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It's all about "ladder work" – helping and being helped

In Memoriam
October 6, 1931–December 12, 2016

Jim Burns

Jim Burns, a long-time friend of many TAT members and seekers, passed away peacefully in Pittsburgh, PA, on December 12, 2016. Jim was introduced to Richard Rose, the TAT Foundation and its members over 30 years ago, and became a close friend and teacher to many. He was a frequent visitor at the TAT meetings over the years, where he always expressed his appreciation for just having the opportunity to kick around with like-minded friends.

The following obituary will appear in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

BURNS III, JAMES J., age 85, died peacefully on December 12, 2016. A Squirrel Hill native, he was the son of Attorney James Burns and Ann Muldowney. He graduated Central Catholic High School and studied philosophy and liberal arts at the Universities of Pittsburgh and Miami at Coral Gables. Although Jim was afflicted with physical handicaps and schizophrenia, he was blessed with a keen intelligence and generous nature. In the 1960s, psychiatrist Ed Mayer, impressed with Jim's intelligence, imagination, and verbal skills, encouraged his study of esoteric spiritual psychology through Edgar Cayce's A.R.E. Subsequently, Jim associated with other similar groups, including the TAT Foundation, where he was a regular speaker. He is best remembered for the wide-ranging self-knowledge discussion groups he headed, which overflowed with laughter and inspiration, and a book At Home with the Inner Self. Jim was a teacher and a true friend to the many who met him along the way. He was preceded in death by brothers Brian and William, and sisters Joanne and Mary Gail. Burial will be private. A memorial service will be held on January 7, 2016 at 1:00 at the Rapp Funeral Home, 10940 Frankstown Road in Penn Hills.

The memorial service will be followed by dinner at Mohan's Restaurant, 7324 Saltsburg Road, also in Penn Hills. Please email if you're planning to attend.

Memories & Impressions

On 12/13/2016 4:23 PM, C. Metil wrote:
Over the past 33 years, I have watched Jim Burns exemplify the meaning of what a true friend is to more than a few people. Richard Rose emphasized the role of family and friendship in the lives of those seeking to develop a deeper spiritual understanding of this existence. Jim was that best friend to the friendless, and a close family member to those who felt themselves alone in this world. He was constant in his readiness to be there for those who found comfort in passing the time with him. His service was great.

On 12/13/2016 9:58 PM, Dan McL. wrote:
I remember some things about Jim Burns:
1. (Expurgated by Editor :-)
2. How quiet he felt.
3. How open he was to giving and receiving affection.
4. How much he loved cheese balls and smoking cigarettes.
5. His love of friendship.
6. His capacity to forgive.
7. His desire to be of service.
8. A quote he shared—"Lies can be merciful things."

On 12/14/2016 2:36 AM, Corina B. wrote:
Today, Bob F. posted on Facebook about Jim's passing. At first I was really sad, then it felt like an absurd thing to read, because it's like Jim was never totally a part of this world anyway … it's like I always had this feeling around him, either that he was in multiple places/dimensions at once (well, he was), or that he wasn't quite IN this reality, in this story.

I'm glad I went to visit him in Pittsburgh when he was in the nursing home there (some months before they released him). I spent the entire day with him, me knitting and him ranting and raving at his fellow patients, yelling at them down the halls that they're sheep and they need to wake up. Haha! He told me like 100 awesome stories that day. In between the rants. He also told me that he was the smartest person in that place, and he didn't dislike the place as much as the 'herds of idiots' that lived there with him. I must say he was right :) It was the best time I spent with him.

On 12/16/2016 2:29 PM, Art T. wrote:
One weekend some decades back—in the early 1980s I'd guess it was—a dozen or so Richard Rose students were sitting quietly with Rose at his home in Benwood, WV.

A knocking at the kitchen door broke the silence. Rose left the room, where we were sitting in a circle of chairs, to see who was knocking. We heard someone, who turned out to be a colorful acquaintance of Rose named George Blazer, greet Rose and introduce his companion: "This is Jim Burns. I thought you two would like to get your heads together."

