There is this funny scene in the funny movie You, Me and Dupree, starring Matt Dillon and Owen Wilson. Wilson's character, Randall Dupree, is a slacker man-child approaching middle age, who though smart enough to be a member of Mensa, rides around on a rickety Schwinn bicycle mooching off his best friend and meandering through life without a pot to piss in or a plan to get one. That is, until he meets this girl he really likes. She's a grade school teacher, and he convinces his best friend's fiancee, played by the lovely Kate Hudson, who is also a teacher, to let him give a career day presentation to her kindergarten class. He hopes his performance will impress his girl. In the presentation, Dupree lets the kids in on "getting the call from the Mothership." For some kids, he says, the call will come in their early youth, and these students will become the prodigies. Others will get the call in college and go on to be masters of industry. But the third class, he says, languishes well into middle age. "You'll do a lot of languishing," he tells them. Just like Dupree. And me.
There's a lot about Dupree I can relate to. Though older than the 30-something guy he plays (I am 43) I lived with my mother until recently and often prefer to get around on a bike. A member of Mensa, I have a medical degree I never really used other than to write a book on nutrition hardly anybody reads. And I'd do most anything to impress a girl I'm sweet on, though these days I don't have much of an opportunity for that. Because I am always home. So I am content to languish through life. That is, until I got my call.
Thumbing through a recent issue of the Atlantic magazine I was disconcerted to learn that the scientific community has come under a bit of scrutiny. Disconcerted because I am a scientist. Or at least used to be. A "string of scandals" involving fraud and unchecked errors has been riddling research. Journals are retracting studies at never before seen levels as independent statistical analyses reveal more and more irregularities in the data. Of the biomedical and life-sciences articles reviewed, nearly 70 percent of irregularities stemmed from misconduct, including plagiarism. A third of scientists confessed to questionable practices including changing the results of a study due to pressure from funding sources.
Researchers blame increased competition for academic jobs and research funding in a community that incentivizes its members to "publish or perish." And so scientists end up cooking or mining their data to generate the positive findings journals are more likely to accept.
More disconcerting still, when a team tried to reproduce 53 landmark cancer studies, they could replicate only around 10 percent. Reproducibility is a hallmark of good science, as anybody with a seventh grade education can tell you. If you cannot with repeated testing verify the results of a study, you cannot trust the results. And yet drugs and treatments are being approved based on this faulty research. The reputable scientific journal Nature reported these findings. One wonders how many studies Nature had to retract.
As my father has said, quoting his guru quoting Gandhi: "Politics without principles, education without character, commerce without morality, and science without humanity are not only useless, they are downright dangerous." If we are to judge principles, character, morality and humanity by one's actions, the verdict is simple: scientists are as bad as politicians!
The ramifications of scandalous science are dizzying. Most nonfiction books, especially self-help, are authored by so-called experts in their field. These works are heavily referenced, with footnote sections containing hundreds of citations, many of them to scientific studies. The references are supposed to lend credibility to the point the authors of such books seek to make, maybe even to prove. If the research is later retracted, the book still sells. Because nobody hears about the retraction, which may appear as some footnote in a publication only the scientific community reads. (And anyway what scientist reads self-help?) Witness the Atkins diet, a high-fat approach to food for those wishing to lose weight and maintain cardiovascular health, a diet whose author had heart disease.
Sam Harris' Waking Life: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion is another example. This New York Times bestseller attempts to deal with the problems of consciousness, to cut away at the confusion which millennia of speculation has produced. Mr. Harris himself is not without very impressive credentials. He received his philosophy degree from Stanford University and a PhD in neuroscience from UCLA. (And he seems like a nice enough guy. I saw him speak on Bill Maher. And dude, if you're reading this, when Ben Affleck went off on you he was way out of line. Way out of line!) And of course Harris' book is loaded with the requisite citations. I counted 145. And I enjoyed reading its mix of heady science colored by anecdote with some drug trips thrown in. But at the end I couldn't tell you half of what it was about or hardly anything that I had learned. And I read it carefully. Twice. With highlights. Yet the moment I set down Waking Up and got up from my couch, I found the take-home message, if there is one, had been lost amidst all those dizzying details. At least on me. Lose the forest for the trees much? I defy the reader to tell me what the book is about, in a 100-words-or-less way. Or better yet, whether and how it has benefited your life.
