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

March 2020 / More

Convictions & Concerns

TAT members share their personal convictions and/or concerns

The Greater or the Lesser Game of Life – Which Choose You?

A question I often hear seekers bring up is to do with the idea of getting some detachment from life. We become so absorbed in the day-to-day business of survival that is it hard to get a bit of distance from it. I thought that using the analogy of seeing life as a game might help.

Games are an intrinsic aspect of human life. Children start to play games as young as two years old. Every culture has its games. Online gaming is a huge aspect of internet activity. It could be said that the human being is made for gaming.

"And what game is more complicated than life?" asks Casey Cromwell in an article titled "Chess: A Metaphor for Life".

I see life itself as the great game, albeit played unconsciously. It's the game of survival in the world. Everyone has their game, or games, but few people are aware of the game they are playing. It is usually not obvious to the player that it is one game because we have many minor games, or sub-games, that contribute to the main game.

Indeed, few would refer to their life as a game. We often see our lives as a series of challenges and obstacles. We do not consider it a game when we consider the outcome to be non-optional. The possibility of failure is abhorrent to us, yet failure is the inevitable outcome of every relative life. We all die.
Most games serve to shield us from this fact. They keep us distracted from the big question of death.
But there are those who cannot turn their heads away from the big question and they become embroiled in what I'll refer to as the game of spiritual seeking.

"The only reason a game is fun is because it causes you to engage yourself in it. Whether this be poker, Scrabble or a video game, games are only fun when they challenge you. Remove all the challenges in a game and it becomes a pointless activity." writes Scott H. Young in his article "Life as a Game".

In the game of life we become absorbed in challenges such as improving our circumstances, outdoing the competition, controlling some thing or person or situation, creating or generating some different situation, or work of art, and so on. There are as many variations on the game as there are individuals. The lesser games can and do change over the course of a lifetime, but the main game stays the same. We each have our own variation, our preferred games. All these various efforts or games have the underlying aim of enhancing us in some way, guaranteeing our individuality, prolonging our stay or name on earth, but by being lost in these lesser games we forget about or avoid facing the bigger challenge—the question of what or who we really are.
What can be more engrossing than the search for Self?

A number of philosophers have looked at the phenomenon of gaming as a human activity and come up with various definitions of it.

French sociologist Roger Caillois in his book Les jeux et les hommes (Men, Play and Games), defined a game as an activity that must have the following characteristics:

Let's take a look at each of these criteria from the perspective of of the bigger picture.


We find ourselves in life. I'm not getting into the discussion of whether on not we "chose" it as is the assumption behind the notion of reincarnation. But I do think that this life, this dream, is about experience and enjoyment rather than evolution. Looking around me I see folks who regardless of circumstances seem to be having much more fun than others who seem to have all the worldly riches at their disposal.
Fun is a question of attitude. Fun is also about feeling that what you are doing has some value. It's about being light hearted as opposed to heavy handed. If we feel the need to force the outcome, it is no longer fun. Fun has been replaced by control. Fear of not achieving the desired outcome takes the fun out of the activity. Fun has an element of spontaneity to it. In Christian terminology this can be interpreted as the relationship between "my will" and "Thy Will". When "my will" tries to dominate "Thy Will" it's no fun but when we have a sense of them working together, there is more spontaneity and freedom.
Ask yourself what's not fun in your life. And why?


Each individual life is circumscribed by the time and place into which one is born. The particular family, the particular place in the family, the particular culture, the particular era, all the particulars that add up to making each of us a separate individual. The influences of these particulars are what Buddhists refer to as our conditioning. We are alone in our big game of life. A saying that has been attributed to many different famous folk goes: "We are born alone, we live alone, we die alone." To take this aspect of our life seriously, to really accept the fact of our aloneness, is difficult for many, but it a necessary step in taking full responsibility for your own life. Taking full responsibility opens us up to the prospect of reaching full fruition in our individual life.
Ask yourself how willing are you to accept your ultimate aloneness. What would this actually mean for you?


As long as the game is playing the outcome is uncertain. This is what many people cannot accept. We try to force the outcome, and that means forcing the outcome of all the minor games that contribute to the larger game of life. Once the final outcome has been reached, there is no more game playing. This in no way removes the fun and joy of the experience of living, of the dream. I have read and heard anecdotal stories of people who suffered greatly after having been given a terminal diagnosis, but who on finally coming to accept the inevitability of their impending death, began to enjoy every little moment and experience. I have several times heard that such people have wished that they could have lived their lives in this way, with this acceptance. Accepting that failure is the outcome of the game of life opens us up to new possibilities. Ironically, failure isn't always failure!
Ask yourself what do your think you are in control of. What is this belief based on, and what evidence do you have that contradicts it?


