Transcript of Questions and Answers given December 13, 2009 in Tiburon, California
A video recording of this talk is available: Where the Two Seas Meet: Meditation
Click here for transcript of the main talk from this event: Meditation Talk
Beginning of Meditation Question & Answer
I spoke about making a relationship with God in the heart, and listening to the voice of God. Of course, it is very important to have discrimination because, as many of us have experienced, the ego can take upon itself the voice of God very easily.
The ego is the master of illusion. At some point it's actually very helpful to have a teacher to help you reflect back what is the voice of God and what is your ego spiritualizing itself, otherwise the ego can have a spiritual field day, and delude you in realms to which you didn't have access before.
Just be aware of that.
You do learn eventually, usually through making mistakes, the difference between the voice of the ego and the voice of the Self, or the voice of God. It is different.
Q1: It's just about that question. Is there a way in which to discern? Is it, I mean, the voice of God, is that usually more quiet, and the ego is the thing that first answers?And then, if you go deeper into the experience, or deeper into quiet space, something else floats up? Is there any way you could help us understand better?
LVL: Is there any way to help you to understand which is the voice of the ego and which is the voice of God?
In my experience, they do have a different vibration. You do learn to differentiate if you listen very carefully. The simplest thing is the ego has its own self-interest, usually. It wants something for itself, and the voice of God doesn't.
Often, as you say, the voice of God is quieter than the voice of the ego, and maybe more subtle. But then the ego has its way of pretending to be the voice of God. Remember, it's your ego, and it's your mind, so it can create whatever it wants. It's going to fool you very easily.
I suppose, in the end, you have to trust something beyond yourself. That is why it's helpful to have a path and to have a teacher, because one is contained within something that is greater than oneself. I think, otherwise, you get lost very quickly.
Q1: But the teacher pushes you back into yourself, anyway, right?
LVL: The teacher does all sorts of things. The teacher, hopefully, shines a light onto the Self, rather than onto the ego.
Q2: You mentioned in your talk that this path teaches ways for people to help in returning from different mystical states and frontiers. I was curious to hear more about that, please.
LVL: Yes, this is actually very important. As I mentioned in the first talk I gave(1) in Sufism there are traditionally two paths. One is the path of ecstasy or intoxication, and the other is the path of sobriety. The Naqshbandi path to which I belong is the path of sobriety, that really stresses one has to be able to come out of these intoxicating inner states, and come back to be able to function responsibly in this world.
On one level, it does mean that one is not given certain states until one has actually reached a certain maturity. For example, for many, many years I had a death-wish, and Mrs. Tweedie told me I wasn't given certain states while I had a death-wish, because I wouldn't have come back. So, the first thing is, in a way, you're not given access to certain mystical states. Certain doors are not opened for you until you are mature enough to come back.
But also, the teacher keeps an eye . . . I mentioned the importance of discrimination. There are a lot of spiritual illusions, particularly in this culture which has, first of all, a certain naivete about spirituality, because it's had so little experience of it, and also is covered with so many illusions, anyway. You know, it is the country that has produced Hollywood, and it is saturated with illusions that maybe you wouldn't find in the same way in a small village in Northern India. So, one does need a certain maturity to differentiate between what is a spiritual illusion and what is actually a real spiritual experience, so you don't become trapped. There's a whole realm of spiritual illusions which . . . actually exist in an illusory world, so you can actually remain there, and you even think you have states of meditation.
But, what I was saying was that there are these two paths. One is a path of intoxication, where you just go into these states and just let them take you, and the other, which is this path of sobriety, which Junayd in Baghdad belonged to. You have to be able to come out of it and function in this consciousness, in this world, at a moment's notice.
Difficult outside circumstances can force you back into this world. Otherwise you have to use your willpower. You also have to learn to be incredibly detached from spiritual states. Again, it's a sign of maturity to be able to renounce renunciation, to renounce your spiritual states and to come back. Usually, I find the world provides what you need--you get a speeding ticket, or something like that. Or, some trivial thing gets you really angry and you're brought back into this world, if you don't do it with willpower, because those inner states can be very, very addictive.
It's so much more beautiful there, you know. There are worlds of light. They're just incredibly beautiful. And you have to then sacrifice that to come back, to come back to the banalities of this world. Hopefully you have family that need you here, that need you to have your feet on the ground, that need you to be in the midst of everyday life. Or you have a job that demands it of you. Or you have a teacher who teaches you to do that--forces you: "You have to come back. You have to come back."