Do books like this make us examine our own consciousness? Isn't that what they are for? Do they add to the happiness of our days? Cause us to view the world around us, and our place in it, in a clear and refreshing way? Or do they only prove that we all are confused, the authors included? A staunch critic of religion who asserts that reason and science are the true guardians of our deepest human values, Harris writes that where consciousness is concerned, much is a mystery. Perhaps all that can be said is we know that we don't know. Yeah, yeah. It's been done before.
Someone should tell the man that on the tree of knowledge, philosophy is supposed to be the flower and religion, the fruit. Religion is the practical application of so much fancy speculation. At best it results in love of one's neighbor, at worst it devolves into mindless ritual, which maybe for some gives peace of mind. And if we extended this metaphor, we might say that of the religions, the seed is vedanta. Universal in its scope, and timeless, a product of scriptures whose authors are anonymous, and coming out of India, that oldest of civilizations, vedanta predates even India's own Hinduism. Vedanta contains the essence of all major creeds and ties them together in the simple truth that Oneness is infinite and eternal, and "thou art that."
This Oneness is not a bad place to start, or for that matter (as I hope to prove) to end the discussion. Someone should ask Mr. Harris why he stopped at philosophy and changing gears turned to science rather than giving religion its due. Someone, but not me, lest I be accused of parroting the ancient writings of these anonymous authors. And this is not about that. Or maybe it is. Because isn't that what many scientists are doing, parroting the words of others, with their references and their (egad!) plagiarism?
If the topic of consciousness is so confusing, if nobody understands it, why write a book? For the reader to kill time? If you're looking for a pastime, bowling is probably cheaper. Most of life can be characterized as a pastime. Reading, writing and bowling. Which is fine, if pastimes are fun. And Harris' book is fun, I'll give him that. But what about going beyond time?
Speaking of knowing that we don't know, and Socrates who said it, one wonders at how far we have strayed from the good old days, when classical thinkers searching for truth would just use their heads. How old-fashioned this seems! The Greeks would just talk to each other, often over wine. Same with the Romans. The world's first philosophers and for that matter their counterparts in science and in metaphysics lived when these subjects were not taught in schools, often because there were no schools, which meant no degrees (and nobody to plagiarize either). Without any formal training or exhaustive bibliography, the classical thinkers got along rather well. And what of the empiricist (there once were many of them) who trusts only the evidence of the senses? Aristotle was an empiricist. So was John Locke, who posited that the only knowledge worth having is obtained a posteriori, or by personal experience.
What do our senses tell us? And can they be trusted? If you ask modern science, the answer is no. Chemists create flavors that mimic natural foods. Vanillin is one. Perfumes have hints of aromas that occur in nature, like musk, but are not present on the ingredients list. All so many mirages, advertising what is not really there. And our senses are so easily deceived.
True confession: One weekend just out of college I experimented with the club drug ecstasy and stayed up three nights partying with friends. By the end of the weekend I was hearing voices. I can't remember what these voices were telling me, or if I even understood them at the time, but there was a conversation involving at least three people going on in my head. At least I knew I was hallucinating, unlike some people. Like this guy I knew in high school . . . but that is another story. My point is, everywhere we look we learn to doubt what we see, feel, hear, touch, and otherwise perceive. Our thoughts can be delusional. Even the sane have crazy dreams!
Recent research reveals that if a prosthetic hand is placed on the table in place of one's own, and if this plastic hand is stroked, subjects report that it feels as though it is their own hand getting the massage. Virtual reality simulations suggest that when a gamer adopts the avatar of someone taller, he feels more confident. Make him walk around as an elderly person and he is more cautious. These studies challenge the hallowed notion of personal identity, of what it means to be me. Reality is not as it seems.
Platitudes aside, it is for us to determine what if anything science and our senses can tell us about our search for truth. Is there a realm beyond the limitations of the senses and yet personal and directly accessible to each of us? Can accessing this realm provide knowledge which is true and verifiable and which science seems unable to provide?