Rose invited them to join us in the circle of chairs (there was no other furniture in the room), opening a conversation with Jim—who was so immensely happy to have found people who were receptive to him that he ranted nonstop for the next 7 hours!

After a few hours the conversation moved to the kitchen, the heart of Rose's home, where most conversations with him took place around a large kitchen table. At some point I needed a break and was sitting on the stairs to the upper level. I didn't know that Rose was upstairs, but he came down and put a hand on my shoulder as he continued past me (I think I was sitting with my head in my hands)—an unusual gesture of affection.

Early in the conversation Jim, who I'm thinking would have been around 50 at the time, described how he'd had a mental breakdown at age 17, followed by periods in mental hospitals, where he'd learned to outwit any of the drugs that were given to him. By this time he was living on his own (in Pittsburgh), taking antipsychotic meds, and joked that he could run around the neighborhood naked if he wanted to, and the police wouldn't do anything to him since he'd been certified insane.

After hearing Jim talk about his breakdown and treatment, one of the students (a psychology major in college) asked Jim if or when he thought he'd become sane again. Rose later said that the question had made him angry, but when he heard Jim's response, he knew that Jim was enlightened. Jim's compassionate response went something like this: "Well, son, from down there you can't see the view from up here."

Rose also commented afterward that he wished he'd recorded Jim's impassioned outburst. Scattered among the diatribes of the anger and frustration over his life experience were pearls of great wisdom.

On 12/17/2016 12:11 PM, Paul C. wrote "Together in Silence":
Over 30 years ago, I first met Jim at a TAT gathering on the Richard Rose farm. I remember looking at him out of the corner of my eye. As an early twenty-something neophyte, I feared people like Jim: those who are unpredictable, intense, and—so I thought at the time—quite abnormal. But over time, I came to deeply appreciate his wit, wisdom, and perspectives on both our interior and exterior worlds. He most poignantly expresses this wisdom in his book At Home with the Inner Self: "… There is a fountain-spring of endless guidance and information within every human being. One only has to learn to get out of its way, to let the consciousness generate in a stilled and quiet mind."

Decades later, when Jim would arrive for TAT events held in the Community Building on the Rose farm, he'd humorously ask for a "cup of milk with a splash of coffee." Often, while everyone was gathered in the main meeting area, he'd hang out in the kitchen or outside on the patio. Occasionally, when I needed some fresh air, I'd join Jim on the patio while everyone else was inside. That was a true treasure chest—we'd sit and chit-chat, crack a joke or two, and then fall into silence within the backdrop of the sky, the woods, and nature. Ahhh … the truest and deepest bond of being together in silence….

On 12/20/2016 1:40 PM, Tim H. wrote:
I'm glad to have met him, learn his clearer thoughts, and see in adversity on this path success is possible even to the most downtrodden.

On 12/26/2016 12:22 PM, Vince L wrote: The Agony and the Irony of Jim Burns –

By his own account, agony was the theme of Jim Burns's life. He even paid the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania extra to have specialty driver's license plates made that spelled the word "Agony" on a pickup truck he owned for a period of time. Those who read this tribute will perhaps think I'm exaggerating a bit when I say I believe that the Agony of Jim Burns was comparable to that of Jesus Christ on the Cross. But honestly, I mean this. I do not exaggerate.

By all the standards of the conventional world, Jim was a complete failure. He led what the conventional world calls a "dysfunctional" life, beset by a history of family emotional abuse, mental health issues, long periods of institutionalization at a psychiatric hospital, the need to take a varied cocktail of medications, and periods of homelessness. When I had a chance to attend several Sunday talks Jim had with a few of his friends at his apartment at Dawson Street in Pittsburgh back in 1996, he was elated over the fact that he finally was holding down a regular job for the first time of his life as a chauffeur for a 95 year old attorney who knew his father. Jim was at this time 65 years old, retirement age, and he thought it was a big deal to be able to hold down a regular job. However, the important thing for him at that time was to be able to function normally in the world. He conveyed to us at these Sunday talks how much he enjoyed this respite as it was a novel thing for him. Of course the attorney, being quite old, didn't live much longer, so Jim even lost that anchor.

