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

TAT Forum
May 2004

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

cabin in the woods Cabin in the Woods

This month's contents:

Peace of Mind Despite Success (part 6) by Richard Rose | Going Within: The Object of Attention by Bob Cergol | What Have We Lost? by Bob Fergeson | Morning by Gary Harmon | Prologue to The Little Book of Life and Death by Douglas Harding | Poems by Shawn Nevins | Two Baby Goats by Shawn Nevins | Your Task by Hakuin | Humor

Sign up for e-mail alerts that will let you know when new issues are published.

Want to meet some of the Forum authors in person? Interested in meeting other Forum readers? Watch for more information about TAT's meeting schedule and programs.

View video clips of the TAT spring conference DVDs or listen to free audio recordings.

Peace of Mind Despite Success
by Richard Rose

~ From a 1984 talk in Akron, Ohio—Part 6
(continued from the April 2004 TAT Forum)

Q : Is the spiritual energy stored?

Rose: Well, the basic storage of human energy, body and somatic energy, is fat and muscle. That's your storage vehicle. The storage for the higher quantum energy is the glands. And the brain itself.

There are things that the human body can do which I am quite sure show that the nerves either contain energy themselves or the ability to pipe that energy to a given point in the body within seconds.

In other words, we presume, from biological studies, that the blood carries the energy to the muscles. What caused me to contemplate the possibility of instantaneous energy is one time lifting a two-ton truck off of two people who had been smashed by it. Myself and another fellow who ran down to the wreck—they had hit this big truck broadside, and some people were thrown under it and were pinned under it.

And this other fellow and I lifted the truck off them. Got down and got the bottom of it and cursed each other a bit, to get excited—counted and cursed until finally, one big heave, and we put it back on its wheels.

There is no way we could have ever taken exercises enough to build up the power to pick up that weight. But—it came instantaneously, by excitement. And it had to come through the nerves. It couldn't have come through the blood system. And there was no fatigue, either. I wasn't fatigued; I wasn't strained.

So—observing that, I realized that a tremendous lot of things happen to us in life, and we are able to do them, in times of stress—I think Victor Hugo, in one of his stories, mentions a man picking up a cart, or something in that respect. We are able to transmit energy through the nervous system because the blood wouldn't get it there fast enough.

[Break in tape]... which was an understanding of the mind, the understanding of the self. The truth about thought. So the vector, once going, aims and goes there. And brings back a solution. Because it pops through the top of the physical structure. (My guess is that it doesn't pop through—it's like an LSD trip—it may freeze the synapses until you can see clearly.) And that becomes the trip across from the mundane mind into the mind-dimension itself.

Q: How is this energy created?

Rose: It is created by eating a little more than you would need—at times, maybe—and spending a little less. And it stays right there in the glands. This is the real apple in the garden of Eden. It wasn't an apple. We have tremendous powers within ourselves, but we also have—part of the blueprint says "Reproduce," which we're not going to get away from. That's part of the deal.

By the same token, you don't have to be nothing but a machine out there. And the conservation of that type of energy—this you'll find in all the esoteric literature of any movement on the face of the earth—if you want to store it, that's the way you store it.

(Question about energy transmutation.)

Rose: Well, you have to focus your head someplace else. We all have a head like a goat. We've got to quit thinking like a goat. We've got to thing about—curiosity about what's up in the tree or what's beyond the tree, or what's in the sky or what's beyond the sky—anything but just being a goat.

In that respect, you change. That's part of the becoming. And when you become, it's very difficult for you ever to be snowed. Very difficult. Because you're aware. You're aware that you're capable of being a goat, and it just doesn't happen any more.

(Question about reincarnation.)

Rose: I can't remember ever having lived before. And—the feeling that I had when I had my experience—I had no feeling of ever having lived before.

I don't think anybody has lived before. I think they go through certain nightmares. In relation to the Absolute—this is the crux of this whole understanding—a person realizes that the next dimension is an absolute dimension. This one is spun around the sun, the moon, and the stars. In other words, the sun determines a day, a year, a lifetime. But take that all away—what type of time would you have? Can you experience duration? What is duration? Take all this away—supposing everyone were blind and couldn't see the sun, couldn't see a clock. If you've got someone around, they'll say that it's three o'clock. But supposing you don't have that—what type of mentality would you have? When the light goes out, the sun goes out. I used to say, "When I shut my eyes, the world disappears." I disappear too maybe, but so does the world.