The British philosopher David Hume took empiricism a step further and called it skepticism. As a young man he set out to read and write as much as he could for 10 years, but before the decade was up he became so depressed that doctors diagnosed him with "Disease of the Learned" and told him to stop reading and start drinking wine. Eventually he got better. Hume went on to write books on reason and understanding which hardly anybody read, and fewer still understood, at least not while the philosopher was alive.
The American scholar Joseph Campbell wrote extensively on the human experience. The archetypes he made household names have inspired films including the popular Star Wars franchise. Like Hume, Campbell devoted himself to intensive, rigorous independent study. He left Colombia University where he was pursuing a PhD in the liberal arts because his superiors refused to apply to his degree the study of Sanskrit, the ancient Indian language. Instead he lived in a shack and dividing the day into four periods, would get nine hours of reading in per day. The author of such modern classics as The Power of Myth and The Hero with a Thousand Faces was quoted as saying he never had one original idea in his whole life, that all his writing was merely a patchwork of the scholars who came before.
Is this true knowledge, or a shabby, second-hand excuse for truth? Can you know Rome merely by studying a map and never visiting the land? How can we think that by devoting a life to examining the experiences of other individuals we can possibly understand a single thing about the inner Reality which shines within and which each of us must experience personally? Book knowledge should never take the place of true wisdom, Campbell must have known. A lifelong teacher, he urged his students to do as he did and "follow your bliss." He was on to something, but if he didn't examine his own interior life, he certainly cannot have found the bliss he chased.
As a college undergrad I once took a course on the philosophy of the mind. We studied the French thinker Rene Descartes, and read excerpts from his Meditations. In one memorable passage, Descartes offers as support for a tricky argument the fact that he looked into his own heart and knew it to be true. My professor was flabbergasted that a man as dedicated to reason as Descartes should fall back on intuition to get him out of a metaphysical fix. How unphilosophical of him!
But I felt differently. I was only 19, untrained in philosophy; and as a layperson, this Cartesian method of explaining a concept by inward experience, using gut feeling as convincing proof, made sense. How many readers do as Descartes did and turn their attention within? There must be something to this intuition, I remember thinking, though many scholars may disagree. And yet, Descartes is widely considered the father of modern philosophy. Probably because he refused to rely on the authority of the philosophers who came before him. In fact, he entirely abandoned the study of books, resolving instead to "seek no knowledge other than that of which could be found in myself or else in the great book of the world." In fact, since he often had perceptions very much like the sensations experienced while dreaming, and without definite signs to distinguish dreaming from waking life, he allowed for the possibility that the whole of life is merely a dream. A view, it should be mentioned, also espoused by the founders of vedanta.
Towards the end of my college education, intrigued by the handful of such courses taken as electives, I considered pursuing a minor in the "love of wisdom," as philosophy is known. Although I had already accumulated enough credits to graduate with a degree in history, I asked my father if I could extend my studies for an additional semester or two. On his dime, since I wasn't working. His refusal was my good fortune. Perhaps otherwise I'd have been diagnosed with Hume's "Disease of the Learned" or some modern variation. With the exclusion of a few renegade thinkers, the life of the mind is fed on thoughts, developed over the course of reading hundreds of books, and maybe writing a few. The cloistered life weakens the muscles and wearies the eyes. For a lover of the outdoors, not exactly a prescription for bliss.
By contrast to our scholar, the sage or saint is often unlettered. You won't find many volumes in his study. Where the scholar deals in concepts, the currency of the Maharshis and the Maharajis is silence and stillness, of the mouth and the mind. Many holy personages of both the East and West had but the rudiments of a formal education ending in their early teens. And yet among their devotees were the learned who visited these holy souls in search of not knowledge but wisdom.
In fact some of the Eastern philosophers who had advanced far in their formal education, such as Osho and Sri Aurobindo, were also the most controversial and confusing. Osho, who had been a philosophy professor before becoming a holy man, had an impressive collection of Rolls Royces (which he demanded his disciples purchase). Sri Aurobindo, also formally trained in philosophy, wrote books whose prolixity was so prodigious that you'd need a PhD to get through them, and a dictionary. As if you'd even want such a thing as a PhD! Indeed Campbell himself once said that it was a sign of incompetence to have a degree which proved nothing other than one had spent several years and thousands of dollars (hundreds of thousands in today's economy) earning the initials.