Participation does not accomplish anything useful. Many people live life as if they are functionaries of some kind. Yes, we have a functional role in the relative dimension. The message from all the great spiritual traditions is that we are no mere functionaries. If we are living our lives solely from the perspective of being a functionary in the world, we cannot play the big game of finding or becoming what we really are. Like the notion of control, we are locked into the notion of usefulness, we are identified with being a square peg looking for a square hole.
I think it was Nisargadatta who said "you were never born, you will not die." He is pointing our attention towards what we are beyond our functional role in the world.
Ask yourself what are you trying to accomplish with your life. Is it really the best you can do with your life for you?

Governed by Rules

In conscious gaming we are aware of the rules as different from our ordinary daily lives. They are imposed rules to add to the fun or challenge of the activity, often for no other reason than to introduce competition between individuals. But, daily life by its very nature has rules, the rules of society. For many people the greatest hardship in their lives is to do with the element of competitiveness in society.
Quite apart from the laws imposed by society so that we can live together as a functional community, who isn't aware of the rules, the unspoken expectations of family and colleagues and friends? We all feel constricted by the need to fit in.
Ask yourself what rules rule your life now. Make a list. Have they changed over time. What purpose does each one serve? Where in your life is competitiveness an element? Does it add to the enjoyment of your life or is it a hardship?
Success is what keeps someone locked into the game of life. If you are winning, you are likely to become totally identified with the winner—your relative aspect, often at the expense of seeing the game you are caught up in. Winning tends to keep us caught up in the limited view of what you really are.


Most people see and refer to the relative dimension of their life as what is real. They are totally unaware of the possibility of an alternative reality. Indian sages say that few people have heard of the possibility of "enlightenment" and of those who have heard only a small percentage take it seriously. For this reason most have no alternative idea against which to view their lives.
This precludes for them the idea of seeing their life as a game. Maya is how Indian literature refers to it.

Vedanta declares that our real nature is divine: pure, perfect, eternally free…. But if our real nature is divine, why then are we so appallingly unaware of it? The answer to this question lies in the concept of maya, or ignorance. Maya is the veil that covers our real nature and the real nature of the world around us. Maya is fundamentally inscrutable: we don't know why it exists and we don't know when it began. What we do know is that, like any form of ignorance, maya ceases to exist at the dawn of knowledge, the knowledge of our own divine nature. ~ www.vedanta.org

With the introduction of the internet and the widespread availability of computers, online gaming has become ubiquitous. Humans are made for gaming it seems!
Here's the interesting and (maybe!) optimistic bit. And maybe useful bit from the perspective of spiritual seekers.

In 2010, online game designer and author Jane McGonigal gave a TED talk titled "Gaming can make a better world". A couple of minutes into the talk she introduces the idea of an "epic win". This apparently is a known phenomenon to serious gamers. Here's what she says about the phenomenon:  An epic win is an outcome that is so extraordinarily positive, you had no idea it was even possible until you achieved it. It was almost beyond the threshold of imagination, and when you get there, you're shocked to discover what you're truly capable of. That's an epic win.

From the perspective of life as a game, I'd say an epic win is analogous to what is known as Enlightenment, Awakening, Self-realisation, Christ consciousness or whatever name is used to refer to the life changing shift in identification that can happen to any one.

Spiritual seekers have a different goal from the usual game of life players. I often refer to the goal as coming to full fruition, which means the end of identification with the individual self. Or maybe we could say, the ego overthrows itself. Whatever language or metaphors we use to communicate about this process, the game is the same, a coming to the end of our personal falsity.

With the change of goal, the rules and the tools of the game change. The rules, meaning the kinds of activities we involve ourselves in and what we value changes. For example, comparing ourselves to others becomes redundant.
By tools I mean the skills we develop, such as: meditation, self-inquiry, learning to be alone, prayer and so on.

Amongst the tools favoured in the TAT family are: reverse from untruth, spend time alone, examine your motivations and assumptions, become focussed on your main desire, befriend others who are on the path, and so on.

Jane McGonigal goes on in her talk to speak about the conditions necessary for reaching the verge of this "epic win" state. Her list of criteria includes extreme self-motivation, "urgent optimism" which she defines as willingness to tackle a problem or obstacle coupled with a reasonable hope of achieving your aim, and to do it NOW. "Gamers don't wait around", she says.
If we applied these criteria to our spiritual seeking it would certainly up our game, and I can say that for myself, when I became really really motivated and was thinking about something to do with this work or practicing something all day, every day, that was when things began to happen. And when things began to happen I became optimistic about a final outcome or at least progress in the direction I had chosen to focus my life.
The question is how to get your motivation going.

Spiritual seeking is the ultimate single-player game. We are not competing against anyone else. Our adversary is our conditioning, our misidentification with our worldly aspect.

The question is can you identify what games you play and why. Becoming able to see your own game play gives you some distance from it. You can become the observer of your own survival strategies and in that process come see that you are not the player of games.

To finish up, very briefly, I googled "skills for gaming" and selected a few that might be useful for our game, the game of self-realisation.