But there was a big irony to Jim's life, and I think this is important for us as spiritual seekers to know. As I said, by the standards of the conventional world he was a complete failure. In this life he lost all, including what the conventional world calls "sanity" and his ability to function and survive like others. According to what Jim told us at his Dawson Street apartment, he wasn't even allowed to have an ego due to the emotional abuse he suffered growing up.

Regarding this matter, Richard Rose believed that in Jim Burns's case his Realization, which probably came about in his late teens, was the result of a "shattered ego" where, unlike perhaps most cases of Enlightenment, he did not drop his egos in a sequence which Rose believed was necessary to come out of the trauma of Realization and then to return to functioning normally in the conventional world. In other words, Jim had not built up certain egos necessary for survival in the world before losing them, and this was perhaps the reason he had difficulty functioning normally after his experience. Jim indicated this was the case at those Sunday talks I attended.

I believe it was these circumstances leading to his Realization that make Jim's spiritual path ironic. For he never claimed to be Enlightened, and I remember Jim telling us at a TAT gathering a few years ago he didn't know what Rose was talking about when Rose told TAT group members he believed Jim was enlightened after meeting him for the first time in 1983. And to be honest about it, I felt that Jim's description of the agony he was experiencing in his life did not make seeking Enlightenment desirable, if this is what Enlightenment was. I'm sure he left this impression on others who heard him. But yet my intuition told me that in spite of his endless, relentless ranting and ongoing complaints about the agony he experienced in his life, Jim had found the Pearl of Great Price. Like Jesus Christ on the Cross, he lost all and gained Eternal Life. But even Jesus seems to have had a charmed childhood compared to what Jim told us about his life. That's why I put Jim on a par with Jesus Christ, and maybe one up!

In spite of Jim's negativity about his Realization, I nevertheless believe it's worth it to seek that Pearl of Great Price he found. Ironically, his example of Agony after Enlightenment is an inspiration for me to plow onward in the spiritual path. Because while I have said that Jim was a complete failure earlier in this tribute, he really wasn't. He found success in achieving the ONE thing in life that is all-important, namely Self-Definition. He knew Himself, Ultimately, and that makes all the difference. I don't doubt that Jim knew.

When you, as spiritual seekers, consider this, then you will know that there is no such thing as failure in the conventional world, which is only the play of Maya. No matter how successful we are in the conventional world, in the end we will lose it all. To be sure, Jim made it sound like he preferred living a "normal" life to Enlightenment, but I would like to believe he was kidding. And I'm assuming he was!

On 12/26/2016 1:19 PM, Bob Fergeson wrote:
Jim's presence and astute sense of humor will be missed by all of those fortunate enough to have spent time with him. His time was spent in understanding the problems of his own life, and then communicating this universal insight to those around him. While he didn't have the ability to communicate, work and travel as much as some, he did find an audience, one that keeps his work and insight alive and well.

Bob's Mystic Missal website includes a Jim Burns page containing commentary, biographical details, excerpts from Jim's teaching, and photos.

On 12/28/2016 1:18 PM, Keith M wrote:
One evening at twilight, when Jim's mother was still alive and he was living at the house he grew up in, I stopped by to visit.

I had never met his mother before. She was insistent that Jim and I sit at the kitchen table so she could feed us. This was more of an order than an offer, so we complied. Afterwards, as we left the table and headed to the front porch to sit, I noticed a professional picture of Jim on a nearby cabinet taken when he was about 12 years old. He looked absolutely miserable and was scowling at the camera. To this day I wish I had a copy of that picture as it seemed to encapsulate all of the stories he had told about his early, unhappy childhood.

As we sat on the front porch in the gathering darkness I looked to my left where a high, stone wall bordered some large trees behind it. Jim's home was next to the Homewood Cemetery in Pittsburgh. This cemetery is a vast, sprawling place of interment, and many of Pittsburgh's rich, elite and famous are buried here.

