Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Who is Steve Crisp?

I find life so fascinating. I am (and always have been) learning something new every day. And now I’m learning just how cunning the ego is. Consider the following:

Who is Steve Crisp? Is he the same person that he was 10 or 15 or 20 years ago? By what definition and what yardstick?

By the yardstick of science, I look similar (but certainly not the same). Some of my measurable statistics have changed: though my height has remained pretty constant, my weight and waist size have gone up and come down. Most people would recognize me, certainly when coupled with my mannerisms and speech, but then the human mind is an amazing pattern recognition machine. So not the same, but quite similar according to science.

By the yardstick of art, most would say I’m quite different. Back then I’d be more known for a critical review of a requirements specification or development and presentation of a Powerpoint briefing. Now people may associate me more with photographs and web logs (almost sounds like a song title ;-)

By the yardstick of spirituality, I think it’s fair to say I’m a rather different being. In the past, I had no use for spirituality (and especially organized religion). Now I spend a significant amount of time “seeking” (or "un-doing") which for me really means various forms of contemplation. And I prefer to expose myself to spiritual or insightful material (books, discussions, etc.)

So again I ask, who is Steve Crisp? Am I the same person, really in ANY sense, that I was 10 or 15 or 20 years ago? Well you say, you may have changed your likes and dislikes, your areas of emphasis and attention, but surely you are the same person. That individual has been accumulating experiences and they help define who you are. Surely you (and no one else) can look back into your memory and relive or re-examine some past experiences.

But I wonder if even that is true. When I look back into my (admittedly blurry memory) I actually find myself reinterpreting experiences from my current vantage point. By this measure, something that at the time was painful, might now be seen as positive and developmental; and something that was pleasurable might be seen as hedonistic and unfulfilling. So even by the yardstick of my own memories, it seems to me I am a different person.

And at the risk of contradicting myself, this is consistent with a belief I’ve had for some time (which — once realized — has not changed). That at any instant in time, you can change who you are. You can “remake” yourself. And yes, it is possible by all of the yardsticks. You can go from being sad to happy, in an instant. You can go from being mean to being good, in an instant. You can go from not liking vegetables to liking vegetables, in an instant (trust me on this one). And yes, even some of your “measurable” characteristics can change, in an instant (e.g., blood pressure, heart rate, etc.). We only have to believe (or know) that it is possible. And perhaps we have to learn some of the techniques and develop the right perspectives.

Now if this is all true, then what is the ego? Quite a clever fellow I would say. It is giving me the illusion of a single being, living a single life through a brief period of universal space-time. It has a series of beliefs, it has a history, it is your identify. Don’t mess with the ego. Bah, humbug — I’m not buying it. Considered carefully, I think I am who I am for the instant that I consider the question. And in that instant, I’m not the Steve Crisp you’ve all come to know (and love ;-). I’m a part of the infinite, the all, the source, Being, that has expressed itself in precisely this fashion at this time.

So hey, it’s me — the (always) "new" Steve, and I’m damn happy to know you. I hope you have a mind-boggling day!


Friday, December 16, 2005

"Billions and billions ... "

Most of us have heard the late Carl Sagan refer to "billions and billions" of stars in the Universe. But Carl's been gone awhile now, and the astronomers are still at work. So just how many do folks estimate? How about 70,000,000,000,000,000,000,000. The figure -- 7 followed by 22 zeros or, more succinctly, 70 sextillion -- was calculated by a team of stargazers based at the Australian National University, according to a 2003 report by CNN.

Now, we know a billion is a large number, and therefore "billions and billions" is really a lot of stars. But do you have any idea how many 70 sextillion is? Can you even imagine it? Try this "fun fact" from the same article: "It's also about 10 times as many stars as grains of sand on all the world's beaches and deserts." Say what?

So for every single grain of sand that get's stuck to your bathing suit and that you summarily wash down the beach shower, there are 10 stars in the universe. Perhaps that helps you appreciate the unfathomable vastness of the observable universe -- beyond that, who knows?

I thought perhaps you might also appreciate some of these quotes by Carl Sagan, which I stumbled across while doing a little web-digging (yes, for you, faithful blog reader ;-):

We live on a hunk of rock and metal that circles a humdrum star that is one of 400 billion other stars that make up the Milky Way Galaxy which is one of billions of other galaxies which make up a universe which may be one of a very large number, perhaps an infinite number, of other universes. That is a perspective on human life and our culture that is well worth pondering. -- Carl Sagan, quoted in Dan Lewandowski and John Stear, "A Tribute To Carl Sagan"

Look again at that dot [referring to planet Earth]. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar", every "supreme leader", every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there — on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam. -- Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. -- Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot

In our tenure on this planet we have accumulated dangerous evolutionary baggage, hereditary propensities for aggression and ritual, submission to leaders and hostility to outsiders, which place our survival in some question. But we have also acquired compassion for others, love for our children and our children's children, a desire to learn from history, and a great soaring passionate intelligence — the clear tools for our continued survival and prosperity. Which aspects of our nature will prevail is uncertain, particularly when our vision and understanding and prospects are bound exclusively to the Earth — or, worse, to one small part of it. But up there in the immensity of the Cosmos, an inescapable perspective awaits us. -- Carl Sagan, Cosmos, p. 318

The world is so exquisite, with so much love and moral depth, that there is no reason to deceive ourselves with pretty stories for which there's little good evidence. Far better, it seems to me, in our vulnerability, is to look Death in the eye and to be grateful every day for the brief but magnificent opportunity that life provides. -- Carl Sagan, Billions and Billions, p. 215

Monday, December 12, 2005

Madness of the Mind

I like this photo, taken a few years ago while on a run in the Garden of the Gods (so appropriate), in Colorado Springs, CO. I kept being chased by this person -- sometimes he was ahead of me, other times behind me, and here, right beside me. So I thought I'd take a picture of him. Quite a good looking chap, don't you think?