What I actually noticed is that people who don't, they get stuck. Because on this particular path there's an energy that gets given, and if it isn't able to be earthed through the feet, it can get stuck inside the human being. As you go further along the path you get given more and more energy, more and more love, more and more light, however you like to see it.
It comes through the higher, spiritual centers, and some of it remains there. But some also has to come down and be earthed into the ground; it actually goes through the chakras on the soles of the feet. I don't know if you know, but just like on the palms of the hands, on the soles of the feet there are chakras that actually mirror the heart chakra, and that go down into the earth. They keep you in this realm of incarnation.
In Sufism, particularly the path of sobriety, one has to be able to have both feet firmly on the ground. So if the outer circumstances don't force it upon you, then hopefully the teacher brings you down, brings you down, brings you down. Because, otherwise, certain doors in the inner world remain closed.
Certain states you have access to through your own meditation, your own aspiration. But then there are states beyond there that you only get given access to by those who look after you on the inner planes. If they see you're not ready, if they see you're not able to come back, then you don't get given access to them.
It's not easy. It requires, sometimes, a lot of willpower, and sometimes a certain renunciation, to bring yourself back. But it can be done. It is a tradition.
What I've noticed is that most of the books tell you about going up to certain states. They don't tell you what to do when you've got there, and how you live there. That's why I like the work of Junayd very much, because he actually talks about that. He talks about a state of "abiding after passing away," and about coming back into this world.
So, yes, there is a tradition to help you to do that. You need to be attentive, and also to watch the outer circumstances. If you find you're not functioning in this world as you should be, then you can't just say, "Oh, I'm in a spiritual state." You find a way to come back. Often you use willpower, and renounce the spiritual state, which is not easy.
Q3: Are these inner states possible to reach without a teacher?
LVL: That's a very, very good question. Are these spiritual states possible to reach without a teacher?
Initially, yes, certain states. I think that, for example, it is possible to have access to the Self. There is a whole spiritual movement now here in America, called the Advaita tradition, in which people supposedly have spontaneous, spiritual awakenings to their real Self. In a way, I had that when I was sixteen.
Those initial states, I think, you can reach them. The real question is how to live with them, and how to integrate them into the lower vehicles of consciousness so you can live a balanced, everyday life. How not to be caught, first of all, in spiritual illusion--which is so easy--and how to evolve with those spiritual states. Because it is actually the combination of the higher and the lower--the ordinary, human experience, and the Divine experience--that helps a human being to evolve. Which is why I've used this image of "Where the Two Seas Meet."
I would say you need both a teacher and a tradition which has an understanding of how the spiritual process works. Once you start awakening spiritual centers within yourself, you're tuning into that whole other dimension of the human being.
I give you an example from my own experience. When I was seventeen, and I was doing Hatha Yoga, I woke up my kundalini. I went to the yoga teacher and said, "Hey, what do I do?" She said, "I have no idea." Right? I mean, it was not a lot of fun! I went out of my mind a lot of the time. Eventually, I got the help that I needed to ground it, to balance it. It took about five or six years.
So, initially you can wake up to certain spiritual states of consciousness, but you need a container about how to live within them. There is a body of knowledge but also experience about how you connect the higher and the lower together.
Once you've become mature enough to ground your spiritual Self, and to live those higher states of consciousness, then, in my experience, that's really the beginning of the journey.
I don't know if you believe in reincarnation, but in our path we do. And often, when you begin spiritual life, you connect with where you were before--you start up where you reached in the previous incarnation. So, you can tune into those states you reached at the end of your last life, because they're present within the soul. But then you have to contain them, and actually bring them into this incarnation, which can be quite different. Maybe it's a different part of the world, you have a different body, or you're a woman rather than a man. So you have to learn how to contain those experiences. But that is then the starting point. Then you can develop beyond those initial states. But this is not something I would want to do without a teacher because human beings are balanced spiritually very delicately. You don't want to have too much energy. You don't want to have too little.
Then there are places where you can only get taken by a teacher. On our path it's done through absorption. Your spiritual essence is absorbed within the spiritual essence of the teacher. Then that is how you get taken to another reality, because you are actually taken. You're absorbed, or you're merged within the teacher. So then you go further through that container of absorption. And, you know, there are very strict guidelines as to how it works.