So what is our yardstick? What is our measurement of consciousness? From the sun comes days and hours and seconds. And we compute, on an electroencephalograph, the duration of a thought—so many parts of a second. All of this stuff goes out the window.

In relation to this—regardless of whether there may be some experiential stuff out there—but it has no relation to this, and it has all the seemings of a total absolute thing. In other words, you become one with God. Nothing else is. And you, as you know yourself previously, are nothingness. Nothingness.

And of course, as you approach death—everyone experiences this, that their previous convictions have all been as full of holes as Swiss cheese, now that the facts are at hand. But they don't know what facts are at hand. As I said, I saw this when I was just a young fellow, and I decided to get there a little ahead of time. And come back and make a report, if possible. Because I don't like surprises.

But it still was a tremendous surprise when it happened. I had heard these stories about people stepping out and meeting their relatives: I didn't meet any relatives—I met everybody. From my point, I saw everybody—I was convinced it was humanity—they looked like maggots, there were so many of them. They were climbing. And I knew that if I wanted, I could pick one out. So I thought, "I'll look down there and see if I can see someone I know."

And I looked down, and the first guy that caught my attention was Richard Rose. So I knew he wasn't real. The thing that I saw climbing there wasn't real. When reality comes, you will see a picture of maggots. But you are one with God. You are absolute in nature.

So, consequently, reincarnation is like a time dream for a creature that has no time. And I never felt the urgency to explore this. Yet I feel quite confident that I didn't start 67 years ago. I've always felt that I was much older than what I am. But no proof of it. I don't have the desire to prove, because the question I was asking—was answered.

(Further question on reincarnation.)

Rose: Right. I don't argue with it. Because there are too many cases of people—if we argue with reincarnation, then we have to argue with every other phenomenon, even of cases of life after death. But I don't particularly understand it. Because it's possible that if you had a bad experience in one room in a house, you may never go back into that room. But if you transcend the house—then it won't be important whether you had the bad experience in one of the rooms of the house.

Q: Would you describe your experience?

Rose: What do you think it will do?

Q: I would just like to know.

Rose: I don't mind talking about it—but it could be fairy tales. It's something I can't validate for you. And I don't know that it's something that somebody should copy.

The bad thing about—it's just like reincarnation. Many of the teachers of the East, when you approach them about the idea of reincarnation, to them it immediately is an excuse for procrastination. This is one of the dangers of it—if you become convinced, or if enough people tell you that there is such a thing as reincarnation.

I had a Rosicrucian write to me one time, and he said, "Oh, you're fretting about self-definition. You've got hundreds of lifetimes ahead of you." Now how does he know that? How could he presuppose that there were hundreds of lifetimes? He couldn't remember the last one, perhaps.

Again, I say some people have. But it's more or less—the ones that have, it's more like a dim scene or like something you'd see in a movie. Not with really specific details.

But what happened was—at different times, I started on this rather actively—I started off in a seminary, and I came to the conclusion that the people there were also hypocrites—running an institution that was not necessarily truth-directed. So I checked out after a while. And I went back to high school and went to a couple years of college and studied chemistry.

Then I decided that a lot of this stuff was nonsense, and it would just be in the road of me putting full time into studying psychology. I didn't know what door to go to, so I started off through the psychological door. Then I ran into some books on raja yoga. And I tried everything. I lived a totally ascetic type of life. I quit eating meat. I didn't smoke, I didn't drink coffee, I stood on my head a bit and sat in poses and that sort of thing.

And after a few years went by, it seemed like utter nonsense. And sometimes I would decide to throw it all over. I would have gotten drunk, but my body wouldn't stand it. So back to the drawing board. Or I'd think the smart thing for me to do before all my hair falls out is to hunt a girl up and get married, because that's the pattern in this rat race, and I might as well at least give some children a chance to do something.

So I'd go out and I'd look for a girl, and she'd tell me off. There was some guiding power there all the time, protecting me, but I didn't have sense enough myself, letting something else get in the road.

But anyhow, I was in a high state of frustration at different times, because I felt I was a real fool. I had no tangibles—when you deal in this, there is nothing tangible to go by, that you're making any step at all. You’re just struggling like a worm underneath somebody's foot, that’s all. And the exigencies of time and life are the feet.

