Conversations For Transformation: Essays Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

Conversations For Transformation

Essays By Laurence Platt

Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

And More


Laurence Platt Intersections

Terra Valentine, Spring Mountain Road, St Helena, California, USA

January 10, 2009



This essay, Laurence Platt Intersections, is the third in a quintology comprising The Laurence Platt Story:
  1. Laurence Platt Autobiography
  2. Laurence Platt Autobiography II
  3. Laurence Platt Intersections
  4. Laurence Platt Photo Album
  5. Laurence Platt And Associates
in that order.

It is also the seventh in a group of twelve reflections of God: It continues the story of my life. The story of my life isn't who I am. Who I am is Conversations For Transformation inspired by the ideas of Werner Erhard. Sooner or later the story of my life will be told. I want to support it being told accurately.

I am indebted to Professor William Warren Bartley III who inspired this conversation.



Foreword

Werner Erhard says transformation is the space  in which the event  "transformation" occurs.

Werner Erhard
Life before transformation occurs (indeed, any time of life, but in particular life before transformation occurs), is fraught with paradox. If we define the transformation of a human being as he or she becoming who they really are, it would imply there once was a time when they weren't  who they really are. There's a paradox right there: how can a human being ever  not be who they really are?

Yet it certainly seems that way from time to time, doesn't it? Ask any human being you know. Ask yourself. Not only does everyone at some time or other (ie most of the time  if you tell the truth about it) know  we're not being who we really  are, but we're just as certain there are ways to fix  ourselves so we can then be who we really are. We're certain  about this in that same ignorantly assured way we once were when we were certain  the Earth is flat. Now that we know the Earth is spherical, it's hard to contemplate we once were certain it was flat. It's like that with the notion that we need to fix ourselves. Although we now know the Earth is spherical, we're still  certain we need to fix ourselves.

This essay, Laurence Platt Intersections, shares some of the teachings, religions, disciplines, and paths I've encountered. During these encounters (if I tell the truth about it), the forefront of my intention was either to fix myself or to make life survivable  over the years prior to transformation. But that's another paradox right there: transformation is richly, powerfully, freely, and creatively living life the way it is and the way it isn't. So the very teachings, religions, disciplines, and paths which take away  the experience of life the way it is and the way it isn't - in the name of fixing  or making it survivable  - hide the experience of transformation, if not steal it away outright. The last thing you give up  before life transforms is fixing and making it survivable. Life is just the way it is and just the way it isn't. Both the notions of fixing and making survivable deny life is just the way it is and just the way it isn't.

I've gotten enormous  value from teachings, religions, disciplines, and paths which tout transformation like a possibility  (even, mistakenly, like a goal), and yet don't come up with a conversation to make it real. The truth is many of the conversations they do  come up with have zealously and with good intention added so many belief systems to their concept of transformation that the actual possibility of generating lasting, thrilling, real Conversations For Transformation has become so buried as to render them self‑defeating, even self‑sabotaging.

If I share a teaching, religion, discipline, or a path I've encountered here, I'm not endorsing it. By not endorsing it, I'm not diminishing its value either. I'm simply acknowledging it as an intersection  with my own personal hejira  ie as a chapter in my own personal spiritual path  if you will. By "spiritual path" I'm not alluding to a kind of development of an other worldly  aspect of a human being we call the spirit. That's loaded with waaay  too much significance and meaning for what I've got in mind here. What I've got in mind here when I refer to the "spiritual path" is the inspired  path, the opportunity of which gets you out of bed early in the morning and keeps you up late at night, the energetic path, the path of excitement, the path of self examination, the path of inquiry, the path of wonder, the path of awe - literally, (in another word) the spirited  path.

It's my intention at some point in the future to write Laurence Platt Intersections II to share the minor  intersections on my spirited  path, the cross roads  less travelled I've also moved through along the "low road to enlightenment"  so to speak - hypnotism, pendulum divination, homeopathy, selling encyclopaedias, and others.

For now, let's start with the following which I consider to be the major  intersections in my life:



Here, then, is Laurence Platt Intersections. It's not the first documentation I've written in the story of my life. It probably won't be the last.


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Judaism



I was born into a big, far flung Jewish family whose religious observances ranged the entire gamut from high orthodox  through reformed  Judaism. My immediate family were members of the local reformed congregation. I attended Hebrew school and participated in Friday night and Saturday morning Shabbat  services at the synagogue. Attending synagogue was as much a religious event as it was a social event for me. I completed the rites de passage  into manhood, my Bar Mitzvah  at thirteen years old.

Typically, when I attended synagogue by myself, I would participate with the reformed congregation where most of my friends participated. Occasionally, between the ages of eight and ten years old, I would attend the orthodox synagogue with my great uncle Joe. The orthodox services, unlike the reformed, were conducted almost entirely in the Hebrew language. Although I didn't understand much of what was going on, I remember the sense of deep piety, reverence, and devotion throughout the congregation as I sat swathed in my tallis  ie prayer shawl with my gold thread embroidered yarmulke  ie skull cap perched on my head. In the orthodox service, men and women didn't sit together. Women sat upstairs, men sat downstairs. I don't know why. That was just the way it was.

The Jewish "community"  is an apt descriptor for the Jewish congregation. I had a tangible sense of community in being a member of the Jewish congregation, whether it was a daily practice or whether merely attending synagogue once a year on the high holy days. Attending Jewish services is an immersion experience into tradition and history. That's both Judaism's great strength as well as its Achilles heel, its vulnerability. Any time the core of a faith is a tradition - any  faith, any  tradition - the tradition itself as well as the beliefs and rituals, however precious, it spawns become like fog settling on a clear day, getting in the way of the present and past experience  on which the tradition is founded. Anytime tradition and belief and ritual are at stake rather than experience, that's the beginnings of threat and survival.

Judaism is a grand tradition, one which held me close to its bosom, taught me to be a mensch, and sowed the seeds for lifelong friendships. In my opinion, like many faiths it also draws harsh lines between "us"  and "them", between Jews and gentiles. It was (and still is) apparent to me why such harsh lines are drawn like this by a faith, indeed why the faith is kept  like this: it's in order for the faith to survive. There's nothing wrong with a faith surviving. There is, however, always a clear and present danger that survival of the faith itself will become, as it most often invariably does, a higher priority than the open beginner's mind  experience on which the faith is based.

I was called to something beyond the borders of a faith, something all inclusive  of all human beings with no one and nothing left out. In particular, I was willing to stand  in a place in which all  faiths, all traditions, all beliefs, and all religions could be looked at and examined unflinchingly. While I hadn't articulated it yet at the time, my life was inexorably moving toward transformation, arguably the foundation of and the context for all faiths, for all traditions, for all beliefs, and for all religions.

I've recontextualized  Judaism in my life, just as I've recontextualized all faiths, all traditions, all beliefs, and all religions in my life which, from my birth into a Jewish family to who I say I am today, is one seamless continuum.


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Of Therapists And Drama Coaches



Once during my childhood years, then again during my late teen years, I met with a therapist for a series of sessions which lasted about forty minutes each. Sometimes the conversations were productive. Sometimes I found myself watching the clock until the session ended.

