The TAT Forum: a spiritual magazine of essays, poems and humor.

TAT Forum
May 2003

Essays, poems, opinions and humor on seeking
and finding answers to your deepest life-questions

Rodin's Thinker

This month's contents:

Lecture of Questions (part 2) by Richard Rose | Accident, Sublimation, Transformation by Bob Fergeson | Homebound by Susan O'Toole | Prisoners of the Cave by Gary Harmon | Ramana Maharshi and J. Krishnamurti by Douglas Harding | Poems by Shawn Nevins | What is Meditation? by Shawn Nevins | Effective Teaching by Bob Cergol | Humor

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Lecture of Questions (Part II)
Koan Section
by Richard Rose

(~ Continued from the April 2003 TAT Forum)

Who is knowledgeable about good, the item goodness?

Is good that which we desire—or that which is in itself good? What is the condition of "being good in itself"?

Is evil the child of good—or is it a twin?

If a man drives a horse through a plate glass window, should the man be prosecuted—or the horse?

If a man steals to feed his children, should we prosecute the man or that which drove him—the children?

If a man rapes a girl, should we prosecute....
A. The man?
B. The girl who tempted (drove) him?
C. His ancestors, for his genetic inheritance or glandular inclination?
D. The force that designed mankind?

What is equality?

Was Samson equal to Delilah?

Samson and Delilah, by Rubens Samson and Delilah, by Rubens

Is a baby equal to a dying man?

Are you only half of a plan by virtue of not possessing both sexes?

Is peace of mind more important than global peace or herd peace?

Who or what are you?

Are you only a body?

Are you rather a complex organism? A cell colony—a nature-oriented bundle of conditioned reflexes?

Is the brain a monitoring station designed for the organism's indefinite survival? Or is the body programmed for death (death gene) following procreation? (Like the corn and wheat.)

Is all religion and philosophy merely rationalization emanating from that computer—to answer constant cellular awareness of death?

Or is the universal belief in life after death an intuitive reading from that computer? A reading not completely translatable into computer symbols which are limited?

Is there a soul?

Did it exist before the body, or must it be developed, grown or evolved?

Prove the following: Mind (as other than somatic awareness); sub-conscious mind; ego; id; superego; chakra; kundalini; tisra-til; astral; etheric; causal; desire; body; aura; halo; ectoplasm; spiritual ear; conscience; spiritual nectar.

What is time?

Does time pass, or is it only you who passes?

Is space-time a stable matrix while we are only transient visitors?

How much of life is only a mirage?

Do we see this world infallibly or obliquely?

Are the senses infallible?

Can you see, or hear, or feel, or smell or taste time?

Is time only a relative conceptualization? What is the reality of time?

Does the ant or amoeba interpret duration the same as man, or does its time pass more swiftly?

What is duration?

What does a lifetime feel like?

Does it feel differently to a child and to an old person?

What is the relation of memory to time?

Do we remember a "duration" or measure it if we have no clock at hand?

Do we remember how long a pain lasted when the pain occurred a year ago?

Would women become pregnant as often if they remembered the duration and intensity of the pain of childbirth?

Do we have a real sense of time when we hear a clock ticking?

Do we then know what a second is, or what stretch of consciousness exists for others in that second?

Do the wings of the hummingbird move rapid or slow to the gauging of the hummingbird?

To the time-sense of the fruit fly, is his life long or short?

Is the sense of duration or "passing time" proportional to the mass of the entity that experiences?

Does time exist other than as a fascination which seems to be brief or of longer duration?

If the sun is our ultimate clock (of earth-rotation as measurement), what is our measurement of time after the death of our senses?

Is time an illusion that prevents us from experiencing a Self that has no motion?

Have you ever heard a clock ticking in a delirium?

If the mind can be distorted in a delirium or in an LSD trip—does the mind ever understand the true feeling of a second?

What is nostalgia?

Is it the soul's view of previous feeling?

What is space?

Is space interdependent with time?

Are they not measured by each other? (Light year. Time is determined by spatial phenomena, rotation-duration.)

