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

TAT Forum
August 2003

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


This month's contents:

The Simple Truth by Richard Rose | The Circle Where Nothing Grows by Gary Harmon | Relying on the Unknown by Douglas Harding | Poems by Shawn Nevins | Passed Away by Shawn Nevins | Pieces from my Road by David Weimer | On Spiritual Pretense by Bob Cergol | What Shall I Do When I Meet a Zen Master? by Alfred Pulyan | The Trap of Projection by Bob Fergeson | Humor | Reader Commentary

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The Simple Truth
by Richard Rose

Man is complex. The Truth is simple. The path to the Truth needs to be complex only in coping with complex interference by man's mind. As that interference is removed, the path becomes proportionately more simple.

The questions that you must ask yourself naturally begin with a question as to whether you actually want to approach reality. The next question you would ask yourself is if you are going to postulate reality before discovering it. Are you aware that there is relative reality, which is the god of conventionality, and then there is reality, not yet attained fully, but which is understood to be ultimate or absolute reality?

Another question to ask yourself deals with the amount of time you can or are willing to spend in search of that Reality. Results are proportional to energy applied. Can you afford to waste twenty years of your life probing and believing a system, only to find that it is incomplete, spurious or of an anodyne nature? That you lose your money in the process is not near as important as the time that is lost, because the older you get the more intractable and calcified the mental abilities become.

We should give some attention to the observations of life in relation to life's termination. Is memory synaptic or molecular, and not a spirit-attribute? If the former is true, what type of post-mortem survival can we expect? Is there any real immortality without the memory of previous or earthly actions and personality? Recent experiments with planaria, and with observations of the DNA molecule, lead us to believe that memory is physical.

It seems that if this is true, there are only two windows open by which we can hope to see immortality. One would be a system of spiritualizing physical memory, or of adjusting to a life after death that would be one of awareness only, or possibly of particularizing that awareness down to mundane and personality-memories.

Observing and tentatively accepting these ideas for the sake of planning future spiritual endeavors, we can see that wisdom, if it is at best only synaptic, cortical or molecular—will do us no good in any future life. Many old systems of development aimed at the relative mind, and they now meet with little response from the public that is more aware. And it does not matter if those systems were involved in magic, symbolic study, ritual, prayers, or in some arcane system of concentration. All is lost when the brain rots, or when the memory-bearing chromosome decays and allows the DNA molecule to disperse and deteriorate.

Man must first know that part of him which really IS, before he begins the cultivation of faculties. First know thyself. And this also implies that you must first become. The Albigen Papers include a system that tells you how to become. They do not pretend to offer any somatic advantages or improvement of physical faculties, nor do they pretend to be a spiritual placebo, nor to improve your business, nor to flatter your estimates, nor to lengthen your life—but they do hope to use some of that brief span of time to its best advantage in finding self-definition and essence-realization.

© 1977 Richard Rose. All Rights Reserved.

The Circle Where Nothing Grows
by Gary Harmon

In every dimension is a place where nothing will grow
When we leave this earth meet me there
I will gravitate to that spot where we stood before
I long for the place that is an abyss to all
Only weeds grow there, no trees will survive
They call this the place where nothing grows
As I walk through this circle of nothingness once again
A smell is noticed that is unrecognizable but familiar
I have stood on this spot before with my friend, my teacher
There arises recognition, a remembrance, a knowing
We have met here before and will meet here again
No movement, no time, no space, no we
Only that which is where nothing will grow

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

Relying on the Unknown
by Douglas Harding

Q:  Do you have any special ways to remind yourself to trust?

H:  Yes. We all have our special ways. I remember one year at the Buddhist Society Summer School, I had a little insurance policy. I'd got a card with some notes on how to do my evening lecture. When I got to the lecture hall, I took a risk and threw the card away. The chairman introduced me politely, and I duly stood on my hind legs and faced the company of a hundred and twenty very earnest and learned Buddhists. I stood there, and nothing happened. I really was stuck. I just wasn't prepared. It would have been skillful, I suppose, to have at least got the first sentence ready. But I hadn't. I stood there, feeling more and more embarrassed. There was a bit of squirming going on, both on the platform and in the audience. I thought, "Really, this is the most embarrassing thing. Here's this chap standing on his hind legs and nothing is coming out." However, patience was rewarded on both sides. Something eventually did emerge. Once it started, the flow was not copious but was sufficient to get by with.

Well, I had a friend in the audience, and she came to me afterwards and said, "Douglas, that was very good." I was staggered. I didn't mention this embarrassment, this terrible, ghastly beginning. I said, "What was good about it?" And she said, "Oh, the thing that impressed me was you standing there in silence before anything happened."