The reason for these sessions, in other words what I thought needed to be fixed  was what I called shyness, or said another way, an awkwardness I experienced when expressing myself. I considered myself to be a shy guy. And the way I had it back then was that being a shy guy  meant something's wrong, and the best tool on offer at the time to fix it, to correct this flaw  in me was therapy.

Most if not all the therapy sessions involved the therapist asking me questions about my life and history, or asking me to discuss incidents from my past. He made notes in pencil in a spiral bound notebook. Whenever I seemed to get in touch with something important  from my past, he wrote faster and got through more than one page. I didn't necessarily get  the significance  of what I'd just said or recalled, but if he was taking more notes writing faster and more, then I guessed it must have been important and the therapy must be working. It gave me a sense I was accomplishing something, that something good  was happening, that something was working, ... but I wasn't sure what.

There were times when the therapist, sitting in a chair opposite me, simply looked at me. It wasn't aggressive. He had a pleasant, warm look on his face. At those times, he didn't speak - he simply looked open faced at me. I looked back, somewhat hesitant, somewhat expectant, like when someone keeps looking at you without saying anything, and after a while you ask "What?"  with a smile. At the time, I thought he might be figuring me out  and would soon announce my cure.

But he never announced any "cure". I learned later that simply being in the therapy sessions were supposed to have an effect - but whatever that was supposed to be, I never figured out. I still considered myself to be a shy guy  who now had a history of having been in therapy. I enjoyed the therapist. He seemed like a good man, someone I could respect and, given his professional status and what he'd accomplished in life, someone I could even emulate. But at some point, I simply stopped going to the sessions, with a sense I recall at the time of "been there, done that".

In another series of sessions on another occasion, I met privately with a drama coach. The idea was not to train me as an actor. I've subsequently attended acting classes given by coach to the stars  Ann Brebnor. Frankly, no Academy Award aspirants are in the slightest danger of losing their statuettes to me. Acting simply isn't a natural talent for me. Rather, the purpose of the drama coach was to take on, was to confront  the shyness.

These sessions produced entirely different results than the therapy sessions. Unlike therapy, there were no questions asked of me nor discussions about my background and history, Rather, the coach engaged me in discussions about things I was interested in and / or excited about. Being a shy guy  didn't mean I didn't have interests or wasn't excited about things - I was just a shy guy!  On occasion she asked me to prepare something to share with her at the next session. This gave me an entire week to consider what I'd share with her. I even visualized what I'd look like and sound like when the time came to talk with her again.

Unlike therapy, the drama coaching (such as it was) got me, for the first time, in touch with my expression muscle  (if you will). There were no explanations offered for my behavior. The shy guy  wasn't interrogated or dissected. Instead, I just got to talk with a good listener. I started to get (as I would only say much later) my hands and feet on the dials and levers and pedals  of expressing myself. This wasn't only a breakthrough  for me, although I didn't use that word at the time either. It was the start of something new and intentional, an activity which paved the way for full Self  expression later.


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Alan Watts And Zen



Alan Watts

When Alan Watts came into my life (so to speak) through his books, I started to look at things in a way I'd never looked at things before. It wasn't that Alan changed my point of view and got me to understand things differently. That's not what he did. Had he done that, all he'd have given me would have been something different to believe. Although I wouldn't have said it exactly this way at the time, something different to believe  at that stage of my life would have been as productive and as useful to me as a bicycle to a fish (as Germaine Greer may have said).

When I first encountered Alan Watts I wasn't looking to try on  any new belief systems. All belief systems were suspect  to me. They each have their own edge  to explain life ie they each have their own embedded righteousness. In their own eyes at least, they each have the right  explanation. Furthermore, in their own eyes at least, the others  have the wrong  explanation. That been said, the arena in which I walked at the time was a veritable smorgasbord  of different faiths, of different beliefs. You picked your poison, so to speak.

No belief system I'd ever come across, neither religious nor psychological nor philosophical, went beyond explaining  life, to a place where life can be experienced directly, unmitigated, unfiltered, naked. And I was already warming to the idea that whether or not I believe  in a rock, if it hits me on the head it's real. Believing in the rock isn't only incidental - believing in the rock actually distracts from its true nature.

Alan Watts changed all that. Alan Watts provided me with the tools to generate my first access to direct experience. He did that in a unique way (unique, that is, for me at the time). He enlivened a sense of inquiry  in me which wasn't there before. Alan Watts brought in a sense of inquiry into who or what  I really am as a human being. In my teenage years and my early twenties, I conducted this inquiry so privately, so intimately  no one knew I was engaged in it. It seemed like something new  had spontaneously combusted in my life. But it didn't go very far - you can't have an interactive conversation face to face with books. Yet it was the start of something profound. Even in the absence of someone to interact with in conversation face to face on a daily basis, it was profound.

It was profound in that it altered my sense of who I am for myself. In the Alan Watts  conversation, I was a human being looking at myself. Alan sowed the seeds of Self  awareness for me. That's the contribution Alan made to me. He made it hip. He offered the low down  on being. He was turned on. He was tuned in. But he also drew the line where I draw the line: he didn't drop out  - as psychedelic guru  of the era Dr Timothy Leary infamously counseled to do.

I was amazed  at what Alan Watts wrote. I didn't always understand it. But that didn't seem to matter. For me, reading Alan Watts is as profound as taking a walk with him as your guide, side by side, through the perfectly manicured garden of a Japanese Buddhist temple while he's giving a commentary on what's all around you. You listen. You walk. It's full. And you're awed. And you don't have to understand it. That, to me, is the Alan Watts experience. In Alan Watts' universe it's trite, almost naïve, even quaint  to think birds fly for a reason. In Alan Watts' universe, birds fly because they fly.

By the way, I've a sneaking suspicion (he never wrote this, as far as know) that for Alan, taking a walk through the perfectly manicured garden of a Japanese Buddhist temple is just as enriching as taking a walk on the wild side  of downtown Manhattan. Alan isn't trapped in any game, pious or otherwise. That's what got him gloriously at odds with the elders of the Episcopal church when he was an Episcopal priest which led to him leaving the church and becoming the west's foremost exponent of Zen.

Contrary to a widely held misconception, Zen isn't a religion. Zen could be described as a way of living with what's so. To do that requires a certain willingness to cause your own experience so that life is lived out of who you really are rather than out of your reactions, concepts, thoughts, and opinions. In that regard, Werner Erhard points out there are people from all walks of life and from all religions who practice Zen. There are Zen Jews, there are also Zen Christians, there are also Zen Muslims, and there are also Zen Hindus, just as there are also Zen Buddhists.

Alan Watts' introduction to Zen paved the way for me to live my life as a way of life, although it would be at least another ten years and a fortuitous meeting with Werner Erhard before I'd be able to make that same assertion with certainty, with intentionality. Interestingly enough, Werner (I would find out later) was synchronously pointed to the distinction Self  by the work of Alan Watts in Sausalito, California, one hundred and eighty degrees on the opposite side of the planet from Cape Town, South Africa where I first came across Alan Watts' seminal and brilliant work The Book: On The Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are.