But I kept at it. I went out to Seattle, Washington with the idea of getting married. Again, I was going to chuck it all and get married. I'm not going to get into that part of it, because it's a nasty story. I didn't get married. The girl and I fell out. I was staying in a Japanese hotel out there, and I went back to the hotel. I had a job, and I worked every day, and every evening I would come home from work and get into this posture with my feet under me and sit there and think.

The only meditation is what you devise for yourself. The best meditation is just to look at yourself: "Why did I think this?" or "What should I do more dynamically tomorrow?"

And I got a pain in the top of my head. It was unbearable. And I thought, "Oh boy, three thousand miles from West Virginia, and this is where I have a stroke." That is what I thought was coming on. Well, I went unconscious, to a degree, in that I lost the body on the bed. It was daylight yet. Because I worked at night and I was home during the day.

Cascade Mountains And I went out the window—out this hotel window—and I could see the people on the street, just as clearly as if everything were just as it was. But looking out my window, I could also see snow-covered mountains—I think they're called the Cascade Mountains—and the next thing you know, I was above the Cascade Mountains. I was gaining altitude. And when I looked down—I was watching this all the time I was going—but when I looked down, the whole scene changed. I had lost this whole dimension. And that's when I saw—the mountain became just piles of humans, millions, struggling, trying to get a little bit of altitude.

And then I experienced nothingness. I found oblivion. And it was really a shock. I thought, "Oh boy, you wanted the answer—and it's nothing." But in the middle of that, while I was doing this, while it was happening, I knew I was watching it. and then I realized the watcher. and in this little book I've written, that's the reason for the words Psychology of the Observer [used as the title].

The scene, the view, is not the viewer. That which is, is the viewer. If you look at your body, if you look at your progress, that isn't you. The viewer is you. The awareness behind, all the time. That type of awareness, when you contemplate it, it's not really consciousness. You feel—you don't think. Awareness doesn't imply thought. And, in some respects, the relative thought does disappear. But that awareness always remains.

And I knew, in the middle of this, that I was observing the whole thing. And that's when I knew I was immortal. I was nothing, and I was everything—simultaneously.

Q: Was this God?

Rose: I felt that if this is God, he'd be lonely.

Q: Was this a death experience?

Rose: It's death, and you don't encourage it. It came to me one other time, and it wasn't as traumatic because I knew what was happening. But it's still—there's a Zen saying: Before you have the experience, the hills are hills and the valleys are valleys; and during the experience, they are no longer hills and valleys; but once you return, again once more the hills are hills and the valleys are valleys.

In other words, you've got to enter into the play. This is a stage play. You've got to come in and assume the mask of life until you're ready to check out. You have to eat and drink and whatever is necessary. If you're sick, you take pills.

Q: (Inaudible.)

Rose: I didn't have that particular feeling. As I said, I feel that something was—it may have been an anterior self. Because I didn't choose to return.

The only thing was—you know I said that I was very angry. I had an angry period from the time I was a kid until I was thirty years old about the lack of truth available to people, about the phonies.

And young people just generally quit looking. They say, "To hell with it. There are too many lies to trip over, there are too many books that are phony to read." And they never think of looking inside themselves to find it.

And even looking inside yourself takes help. Just like I'm talking now; if that doesn't inspire somebody to look inside themselves, I'm wasting my time. Hardly anybody does it alone. Even myself, when I was looking, I read books. I read everything I could get my hands on. But I got a surprise. None of the books told me I'd find what I found.

But I found myself back on that bed. And I wasn't too happy about it. It was a very miserable experience coming back.

Q: (Inaudible.)

Rose: Yes, you might call it that. The valleys are once more valleys, but you're never quite the same. That's the reason I hesitate to talk about it. When I first came back from Seattle, I talked with Andy's mother and dad [i.e., Rose's friend Bob Martin and Bob's wife] about this happening.

And the funny thing about this is—his dad is a very extensive reader in Buddhist philosophy, and he knew a tremendous lot about books on the subject, and he had a hunch about what had happened. But his mother made a remark I'll never forget. She was just a young one at the time—I don't think she was over twenty years of age. She said, "Dick, I think you lost your ego." I didn't realize this until much later, that was the procedure—that my egos had collapsed.

