Euvie: Hey guys, this is episode number 27 and this is the second chunk of our interview with Vinay Gupta on enlightenment. In this one, we’re getting into the practical aspects, like the stages leading up to enlightenment, [00:00:30] the common problems that people run into, the meditation techniques to get there, and the relationship with the guru and whether it’s important. Before we get into this, I wanted to thank all of our donors who have recently supported us.
First of all, thank you to Kenya Roe who has wrangled people on Twitter to donate to us in Bitcoin and even promised to Match all donations up to one Bitcoin total. So, we’ve gotten a whole bunch of them in the last 48 hours, it’s been quite unexpected and really awesome. Thank you so much. [00:01:00] I also wanted to thank Simon, Gauge, and Shaun who have donated recently, you guys rock and we’re able to do this thanks to you.
Mike: Also, I wanted to give you guys a few updates about our site and what we’re doing online. We’ve revamped all of our Start Here page. If you got to futurethinkers.org/start, you can see a video of why we’re making Future Thinkers. Next thing is we have a Facebook group now, it’s tiny for the moment but it’s meant to give you guys a way to get notifications when we release new episodes. If you want to join that, go to [00:01:30] futurethinkers.org/facebook and that’ll send you directly to the Facebook group.
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Vinay: Okay, let me divide it into a couple of layers then we can talk about what happened. Layer one is there’s a whole bunch of stuff that I put in the general category of ‘that just ain’t right’. This is often what gets people interested, you begin to notice that you have occasional precognition, you might take some drugs and have an out of body experience, you might discover you can do something like energy healing or dowsing rods or something like that, [00:02:30] prophetic dreams, weird intuitions that you shouldn’t go to work that day and your factory burns down, whatever it happens to be, right.
Those experiences are really, really pretty common. Once you notice that stuff happening a bit too often, you get into this position where the dominant culture is telling you that those experiences don’t exist. Of course, this is terrible science; these experiences do exist, people have them all the time. For some reason they’re really hard to [00:03:00] replicate in lab conditions, don’t ask me why that is. But they’re common enough on the battlefield and in the hospital ward that anybody that works directly with life and death has a bunch of stories like this. It may simply be that those things don’t show up in laboratory settings because there is just not enough pressure in the situation.
You talk to doctors, you talk to nurses, you talk to soldiers, everybody’s got their stories. You keep coming across these things. The notion that there is some kind of weird mystical stuff out there [00:03:30] begins to seep into your brain, most people start playing with it in one form or another until they’ve satisfied themselves fairly fundamentally that they exist in model, they’ve got a dominant over culture model is inaccurate. After that comes a mapping process, “Okay, if that’s not the truth, what is the truth?”
As soon as you start asking this question, “What is the truth?” both of your feet just land firmly on the path and you’re off to the races. This thing of [00:04:00] deciding that what’s around you is not the case, “That’s clearly not the real story, but what is the real story?” this is, generally speaking, what propels people forward.
Vinay: The Matrix, right. What is the Matrix? Now, that you ask, here have a trip. Once you start beginning to ask these questions about what’s fundamentally real, if you’re lucky you then start acquiring new ways of examining what is real. Meditation is obviously the best of these ways, as far as I can tell. [00:04:30] Some people choose psychedelics, some people choose path that you might describe as magic. My old friend Jason Louvre is teaching that stuff right now, apparently quite successfully. You find some set of repeatable things that you can do that poke reality and make it jiggle in ways which it’s not really supposed to.
This is the flip side of the Darwin case, right? We are pretty damn certain about Darwin but our physics is a real mess right now. If the physics is a real mess right now, it’s quite hard to say what the limit is of human possibility. [00:05:00] I’m firmly of the opinion that evolution has endowed us of capabilities which are outside of the current physical paradigm in much the same way that nobody can tell me what dark matter is made of. Nobody gets to tell me what the limit is of human capability until they’ve told me what human beings are actually made of particle by particle, thank you very much, right? That doesn’t seem unreasonable to me, right?
We’re certain of evolution as a process because a billion years of fossils. We’re not certain of physics because, bloody hell, where’s the [00:05:30] dark matter particle. Where are all of these unresolved cosmological questions like, what do you mean the universe is exactly the same size all the time that it doesn’t matter where you’re standing and it’s 13 billion years in every direction. We don’t know if it’s infinite or not blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. It’s permissible in my world model to say there is a certain level of weird stuff, it’s almost certainly going to be explained by physics but the physics is not there yet.
We do know that it arose from biology, because the human being arose from biology, therefore the biology is still there. It’s just that the biology extends a little outside [00:06:00] of the current definitions we have of physics. That’s really important framing. What you’re doing in the exploration of the enlightenment experience is you’re exploring human nature and human nature is the evolved nature in the physical system that we’re in, right. You’re exploring human nature and human nature is evolved nature, that nature evolved inside of the laws of physics that we currently operate under.
As you make your way through these experiences of things getting a lot [00:06:30] wobblier or your consciousness is outside of your body or you’re having dreams about the future that come true, it’s important to say, “Well, I’m an unreliable witness but this stuff does seem to be there. Lots of other people have had these experiences. Okay, the dominant culture says that stuff isn’t real but they also used to say that the sun went around the earth.” It’s acceptable to take your own evidence and say, “Even though my N is pretty small, even though my model of the world is needfully incomplete, even though I can’t [00:07:00] really get this stuff to operate at will, nonetheless, you’ve seen enough of that stuff to know there’s something there.”
At that point, as long as you don’t go and build a complicated story about the pleiadians and the [inaudible [0:07:11] in some ancient cosmic war for the soul of humanity, as long as you just treat it like, “Wow, we can do some weird stuff,” you can then progress into the next stage. If you fix the world model, as well, “I can do these things because the little aliens from the [inaudible [0:07:25] gave me these capabilities,” you’re screwed because you’ve just adopted a new [00:07:30] orthodoxy, right? Moving from one set of errors, which is, “None of that stuff is real,” to another set of errors, which is, “It’s real and it’s explained by these pleiadian doo-woppy entities,” this isn’t going to help you at all. You’ve just replaced one kind of error with a different kind of error. No good.
You continue the practice but the practice is a process of exploration. What is going on inside of me? What can I do? What can’t I do? I think just about everybody hits two identifiable big slabs of work in there [00:08:00] and you could refer to those as the Freudian and the Youngian. There’s a huge chunk of just unresolved personal crap, right. Nobody really gets to heal until they discover they want to kill both of their parents and all of their siblings. After you acknowledge that you had those impulses at some point in your life, you say, “Yeah,” for about 15 seconds and then, “I’ll get over it,” and then you get over it. There are similar processes around sex, death, and all the rest of this kind of stuff.
There’s a chunk of stuff that you could refer to as being basically therapy. The therapy [00:08:30] level will come up in meditation, it will come up in body work, it will come up in more or less any authentic spiritual practice. Everybody has baggage, getting rid of the baggage is an integral part of getting to know yourself better. Because as you get to know yourself better, you see the baggage as nonsense and you’re like, “I can’t keep acting like this, I have to get over this.” Freud’s original statement on this was, “Recall without effect is almost universally without benefit.” If you remember the experiences and you feel the [00:09:00] emotions as if they were happening in the present, you keep feeling the emotions, eventually the emotions will click into places like, “Wow, I felt like that at the time,” then you stop having that feeling in your unconscious mind in the present.
Freud is very demonized at the moment because people look at his later work and say, “My God, he was an idiot.” If you read Freud’s first published paper, I think it’s his first, called on the Aetiology of Hysteria, it’s a summary of pretty much everything [00:09:30] that we currently know about post traumatic stress disorder minus the details published over 100 years ago. Freud discovered post traumatic stress disorder and then he had to basically recount his discover because so many of the kids in the upper classes of Viennese society showed signs of post traumatic stress disorder. The primary cause of the stress was sexual abuse and Freud was not in a position where he could turn around and tell the world that the upper class of Viennese society were molesting their children, right?