Alan's fresh, spirited, lively, animated discourse of Zen, and his critical thinking and distinctions in matters of Self  were waaay  ahead of their time. They were breakthroughs  which paved the way, which blazed the trail  for the work of transformation to come. Anyone anywhere in the world today who's participated in Werner Erhard's work, the work of transformation, and any program which genuinely delivers authentic transformation (that is to say, which reliably delivers the experience of the Self, of true nature, as distinct from the mind) can look back and thank Alan Watts.


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Islam



Cape Town, South Africa has a very rich Malay  tradition, at the heart of which is the Muslim religion Islam. Around Cape Town and its environs are many quaint and historic mosques known as kramats  where the holy men, the saints  of the Malay population, are buried. Some of the kramats  are located in populated areas. Many of them are located amidst environments of pure splendor - on isolated beaches, or high on the slopes of the famous Table Mountain which forms the backbone  of the Cape Peninsula. It was only a matter of time before I, with my love of the great outdoors, would find my way to the isolated beaches, or up the meandering mountain paths, and eventually to the kramats  which literally called out to me  to come inside.

They were times I looked forward to - more and more. After work, often without shedding my suit and tie, I'd wait until midnight then drive down the meandering Chapman's Peak  mountain road around the west side of the Cape Peninsula. All the kramats  were deliberately well hidden. For one of them in particular, my favorite one, I knew where to stop and park only when I'd reached a well worn footpath going seemingly nowhere up the side of the mountain. The best time to arrive there was on a full moonlit night with the enormous breaking waves of the Atlantic Ocean majestically crashing onto the rocks on the other side of the road.

The kramat  at the top of the path is a shrine to Sheikh Noorul Mubeen who came out to South Africa from Holland about three hundred years ago as a prisoner of the Dutch East India Company. He was forced to develop the then Cape Colony, and freed once his contract with the Dutch East India Company expired. He is therefore one of the forefathers of the Malay nation in South Africa. The place is literally revered  by the Sheikh's followers. It's tangible in the air. All footwear is left stacked neatly outside the door. Inside the air smells of sweet incense. If there aren't candles burning to light the interior, there are always matches in convenient places to light a strategically placed candle or two - electric light would be too harsh for what inexplicably transpires in here.

Some things are hard to explain - the tangible presence of a man who passed away three hundred years ago is one of them. Sheikh Noorul Mubeen's presence has drawn people to the kramat  for centuries. It has to be experienced to be believed. There's a loveliness to it which always brings tears to my eyes. It's more than that, actually. Being in the presence of it, whatever it is, for me is like being held in the arms of a huge spirit and comforted while I release tears of pent up emotion, and he or it  or whatever it is  strokes my head with love until the discharge is over. Arguably, it's the only otherworldly  experience I've had which I'm clear about. It's good. It's both sublime and divine. Without any effort or stretch, I can tell why it forms a central focus of Malay adoration and worship.

One evening around about midnight, I was sitting in the lotus position  against a wall in the kramat. I barely heard the door open. I looked up to see a couple, a man and a woman, enter. The man wore a white skull cap, an indication that he's a Hadji, that he'd been on Hadj, a Muslim's once in a lifetime  required pilgrimage to Mecca. The woman was attired in a gorgeous satin dress, her head and face covered with a veil through which I could see her exquisite features.

I stood up quickly, apologizing for intruding into their space, and prepared to leave. "Please stay" the man said gently, introducing himself as Yusuf  (which he pronounced "You Siff") and his wife as Miriyam  (which he pronounced "Mirry Yum"). When I introduced myself as Laurence, Yusuf said "Your Muslim name Laurence is Elijah.". How extraordinary he got that, I thought: my Jewish name is Eleazar  which is Elijah in Hebrew. Then he asked "Will you please stay and chant with us?". Not knowing quite what to expect, I sat back down, lit a candle and a stick of incense, and waited.

With Yusuf leading and Miriyam backing him up with impeccably accurate harmonies, they half chanted half sang "Bismillah Irahman Irahim"  followed by a verse in an Arabic language I didn't understand, and yet was completely moved by. After the verse, they half chanted half sang "Bismillah Irahman Irahim"  again followed by another verse, followed by "Bismillah Irahman Irahim"  again followed by another verse, followed by ... and suddenly I realized dawn was breaking through the windows of the kramat  and unless I got down the mountain path fast, I'd be late for work.

Over the subsequent years when I visited the kramats, I was either there alone, enjoying the atmosphere, enjoying the sanctuary by myself, or there were other visitors as well. Often Yusuf and Miriyam were there. Yusuf, I learned, was an elder in the local mosque. He was regarded by the Muslim congregation as a holy man in his own right.

The repetitiveness of chanting is both transportive and seductive. Without ascribing too much significance, meaning, and piety  to it, it works  as a meditation technique. Although the Islamic chanting may be in a proprietary language I neither speak not read nor understand, chanting itself is a common thread  which runs through almost all religions of the world, through almost all religious practices and experiences.

I returned to Cape Town, South Africa in 1979 to start Werner Erhard's work there. I presented the first series of ten guest seminars there in the major cities around the country, enrolling the first one thousand people there. It was the time of the fundamental apartheid  years in South Africa. Delivering Werner's work in public meetings as I did with people of any color  present violated one of the most bastion laws of apartheid  and could result in a prison sentence. Mostly the danger didn't phase me - I was driven by sheer inspiration. Mostly it didn't ... except when it did, and when it did, I was afraid. When I was afraid, I would return at midnight to Sheikh Noorul Mubeen's kramat  and sit with him. Whatever came of those midnight sittings empowered me to continue. He watched over me. I have a lot to be thankful to him for. The Malay population of Cape Town are due an enormous  vote of gratitude for their profound contribution to the transformation of South Africa. They, like many of the people of South Africa, literally loved  it into existence.

Before I returned to the United States, I had one more encounter with Yusuf and Miriyam. Again, I was seated in the kramat, lit by a single candle, around two o'clock in the morning. The ocean pounded the rocks below. The salt air cleansed my nostrils, already sweetened by incense. The door opened, and in another totally random  encounter, Yusuf and Miriyam entered. After we chanted, I told them I was returning to the United States. Yusuf reached up and removed his white skull cap, offering it to me, saying "Take this with you.".

The white skull cap is known by Cape Town's Malays as an "onderkoffiertjie", its Afrikaans  name. An "onderkoffiertjie"  is worn by Hadjis  under their red, tasseled fez: "onder"  - under, "koffier"  - fez, "tjie" - suffix for diminutive. Literally, the little cap under the fez. Yusuf's "onderkoffiertjie"  had returned with him from his Hadj  to Mecca. This wasn't a throwaway. This wasn't a trivial gift.

Human beings are good. In who human beings really are, I know human beings are good. Who human beings really are is prior to  anything that can be labeled Islamic, Jewish, or Christian. It's clearly one of the foibles  of being human that we've allowed these labels to blur and falsely define who we really are, thereby allowing them to interfere in life working for everyone with no one and nothing left out.