So, you can initially awaken to certain spiritual states, but it's helpful to have guidance on how to live them. To continue the journey, I think you really need a teacher. I don't see how you can do it without. I don't see why you'd want to do it without. That's why Rûmî needed Shams. He said, "You can't take a step on the path without a teacher. I've tried a hundred times and failed."
But Ibn ‘Arabî had some very wise words. He said, "You don't need a great teacher. You just need somebody who is one step in front of you."
Q4: I'm unfamiliar with the Sufi approach to dreams, and I wonder how that differs from the Jungian approach.
LVL: Well, I've written five books about it, so . . .
Sufism has its own tradition of dreamwork. In particular, the spiritual order to which I belong, the Naqshbandi path, has used dreamwork substantially. It is said that Bahâ ad-dîn Naqshband would never take on a disciple until he had a dream. The Naqshbandiyya has a whole understanding of the spiritual interpretation of dreams.
When I began this work, I was actually thirty, and I had a dream that told me to read the works of Jung. I hadn't read anything for many years. When I met my teacher I was nineteen and had studied esoteric subjects, but then I had to get rid of all those books. I wasn't allowed to read anything except novels and poetry, until this dream. So I the read the Collected Works of Carl Jung. You start at Volume 5 and you read through to Volume 18. Then I began to incorporate a Jungian perspective on dreamwork with this Sufi heritage which I'd grown up with since I met my teacher--the Sufi way of interpreting dreams.
The reason, as far as I can see now, that I was asked to study Jung is that the psychology of people living in the Middle East, which is where Sufi dreamwork developed, is quite different to the psychology of people in the West now. Here, for example, the ego is much more developed. There is much more of a sense of the individual self. Because Jung based his understanding of psychology on alchemy, it is based in the Western psyche, which is different to the Eastern psyche. They're just structured differently.
As far as I can understand, Jungian psychology is the only psychology that really explores the process of spiritual transformation in the West, that is grounded in the Self. It's not that he developed this psychology; he interpreted the alchemical and gnostic process of individual transformation into a psychological language.
Jung, who was also a gnostic, gave us back our own heritage of psychological transformation and dreamwork that belonged to the early Gnostics and had been repressed by the Church. If you have a Western psyche, you cannot force onto it an Eastern psychological model, because the psyche is structured differently.
So part of my work was to bring the two together. Also there is psychological dreamwork and there spiritual dreamwork, and they are different. But they do also come together. Because if you're going to go on a real spiritual journey in the West, you also need to do psychological work, particularly work on the shadow. I do not know how it is at the present, but when Sufi manuals were written in the East the psyche was different. They were much closer to the collective. They were not individuated in the same way, so the work is different.
Q5: Would you talk about the annihilation, and the return?
LVL: The annihilation, and the return after the annihilation?
Q5: How do they fit together?
LVL: How do they fit together?
On the Sufi path there is a process of annihilation, which is the complete destruction, or dismemberment, of what we call an individual self. It is taken apart by the energy of the path. For most people it is gradually dissolved by love. Love will dissolve most things--if you give enough love.
You have a sense of that when you fall in love with somebody, because your identity is no longer so secure. When you fall in love with another human being, the love begins to change what you think you are. So, there is this way in which love dissolves the ego, and you lose the sense of who you are. There's this beautiful line by E. E. Cummings, who I think must have been a mystic, when he said,
losing through you what seemed myself,i find
selves unimaginably mine;beyond
sorrow's own joys and hoping's very fears(2)
So you lose what you think is what you are. The lesser gets dissolved in the greater, and that is the process of annihilation. Sometimes it is done, or there is an element of it that happens, that is very painful. My sheikh said, "The ego will not go with laughter and with caresses. It must be chased in sorrow and drowned in tears."
There are places where the ego holds on very tightly, where your sense of identity is very strong. Often that has to be broken. For example, Mrs. Tweedie describes in her book why the idea of karma was very important to her, and she had to let go of that. It's like her identity held onto that, and we all have places where our identity holds on very hard. Either the teacher breaks it, or an outer experience breaks that. It can be very painful. Then, the lesser is dissolved into the greater, because the Self is not your ego. It's much greater than your ego, and it functions very differently.
As I mentioned, when you meditate a lot, there is also a light that comes through in the meditation, because you have access to another reality that also helps this process of dissolution. It kind of gets into the blocks, particularly in your consciousness, and dissolves them.
So that is a process that, I think, probably takes about twenty years for most people, this process of annihilation. Because, otherwise, if it's too quick, you can go crazy. You can break somebody's consciousness, but then they spin off in a thousand pieces.