This is why Freud develops the [00:10:00] [inaudible [0:10:00] plan and the electrical plex. The patients still come to Freud and they still say, “My uncle molested me,” but Freud and the patient both pretend that this is a fantasy that is bothering the patient rather than the reality of what actually happened. Then the emotions are worked through as if it was a fantasy, which results in the patient getting better because the emotions are still being worked through and at the end of that process the patient is cured and we don’t have to actually acknowledge that the uncle was a child molester. That’s the Freud story, it’s horrendous.
There’s a book [00:10:30] by a guy called Jeffrey Sassoon who was the curator of the Freud archive, which basically lays the entire thing out, “Here is Freud’s original papers, there is what it actually meant at the time. Here’s where Freud was socially pressured to recant. This is how Freud continued to do the work, even though he had to lie about what was happening.” It’s horrendous. I wish I could remember the name of Sassoon’s book but it’s a really intellectually important thing because concepts from Freudian analysis are all over our culture and almost nobody understands that Freud was basically the guy [00:11:00] that pioneered the treatment of child sexual abuse but was socially pressured into recanting. It’s really important.
All of that stuff happens, people deal with whatever their emotional problems are. God forbid it turns out to be sexual abuse, that shit is really messy to overcome but with diligent work it is possible. People do get over it and they thrive. Next level down you hit the Youngian stuff. The Youngian stuff is all the really big, heavy places where human consciousness is [00:11:30] directly confronted by forces which are beyond our ability to comprehend. If you think about the way that American libertarians think about the free market as if it was almost like conscious entity. They almost turn it into a God. That’s very typical of the Youngian level of consciousness, it’s an archetype, it’s a demigod figure inside of the human mind.
Lots of experiences which are basically overwhelming for the individual are processed through this mythic matrix inside of the [00:12:00] mind where we make them manageable by telling stories about them, and the stories are basically cartoons about things we can’t really cope with. Good examples of this, in your head if you think about the solar system you probably think about a model which is about 15 feet across and the planets are the size of golf balls. The thing you see at a science museum. If you actually think about the solar system as being, what is it, 10 light-hours across… How long does it take the light to get to the voyager probes? [00:12:30] 14 hours or something now. Then you think it takes a seventh of a second for light to go all the way around the world.
In one seconds it goes seven times as far as it takes to go all around the world. An hour would be a really long way and it’s 14 hours away. Then you think the earth is a seventh of a light-second across… It’s 14 light-hours. [00:13:00] Oh my God, the earth is tiny. You don’t really think of the solar system as being this largish ball of thermonuclear burning gas surrounded by an enormous volume of absolutely nothing with a few specs hovering around in it. That tendency to basically touch the comfortable cartoon model that’s 15 feet across and the earth is the size of the gold ball, we do that same process to the market. The market is just mum and pop buying and selling things. No, the market is an enormous [00:13:30] crushing force that hits us as hard as the weather hits us. Harder even.
We do it with war. We do it with genocide. 20th century, roughly four times as many people were killed in death camps than killed in the wars, including all of the soldiers and all of the civilians. The 20th century is almost entirely a century defined by genocide. Nobody will talk about it, nobody thinks about it. If you do enough feeling and thinking and meditating, pretty soon that set of facts becomes apparent to your [00:14:00] brain and you begin to unpick these convenient mythologies and actually face the real truth about what these things are like. That process of diligently paying attention to what is real is how you become enlightened.
It’s nothing to do with your chakras and your auras and all the rest of that stuff. If you diligently pay attention to what is real, one of the things that you notice is that the normal world model does not actually fit the world that you live in very well. You’ve got some capabilities that are outside of what [00:14:30] the ordinary world says you ought to have. You suddenly begin to understand human history in a different way and you either become politically neutral or you become a conspiracy theorist. Being a conspiracy theorist is simply noticing the conspiracies, right. You ever wonder why the world is this way? Turns out, there’s a whole bunch of crazy secret stuff going on all the time. I don’t mean this in a stupid way but look at the Cuban missile crisis.
You think that that’s a super well documented story and we really understand everything that happened, but if you actually go back [00:15:00] and read what we currently know from historical documents that have been released, the Cuban missile crisis was like 10 times scary and 100 times more complicated than it currently appears to be. Huge super critical parts of our cultural history, our planetary destiny, were resolved by incredibly secret and weird conversations. Tiny, tiny margins of error that decided which way it was all going to go. You begin to notice that stuff, like, “[00:15:30] Wow, we actually defeated the Nazis because a gay mathematician in Britain invented the computer. Then in the 1950s we gave him massive, awful hormone treatments because he was caught having sex with somebody and then he committed suicide.”
Then you put on the conspiracy theory hat and it’s like, “Wait a minute, I don’t think I’m believe that at all. I don’t know what actually happened but that story is clearly nonsense.” That noticing when something is clearly nonsense, of course we don’t have the real story of what happened while [00:16:00] [inaudible [0:16:00]. We’ve got an official version of the history but no country in the world throws away the man that won their war for them because he gets caught having sex with somebody he’s not supposed to. Nobody is that stupid. It’s not like we still didn’t have codes to crack. You continue to pay attention to what is real and you begin to notice the holes in the story.
You can’t always figure out what’s behind the holes in the story but you start noticing the holes in the story. This is another one [00:16:30] of those places where, if you make a grab for the truth you become a conspiracy theorist, if you accept that most of the history is made of lies because the truth is often not something that people want told, you then proceed to the next level of questioning. Do you see how there’s a pattern here that you notice that things aren’t the way that they seem to be, but if you grab hold of a new story about how they really are, they immediately stop growing? It’s a path of discovery through honest uncertainty. This is why I think that enlightenment is [00:17:00] compatible with science. Science is very big into the idea of repeatable experiment.
It’s not clear to me that we’ve got the instruments to do enlightenment studies in a repeatable way yet. I’m fully comfortable with the idea that we could find the right instruments and we could measure a lot of these processes. Right now, we don’t have them. The notion that you can sit in a position where you want to understand what is true and that you keep focusing on what is understanding what is true and it gets you to enlightenment, that seems to be fully compatible with [00:17:30] science in the long-run. I don’t think we have to choose, we just have to accept the science that we have is partial. Everybody wants to believe it’s complete but it’s partial and the physics tells us it’s partial, because the physics is obviously full of holes right now.
The science is partial but I’m going to take what we’re certain of and the medieval theocracies are obviously nonsense but we know that these practices work to some degree and we kind of mumble along in this gap between, “The old stuff has to go because it’s nonsense,” and, “The new stuff isn’t [00:18:00] here yet because we haven’t finished physics.” There’s a certain amount of make do and mend around the areas of human ignorance, which is a completely different trip from the false certainty that everybody will give you if you go and talk to them about their religion, right? If you really want to get to the bottom of that mess, imagine what happens when you ask Tibetan Buddhist Lamas or [inaudible [0:18:21] in some sort of esoteric Islam what they think about the other guy’s Gods.
“Could you tell us how does the historical Buddha [00:18:30] relate to the figure of Muhammad and what is Buddhism relative to Islam?” Both sides will immediately turn around and demonize the other guy’s leadership. They can’t simultaneously be true, right? The Tibetans have this weird thing called Kalachakra, which is essentially a war for the soul of the world that’s fought between all of the Buddhists versus all of the Muslims. They don’t tell you that in Tibetan Buddhism but you go look up Kalachakra, that’s basically what they’re saying. It’s obviously nonsense, you can’t take it seriously but it’s what’s happening [00:19:00] when two tribes of human beings that have had the enlightenment experiences confront each other and understand that the other guys have a different world model that is equally well grounded in enlightenment.