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Maharishi Mahesh Yogi - Transcendental Meditation



Maharishi Mahesh Yogi

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. An extraordinary  human being. Meditation or Transcendental Meditation  aka TM  as he taught it, is as natural as breathing. It's effortless and easy and is accompanied by a veritable avalanche of scientific research and papers attesting to its value and benefits.

Somewhere along the line the message  got distorted. Personally I doubt the distortion arose with Maharshi, as he was affectionately known. In all likelihood the distortion arose in how he was interpreted by his followers. Somewhere along the line the message was distorted into "you're not there now, but if you meditate regularly, you'll get there". There's a great deal of value in the practice of meditation The results of it are almost indisputable, obvious, indeed unavoidable. But there's nowhere to get to. You're already here. If that's not the context you're meditating in, the practice itself is taking you away from who you are.

I'm glad Maharshi's renown was magnified by The Beatles. It was fully deserved. Their confluence was perfect for the time. I've also seen first hand the dubious coverage developed by the media about Maharshi when I was with him. As a result I've become acutely aware, starting then, of how falsehoods, lies, and innuendo  are often passed off on an unsuspecting public as "the truth" by the media. In my reckoning, all the salacious allegations made about Maharshi are no more than fantasies in overzealous tabloid reporters' fertile minds working overtime.

John Lennon is entitled to his opinion about Maharshi. I love the song Sexy Sadie  from the White Album. However, it's clear to me its focus ("Sexy Sadie" being a thinly disguised "Maha Rishi")  tells me more about John Lennon's famously acerbic intellect and wit than it speaks the truth about Maharshi. The two surviving Beatles, Sir Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, lavished love, praise, and respect on Maharshi when he died, something the media immediately picked up on and spread throughout the world. It's a pity they didn't think to do that during Maharshi's illustrious life. I doubt Paul and Ringo suddenly had a change of heart when he died. That's not why the media suppressed coverage of their admiration during Maharshi's life. The media simply prefers to lop the tall poppies.

I learned ie I was initiated into  the practice of Transcendental Mediation by a teacher ie an initiator  named Michael Rice, a very tall, thin, gentle man who wore thick bifocal spectacles. He recited a ceremony, a puja  in the ancient Sanskrit  language as he instructed me and gave me my mantra. I practiced Transcendental Mediation regularly, every day, twenty minutes in the morning, twenty minutes in the evening, Maharshi having coined the phrase "TM in the AM and the PM".

Maharshi also designated seven states of consciousness, first in his bestseller The Science of Being and The Art of A HREF="aliveand.html" TARGET="aliveand">Living, then in various discourses in his proprietary Science of Creative Inteligence  lecture series delivered through MIU - Maharishi International University:

 1)  sleeping
 2)  dreaming
 3)  waking
 4)  transcendental  consciousness ie the state arrived at during meditation
 5)  cosmic  consciousness ie when transcendental consciousness persists during waking
 6)  god  consciousness ie when cosmic consciousness reveals the finest levels of creation
 7)  unity  consciousness or simply Unity  ie when cosmic consciousness merges with the finest levels of creation

The thing about this differentiation  of states of consciousness is that while it has validity, it's prone to impose a kind of attainment  thinking: cosmic  consciousness is a higher state of consciousness  than ordinary waking consciousness, God  consciousness is a higher state of consciousness than cosmic consciousness, and Maharshi is in the highest state of consciousness  of all - he must be in Unity!

After I'd been meditating regularly for a year, I was mildly irritated with myself, a bit peeved  actually that I'd been meditating for a year and wasn't yet enlightened ie wasn't yet in cosmic consciousness!  It wasn't until much, much later following another conversation with Werner Erhard that I started to entertain the possibility that enlightenment is simply giving up the notion I'm unenlightened. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Of the many he made available, Maharshi made available an extraordinary opportunity, one which I would never in a million years have made happen for myself had he not made it possible. Arranging for people to be totally supported ie having their food prepared etc, he set up a routine which made it possible for us to do what he called "long rounding".

Long rounding was a once in a lifetime experience for me. Starting with the regular twenty minutes in the morning, twenty minutes in the evening  practice of Transcendental Meditation, the meditation duration was increased by one hour every day. Each period of meditation was followed by a repetition of yoga asanas  ie exercises. A period of meditation followed by a repetition of yoga asanas  was known as a round. With each hour added, the repetition of meditation and asanas  - hence the term rounding  - soon occupied the full twenty four hour day. The need for sleep in the super-relaxed  meditative state got less and less. It sufficed simply to doze from time to time, still seated in the cross legged meditation "lotus"  posture.

Rounding like this continued for six months. It's the closest I've ever come to knowing what a monk in a cave feels like. However the cave of choice, my cave of preference  today is the whole world. Real transformation simply can't be bounded by a cave, a monastery, a convent, an abbey, an ashram  etc nor for that matter can it be bounded by a synagogue, a mosque, or a church. Real transformation simply doesn't require any of the above. Real transformation is a stand you take  for your Self. Real transformation happens out of time  and out of place  yet it's present all the time  (that is to say any time you generate it)  and everywhere you are.

When it was time to "come down"  (the term needs no clarification) Maharshi suggested we simply decrease the total duration of meditation by a half hour a day. Pretty soon we were back to the regular Transcendental Meditation cycle of twenty minutes in the morning and twenty minutes in the evening. We monks, whom Maharshi called Brahmacharis, blinking in the sunlight, emerged from the cave and re-entered the world.

I subsequently completed the Transcendental Meditation initiator's  course. In total I've initiated approximately two hundred people into the practice of Transcendental Meditation. For six months I managed the Transcendental Meditation center in Johannesburg, South Africa. I've also led Transcendental Meditation course retreats in rural England. I've never stopped meditating, although there's no longer a commitment to do it twice a day religiously. Transcendental Meditation is like brushing your teeth: you can both overdo it as well as not do it enough. What it comes down to is meditation is really a matter of health care and mental hygiene.

With all due respect to Sexy Sadie, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi didn't make "a fool of everyone". That's just one brilliant guy from Liverpool's opinion as he fitted words to an achingly beautiful melody. And if the brilliant guy from Liverpool created himself  to be a fool on Maharshi's watch, then that's just what the brilliant guy from Liverpool created for himself. When the truth is told (and two other equally brilliant guys from Liverpool have already told it), it will be said Maharishi Mahesh Yogi didn't make a fool of anyone. To the contrary, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi gave a gift to everyone. An extraordinary, priceless gift.


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The Hindu Pantheon



In a pantheon, there are many gods. The Hindu pantheon is ancient, thousands of years old, richly endowed with tradition. Brahma, the god of creation, creates the world. Vishnu, the god of maintenance or persistence, allows the world to persist after it's created. Shiva, the god of destruction, allows new creation to come into existence by destroying what's already there. Then there's Kali, Krishna, Hanuman, and many, many more.

There have been many Hindu teachers ie Swamis  whose work has attracted my attention at various times of my life. It's not so much what they've written that's attracted me or even the individual philosophies or teachings they've developed and become known for which has interested me. It's simply their presence. Before I had a handle on Self  expression for myself in my own life, I could sense it in others when I saw it. It was an elusive quality then, one onto which much significance  and meaning  has been glommed - a pity, really, since that's exactly what renders it unavailable.