Q: (Mentions the head pain.)

Rose: I think I had help. Something worked on my head to kill me, so to speak; to kill the mundane mind. The mind has to die.

Q: What causes the pain?

Rose: I don't know. And I don't know about other cases. I've heard just fragments of stories.

Incidentally, there's a categorization—after years and years of studying other cases and wondering why they were all so different—I found out that they aren't different. They fall decidedly in certain categories. And if you ever run into a little book by Ramana Maharshi in which he describes samadhikevala samadhi and sahaja samadhi. Kevala samadhi is cosmic consciousness. There's a book written by Richard Bucke, "Cosmic Consciousness," in which he describes that experience—which is not sahaja samadhi.

I had the cosmic consciousness for about seven years, in my twenties. Everything was beautiful. And I realized that the world was beautiful, but I was getting ugly. I wasn't learning anything. So I knew I had to get away from the intoxication with the mundane harmony.

~ Continued in the June TAT Forum.

© 1984 Richard Rose. All Rights Reserved.

Going Within: The Object of Attention
by Bob Cergol

Going Within diagram by Bob Cergol Note: The "Object of Attention" chart to the left was used in Bob's original talk, from which the "Going Within" essay in the February 2004 Forum comes. You can view a larger version of the chart, Going Within: The Object of Attention, with clearer labels. Some additional commentary by Bob:

The two "experience" boxes comprise two movies running concurrently at all times. The "Internal Experience" or movie 2 runs in concert with movie 1, which is "External Experience / Body as the object of attention." The "Identity spins identity" cycle occurs around the reaction line between these two in the diagram. The "reaction line" has "hair-trigger" sensitivity.

Affirmation of the self through experience is doomed to fail because that which is not real cannot be made real by more of that which generates the illusion in the first place. (We are left unsatisfied, and the nagging feeling of not being truly affirmed remains.) It is a foregone conclusion that it will lead to pain and diminishment of such a self. Life itself does that to us as we are all in the process of dying. The reaction line and arrows depict how the ego does not want to look at or accept diminishment and so deflects—"spins"—such painful and diminishing experiences into affirmations. And so people wander mesmerized, outwardly, lacking in any real self-awareness.

To break through the "Going Within" line requires dispassionate, detached, pure looking at experience—without spinning it. I think this is the surest way to achieve the "Who/What Am I?" meditation. It is an oblique way. It is how the between-ness of effort / no-effort is achieved, which is required for the jump to "experience of self" becoming the object of the attention. Here the witnessing point of reference transcends selfish motivation and the body-identity. I think for many, direct attempts to meditate on "Who Am I?" result in a form of sleep or hypnosis with the sense of identity firmly and safely anchored in the background. The meditation becomes an affirming experience for this ego-consciousness, when what is required is for transcendence of that ego-consciousness, i.e. "loss of self." (We need to discover what we are not, as opposed to continued weaving and believing.)

Experience is binding, and the attention is held captive by experience—indeed we derive our sense of personal existence from it—and the ingrained habit is to keep spinning it to reinforce the reality of that personal existence. It therefore makes perfect sense that focusing one's attention on experiences that afflict the sense of self is a catalyst for breaking that cycle and truly going within.

When the "experience of self" is the object of the attention, it is still within the realm of experience, but that experience is now fragile and subject to being seen as unreal—even dreamlike. But the viewpoint is still egocentric and identity-based. The identity is now truly threatened and at risk because aspects that comprise it are seen as having no substance. This inevitably leads the attention to looking towards the source from which that entire sense of self-existence emanates.

With this "going within," the stage is then set—the mind softened up—for the final acceptance of Reality, and therefore the "accident" can happen: one is open and receptive to what previously one could never see, since one will not see that which one, in advance, will not accept.