And when we wonder about the future, or dredge up the past, he's right there beside us as well. Our mind invites our shadow to keep us company, on almost every journey we take, except when we tunnel deep into our own mystery, in the present moment.

I find this quote rather provocative, and also quite accurate; please comment and let me know what you think:

"People point their finger at insane people and call them 'crazy.' But they don't know that they themselves are actually crazy, as well. Whoever has a mind is mad, because the mind is madness. In the case of a person who is insane, it is clearly manifested and therefore you can see it. Whereas, in your case, it is not as clearly manifested and therefore not as obvious. But the madness is there, because the mind is there."

Mata Amritanandamayi

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Perspectives from 30,000 ft.

As I fly at 30,000 ft, I begin my journey by seeing nothing but white clouds below, with no gaps, as far as the eye can see. This expanse has texture — it is not uniform. But it blocks my view of the ground below, and their view of me. It might as well be impenetrable, and yet we know it is only gossamer.

Next I see two distinct cloud banks at different altitudes. These higher clouds have even more texture, more variation in height. I suppose this reflects the water composition of the atmosphere are these temperature gradients. Indeed, I see a circular rainbow projected onto the clouds from the sun refracted over the plane. In fact, if I look closely, I realize it is a triple rainbow, with a center, an inner and an outer loop of soft colors. Like an eye staring right back at me. Perhaps my mind’s eye.

What’s interesting is that without the clouds (and associated moisture in the air) I could not see this rainbow. And of course those on the ground do not see this rainbow.

Above the clouds, there is a beautiful blue sky, at once uniform but at the same time differentiated by shades of blue, beginning on the horizon with only a hint of color, to sky blue, and up higher to a deep azure.

I can also see how each cloud layer is like a filter that lets through only a portion (or nothing at all) of the reality below it. When a clearing comes into view, we get a glimpse of the world as it is (or as it appears to us). We look forward to those moments when we gain insights and see clearly. But the clouds themselves are beautiful, and reflect their own reality.

When the clouds are gone, I can see clearly the surface of the earth, but still from such a different perspective. Not only from above, but also though a scaling filter. Only what your eyes can resolve at that altitude. It too is quite beautiful, and seems to reflect the fractal characteristic of nature (see the photo).

Once again I am back over clouds, this time above an undifferentiated fog — I’m getting lower in altitude. My rainbow is gone, as is all texture. This is the atmosphere’s “white noise”, denying me any meaningful signal. I could be anywhere, and would not know the difference.

It is nice to get up, above the work-a-day fray, and gain some perspective. I can see why the astronauts so enjoy the view at the edge of space, or further away, seeing earth from outer space. I can appreciate how from that perspective, it is clear how “together” we all are. How in the words of one astronaut:

“When you're finally up on the moon, looking back at the earth, all these differences and nationalistic traits are pretty well going to blend and you're going to get a concept that maybe this is really one world and why the hell can't we learn to live together like decent people." -- Frank Borman, Astronaut

Friday, December 09, 2005

Can you see God?

A small boy once approached his slightly older sister with a question about God. "Susie, can anybody ever really see God?" he asked.

Busy with other things, Susie curtly replied: "No, of course
not silly. God is so far up in heaven that nobody can see him."

Time passed, but his question still lingered so he approached his mom: "Mom, can anybody ever really see God?" "No, not really," she gently said. "God is a spirit and he dwells in our hearts, but we can never really see Him."

Somewhat satisfied but still wondering, the youngster went on his way. Not long afterwards, his saintly old grandfather took the little boy on a fishing trip.

They were having a great time together. The sun was beginning to set with unusual splendor and the grandfather stared silently at the exquisite beauty unfolding before them.

On seeing the face of his grandfather reflecting such deep
peace and contentment, the little boy thought for a moment and finally spoke hesitatingly:

"Granddad, I--I-- wasn't going to ask anybody else, but I wonder if you can tell me the answer to something I've been wondering about a long time. Can anybody--can anybody ever really see God?".

The old man did not even turn his head. A long moment slipped by before he finally answered. "Son," he quietly said. "It's getting so I can't see anything else." -- Author Unknown

What a fantastic sentiment -- to see God (insert your favorite term for the ineffable) in everything. Good viewing.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Just Over-Do It

I received this Christmas Light video from my friend Dan, and just had to share. It has absolutely nothing to do with "Just Un-Doing It" (in fact quite the opposite), but so what -- it is just too cool. Check it out and see what you think.

Note: you need to have Windows Media Player installed (try opening it, if you are having problems). Mac users can download it here.

This was from the accompanying e-mail:
One of my former Corning, Inc. colleagues e-mailed me this video of his son's Christmas lights display.

His son is an electrical engineer and used a programmable logic controller to animate the display. He rented Bose speakers to blast the music on his front lawn. Wonder what the neighbors think?

p.s. from a subsequent article based on the publicity this light show received, I learned that they ended up broadcasting on a short range FM channel, so the sound could be heard in cars, but not in the neighborhood. I also learned that he was forced to discontinue this spectacle after it caused traffic jams in the area (surprise, surprise!)

p.p.s. in the spirit of "anything worth doing well is worth doing to excess," consider this quaint snowman.