There were many opportunities when I grew up in South Africa, particularly in cities like Durban  with a large Indian population, to attend lectures and classes given by saffron robed Hindu Swamis, masters of life. My sojourn in the Fiji Islands also afforded me time with the Indian Hindu population and their myriads of temples. South Africa and Fiji both being erstwhile British Colonies to which the British encouraged immigration from India with enticements of land ownership.

It's been said the title Swami  refers simply to breathing: exhale "Swa"  ... inhale "mi".

I attended lecture meetings ie satsangs  given by Swami Venkatesananda, a tall, slender man, with shaved short gray hair and a flinty blue glow in his eyes which locked onto mine with unerring accuracy. I wanted to return his exact gaze, even as it made me feel slightly awkward, like there was no place to hide. I pegged him as being in a higher state  of consciousness than I was, a concept I would later no longer find useful and eventually drop. I remember thinking Swami Venkatesananda is totally clear about his own divinity. I respected him for it.

In London I had the opportunity to attend a satsang  given by AC Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, an extraordinarily powerful heavyweight  guru who founded the Radha Krishna  temple and the Hari Krishna  movement. He not only channeled Lord Krishna's teachings to thousands, so it was said, but he was also influential enough to cause in them a completely new lifestyle. I liked him. I thought he looked like a cross between Buddha and a bullfrog. He intrigued me enough that I attended open house  afternoons and crack of dawn  devotions in the Hari Krishna  temple in Bloomsbury, an area of central London in the south borough of Camden.

When I was introduced to the writings of Swami Paramhansa (often misspelled Param-a-hansa) Yogananda, the founder of the Self Realization Fellowship, I was intrigued by what he said, specifically in his best selling classic Autobiography Of A Yogi. The man is pure love. That's his legacy. His yoga, teachings, and writings are almost secondary. But it was another of his books, The Second Coming Of Christ, which really got my attention. In it, Swami Yogananda wasn't referring to the literal return of Jesus Christ to Earth. Rather, he was referring to the realization of Christ within each of us. Thanks to Swami Yogananda I came to rethink the notion of the realization of Christ within each of us. These days I prefer to articulate it in simpler, more accessible and obvious  terms. Nonetheless, to speak in terms of "the realization of Christ within each of us" is still good enough for jazz.

Another Swami I admired from the moment I set eyes on him, first while watching the movie of the original halcyon  Woodstock Music and Arts Fair in Bethel, New York, and then subsequently at a live satsang  in San Francisco, is Swami Satchitananda, the Woodstock guru. When addressing the half million people at Woodstock  on Max Yasgur's farm, did he famously say "America is becoming a hole"  or did he say "America is becoming a whole"?  I'm not sure. Whatever he said, I thought he was the quintessential guru  in saffron robes, replete with beads, sandals, and long silvery hair and full beard. But I can just as easily see him in a business suit laughing. Swami Satchitananda - a holy man, a whole he-man.

Without doubt, one of the most colorful characters I've ever met, one of the most unforgetable  characters I've ever met is Brahmarshi Deverat. Brahmarshi Deverat is a vedic  pundit. The holy Hindu scriptures, the Vedas, aren't reliably transcribed and written down. Instead they're memorized  by the so called vedic pundits and passed down, from generation to generation of vedic pundits orally. It's a remarkable feat - not only to commit to memory the vast set of volumes which comprise the Vedas but also to commit your life  to the task.

One of the tasks Maharishi Mahesh Yogi committed himself to was translating pertinent chapters of the Vedas as they related to his work. To do this, he required a vedic pundit to recall the Vedas for him. When he worked on this project, Brahmarshi Deverat was summoned from his ashram  in the Himālayas to be Maharshi's voice of the Vedas, his living text. Brahmarshi Deverat dressed in a loin cloth. No matter where he went in Maharshi's compound, no matter who comprised his audience, all he wore was a loin cloth. The man intrigued me.

One night close to midnight as I was delivering Maharshi's dinner to him, I turned a corner ... and came face to face with Brahmarshi Deverat wearing nothing, as usual, but a loincloth and a smile, walking back to his room. Not certain if he spoke English, I smiled at him and said "Goodnight Brahmarshi.". He looked at me, somewhat curiously, then walked slowly up to me, hands behind his back, until we were almost nose to nose, he looking up at me - he was slightly shorter than me. After a long moment he suddenly lit up, his smile shining the light of a thousand suns, and said to me in a thick Hindi accent: "Outside always  goodnight - inside always very good morning!"

That's Brahmarshi Deverat. One of the most colorful characters I've ever met. One of the most unforgetable  characters I've ever met.

When Werner Erhard had the brassiness and the verve to dare to take transformation to India through delivering The Hunger Project  in person, and through his work which now thrives  there, Indian centers having some of the largest enrollments and registrations into Werner's work of all the countries of the world, he returned a rich tradition which has for thousands of years made available our most cherished values and experiences. It's often said a gift which is a true gift, once given will always find its way back to you. In this sense, the enormous bequeathment from the Hindu pantheon to the people of Planet Earth is complete.


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BKS Iyengar - Hatha Yoga



BKS Iyengar

The practice of Hatha Yoga  is a series of many postures ranging from novice to advanced specialist. There's probably not a better system of physical exercise to facilitate stretching of any and all the muscles of the human body than Hatha Yoga. Inherent in Hatha Yoga is the practice of breath control ie pranayama. When combined with the practice of meditation, as it often is, Hatha Yoga is a complete spiritual practice, serving both the physical and the mental components of the human being.

Various teachers prescribe their particular sequence of Hatha Yoga postures. A friend of mine introduced me to the Hatha Yoga system of BKS Iyengar, or Mr  BKS Iyengar as he's sometimes known.

Mr Iyengar's system of Hatha Yoga, so complete and so extended that it has a name all of its own - Iyengar Yoga  - took the yoga postures I was already familiar with to a completely new level. My body became extraordinarily flexible. I was able, at the peak of my practice, to sit quite comfortably with the palms of my hands together, and both my feet behind my head. There were not only the undeniable benefits that come with relaxation and flexibility. There was also a satisfying sense of accomplishment - considering that not much earlier I would have had to bend my knees in order to tie my shoelaces.

One day, quite unexpectedly I might add, an opportunity arose for me to meet Mr Iyengar. He was visiting the town I was in at the time, presenting a course to train new instructors in his method of yoga. On a whim, I decided I was going to meet him.

With some very elementary research, I discovered the course location and, without any fanfare or reservation, simply showed up and walked into the room, the floor of which was covered in yoga mats on which people were in all positions and pretzel  shapes of the yoga asanas.

And there he was: white hair almost silver, a robe darker red than the typical saffron  color associated with many swamis, and a light  coming out of him like such as I'd never seen before. I just stood there, mesmerized, watching him.

Suddenly he turned around and faced me. His face lit up with a beautiful smile. He put his palms together and, looking directly into my eyes with total love, said "It's You!".

"No" I said "it's YOU, Mr Iyengar", my palms now also together.

He laughed, a kind, happy, relaxed laugh. I laughed with him, swimming in the same pool.

"Thank you Sir" I said. "I've always wanted to meet you.".