What Have We Lost?
by Bob Fergeson

"When Freud coined the phrase that the ego was 'the true seat
of anxiety,' he was giving voice to a very true and profound intuition."
~ C.G. Jung, Psychological Commentary, Tibetan Book of the Dead

letter W We come into this life complete unto Ourselves. Helpless in body and mind, and a bit forgetful perhaps, but still possessing faith in our Self-sufficiency. As we begin to look around us at the fascinating play of form and feeling, we slowly begin to lose our innocent Self-absorption and begin to be seduced into the present dimension. We can't help it, being terribly naive and still somewhat innocent (though carrying an unconscious package deep inside, the basis for our arrival here in the bardo of life). This regretfully changes, as we are soon permeated with an unseen fog-like state of mind we inherit from our newly chosen home environment. Constantly battered by moods and emotions we do not understand and cannot question, we find ourselves facing a daily onslaught of conflict and stress, followed by relief and pleasure, all designed to hook our attention in the outer world. The unconscious tendencies we have waiting patiently inside soon enough find their counterparts in the willing environment. Our mind is eventually set in concrete by the pattern of action-reaction with the world as we have encountered it, leaving little freedom of movement. We become hopelessly outer-oriented. With every passing year, the pattern becomes more fixed, and we ourselves become more convinced that the solution lies in more of the same. More control, more action-reaction, more identification, until we finally conquer and become master of the very environment that made us, or so we think. As someone once pointed out, this a good working definition of insanity. But here we are.

We have become hypnotized by the world. Our mind, and the minds of those who taught us from birth, have convinced us that we are an individual, a separate "thing" in a world of separated things. This sooner or later creates the unquestioned, complete identification with this illusory "thing," this knot between the sentient Self and the world. This knot is called ego, nebulous at best, though it calls itself "I." Because we have transferred our very sense of being into something unreal, which must be continually created and enforced, we feel an underlying anxiety, a longing for something, something stable and inherently self-sufficient. We, as ego, mistakenly transform this anxiety into a hope and belief in fear and desire, and we turn again and again to the world for the solution to our own mind-made problem. The Tibetan Book of the Dead gives us a hint at how serious this transference of meaning from the real to the unreal can be. Death of the body may not break the spell. Even in our dreams and fantasies, we are continually wandering, looking for safety and fulfillment in ego-building and unquestioned belief in our desires and fears. We have lost our Selves, and can only react to the creations of our own now desperate minds.

'mandala associated with death bardos As we continue through life, becoming more and more engrossed, our thoughts and actions reinforce themselves and the driving forces behind them, leaving less and less chance for any meaningful change. Just as in the world of the after-death Bardos, where at every step of the way the mind becomes more and more sensually oriented, more and more emotionally strident and confused, where in desperation, the wanderer eventually returns to life and the world of bodies and things in order to manifest its unconscious fears and desires, so is it also in this life. We wander from one game of desire to another, encouraged by success and pleasure, and driven by fear and our growing anxiety: the carrot and the stick that deny us any rest. We become obsessed with our health and possessions, and when faced with death, will do anything for even one more week of existence. We continue to turn towards life, bodies, and emotional highs and lows, making the same mistakes over and over, never guessing that the solution lies within, not in the manic, repetitious attempt to control the outer environment.

The world is change. Any hiding place or fortification we crawl into, or pleasure palace we build, will fail us, someday. All form is subject to this never-ceasing change. Only in the Formless can we find the road Home. This wandering from bardo to bardo, dream to dream, gives no peace or true understanding. The true cure for our anxiety and longing is the death of the ego, not the body. We have lost our connection to our Inner Self, not some thing, or some needed control over things. Instead, with non-attachment and great attention, look at the world, at the little life you think you love and hate so much, and at your anxious fear of it, at your coming death. Question everything, especially your self. Then, hopefully this dream of existence will be seen for what it is: a never-ending play of form upon emotion, a wandering through desire and fear that never ceases. Turn your attention back to your Source, to the Love within, and find peace for the wanderer, the lost traveler in the endless bardos of life, death, and dreams.

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

by Gary Harmon

Bryce Canyon

From the abyss the body calls, demanding it be noticed.
Awareness searches for the source of the sensation.
It is vague and noted,
but not of any concern.
Slipping again into the depths of the stillness
all is forgotten.
Yet again the urgency is felt, then thoughts appear of toil.
Peace returns,
thoughts become silent.
The cycle repeats,
the carcass is noticed but not claimed.
It is but a dream and nothing of importance.
Tranquility returns and all is well.
The pattern continues as the body again demands attention.
— yet so very shapeless —
is the recollection.
The dream comes clearer, less distant,
for it is right here.
The program commences and the memory churns.
The inflated feeling calls for attention that's remembered.
Fluid needs drained and the peace will return.
Recognized, it's a recurring dream.
Allowed to materialize, it will subside.
The haze continues and the pressure subsides.
A walk to the privy allows the urge to collapse.
Attention remains turned inward.
A reflection arrives:
To wake is to sleep, and the daily fantasy commences.