Suddenly a gigantic owl with a wingspan that had to be at least six feet minimum flew up and rested at the top of one of the trees inside the stone wall bordering the cemetery. It remained there for some time as we watched, amazed at the size of the bird and wondering how it hadn't been noticed before. I had worked at the cemetery during the summers while attending college, and although our work crews occasionally spotted surprisingly large creatures living there, the owl had not been among them.

The majestic bird rested in the tree top for a few minutes, and then with a few flaps of its wings the owl took off and we never saw it again.

Jim did not have much money of his own, but what he did have was time. One of the things I often heard him say was that parents should give of their time unconditionally to their children, not just in shared activities, but in the sort of personal time where there was a real connection of one mind with another, one self with another, one heart with another. Anything less was a form of abandonment. He also said that when playing or talking to children an adult should get down on the floor or in some way put themselves into a position to speak to the child at the child's level.

I would like to think that this is what Jim did with many of us in a figurative way; spoke to us individually at our level whatever that was so that we felt truly heard, truly listened to, and truly connected to another human being who understood, something he himself had apparently been denied during his childhood and early adult years as well.

I was very lucky to have seen, sat with and spoken countless times to that large, wise owl; thankful and amazed that he appeared out of nowhere when I needed him the most, and now has finally flown away to wherever large, wise owls go.

On 12/30/2016 1:05 AM, Bill R wrote:
I did not know Jim well, but I enjoyed his presence when we were attending TAT gatherings. Jim had a sharp wit, and great insight into the condition of humanity and the true nature of being. He had little patience for poseurs and was not afraid to say so. I especially appreciated his unflinching directness in conversations, and it was easy to laugh with him. I smile when I think of him.

On 12/31/2016 8:09 AM, Ike H wrote:
This is a belated fond thanks to Jim Burns. I have never met him, but his little book, At Home with the Inner Self, played a special role in my life. After several years of experiencing worrisome mental turbulences, escalating into personal and professional failure, my old life in the U. S. suddenly ended. I went back to my home-island on the other side of the planet, carrying with me great shame and debilitating anxiety over, to use a lay term, going crazy. With no spiritual community that I had in the States, I could have become a castaway had I not brought with me a book by someone who had been "crazy, and… know everything there is to know about it," to quote Jim. Woken up from the belief that I was already on a doctorate level in term of self-observation, I realized I didn't even know how to begin hearing myself on a very basic, mundane level. His words were my lifeline. I studied them, practiced the methods he shared, until one day I thought to myself, "Wait a minute. Afraid of going crazy? But I have been crazy for years! And obviously others are no less so." Craziness confirmed. Life simplified. Thank you, Jim.

On 12/31/2016 12:03 PM, an anonymous friend wrote:
I never met Jim Burns. I did, however, stumble upon his book, At Home with the Inner Self, during one of my dark times. As a fellow mental health sufferer it meant a great deal to me to read the account of someone who simultaneously suffered similarly to me and held deep spiritual insight. The book inspired me to persevere in my search as his life and work testifies to the fact that one does not necessarily preclude the other. For that inspiration I am deeply indebted to Mr. Burns.

On 12/31/2016 9:00 PM, an anonymous student wrote:
Having spent thousands of hours working closely with Jim Burns, I wanted to pass on a few suggestions for those curious about his teachings. In addition to discussing Jim's book At Home with the Inner Self, I'll also pass on a few observations from my discussions with him.

By way of summary, Jim said, "My whole system is taking things from the unconscious and bringing them to the conscious." Fortunately, as he explained, the mind is trying to help us: "Your mind is throwing tennis balls at all times over the fence to get your attention." People see the tennis balls and think they are fears and desires, so they run from them. In actuality, the mind is trying to show you something so that you can heal it. If you look at what it wants to show you, you can heal. "Your mind is like a closet. It is only as clean as you last left it," he said.

Jim was very keen on paying attention to the body and learning how the mind communicates through it. "There is a certain intelligence in the cells. Use the body to feel your intuition because every cell is alive and intelligent." A simple way to practice this was with food. "Don't eat anything until you know exactly what you want to eat," Jim said. He focused on eating to show the difference between habit and real appetite. People do a lot of things to numb themselves, to limit their awareness. To combat this, don't eat anything until you know exactly what you want to eat. Train your mind so that you can hear what it specifically wants.