What comes out of that is this instinctive response, “Well, they’re obviously enlightened but they don’t believe the same stuff that we believe, therefore they must be the cosmic enemy.” Something like that. If instead the response is, “Well, you’ve got medieval nonsense to get rid of and I’ve got medieval nonsense to get rid of. [00:19:30] If it’s an external truth and we don’t agree with it, one of us is wrong and more likely it’s both of us.” You can imagine a resolution where you move forward by degrees in an enlightened way without having to absorb the medieval stuff. The mechanism by which you continue to move forward knowing the truth is the same mechanism that might resolve a lot of the conflict between different traditions when you actually get people who’ve arrived they’re just dialled into each other.
It’s all about, “Okay, what [00:20:00] is actually in front of us?” Not, “What did you see in your vision?” “What is in front of you?” Remember, that’s coming from somebody’s that’s life has been largely defined by one particularly weird vision. If I believe that vision was externally real, I’d be nuts. I do believe that it was incredibly meaningful and it reoriented my fundamental purpose in life, but that’s a different thing from believing that it means that reincarnation is actually happening.
Vinay: You see what I’m saying? Right. [00:20:30] It’s a doctrine, not a radical doubt, but of acceptance that dreams are dreams and visions are visions and physics is physics and biology is biology. They’re different ways of knowing there are different kinds of truth. We’ve gotten trapped in the culture which assumes that mystical visions of the full weight of divine law behind them, but if there is no God and there is no divine law, they’re just visions. Everybody sees something different. It’s meaningful to you, try not to chew up other people in pursuit of your truth. [00:21:00] See what I’m saying?
Euvie: Right. It’s like accepting the subjective value of the experience but not assuming that it has any kind of objective value to anyone else.
Vinay: And only through our history we’ve got people killing each other in the millions because they assume that these things have objective value. Because the enlightenment experience is so overpowering that everybody wants to assume it has objective value and the result is incredibly stupid behaviour on an epic scale. That’s the thing that has to go, [00:21:30] it’s just not compatible with the at all lived experience, it’s obviously nonsense. You get into this process of world models, right. You see some stuff which is outside the standard western model of reality, you begin to come to the conclusion there’s some doubt.
You do a bit more meditation, you begin to interact with world history in a different way, you begin to understand it’s poked full of holes. People have been lying about what actually happened for a really long time because it was politically expedient to do so, those lies would get passed down to us as the real [00:22:00] story of what happened. You see that process in front of you, it’s happening right now around us. What’s really happening in the Middle East? Do we actually understand what happened? I’m not convinced that we do. Okay, they made an excuse to go and invade Iraq. Why did they go and invade Iraq? They knew it was going to be a terrible mess.
Dick Cheney says 10 years before – was it Cheney or [inaudible [0:22:22], one of those guys – 10 years before when George Bush the first refused to go all the way to Iraq, they didn’t want to invade. He said [00:22:30] it would turn into a quagmire. If they knew it was going to turn into quagmire 10 years ago, why did they go in when they went in? It just leads to whole bunch of questions, right? Maybe they’re incompetent, maybe there’s some other factor we don’t know, maybe they’re just evil. But you take the official narrative and you get rid of the official narrative and you’re left with a bunch more questions.
Living with uncertainty, living with questions is what allows you to move forward as an honest, rational, enlightened being. Every time you grip for false truth, [00:23:00] you wind up in a trap. Every time you tell yourself, “I really understand that, so I can stop thinking about it,” what happens is you start suppressing the evidence of your sense and it puts you back in a position where you don’t really have a solid grip on reality. The one thing I can tell you more than anything else is that enlightenment requires a very solid grip on reality. You’ll want your fingers wrapped around the enlightened experience like riding bareback on a horse and grabbing the thing by the mane, not that I’ve ever done that. You’ll want this incredibly quite grip on what is real.[00:23:30] We keep going through this process. You go through the Freudian layers, you go through the Youngian layers. “Okay, I’m going to get rid of my cartoon stories about the forces I don’t understand and I’m going to be honest and open with myself that I don’t understand them and most of them are terrifying.” You begin to get into this really deep relationship with fear. Hebrew name for it is pahad, right, ‘the terror’. The fear is the fear of the unknown, the fear of death, the fear of the culture [00:24:00] that we’re in, the fear of bad people around us, the fear of the good people around us not paying enough attention. You begin to realize that you’re small, vulnerable, fragile, and mortal, and a huge amount of what’s happening inside your head is a bunch of storytelling to make yourself seem bigger and tougher than you are.
Vinay: We wear this mask of bravery because it’s biologically necessary for us to do it. Nobody in their right mind would ever have children [00:24:30] if we looked at this in a rational, realistic way. You want me to take total responsibility for a baby? For 20 years? Are you crazy? Right? Nobody’s up to that job, nobody’s up to that job. Nobody’s ever been up to that job but we do it or the species dies out so we do it and we do it badly. We do it badly just like all of our previous generations have done it badly. And off we go to the races. You begin to peel back [00:25:00] all of these stories about what we’re actually capable of and what we’re actually like and you sort of get used to living with the idea that we’re basically tender, soft, squishy monkeys that are play acting being big and tough and scary because that’s how we survive in a world made of other soft, squishy monkeys pretending to be big and scary.
Mike: On a blue marble, floating through space.
Euvie: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Vinay: You see exactly what I’m saying, right. You step into these processes [00:25:30] and what’s coming off is armour that we’ve built around ourselves which keeps the truth outside of us and you go down, layer by layer by layer by layer, what is true, what is real, what is true, what is real. Then you eventually hit the bottom. At the bottom what you begin to realize is that everything which you think you know about the world only exists inside of your own consciousness. How is it that I know the things that I know?
Well, I see and I hear and then [00:26:00] I process and then I understand and then it becomes clear to me. Almost that entire process is happening inside of my head and it turns out that the inside of my head is very, very arbitrary. I can be completely certain that this word is pronounced [inaudible [0:26:16] and then I discovered that it’s pronounced [inaudible [0:26:17].
Mike: In my experience of I would say tastes enlightenment I’ve been able to look at the hard questions like you’ve talked about and find that stillness, [00:26:30] even if for a couple of seconds, I feel like I get to the answer of the question of whatever it is I’m looking for just by stripping away any personality, or any baggage, or any background. I feel like I get to the answer and then I go and test that answer and often it’s correct. I guess I’m a little worried about ever stepping into the dogma side where I start to believe my own bullshit that I’ve picked up from the enlightenment experience, but then the other side I’m like, “Well, there’s some truth to this.” How do you tell the difference?
Vinay: That’s what we’ve [00:27:00] got science for.
Vinay: Repeatable experiment is how things become properly true. If you think of what you get from the enlightenment experience as being a hypothesis, you then test the hypothesis against nature. For example, you know there’s a carbon compound called benzene and we didn’t know what the structure of benzene was until somebody – I can’t remember whether it was a dream or whether it was a waking state vision. I have a feeling it might be a naked eye vision.[00:27:30] The guy who figured out the structure benzene came across an intuition about what the structure of benzene was that came from a creative place inside of him that showed him, I think it might have been six elephants holding the tail of the elephant in front of him in a ring. After that, he was completely sure that the structure of benzene was a ring. I’m completely butchering the story but you can look it up, that’s how benzene was discovered.
Euvie: Yeah, I know which one you’re talking about. Ramanujan, the Indian mathematician, [00:28:00] they’re just making a film about him called the Man Who Knew Infinity, Ramanujan said that he got his mathematical insight because a goddess whispered him the secrets, right. To keep him honest, she didn’t always tell him the truth, so he always had to verify it by hand.