Cloud of Unknowing, by Roman Verostko

Of course, it's a silly story. But I do think perhaps it was a simple instance, an early one, of not being frightened to rely on the Unknown. It's perfectly appropriate to think again and again and again, and rehearse things, and have an idea of what you are going to do. If it's a very important occasion, the more preparation you do, the better. This is not ruled out. But on the way there or when you go up to the platform and get on your hind legs, you just forget it all and find out what happens. Nine times out of ten, it owes something to that preparation, but not very much, perhaps. And sometimes quite the opposite of what you had prepared comes out, though I think what you had prepared is not wasted.

This is an example regarding public speaking, but it applies to other things. I'll give you an instance. I've got an issue to take up with a friend. I've got some ideas about how to do it, but when I meet him, I've got to ditch those ideas and listen to what comes out. Also, when I don't know and give up, I get great surprises. There were three or four things that came up last night at the workshop that I had never thought of before, never said before. They came up because Douglas was not responsible.

An essential ingredient of this trusting is that you are not excited about any apparent success. You just cannot take any credit. It's done in spite of Douglas, not because of Douglas. It happens because Douglas is not functioning at the Center. To take credit for it is a temptation, and to be excited about it is to hinder and delay its repetition. Furthermore, when you've been taken over and have been surprised by what comes out, and what comes out is authentic and works because it's not a personal reaction, it is appropriate then not to forget this but—it sounds very Christian—say "Thank you!" Don't take it for granted. Say "Thank you. Thank you, Lord, you really looked after me then." I know it's Yourself you are thanking in the deepest sense, but it's also Other than yourself that you are thanking. Taking it for granted and not being grateful is to discourage this inspiration.

~ From Face to No-Face, by Douglas E. Harding. © 2000 by David Lang. All rights reserved. Reprinted by arrangement with InnerDirections Publishing, Carlsbad, California. See The Headless Way web site for more information on Douglas Harding and his teaching.

Poems by Shawn Nevins

I slide out the window
into rain—leaving behind this body—
becoming that cool relief.
Allow these sounds to drown
each thought
like fear in the good night.
Just for you, an eternity of rain.


there is so much hope.
Walk lightly and breathe in
every view, every sound.
What you think doesn't matter,
and what you feel is a contraction
of splendor.
A splendid canvas and light with which to see—
coldly burning from within.


A cloudless sky
over clear waters.
What do I reflect?


Let today be fresh from yesterday
and the past a faded sound.
No need to consider my offer—
it's already done.
We merely surfaced from a silent pool.
Let us return together
and alone.


These words preserve nothing;
they express no feeling of mine.
Rather, they peel away such concerns
leaving us staring at a dropped pen—
completely empty and alive.


with the winds tearing through the trees,
scattering thoughts in all directions,
we see what is lasting
and what changes with the seasons.


The Absolute pervades eternity
waiting for us to tire
of ignorance,
Turning from the rain of life,
gazing through hopes
into the feeling of the unknown—
the answer, like water melting icy time.

Passed Away
by Shawn Nevins

I grew up hearing my parents refer to the deceased as "passed away." With a soft accent of sadness, my mother would say, "Aunt Lois passed away." That fragment of vagueness would be the last word as to Lois' fate. What do such phrases reveal about one's beliefs regarding the afterlife?

My devout Christian relatives confidently declare a person "passed on." Aunt Lois definitely did not slip away like someone skipping town over a bad debt. She passed on to a destination, and a known rendezvous with destiny. Of course, a good Christian cannot pass judgment on where the fortunate (or unfortunate) one passed on to, but it is definitely one of two places.

In comparison, passed away is an indefinite fate. Aunt Lois has gone away... somewhere, we think. We don't know, but she's not here anymore.

Older, I examined life through the lens of the truth seeker. I rebelled against these perceived euphemisms and declared the cold truth: she was dead. That is all I knew for sure. No use in waxing sentimental about it; all I knew and loved of her was gone. That honest appraisal was a good starting point and catalyst for discovering the truth of my fate.

Now, however, I feel the touch of wisdom in the words "passed away." In the end, we do not move on to something, nor does all fall to oblivion. Our old self passes away, is left behind. We move away from all that we knew and were, and become naked, unburdened, and unwoven.

If we are fortunate, that is. I suspect there are still three possibilities: to die (oblivion), to pass on (another existence/bardo), or to pass away. Our success in ferreting out the truth of our essence determines the route we discover.

Pieces from my Road
by David Weimer

Live the impossible. You are not smart enough or capable enough to find the Answer. No one is. Have determination. Be honest. Be willing to do whatever it takes. Don't give up.

Don't lean. Not on the words of Buddha, not on God. They are all wrong, as far as you are concerned. Until you find out for yourself, it's pure fiction. Don't lean on someone else's life.