Do space and time exist at all except in reference to us? (What is the understanding by insects of the distance to the sun or moon?)

Do we have a true picture of nature?

When we appreciate nature as being beautiful, is such an appreciation of life or of death?

Have you ever watched the war that goes on in a drop of water or in a cancerous tissue?

How many protozoans are required to sustain the world's metazoans? Can they be counted?

How many protozoans are eaten alive every second?

How many microscopic metazoans are eaten each second by larger metazoans?

Is death painless for these beings? Do they scream?

How many smaller metazoans are needed to feed one worm for a day, or one insect?

How many worms or insects die every minute to feed the birds?

How many worms or insects are needed to feed a pair of birds and their fledglings each day?

How many worms or insects are needed for one hen's egg?

In the summer we hear the hum of many insects. Is this hum beautiful—orchestral—or a bedlam of screaming?

Are the songs of birds more than just mating noises?

Are not trees more attractive in autumn, when dying?

Which is the true destiny of all beings—a growth into individual eminence or a means of energy (food) for higher beings, meaning predators?

~ Continued in the June 2003 TAT Forum

© 1988 Richard Rose. All Rights Reserved.

Accident, Sublimation, Transformation
by Bob Fergeson

The events of childhood do not pass, but repeat themselves like seasons of the year. ~ Eleanor Farjeon

I was in the midst of a crowd of people, when I realized that everyone's lives were just accidents. No one was in control of themselves. I became very out of it, just like on LSD. I then realized that the answer was sublimation, then transformation. Accident, sublimation, transformation. These three steps were the key. ~ Bob Fergeson

paintbrush flowers, photo by Bob Fergeson Paintbrush flowers. Photo: Bob Fergeson

Accident: Let's take a look at the above quotes and see how they can provide a road map for self-knowledge. Many of us have had the experience or shock of realizing that the patterns and coping mechanisms of childhood are still with us and active, perhaps long after they are needed. As Eleanor Farjeon points out, these events, and their emotional reaction patterns, are still in us, dictating our behavior year after year. If we take the time to observe our day-to-day patterns with a bit of objectivity, over time we may see that we are mechanical, a robot. We may even realize that any reaction we have to change our mechanical pattern is also mechanical, just another reaction to a reaction. This realization can put us into quite a quandary, and is death to certain egos. The removal of these egos is paramount to progress, for they will never admit the need for real change.

Sublimation: We will become frustrated with this apparent paradox, and hopefully take our search more inwards. How can we find something in us that is not of the world of accident, something which is not just an endless chain of thought begetting thought? The next quote, taken from an old journal, provides the clue. We must refine our machine, for as we are, we are not capable of moving beyond the mechanics of associative thought. Here we move into the realm of sublimation. Our limited energy must be withdrawn from the associative world of behavior, saved and used for other purposes than the accidental world of desire and fear. This sublimation is akin to a refinement of our observation and thinking processes. We turn inwards and begin to look for the motivations of our actions, to question why we think as we do. We no longer can believe in the ego's story of "I did this because 'I' wanted to." Try as we might, we cannot find this 'I' we put so much faith in earlier. And thus, through sublimating our energy through the questioning process, we have transformed our thinking and observing.

Transformation: This new level of observation, one of seeing the patterns of our self and their mechanicalness, is still within the realm of the thinking mind, even though it brings a certain relief from the former sense-based thinking. If we are honest and keep on observing, driven by the still ever-present restlessness, we may come to the realization that we will never find anything Real in the mind, with the mind. If we are lucky, this realization may bring periods when we drop the whole game and become quiet. Here, another quandary with its trauma is necessary, for another set of egos must be dropped. Knowing that all thought is reactive and one step behind the present moment, we may begin to just listen, to observe without reaction. In this quiet, listening mind, something Real has the possibility of entering.