Vinay: I want to push forward into the actual practical business of getting enlightened. I’m spending a lot of time mapping what it isn’t because the what it isn’t is really critical, because it’s so easy to fall into one of these traditional cultural models [00:28:30] which tells you it’s the absolute truth and then you’re screwed. If you continue don this path, what happens is you begin to put your attention on the mechanisms of perception. Okay, I’m noticing that everything that I know about the world comes through my perceptual filters. It comes through my sense, it goes through my perceptual filters, I form a model in my head, I focus on some areas, I ignore others. I form what you would call a conceptual gestalt, [00:29:00] if you were going to use the word for gestalt psychology.
Once you begin to notice that the world is kind of sort of largely constructed by your models of world inside your head, there is an external world but actually you’re filtering and you’re selecting and your knowledge is partial and all the rest of that, you begin to get into these questions of how do I really know that anything is the way I think it is. You make your way through all four layers of modelling and experience and dealing with the Freudian level, [00:29:30] dealing with the Youngian level and all the rest of it. Then you get into this level that you could call the gestalt level. A guy called Fritz Perls wrote the book called Gestalt Therapy. Extremely useful, very long, very fundamental. It gets harder to understand with each passing year because it was written a long time ago in the 50s.
You get into this level of really looking at the foundation of mind. How do I know what I think is true is true? If my thoughts are not necessarily perfectly aligned with reality, [00:30:00] then how do I know I can trust anything about my model of the world? Eventually, you come to the conclusion that the model of the world that you have inside of your head is almost certainly, on any given day, substantially incomplete and inaccurate. At that point, there is an enormous crisis of faith in the mind. “But mind, I thought you were here to tell me what to do and I thought you knew everything?” “Of course, that’s what I always tell you because otherwise you won’t listen to me.
“[00:30:30] Oh.” “I have to keep telling you that I know what’s going on or you’re going to spend all of your time cowering in the cave, rather than going outside and finding something to eat for your kids.” “Oh. I thought we had a deal where you knew everything and I just did what you said.” “Yeah, turns out no. Now that you’ve grown up enough to actually question the mind.” Turns out that’s not how it is. This is the shift in the balance of power between the mental model you have of the world and your authentic honest uncertainty about what [00:31:00] is happening. This is the enlightenment process. Once the uncertainty begins to dominate the certainty, you become open to the world in unimaginable ways.
I’m not sure if that’s possible, I’m not sure I understand. I’ve thought about the history a lot and I just don’t feel like I really know what the first World War was about. I kind of sort of know it. I don’t really know. Does anybody actually know? I’m not so sure. Maybe some historians have a really good living knowledge of it [00:31:30] but they seem to communicate in 800-page books. Okay, wow, they don’t actually know. What about World War II? Kind of sort of, but I still can’t properly get it into my head that 80 percent of the fighting was on the Russian front and the entire European war thing was small potatoes in comparison. Can’t really get my head around that.
I know that’s what the numbers say. The intuitive model still won’t budge because I was brought up with something which isn’t true. Slowly, slowly, slowly, slowly you get [00:32:00] comfortable with the idea that your mind is a relatively incomplete, partial, lossy map of the world. All that we know about the world is inside of our heads, but the world is actually really big and really complicated. We don’t really understand what’s going on all that well most of the time. Once you accept that, something very deep in the self relaxes and the mind begins to stop striving to be all powerful, all knowing, all certain, [00:32:30] and the intellectual arrogance of the feeling that we need to know begins to soften up a little. That is a radical process in a culture which is largely defined by intellectual jousting.
Vinay: Almost the worst insult you could say to somebody is that they are stupid. This comes from the warped fetishization of intelligence in this culture, right. In the same way that beautiful women are seen as either virgins or whores [00:33:00] by a lot of people, very intelligent people are seen in a whole bunch of completely unrealistic ways: boffins or nerds, they’re overlords, evolved people, whatever it happens to be. We can’t just say they’re people who happen to have an attribute. It’s very similar to the fetishization of beauty in women. You get into this space of, “Okay, the mind is incomplete. It doesn’t really have a full model of the world [00:33:30],” and then you slip into this question of, “What can I actually see? What can I hear? What can I smell? What can I taste? What can I remember?”
You begin to focus on what you are certain that you have seen and heard and so on and this begins to bring you into the real process of meditation. The real process of meditation is simply paying close attention to what is happening around you without passing it to the mind immediately for analysis. [00:34:00] If the mind is needed to tell you that the water will be boiled in five minutes, the mind will come along helpfully and remind you of that fact. If the mind is not needed to do that, the mind will stop clamouring for certainty because we have accepted that we are uncertain and the mind can therefore chill. The internal dialogue fades away and you’re left immersed in the senses.
At first, it’s only a few seconds. After a while, it might be a minute, it might be two minutes, it might be an entire lifetime. [00:34:30] What happens is that your sense of who you are shifts from being the chattering of the mind to being the underlying sensory experience, which includes the mind. “I am not my mind.” That’s the first plateau. To get there, the only thing which I think is critical is that the mind is given permission to relax from the constant quest to provide the illusion that it has understanding. [00:35:00] Once we accept that our knowledge is partial and our world models are incomplete, and we tell the mind that we are okay with that, the mind basically begins to relax because the poor thing has been terribly overloaded by the complexity of the world, which might have been compounded by the complexity of our civilization.
It may be that it’s gotten much harder to access enlightenment because we panic a lot more about the uncertainty because the world is so complicated now compared to our hunter gatherer ancestors, or it may be that it was just as hard for them [00:35:30] because the world was complicated for them in ways that we don’t understand now. One way or another I think the fundamental thing that makes practice possible is telling the mind – really it has to be true all the way through you – that, “It’s okay not to know, we don’t have all the facts, we don’t have all the models, we don’t really understand what’s happening, the future is uncertain and a lot of that uncertainty there’s nothing I can do about.”
You just get the mind to chill. [00:36:00] First plateau: the mind is comfortable that it doesn’t have to be continually active all the time and the attention retreats to the senses. The mind becomes perceived to be another sense, you see, you listen, you hear, you smell, you think. At that point, the old phrase, “I am not my mind,” becomes really fundamental. Once you’re aware that you’re not your mind and your mind is basically a sense organ, it’s a thing that brings information [00:36:30] to you, you enter the real work of enlightenment, which is, “What is this ‘me’ that the mind is bringing information to?” That’s the big one. That question is at the heart of everybody’s experience of the enlightenment process pretty much, as far as I know. Standard disclaimer shared, but that seems to be universal.
Ramana Maharishi, one of the great thinkers on this stuff, got enlightened at 16 years old because he was afraid of dying, so he laid down [00:37:00] and pretended to be dead. He imagined it so vividly that, in some way, his fear of death came undone and he revealed himself inside of his head to be, “I am not my body, I am not my mind. I am none of these things, I am something above them or beyond them.” If a 16-year-old kid could figure that out lying on the floor of his house, apparently, it’s pretty fundamentally inside of us.
Mike: I’m struggling with the conflict here of knowing [00:37:30] these things intellectually, having read enough books or having had a couple of experiences with it, but it not persisting. How can you know it, how can you know your consciousness is not the mind, how can you recognize the mind speaking and really not identify yourself as the mind but then still not feel that day to day enlightenment and still not have the ability to shut off the mind permanently?
Vinay: The vast majority of the activity in the mind is actually processing emotions. Most of the mental chatter [00:38:00] comes because we’re having feels that we’re not feeling and we’re trying to relay those feelings to ourselves by internal dialogue. The Freudian level of our being, you could generate 100,000 hours of anxiety thoughts from a single scary experience with somebody’s pet dog runs wild in your backyard. The emotions become stuck inside of the body mind complex, it produces a baseline of underlying anxiety which turns into constant [00:38:30] anxiety thoughts, because the underlying emotion isn’t being felt. Then one day something changes and something comes along, then you say, “Oh.”
The emotions come out and all of the anxiety thoughts that went with those stuck emotions then go away and they don’t come back. In most cases, as far as I can tell, getting the Freudian, Youngian levels of the personality pretty well sorted out is a really, really good baseline first step towards enlightenment. It seems to be much easier to [00:39:00] clear up that stuff by therapy than it is to clear it up by meditation alone.
