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Sunday, October 09, 2005

After the Absolute -- Chapter 7

"First, You need to want the Truth more than anything else. Not at first maybe--you might start with just a mild curiosity. But eventually, if anything is going to crack for you, you'll need a tremendous hunger for the Truth.

"There's a story of the student who asked a Zen master what it took to reach Enlightenment. The master led him into a nearby lake until they were chest deep in water, then he grabbed the student and held his head under water. At first the student didn't resist because it was the master and he figured there must be a good reason for it. But as he started to run out of air he began to struggle more and more until eventually he was fighting with everything he had to get free. Finally the master let him up and the student gasped and coughed and almost collapsed. When he got control of himself again he asked the master why he had held him under. The master said, "When you want the Truth as much as you wanted air just now, there’s no way you can miss it."

There was scattered laughter in the audience, but Rose did not smile or pause.

"Second," he continued, "you need energy. You need to become dynamic enough to do the digging and work it takes--finding the books, the teachers, the methods, and acting on the things you discover along the way. This requires a lot of energy, so you'll need to conserve what you have and use it for this purpose.

"And third, it takes commitment--a simple pledge to yourself and any God who might be listening. These are the three things. Without these, all philosophies are empty words."

Rose had yet to look at his notes. He seemed to be taking his cues from the mood of the room.

"There are no guarantees in this line of work, this business of becoming," he said. "Anyone who tells you otherwise has something he's trying to sell. The only thing I, or anyone else who's been down this road, can do is give you the benefit of his own experiences."

So Rose proceeded to do just that, recounting for the audience the stages of his life's search--the time of faith in the seminary, the pursuit of logic and science in college, the years of meditation and ascetic disciplines.

"Then," he said, "at thirty years of age I had an experience that came about as a result of none of these factors."

"Would you say, then, that you found God in your Experience?"

"You become God, yes," Rose said matter-of-factly. "Although I hesitate to use that word because it comes with a long history of childish connotations. We're not talking about a big guy with white whiskers keeping tabs on how many rules we break."

"I think of God as more of a 'Universal Mind,'" the man continued quietly.

"Well, perhaps," Rose said. "But the Absolute is beyond Universal Mind. Mind is still a dimension. You discover this by losing your own individual mind. Then you realize--because Mind is still there--that what you had all your life was not the individual mind you thought you had, but merely contact with an undifferentiated Mind dimension.

"So, yes, it’s accurate to say I found God, or became God, in the experience. But it’s also accurate to say I found nothing. There was no one there but me. You command creation, and yet you’re not operating under the illusion that you can change anything."

A tall man who had been taking notes throughout the talk raised his hand.

"Then you encountered no other intelligences during your Experience?"

"I didn't see anybody there but me. And yet, I sensed that something was helping me, maybe even guiding me--something that was just outside the picture. In fact, I sometimes think the whole experience was orchestrated for the purpose of showing me that Richard Rose the body doesn't exist."

"So you had help?" another man asked.

"Yes. I believe the whole experience was engineered. I just never got a good look at who or what was helping me. It was benevolent help, of course, but not protective. If you’re going to visit the Totality and the Void, your Holy Guardian Angel can't tell you beforehand that everything will be all right, that he'll be right there with you. No. You have to die like a dog. Die without hope. Only then can you make the personal discovery that through it all you are still observing--'I'm still here!' It wasn't until I returned that I realized something had created the Experience, even the physical conditions preceding it."

"But aren't there other systems that can bring you to the Truth without all this disaster?"

"To know death properly, a person must die."

"Then why would anyone want to pursue something like that, I mean, if they knew it meant they had to die to get there?"

"Who dies? What dies?" Rose asked, not altogether rhetorically. "Sometimes you have to plow under a city to build something more beautiful."

The room stayed silent.

"I know. Nobody looks for death," Rose continued. "I wasn't looking for death. I didn't want to find Nothingness. In fact, I always wanted to assert my individuality to the greatest degree of it's intensity."

I could hear a young woman's voice from the front row. "The whole experience doesn't sound very pleasant."

"Who said it would be?"

"I mean, its not the type of spiritual experiences I've been reading about."

"Then you're reading about lesser experiences. Enlightenment is the death of the mind. Death. You think you are dying--completely and forever. And it's good to think that because it kills the ego. When a person feels himself dying he immediately drops all his egos.