With so much of one's education devoted to deciphering the teachings of others - for example the student of philosophy must wade through the theories of classic Greece, French Enlightenment, German Idealism, not to mention contemporary European and American thinkers, to say nothing about the ideologies advanced in the East - there is precious little time for original thought and little if any time logged in the laboratory of life. Truly, if first-hand experience were part of the philosopher's curriculum, he wouldn't be a philosopher but a metaphysician. Like Christ, whose teachings in the temple caused the Jews to marvel and say, "How knoweth this man letters, having never learned?" Christ's reply: "My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me."
Doesn't Christ's description of one born in the Spirit, who like the wind "bloweth where it listeth, and though hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth," (John 3:8) sound very much like Descartes' intuition?
Like Christ, the Buddha was not much for formal study. Instead he preferred the experience of inner Reality. And there were not many authorities back in the 6th century, BC. Or for that matter books. Indeed Buddha rejected much of the knowledge obtainable in the sacred scriptures which as a Hindu by birth he was familiar with. He chose instead to read the book of his heart. And so he became self-taught, or more accurately Self-taught. For there is a difference. (If you haven't learned it by the end I haven't done my job.)
Back when Buddha was still called Siddhartha, he left his wife and child and the palace where he had been living as a prince and journeyed into the forest. There he set about his own method of learning, sitting cross-legged in the lotus posture, eyes closed, attention turned inward, and waiting to see what happened. He did a lot of waiting before he saw. Or rather, since his eyes were shut, his method was to be what happens. His whole philosophy, which is the basis for the Buddhist religion and the many branches it has spawned since, such as Zen and the Tao, is summarized in the Dhammapada with the words: "Look within. Be still." Much else is attributed to Buddha, but that pretty much sums it all up.
Buddha's teachings, which denied a personal God or even an individual soul, making them not unlike atheism, were heavily influenced by the oldest of religions. Hinduism, more specifically vedanta, or the end of the scriptures known as the Vedas, is based on brief, comprehensive statements found in the 108 Upanishads, each of which is considered a self-contained whole. Empirical in nature, they hold value only insofar as they are supported by the evidence of personal experience. In other words, for a so-called truth to be worth its weight, it must be verifiable, immediately, at any moment, and always by everyone. Now that's scientific!
Like the Buddha, the sage Ramana Maharshi, who had an out of body experience which revealed his true nature - described as ageless, changeless, deathless spirit - spent years sitting in solitude and silence in a cave so as to root himself in this Reality, I AM. Only later when a disciple handed him a book by the noted commentator on the Upanishads, Adi Shankara, did the Maharshi endorse the teachings, finding as he did that they coincided with his actual experience.
And yet central to the teachings of many modern religions is the concept of the otherness of God. Browse the section on religion at a nonexistent bookstore and see the ways in which God is called other. The Pursuit of God. In Search of God. A Search for God. The Search for God at Harvard. (I'm serious.) God in Search of Man.
We pray to God, as to our Father, or to his representative on Earth, Jesus Christ. Or to Allah, Jehovah, etc. Clearly religions have little in common if they cannot even agree on a name for God. But one thing that most religions espouse is that God is present everywhere. This is strange and paradoxical, that the belief in the otherness of God should coexist with the belief that God is everywhere. Doesn't everywhere mean around us, without, within and through? Does it make sense to go looking for God, or Reality, somewhere else, whether in books or in a person, when a God that is omnipresent can be found inside? It is looking within then that would seem the best place to fix the attention.
And what does looking within tell us? Christ was evidently speaking from personal experience when he stated that the kingdom of God is found within. If this is the case, what is this kingdom's nature? What is God, other than a word, and a vague concept associated with that word? Perhaps you scoff at the word God. And you are not alone. There are many atheists, whose numbers appear to be growing. In fact, we are all born atheists. Does that make you laugh? Babies don't believe in God, not as a concept. They don't even know the word. And yet they are filled with joy. And the most religious of us can give elaborate definitions of God, or quote from texts said to be authoritative, often with a scowl. Are such descriptions knowledge or mere babble? Is the word ever the thing?