Mike: What you said about the mind communicating the emotions to you by putting it into language first, that popped out to me.
Vinay: I’m pretty sure that that is the mechanism that causes most of the monkey mind stuff that we see in this culture. We have a lot of stuck emotions, we’ve got a lot of complex feelings that we can’t really do anything with. All of that stuff is very hard for us. Along the way, we get into this position of, “Well, [00:39:30] I don’t want to feel that, I don’t want to feel that.” But you can’t just choose not to feel something, so you push it away behind the mind and then it continues to come through the mind as these patterns of thoughts in our heads just persist and persist and persists. What makes it hard to get the mind to shut up is that behind the mind there are all the feelings that the mind is protecting us from.
Vinay: Right? You meditate, you feel your feelings deeply. You keep feeling the feelings deeply and as you feel more and more and more of the feelings [00:40:00] they stop expressing through mental chatter. I have felt the anxiety, I understand the anxiety, I feel the anxiety deeply. I might even remember some early childhood memories that give rise to the anxiety and I’m no longer blocking the emotional anxiety. All the thoughts that were coming from the stuck emotion then stop arising, because there’s just nothing behind that to push it into thought. If you accept the feeling, the feeling doesn’t have to be processes as a narrative in your head, you can just feel the feelings. [00:40:30] That immersion in the feeling level causes a huge amount of the mental noise to slowly, slowly resolve itself.
Mike: Right. The way you describe that really made that clear for me, the mind needing to interpret the emotions and speak it to you. I think I get so distracted with the voice in my head that I don’t think to just let the emotions be Observed by the consciousness and skip the mind part. It’s not like there’s anything traumatic to view, it’s just that [00:41:00] it’s like a forgetting that keeps happening.
Vinay: I think this is just the habit of this culture. We’re very verbal with our kids. We talk to the kids very early. There’s a lot of assumption that rational function is, in some way, superior dominant. It’s just a very, very verbal culture, so you wind up with a very, very, very vivid mind internal dialogue process. I expect – I don’t know this for a fact but I expect – that there are other cultures which start with a much more [00:41:30] feeling base, and in those cultures they might find some parts of the enlightenment process easier.
Mike: Is it simply a matter of meditating on the emotion and just continuing that process to become more acclimatized to it?
Vinay: Most of the time, the mind forms around emotions that we don’t want to feel. This is why so many people have a lot of negative mental self-talk; they’ve got a bunch of negative emotions they don’t want to feel, they refuse to feel the negative emotions, they then come up as negative thoughts. [00:42:00] Feeling things that you don’t really want to feel… it’s inside of you, you’re already having the feeling. You don’t really want to admit you’re having the feeling, you don’t want to feel the feeling more intensely. It’s a bad feeling, an unpleasant feeling. Most of the meditation practice in that area is about just training yourself to sit with unpleasant feelings and feel them honestly.
Vinay: “I actually have this feeling, I’m not making myself have this feeling because I think it’s good for me. It’s an authentic feeling [00:42:30] I actually have and it feels terrible.” Sitting with that and not distracting yourself by thinking, not distracting yourself with activity, not distracting yourself with mantras or songs or whatever it happens to be but actually having those feelings is really, really difficult but it’s also very core to the process. It makes you saner. Even if you never reach enlightenment, it makes you saner because your life is no longer dominated by running away from bad feelings inside of you. Then comes the fun [00:43:00] part.
Once the mind is no longer recoiling against its own context, it becomes possible to get the mind to basically relax a good deal. Once the mind is relaxed a good deal, you begin to understand that there is this question of, “What is this ‘I’ which is receiving the sense impressions?” You listen to your thoughts but who is this that listens to the thoughts? Who is it that feels the feelings? Who is it that smells the smells, tastes the tastes? [00:43:30] All these signals are passed through the body. If you happen, for example, to be blind in one eye it is very clear that the eye was an important part of the process of seeing. If you don’t have a great sense of smell, it’s pretty clear that the nose is an important part of smelling.
There is still, at the bottom of this, something which receives impressions from all of the senses and the mind, in this sense, is best thought of as a sense. It’s an inner hearing, for some it’s an inner seeing. With me so far? [00:44:00] That question of, “Who am I?” Or, “Who is this ‘I’ that receives the sense impressions?” There’s a lot of stuff written about this. There’s a guy called [inaudible [0:44:10] who’s a member of an outfit called the [inaudible [0:44:13], which is very closely allied with my own branch of the [inaudible [0:44:18]. There’s all kinds of writing about it, thinking about it, dialogues, discourses. Lots of people approach this from different angles, often because it’s so [00:44:30] high level, the differences between those approaches are invisible or infinitesimal or negligible. It all sort of kind of comes down to the same question and there’s good news and bad news about the question.
The good news about the question is the question has an answer. The bad news about the question is that I can’t tell you the answer. I can’t tell you the answer because remember that process by which we decided that the mind was not fundamental, it was just one of the senses? [00:45:00] The answer turns out to be in a position that the mind cannot perceive properly. It’s almost like the blind spot in the eye or like notes that we can’t hear because they’re too high for our ears or too low. It’s like we only recently discovered that elephants have language, because the language of the elephants is largely subsonic, so human beings can’t hear it. They’re transmitting infrasound into the ground and it’s carrying along the ground for miles, we just didn’t have the instrumentation to see it.[00:45:30] The thing that gives rise to a process which ends the need to know who you are is sort of the finalish stage of enlightenment process. You stare into the question of, “Who am I?” If you sit with this question of, “Who am I?” and you attempt to put your attention, your awareness on looking at whatever it is that receives the sense impressions when you have a sense impression, [00:46:00] eventually the awareness actually sees itself, actually feels itself, actually smells itself. There’s a process by which the awareness recognizing that the thing which is asking the question is identical with the thing which is receiving all sense impressions. One way of communicating that is Nisargasatta Maharaj’s phrase, “I am that.” At that point, what you realize is there is nobody left [00:46:30] to ask the question, there is just awareness and the question goes away.
“I am pure awareness. I am the thing which receives the sense impressions. I am the thing which hears the thoughts. I was steering my attention outwards and I was investigating the world of things, then I steered my attention inwards and investigated the nature of my mind. At the bottom of the nature of my mind, what I discovered is that there is an awareness inside of me that is causeless, ceaseless, [00:47:00] and without forms.” When there is no stimulus, it continues to exist. When there is not stimulus, it exists in a form which the Indians call sat shit ananda, which is knowledge, being and bliss.
That self-rising condition of knowledge, being, and bliss is what the light is that you see a little of in flashes. Once you see the full thing, it’s like the sun is inside of you rather than outside of you in the sky. [00:47:30] The soul is on fire and the light illuminates all things. As people step down into the mental level to communicate it, they grab whatever nonsense and garbage is in the language that they currently speak and they repeat it in those words and everybody assumes that they mean exactly what it is that the language says you mean.
Vinay: The whole thing goes to hell in a hand basket. Deliberately keeping it very, very grounded, technical, heavy, and serious – because that gets quite important, that we get a [00:48:00] very, very clear, sober transmission if it. We could make it funny and could go off in all kinds of crazy directions but I want to make sure that there’s a bedrock on tape of like, “Look, this is the serious level, this is how it’s done. It’s actually pretty mechanical.”
Euvie: Yeah, I see what you mean. A lot of the modern teachers who teach this kind of stuff focus on the fun parts and don’t talk about any of this. It’s very much [00:48:30] lopsided towards the positive experience and it doesn’t mention any of this.