You can read more here. Get a grip folks.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

The Epiphany

Nothing is new. Everything has been said before. Why do we find it so hard to figure it out ourselves? I wanted to share what seems to be a breakthrough for me, or rather, a realization of truth that was always there -- is always there -- but is lost in the commotion of the work-a-day world.

This also relates to an earlier post by Grasshopper on the Hi-Seekers blog, entitled "Who Are We in Between our Thinking?"

Here is the insight. To truly experience life, avoid pain and suffering, see beauty in everything around us, we must live in the present moment (aka, the Now).

OK, I've heard that before -- what the heck does it mean? What are the implications? Must I constantly meditate, or perhaps retreat to a mountain cave? Living in the Now is your natural state. News flash: that's the ONLY place life exists. The past is just one person's historical trajectory. The future is just one person's imagination of what might come next. Life lives, breathes, creates, in the present moment, and only there.

So what does it mean to live in the Now? Well first, it means you have to gain control of your Mind. Huh? Your mind is what causes you to focus on the past and on the future. To see the current moment as nothing but a means to an end -- maybe solving the next problem, getting to a clean house, earning more money so that someday in the future you can live happily ever after. Another news flash: you can never live happily ever after in the future, for two reasons: 1) you can't live in the future; and 2) once your current "lack" is satisfied, there will be more "want"; there always is.

So what? So getting control of your mind means recognizing your thoughts for just what they are: something created by your ego, and not by your true Self. They are there to create and live out your life's drama, as a separate entity, alone and cut off from God, Being, All There Is, Oneness, whatever you want to call it. And it is the source of your suffering, or if you feel that you aren't suffering, it is preventing you from realizing true joy, inner peace, and profound bliss.

What the heck are you talking about? Try this exercise. Close your eyes and concentrate; be totally aware. Quiet your mind. Watch for the next thought to materialize out of no where. Keep waiting for it, and just observe it when it comes. What did you notice? When I tried this, I found it took a while before that first thought appeared. And that is the key. You were the observer watching your mind create a thought.

How can that be? You are not your mind, and you are not your thoughts. This is the key to awareness, to presence, to living in the Now. It is what Buddhists call mindfulness -- being fully present in whatever activity you are performing, giving it your full attention, so that your Mind is not running off planning the next activity, or worrying about what you'll make for dinner tonight. Once you realize this, it is rather straightforward to quiet your mind.

Are you saying that my mind is the problem? Because I rather fancy it. Once again, you have identified the essential point. It is not that your mind is a "problem", it just "is". Your mind is a tool. You use it to get along in the work-a-day world. The question is, who is in charge? Do you (your essential Self) use your mind when you need it, and then "turn it off" (i.e., become present, aware) or does your Mind run amok? Thinking whatever thoughts just "pop" into your head, whether you want them there or not? Does your mind dredge up some past history and create pain? Does it worry about whether you'll get the next promotion, and bring you anxiety? If so, your Mind has taken control, and you need to realize it.

But this is how everyone lives, isn't it? Save for a few monks and sages, this is my reality, our reality, isn't it? It doesn't have to be. Did you try that experiment? You can take control back any time you earnestly want to. And with practice, the mind will become a noble servant, but a servant nonetheless. For you scientists and engineers who so depend upon your minds, consider this quote: "The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift." -- Albert Einstein We're all talking about the same thing.

How shall I practice this, and refine this insight? For me, that's the beauty of my epiphany. I imagined much study, meditation, seclusion, retreats, needing gurus, and the like. But just turn your full attention on any activity you are doing. Full attention in the same way you were monitoring your mind for arising thoughts. Once again be fully present and aware. Observe, without judgment, what it is you are doing -- what you see, what you feel, smell, hear, taste -- everything. Leave no room for extraneous thoughts. It isn't 'good' and it isn't 'bad', it just 'is'. It is not a means to an end, it is your life in this moment. And when you give it your full attention, and quiet your mind (keep it under control, or in the toolbox as it were), I assure you that you will see beauty in what you are doing. It will gain new meaning. You will be at peace and feel bliss.

But why is that so? How can doing the dishes make me feel bliss? Because there can be no "problems" in the now. Nothing to "worry" about, since that implies a future concern, and you are not thinking about the future (you have quieted the mind). But what if there is a problem "in the now"? What if I cut my hand while washing the dishes? Well, first of all, it is less likely to happen when you are giving your full attention to the dishes, right? But if it were to happen, it is just a situation to be dealt with -- it just "is". You know what to do, right? So you deal with it. That's the beauty of the Now. You can cope with every situation that presents itself to you in the Now. And you don't build up anxiety, worry, dread, or other fear-based emotions. Because you have quieted the mind.

Sounds intriguing -- how do I know this is so? Why should I believe you? You shouldn't. It would do you no good whatsoever. You should only try to experience it. Only then will you really know what I'm trying to express. But I encourage you to do so. For continuing on the way so many do -- effectively asleep to this reality -- is the cause of great suffering, to ourselves, to our brothers and sisters, and to the world. Certainly you can see that when you pause and consider. As posted earlier, in the immortal words of the Eagles, "It's waiting for you to awaken."