This eating practice was the beginning of a larger practice that Jim called "following your fascination." If you feel pulled towards something, then follow that pull. There will be something here that your mind knows will help it, although you may not realize that at the time. This training extends to other areas of life. Do you want to read or do you want to walk? Be very specific about what your itches are. Train your mind to get exactly what it's asking for. Take care of the need when it arises. This increases the communication between the mind and you.

What were the different methods that Jim advocated for going within? Free association was one method. Jim also thought dreams could be used in the same way to see things from the unconscious. "They are attempts to guide you to what in you is unfulfilled." He advised one to go to sleep slowly and wake up slowly. Lying in bed, one should, "Try and be conscious of no-thing, which is different than nothing. Just let it come to you." Similarly, paying attention to daydreams helps reveal what is in the unconscious. This is practice in "un-directed thought."

Jim once practiced a different form of this with me. He stayed on the phone all night, and the moment I started to fall asleep he would wake me up. He kept doing this every forty-five minutes until I was awake in my unconscious.

One of the great gifts of Jim's book and methods is that they taught me how to develop a good intuition. You can't just read his book from page one to the end. You have to read one section, then practice what is on the page, for several times even. Whenever Jim gives a method, stop and practice what he describes. Don't move on to the next page until you have practiced that page. It's a how-to book, and it could take you six months to read it properly and do the exercises.

"We're on a trip from unknowing to all-knowing," Jim said. Beginning on p. 41 of his book, he explained his method for success in this trip. You could probably skip the first forty pages of his book, especially if you find yourself getting bogged down, and go straight to the Method section and read to the end of the book. There, he explains more about free association, which was a method of asking himself questions. Even though Jim said in his book that, "I can guide someone else out of a hole, but I can't seem to teach them how to do it [free association] themselves," I found that his book does explain the technique.

Getting feelings to translate into words was also important to Jim for connecting with the unconscious. As an aid to this he recommended lying horizontal—which puts you in a state to have things come to your mind. Essentially, you put a problem in front of your mind, then relax until an answer comes. You face the unknown—taking things and bringing them to consciousness. Ultimately, you make a list of everything that needs resolved. You sit directly with each question or issue until each item is resolved. Everything you don't come to terms with is still there, so hold it in consciousness as long as possible. "The truth will set you free," Jim said, "but it has to be the exact truth." This is the root of the whole technique. Jim taught how to bring the unconscious into consciousness, then hold those questions and issues in what he called "resolving mind." If you follow this process, then when you are done what will be left is awareness.

At Home with the Inner Self

Jim Burns was the only living person that Richard Rose spoke of as having "made the trip." At Home with the Inner Self consists of transcripts from informal talks recorded in 1984 and 1985. New to the third edition is an interview conducted in 2006 as well as the photographs that evoke the graceful dissolution of the urban landscape that Jim calls home. The book is available in softcover or Kindle editions at Amazon.

Return to the main page of the January 2017 TAT Forum.

Downloadable/rental versions of the Mister Rose video and of April TAT talks Remembering Your True Desire:

"You don't know anything until you know Everything...."

Mister Rose is an intimate look at a West Virginia native many people called a Zen Master because of the depth of his wisdom and the spiritual system he conveyed to his students. Profound and profane, Richard Rose was not the kind of man most people picture when they think of mystics or spiritual teachers. Yet, he was the truest of teachers, one who had "been there," one who had the cataclysmic experience of spiritual enlightenment.

Filmed in the spring of 1991, the extraordinary documentary follows Mr. Rose from a radio interview, to a university lecture and back to his farm, as he talks about his experience, his philosophy and the details of his life.

Whether you find him charming or offensive, fatherly or fearsome, you will not forget him, and never again will you think about yourself, reality, or life after death in quite the same way.

3+ hours total. Rent or buy at tatfoundation.vhx.tv/.