Vinay: Absolutely. Frankly, most of the problems that people have when they’re trying to get enlightened are at these levels. The hypocrisy that you feel as a practitioner of enlightenment inside a western hypercapitalism, at a point where the climate is really beginning to be visibly on fire… If you’re not having cognitive dissonance around that, you’re probably not paying attention. If you’re not paying attention, the enlightenment stuff just doesn’t [00:49:00] go all the way. The final stages are impossible to describe but let me give it a go. For me, the simmer of ’98, I’m in Chicago, I’m meditating 8 hours a day because my guru told me to. Eventually, the sun goes off in my head and there’s the awareness of the awareness of the awareness of the awareness of the awareness of the awareness. The whole thing goes recursive and forms a loop [00:49:30] and goes back on itself and then it just explodes.
It’s a chain reaction of consciousness occurs and there’s nuclear fire. Fusion. After it happens, I’m meditating in the garden, I get up, I go inside, I put on some pop music, and I drink some water and I wait for things to settle down. That night, I go to a party, which is a mistake because I needed more peace and quiet at home, and the whole thing is weird and disturbing [00:50:00] and freakish in a way that you would associate with a bad acid trip. It’s like, “Whoa, that was a bit too much,” and I stabilize it. It takes me a few months to peel off that sense of, “I just got overexposed.” So, if anybody has this experience, stay at home, stay indoors, wait it out, wait until you feel more settled before you do anything strenuous.
Over the next couple of years, I built a really nice, normal looking life and everything was okay. Then I had that down vision [00:50:30] and I went off to the wars. Here we are 15 years later and everything is weird. I don’t think that phase is necessarily an automatic part of the enlightenment process but, for me, I got a couple of years of peace and stability and then it was basically I kicked my own ass into gear and here we are. It’s a very, very profound set of changes for me. Every step of the way has been all the way to the core authentic, but it’s weirder than hell.
Mike: That’s so interesting. Can you talk a bit about [00:51:00] the process?
Vinay: Okay. Basically, this is the practice that you do. It’s slightly adapted from traditional Indian stuff. The adaptation is that you do 10 minutes of one practice, then 10 minutes of another practice, then 10 minutes of dealing with your emotions. It’s all pretty straight forward. It’s not dramatically different from mindfulness meditation, it’s got very standard mantra meditation in it. There’s a little more of a focus on feeling the emotions and learning how to sit with difficult [00:51:30] emotions, because I think that that material is very important for soul [inaudible [0:51:35] repractitioners who are not terribly well emotionally taken care of by their culture.
I just think that the emotional stuff is harder for westerners because they don’t have extended families, the culture psychology’s a little bit different, they’ve got a whole bunch of bad religion stuff to wash out of their heads. The recommendation is that an hour a day for six months is enough to figure out whether the practice is [00:52:00] working for you or not working for you. As far as I can tell, there is no single universal practice that works for all people at all times. Basic meditation is probably pretty close but you do it for six months for an hour a day, that’s what it does. If that’s producing the kind of things that you want to happen in your life, if that’s changing you or teaching you what you want to learn, then do more.
If you did it for six months for an hour a day and nothing happened, it’s not for you, it’s not working for you, it’s not your style, it’s not your speed, do something else. That seems like an awful lot of meditation [00:52:30] because it is an awful lot of meditation. The only tools that I actually trust, that I know work, are an awful lot of meditation because I did an awful lot of meditation. That’s not to say that there aren’t faster or better techniques out there, but they’re not ones that I personally practiced enough to be fully confident of. I’m teaching the stuff that worked for me. It may not be the most efficient approach but it is one that I can guarantee did it for me.
Whether it would do it for you is an open question. People are different. There is no one set of tools that is optimal for everybody [00:53:00] any more than there’s one physical exercise that’s optimal for everybody. The technical stuff, good posture is very important, you’ve got to learn how to sit properly, you can get that from yoga if you’ve got the right kind of yoga. There’s a whole bunch of really basic stuff that you can get from Paul Wilson’s book the Calm Technique. I don’t know his later work very well, I think a lot of it was a little strange but the Calm Technique is certainly, without a doubt, very, very good basic instruction.
It was hugely important to [00:53:30] meditate for years. I think that at a very fundamental level, figuring out what works for you then doing it the way they want it done is probably the fundamental practice.
Mike: I’m interested in the first two that you talked about, the focus and then mindfulness.
Vinay: Okay. Mantra meditation is really important. Mantra meditation is really old, it’s very simple, it’s hard to get wrong and you get immediate feedback about the conditions of your mind from doing it. You sit [00:54:00] properly and that involves making sure that your hip bones are in solid contact with the ground by moving your buttocks out of the way, by scooching your butt a bit. Your back should be straight, neck should be relaxed, jaw slightly relaxed and pointed down a little to align the spinal vertebrae. There’s a real science of sitting. Yoga is a good place to get the science of sitting from. Ask a yoga teacher that is well trained to teach you how to sit.
Then mantra meditation you can repeat something in your mind. Paul Wilson’s recommendation [00:54:30] was that you pick a simple word like ‘calming’ and do that. I did exactly that for an awful long time. I quite like the word ‘sunflower’, because if you’ve got a visual mind it gives you a nice strong association you can look at. It has very little in the way of complex associations for most people and it’s a very cheerful, bright, happy thing. I think that’s a pretty good work for a mantra. It wouldn’t be a bad thing at all if sunflower became a symbol of a certain approach to meditation. It wouldn’t hurt me at all.[00:55:00] Then you have a focus of the attention. The mantra is one thing, you’re repeating the word in your mind over and over and over again. Zen people count. This thing happens to be mantras. What your building here is the muscle of putting your attention on what you want your attention put on. That muscle is generically useful in all areas of your life, it’s a big part of why the mindfulness people are so into the mindfulness stuff. It’s useful for everything. That’s phase one. After 10 minutes of that, [00:55:30] then phase two. Phase two is awareness. Very similar in basic style [inaudible [0:55:37] but not identical with [inaudible [0:55:40]. They do their stuff for reasons, we do this stuff for reasons.
What you’re doing with the awareness is you’re attempting to feel, see, sense, taste, have awareness of your body and everything else as a single experience. You sit and you just perceive whatever you’re [00:56:00] perceiving but you’re trying to be open to all of your senses and everything that’s happening simultaneously. In a sense, the mantra is focusing your attention to a single part of your spectrum of consciousness and just receiving the single from that part. The open awareness is just sitting and you’re letting the entire spectrum of your consciousness wash past you, including your thoughts. If you’re having a bunch of thoughts, you listen to the thoughts [00:56:30] in the same way that you’re feeling the pressure of the ground on your left ankle.
The thoughts are not pushed away, they’re not pulled towards, they’re just part of the sensory that you have at the time. You do that for 10 minutes. The third round is the same kind of open awareness but this time you’re tuning the attention specifically to emotions. If you’re having difficult emotions you try and prioritize feeling the difficult emotions. Prioritizing feeling the difficult emotions sounds kind of negative, [00:57:00] but I believe it to be really important for three reasons. The first thing is the vast majority of the things that go wrong for people that are on the spiritual path come from not dealing with difficult emotions, particularly anger or grief. If people can’t really feel anger in a legitimate way, they wind up without boundaries, they wind up without the ability to prevent themselves or other people being abused.
It can lead to a sort of festering rage that’s deep under the surface that you often see in, for example, [00:57:30] new age practitioners or yoga teachers that haven’t really read the Bhagavad Gita and understood what’s in it. You see a lot of that. California. The second thing is that there’s a really, really deep difficult set of emotional stuff that happens towards the middle third to end of the enlightenment process. That stuff is you have to deal with the fact that you’re going to die, almost certainly, you have to deal with the fact that a lot of [00:58:00] people that you cared about have died, and the likelihood that a lot more people that you care about will die. You have to deal with all kinds of difficult human emotional problems in a way that doesn’t allow your consciousness to flinch away from them, because every time you flinch you’re separating from your experience and that makes it very hard to make progress in terms of really fundamental, absolute consciousness.