If you wish to read more about this topic, I would recommend Eckhart Tolle's book, The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment, 1999

Friday, December 02, 2005

Finding Buddha in the Garden

I've made reference to my vacation in Thailand, so here's a post that talks about a small part of that trip. It was our last full day, and we had made arrangements to hire a 4WD vehicle and drive up to the hill tribe area, known as Doi Tung. This part of northern Thailand is known as the Golden Triangle, right on the border with Burma and Laos. This is where they used to grow poppies for opium production, and for many years, this led to an unhappy life for many Thais, and of course other countries that were the recipients of that export. In the late 1980s, there was a development project begun by the Princess Mother (Thailand is a monarchy) to eliminate opium production, and replace it with craftsmanship and revegitate the land that had been cleared using slash and burn tactics for growing poppies.

Materially "poor", but happier than I've seen in "wealthy" areas

Chickens everywhere ... bird flu anyone?

Drying coffee beans on porch rooftops

This is on the side of the mountain pass (1500 meters high) that divides Thailand and Burma, and there are military outposts along the road. Along this drive, we came to an Arboretum. What we had stumbled upon was nothing short of an enchanted garden.

Both Thai and Burmese military outposts just down the road

Magical paths lead from one vista to the next

Beautiful flowers of many types adorn the hillside

Here, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, and in this quite poor rural location, we found manicured gardens and beautiful stone paths that go on and on, with hundreds of gardeners keeping the grounds immaculate. Oh yeah, and we appear to be the only people in this arboretum; just Dan, me, and 100 of our closest Thai gardener friends.

A mountainside arboretum in the middle of nowhere

More mysterious paths enclosed by ferns

I was simply awestruck and mesmerized

Indeed, after being awed by garden after garden, we found a sign that led to a tunnel. That tunnel, cleverly curved so that you walk out of bright equatorial sun into total darkness, and then round a curve to see the light again, takes you to the other side of the mountain pass, where an entirely different garden experience awaits. It was here, that we met (though could not directly communicate with) what turned out to be our gardener guide. After asking to take his picture, and trying to express how fascinated we were with this magical place, he insisted in giving us a "tour", pointing out things that were off the beaten path, but special to him. It was quite a remarkable time.

More paths, more steps, overlooking the mountainside

Our rightfully proud, and peacefully happy, Thai gardener guide

Pine tree forest on the other side

Before the Doi Tung Development Project started, this mountain site was barren of trees, and covered with one of the largest opium fields in Thai territory. Now it is a magnificent arboretum, and my pictures don't do it justice, as it was a rather hazy day. But I feel safe in speaking for both Dan and me that we were awestruck with the beauty and mystical nature of this garden. Also check out a related post on my Reflections of Beauty blog, Finding God in the Park post.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

It's waiting for you to awaken

Still gathering my thoughts regarding my recent vacation to the Golden Triangle in Thailand, right at the intersection of Thailand, Burma (aka Union of Myanmar), and Laos.

Listening to some old Eagles music as I was going though my many photos. Love the lyrics of their song "Learn to be still". It kind of says it all. Remember ... "it's waiting for you to awaken"


EAGLES - Learn To Be Still Lyrics

It's just another day in paradise
As you stumble to your bed
You'd give anything to silence
Those voices ringing in your head
You thought you could find happiness
Just over that green hill
You thought you would be satisfied
But you never will-
Learn to be still

We are like sheep without a shepherd
We don't know how to be alone
So we wander 'round this desert
And wind up following the wrong gods home
But the flock cries out for another
And they keep answering that bell
And one more starry-eyed messiah
Meets a violent farewell-
Learn to be still
Learn to be still

Now the flowers in your garden
They don't smell so sweet
Maybe you've forgotten
The heaven lying at your feet


There are so many contradictions
In all these messages we send
(We keep asking)
How do I get out of here?
Where do I fit in?
Though the world is torn and shaken
Even if your heart is breakin'
It's waiting for you to awaken
And someday you will-
Learn to be still
Learn to be still

You just keep on runnin'
Keep on runnin'

Monday, November 21, 2005

Time to "Just Un-Do It"

Hi all,

What a week (10 days actually)! I’m just now returning from my first trip to Thailand, where I visited my friend and new-found traveling companion Dan, and we spent our time up north in Chiang Rei. Wow! It was absolutely unbelievable. I will write more about that later. And pictures? I only took 900 of them, so my challenge will be picking out the few worth sharing.

OK, enough of my vacation (which, by the way, was really quite spiritual). You may have noticed that this post comes to you from a new blog: my “Just Un-Do It” blog, which refers to my counter-cultural message (that my family knows all too well). All we really need to do is “Un-Do” the various indoctrinations (be they cultural, social, familial, or even inherited, and certainly, un-do the media messages by which we are accosted).

As my first post to this new forum, I’m including, in its entirety, an article from Ken Wilbur, I believe taken out of the magazine “What is Enlightenment?” I have recommended that magazine before, and you can find the link over at the “other” blog:
(I’m hoping that acknowledgement and pointer will mollify the copyright police ;-)

This article puts in black and white many of the issues that have gotten under my skin, especially the relationship of religion to spirituality or a higher truth. It also raises the seeker conundrum (to seek or not to seek). And it is put so succinctly, and to me rings very true. I hope you find it provocative as well as insightful. I very much enjoyed it.

I welcome and encourage feedback, and request you post your comments on the blog so others (not necessarily on this list) can benefit from them:

To non-seeking ... “Just un-do it!”


p.s., and to those of you that are tired of my “long” posts, all I can say is “sorry”. Read it when you are “in the mood”.