"Thank you for coming" he said (he didn't know my name), and bowed. I bowed back to him, and left. I'd gotten what I came for.

Iyengar Yoga, as far as I know, is arguably Hatha Yoga's most brilliant interpretation. Iyengar Yoga given through Mr BKS Iyengar's lectures, demonstrations, classes, and books, is simply Hatha Yoga - pure and simple. Arduous, yes. Not for the faint hearted. Yet simple. When anything is what it is  without pretending to be something else, without aspiring to be something else, and without asserting it leads to something else other than itself, that's brilliant. As a practitioner of Iyengar Yoga, my body got very, very pliant, very, very supple and flexible. When I stopped practicing, my body obviously didn't stay that way. Iyengar Yoga supported whatever dialogue I was in at the time, whatever inquiry I was in at the time without interfering with it, without imposing on it. As it turned out, I left the practice of yoga behind. But the inquiry at the heart of my being continued - insatiable, unstoppable.


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Diet And The Realization "You Aren't What You Eat"



My first stint as a vegetarian lasted five years. It began in quite a dramatic manner.

In June of 1971 I was walking in the Tyrol  region of the Austrian alps at the international border between the Austrian town Kössen  and the German town Reit Im Winkl. It was summer. There was no snow about, and the environment was pristine and gorgeous. As I walked I heard a strange sound, something I thought was a high powered radio tuner scanning channels between channels. As I walked, the sound grew louder. Intrigued, I walked faster. Suddenly in a clearing, I came upon a nondescript building which had to have been the housing for the radio tuner / scanner / transmitter, whatever it was I was hearing. A door was open. I walked inside.

I was instantly rooted to the spot, completely shocked and horrified at the unexpected sight in front of my eyes.

In a totally bizarre and incorrigible change of scenery, I saw cows and sheep suspended by their hind legs from the ceiling, their throats slit, blood pouring out into drains in the floor, their bodies jerking and twisting hopelessly, finally going still, the rictus  of death grimacing their blood soaked faces. The sound I'd heard, the strange sound like a high powered radio tuner scanning channels between channels  was the screaming of the other waiting cows and sheep, herded unceremoniously into tiny pens, hardly able to move and unable to escape their fate which they knew  was imminent either through witnessing the killing directly or through breathing in the grisly smell of death which clogged the air. I had unwittingly walked into an abattoir!

To say I decided to become a vegetarian in that moment isn't accurate. What happened was I was an omnivore  when I walked in and I was a vegetarian when I walked out. No rational decision making process was involved.

Being a vegetarian was a moral issue  for me: I had it that it wasn't right  to take life in order to eat. Later I went through a vegan  phase, a fruitarian  phase, and a macrobiotic  phase. I regarded a bowl of brown rice  as a complete meal. I had a brief stint managing a macrobiotic  restaurant in Cape Town, South Africa: a macrobiotic  restaurant called the Tui Ting  (translation: "Happy Cooking Pot")  on Loop Street. I read Professor Arnold Ehret's classic The Mucusless Diet Healing System.

The total vegetarian  phase lasted five years, of which two years were entirely vegan  tending toward fruitarian.

There's certainly nothing wrong with and everything to be gained by eating healthy foods. However, I found it almost impossible to stick with the moral high ground  as the basis of a meatless diet. For example, could I authentically wear leather shoes and still call myself a vegetarian? What about soap?  If the argument continued to include any  substance, food or otherwise, of animal origin, life as I knew it would become increasingly hard, if not outright impossible. So I continued to be vegetarian, wore leather shoes, and discarded the moral high ground  as the basis of being vegetarian. I was now vegetarian simply because my body felt better  when I followed a vegetarian / vegan regimen.

For years I experimented with fasting, drinking only small amounts of water or fruit juice with honey for two weeks at a time. During the fast (which I considered to be a necessary purification process), I felt light and wonderful. The allure of being a breath-arian interested me. Breatharians  are the mystics of legend (which means they existed or they didn't)  whose bodies are supposedly so pure they can exist simply by fixing nitrogen directly out of the air they breathe. They'd never have to eat! Yet soon, invariably my body would tell me it was time to eat again, to break the fast.

My idea at these times was always to break the fast gently and slowly. That seemed like the civilized  way to do it, the way a true yogi  would do it. But when push came to shove I was ravenous. Once the first morsel of food entered my mouth after a fast, I ate hungrily, faster, and in greater quantities than my pictures of what my dietary regimen required in its pure form.

In point of fact, the way I broke the fasts may have undone many of the benefits of the fasts themselves. I always told myself I would do better  next time. But, of course, the next time  was exactly the same, and by the time the practice of fasting quietly slipped out of my life unnoticed as suddenly as it had entered my life, I still hadn't mastered breaking a fast in the quiet, slow, sedate, gentle way I pictured a fast should be broken. Much to my chagrin I simply never got it right.

It's clear to me my diet and health and exercise are no one's responsibilities but my own. I've never wavered from this stand which I got even before I became a vegetarian in the Austrian alps during that fateful stroll in the Tyrol. I'm still fundamentally a vegetarian today, thirty eight years later. I enjoy a fresh Chef's salad  for breakfast on most days. I'm also not averse to a medium rare, tender filet mignon  occasionally, smothered in onions and gravy with mashed potatoes on the side.

What's shifted for me, however, what's transformed is the context  in which I hold any diet, any eating regimen, any dietary practice. No diet, no eating regimen, no dietary practice makes life OK. No diet, no eating regimen, no dietary practice is ever enough to make life OK  in areas in which I deem it's not OK. I've realized it's completely futile  to come at diet, eating regimens, and dietary practices as if they'll make a systemic  difference in the overall quality of my life.

When diets, eating regimens, and dietary practices are relied on to make a difference in life so that it becomes OK when it's unconsciously regarded as not OK, they're doomed to fail. Diet's don't work work that way. They simply can't  work that way. There's only one thing that works with regard to life being OK, and that's my declaration "Life is OK the way it is and the way it isn't.". Within that context I'm totally committed to my body and to my health. Within that context I'm free to eat anything  ie I'm free to eat whatever I choose to eat, knowing whatever I eat has an impact on my body and on my health. And I've already taken full responsibility for both of them.

One last thing, like a wafer thin after dinner mint:  I'm not what I eat. Rather, I am what I say.


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Encounter Groups



I don't really know what the point of Encounter Groups (aka T-Groups  or Therapy Groups) is ie was. That's not because there isn't a point. It's because I didn't stay long enough to find out what it is.

At one time Encounter Groups were attracting a lot of my friends who seemed to get value from the experience - whatever it was. I decided to attend one to find out. For two nights and two full days, fifteen people would participate in the process in the living room of a large house, and wouldn't leave the room at all except for bathroom breaks. Food was prepared and delivered by helpers. All participants brought their own bedding (sleeping bags, blankets) and slept on the floor.

I could see some method in this. It seemed obvious two full days and two full nights is long enough to cause confronting issues in a group setting for something to emerge and become available which normally wouldn't be. The leader of the group, a professor in the psychology department of the University of Cape Town I attended, directed questions at the group, asking people to say what they were feeling, what their thoughts were etc.