Learn from Others

Get "In The Zone"

Stay Away From Sugar, Caffeine, and Alcohol

Control of your Psychological State

Learning to Be Patient and Hard-Working

Develop the right degree of OCD

Work to a long-term plan

Persevere in the face of overwhelming frustration

Learn to juggle complicated choices


~ Thanks to TAT member and teacher Tess Hughes. Tess is the author of This Above All: A Journey of Self-Discovery. Anyone who's interested in self-inquiry activity in Ireland is welcome to contact her by .

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TAT Foundation News

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

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/.

Local Group News

On February 2, the New York City and Central Jersey Self Inquiry Groups held a 1-day retreat. The inquiry retreat was held at the Heart of Art Studio in Hamilton, New Jersey, with 11 participants. Workshops included: self-inquiry questions selected at random from a paper bag; an "I and the You" exercise based on the voice therapy of Dr Robert W Firestone; physical stretching with prompts to gauge our physical and emotional reactions; a "2 chairs in the middle"/fishbowl session (that included questions from Richard Rose's "Lecture of Questions"); a workshop/discussion on nostalgia using the music of Pink Floyd; and a wrap-up session with participant feedback. Organizers feel that designing and carrying out a retreat with another group, is a great way to shake up one's mindset, and get re-inspired.

March 2020 NJ-NYC retreat

Here is the draft agenda we used (we made changes the day-of, due partly to two participants who got sick and weren't able to attend):

Pickup NYC SIG members at Hamilton Train Station at 9:33 am, by Eric.
10 am Welcome by Yousuf "our group intention" (15-20 minutes)
All: please make your lunch selection at this time, Eric will text it in so that it is ready for pickup.
"Inquiry in a bag" – led by Eric (45 mins)
"The I and the You" – led by Jerry 45 mins
11:40 am Eric picks up lunch
~12 pm Lunch (Szechuan House), enjoyed at Heart of Art
~1 pm Light movement exercise/stretching – 10 mins- by Sheena or Selena (w/Yunqi's instructions)
Seer and Seen exercise – by Raj (20 mins)
Open/Harding exercise – by Yousuf 30 mins
Short break
~2 pm "2 Chairs in the Middle" exercise – led by Brett and Selena – 45 mins
"Nostalgia" –led by Saima 45 mins
~3:30 pm-4:30 pm Open
~4:30 pm Feedback on sessions/logistics for next time. Optional Group Photo. and Closing (30 minutes)
Train departures from Hamilton on Feb 2: 5:25 pm; 6:06 pm; 6:25 pm, etc.

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Reader Commentary

Encouraging interactive readership among TAT members and friends

The Reader Commentary composite question for the March Forum:

What differentiates a "serious seeker" from a "seeker"? Which one are you?

The complete response from Shane M:
This is a question I've asked myself numerous times. It always amazed me how I can seem to go from one to the other so frequently. I can recall numerous instances where I have been reduced to a blubbering wreck by a sudden insight, on fire with determination and promising God/the Universe/my higher Self with every cell in my being that I will stop at NOTHING until I find the answer to the question who am I? And looking back I know I meant it absolutely.

And then (usually the next morning) the world returns to 'normal', the fire is out and I'm back to being everyday mundane me with my usual everyday concerns and petty superficial thought patters. I meditate and there's little depth. Where did the certainty, the passion go?

I'm tempted to answer the subject question by saying that a serious seeker is one who is on fire with the question ALL the time whereas a 'seeker' exists in a kind of melange of dimly heard intuition, intellectual understanding, ego and the odd moment of burning insight. But I don't think that's a right or fair answer.

I wonder how many lucky people are on fire with the question all the time? We are all subject to the drawbacks of daily life, energy deficiencies, distractions not to mention repressed traumas and past experiences. Are the vast majority of us then merely 'seekers'?

I've been at this a long time and eventually the question has to be asked – what's going on here? What am I missing/ avoiding or just not doing?

Without going into detail, there are for me various health and energy-related reasons that impinge on this question greatly, but I've comes to recognise some things fairly clearly.

The thinking mind is in the business of distraction. Plain and simple. The more I look at it, the more I think that's basically all it does. Do I see and understand this, or am I still following it down its endless rabbit holes of pointlessness?

It's also in the business of preventing me from being serious about myself. Not just serious in a surface way (this or that life role) but serious about me in my essence. I.e., finding out who I am. It wants me to be petty and superficial. And it obviously does this to put me off even wanting to look any deeper.

(An obvious corollary to this is that it surely wouldn't be doing this unless it knew there was something to hide.)

There's nothing new in saying that the mind is a very clever masquerader (apologies if that's not a word). In other words, it will gleefully take on the role of spiritual seeker and run with it, perhaps until the end of our days. I did this for years and still get sucked into it. The spiritual-seeker ego is the most insidious BY FAR of all of them (IMHO anyway!).

Something needs to get us beyond the superficiality into the actual meat and bones of this – to let go.