2012 April TAT Meeting – Remembering Your True Desire

Includes all the speakers from the April 2012 TAT meeting: Art Ticknor, Bob Fergeson, Shawn Nevins and Heather Saunders.

1) Remembering Your True Desire ... and Acting on It, by Art Ticknor
Spiritual action is like diving for the Pearl beyond Price. What do you do when you don't know what to do or how to do it? An informal discussion centered around the question: "What prevents effective spiritual action?"

2) Swimming in the Inner Ocean: Trips to the Beach, by Bob Fergeson
A discussion of the varied ways we can use in order to hear the voice of our inner ocean, the heart of our true desires.

3) A Wider and Wilder Vision, by Shawn Nevins
Notes on assumptions, beliefs, and perspectives that bind and free us.

4) Make Your Whole Life a Prayer, by Heather Saunders
An intriguing look into a feeling-oriented approach to life.

5+ hours total. Rent or buy at tatfoundation.vhx.tv/.

Return to the main page of the January 2017 TAT Forum.

Founder's Wisdom

Richard Rose (1917-2005) established the TAT Foundation
in 1973 to encourage people to work together on what
he considered to be the "grand project" of spiritual work.

Introduction to the Albigen System

The following transcription features rare material from an early lecture of philosopher, poet and author Richard Rose. The talk, based on the speaker's own experience, describes a way of life aimed at understanding that life … a self-directed retreat from untruth … a common-sense, non-dogmatic approach to spiritual realization.

Part 5 of a 1977 talk given by Richard Rose in Cleveland, OH (continued from the September 2016 TAT Forum, the October 2016 TAT Forum), the 2016 November TAT Forum), and the 2016 December TAT Forum):

Q and A, continued:

Q. In Alcoholics Anonymous, how does it work that an alcoholic gets help with his addiction by helping somebody else who is sicker than he is?

R. This is the whole spiritual system. This is not only Alcoholics Anonymous. Alcoholics Anonymous was founded by an enlightened man. He was an alcoholic who became enlightened; that was Bill Wilson. But you can't progress too far spiritually—we didn't dwell on this tonight—without doing something for somebody else. Why this law exists, I don't know. There's a book of fiction, The Magnificent Obsession, and this is the theme. That man only climbs when he places someone else upon his step. This is the true reason why all esoteric or spiritual or religious organizations should exist. They should not exist for the sake of the organization. They should exist for the fact that the organization is a medium to help people; they take another step. So it's the same thing. Some of the most enlightened people probably in this country are people who were alcoholics.

Q. For any activity to have value, it will be good not only for you but for other people too?

R. Well, I don't know, you're taking in a lot of scope.

Q. That it's service, basically, is what I'm saying.

R. I don't go at it from that angle. That's not the idea. I don't want to get into the idea that we're serving mankind.

Q. That's an ego.

R. Right, you're playing God. But basically—you're helping a person. The big thing is not in helping mankind, but trying to find that fellow who needs help, and who you are capable of helping. A lot of people need help but they won't listen to you. You're not capable of helping them. So it's a very selective thing, not a great democratic deliverance, a great mission. That's the reason I'm not dismayed when I give a talk and only ten people show up. It doesn't matter. People are not interested too much in doing anything of real value.

Q. I can see that it doesn't have to be a lofty thing of all mankind. But whatever our quest is, it seems to be more meaningful and satisfying—and we seem to be getting somewhere—when we do it with other people.

R. Well, there are a few things you learn as you go along. First of all, you can't do much by yourself. A few people have made it by themselves, but very few. And this realization of our individual impotence brings us to the idea of group work. That's the main reason. A lot of people say, "I'm on a spiritual path, but I have to work it out myself." Sometimes that leaves them alone to rationalize their time and not do anything. But if you go into it with the idea of being in service to your fellowman, that starts off as an ego, and that shouldn't be.

But once you get into it, you begin to realize. I was into this thing for about five years and I had a real big head. I thought I didn't need anybody. I was going to do it alone.