~ See Bob's web sites, The Mystic Missal, NostalgiaWest, and The Listening Attention.

by Susan O'Toole

The Aum, diddle die story
Of the Westerland, Midland and Easterland,
Long Island, of it all.
The Nellie,
Lame leg, and all of it
Walking with the Cows, to the deep drone of the Bull,
Along Westerland strand to eat grass
Sweetened by the salt spray of the Sea.
"Everything's in it, it's all they could ever want," she chants.
Kneeling down to rest on the rocks in the moon-dusk.

Overhead, Island birds pilot the stars,
Above the Sea, soused in blue gull foam,
Drooling their wings homebound.
Below a sky studded with crystal stars,
Each one a light, mirrored in the Sea,
Becomes a rush of presence, where the moment is exiled
From the complementarity of opposites.
A hush flows from her breath, while a prayer quietly comes in
Washed – up from the heart, with the spray, and everything in it,
Weaving all together in one drop.
Its taste has all the freshness of the moment, in that spray,
is the Island,
A drop,
a light returning home,
a rhythm,
a ring of Aum,
Aum, diddle,
Die story
of it all.

~ See Susan's South Reen Farm web site.

Prisoners of the Cave
by Gary Harmon

Socrates wrote nothing because he felt that knowledge was an alive, interactive thing. His student Plato wrote about the prisoners in the cave, which is perhaps the most remembered of the era's thinking. Socrates' method of philosophical inquiry consisted in questioning people on the positions they asserted and working them through questions into a challenge, thus proving to them that their original assertion was wrong. This is very similar to the confrontation technique that Richard Rose maintained would get to the heart of the matter. Socrates himself never took a position; he claimed to know nothing at all except that he knew nothing. That is precisely the situation in our life.

We are prisoners in the cave of our self-esteemed perception, looking at the wall of our cavern on which is projected the shadow play of the things which are in the world of the Real. We, too, are utterly unaware of the fact that behind us is the opening to our cave, and that through it we can enter the world of Reality. The Buddhists call this the gateless gate. Occasionally one of our fellow prisoners has freed himself and has found the entrance to the world of the Real, and comes back and in his eagerness tells us of the magnificence of that world, speaks to us of the hopeless deficiency of our little play of shadows. We do not believe him, but call him mad and pity him for his temporary insanity. We will say, "This world is real; I know that it is real; can I not throw something on the ground, can I not pound a nail into the wall, do I not hurt myself when I hit my finger instead of the nail, is all this not utterly and entirely real, and who is he to tell me that all this is unreal?"

How is it possible, in a language based on our illusionary world with its illusionary show of beauty, to describe anything of the super beauty of that world of the Real? How is it possible to describe beauty in which is no form, in which is no color, in which is nothing that we associate with our world image; but in which, on the other hand, is the fullness of all that which produces our world-image? We must experience in order to know, and we can no more explain the glories of that world to those who have not experienced them than we can explain light to a blind man. No one can ever tell in words about that world, which is the world of living Truth. No book, no system, no theory, no sacred Scripture, no divine disclosure even, can ever contain the truth of that world of the Real; it is obscure because there are no words to explain it; it is hidden or 'esoteric' because it cannot be manifest in our world of illusion. All attempts at explanation of it here become a misrepresentation, and can give only a vague conception of that which is. All we can do is to show the way to this world of the Real, to explain that along these lines one can enter that true and real field of consciousness, and that every man must make the experiment for himself.

In utter loneliness the soul has to make the "flight of the alone to the Alone." None can accompany it on this journey of exploration into the world of the unknown; the 'soul' itself alone will emerge, the egocentric will expire. None can help; none can really tell us how to do it. All we can say is, "this is the way some of us have taken; these are the things we have discovered on that way; and such are the words which very faintly express something of the glories of the world which we discovered on that journey." But every one of us can come to the 'gateless' gate and pass through to the absolute.

~ See Gary's Spiritual Books Worth Reading web site.

Ramana Maharshi and J. Krishnamurti
by Douglas Harding

Spiritually minded people have a way of blurring the distinctions between one master and another. They are really teaching the same thing (we are told) but in very different tones of voice. This looks like an amiable habit, making for ecumenism and peace in our time, O Lord. Fair enough. But it can be the result of laziness or superficiality, of failure to listen carefully and go deeply into what's being said, of fudging boundaries when what's needed is clear and sharp discrimination.

