Tuesday, July 13, 2010


I had occasion to hear a well-known spiritual teacher speak recently, a man adept at both medium and message. I found it interesting on several levels. This fellow, who has been in his discipline for sixty years, was a direct student of a world-famous guru who began a movement in this country that has been slowly gathering steam since the 1920s.

It reminded me once again of the difference between feeling something and telling it.

If you are one of the people who have felt a connection with the cosmic all -- been touched by the hand of God -- then you cannot really convey that to anybody who hasn't experienced it directly. You can tell them what it felt like, but words are the map and not the territory. Zen is personal, and it can't really be gotten save by direct contact. All that stuff you know is yours and while you might be able to get people nodding when you tell it, they won't really know it.

And vice-versa.

Lot of people have tried. One of the best explorations and descriptions I've ever found on the subject of cosmic consciousness was by Dr. Richard Maurice Bucke (photo above), who was also the man who coined the term. The book is in the public domain, has been digitized by Google, and can be found here. I find it fairly amazing that this was written in 1901, long before New Age hippies started talking about the colors, man, the colors ...

The world is full of religions that attempt to convey the way to find God. The yogi offers his breathing and his asanas; the Christian minister his Biblical sermon; the Zen master his koan. Maps, all. They can help you to find your way there, but they aren't the there you want.

Even if you were listening to Jesus or Buddha or Mohammad personally, you only got it second-hand. If you were listening to one of their direct disciples, third-hand. A thousand, two thousand years later, you are listening to somebody only distantly related to that original experience. If the guy who did it can't pass it along, how can you expect somebody a millennium away to do it?

And yet, now and again, there is a believer who hears at a far remove the message and somehow internalizes it, makes his his or her own, and gets it. Plenty of sinners, but also the occasional saint.

What are the percentages? Not a clue, but certainly not large. I've met holy people, those who shined with a supernal light most of us don't achieve, and they came out of disciplines that were designed -- in theory -- to get them there, being taught by folks who mostly haven't made it themselves. It does happen, if not very often.

Maybe they are all crazy. Maybe they are deluded. Or maybe they have something real they got because the ground was fertile when the seed was planted.

You can't give somebody your direct experience. You wish you could -- people who have children offer, and suffer from not being able to gift their children the experiences that will help them through their lives. Look, look, here is this perfectly good wheel!

No, thank you, I will invent my own ...

So when it comes to offering your pearls, a lot of folks won't be able to see the value. Nature of life, so it seems.

If you are going to learn or teach, you have to work from what you have. And you need to constantly check yourself, to make sure you aren't as deluded as you probably think most people are about these things. Always the trick, to get the skinny on that one. (You do have to look and take care -- the road to Truth and Knowledge snakes through the plains of Hubris and if you stop to pat yourself on the back about how wise and clever you are, you'll play hell moving on.)


Anonymous said...

Wow...just wow. I had this same conversation with my son no more than a week ago, trying to explain the difference between God and religion! Literally! As you said, it's tough to put into words what seems so simple and obvious, but which many just don't 'get'. I don't mean that in a harsh tone, just the frustration of not being able to interpret. Thanks!

*great writing btw...read most of your books, just finished another AvP book your daughter wrote...good stuff

Stan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Stan said...

I believe that one reason people become so fiercely adamant and protective regarding their religious beliefs / superstitions is that they have very little experience with other people who are open and "shame free" with THEIR beliefs/superstitions.

Additionally, it seems like a curse that religious/spiritual leaders will eventually fall from the pedestal other students create under them. Then it is open season on the person who dared to be "less than god-like."

One of my "teaching notes": Whenever the messenger becomes more important than the message, bad things happen! (That can be when student/followers perceive the messenger to be more important, or [worse!], when the messenger begins to believe that!)