Some reach this point by literally coming to the end of their rope. Some health or personal calamity and they can no longer live with themselves as they are (e.g., Eckhart Tolle).

The rest of us have to keep up a 'practice', to stay reminded, fired up, determined. This takes WORK. Effort and energy (despite what some would have use believe – some who confuse the different levels anyway). Contact with people of like mind, reading appropriate books, watching you tube videos, going for walks, meditating, etc.

But ultimately I think we need evidence, pointers, insights. This is what, to me anyway, really keep you on the path and give you the ability to filter through the BS that the mind throws up. It might be a strong intuition or an insight or both. One second of good insight is worth a week of reading or meditating. It can change your state of being quite remarkably, if briefly. And if you keep a journal and note these insights down, then that helps to keep the mind from rationalising it away.

And what is it really about these insights that is so special? Fundamentally it is because for an instant or a little while we know we are not who we think we are. The mask slips.

Most of the time we are 'laminated' to our sense of self (a very useful term I heard Shawn Nevins use!) so that we go at the problem using the very source of the problem as the tool (trying to pick up a plank while standing on it, as Bob Fergeson very usefully said). There's no point in pretending to be 'on fire' when we are not. We need to have faith, remember those insights, remember that I know from previous experience that who I feel myself to be right now is NOT me. And, boy that can be hard.

But I think fundamentally that's what it means to be 'serious'. Not expecting to be an unalterable truth Vector all the time. Self remembering, keeping the faith even if everything seems petty and useless. Plodding along with the work even if it seems fruitless. Not believing the mind. Neutral observation. Then one day you get briefly delaminated and ... all makes sense.

The alternative is an endless ego conversation about the whole subject, letting the masquerade play out without question. That's where seriousness goes out the window and superficiality takes over.

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The complete response from Chris B2:
I've noticed two inversely correlated movements as I've gotten more serious.
To visualize this imagine a graph showing two trend lines.
Line 1 starts high on the left and trends downward as it goes to the right across the graph.
Line 2 starts low and trends upward as it goes left-to-right.
At some point in the middle they cross each other.

Over the years I've noticed I'm less and less satisfied with "stories" – that's Line 1 trending downward.
Line 2 trending upwards represents Looking, Watching, Noticing...Openness, Acceptance, Surrender.

The two have been inversely correlated as they've moved along.

I think what would mark a truly "serious seeker" would be passing that inflection point where the two trend lines cross. Stories falling away as Looking and Accepting open up. I don't know for sure if I've crossed that inflection point, but I definitely notice I'm trending towards the right overall compared to years ago.

Stories just don't do it for me anymore.
They ring hollow.
They fall flat.

What do I mean by "stories?"
Almost everything I hold up in mind.

Stories about the "world"
Stories about "objects"
Stories about "people"
Stories about "good and bad"
Stories about "myself" (or my "no-self " or my "Self" depending on who you ask ;-)

What's been jarring is that the less I want stories the more I find them everywhere I turn.
It's stories all the way down.

"Atoms" are a story.
And whatever scientists figure out next will be a story.
Even our most rigorous stories never seem to exhaust Reality.
(Although, some stories are definitely "less wrong" and "more useful" than other stories.
For example, the misappropriated quantum physics pseudo-science spiritual mumbo-jumbo people spout is definitely a whopping pile of story.)

Everybody's opinions on what is for sure moral and right vs. evil and wrong. Stories.
Again, some seem to be less horrific than others. But still all stories.

All of my thoughts and feelings about what has happened in my life, why I am the way I am, what might happen next....all stories.
"Chris" as a conceptual entity is definitely a story, albeit a very convincing one that's hard to let go of.

It seems to me like this is the issue Mr. Rose was pointing out in his advice to "back away from untruth" – because you really can't turn towards Truth to "know" it or grasp it. Any truth I can "turn towards" will by nature be a fabrication. It will forever be "out there" as a story/concept due to the inherent structure of thought.

It seems evident that the opposite of the stories is this "backing away," and I'm trying to follow this trajectory of Line 2 more consciously.
Watching, listening, opening, dissolving, letting go, falling backward, acceptance, surrender.

I'm definitely still chasing stories. Stories about who I am. Stories about what I want. Stories about the world that I seem to find myself in. Grand, complex stories about the nature of the universe and consciousness. Stories of fear, and hope, and confusion, and joy.
But I'm more aware of them now, more aware of their nature as stories, and I'm grasping at fewer as I go. I'm increasingly convinced that what I'm looking for can't be another story.

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Other Reader Feedback

From Joe B. in response to the February TAT Forum:

First, this was a VERY wide ranging Forum with lots of insightful and useful articles.

Now the one that jumped off the page at me:

Richard Rose's shirt cardboard sign ... about dying ... along with a prior post about "Forces Of Adversity." For the past year or more, in my journaling with my inner "writer," the tag line "Die Before You Die" has been written forcefully and regularly. I have spent many, many hours working on this inner command to me. This is a common theme in many Buddhist practices as well.