What do you know? I can tell you what I know, not from books nor even from the evidence of the senses, but from first-hand experience. I can say, along with the philosopher Descartes (whose cogito ergo sum even our seventh grader is familiar with) that I exist. I could say so even if I didn't have eyes to see, ears to hear, a tongue to taste, fingers to feel, etc. I know it by the very fact that I am. I am aware that I am. That's all the proof necessary. And pure awareness is the ultimate proof, furnishing results by means of a sort of extrasensory experience which is verifiable by you. It is reproducible, and won't be retracted. The ultimate study.
We must answer the ultimate question: Who is this I? Presumably you are confident that you exist. Is the I you refer to and the I that I call myself different or the same? At the level of the individual, we are most definitely different. The I you refer to is, let us say, female, of such and such an age, with tastes and aversions and talents and quirks. The I that is me is 5'10 (so I like to think), weighs about 150 lbs, with brown hair and brown eyes, a good student and decent athlete, who enjoys classical music and lives with his mother. So these mes are different. But what about the I seated behind. The I that is aware of our differences. Is that I the same? If you strip the personality of all its characteristics you are left with pure consciousness, which is another name for I. It is the spark that gives the body life, the light in which all of life's events take place. The I is like the candle's flame, or the space in a cup, both metaphors frequently used. The space which is taken for granted in a world so worried about coffee. The flame which can light a million candles, and not diminish, and even when those flames burn out, itself not die.
Because I am so closely associated with the one called me, it is easy to identify with him. But if I am ever-vigilant, always aware, I notice that things happen without my doing anything. It is as if life happens automatically.
A sage once asked a disciple, "Who were you before you were born?" The disciple's answer: "I don't know." "Hold fast to this I," the sage said. The I is everything.
We come into this world blank slates, without an instruction manual. Many theologians rely on their respective religions' sacred scriptures to guide them through life. The Christians have their Bible, the Hindus look to the Bhagavad Gita, where God as Krishna discourses on right action, life's purpose, and so forth. But we must consider that if you listen to the Krishna seated as the charioteer of your own heart, that is, to your own inner voice, you have no need for the scriptures. Because all the answers come from within. So few are told to attune their attention to the inner frequency, and of those who do, fewer still listen. Yes, many act on hunches, gut feelings, pangs of the conscience, but these are generally ridiculed or frowned upon by science and authorities. Remember Descartes. How can you prove that what you feel is true? For the very reason you feel it, perhaps. Speaking of reason, let us address the atheists in the room. Denying the existence of a personal God, atheism "accepts the supremacy of reason and aims at establishing a life-style and ethical outlook verifiable by experience and scientific method, independent of all arbitrary assumptions of authority and creeds." Which is exactly what we're trying to do here.
Each of us must ask himself, What do I know of consciousness? What do I know of the Christian God, the Hindu's Self, the atheist's reason? What is always with me? If consciousness is omnipresent, is it also divine? John Marshall writes in his Short History of Greek Philosophy: "The early philosophers as a rule formulated the originative principle (Greek arche) of all things under some material expression. By the originative principle or element of things they meant that of which all things are composed, that which determines their coming into being, and into which they pass on ceasing to be." Many would call that originative principle God. Or energy, or life force, or intelligence, awareness, reason, love. Or simply existence, as when the Bible's God himself declared, "I am that I am," and when Christ said, "I and my Father are one."
Are all these terms merely different ways of referring to the same thing?
When I do as Descartes did and look inside myself, I know that there are many states of consciousness. I wake in the morning and go about my day. I fall asleep at night and sometimes dream. Sometimes I sleep so deeply that hours pass in the blink of an eye, and it is as if I didn't exist during that time. Is there something common in these states of consciousness - waking, dreaming and dreamless sleep - something perhaps underlying them, that is ever the same? When I ask, What throughout my life has always been the same, at all times, whether waking, sleeping or dreaming, I find it is this I. From my earliest memories to the present day, the awareness I AM remains. When I sleep deeply, the mind sinks back into my consciousness, and so I don't perceive myself. The me sleeps. It is only when I dream or wake, and my mind is active, that I perceive myself and others. Only then that the I perceives a me.
Do I need a PhD for you to believe me when I tell you the mind is an organ of experience, a mirror in which the Self is seen? For something can only be said to exist once it is perceived. As Irish philosopher George Berkeley (1685-1753) said, the essence of a thing is in its being known, and it is not possible for anything to "have any existence out of the minds or thinking things which perceive them."