If you try and develop the skills sitting with difficult emotions at the time that you need that skill, [00:58:30] it’s a very hard thing to learn. It’s much better to start that early and really work it, because it has enormous benefits in that you get deep self-awareness from it, albeit it’s kind of rough, quite painful sometimes but kind of better to do it that way than not do it I think. What comes out of the process over time is the discipline to be able to deal with unpleasant truth. “I am sitting here and I am feeling a burning anger because a person did something which was [00:59:00] right from their perspective but it took away from me something that I desired.” What you see is your own fist clenching around the future that you’d wished for, even though it is morally wrong for you to want it.
Getting to know yourself that well is painful and difficult. The deeper your self-knowledge goes in those levels, the better you tend to behave to the people around you. There are really important reasons for doing that stuff. If you are naturally tending towards depressed or bleakness, [00:59:30] if you have volatile difficult emotions that it’s not safe to process in those kind of ways, therapy first. I can’t stress this; Rogerian therapy is a really good prelude for meditation. I think there are a lot of risks involved in other forms of therapy, but the Carl Rogers approach did me an enormous amount of good in the time that I was in therapy. I think it’s well worth looking for for anybody who’s doing this kind of work.
I’m a real believer in certain parts of the western psychological landscape. [01:00:00] I think there’s good stuff in Freud, we discussed it before, his early work on PTSD is pretty good before he invents the Oedipus complex. Everything that Young did has insight and Memory Streams and Reflections is incredible. Memoir Streams and Reflections? His autobiography anyway. Lots of stuff in gestalt therapy by Fritz Perls. The western psychological tradition, particularly after the 60s, has not wasted its time. There’s a lot of good stuff in there. [01:00:30] Then you basically do three rounds twice. You go through the three phases once, then you go through the three phases again.
That’s your hour. You do an hour a month for six months and at the end of that process, either you’re changing in ways that you like, or you’re not changing, or you’re changing in ways you don’t like. At that point, you’ve got a pretty good sense of what the path is like. If you’ve done that much effort and it’s working for you, you want to do more, that’s a good time for us to talk.
Mike: Okay. Are there a lot more [01:01:00] steps and is there a lot more work after this moving on towards enlightenment? Or, is this the process?
Vinay: That’s the core mechanism. If you think about what’s actually being trained, focusing the attention on a single thing is being trained, broadening the attention out so you can see and feel everything that’s going is being trained, and dealing with your shit is being trained.
Vinay: These are the fundamental mechanisms of awareness. I think that most people who get serious about this stuff are going to wind up doing yoga or Tai Chi or [01:01:30] some kind of physical practice. Very important. I’m not qualified to teach those things. Plenty of people are. Therapy I’ve discussed, I think it’s a much faster and safer way of getting rid of a lot of the really gross, big, heavy emotional stuff in meditation. If it can be fixed by therapy and you’ve got good access to therapy, it’s really worth a look because you can sit there and feel pain and shame about the way that your mother treated you in high school for months of meditation, or you can get it out of your system in three or four weeks of [01:02:00] good therapy.
Those techniques, it really works. Talking to people about what’s wrong in an honest, integrated way really works for people. I think therapy in the generic sense often includes a lot of really bad stuff and a lot of stupid stuff. The Rogers approach is pretty good. Rogerian therapy for the win. Stabilizing the practice often requires a lot of traditional stuff that doesn’t make a lot of sense. Temples, for example, are constructs which is very hard to justify in any kind of scientific way [01:02:30] but they’re very psychospiritually important, which is why every culture has them. Learning how to make a little corner of your own house into a temple so that you have a place which fulfils the functions for you that temples fulfil in traditional cultures seems to be fundamentally important. There’s a bit of know how around that.
I can’t justify that but it really seems to matter. It certainly did for me and for several of the people that have worked with me over the years. Towards the very late stages – we’re talking about many, many years of practicing – [01:03:00] you often get to the point at the end where the stuff that’s left inside of you that you need to address before you can get enlightened is just too difficult and too painful for you to reach on your own. It’s like the last bits and pieces that are stuff in the system, sometimes you need an external helper to knock that stuff loose. At that point, you’re going to wind up working closely and personally with somebody that you trust who is [01:03:30] further along the process than you are. Guru is a very loaded word, but there are certainly points in the process towards the end where you want an enlightened person pulling you forward over the bits that you can’t really do yourself.
There are bits that, I don’t know if that’s true for everybody, but for a lot of people there are bits that they can’t do themselves. For that stuff, you need external help. But 80 or 90 percent of the work is basically just meditating. [01:04:00] Getting enough time on the map, ideally in long blocks. Half an hour a day you can just about hold the line and make slow progress. An hour a day gives you rapid acceleration. That process will carry you damn near all the way.
Mike: I’m curious as to what the interaction looks like in that last little bit where the enlightened person’s pulling the student in. What do the interactions sound like?
Vinay: Usually, it’s an awful lot of yelling.
Mike: That’s unexpected.
Vinay: [01:04:30] At the end of the day, right, what you’re hanging onto in the last phases of an enlightenment practice is all the stuff that you’re really, really attached to, you don’t want to let go. “But I really want to believe in truth, justice, and the American way. I want to believe that these things are objectively real and that they’re provided for us by an external higher power.” Then your guru turns around and is just like, “Karl Marx was right, there is no God.” I’m really serious. [01:05:00] At the end of the day, right, the things that we’re holding onto as certainties are the things where we are just clenched up around reality and we just won’t let things be. The things that you’re most certain of, the things that you really want to be true, the things that you want to be facts rather than opinions, are incredibly deeply woven into your personality.
The things that you want to be true, the things which are opinions but you want to declare them to be facts are the things that prevent you from dealing with reality as it is [01:05:30] and that’s all that enlightenment is. Enlightenment is just taking things as they actually are, rather than as you want them to be as much of the time as you can. You can imagine how hard people fight for the last of their certainty and the last of their belief. They’ll hand onto that stuff with everything they’ve got. Sometimes they need support and tenderness and care and an environment where they feel safe to let go of the last stuff. Sometimes they need to be smacked on the ass with a cricket bat. [01:06:00] I should say that not all students are right for all teachers and not all teachers are right for all students.
The personal fit is as important as the fit is between a therapist and a client. It’s really important to understand that just because somebody is a guru doesn’t mean they’re your guru any more than if somebody has children, they’re a mother but they’re not your mother. Can’t stress that too strongly. The mythology over here is that all gurus are universal gurus and all gurus are not [01:06:30] universal gurus. There are lots and lots and lots of people who have guru in their name. What makes somebody a guru is fundamentally the same as what makes somebody your mother. They are the person that gave you life in some fundamental sense and you are here because they are here.
If somebody proclaims themselves to be a mother, then if they have kids you could say, yes, they are a mother but that never ever makes them your mother. [01:07:00] Lots of time, people proclaim themselves to be a guru. The first thing you want to check is they do they have any enlightened students. If they have no enlightened students, they are not a guru. The enlightened students should be people that are at the same level of realization as their masters and the master and the student should both agree that this is the case.
They should be autonomous independent masters of the wisdom who may or may not agree with their guru on the fine detail or even the gross detail [01:07:30] of what it is that they’re doing, but the guru should acknowledge that they are the equals of the guru. If they don’t have students where they can say, “This is Bob, he knows everything that I know pretty much and definitely you can go to him or me, it’s the same wisdom either way,” they haven’t made it and they’re not real gurus.
Vinay: If they don’t have students that they trust as much as they trust themselves, if they don’t tell you, “You can come to me or to my students, it’s the same wisdom either way,” forget it. They are not teaching. If they are teaching, it hasn’t been [01:08:00] successful yet. There are definitely roles for people that are basically spiritual primary school teachers. Their job is to sit there teaching people the basics and all the rest of that stuff, and you can refer to them as guru in the sense of you’re a teacher, yes, you’re a teacher. But if they tell you that they’re getting their students to enlightenment, their students should be equal to them in their ability to teach. Otherwise, forget it. They haven’t got the goods.