Use comparison. Comparison can turn you into a resentful person—if you don't live to your potential. A true seeker is nondiscriminating, using everything. Be what you can be. Make that your center. You'll be in the company of the Rose's, the Jordan's and the Einstein's. You’ll use comparison and not be used by it.

Know it's your right. Do with your life what you feel is right. We are all equally important. No one has the right to steer your boat.

Become an expert. The skater is never again as bad as the first day. Each one of us is going to become an expert at something. Most of the time, it's automatic when you stay somewhere long enough. You can become an expert meaning-of-life-finder.

Make the class your own. We are stuck in class with a feeling of resignation, putting in time until we can do what we really want. Why? You’ll learn the other stuff—but you will LIVE in the things that you are interested in. Bend each assignment to your fascination. Most teachers are relieved to find a student excited about something even remotely related to their subject.

Do something "other than." One-hundred-percent conviction is the subtle clue that the devil has his mouth to your ear. So-and-so is my enemy. Be willing to do something other than what you would normally do or not do. You don't even know what that could be. Paradigms are worlds in themselves. Willingness is the key. The world can flop over; all the enemies become just normal people and the truth will set you free.

Meditate. Follow your fascination. Make it a habit. It could be an intellectual, exclusive concentration on a problem, or a yearning and pushing forward into the desire to KNOW with all of your being, or allowing yourself to be completely absorbed by the subject of your attention for the sake of the truth. It doesn't matter what you do. Do something, anything, and nothing.

Read. Take time to track down the books your curiosity responds to. If someone gives you a book that you don’t think will help—open it anyhow.

Help others. What you think is help usually isn't.

Talk. We think that we know just because we feel comfortable (we're still intact and untested). A girl with a dog could say something valuable. Check your intuition or feelings. Ask people what they think. See how your discoveries about human nature hold up. Explain your ideas.

Make a commitment (again). It was a big step. You made your first uninformed commitment and walked into the unknown. That's not the end.

Try to have common sense. If you can't live the unlivable or buy the unbuyable, then remember that there have been some—Buddha, Rose, Ramana Maharshi—who have lived their lives a certain way contrary to the norm, and who have said and written things. When there are times of serious doubt, look at the whole scene, the whole picture, weigh it, and try to have some common sense.

Live without regrets. Walk into a fearful situation and do your best. There will be moments of singular choice when you will know without a doubt that a door is open for you. Almost all hesitate, and the door swings shut again (it always does). Later, people say, I could have done something.

Make a commitment. Until you make a commitment, there is fear, hesitation, indecision and ineffective action. If you find yourself facing a direction not braved by the majority of comfort-addicts, you may feel uncertain. But you have to either go forward or quit.

Work. Doing something you don't like takes ten times more energy than doing something you do. Follow your fascination and do the 'work-that-is-not-work.'

Become smarter than the problem. People have killed themselves and gone crazy beating their heads in the same place on the wall. Look for a door. Insanity is continuing to do something and expecting different results (a borrowed definition). Become smarter than the problem.

Throw the sticks back in the fire. Put the ends back into the fire and use every scrap of wood and waste nothing. Nothing is irrelevant in the quest for the Answer. This is not a euphemistically described "learning experience" or trying to tell oneself that something bad is good. The lessons are in the events in our lives. Use everything that uses you. Keep the fire burning.

Be honest. Or you're lost—and you won't even know it.

~ David assembled the above advice for a session he conducted with Jim Burns at the April 2003 TAT Gathering.

On Spiritual Pretense
by Bob Cergol

Someone wrote me yesterday and mentioned they didn't feel inspired lately and didn't feel much spiritual desire.

I wrote back:

I think (based on my own experience) so much of spiritual desire, and efforts of working at it, in the final analysis are so much pretense and in fact the means we employ to AVOID the work which is our true spiritual path.

For me, I had to tell myself I was giving it up in order to stop lying to myself about my doing it or following it. I decided to live my life as an ordinary person. In hindsight, that was when my inertia stopped, and I actually started to change or make progress.

What ended up mattering for me is that I still had the desire, but it wasn't blocked by my pretense of doing something. I acknowledged that I wasn't doing anything—and couldn't because of my newly chosen circumstances, i.e., marriage and family. In reality, I was still on my inner journey and was no longer blocked. It unfolded of itself—because I still WANTED IT to and didn't resist it. I continued to look within but no longer with the thought that I should, no longer with the thought that I would achieve a result. I looked within because I was compelled to, and it was easier once I stopped pretending that I was above the fray and accepted that I was in fact no different from every other human being—maybe less honest, maybe more egotistical.

So does it all come down to, "What do you desire?" I think every person is doing EXACTLY what they, ultimately, want to do. But there is a "reality gap" between facts of their circumstances plus the extent of their inner life and the story they engage in. This gap defines the lie that each is living.