And so, when not asleep my mind perceives the Self, this pure consciousness, and I Am. In deep sleep the mind is asleep, and it is as if I am not. Because awareness unaware of itself is indistinguishable from nonexistence. Berkeley didn't have a PhD but followers listened to him. He is still assigned in philosophy courses. Perhaps because he was a bishop. And also an empiricist. And as such, he urged his readers to make his words the occasion of their own thinking, to consider their own "naked, undisguised ideas" and let that, not the "embarrass of words," be their guide.
My experience tells me that I exist whether I am asleep, dreaming or in deep sleep. But is there a me? There is a me only when I wake up. The moment I cognize my body, feel myself, become self aware, I become an object. I become me.
This me is hard to characterize. Describing this me is like grasping at air, or jumping into a river twice and calling it the same river. Because the me that I perceive is always changing. Trading in pastimes for new ones. Growing older. And I hope wiser. Thoughts flit through the mind, cells constantly die and are replaced. There is very little in the way of constants, other than a name given me at birth. But in the womb this me was nameless. Can anything which is constantly changing be who you really are?
But there is a moment when I first regain consciousness after sleeping where only awareness exists. Just the I. No thoughts. No body. No opinions. Just awareness. There is no me. The me is merely a product of the mind, the me is what I perceive. But the I is always the same. It was there when I was born, through my childhood, present even when thoughts are in my head and my body is going about its daily affairs. And it never changes. It's always watching. Like a presence. Free of all attributes. Like air. So free that, like air, it is the same wherever you go. It (this I) is the same in everyone. The personality is the lower self, this awareness is the higher self, or the Self. And the goal is to merge the self into the Self, which is why I describe it as the I that ate the me. The I of the Bible's I am is described by the Hindus as existence, consciousness and bliss.
When I dig deep into my past, I realize that the I is always with the me. Always watching, unruffled, never judging, just accepting. Unfazed. And ever the same. Throughout life's changes, as I have grown up, and now grow old, the I in the light of whose awareness the me has life always is. It is the only constant. The only thing with me wherever I go, whatever I may do, whatever my thoughts may be, whether waking, dreaming, or in dreamless sleep. And it alone, this I, deserves to be called Reality. And I have no doubt that this is who you are too. Indeed the I is everything. The only way to know it is to turn your attention within.
And when you do, when I do, what happens? There are three stages. First I distinguish between the self (ego-based individual personality, mind) and the Self (pure awareness). I write these words. I am also aware that I am writing these words. There is the me the I perceives writing, and the I that perceives. The former is self. The latter is Self. Next, I abide in this awareness as often as possible. I observe my surroundings, the activity of my mind, my physical actions, the sensations they produce, and my feelings, identifying with nothing. I am aware that all this is not I. That I am spirit, standing back as it were, detached and observing. Finally, my lower self once and for all merges with my higher Self, and I remain fixed in bliss.
The difference between Self and self is the difference between heaven and hell. Atheists like Harris and Hume would deny the existence of these realms, which as geographical places are nowhere to be found. You try finding the pearly gates on some map. But the word heaven means harmony, whereas hell, from the old English, means to build a wall around, to separate. To be helled is to be cut off from. So you see, when the self in its own small existence is separated from the fullness of spirit (Self), hellish suffering is the result. When the self is rooted in the Self, it is in right relations. This is harmony, heaven, bliss.
Where does the mind, the organ of perception, figure in all this? The mind is an outgrowth of the infinite, an appendage of the Self. Its function is to "know thy Self," which as pure awareness is without self-knowledge. For Beingness simply IS. How can the Self know itself but by creating a mirror in which it is reflected?
Man is made in the image of God. The mind, unique to man, is this mirror, in which is reflected the divine consciousness. But the universe, the manifest world, is also an aspect of the Self. Too often, the mind's attention is turned and even confined to external events. To people, and places, and even thoughts which people and places give rise to, and the feelings the thoughts engender. And soon the mind spends its time dwelling on past events or anticipating the future. And this is fine. For a time. For the mind is an organ of experience. And experience is part of the human condition.
