s incredible. Like, you read things like the Ribbhu Gita and they’re just negating everything. They say there’s no self, all this is illusion as well. Because they’re pointing at something that is non-conceptual. And again, Ramana always says, “What are you going to do is see through this notion of the ego. Just get rid of the ego. He even says sometimes, “You can’t even realize Brahman. You’re already realizing Brahman. All you can do is get rid of what’s false”.

Rick: Yeah, that’s good.

Tom: And that’s the way I kind of teach. It’s like, you can’t really put Brahman into words. I mean, it’s just a word. And it makes it sound like this amazing thing that you’re not experiencing. But if you put that to one side for a moment and just look at your reality, and then look at your suffering and see what’s going on, for me, that’s how my teaching works. That’s how the teaching seems to work over here. You look at the reality, you see this sense of doership. You can actually look at it and see that it’s an illusion. And when that illusion is seen, then there’s this thing here. And you can call it what you like. You can call it consciousness. You can call it life. It has no name, does it? It’s just whatever we’re experiencing. And it becomes very neo-Advaitic. It’s just what is. It’s just what’s happening. When Abraham asked God, “Who are you?” Was it Moses? Moses asked God, “Who are you?” And he said, “I am that I am”. I mean, you can’t… It’s just whatever it is, what it is. This is it.

Rick: Yeah, we can go around and around on this. I mean, this is it, but there’s 7 point something billion people in the world to whom that phrase doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, because for them it’s 7 billion different things.

Tom: That’s right.

Rick: In fact, here’s a cool little phrase from one of your writings. He said, this is from… I’ll just read it first. “There are as many paths to the Lord as there are grains of sand and drops of rain. Whoever seeks eventually finds his way”. From Sheikh Abu al-Hassan, saying something from The Soul and a Loaf of Bread. I’ll read it again. “There are as many paths to the Lord as there are grains of sand and drops of rain. Whomever seeks eventually finds his way”. So, it’s like… I guess one theme I’ve just continually come back to in this interview is that, yeah, this is it, but everybody’s got a different perspective, and the name of the game is to clarify one’s perspective more and more so that one is not seeing the world through a glass darkly, to use that biblical phrase, but seeing it with clarity, knowing it with clarity. It’s not fair to say the cloudy version is it. I mean, it is, but it gets better.

Tom: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, yeah, that’s right. I mean, it’s good to point out that what you’re experiencing is it, because even though you might not feel that way, it’s good to have heard that teaching. Because otherwise, when the realization happens, you miss it, because it’s just this, and then you think, “Oh, this isn’t it”.

Rick: Good point.

Tom: So, that’s the value of having that teaching. But yeah, it’s also not helpful if you just tell someone who doesn’t really get what’s going on, you say, “This is it. That’s it”. And then you’re like, “Well, thanks a bunch for that”.

Rick: Yeah, that’s nice. I’m going to get a sandwich.

Tom: Yeah, or I want to listen to you more now. Like what most seekers do is carry on listening and trying to figure it out, and it doesn’t make sense. I mean, my way of thinking, there are some basic teachings that are very, very helpful. But if you’re still not getting it, then come and see someone like me and have a chat to us. I think it makes a huge difference.

Rick: Yeah, and I liked what you just said about… I forgot what you just said.

Tom: But you liked it. That’s the main thing.

Rick: I did like it. It was great. Whatever it was, I thought it was fantastic.

Tom: Yeah, kind of. [Laughter] You make a great sycophant.

Rick: Here’s a question that came in from Charles Cook in Tampa, Florida. He asked, “Do you have a favorite teacher or teaching and/or a favorite book?”

Tom: I’m always dissatisfied with pretty much every teaching, including my own. And I haven’t written a book because I just feel like… I’ve written quite a lot in my blog, so check it out. I think it’s pretty good.

Rick: Maybe someday you’ll cobble all your blog things into a book.