A Spirituality that Transforms

by Ken Wilber

Ken Wilber needs little introduction. A genius recognized in his own time, this prolific author is widely acclaimed for his innovative and critical synthesis of philosophies East and West, and has been hailed by many as one of the brightest lights of the modern spiritual world. With an ever growing influence, his ideas claim adherents from an enormous diversity of ideological camps—while he, a practicing Buddhist, remains fiercely independent, aligned only to the force of his own inquiry. Not afraid to take the risk of being controversial, he has been harshly criticized for his outspoken and fearless questioning of many of the most cherished ideas of the modern progressive status quo.

Yet it is this very quality in him, his unrelenting passion for genuine inquiry—a quality all too rare in the modern spiritual arena—that we find so refreshing. In the following original essay Ken Wilber shouts from his heart, imploring each of us to take up the challenge of embracing "a spirituality that transforms."

Hal Blacker, a contributing editor for What Is Enlightenment?, has described the topic of this special issue of the magazine in the following way (although this repeats statements made elsewhere in this issue, it is nonetheless worth quoting at length, simply because of its eloquence, straightforwardness, and unerring good sense):

We intend to explore a sensitive question, but one which needs to be addressed—the superficiality that pervades so much of the current spiritual exploration and discourse in the West, particularly in the United States. All too often, in the translation of the mystical traditions from the East (and elsewhere) into the American idiom, their profound depth is flattened out, their radical demand is diluted, and their potential for revolutionary transformation is squelched. How this occurs often seems to be subtle, since the words of the teachings are often the same. Yet through an apparent sleight of hand involving, perhaps, their context and therefore ultimately their meaning, the message of the greatest teachings often seems to become transmuted from the roar of the fire of liberation into something more closely resembling the soothing burble of a California hot tub. While there are exceptions, the radical implications of the greatest teachings are thereby often lost. We wish to investigate this dilution of spirituality in the West and inquire into its causes and consequences.

I would like to take that statement and unpack its basic points, commenting on them as best I can, because taken together, those points highlight the very heart and soul of a crisis in American spirituality.



In a series of books (e.g., A Sociable God, Up from Eden, and The Eye of Spirit), I have tried to show that religion itself has always performed two very important, but very different, functions. One, it acts as a way of creating meaning for the separate self: it offers myths and stories and tales and narratives and rituals and revivals that, taken together, help the separate self make sense of, and endure, the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. This function of religion does not usually or necessarily change the level of consciousness in a person; it does not deliver radical transformation. Nor does it deliver a shattering liberation from the separate self altogether. Rather, it consoles the self, fortifies the self, defends the self, promotes the self. As long as the separate self believes the myths, performs the rituals, mouths the prayers, or embraces the dogma, then the self, it is fervently believed, will be "saved"—either now in the glory of being God-saved or Goddess-favored, or in an afterlife that insures eternal wonderment.

But two, religion has also served—in a usually very, very small minority— the function of radical transformation and liberation. This function of religion does not fortify the separate self, but utterly shatters it—not consolation but devastation, not entrenchment but emptiness, not complacency but explosion, not comfort but revolution—in short, not a conventional bolstering of consciousness but a radical transmutation and transformation at the deepest seat of consciousness itself.

There are several different ways that we can state these two important functions of religion. The first function—that of creating meaning for the self—is a type of horizontal movement; the second function—that of transcending the self—is a type of vertical movement (higher or deeper, depending on your metaphor). The first I have named "translation," the second, "transformation."

With translation, the self is simply given a new way to think or feel about reality. The self is given a new belief—perhaps holistic instead of atomistic, perhaps forgiveness instead of blame, perhaps relational instead of analytic. The self then learns to translate its world and its being in the terms of this new belief or new language or new paradigm, and this new and enchanting translation acts, at least temporarily, to alleviate or diminish the terror inherent in the heart of the separate self.

But with transformation, the very process of translation itself is challenged, witnessed, undermined and eventually dismantled. With typical translation, the self (or subject) is given a new way to think about the world (or objects); but with radical transformation, the self itself is inquired into, looked into, grabbed by its throat and literally throttled to death.

Put it one last way: with horizontal translation—which is by far the most prevalent, widespread and widely shared function of religion—the self is, at least temporarily, made happy in its grasping, made content in its enslavement, made complacent in the face of the screaming terror that is in fact its innermost condition. With translation, the self goes sleepy into the world, stumbles numbed and nearsighted into the nightmare of samsara, is given a map laced with morphine with which to face the world. And this, indeed, is the common condition of a religious humanity, precisely the condition that the radical or transformative spiritual realizers have come to challenge and to finally undo.

For authentic transformation is not a matter of belief but of the death of the believer; not a matter of translating the world but of transforming the world; not a matter of finding solace but of finding infinity on the other side of death. The self is not made content; the self is made toast.

Now, although I have obviously been favoring transformation and belittling translation, the fact is that, on the whole, both of these functions are incredibly important and altogether indispensable. Individuals are not, for the most part, born enlightened. They are born in a world of sin and suffering, hope and fear, desire and despair. They are born as a self ready
and eager to contract; a self rife with hunger, thirst, tears and terror. And they begin, quite early on, to learn various ways to translate their world, to make sense of it, to give meaning to it, and to defend themselves against the terror and the torture never lurking far beneath the happy surface of the separate self.

And as much as we, as you and I, might wish to transcend mere translation and find an authentic transformation, nonetheless translation itself is an absolutely necessary and crucial function for the greater part of our lives. Those who cannot translate adequately, with a fair amount of integrity and accuracy, fall quickly into severe neurosis or even psychosis: the world ceases to make sense—the boundaries between the self and the world are not transcended but instead begin to crumble. This is not breakthrough but breakdown; not transcendence, but disaster.