Gradually his questions to the group as a whole got deeper and more intrusive, like (referring to one person in the group) "What do you think of so and so?"  and "What do you think so and so  thinks of you?". One kind of discussion is provoked like this when the people you're asked about aren't present. But when they're in the same room as you and listening, that's when - as they say in the classics - the shit hits the fan.

And it did. An untempered aggression seemed to come undone. When the focus was on a particular person, it didn't take long for that person to be reduced to tears, such was the nature of the intrusiveness, the questioning, the demanding, the confront.

It could be argued, I suppose, it's a good thing  when underlying passion, aggression or otherwise, is released. It could be argued, I suppose, it's a good thing  to get inside and down under  the thin, polite veneers we paint over the surfaces of our lives to hide what's beneath. It could be argued, I suppose, it's a good thing  when whatever's beneath is allowed to emerge and see the light of day for the first time. In this regard, it could be argued in an encounter group, the end justifies the means.

I'll never know. Before the marathon session had played itself out, I had passed both my comfort point as well as my commitment  point. I stood up and announced I was leaving. It was all very significant  and heavy.

After a brief exchange with the leader of the group, it became clear to everyone I was indeed on my way out. The leader of the group, half reclining, half seated on a pile of cushions against one wall, said to the group "I'd like to see how Laurence says goodbye.".

It was a challenge I could meet. I stopped in the center of the room and slowly turned around until I could look each person in the eye. They, too, were seated or prone on the floor or on cushions around the room. Many of them were completely disheveled  by this time. Some of the girls' makeup was streaked with tears and had run down their cheeks. Most of the guys were by now in need of a shave. And everyone had "bed head"  ie hairstyles which looked like they'd just got out of bed in the morning.

With each person, I made eye contact, said "Goodbye" then paused for a moment and turned to the next one. I wasn't saying goodbye to them like I was ending the friendship and association between us. I was, however, assertively saying goodbye to my participation in the encounter group. And I left.

To be sure, there are elements of encounter groups and of encounter group therapy which have distilled down, which are useful, and which have persisted into and are used in programs today. But you can't, after all, copyright the working of a program in a group because it's a group. That would be like copyrighting the word "the". What's newly present today are rigorously strict ground rules  which keep things on track, predictably and count‑on‑ably  so. The point today isn't so much a feral  intrusion into personality a la "Lord of the Flies". The conversation is much more directed, much more structured. Participation is via the course leader rather than randomly caroming  from participant to participant.

One thing which became obvious to me out of my experience with the encounter group is that having a group of people together focusing on issues for an extended period of time can produce dramatic results which, given that we're too distracted by the requirements of daily life to make time to focus on issues ordinarily, is easy to fathom. However my opinion today of the format in which I experienced it back then, is it was a well intentioned yet still immature technology, still naïve, still a work in progress, not yet ready for prime time.


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Jesus Christ



As someone born a Jew, my first sensing of who Jesus Christ might be surprised even myself. My spontaneous new inquiries into who Jesus Christ really is flowed seamlessly  from my Jewish heritage. I eschew  any labeling in this regard. If the phrase "Jews for Jesus"  ever comes up and is leveled at me, I'm ready to squish it like a bug. It's completely and totally misleading in this context.

At the time, in June of 1981, I was in South Africa living in a "Gypsy" caravan  (the South African equivalent of the American "Airstream" trailer)  atop a sand dune at Arch Rock  overlooking the pristinely gorgeous Keurboomsstrand  (that's Afrikaans  for "Keurbooms beach"), a few miles east of the town of Plettenberg Bay which my friends referred to as Platt‑enberg Bay. The rustic path winding down the sand dune from the door of my caravan to the breathtaking white, sandy beach below was appropriately named "Paradise Lane".

I worked for LTA  ie Lewis Thompson Amalgamated, a construction company, as their site administrator. We were building an arch  bridge across the Salt River gorge in a jaw-droppingly wildly beautiful mountainous area known as The Crags. This hard working yet humble lifestyle brought me in touch with many of the local people. From what I saw, I envied their simple, uncomplicated lives. They had  something, I wasn't sure what, which they eventually began to share with me in an entirely unpressured way as the presence of Jesus Christ in their lives. Most of them were congregants in a regional Assembly of God  church. Their village was too small to support a full time minister so they were visited every six weeks or so by a traveling minister who also stopped in at the surrounding villages and hamlets, completing his circuit every six weeks.

I attended their services, read the Bible (I'd always wanted, someday, to read the Bible - it is, after all, one of the most widely read books in the history of humanity), and prayed ... or enacted whatever it was I considered prayer to be.

Whatever all of that eventually caused to transpire, I soon felt as if an elephant had crawled off my back. I had a deep, profound sense of gratitude. When I went to sleep at night I heard or imagined I heard choirs of angels singing to me, celebrating me, soothing me. I had a vision  which the traveling minister told me was the "cosmic" Christ  appearing to me.

Years later, much to the chagrin of some of the orthodox Jewish members of my family, my three children were baptized in the Lutheran church. Subsequently I fulfilled a ten year intention and received baptism by full immersion in the Merced River in the Yosemite Valley under the sheer granite cliffs of El Capitan and Half Dome, again unfortunately and unavoidably to the chagrin of some of the Jewish members of my family. Accepting baptism is a statement. It's a quiet celebration. It's the start of a special relationship. It's a mark in the time line after which you're never the same kind of person again.

The entire conversation surrounding Jesus Christ was, I discovered, deeply beautiful. What's not to like?  And fully realizing the man Jesus last trod this Earth two thousand years ago, I began to get a sense of who he was from the Bible, from the services, from what people say he is  for them, and from what people say about him.

All the while I was fully cognizant of how much of what I heard  and read  about Jesus was clearly and obviously someone else's interpretation of him and his teachings. That didn't lessen any of the love I have for him. And yet even from the very first translation of Aramaic, the language of the day, into today's English, I knew what I hear and read about Jesus today is an interpretation on top of an interpretation on top of an interpretation etc etc. No matter: whatever the phenomenon  of Jesus truly  is (and who's to say what it truly  is or isn't?), I knew I was enrolled and in love. Had I and Jesus lived in the same times, we would have been friends. What's not to like?  What's not to love?

Clearly one of the most influential, adored, and enduring incarnations of all time, Jesus Christ may arguably also be the most misinterpretated. By that I mean this: there are so many  different interpretations and beliefs out there of Jesus, his life, and his message that by now, any belief in Jesus has a life of its own  which, in all likelihood, gets in the way of (and even possibly totally obscures)  any chance of a real experience of Jesus in exactly the same way as a blanket of belief about anyone always  obscures who they really are.

The line is razor thin between belief  and experience. My belief  there's a tiger chasing me through the jungle doth not a tiger make. But if there's a real  tiger chasing me through the jungle, it doesn't matter what  I believe: I'm lunch ... unless I run ...

From time to time when I'm with people and the conversation turns to Jesus, people will share their faith with me and ask "Do you  know Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour?".

I know the question. I know where it comes from. I know the love behind it. I know the contribution it wants to make. It comes from people who say they've been born again  ie twice  born. In its purest form, it's a beautiful question to ask anyone.