Tom: I do. I mean, we’ve talked about Ramana Maharshi quite a lot. I really like his stuff, but it can be very confusing, especially because he talks a lot about the self. He talks a load about the self, and that can be very confusing for people who don’t really understand what that means, who don’t have a background in… For example, he mentioned Atman and Jiva, two Sanskrit words. A lot of people don’t have a good understanding of the technical aspects of Vedanta and that kind of language in which he’s talking. Even if you do, it’s still quite easy to get yourself twisted up just because it’s quite subtle things he’s talking about. And he varied his teaching so much according to the person he was talking to and the level they were at. So I really love his teachings. I’d highly recommend talks with Ramana Maharshi or David Godman’s book and Be As You Are. I think they’re fantastic. I like a load of Buddhist stuff. There’s like a Mahamudra stuff, Heart Advice from a Mahamudra Master by Gendun Rinpoche. Wonderful book. A lot of Krishnamurti stuff I really like. There are a few that – I’m trying to think who else. I like a bit of Tony Parsons, believe it or not, who’s very… and Richard Sylvester, I think. They’ve got some good stuff as well, which is very different to the traditional teachings, but it’s worth reading. There’s lots of really interesting stuff. Just the key is not to believe it, not to believe the words, and to get to what’s beyond the words. And then the words, you can just leave them behind. You don’t get caught up in things like Brahman and all these Sanskrit things that you and I have been talking about. You don’t get tangled up in them and useful as they are.

Rick: Yeah, the key is to get to the experience that the words represent. I mean, if someone asked you, “Can you recommend some good cookbooks?” You could say, “Yeah, this, this, this and this”, and a person could starve to death reading those cookbooks and reading about all the wonderful dishes you can make, but the point is to actually make the dish and eat it.

Tom: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. Yeah. So, I mean, that’s right.

Rick: Yeah. Cool. Well, we’ve gone on for a couple hours, which is my typical little thing that I do with these interviews. They’re usually a couple hours long. Any concluding remarks you feel like making?

Tom: Just really thanks for having me here. I’ve really enjoyed talking to you, and I hope people listening found it helpful. If you want to find a bit more out of me, I think you want to post some stuff.

Rick: Yeah, I’ll create a page on that links to your website, and you give me some stuff. I’ve already created the page. I’ll put it up as soon as the interview is up, which will probably be Monday morning.

Tom: Yeah, I’m just trying to share this to anyone who’s interested. So, we’ve got meetings on Skype, and we meet here in London as well in person. And I’m always messaging people. People often message me on Facebook, because I’m always having Facebook conversations with people and things like that. Just do contact me if you want to.

Rick: Okay. I can link to your Facebook page also for people.

Tom: That would be great, yeah. We’re friends, aren’t we, on Facebook?

Rick: We are, yes. You and 5,000 other people.

Tom: Yeah, I felt special. Now I know I’m just one of them.

Rick: What were you going to say?

Tom: Yeah, the other thing to say to people who are seeking is that this is really simple. I think the way this conversation has gone, it’s been great. I’ve really enjoyed the fact that we’ve been talking about more in a Vedanta style. But it doesn’t have to be spoken about in that way. It’s actually something very, very simple. It’s just about seeing the way things actually are. It’s not about believing anything. But equally, beliefs can play a role, especially in the initial stages. So, there’s nothing wrong with having faith and belief. But ultimately, it’s seeing through all these things. It’s just about seeing through our assumptions and letting go, actually, of all concepts of who we think we are. You see, it’s not about forming a new concept of who we are, like we are everything. Or we’re everyone, or we’re the soul of the universe. It’s not about forming new concepts of who we are. It’s about letting all the concepts go and then realizing that we still are. We’re still here, and life’s still happening. But without that concept of doership necessarily in operation. And then, it’s amazing teaching because the suffering just drops away. It’s just wonderful. And love tends to just pour in. It’s such an optimistic, positive, and for me, heartwarming teaching. I’m in love with it myself.