Really, to follow a spiritual path to its conclusion, you have to be careful not to be diverted along other paths. To change the metaphor, if you want to enjoy the full flavor of any spiritual fare, you won't blend it with other spiritual fares till the concoction is so bland it's flavorless.

Take for example the teaching of Ramana Maharshi on the one hand, and of Krishnamurti on the other. Some of their respective followers or disciples or devotees tell me that they are saying the same thing, couched in very different languages. I can't agree. I find great differences of substance, and not merely of style, between their teachings. This chapter outlines some of the more important ones.

Jiddu Krishnamurti

But let's not begin with points of disagreement but points of agreement. Both Ramana Maharshi and Krishnamurti insist that the answer to the problems of life is to be found within, that deep inside us lies all we need. In this, of course, they are in line with all real sages and seers.

So far so good. Now we come to the differences, or, if you like, the disagreements.

It is essential, says Krishnamurti, to understand ourselves, how we think, what we think, why we think that way, the nature of our conditioning. "To follow oneself, to see how one's thought operates, one has to be extraordinarily alert, so that as one begins to be more and more alert to the intricacies of one's own thinking and responses and feelings, one begins to have a greater awareness, not only of oneself but of another with whom one is in relationship." Everywhere Krishnamurti insists that we must get to know the processes of the mind.

Ramana Maharshi flatly denies that there is a mind to get to know. In investigation "it will be found that the mind does not exist." "There is nothing but the Self. To inhere in the Self is the thing. Never mind the mind. If its source is sought, it will vanish."

Very similar is the counsel of Nisargadatta Maharaj: "It is the mind that tells you that the mind is there. Don't be deceived. It is the bland refusal to consider the convolutions and convulsions of the mind that can take you beyond it."

A thorough search of the talks of Maharshi and Krishnamurti would no doubt yield passages that would tone down the blatant differences between them on this score—in theory. But in practice it's irreducible. Either you go baldheaded for Who you really are, or else you get to work on all that mental stuff which is alleged to block the vision of that Who. They just don't mix, and there's no sense in jumping back and forth from one to the other.

The question at issue is whether that blessed vision is available right now and just as we are, or only after a long, perhaps lifelong preparation.

Here is Krishnamurti on this topic: "Before we can find out what the end-purpose of life is, what it all means, we must begin with ourselves, must we not. It sounds so simple, but it is extremely difficult [K's italics]. The difficulty is that we are so impatient; we want to get on, we want to reach an end, and so we have neither the time nor the occasion to give ourselves the opportunity to study, to observe."

For total contrast, listen to Maharshi: "There us nothing so simple as being the Self. It requires no effort, no aid. All are seeing God always, but they don't know it. I see what needs to be seen. I see only just what all see, nothing more. The Self is always self-evident."

There are other notable differences.

For Krishnamurti the great scriptures of the world are so many man-traps. How he can be sure of this is an interesting question, since he makes a point of never reading them. Equally, gurus imprison us in their systems. He himself is not a guru, he insists. Here's another interesting question: if he isn't a "revered spiritual teacher" (which is a pretty fair definition of a guru) what on Earth is he? Anyway—guru, nonguru, or antiguru—the practice he advocates, of approaching Self-knowledge by studying the movements of your mind, is certainly a very gradual one, in which you never catch up with yourself. "The more you know yourself, the more clarity there is. Self-knowledge has no end—you don't come to an achievement, you don't come to a conclusion. It is an endless river."

