[00:00:06.4] ANNOUNCER: Welcome to The Science of Success introducing your host, Matt Bodnar.
[0:00:11.8] MB: Welcome to the Science of Success; the number one evidence-based growth podcast on the internet with more than a million downloads and listeners in over a hundred countries.
This episode is a bit off the beaten path for us here at the Science of Success. Given the time of year when many are thinking, reflecting, being a bit more spiritual, we wanted to offer a little bit different of a perspective. This episode is not a science-based, but it still provides a fascinating dialogue with a Buddhist monk, who is the first Westerner ever to be ordained by the Dalai Lama. We discussed life, meditation, mindfulness, and much more with our guest Robert Thurman.
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In our previous episode, we discussed one of the most important evidence-based psychology principles that makes people successful; self-awareness. We looked at the difference between people who succeed and those who plateau.
We talked about why self-awareness is the meta-skill of the 21st century, and a foundational skill required to succeed in nearly anything; including looking at conclusions from over 800 scientific studies about self-awareness with our guest Dr. Tasha Eurich. If you want to master the most vital skill in the 21st century, listen to that episode.
Now for the interview. But before we get into that, I wanted to make note, the audio quality in this interview is not the greatest. We had a little bit of trouble on Robert’s end with some of the sound quality issues. I just wanted to let you know ahead of time that Robert’s audio is not perfect, but there’s some really good insights in this conversation and I felt it was still worth sharing with you.
Now for the show.
[0:02:48.1] MB: Today, we have another fascinating guest on the show, Robert Thurman. Robert is a professor of Indo-Tibetan Buddhist studies in the Department of Religion at Columbia University, and the President of the American Institute of Buddhist studies. Time Magazine has called him the leading American expert on Tibetan Buddhism and named him one of Time Magazine’s most influential Americans in 1997.
He was also the first Westerner to ever be ordained a Tibetan monk by the Dalai Lama. His works and books have been featured across the globe. Bob, welcome to the Science of Success.
[0:03:21.7] RT: Thanks, Matt. Nice to talk to you.
[0:03:23.9] MB: Well, we’ve very excited to have you on the show today. For listeners who may not be familiar with you and your background, I know you’ve had a fascinating story. I’d love to hear a little bit about your personal journey and how that led you to eventually becoming a monk and where you are today.
[0:03:39.0] RT: Well, okay. I was a Harvard undergraduate and I decided that western psychology and philosophy didn’t quite get it right. I decided to go to India to see some deeper psychology. I had a sense it would be there. When I got there, there were a lot of really nice Indians, but I got really turned on by the Tibetans and the knowledge they have of Indian Buddhism, of ancient Indian Buddhism.
I started studying with them, and that’s 54 years ago, 55 years ago and never turned back. I found the philosophical solutions I was looking for, the openness of mind to new questions I was looking for, the yogas, the meditations, everything. The people, they were just really great. I was speaking their language in about three months, and it was like coming home.
I’m still doing that. I must say I was a monk for about four to five years. But now I’m an ex-monk and I have a big family. Didn’t damage me forever. That’s pretty much my story. Joining academia is like coming back to another kind of monastery, where you – they were the American one, you know where you’re having family and you study what you want and you teach what you want after a while. It’s a privilege. It’s a wonderful thing. The human being is a learning machine and that’s what they should be doing with their life.
[0:05:01.3] MB: I’m really curious. As somebody who’s such an expert in something like Buddhism, where do you see some of the common western misunderstanding of the core principles of Buddhism?
[0:05:15.1] RT: Well, western and eastern people do misunderstand Buddhism. It isn’t really an east-west thing. Because misunderstand themselves and they misunderstand life. Buddhism as it is in a way never really interested me, I have to say. But Buddhist science and the knowledge of the mind and the knowledge of reality was what really interested me.
I think that has a lot to offer to west and east, and especially modern science is a little bit caught nowadays by the dogma of materialism. The idea that the mind doesn’t exist, that mind over matter doesn’t work. That’s a big error. Mind is actually really the power that directs matter, I would say, which Buddhist science has a very strong evidence and arguments about. That really is usual to people.
I consider I’m going ever deeper into that. I don’t claim to be enlightened or anything, but I’ve gotten in that direction and I’m sure there is that direction, put it that way. Everyone can do that. That’s what the human is built for. That’s what I like to do. I call it really a Buddhist science really, or inner science as it’s called in India.
Yoga and Hinduism has a lot of that too, because Buddhism totally influence every country it was ever in. It was in all the [0:06:27.2] countries have had a huge impact on them. Having discovered it, I think it’s going to have a huge impact here. It already has that some impact and it was gone with one. I think one thing that – the basic misunderstanding is that Buddhism teaches you and that all you can do is suffer and you can never get away from it and you’re better be resigned to it. That’s one of the big misunderstandings.
Before our Buddha discovered happiness, actually that’s what he discovered and how to get rid of suffering permanently. The second misunderstanding is that Buddhism is just meditating, and that’s also a mistake. Meditation is a powerful tool for transforming yourself on learning, but it must be preceded by scientific learning and lot of critical investigation, exploration and thinking and experiencing and analyzing your experience and seeing how your mind works.