That's why I asked the question about what you would do if you had no group, didn't know anyone to talk to, etc. The "story" that is the idea you have about your path, the goal, etc., is to a large extent a "carrier" of the egocentric position. Can you give it up and just face the plain, raw facts? Are you living at odds with yourself? Are you living your life honestly, true to yourself? If you are, if you can, then nothing else matters. You don't need to overlay some drama of spiritual seeking to interpret your life. What is it that you really want?

What Shall I Do When I Meet a Zen Master?
by Alfred Pulyan

flowering plum branch Your problem is the old koan: What shall I do when I meet a Zen master? Shall I give him an uppercut, biff him, plug him? Well, if you do, he will either give you a little Judo, if he is a black belt, or, if he is an old man & weak, will politely transfer you to another monastery! Occupational hazard! Shall I call him a liar? He will smile & I shall get no further. Besides after knowing him some time I shall see that he is sincere. So? Then the possibility is that he is self-deceived, in a state of illusion, mental conjangulation, misunderstanding of subjective experiences etc. etc. Who isn't? After knowing him a little longer I find him keen, sharp, definite, logical, certainly not psychotic, & I begin to say: "Hell. God or no God, give me some of that anyway!" But right now. I have just met him. How shall I act? Shall I doubt & yet half hide it, placate him so that he won't run away? If there is A CHANCE that he really is that extraordinary thing, a Buddha, another Jesus, a Lao Tse, an Eckhart, etc. etc.--- then let us not lose this chance! So let us cajole a bit, smarm a bit, flatter the old bastard, kiss his venerable posterior, hide our doubts--- The trouble is that the Z.M. knows that one too! Besides IF HE NEEDS THAT HE IS STRICTLY NO GOOD, STRICTLY FOR THE BIRDS. Try somewhere else---

Of course you could be just a friend, and friends don't have any communication problem.

~ Alfred Pulyan was an American Zen master who worked almost exclusively through the mail. This excerpt is from correspondence he had with Richard Rose.

The Trap of Projection
by Bob Fergeson

"The mind has the ability to create, better than the ability to accurately witness. With the ability to create comes the ability to delude the self." ~ Richard Rose

I remember my first real encounter with the trap of projection, when I was a struggling alcoholic trying desperately to become sane and sober. I had spent months believing that my problems were based in others only, and if they would just leave me alone, I would be just fine. I also bought into the projection of place being a cause, in that I thought if I could move to another town, I would be free of the restraints of my negative state of mind. The saying, "Wherever you go, there you are," hit like a ton of bricks when I changed towns, jobs, and friends several times, and things went from bad to worse. It slowly became apparent that the problem was in me, not outside in place or person. The projecting of our problems on the environment and others, thinking that if you could just be away from your current environment and associates, things would be better, is just projecting the blame away from our infallible, self-righteous ego. I was not facing the fact that our being creates our life, and to change our life, we must change.

We can also project positive, but likewise unconscious, aspects of ourselves onto others. This can be seen first as an admiration or jealousy of a facet in the other person. Later, we may come to see the same attribute in ourselves and realize that something inside was simply trying to draw our attention to it. I can remember having a vivid first impression of someone as being 'capable.' Later, after working with them for several months, I came to see that this was something I admired about them and wished for myself, but my ego, again, couldn't imagine it as possible. It went against the current belief-system. I needed to see it in action in the other person before I would accept it as something possible for me. The experience of it in the other led to its manifesting in myself after I had come to see it was not an impossible, or even impractical, thing for a normal human to have.

The same thing happened when I first met a spiritual teacher and felt his inner strength. I at first believed this to be something only he could possibly possess. Years later, I came to see the same inner light in several of my fellow seekers as well as myself. It had been something I wouldn't have accepted, therefore unconsciously refused to cultivate, and had to be seen first in another before it could become manifest in me.

This trap of projection is mainly one of thinking rather than observing. The thoughts we believe, whether our own or those perhaps projected into our heads from sources that may or may not have our best interests in mind, we take to be valid and 'us.' Learning to observe our thoughts rather than reacting to them mechanically can lead to a new level of being, one in which everything is possible, even our own becoming.

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


"Know yourself: Do not accept your dog's admiration as conclusive evidence that you are wonderful." ~ Ann Landers

"If it weren't for STRESS I'd have no energy at all." ~ Unknown

"The ultimate result of shielding men from the effects of folly is to fill the world with fools." ~ Herbert Spencer, English Philosopher (1820-1903)

Reader Commentary:

I really enjoy reading your E-zine.... It's refreshing but also makes me think. Poetry is great as are the articles. Thanks. ~ David Donaldson / Taos, NM

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