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

Prologue to The Little Book of Life and Death
by Douglas Harding

To die is different from
What anyone supposes
And luckier.
~ Walt Whitman

letter I It used to be the custom of Zen masters on their deathbeds to compose a gatha—a poetic condensation of the insights of a long and dedicated spiritual life, a final comment on life itself and impending death. This essay is my concluding gatha. Or rather, it would be if I were a Zen master (or at least a Zen man), and I had obviously come to the very end of my life, and I were writing in verse.

All the same, the composition of something like a secular and prose gatha at this time strikes me as not just a useful exercise—a sorting out and taking stock and overall clarification—but a project that's necessary for my own sake if for no others, and very urgent, and in fact long overdue. For already, at seventy-nine, I have lived two or even three times as long as people did on average not so many centuries ago. And of course every new day spent in death row, waiting for the sentence to be carried out, brings that much nearer the moment when I will finally be whisked out of life—perhaps with no warning at all. Into what? Is there a more pressing, more crucial question? It seems to me silly, contemptibly ostrich-like and altogether irresponsible, not to prepare for that moment of truth by asking myself now ... and now ... and now (while the asking is good, and I'm not ill or in pain or drugged or pushed for time) such questions as: "Exactly what is it to live, and then to die? Must I in fact die at all, and—if I must—is this indeed a dead end, the great let-down, the bitter and messy conclusion of the adventure that began so promisingly way back in 1909? And, above all, is it possible to do something right now, first to ensure survival, and second to influence its quality and ensure that it's worthwhile and preferable to annihilation?

Death's Door, by William Blake Death's Door, by William Blake

Going into these questions as candidly and comprehensively as possible is just about the most practical endeavour of my whole life. Even if no one else were to read my pseudo-gatha it demands to be written, clearly and honestly. (I've got to do my utmost to be honest with myself: on this—of all subjects—any suppression of unwelcome evidence, any cheating, would make the whole project a ridiculous waste of time.) I could call it my own highly "personal" and de-mythologized Book of the Dead—not remotely Egyptian or Tibetan of course, or even religious in any ordinary sense, but frankly contemporary and Western and matter-of-fact. For I aim to conduct this enquiry in a spirit that values the most threadbare shred of present evidence, the faintest glimmer of first-hand experience, the least impulse of humility in the face of the given, more highly than libraries full of scriptures and learned commentaries. Here nothing—however uplifting and sacred—is for believing; everything—however mundane—is for trying out and testing. In this life-or-death matter I can afford to take no teaching on trust, to rely on no one's say so—and to neglect no clue. Here at death's door—if nowhere else—I find myself forced to follow the dying Buddha's advice and be a lamp to myself, to take myself to no outside refuge.

This cautious-disrespectful attitude to the religious establishment, to all hallowed authority, is made even more necessary now that (as I shall presently show in some detail) important new empirical evidence on our subject is available. This evidence is of three sorts. The first arises from the skills and the sceptical and far-ranging attitude of modern science, together with some of its actual discoveries—particularly in particle physics. The second arises from recent research into the anecdotes of patients who have been brought back from near death. The third rises from a range of simple experiments I have been using over the past thirty years for investigating our intrinsic nature or First Personhood, techniques for directly perceiving who or what it is here that is conducting these experiments, who or what it is that lives and dies, who or what it is that does nothing of the sort. (A selection of these experiments constitutes the backbone of this book, and—when carried out and not just read about—cannot fail to settle the question of one's nature and destiny.) These three developments—and especially the last—demand that the whole subject be opened out freshly, and that we should start from scratch with as unprejudiced a mind a possible.