But never lose sight of the mind's true purpose, which is to turn inward and commune with, harmonize with, reflect and examine the Self in its pure, infinite, changeless perfection. And thereby the mind is perfected. Meditation achieves merging of the self (mind) with the Self (awareness). By requiring that we set aside a few moments of quiet and stillness we achieve the habit of turning the attention inward and reflecting the stillness within by becoming still. This is Self realization. Life's ultimate goal. Or so they say. You'll never know until you try.
I remember reading about one holy person. When he achieved enlightenment, around the age of 16, he emerged totally changed. He was no longer brother of so and so, son of such and such mother, in this grade of school, with these friends and this defiant personality. He was just consciousness. The former attributes belonged to the lower self that had been swallowed up, submerged in, devoured by, the I. Just as in the movie The Exorcist, when the little girl Regan's personality is swallowed up by a powerful force, leaving fleeting traces of her former self. Only the Self is a force for good. More accurately it is beyond good and evil, beyond all duality. Because the Self simply is.
A friend once sent me parables and quotes from the likes of Mother Teresa and Paulo Coelho, about loving others and practicing kindness and being patient. These stories are all very nice. They have a moral. The task is to access our true nature, blissful awareness, and act from this reality, that all is awareness, all is One. When you are convinced that all is God, you have no need for moral instruction. You recognize that love is your nature and it flows through you without effort.
In a perfect society, the so-called utopia writers since Biblical times have attempted to characterize, there is no need for organized religion. When you truly view your neighbor as yourself, as Christ urged, you don’t have to be told to love him or her, or forgive, or be kind. Because that’s obvious! Nobody has to tell you to care for your body, to eat and to sleep. You do it because you view your body as you and you love yourself and wish to take care of yourself. The world and all its wonders are aspects of the Self.
Augustine of Hippo once said, “Love, and then do whatever you like.” And he was canonized. Live your life accordingly, and you become a living saint. You have brought heaven to earth, and rooted its kingdom within your heart.
Descartes began his scholastic pursuits with the fact "I exist." A distinguished career in philosophy and mathematics followed, during which he tutored royalty and authored several books. And yet he never came up with anything as convincing as this initial premise. Modern philosophy, which is based on his work, couldn't either. Because this simple fact of existence may be the only truth. It turns out that Descartes' truth was nothing new. Even though he had forsworn book learning, the 17th century polymath had merely discovered for himself what mystics had been experiencing and writing down for thousands of years. Descartes' "existence" and his "consciousness" of his existence, were the first two parts of the ancient triad, sat-chit-ananda. Existence, consciousness, bliss. Ancient metaphysicians knew that existence on its own was nothing unless you were conscious of it. The only reason you know you exist is because you are able to think about it. Some scholars translate chit as intelligence, so even the atheist's reason is accorded its due.
But the mystics took it a step further. When you really get down to it, they said, really examine your inner Reality, you find that its nature is serenity, tranquility, love. They called it bliss. Somehow Descartes had missed the bliss. But not Campbell, whose "follow your bliss" maxim he borrowed directly from the Upanishads. Campbell joked that he didn't know much about his own existence or consciousness (no doubt because he had neglected first-hand experience), but he did know where his rapture (bliss) was. For him it lay in a life of the mind. And in knowing this, the scholar in him was on his way to becoming a sage. His only misstep was to mistake bliss for something outside himself, something to be followed rather than experienced inwardly, and to strenuously develop the mind rather than transcend its fantastic world of concepts for the real one of pure awareness. But in pursuing the "constant refreshment" that comes with living the life one ought to live, he was certainly on the right track. Bliss is bliss. Pleasurable pursuits serve to remind a person of the joy that is one's nature. This one fact, that of blissful awareness, is the only truth, and "thou art that."
So what was Dupree's advice to the third class of achievers, the late-bloomers, those who languish? Be ready, he tells them, and stay loose, so that when they hear the inner voice, they'll unleash "seven different kinds of smoke." The girl he is trying to impress never does show up. She is definitely "loose" - in that she has slept with most of the male faculty, and the janitor - but her favors don't include him. Dupree heeds his own inner calling to help save his best friend's marriage. Then he takes his "smoke" slogan on tour to become the next self-help guru. And we have our happy ending.
So get ready. Because the Mothership is coming for you.