Vinay: That’s a very important test. You can apply it to many of the people that are out there teaching. “[01:08:30] Have any of your students reached full enlightenment. If so, can I learn from them rather than you and is there any real difference?” If these people know what they’re doing, it should be pretty much the same. There is some space there for technical discussions about, “Well, is everybody equally well suited to teaching? Does it take some time to bed down and settle in?” There’s a whole bunch of minor league malarkey, but they ought to have people that they trust to give you an opinion, first thing. Second thing is I haven’t actually talked very much about the wonderful part.[01:09:00] I’m stressing the enormous hard work part, because I want this to be an authentic description of what it is actually like. It is enormous hard work, that is what it is actually like, at least for me using the tools that I have access to from guru and my research. I had other teachers along the way that showed me things that were useful. The fun part is this; the suffering goes away completely. There’s just no more suffering. The awful, awful pain just [01:09:30] evaporates. Terrible things can happen and just don’t feel them the same way, because the terrible things that happen are outside of you in an external objective world, which contains a bunch of terrible things. They no longer feel like they’re happening to the inner most core of your being. The inner most core of your being is completely sacrosanct and inviolate, nothing affects it, nothing changes it, and it has an impression that it appears to be permanent and inviolate and [01:10:00] will never be harmed by anything because it just is.
Once you get a sense that the real you is this thing inside of you that just is, the entire world becomes this spectacular kaleidoscope of insanity. You can actually enjoy it as that. “My God, what are we doing now? War from the air. That’s very spirited of them, isn’t it? What’s this over here? It’s virtual reality. I’ve waited for this for 25 years and it’s finally here. Amazing.” [01:10:30] The whole thing becomes this carnival of wonder, because whether it’s amazing or whether it’s grotesque, it doesn’t feel like it’s hitting you directly in the core of your being. You get enough distance from the process that you can fully participate without becoming overwhelmed. Yes, it is clear that my body will die, plus or minus transhumanism, but it’s also pretty clear that this fundamental thing inside of me which feels like me doesn’t die.[01:11:00] Even if it actually dies, it appears to be exactly the same as what’s inside of everybody else, so it’s not like we’re running out of it. Whether it lives on in me as an individual or whether I’m just one of a million individuals and we’re all identical at the level of pure consciousness, I have no sense that something fundamentally important is going to be winking out of existence when I go. At that point, I’m not so afraid of it anymore. There are all kinds of really fundamental spooks and spectres that make life miserable and difficult [01:11:30] that only exist inside of our enlightened heads. Once you find your enlightened head, the spooks and spectres go away and the difficulty of life goes down enormously.
You can still choose to stupidly hard things and then your life becomes difficult again, but if you allow yourself to live in a fairly easy way, life becomes easy and fun very quickly. There is an experience, a tangible lived experience, of absolute freedom and freedom from suffering. When those two things come together, [01:12:00] what you could get is this kind of emergence spiritual joy. “I’m not afraid of the world. Terrible things may happen but they don’t cut to the core of my being because the core of my being is apart from the world. As a result, I can fully participate in this fundamentally joyful way.” Basically, it makes life good. Regardless of what is happening, the fundamental feeling is that life is good.
“This is wonderful, this is the show I came for, and I’m seeing the entire [01:12:30] spectrum of being laid out in front of me from the extremes of good and bad, beautiful and ugly, ripe and raw, the entire show is here and I’m completely a part of it and, at the same time, I’m completely safe.” That’s really worth seeing. To see the world through that lens is a joy and a wonder beyond imagining. But if all that I tell people is how wonderful it’s going be at the end of the process and I don’t tell them what the process is going to be like, [01:13:00] when they get to the hard part they’re going to turn away. I’m communicating the hard part as clearly as I can, so that people understand it is very hard to be free.
Euvie: Alright, that’s it for this portion of the Vinay Gupta episode. We’ll be back next week with the concluding one in this miniseries. If you want to check out any of the books or any of the other things we mentioned in this episode, go to futurethinkers.org/episode27. Bye.
This is part 4 of our interviews with Vinay Gupta, and the second portion of our talk on enlightenment. I recommend that you listen to the first portion of the enlightenment talk before this one, and the last one on enlightenment for the future of humanity after. Also check out our interview with Vinay from last year, where we discussed Ethereum, space colonization, and a whole bunch of other fascinating things.
A Taste of Another Reality
For many people, the interest in consciousness exploration arises from personal experience. Something happens that makes you question that the commonly accepted notion of reality is the actual reality. You might experience pre-cognition about an event in your life. You might notice synchronicities occurring at a rate above chance. You might have an out of body experience. And while all of these things are common enough as isolated events, when they start happening often, you can’t help but want to investigate.
Unfortunately, much of the literature on the subject of consciousness exploration is littered with medieval mythology, woo, and dogma. Although the mythology can be interesting, it is not very useful when it comes to developing a deeper understanding of reality. Counting the angels dancing on the head of a pin, or imagining Gaia’s warm embrace may be interesting experiences. But they will not get you any closer to understanding yourself or the world we live in.
That said, it doesn’t mean there is no value to consciousness exploration. When done in a systematic way, it can indeed lead to developing a deeper understanding of yourself and reality. And for some, with enough time and persistence, it may lead to enlightenment.
The Practical Steps to Enlightenment
We invited Vinay Gupta back on our podcast to talk about just that. In the first portion of this talk, Vinay dove deep into the dogmas around enlightenment and the importance of separating the “medieval horse crap” mythology from the actual experience. We also talked about taking a scientific approaches to the enlightenment process.
In this portion of the talk, Vinay describes his personal experience of achieving enlightenment and the different stages of getting there. He also goes into the problems people often across in mid to late stages of the process and how to overcome them. We then discuss the meditation techniques that can reliably lead to enlightenment, and whether or not one needs a guru or teacher to get to the end.
This episode is dense, and may require multiple listens to get all the information presented.
Quotes From This Episode:
“Once the uncertainty begins to dominate the certainty, you become open to the world in unimaginable ways”
“The real process of meditation is paying real close attention to what is happening around you without passing it to the mind immediately for analysis”
“Sitting with discomfort, difficult emotions, and hard realizations, is the core practice that leads towards enlightenment”
“The mind becomes perceived to be another sense. You see, you listen, you hear, you smell, you think. Once you are aware that you are not your mind and your mind is basically a sense organ, it’s a thing that brings information to you, you enter the real work of enlightenment, which is: what is this me that the mind is bringing information to? And that’s the big one. That question is at the heart of everybody’s enlightenment process.”
In This Episode of Future Thinkers Podcast:
- The stages on the path to enlightenment
- The Freudian, Jungian, and Gestalt levels of development
- Overcoming common stumbling blocks along the path
- Learning to deal with negative emotions
- The types of meditation practice that reliably lead to enlightenment
- The guru disciple relationship
- Using honest uncertainty on the way to discovery
- Avoiding dogmas and mythology
- Yoga Sutras of Patanjali by Swami Satchidananda
- The Calm Technique by Paul Wilson
- Memories, Dreams, Reflections by Carl Jung
More From Future Thinkers:
- Archetypes, Psychedelics, and Enlightenment with Dr. Jordan Peterson (FTP039)
- Dr. Kirby Surprise Explains The Science Behind Synchronicity with Dr. Kirby Surprise (FTP037)
- Vinay Gupta on Ethereum and Basic Human Needs (FTP018)
- Vinay Gupta on Quantum Mechanics and Space Exploration (FTP019)
- The Practical Steps to Enlightenment, Vinay Gupta Pt. 4 (FTP027)
- Enlightenment for the Future of Humanity, Vinay Gupta Pt. 5 (FTP028)