"It has to be this way. You must go through death with no hope of survival. Because you have to be truthful with yourself--all those tales about life after death could be fiction. But when you die honestly, you die with absolute despair. And that absolute despair removes the last ego you've got left--the spiritual ego that believes the individual mind is immortal.

"But then something amazing happens. After you die, you find yourself still here, observing this mess. And that observing is the secret of immortality. In fact, the only thing I think is valuable to know is that when you die, the Observer still lives.

"What I found in the Experience is that the soul of man is God. Every human being has the potential to discover this. To discover his essence, his soul. And in the act of discovery one becomes what he has discovered. If we were nothing more than the projected illusion we call 'me,' at death we would go out like a candle.

A student sitting on the steps in the aisle raised his hand.

"Where did the soul of man come from?" he asked.

"Does it have to come from something? Couldn't it just be? It is."

"If the soul of man can just be, why can't we just be? Why all this effort?"

"Because we are not the soul of man," Rose said, suddenly animated. "We are not the soul of man! We are shadows on the wall of Plato's cave. Each individual on this planet has the potential to find his soul, to become a soul. But you are not a soul until you discover yourself, your True Self. And yet it is also accurate to say that what you are is a soul. You don't have a soul, you are a soul. What you have is a projected body-mind unit that operates in the vicinity of the soul that is observing your fictional life.

"But you will not gain immortality by listening to me or anyone else try to explain this, or by believing me or anyone else. The only immortality possible is to become fully identified with the soul--the Observer, your True Self--before your body dies. Then you will not die with the body. In traditional Zen this is expressed with the saying, 'If you die before you die, then when you die you will not die.'"

"But you said you found Nothingness."

"Yes, but a person can't conceive of Nothingness. In the Experience, you don't think of Nothingness. Nothingness descends upon you."

"Isn't that oblivion?"

"Nothingness is not oblivion. I don't think anyone really finds oblivion at death. Certain people--purely instinctive people who are living a basic animal existence--might descend into blackness for a period. But for how long, I don't know.

"Death is different for each person, then?"

"Absolutely. If everyone found the same thing at death--if your actions on earth had no effect on your situation after death--then there wouldn't be much point in me talking."

"So what will it be like for you?"

Rose smiled. "My life is no longer tied to this planet. This place is a stage, and when you leave, you turn out the lights."

There was a long pause before the next question.

"Don't you believe in reincarnation, Mister Rose?" The speaker was an attractive middle-aged woman.

"I don't believe it or disbelieve it. I've got no proof either way. I may have been here before, but I have no memory of it. What I've noticed, though, is that the people who push reincarnation the hardest are generally using it as an excuse to keep from putting out any spiritual effort in this lifetime.

"I will say that as an explanation for human suffering and the inequities you see in society, reincarnation is a more easily digestible system to the human intellect than the concept of 'one chance then heaven or hell forever.' But just because it's more digestible doesn't mean it's true. In fact, the more palatable an explanation for things is, the more likely it is that it's been created out of the wishful mind of man.

"Besides," he added, turning back to the woman who asked the question, "if people do come back, it's only because they don't realize they could just stay dead and be a lot better off. In their ignorance they feel somehow compelled to continue to play the game, to go back on stage."

A young man directly in front of me raised his hand and Rose nodded in his direction.

"What is it like to come back, Mister Rose?" he asked. "Is the world different, or do you leave the Experience behind?"

"The world is never the same again. For me now, it's like I'm an insane man watching all this. Of course that's a very liberating state to be in," he said with a grin. "An insane man is free to do all sorts of insane things."

The laughter provided a welcome break from the seriousness. The whole room seemed to loosen up, including Rose.

"It was pretty rough at first, though. The night I came back I couldn't stop weeping. I just wandered the streets crying uncontrollably, looking for a bridge high enough to jump off of. Seriously. I didn't want to live. I couldn't stand the thought of being back here in the nightmare. The only reason I didn't jump is the rivers are shallow out there and I was afraid I'd just get stuck in the mud.

"Then I passed a church and that gave me hope. I figured that priests spend their lives looking, maybe one of them has read something about what just happened to me. So I knocked on the door. This blob of a priest with an enormous gut answers and he looks at me like I'm some kind of worm. I knew he wasn't going to be any help, so I asked him, 'Are there any older priests around?' There I am, standing on the church steps with tears streaming down my cheeks and he doesn’t even invite me in. He just scowls at me and says, 'How long has it been since you've been to confession.'