Ramana Maharshi

How different is Maharshi's way! He has read the scriptures, and recognizes that their study can stimulate Self-enquiry, no less than (alas!) serve as a substitute for Self-enquiry. Also he stresses the importance of the true Guru within you. You are strongly urged to see directly into your Nature. But if you imagine you can't do so (more truly, if you won't do) then surrender to a guru who will help to remove the obstruction to your seeing. In other words, you have the choice of the short path of Self-enquiry, or the longer path of Devotion, leading to the goal of Self-realization. But whichever path you take, the Vision it leads to is by no means a matter of degrees or stages. It's all-or-nothing, sudden, complete, perfect. While time and practice are needed, as a rule, to establish Self-realization, they add nothing to the experience. They habituate it, so that it's no longer occasional or intermittent. Also they allow it to take effect in all the areas and levels of one's life. The Self can't be partially seen, much less mis-seen. Why? Because it's the Self that sees the Self, and certainly not a human being as such that does so.

I think it will help at this stage to move on from the differences between two particular teachers to more general considerations.

In surveying spirituality East and West, two temperaments, two types of teachers and doctrines, can be discerned. The gulf between them is wide and deep. For the first kind, Reality or the Goal (which terms they would probably not capitalize) is strictly impersonal, a mere absence rather than an awesome Presence, a nothing whatsoever rather than the marvelous No-thing that's wide awake to Itself as Nothing-Everything, a void that's so void it's void even of voidness, an unmystery, a disappearance. There's no self, let alone a Self.

For the second temperament Reality is the diametric opposite of all this. The Self alone is quite real, suprapersonal and by no means impersonal, altogether adorable and marvelous and unspeakably mysterious, ananda (bliss) no less than sat (being) and chit (awareness). No wonder people of this persuasion delight in bandying the word GOD, which for the former sort is the dirtiest of words. And of course there are those who go on to talk of a God who is Love itself, of the One who gives his very life for this world, who disappears in favor of—yes, of you and of me.

In the interest of brevity rather than accuracy, you could label the first type spiritual-psychological and the second spiritual-religious. Of course there are all sorts of intermediate positions between these polar opposites, and even attempts to bridge the gulf that parts them. But the gulf remains.

It's pretty obvious on which side of the gulf Maharshi belongs, and on which side Krishnamurti belongs. If you press me hard enough I'll admit that it's temperament—or let's say my very Christian conditioning as a young child—that lands me on the spiritual-religious slope of the Great Gulf and that the case I put up for that side is ex post facto: I keep finding reasons for what I believe on instinct, anyway.

Happily, however, that's not quite the end of the story. When you and I, whatever our temperamental differences, turn the arrow of our attention round 180 degrees, What we see within is one and the same for us both and absolutely unconditioned. How can we be so sure? For the reason that here, at the very bottom of the valley where the two sides of the Gulf come together, there's nothing left to disagree about. Here, all disciples of Maharshi, of Krishnamurti, of any teacher or no teacher are free to share the essential realization that unites us all eternally.

And here, at last, is to be found the true ecumenism that heals without any fudging or blurring of distinctions. Here is the ultimate pacification of strife in general, and in particular of religious fanaticism and intolerance. What a simple and universal medicine for this sickness-unto-death is ours—effective, free, abundant, and handier than our right hand!

Let us—you and I—take it right now, and not wait for others. They will follow in God's good time.

~ Reprinted by permission, from Look for Yourself by Douglas E. Harding. See The Headless Way web site for more information on Douglas Harding and his teaching.

Poems by Shawn Nevins

Dew life
condensed from unseen vapor.
Transparent droplets,
poised on blades,
entranced by images.
Like attracted to like,
yet at their essence
the solidity of emptiness.


Still, ebon pond
like a graveyard at night.
Morning light displays
shimmering motion—
seeming purpose of life.
But the light of darkness doesn't hide,
it reveals,
our essence.


"February 19, 1895"

O my son, O my father,
what brought us to this tragic day,
to bleed our dreams upon the ground
and rest our hopes in other ways.

Some will see and wonder how
fate led us to this lonely ground
where moon and sun forget us now
as we forget the ties that bound.

What we were once we are no more
two stones recall what we ignore,
darkness leads us to another door
through which life, like rain, ever pours.


Darkness reflects fears,
until you step out
and feel the solidity
that comes from walking through an unfamiliar door
into a familiar room.