I did my due diligence meditating on what it means to die and what that would ACTUALLY be like. What exactly would die and what would be there to observe it to die later. What I finally realized was that this is not other than neti neti (not this, not that). EVERYTHING would be gone EXCEPT for the ability to be on this side of Douglas Harding's headlessness; and by this side I mean on the side where all of the "yous" are NOT. This WILL happen to me, whether I do it "in this very life" with full wakefulness or I let BioLife do it to me while sleeping with little or no wakefulness.

I have very recently changed my "die before I die" to "full wakefulness at BioDeath." Much of society seems to push people to BioDie comfortably in their sleep. I no longer see it this way. While I want to be comfortable, I don't want to experience BioDeath asleep (as in "he died peacefully in his sleep"). Part of this relates to "The Forces Of Adversity" of Richard Rose and detailed in The Tibetan Book of the Dead with a funhouse of characters trying to trick me into selecting their door to recycle back to earth during the Bardo of BioDeath. Staying wide awake seems to be the best approach to BioDeath if I don't want to end up with another round-trip ticket to earth. I have spent considerable contemplation AND observation seeing that the BioBody is ACTUALLY INSIDE my personal awareness and wakefulness space, rather than my personal awareness and wakefulness space being INSIDE the BioBody. When I BioDie, the BioBody will disappear along with all the biobody details, I won't.

There is much more to the detail of my journey, but the details always seem to be personal. All my sources are readily publicly available (thank you TAT for your contribution as one of those sources). There are no secret teachings and no hidden Gurus. There is a path to myself and a highway to hell. I'll stick with bushwhacking on the path rather than taking the highway. It is much slower and not many others use it, but the scenery and the destination resort are much more to my preferences.

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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.

Relative and Absolute

Part 1 of a talk given at Ohio State University in 1978

I have no specific topic for tonight. In the last series I have opened the lectures more to questions from the audience. Some of my talks had been maybe an attempt to be too scientific, or too much into the Zen system, and a lot of people are not acquainted with Zen. Or maybe we get people who are well versed in Zen, and they don't want to hear tedious descriptions of ways and means to arrive at an experience. Other talks may have been too shallow. And I concluded that I get more across if I just answer questions, or if I get on a vein that is popular in a particular place. But I feel that nearly all of you have had some experience, or you've done some reading, or you're spiritual people, and you'd like to find out what there is to know about spiritual movements – so you've got an angle that you're coming from. So I'll give you a brief outline and then let you ask anything you want.

However, I will not argue. I mean, these points are not arguable. Because in matters that have to do with abstractions, such as an absolute condition, an absolute state of mind, or a final answer which is an ultimate that may not be expressible in relative terms, it's a real folly to argue because you're going to argue in relative terms. Even people who have been in the group maybe three or four years will sometimes say, "What is that [world] out there?" And I'll say, "There's nothing out there; what you see is largely illusion." A fellow wrote me a letter from the Los Angeles group the other day and he said, "Why all this suffering, all this travail?" And I said, "That suffering is in your head."

And I can see that the aim of attending a talk such as this is, number one, to find a formula, a system of buttons that a person can push to reach a certain mental exaltation. And another is to find all the answers to the universe: why the black holes exist in space, and where is God in relation to the black hole, etc. And I'll tell you frankly that I don't even have an opinion on the matter. Because what you discover is something beyond the mental dimension. All of these things exist pretty much as our mind's response to physical observations, and in the final analysis the mind does not exist. I'm throwing out some statements that would upset a psychologist, perhaps, whose whole career is based upon the existence of the mind.

So let me approach it from this angle, that you can pick me up if you're in rapport. Now if you're in an argumentative mood you're not going to be in rapport. Maybe I'm crazy, and if you pick that up, that's wonderful, you can go screaming out the door. If there's something solid here, you may pick that up also. The best I could do when I was younger, when I was searching – I would pick up a book and read it and feel a meaning between the lines. And I would always reach for this. We were talking earlier about Paul Brunton;1 I could always read Brunton, and I never found discrepancies in what I call the inter-linear meaning. The man rang true; I felt that no racket was being run, no empire was being built on the words, that sort of thing. So this is the way I conducted my life and my search. And I did this with people also. There are people who say one thing, but they are leading another type of life, like the preacher who gets drunk on Monday morning after the sermon's over on Sunday.

What we come back to, basically, is whether we can speak sincerely and be understood. And this is the most you can get. There are a number of things involved. One is that you have to approach a person's experience somewhat to understand what they have. You can't just demand it to be verbalized ad infinitum. In fact, in most of my talks I prefer not to talk about the maximum spiritual experience, not to verbalize it.