"And I thought, 'Where's my gun?'" Rose continued talking through the laughter. "Really. I wanted to shoot the bastard. But the anger was good. It helped bring me out of it. It helped me stop weeping.

"Gradually, the worst of the trauma passed and I started drifting back into life again. But I still felt terribly out of place in a world that I knew without a shadow of a doubt was an illusion--having just visited the real place. For several weeks people were transparent to me. I mean literally transparent--I could see right through their bodies.

"So I figured I'd better head back home, because I still wasn't too stable. I had an old friend living in Alliance, Ohio, and he got me a job at the place he was working. That's when everything became beautiful to me. Hills were once more hills, valleys once more valleys. Children looked like baby dolls. The starkness of the Absolute I had visited now made life and motion appear as beauty to me. Those months following my Experience were the happiest of my life, except maybe for the years of peace and bliss I had in my twenties when I was living a very ascetic lifestyle.

"Every day I'd come back to my room after work and sit down in front of the typewriter. I'd given up on trying to talk about the Experience--you just can't describe an Absolute condition using relative terms--but I had hoped to write a book of poetry and at least try to capture the beauty of the illusion I'd been forced to come back to. Most of it I tore up as soon as I wrote it. But then one day something came over me and I was able to write about my Experience. That’s when I wrote ‘The Three Books of the Absolute.’

"It was like automatic writing," Rose continued. "The words just appeared on the page."

A hand was raised near the front of the room. "Do you think your years of asceticism brought about your Experience?"

"Not really. It was like a period of adolescence on the way to adulthood. Necessary, but not directly causal. However, I do think that all that experimentation, investigation, and especially conservation of my energy, was definitely part of the preparation for my Experience."

"What's the other part?"

"The main preparation for Enlightenment is trauma. But you don't need to engage in any special disciplines to induce it. Your life will give you plenty of trauma whether you're on a spiritual path or not. Indulge in it while you can. You'll have plenty of peace in the marble orchard--maybe." Rose laughed in a way that made me uneasy.

"What I mean is," he continued, "you have to go through these traumas in life--now, while you're on Earth--in order to improve your situation after death. Everyone may be immortal, but we don't all go to the same place when we die. Awareness may not terminate for anyone, but you can't expect to advance into a dimension that you haven't mentally vaccinated yourself to beforehand. If the average mind--with its convictions and limitations--landed in an Absolute dimension, it would think it was either in oblivion or hell."

"Will a person who’s been doing spiritual practices, like meditating regularly, get a foreshadowing of what you finally experienced?"

"No. This does not accrue gradually. It happens suddenly and is never anything like you might imagine beforehand. I always thought a spiritual experience would be sheer beauty. I had visions of reaching some beautiful fields of flowers or God knows what. And the fact that I found something so utterly devastating and contrary to my desires convinced me that the experience was genuine, and not the product of wishful thinking.

"It's the effort you put forth--the vector you create--that propels you into this, not an accumulation of knowledge. You're engaged in a relentless pursuit of Truth, yes, but even in the midst of it you suspect that you are incapable of perceiving the Truth. So you engage in the obsessive pursuit of a goal while simultaneously believing you will never be successful. You live this! A person on the spiritual path lives this every moment of every day of his life. You push and push and push without hope. And then, no words or logic can explain what finally happens. It's an explosion. Your being changes."

"But doesn't the wisdom you acquire on your search coalesce in Enlightenment?"

"No," Rose said flatly. "That is not the path. You can't acquire wisdom because you don't know what it is. The path is subtractive. You keep sorting through the garbage pile to see if something real lies underneath it. And after you get done subtracting everything, what's left is an Absolute condition. That's what's real, not the little bits and pieces you set aside because you thought they were true along the way. You don't know anything until you know Everything."

"Do you think other people have had the same type of experience you did?"

"Oh yes, I know that now. But after my Experience I felt completely isolated. It wasn't until years later that I found out about other spiritual incidents. I was in Steubenville, Ohio--we had a little group that met there--and after one of the meetings a woman handed me a copy of Richard Bucke's Cosmic Consciousness." When I read it I knew I wasn’t alone.

"But cosmic consciousness isn't the final experience," Rose continued. "The people in Bucke's book describe an experience where they understand the harmonious interworkings of everything in the universe. They see lights and experience bliss, and so on. This is wonderful. But experiencing the Absolute goes beyond all that. In the Absolute there is no bliss or sorrow."