Rick: Yeah, there’s one thought that’s been kicking around my head as we’ve been talking, which is that you were talking about people who can get over-complicated by thinking about this too much, or reading too many books, and so on. As you said that a little while ago, I was thinking, yeah, that’s a good point. It’s important to somehow strike a balance. And you can have too much of a good thing. There can be too much intellectualization without enough experience to counterbalance it. And maybe even vice versa. There could be some experience which one can be misinterpreted or be confused about because you don’t have the understanding to elucidate it. So, it’s good to kind of keep… like when you walk, you take a step with this foot and a step with that foot. You kind of keep knowledge and experience balanced as you go along.

Tom: That’s exactly, I mean, that was that article I wrote called “Roadmap to Enlightenment”, which I recommend everyone takes a look at. And the people who may be attracted more to my teachings tend to be more sort of intellectual side. That’s what I’ve noticed anyway. So, that’s why I sort of realized the emphasis on generating peace and relaxation, letting go is very important. But these are the two wings of the teaching almost that tend to emerge. The intellectual understanding, which is important, and also the letting go and the being peaceful and experiential side. You tend to find that people are either one or the other. They tend to say, “No, no, no, I’m not interested in the mind. It’s just all about experience”. And then you get other people who just not really interested. And you don’t need to, I mean sometimes people get it just through the mind and some people just get it through the experience. That happens, but I think it’s a good approach to sort of balance them.

Rick: Yeah, I think it kind of safeguards the path to have a proper balance. Do you do individual Skype sessions in addition to group Skype sessions?

Tom: Yeah, I do.

Rick: Okay. Do you charge for those or what?

Tom: I do. For the individual stuff I charge. I charge about, I think it’s 50 pounds an hour. For the group stuff, it’s an optional donation. So I ask for a 10 pound donation, but if people don’t want to give or they’re not able to, that’s absolutely fine. I just really wan…, for me, the groups are just a way of sharing it to as many people as possible, regardless of ability to pay.

Rick: Sure.

Tom: But they’re also beneficial in different ways. I mean, there’s real benefits coming to the group that you don’t get from one to one. And there’s real benefit of one-to-one that you don’t get from a group. I mean, that’s something that I’ve learned as well. I didn’t realize. I thought one-to-one would just be better.

Rick: Yeah. No, I know what you mean. Yeah.

Tom: Yeah, but you know, that one, but some people, but yeah.

Rick: Things come up in a group that you wouldn’t have thought of yourself and that, some that is, oh yeah, that’s a great idea. Great question. I wouldn’t have thought of that.

Tom: And also the relationships. No, you’re absolutely right. And also the relationships that are developed in groups. You know, people get to know each other and they connect with each other and they teach each other things that sometimes we have people in groups teaching each other things. And I’m taking notes. I’m like, wow, I never would have thought of that one. That’s a really good teaching. So it’s great for me as well.

Rick: Okay. So they can learn about all that through your website.

Tom: Yeah.

Rick: Which is what? or something?

Tom: You got it. That’s the one.

Rick: Easy to remember. Das spelled with one S. And I’ll be linking to that from, etc. Alrighty. Well, this has been great, Tom. I really appreciated talking to you. Let me just make a couple of general wrap-up points. Those who are familiar with this show probably know all this stuff, but basically just go to and explore the menus and you’ll find all kinds of things, like being able to sign up to be notified by email each time a new one is posted, or subscribing to the audio podcast of the show. You know, what else? I don’t know. All the past men interviews are categorized four or five different ways. And there’s the upcoming interviews menu. You can see who’s scheduled and so on. So just explore. There’s even a thing where you can download a ringtone for your phone of the BatGap theme song, if you want to. So thanks for listening or watching. And thank you, Tom. I really enjoyed this conversation. It’s very enlivening for me and hopefully also for the viewers.

Tom: Thanks so much Rick. Thanks everyone.

Rick: Yeah. Talk to you later.

Tom: Bye.

Rick: Bye.