But whether you want to or not, if you start on a spiritual path, eventually you're going to approach, hopefully, the maximum spiritual experience. We're talking about people like Jesus Christ, case histories from the book Cosmic Consciousness by Richard Bucke2 and other people who have reached this maximum experience. Buddha was supposed to have done it. Of course I say "supposed" because all these people are historical. But the need then is to be able to listen to the person's doctrine, their Bible or works. And also the type of followers means a lot: Who believes this stuff? – idiots? – people who are very susceptible, nerve dominated, who are impressed very easily, their antennae pick up vibrations without any common sense behind it?

All these things weighed into my search. And the only thing I can do is to extend the same yardstick to the people who are listening to me, that if you pick up something and it sounds right to you, then perhaps you haven't wasted too much of your time. If it doesn't, well, that's your intuition and that's what you have to live with, and I'm not saying you're wrong. There are many paths and this is only one of them. And incidentally, Zen was not my path. I started out in the Christian faith, specifically Catholic; I studied to be a priest. And at the time I had my experience I didn't know what the word Zen meant. But Zen is a language to me.

Paul Wood

The most profound experience I've encountered in another human being was a man who never taught. His name was Paul Wood.3 He was a Christian, a Protestant, from Texas, and a pilot or bombardier in World War II, and he knew nothing about esoteric philosophy or anything of that sort. But he had read the Bible, had been taught the Bible. He was dropping bombs on Japan, killing people, and it occurred to him that according to the Bible, God observes the fall of the sparrow; and if God observes the fall of every sparrow, what was going on in God's mind when the bombs were falling? So he became upset, and he became so upset that they got him out of the army;4 they retired him or sent him home.

But he couldn't let go – because he had encountered a problem he couldn't solve. The chaplain over there was blessing the bombs as they sent them out, and at the same time he's saying that God's watching everything that happens. So there was a gap that had not been solved by that religion. So he continued to worry with the problem in his head. Of course when he came back from the army his wife said, "You'd better get yourself a job." And every job he got, he lost, because he'd be daydreaming about this, worrying about it – and drinking I think, because when I saw him he looked like he'd been through a barrel of the stuff.

But he kept praying. He said he went to the Bible and encountered this, that if you're troubled or you want to know the answer, you should pray to the Lord thusly, and what followed was the Lord's Prayer. And since that was the only religion he knew, the only book he knew, the only formula he knew – he applied it. He lived the Lord's Prayer. He meditated on it, memorized it, analyzed it. In fact he devised a little system for cutting it apart and taking it item by item, and seeing where the truth was and what he wasn't supposed to take too seriously.5

Well, he said that one day his head snapped.6 He was working as a salesman in an auto dealership, and one day he was sitting at the desk and he thought he couldn't take it any longer – and his head came apart. He remembered praying for God to kill him, because he didn't have the courage to commit suicide and he didn't want to live with the trauma that was in his head. This was long before the time that people overdosed; he was strictly on booze. The next thing he remembered was waking up in the hospital. And in the week or ten days that he was in the hospital, that he was out, away from society – he saw the All of the creation. And when he came back, of course, he was beyond care.

Before that, he had difficulty holding a job; and now he didn't care if he had a job. His wife left him, his children rejected him. But strangely enough, every place he went he found money, he found a job, he was secure.7 And he spent the rest of his life, at least until I lost track of him, trying to advise people to use the Lord's Prayer to find the maximum answer.8

Well, nobody listened to him. He was in Texas and he came up to Akron.9 I was in West Virginia at the time and a friend of mine called me; he said I'd like for you to meet him. And I went up and listened to him talk. He was a double for Jackie Gleason's buddy Crazy Guggenheim.10 Don't get the idea that all these people are supposed to look skinny and ascetic – a little bit of fat doesn't hurt if you get hit in the head.

But I was utterly amazed. I never opened my mouth when I listened to him talk. We had some scientists, would-be scientists, heads of departments from Firestone I think it was, and they were all sitting there with a cynical look on their faces, asking him very cynical questions. And he told his little stories – all he knew was to tell you what happened – and then he told them, patiently, "You can judge for yourself. This is what it did for me and if you think it will do something for you, okay. And if it doesn't, well, I'm doing my part."

And Bob, the friend of mine, said to him, "Paul, don't talk about that stuff." He was talking about some miracles that happened around him. Bob said, "I've had a hard time convincing these scientists that you're on the level, that you're real. When you talk about these strange miracles they're not going to accept it." But Wood just smiled and kept on talking. And I turned to Bob and said, "He doesn't give a damn whether people believe him or not. That's not his motive; he's not here to sell anything."

Well, that was the one and only meeting I had with him.11 I heard from him for a time, and he went from there to other places. He would send out pieces of paper with the Lord's Prayer analyzed, and he'd tell you to meditate. But what he failed to see was that this was the way it happened for him. That somebody could get the same thing, dropping bombs on the Japanese, coming back and losing a wife, children, trauma, selling cars – you can't set that path for another man. Each man's experience is different. Each person has their own trauma, their own lesson which leads them, if they'll allow it. So you have to have a language. Well now, the language of the Lord's Prayer is in front of us all the time, and mostly to us it means nothing.