Our current resistance to such an investigation, to any candour or realism concerning out own mortality, can scarcely be exaggerated. Witness the popular cult of youth-at-all-costs in the world of advertising and fashion. Witness those communities of old folk dedicated to being "as young as you feel" and to avoiding all reminders of old age, sickness, and death. Witness the newspeak and double-talk of "seventy years young" in place of "seventy years old" and "elderly person" or "senior citizen" in place of "old man," "old woman." Witness the funerary nonsense so tellingly described in Evelyn Waugh's The Loved One. Witness Cryonics—the freezing of the newly dead for revival when technology is further developed, thus giving effect to the view that "death is an imposition on the human race, and no longer acceptable."1 Witness the cultists who seriously maintain that death is unnecessary and unnatural, and we can choose to live as long as we wish. How unlike the veneration of old age and the preoccupation with death and the hereafter which are such marked features of some great cultures! And again, what a contrast with the memento mori (remember you must die) of earlier centuries of our own civilization—its human skulls carved on tombstones and displayed on mantelpieces, its countless engravings and paintings confronting the living with the grim spectacle of Death the Reaper and the imagined sequel!

Were our ancestors just morbid? Rather it is we, with our pathetic Nelson's-eye for the least escapable fact of our life—its end—who are morbid. Only in part is our wilful blindness offset, at a less popular level, by modern depth-psychology: for instance, by the view that there is just one real but well-concealed terror—the fear of death—from which our many conscious fears all derive. The lesson for me is plain: attack fear at its root. Test the bold claim of the Sufi master Attar, "The only remedy for death (and the fear it generates) is to look it constantly in the face."

And for sure we don't lack our very own uniquely powerful memento mori—namely our all too justified anxiety about the possibility or probability of nuclear war followed by a nuclear winter, the species' mass suicide. We are all being forced to admit that we live precariously, in the Valley of the Shadow of Death.

However, the death that comes to you and me anyway—sooner or later—is never experienced as a mass event: but only by this solitary one: I mean, by the First Person Singular, present tense, never by second or third persons as such. In short, by oneself alone with oneself. Inevitably my death, and this preview of it, is the most personal and private adventure imaginable. And of course, just because of this unique and inescapable intimacy, it is universal, everyone's adventure—which is why I'm inviting you, my reader, to join me now in this enquiry.

Before we make a start, let's conclude these preliminary observations with a warning and a promise from a famous Buddhist text, the Dhammapada: "Vigilance is the path of immortality, heedlessness the path to death. The vigilant do not die, but the heedless are already like the dead." This assertion, though it proves nothing at all, should encourage us to give to this matter all the care, truthfulness, open-mindedness, and attention of which we are capable.


1 Alan Harrington, The Immortalist: An Approach to the Engineering of Man's Divinity, New York, Random House, 1969.

~ Reprinted by permission, from The Little Book of Life and Death by D.E. Harding. See The Headless Way web site for more information on Douglas Harding and his teaching.

Poems by Shawn Nevins

What draws me to the lone tree
in a wide open field?
It is the space, the flowing of grace
between branches once thought so real.
Find your season that allows this freedom
to be so gently revealed.


Tendrils of sleep
reach up through the darkness
entering your tiny room.
Pulling away door and windows—
pieces of your self.
Letting night light fill your head.
Laying thought to rest.
Disassembling your cherished being.
Opening you out of your self.


"Me" is a hollow sound
like words of valor spoken to an empty hall.
Every step uncovered is remembered—
taking away all thought of doing,
even as it is done.


Truth is:
nothing I see, nothing I feel
for the mind's eye is watched by the Real.
Yet there is no watcher,
only a field
of dreams colliding,
names misleading,
names deceiving.

The way without hope
is the way we need.
Like a dying man desperate for water,
all we see is the mind's eye.
Between seeing and not-seeing is Reality;
between hope and despair.


Beauty floats in this spring air,
laid upon a dream,
a lonely, lovely scene,
not of this little man's making,
but for the breaking
by looking in between a paradox so mean:
where sun-glint lives pass like sighs,
and to live is to lie,
while to find is to die.

Two Baby Goats
by Shawn Nevins

letter T This is a story of two baby goats, born in the coldest winter I ever experienced. I always thought spring was the season for babies, but goats have a way of violating what I consider common sense. This particular herd of goats taught me some harsh truths of life. One of their traits was the habit of abandoning their babies. Under stressful conditions such as cold and hunger, the mother goat would save her skin by cutting off the milk supply to the baby. That's assuming the mother even knew to feed her baby, which some first-time mothers didn't. They simply ignored the little one, and it starved to death.