What is Meditation?
by Shawn Nevins

To meditate is to think with a goal in mind. Some may meditate on money or murder. Regardless, the goal is discovery—the answering of a question that will not leave us in peace until it is resolved. Meditation is scientific inquiry and the outstanding scientists use logic and intuition to solve their mysteries. The scientist forms a question, researches what others have found, uses the best tools available, and is not afraid to admit they were wrong. To reach the highest goal, the discovery of one's true nature, requires scientific logic and scientific intuition.

Who? what? where? when? how? why? are the topics of inquiry and meditation. We try to answer these questions with research and logic. Yet, the honest person is plagued by the shadow of doubt. We find that our minds are unreliable. We hallucinate, desires cloud our judgment, we assume, pre-judge, discriminate. A host of influences (cultural, psychological, and physiological) determine what we see and think, and we are rarely conscious of these influences. The lack of certainty regarding all the mind perceives, leads us to meditate on the nature of the mind. What is this flawed glass out of which we peer?

To meditate is to strip the mind to its foundation in search of certainty. We find that all is in doubt except our awareness. We are aware of events in an apparently outer world of things and an inner world of our private drama. We are aware of thoughts. Yet, logic tells us that even awareness may have another side. Everything the mind witnesses has a flip side. There is awareness and not-awareness. Yet, we cannot conceive of not-awareness.

We look for that which is behind awareness, because there is no where else left to look. All other roads have been explored or rejected. Our heart tells us the answer is there, behind the mind.

To meditate is to ask questions, to think, to be honest about what we see, to listen to our intuition, and to desire an answer to our deepest questions. To meditate is to be honest about what we see outside and inside and reject what is less true.

~ See What is Meditation? for more views on meditation.

On Effective Teaching
Bob Cergol

I am moving toward the opinion that all the inspiring stuff—Rumi, Nisargadatta, etc.—while valuable and having its time and place, LARGELY induces sleep—just the OPPOSITE of what the authors would hope for. It has value when used in small doses by someone to cultivate the feeling side of those overly-intellectual, egocentric readers. Beyond that it is soporific and a tool for the ego to look away—and imbibe the mood—not to look at self. For a person in the right position it COULD be a trigger, but that would be rare, and I am increasingly convinced that it is NOT even going to move someone to that position where some trigger could be effective.

I am increasingly coming to conclude that what a teacher must do is stimulate distress in the student by attacking the OBJECTS on which they are focused in their lives, i.e. attack the life, WHATEVER IT IS that they are living, to create doubt and consternation. (Of course this can't be totally indiscriminate.) In that state the inner essence will then have the possibility of being listened to—and the poem's meaning might penetrate and be effective. Rose was ALWAYS "attacking" the world—our world—that we lived in. We all thought it was a reflection of his idiosyncrasies. Not at all, it was a reflection of his understanding that to move the mind to the position it might be in if it were confronted with death, he had to attack all of the things that it was focused upon—lost in. Inertia and gravity do not go in this direction. Minds do not drift into the state of being at the "end-of-their-rope." Nisargadatta does not accomplish this with his lullabies of eternality, nor does Rumi. The time to listen to the lullaby is when the panic-stricken mind needs a rest—but an inspiring rest of the poetry of the eternal, not tension-relieving dissipation.

The reason to attack the life someone is living is to pry them loose from it prematurely, i.e. before their physical death. If someone is lucky enough, as my father was, to be given a scheduled death sentence (cancer) and also be in a position to think about one's life, then they will simultaneously accept the life that was lived and is being lived—after all it's a fait accompli—but they will look at it as utterly unimportant, or certainly from a more distant perspective. It is that sort of attitude that can result in the attention turning in on itself instead of being so fixated outwardly on the dream. Death being the end-of-the-road, with no escape as a backdrop, can make it possible to simply look at life without defensiveness, without argument, and see what is there, what is really going on. That viewing can start a chain reaction. The prospect of impending death has the power to propel the mind into a state of between-ness. Rose—the true Zen master—was doing just that with his incessant confronting of his students about the life they were living and the world in which they [thought they] were living.


Mike Keefe 2001: panhandling with sign 'forgotten passwords'

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