But at some point in our maturation process, translation itself, no matter how adequate or confident, simply ceases to console. No new beliefs, no new paradigm, no new myths, no new ideas, will staunch the encroaching anguish. Not a new belief for the self, but the transcendence of the self altogether, is the only path that avails.

Still, the number of individuals who are ready for such a path is, always has been, and likely always will be, a very small minority. For most people, any sort of religious belief will fall instead into the category of consolation: it will be a new horizontal translation that fashions some sort of meaning in the midst of the monstrous world. And religion has always served, for the most part, this first function, and served it well.

I therefore also use the word "legitimacy" to describe this first function (the horizontal translation and creation of meaning for the separate self). And much of religion's important service is to provide legitimacy to the self— legitimacy to its beliefs, its paradigms, its worldviews and its way in the world. This function of religion to provide a legitimacy for the self and its
beliefs—no matter how temporary, relative, nontransformative, or illusory— has nonetheless been the single greatest and most important function of the world's religious traditions. The capacity of a religion to provide horizontal meaning, legitimacy and sanction for the self and its beliefs—that function of religion has historically been the single greatest "social glue" that any culture has.

And one does not tamper easily, or lightly, with the basic glue that holds societies together. Because more often than not, when that glue dissolves— when that translation dissolves—the result, as we were saying, is not breakthrough but breakdown, not liberation but social chaos. (We will return to this crucial point in a moment.)

Where translative religion offers legitimacy, transformative religion offers authenticity. For those few individuals who are ready—that is, sick with the suffering of the separate self, and no longer able to embrace the legitimate worldview—a transformative opening to true authenticity, true enlightenment, true liberation, calls more and more insistently. And, depending upon your capacity for suffering, you will sooner or later answer the call of authenticity, of transformation, of liberation on the lost horizon of infinity.

Transformative spirituality does not seek to bolster or legitimate any present worldview at all, but rather to provide true authenticity by shattering what the world takes as legitimate. Legitimate consciousness is sanctioned by the consensus, adopted by the herd mentality, embraced by the culture and the counterculture both, promoted by the separate self as the way to make sense of this world. But authentic consciousness quickly shakes all of that off its back, and settles instead into a glance that sees only a radiant infinity in the heart of all souls and breathes into its lungs only the atmosphere of an eternity too simple to believe.

Transformative spirituality, authentic spirituality, is therefore revolutionary. It does not legitimate the world, it breaks the world; it does not console the world, it shatters it. And it does not render the self content, it renders it undone.

And those facts lead to several conclusions.


It is a fairly common belief that the East is simply awash in transformative and authentic spirituality, but that the West—both historically and in today's "New Age"—has nothing much more than various types of horizontal, translative, merely legitimate and therefore tepid spirituality. And while there is some truth to that, the actual situation is much gloomier, for both the East and the West alike.

First, although it is generally true that the East has produced a greater number of authentic realizers, nonetheless, the actual percentage of the Eastern population that is engaged in authentic transformative spirituality is, and always has been, pitifully small. I once asked Katigiri Roshi, with whom I had my first breakthrough (hopefully, not a breakdown), how many truly great Ch'an and Zen masters there have historically been. Without hesitating, he said, "Maybe one thousand altogether." I asked another Zen master how many truly enlightened—deeply enlightened—Japanese Zen masters there were alive today, and he said, "Not more than a dozen."

Let us simply assume, for the sake of argument, that those are vaguely accurate answers. Run the numbers. Even if we say there were only one billion Chinese over the course of its history (an extremely low estimate), that still means that only one thousand out of one billion had graduated into an authentic, transformative spirituality. For those of you without a calculator, that's 0.0000001 of the total population.

And that means, unmistakably, that the rest of the population were (and are) involved in, at best, various types of horizontal, translative, merely legitimate religion: they were involved in magical practices, mythical beliefs, egoic petitionary prayer, magical rituals, and so on—in other words, translative ways to give meaning to the separate self, a translative function that was, as we were saying, the major social glue of the Chinese (and all other) cultures to date.

Thus, without in any way belittling the truly stunning contributions of the glorious Eastern traditions, the point is fairly straightforward: radical transformative spirituality is extremely rare, anywhere in history, and anywhere in the world. (The numbers for the West are even more depressing. I rest my case.)

So, although we can very rightly lament the very small number of individuals in the West who are today involved in a truly authentic and radically transformative spiritual realization, let us not make the false argument of claiming that it has otherwise been dramatically different in earlier times or in different cultures. It has on occasion been a little better than we see here, now, in the West, but the fact remains: authentic spirituality is an incredibly rare bird, anywhere, at any time, at any place. So let us start from the unarguable fact that vertical, transformative, authentic spirituality is one of the most precious jewels in the entire human tradition—precisely because, like all precious jewels, it is incredibly rare.

Second, even though you and I might deeply believe that the most important function we can perform is to offer authentic transformative spirituality, the fact is, much of what we have to do, in our capacity to bring decent spirituality into the world, is actually to offer more benign and helpful modes of translation. In other words, even if we ourselves are practicing, or offering, authentic transformative spirituality, nonetheless much of what we must first do is provide most people with a more adequate way to translate their condition. We must start with helpful translations before we can effectively offer authentic transformations.