In my own case, I went into Asian philosophies, esoteric movements from the other side of the world, after becoming thoroughly disgusted with what I encountered in the Catholic Church. I was young at the time, not quite twenty. And I can see the same tendency in millions of young people today. The first thing you reject is the parent, and the parental religion too, because you've got to get free on all scores. But I noticed after years and years of studying Buddhistic philosophy, comparison of the different writers, the initiations of yoga, the experiences of people like Buddha – and then matching these with people like John of the Cross12 – that there was a great similarity.

So where is this? God only exists in Tibet, or he only exists in Rome? – this is nonsense. He exists in the heart of every person; and when I say "he" I'm talking in metaphors. I don't like to use words I can't prove, and I can't prove the word God to you. But I'm saying this in a poetic fashion, take it for what you wish. But regardless, this thing of the truth being in a geographical place or in a cult or a movement alone is nonsense. It's in the individual.

But I have advised different things as being instrumental in bringing you closer to an understanding. One of these is the Gurdjieffian movement;13 he goes as far as the psychological aspects of man. Also Zen. Now all the writings on Zen are not beneficial; most of them are a waste of time. There are a few that are good, like Huang Po14 and Garma Chang.15 But D.T. Suzuki16 was a historian. They give accounts, stories, but there's no mechanism. All of this stuff on koans – this is nothing more than artificial trauma. It's like concentrating on an algebraic problem. If you concentrate on an algebraic problem you'll have an experience, you'll have an exaltation. You can get a satori17 by studying mathematics; the definitions are pretty much the same.


So while we're on the subject, let's get into the idea of exaltations. I borrow from the Gurdjieffian system that we have four major grades of man: the instinctive, the emotional, the intellectual and the philosophical.18 And people in these grades can only indulge in a philosophy or way of life that their nature will tolerate. An instinctive person has a highly physical religion, and his salvation is when he transcends that. He makes a step. And the transcending of the instinctive nature is when a man falls in love, preferably with Jesus or whomever his spiritual ideal is. So he becomes liberated. He no longer identifies himself as his body, the hedonistic principles of that body being the most important thing.

And he floats along in that salvationistic experience. And I've seen people, known them personally, who spent their entire lives in that. They were fortunate enough to have that experience, but that's as far as they went. They believed that there was someone, the projected object of their love, who was their salvation. And it was. It saved them. My sister-in-law for instance was on dope and cigarettes and booze, anything she could get her hands on. And one day in Texas she put out her cigarette on the church steps, walked through the door and started pounding her head on the floor – and was relieved of the dope, the cigarettes and the booze all at the same time, plus sex.

Now sure, we could call that utilitarian religion – she was a better citizen. But that's not what we're after; we don't care how bad a citizen you are. The important thing is, what did it do for her? Did she come up a step? And if she did, then it was well worth it. We can't laugh at her, we can't say that's just a step. That was more than maybe millions of people would have done in their whole lifetime.

But then there's a second step, when a person on an emotional level has learned to love this essence, which they think is outside themselves. They may not know it at the time, but it's the objectification of something that's really inside. And if they do this, after awhile they'll come to understand it. But eventually they'll see that they're an emotional person and they allowed their decision to come by way of an emotional medium – so they begin to struggle out of this. They start studying, they start comparing religions. They get disappointed with whatever they've been into, and they'll go into astrology or maybe Kabbalah or magic. If they're fundamentalists they can get into a Kabbalistic interpretation of the Bible, and try to find the truth that way.

After so much of this, as I mentioned, you have the same result as the person studying algebra – because this is the wrestling with logic, the wrestling with symbology. And the result is what I call a "wow!" experience, the eureka experience, and this is what the definition of satori is. In all the literature you read on Zen, you'll find that satori is a momentary wow in which everything seems to fit into place. Now a + b = c fits into place too. But what does this really do for you, in bringing you to a point where you know who you are, once and for all? Your particular exaltation can't be total because it still deals in relative things. And even the idea of bliss – some people experience bliss with salvation, and some with cosmic consciousness – but the thing to remember is that as long as relative things are felt, you are still in the relative world. You're in a relative experience. This is the keynote.

When Paul Wood went to the hospital it wasn't because he was experiencing bliss; he was in agony. And this is what preceded the illumination of John of the Cross.19 They had him in jail. His own people were fed up with the fact that he was probing into things more deeply than the beliefs of the papacy.20

Going beyond the wow experience, the next one is where you give up on the vanity of your intellect. I went through this when I was in college; I majored in chemistry and had to take a lot of math courses. So I got into mathematics and I found out that this was a vanity, that it could go on forever: I could be working problems forever, having one titillation after another, conquering this mass of symbols. And I said, "This isn't it. There's got to be a shortcut. I can't have this tangential pursuit the rest of my life," whether applied to math or the Kabbalah or whatnot.