An unfortunate combination of extreme cold, a shortage of feed, inexperienced keepers, and sickly goats threatened to wipe out the new year's births. In between anger and dismay at this failure of reality to match our hopes, a compatriot and I wound up with two semi-comatose baby goats in a makeshift pen of boxes under my desk. They were two little rag dolls collapsed from abandonment. Hard pressed to stay warm ourselves, we stoked up the wood stove and turned on the electric heater—an ancient metal box that rattled vigorously but did little else despite the assuring glow of its orange "on" light.

You probably know the experiment where the baby monkeys, denied affection by their mothers, died. Despite our attentive attempt to revive them, these two abandoned babies were headed for the same fate. The problem was one of language. We didn't know goat language. We did not know how to call out to them and bring them back to this cold world—like in the movies, when the dying person walks down the tunnel of light, but hesitatingly turns back when they hear a loved one call their name.

two baby goats "Think like a goat," I thought. A goat stands in the cold all winter. It carries its clothing and shelter on its back, so in retrospect it makes sense that heat would not lure them from death's door. Food was the answer. It makes sense now, but is still amazing. For a goat, a handful of dried corn rattling in a metal coffee can makes earthly music. I shook that can and a miracle occurred. Both babies cried out and struggled to their feet. They were too weak to open their eyes and blindly stumbled toward the noise. I don't remember if we quickly crushed some corn or used milk formula, but I do remember them greedily eating their fill, then promptly collapsing again. And so it went the rest of the day. We would rattle the can and bring them to life. They would eat, then collapse. By the second day, they were eating regularly and beginning to regain their ability to irritate me. The deep quiet of the dead of winter was interrupted by the baahing, jumping, and gaseous disturbances of two lively ruminants with no need for eight hours of sleep.

In another day, they were back with the herd.

There is a point to this story, though I may be pulling it from the nether regions. These baby goats were listening to two worlds at once. They had one hoof, as it were, in this world and two or three in another.

When we were babies, our mothers called out to us.

We listened and became of this world. Eventually, we learned to call out to our self and create ever more ways to tie our mind to the earth. We talked to our self, translated the events in the world as having meaning for us, believed we caused things to happen, and saw signs and portents of our significance all around.

Today, you listen for the opportunity to strengthen your self. Your attention is upon other people's reaction to you and threats to your safety. You look for the chance for love or sex, for financial gain, or to ridicule others. You listen for any feeling that stirs the waters of your self. You listen for these things like a dog cocks its head, or a robin bends to hear a worm tunneling underground.

All of this is the same as corn rattling in an empty can. If that it what you listen for, you will be dragged again and again into this world. But if you listen to what is unknown, in a direction you have not already ventured, you may hear what speaks to you of leaving. Listen inside, to what is not the sound of your own voice. Going within will reveal a black wall, a silence, and emptiness whose edges can be explored. Your task is to remember this and turn again and again to it throughout the day—to turn your ear from this world to another.

One of the baby goats died during the next spell of bitter cold. The other lived.

The self is simply a bundle of perceptions. Perceptions themselves, their organs, and things perceived are without substance, as the Heart Sutra tells us. Yet at the same time, the self is the agent of realization and the setting of serious practice. The Buddha pointed out that it is difficult to be born a human being and difficult then to find the Buddha Dharma. Indeed. When you reflect on the infinite number of happenstances that coalesced to produce you, then you understand how unique, how precious, how sacred you really are. Your task is to cultivate that precious, sacred nature and help it to flower.

~ Hakuin Zenji (1689-1796)


Adversity is the state in which a man most easily becomes acquainted with himself, being especially free of admirers then.
~ Samuel Johnson

Reader Commentary:

(We appreciate hearing from you.)

Sign up for our e-mail alert that will let you know when new issues are published. Contact the Forum for questions, comments or submissions.

Want to help? Your donation of $5 or more will support the continuation of the Forum and other services that the TAT Foundation provides. TAT is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit educational organization and qualifies to receive tax-deductible contributions. Or, download this .pdf TAT Forum flyer and post it at coffee shops, bookstores, and other meeting places in your town, to let others know about the Forum.


Keep informed of TAT events and receive our free monthly Forum filled with inspiring essays, poems and images.

Email & Social Media Marketing by VerticalResponse

© 2000-2021 TAT Foundation. All rights reserved.

View Full Site Back to Top
TAT Foundation logo