The reason is that if translation is too quickly, or too abruptly, or too ineptly taken away from an individual (or a culture), the result, once again, is not breakthrough but breakdown, not release but collapse. Let me give two quick examples here.

When Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, a great (though controversial) Tibetan master, first came to this country, he was renowned for always saying, when asked the meaning of Vajrayana, "There is only Ati." In other words, there is only the enlightened mind wherever you look. The ego, samsara, maya and illusion—all of them do not have to be gotten rid of, because none of them actually exist: There is only Ati, there is only Spirit, there is only God, there is only nondual Consciousness anywhere in existence.

Virtually nobody got it—nobody was ready for this radical and authentic realization of always-already truth—and so Trungpa eventually introduced a whole series of "lesser" practices leading up to this radical and ultimate "no practice." He introduced the Nine Yanas as the foundation of practice—in other words, he introduced nine stages or levels of practice, culminating in the ultimate "no practice" of always-already Ati.

Many of these practices were simply translative, and some were what we might call "lesser transformative" practices: miniature transformations that made the bodymind more susceptible to radical, already-accomplished enlightenment. These translative and lesser practices issued forth in the "perfect practice" of no-practice—or the radical, instantaneous, authentic realization that, from the very beginning, there is only Ati. So even though ultimate transformation was the prior goal and ever-present ground, Trungpa had to introduce translative and lesser practices in order to prepare people for the obviousness of what is.

Exactly the same thing happened with Adi Da, another influential (and equally controversial) adept (although this time, American-born). He originally taught nothing but "the path of understanding": not a way to attain enlightenment, but an inquiry into why you want to attain enlightenment in the first place. The very desire to seek enlightenment is in fact nothing but the grasping tendency of the ego itself, and thus the very search for enlightenment prevents it. The "perfect practice" is therefore not to search for enlightenment, but to inquire into the motive for seeking itself. You obviously seek in order to avoid the present, and yet the present alone holds the answer: to seek forever is to miss the point forever. You always already ARE enlightened Spirit, and therefore to seek Spirit is simply to deny Spirit. You can no more attain Spirit than you can attain your feet or acquire your lungs.

Nobody got it. And so Adi Da, exactly like Trungpa, introduced a whole series of translative and lesser transformative practices—seven stages of practice, in fact—leading up to the point that you could dispense with seeking altogether, there to stand open to the always-already truth of your own eternal and timeless condition, which was completely and totally present from the start, but which was brutally ignored in the frenzied desire to seek.

Now, whatever you might think of those two adepts, the fact remains: they performed perhaps the first two great experiments in this country on how to introduce the notion that "There is only Ati"—there is only Spirit—and thus seeking Spirit is exactly that which prevents realization. And they both found that, however much we might be alive to Ati, alive to the radical transformative truth of this moment, nonetheless, translative and lesser transformative practices are almost always a prerequisite for that final and ultimate transformation.

My second point, then, is that in addition to offering authentic and radical transformation, we must still be sensitive to, and caring of, the numerous beneficial modes of lesser and translative practices. This more generous stance therefore calls for an "integral approach" to overall transformation, an approach that honors and incorporates many lesser transformative and
translative practices—covering the physical, emotional, mental, cultural and communal aspects of the human being—in preparation for, and as an expression of, the ultimate transformation into the always-already present state.

And so, even as we rightly criticize merely translative religion (and all the lesser forms of transformation), let us also realize that an integral approach to spirituality combines the best of horizontal and vertical, translative and transformative, legitimate and authentic—and thus let us focus our efforts on a balanced and sane overview of the human situation.


But isn't this view of mine terribly elitist? Good heavens, I hope so. When you go to a basketball game, do you want to see me or Michael Jordan play basketball? When you listen to pop music, who are you willing to pay money in order to hear? Me or Bruce Springsteen? When you read great literature, who would you rather spend an evening reading, me or Tolstoy? When you pay $64 million for a painting, will that be a painting by me or by Van Gogh?

All excellence is elitist. And that includes spiritual excellence as well. But spiritual excellence is an elitism to which all are invited. We go first to the great masters —to Padmasambhava, to St. Teresa of Avila, to Gautama Buddha, to Lady Tsogyal, to Emerson, Eckhart, Maimonides, Shankara, Sri Ramana Maharshi, Bodhidharma, Garab Dorje. But their message is always the same: let this consciousness be in you that is in me. You start elitist, always; you end up egalitarian, always.

But in between, there is the angry wisdom that shouts from the heart: we must, all of us, keep our eye on the radical and ultimate transformative goal. And so any sort of integral or authentic spirituality will also, always, involve a critical, intense and occasionally polemical shout from the transformative camp to the merely translative camp.

If we use the percentages of Chinese Ch'an as a simple blanket example, this means that if 0.0000001 of the population is actually involved in genuine or authentic spirituality, then .99999999 of the population is involved in nontransformative, nonauthentic, merely translative or horizontal belief systems. And that means, yes, that the vast, vast majority of "spiritual seekers" in this country (as elsewhere) are involved in much less-than-authentic occasions. It has always been so; it is still so now. This country is no exception.

But in today's America, this is much more disturbing, because this vast majority of horizontal spiritual adherents often claim to be representing the leading edge of spiritual transformation, the "new paradigm" that will change the world, the "great transformation" of which they are the vanguard. But more often than not, they are not deeply transformative at all; they are merely, but aggressively, translative—they do not offer effective means to utterly dismantle the self, but merely ways for the self to think differently. Not ways to transform, but merely new ways to translate. In fact, what most of them offer is not a practice or a series of practices, not sadhana or satsang or shikan-taza or yoga. What most of them offer is simply the suggestion: read my book on the new paradigm. This is deeply disturbed, and deeply disturbing.