But at that point there's nowhere to go. Up until now we've been dealing with books and authors and that sort of thing, and the next step is to try to look for something new, maybe find the fellow who says he found something. So this requires a bit of traveling, and who are you going to ask? I knew no one to ask. I didn't have enough money to travel to India, and I probably wouldn't have made the trip anyway; that would have been a big escape from action. That's all traveling is. People go running around all over the face of the earth looking for Don Juan,21 who possibly doesn't exist, when the real answer is inside. It's just a matter of a system of thinking, of looking inside. So anyhow, you wrestle with what you have available, and if you have nothing available you wrestle with your thoughts. You meditate, you evaluate ad infinitum – and you hope, because there's no promise that anything is going to happen.

Well, in Paul Wood's case and in my case something happened. And of course after it happened I had to find a way to communicate it. The experience of nothing is difficult to verbalize. In the final experience there is no relative expression. You can't talk about this, you can't describe it. What do you do? Go out on the street corner and say, "Something happened to me." And you get, "So what? – do you have a hangover?" Nobody knows what you're talking about. And be careful who you talk to because they could appoint somebody to your committee and take care of your property.22

Pulyan, Sokei-an

So I just gave up. I gave up trying to talk about it – until I ran into a Zen teacher, a man in Connecticut by the name of Alfred Pulyan,23 and I found he had the ability to communicate this. And I was amazed at the method. I had no concept that a person could communicate with you mind-to-mind; that words are not necessary to communicate. Now this has happened in various degrees with people in the group, where you just allow your mind to become one with another person's mind and boom, they get the picture. This transcends a lot of words. But it doesn't happen to everybody. You can't come off ten years of steady drinking or doping or something like that and imagine that your head's going to be in a position where you can receive anything. But this is the proof, a sign that you're going someplace.

Any true Zen teacher is able to do this. And incidentally, we've had Zen teachers in this country – gobs of them – and it's my feeling that most of them are phony. Because money is behind it. Whenever you make money the prime objective, you're going to be concentrating on that more than on trying to get to somebody's head. I looked into some of these, because I wondered what they were doing more than anything else. I had two Zen teachers. Pulyan didn't talk about money, wouldn't talk about it, he didn't charge.

The other one I knew, Sokei-an,24 who was a friend of Alan Watts, had come over here as a boy. I'm convinced that he was a pious Buddhist, that's all. He was trying to set up his shrine here, and he succeeded at it. He wrote a book that meant nothing – I mean it didn't seem to have too much in it, except the history of certain anecdotes and that sort of thing. And this is what we get out of Zen today, for example with Suzuki Roshi,25 – the other Suzuki, on the west coast. But there was more emphasis put upon what kind of shoes or sandals you wore, what kind of tea ceremony you had, whether you sat in meditation with your back to the wall or facing the wall. You bought a kimono, a pillow to sit on, and all this sort of thing. And to me this is sheer nonsense. This has nothing to do with the interior man. So you're getting back down into another organization, that's all, and organizations kill the vital part of what you're doing.

... To be continued.


1. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Brunton. Several of Brunton's books in pdf are here: https://selfdefinition.org/brunton/.

4. The Air Force was part of the Army until 1947.

5. That system was apparently part of his mail-order course in subsequent years. Also see Eliphas Levi, "Esoterism of the 'Our-Father'" pdf here: https://selfdefinition.org/magic/Eliphas-Levi-Esoterism-of-the-Our-Father.pdf.

6. See the section on egos collapsing later in the talk.

7. From the 1989 "Zen Is Action" talk: "He got a little place by himself out in the country. He said that every time he'd get on the point of starvation, one of the ranchers would bring a quarter of beef or something for him to eat – one of the people who lived around there – they seemed to know he didn't care whether he lived or died."

8. Paul Wood died in 1965 but his second wife, Mary, continued the ministry. In 1962 they established the Inasmuch Retreat Center in Oklahoma City, which still exists as of 2019. See a contemporaneous newspaper article and Wood's obituary here: https://selfdefinition.org/christian/paul-wood/paul-wood-obituary.htm.

9. Rose met Wood in 1963 according to Robert Martin. Martin met Wood in San Antonio, then invited him to Akron when he moved back to Ohio. See Martin's account of Wood in his book Peace to the Wanderer, pdf here: https://selfdefinition.org/rose/Bob-Martin-Peace-to-the-Wanderer%5bRichard-Rose%5d.pdf.

11. Martin's book says Rose was at his home with Wood on two occasions.

18. The term "philosophical" is Rose's take on what Gurdjieff calls man number four. See PD Ouspensky, In Search of the Miraculous, chapter 4. https://selfdefinition.org/gurdjieff/.

19. A.k.a. "dark night of the soul," or purgation. See https://selfdefinition.org/christian/.

20. He was advocating reforms proposed by Theresa of Avila.

22. Describing the legal process in West Virginia for insane people.

~ Thanks to Steve Harnish for the transcription. for information on the transcription project.

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