Then, in order to function in the world, it has to be recreated in a different way. What happens is it's recreated, in a way, around the mandala of the Self. So the ego consciousness, rather than acting against the Self and trying to protect its identity in relationship to the Self, becomes an integral part of the Self.
This is something I've actually looked at in the last couple of years very closely, because it seems to me, it's only through the ego that the Divine can have a unique experience in this world. Your ego has a unique experience of life that is completely different to the person sitting next to you.
At the beginning, life is like a dream, it's a fantasy--your ego makes it up. It's an illusion. But once that illusion-creating ego has been dissolved--Adyashanti talks a lot about this; his teachings are very much about this process of the ego and the mind creating this anxiety-ridden illusion and how you can go beyond there--the ego then re-forms, in a way, to manifest the Self. Because, for example, on the plane of the Self there is no you and me.
That is an experience that Mrs. Tweedie had when her teacher died. She said she was just in a place of Oneness. Everything was the same. Everything was One. Everything was Divine. She actually had to go to the Himalayas for six months for the ego to reconstellate.
When I was twenty-three, and I had this experience of being woken up to the plane of the Self, and being present on the plane of the Self, it took me about six months, also, to begin to come back. I would just spend all day sitting, because the Self has no time. I would just sit all day, completely out of ego consciousness. I was young, living with my mother. She fed me food occasionally, but it didn't interest me very much. I was in a place of bliss. There was no time. There was no inner or outer. You didn't want to relate to anybody because you were just present in that state.
Then, slowly, something in me began to bring me back. I actually used the novels of Charles Dickens; I read the entire works of Charles Dickens over four months. Through the works of Charles Dickens, my mind and psyche were reconstellated. Maybe that explains certain strange things inside of me! (laughter) You know, I just lived, and I just read Dickens. Then one day, it was all over, and I had to go back to college.
It is a different ego, because it is no longer fighting the Self. It is an expression of your Divine Self. The Higher Self, itself, is One with everything. You are me and I am you and it's all One. Everything is Divine, and I am the flower, and the flower is me . . . It's wonderful, but you can't live like that. And you can't have a unique experience of life like that.
It seems to me that part of our work, particularly in the West at this time, is to claim our unique experience and live our unique experience. So, as far as I can see, the ego then comes back, or is reconstellated, as an aspect of the Self through which you can experience . . . through which something can experience your unique Self in this world.
One of the first conferences I went to with Mrs. Tweedie was called the Rainbow Conference in Interlaken, Switzerland in 1983. The Dalai Lama was there, and Mrs. Tweedie was one of the speakers and she was invited to ask him a question. She has no memory of asking him this question, but what she actually said was that twenty years before in India, she had also asked him a question, which was true. She'd met him in India and asked him a question. So, it's the same question, which is, "Does anything remain in the ultimate state of Nirvana?"
He replied that when she had asked him that and he was a young monk, he just replied from his knowledge of studying the scriptures, the Buddhist scriptures, and he said, "Yes, something remains."
Now, all those years later, he could actually reply from his own experience in meditation, which was that, "In that place, in Nirvana, there is, at the end, the essence of the essence of the essence of the human experience."
Of your individual human experience something remains. It is not just complete emptiness. It is that--the core of the core of the core of what is you, which is your own unique experience--which involves returning after passing away. It involves what is actually your experience after you've been dissolved.
What is that pure, pure essence that is you, that includes your ego-self, but is not your ego-self as you think it is? It is, in a way, the ego-self that is being completely polished and purified. But it is, at the same time, the sum total of all of your life experience that is ground down to a single dot. That is, in a way, what remains. That is what your contribution is, somewhere.
Once you have had a really deep mystical experience, or deep experience in meditation, it doesn't go away. It changes the cells of your brain. Once you've experienced emptiness, or even had a direct experience of the Self, of Oneness, your brain is different. Your consciousness is different. It alters the chemical structure of your brain. It doesn't function in the same way.
But what is important, and this is where, again, the whole image of the two seas meeting, is how you bring that Divine and that human experience together. Because it seems, from what the Dalai Lama said, that is that essence of your life experience that is left at the very end. The idea of any spiritual path is how do you live this consciously, rather than unconsciously? How you are awake to that Divine essence, which is also a human essence, rather than how you sleep through it?
End of Meditation Question & Answer
(1) See earlier talk "An Introduction to Sufism"