All I was finding was hucksters, and I was tired of trying to sift them. So I thought, "I'll just do it myself and keep away from all of them." Well, I found out after awhile that when you work alone you don't move. There's no motion. And on the other side of the coin, after we formed a group—I was still in my twenties—we were able to compare notes with people who had been in many other groups. So you can get a lifetime of experience in two or three years of your own by comparing notes with them. That alone is a benefit from being in a group.

Plus the same as he said about Alcoholics Anonymous. I used to say we were like Ignoramuses Anonymous, in which we continually reminded each other, "You're not as smart as you think you are." Your head's getting too big and they pull you down, so you get your feet back on the ground. That's basically what Zen is. That's saying, "Who are you?" Don't think you're something, don't postulate. And action is postulation, not only philosophy.

Q. How can one find this ego? Is it by intuition?

R. You'll develop both at about the same time: an understanding of your egos, as you develop your intuition. But unfortunately, people don't discover their egos until very late in life. What I'm trying to do is get this across to people young enough to profit from the exposure of egos. Life will expose your egos. But sometimes people are fifty years of age before they realize that they were a fool at twenty. This is too late to start working. So my idea is to get this out—to those who somehow, by some quirk of fate or genetics, are inclined to look for their own definition. To give them some sort of a yardstick. So they will start developing their intuition immediately, not waiting until they're a wise old man on a slab in the morgue.

Q. What do you think of the writings by Alan Watts?

R. Alan Watts—for instance in his talk of Zen—leads me to believe that he never had any realization, number one. And he gave the world what I consider the wrong slant on Zen. For instance, he makes the remark repeatedly that there's nothing to find. Now, if he worded that the other way, that your final experience is the finding of nothingness, I would have said he was right. But when you say there's nothing to find, that means it's a hopeless task, that you're never going to find anything. I maintain that you will find, but you'll find nothingness—and you'll find everythingness simultaneously. If you don't use both terms, then you're still in the relative dimension. The final realization is the realization of nothingness and everythingness.

He had gotten this—he was a close friend of Sokei-an, who came over here as a young man, nineteen years old. And there's no history of anybody at the age of nineteen receiving enlightenment. He first came over here as a Zen teacher. Now if he acquired enlightenment after that time, I don't know. But this seemed to be the great contact that Watts had with Zen. Watts did go to monasteries in Japan. But first of all, he had a reportorial attitude. He was like a reporter. He observed from the outside and he commented. I think there are some very good thoughts in Alan Watts. He does some good writing and makes you think. But as far as his real philosophy on Zen, he missed the point completely.

Q. What do you think about Krishnamurti?

R. I have always felt that Krishnamurti was enlightened. But you see, there are people who are enlightened who have no system. They tell a joke about a fish that received enlightenment. The students brought the fish to the Zen master and said, "What do we do with this fish? He's enlightened." And the master said, "Eat it." That is, he can't communicate. It's no good to be enlightened if you can't communicate.

I had an experience when I was thirty years of age, and I tried to communicate, and for years I found that I couldn't do it. You go out and try to talk philosophy to people and they think you're crazy. There has to be some approach to the human mind. And I think that in this country, if it hadn't been for acid there would have been very little communication. Because the door was cracked a little with the acid.

Q. I have a lot of trouble with the separation of the subjective and the objective. The scientific types think that if they can't put something in a test tube and measure it, they can't believe it. And then there's a tendency among the spiritual types to say that there's nothing objective anyway. They begin to say that matter doesn't matter.

R. Oh, I grant you that. But I believe there's a common-sense medium.

Q. Okay, a common-sense medium then, that allows for a little bit of the subjective, but still tries to have things make sense, I don't see that requiring intuition. I do see that it requires logic. I can logically believe that there are spiritual entities that don't have material characteristics, that can communicate with us.

R. Sure. Well I don't even doubt that you can find a mathematic formula for something that designates the absolute. But I don't say this will automatically bring you to the knowledge of the absolute. You might have a symbol for infinity or something. But that doesn't give you an understanding of what that symbol really means.