Transformation, however, could be said to be being "born again - again"  ie thrice  born.

So I'll say "I love  Jesus. I love Jesus absolutely. I'm totally moved to tears by Jesus.". I really am. They'll get excited and they'll respond "Hey! I didn't know  you're a Christian? I didn't realize  you're a believer?".

And I'll say "Wait a minute! ... I didn't say either of those ...".


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Baba Ram Das



Baba Ram Das

The initial thing about Baba Ram Das (aka Dr Richard Alpert) for me, the initial attraction, was that he was distancing himself from the drug scene  of the 60s, even though some of his erstwhile professional colleagues at Harvard university (Dr Timothy Leary, for example, through his breakout work The Psychedelic Experience - based on The Tibetan Book Of The Dead), were proponents of artificially induced states of consciousness through hallucinogens like psilocybin  and LSD. Baba Ram Das, or simply Ram Das  as he is sometimes known, had moved beyond drugs and seemed to have arrived at a high state by himself  which he was able to maintain by himself  without resorting to artificial means, sacraments or otherwise. Ram Das interested me. He had something I wanted. I didn't know what he had. But whatever it was I thought he had, I wanted it.

In July of 1978, Ram Das was giving a satsang, a seminar at the Marin Civic Center, the extraordinary Frank Lloyd Wright inspired building in San Rafael, California across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco. I jumped at the opportunity to be there and was waiting at the head of the line when the doors opened. I easily got a seat in the front and center directly opposite where Ram Das would deliver his satsang, five feet or so away from me. Ram Das came in and sat down, cross legged, directly in front of me. He looked at me, smiled, looked away, then suddenly looked back at me and smiled again, a brighter smile this time. I recall blushing. He didn't look much like a guru  should look like, I thought. He looked like ... well ... just a guy  ... in jeans and a T-shirt. The room, by now had filled to capacity. He delivered his discourse, every so often looking at me and smiling. I loved  his "folksy" style of enlightenment. This guy, I thought, is really on to something.

Then an interesting drama began to unfold. The doors of the room had been closed as it was now full. Even the standing room was taken. There was a throng of people outside in the lobby who had arrived late and now couldn't get in. They began to bang on the doors, shouting "Ram Das! Ram Das! Let us in! Let us in! Ram Das! Ram Das! Let us in! Let us in!".

At first he ignored them and continued speaking over the din they were making, to his audience in the room. Then suddenly he went quiet, allowing the banging on the doors and the din "Ram Das! Ram Das! Let us in! Let us in! Ram Das! Ram Das! Let us in! Let us in!" to be heard.

"Isn't it ironic?" he asked after a while. "Everything in the universe is perfect. You're in your perfect place. I'm in my perfect place. And the people outside are in their  perfect place. Only they don't know  they're in their perfect place, and they're trying to get inside. They're outside, and they're trying to get inside - they're trying to get somewhere else  where they're not. They just don't get they're already  in their perfect place. They just don't get they're where they're meant to be.". He looked down at me and winked, his broad smile flashing white teeth.

If he didn't say another word for the rest of the seminar, that would have done it for me.

Be Here Now - by Baba Ram Das - Lama Foundation 1971 -
 ISBN 0517543052 - © Baba Ram Das
Be Here Now
by Baba Ram Das

Baba Ram Das broke both new ground and further into my awareness with his book Be Here Now. It was, by any standards, an unusual book. It was big - about a square foot, two inches deep. It had heft  to it. The pages were thick with the appearance of recycled brown paper. Most of the book was hand written and hand illustrated. Each page was part of the whole story  or could be read in isolation as an adventure all unto itself. Baba Ram Das met his guru Neem Karoli Baba in India through a hippie  from Laguna Beach California who went by the name of Bhagavan Das. Be Here Now  is dedicated to Neem Karoli Baba. It wasn't to be found on your mother's bookshelf along with Emily Dickenson and Robert Lee Frost.

Five years flew by. I was hiking the Tennessee Valley  trail from Tamalpais Junction in Marin County, California across sparse farmland and the Golden Gate National Recreation Area reserve, down to a desolate, little known beach on the Pacific coast. I'd been walking about three miles when I saw a man on the trail in front of me, coming back from the beach, heading toward me - one man, in the middle of acres and acres and acres of pristine nature. And in a kind of supremely egotistic arrogance, I viewed that man as an intruder  in my space. I wanted the place all to myself.

Stupidly, I looked down and pretended to ignore him as the gap between us closed. Then he was in front of me, and in the narrowness of the path we were on, I had to look up at him as he walked by.

Completely shocked and now fully awake with eyes wide open, I realized it was Baba Ram Das! I stopped dead in my tracks and stood there, my mouth opening and shutting like a goldfish. I couldn't think of anything to say! Finally I blurted out "Ram Das! It's really you! It's so good  to see you again!".

"It's good to see you again too" he said without hesitation, again smiling the bright white smile. We shook hands, then turned and continued our walk along the Tennessee Valley trail, now back to back, now walking further away from each other.

It dawned on me five minutes later: "Laurence! That was Baba Ram Das!"  I said to myself. "You just passed Baba Ram Das  on the Tennessee Valley trail. It couldn't be!  And ... he remembered you!  It couldn't  be! ...". So I stopped. I slowly turned around. I wanted to look. I wanted to make certain  it was Baba Ram Das I'd just passed. I turned around, and what did I see?

About a hundred yards from me up the trail, turning around at exactly  the same time as I was turning around to look at him, Baba Ram Das was turning around to look at me.


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The Bottom Line: There's Nothing To Get

Werner Erhard asserting after all is said and done there's nothing  to get, is quite extraordinary when you consider how obvious  it is. What's even more  extraordinary is how much of our lives we spend with such zest, with such zeal, with so much effort, with such sacrifice  arrogantly trying to avoid its tyranny.

We're convinced if we peel back the layers of our lives like an onion, if we peel back one layer, then we peel back another layer, and then we keep on peeling back layers and layers all the way down to the last  layer, we're convinced we'll get to a core, we're sure there's a kernel  in there, and we're totally convinced that core, that kernel is what gives meaning  to our lives. We're totally convinced that core, that kernel is in fact the substance  of our lives.

But there isn't a core. There isn't a kernel. When you peel back the last layer of the onion, there's nothing. Nothing at all. Nothing. And that's who we really are. If you can stop making that mean  something, it's an opportunity for enormous  freedom.

You could say all  intersections are headed for this conclusion - or not. You could say all intersections are driven by the same desire to explain  what it is to be a human being - or not. You could say all intersections are driven by the same desire to survive  what it is to be a human being - or not. You could say all intersections eventually end up in the same place even if they accumulate different beliefs  to justify  what it is to be a human being - or not.

In the end, whichever intersections you've taken off the straight and narrow, what's so is this: life is the way it is, and it isn't the way it isn't. That's not worth a god-damned  thing if you believe  it. However, if you experience  it, it's very powerful. It doesn't mean anything that it's this way. And it doesn't mean anything that it doesn't mean anything. Making it mean something is just more arrogance.

With my Love,





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