Thus, the authentic spiritual camps have the heart and soul of the great transformative traditions, and yet they will always do two things at once: appreciate and engage the lesser and translative practices (upon which their own successes usually depend), but also issue a thundering shout from the heart that translation alone is not enough.

And therefore, all of those for whom authentic transformation has deeply unseated their souls must, I believe, wrestle with the profound moral obligation to shout from the heart—perhaps quietly and gently, with tears of reluctance; perhaps with fierce fire and angry wisdom; perhaps with slow and careful analysis; perhaps by unshakable public example—but authenticity always and absolutely carries a demand and duty: you must speak out, to the best of your ability, and shake the spiritual tree, and shine your headlights into the eyes of the complacent. You must let that radical realization rumble through your veins and rattle those around you.

Alas, if you fail to do so, you are betraying your own authenticity. You are hiding your true estate. You don't want to upset others because you don't want to upset your self. You are acting in bad faith, the taste of a bad infinity.

Because, you see, the alarming fact is that any realization of depth carries a terrible burden: Those who are allowed to see are simultaneously saddled with the obligation to communicate that vision in no uncertain terms. That is the bargain. You were allowed to see the truth under the agreement that you would communicate it to others (that is the ultimate meaning of the bodhisattva vow). And therefore, if you have seen, you simply must speak out. Speak out with compassion, or speak out with angry wisdom, or speak out with skillful means, but speak out you must.

This is truly a terrible burden, a horrible burden, because in any case there is no room for timidity. The fact that you might be wrong is simply no excuse: you might be right in your communication, and you might be wrong, but that doesn't matter. What does matter, as Kierkegaard so rudely reminded us, is that only by investing and speaking your vision with passion, can the truth, one way or another, finally penetrate the reluctance of the world. If you are right, or if you are wrong, it is only your passion that will force either to be discovered. It is your duty to promote that discovery—either way—and therefore it is your duty to speak your truth with whatever passion and courage you can find in your heart. You must shout, in whatever way you can.

The vulgar world is already shouting, and with such a raucous rancor that truer voices can scarcely be heard at all. The materialistic world is already full of advertisements and allure, screams of enticement and cries of commerce, wails of welcome and whoops of come hither. I don't mean to be harsh here, and we must honor all lesser engagements. Nonetheless, you must have noticed that the word "soul" is now the hottest item in bestselling book titles—but all "soul" really means, in most of these books, is simply the ego in drag. "Soul" has come to denote, in this feeding frenzy of translative grasping, not that which is timeless in you but that which most loudly thrashes around in time, and thus "care of the soul" incomprehensibly means nothing much more than focusing intensely on your ardently separate self. Likewise, "spiritual" is on everybody's lips, but usually all it really means is any intense egoic feeling, just as "heart" has come to mean any sincere sentiment of the self-contraction.

All of this, truly, is just the same ole translative game, dressed up and gone to town. Even that would be more than acceptable were it not for the alarming fact that all of that translative jockeying is aggressively called "transformation," when all it is, of course, is a new series of frisky translations. In other words, there seems to be, alas, a deep hypocrisy hidden in the game of taking any new translation and calling it the great transformation. And the world at large—East or West, North or South—is, and always has been, for the most part, perfectly deaf to this calamity.

And so, given the measure of your own authentic realization, you were actually thinking about gently whispering into the ear of that near-deaf world? No, my friend, you must shout. Shout from the heart of what you have seen, shout however you can.

But not indiscriminately. Let us proceed carefully with this transformative shout. Let small pockets of radically transformative spirituality, authentic spirituality, focus their efforts and transform their students. And let these pockets slowly, carefully, responsibly, humbly, begin to spread their influence, embracing an absolute tolerance for all views, but attempting nonetheless to advocate a true and authentic and integral spirituality—by example, by radiance, by obvious release, by unmistakable liberation. Let those pockets of transformation gently persuade the world and its reluctant selves, and challenge their legitimacy, and challenge their limiting translations, and offer an awakening in the face of the numbness that haunts the world at large.

Let it start right here, right now, with us—with you and with me—and with our commitment to breathe into infinity until infinity alone is the only statement that the world will recognize. Let a radical realization shine from our faces, and roar from our hearts, and thunder from our brains—this simple fact, this obvious fact: that you, in the very immediateness of your present awareness, are in fact the entire world, in all its frost and fever, in all its glories and its grace, in all its triumphs and its tears. You do not see the sun, you are the sun; you do not hear the rain, you are the rain; you do not feel the earth, you are the earth. And in that simple, clear, unmistakable regard, translation has ceased in all domains, and you have transformed into the very Heart of the Kosmos itself—and there, right there, very simply, very quietly, it is all undone.

Wonder and remorse will then be alien to you, and self and others will be alien to you, and outside and inside will have no meaning at all. And in that obvious shock of recognition—where my Master is my Self, and that Self is the Kosmos at large, and the Kosmos is my Soul—you will walk very gently into the fog of this world, and transform it entirely by doing nothing at all.

And then, and then, and only then—you will finally, clearly, carefully and with compassion, write on the tombstone of a self that never even existed: There is only Ati.

Ken Wilber is author of The Spectrum of Consciousness; Grace and Grit; Sex, Ecology, Spirituality; A Brief History of Everything; The Eye of Spirit and other books.