Q. So the intellectual and the objective aren't really satisfying or useful until you can make them experiential.

R. Well, no. The thing is, that you can't find it intellectually. What you have to do—after you come back—is try to verbalize it intellectually. This is what I'm trying to do.

Q. I haven't seen that, in my experience.

R. Well, you won't see it until you reach it. See, you haven't gone the trip. For instance, supposing someone told you that if you just believed in Christ, you would be exalted, saved, feel joyous and all this sort of thing, and feel like you knew the answer. To argue that for hours and hours would get you no place. But if you go in and become saved, then you'll know what they're talking about.

You have to go there. I often draw the analogy, that I could say, "Down in West Virginia there's a valley in which there's a city of gold." And you'd say, "Nonsense, that's not logical." But I would say it exists, and the only way you could disprove me is to make the trip. A man supposedly approached Buddha with this. The guy said, "Hey, if you can prove to me this stuff you're talking about, I'll follow you all the days of my life." And Buddha said, "The proof is in the going." In other words, you can't prove things a priori.

Q. Couldn't somebody use that as a way of supporting all their sexual misbehavior?

R. You can rationalize anything you wish. This is the reason the intellect is so undependable. You can bring up all these quotations. The only thing a person can do, who has transcended this, is notice it. I get it all the time: people demanding that I speak along the current political theme, the current "hep" thing to believe. But I know who's talking. I know it's a phase of them talking and I just ignore it. Because there's no argument with that type of person. They're putting up their own wall, and they're entitled to. So you just walk away from it.

Q. You mentioned the difficulty of describing enlightenment, and to use a common analogy, it would be like trying to describe a tree to someone who has never experienced a tree. It would be meaningless.

R. It is meaningless. And it should be. Not only should it be meaningless, but it shouldn't even be discussed. Now that's the truth. It should not be discussed. Because as soon as you mention it, there's a postulation involved. And then we wrangle: "What do you mean by this and what do you mean by that?" Again, you have to make the trip. It's a culmination of a trip. But as I said, the thing we're interested in—or perhaps that we're talking about, not interested in—is the retreat from error, not the arrival.

We presume, by virtue of these books I mentioned, that people have arrived someplace, mysterious as that may sound. But the only thing you can really speak of logically is that it's logical to retreat from garbage or nonsense. You retreat from the more ridiculous and satisfy yourself tentatively with the less ridiculous. And then that becomes more ridiculous to something else that is less ridiculous. This is the whole system.

Q. Maybe enlightenment is not some mysterious thing that takes a lot of knowledge to learn, but it's just not a common experience, and that's where the illusion occurs.

R. Well, I grant you, if you read Bucke, he says that cosmic consciousness—and I consider that a step below enlightenment—is only experienced by one in a million people.

Q. Can we try an experiment for one minute?

R. If you don't kill anybody. [Laughter.]

Q. No, I won't kill anybody. This is just something to help make this talk of the ego more realistic to the people here. If for a few seconds we just remain silent, we can observe how the ego always wants to speak, and is usually nervous and scared around people and so forth.

R. It's alright with me. Would you like to try that? About a minute?

[Recorder turned off and then back on.]

R. I picked up five people who distinctly thought to themselves, "This guy's crazy; I don't have any egos." And twenty-five others who thought everybody else had egos but them.

Q. Just looking at yourself—is that meditation?

R. No. If you have this in mind, what he told you, if you just sit and think, you'll get restless. It's hard to see this in a minute. But even a minute, you'll get restless and have an urge to do something. I find that if you sit in meditation you'll go through this rather quickly; your mind will go through about 15 excuses for not sitting there. I used to develop all sorts of concoctions to make a million dollars. I had a hard time keeping away from the pencil and paper and start writing down the formulas. All sorts of things come to you, when you want to do something like that.

Q. The building is closing.

R. Is it? We'd better get out before it folds up completely. Well, I want to thank you for coming, because it's been a very receptive audience. [Applause.]

End of the "Introduction to the Albigen System" talk.

~ Transcription by Steve Harnish of a talk given by Richard Rose in Cleveland, OH in 1977. for information on the transcription project.

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