Then when you get a bit of orientation about what you are, what reality is, then meditation enables you to really bring it down to your gut and really change your life more thoroughly. I mean, learning changes your life very much too, but to completely transform, you need to add meditation to learning.
You don’t just do meditation out of the bat. If you just meditate because somebody tells you that meditation is the solution to everything, you are basically deepening your ignorance actually. You’ll become more egotistical and you become more isolated and alienated more into yourself, which is not really a usual place to be stuck in. Not to send it wrong with including yourself, but being stuck in yourself is really not a good scene.
[0:07:58.5] MB: I want to dig into a couple different pieces of that. Let’s start with this idea that meditation without context isn’t useful. Tell me a little bit more about that.
[0:08:06.5] RT: Well, there is two kinds. One kind of meditation is just shutting your mind down and not thinking, which gives the person brought up in our school system a buzz, because we’ve been doing a lot of thinking. That we haven’t felt that thinking has done us a lot of good, because we still bit unhappy.
We get a buzz out of not thinking. But actually what that also does it dulls your ability to learn from experience, to teach reason from learning and from books. It gives you a palliative, it’s like getting hooked on a palliative, because you can just stop thinking and then now come down and then some people even think you’d be enlightened when you have nothing in your mind.
I was joking like to say, when Buddha entertained enlightenment, the first thing he didn’t say – he said, “That was not the answer.” What he said was, “I know everything. It’s really great. Reality really is fine and you can be – it is happiness. If you know reality, you’re going to be happy.” Unfortunately, of course just by me telling you, you can’t get there. You have to go to work on it yourself, but you have amazing ability to learn and also to transform once you have learned. That’s the thing. That’s one type of meditation is just emptying the mind type.
Then the other type, which is more important is analytic meditation, or critical meditation, and what they call inside meditation. That’s where you’re actually are thinking something directed toward exploration of yourself, your experience and the reality around you. That’s a very good one and a very important one. If you don’t do that one, then you just do the mind empty one, then your original view of yourself and everyone has a slightly distorted view of the self, by conditioning, by instinct, by formalize and so on, which is that each one thinks, “I am the most important one.”
They don’t think that they’re being egotistical. They think that’s naturally, “Everybody thinks I’m the most important.” They think that’s just the natural way to be. But then that puts you at conflict with everybody else who doesn’t agree with you. That puts you in a guaranteed program for misery actually, since nobody else will agree that you’re the most important, and yet you will keep struggling to show that you are in some way, but still then out of it, you could become president of the United States and people will still will not think you’re the most important. You’ll get really freaked out.
The key is that if you then meditate however, without having examined your distorted self-image, your central CPU, your distorted inner wiring, then you will simply intensify your inner wiring and you will not transform yourself, you will not move to a more open-minded, open-hearted interrelated way of being where you start getting along better with others. You notice them more, because you’re less focused on yourself.
You get better feedback from them, because they notice that you’re noticing them and they like you, etc., etc., and you can be more successful. Success really comes in life not just from any big thing you do about yourself, but it comes from how open you are to other people and how you see what they need, what they want, you listen to their advice, you can see their perspective, then you can actually deal with them and others and everyone much better, and even yourself. You’ll feel much happier and you’ll feel much more capable. That’s the key thing.
[0:11:24.6] MB: There’s a bunch of different ways I want to dig into this. Let’ start with the idea of analytic meditation, or critical meditation, or inside meditation. What does that mean, and what does that look like practically?
[0:11:36.1] RT: Well, it looks like thinking something over and investigating it. It means that you don’t, when you sit, if you do sit or whatever posture, although better not to take the posture road as thinker, because it’s much too uncomfortable to maintain for a very long time, if you know what it looks like.
Anyway, when you sit down to think over something, you explore it and you’re fueled by the realization why taking a little bit confident in the great teachers of humanity saying that you as a human being are capable of understanding something more deeply. An analysis means you take things apart, you’re looking at its components, you see how it’s made, you look at its quotation, and you see its context, and you go deeper and deeper, then you look at the parts and you take that apart.
Anyway, ultimately, you can analyze everything to pieces and it will disappear. But then you know how it’s put together. You do that about yourself. Then when you do, you’ll get more aware of your moving parts inside, especially inside your mind, but your body also. Then the more you’re aware of that ,the better you can make them function.
Of course, do really completely get at, then you do have to fit it with a one point of concentration ability. Otherwise, if you just keep scanning and you scatter yourself too much. But the scanning one is the most important one, and you can penetrate right to where you have an experiential understanding of the nature of reality.
Also, you go beyond your concepts. You use your common sense to take aim, so to speak, but once you get down it becomes very experiential and you go beyond – you realize that reality is beyond, and is but this idea of reality, which is why Buddha was so special and I think he says, “Well, I understand everything, but I can’t really explain it throughout well, because it’s beyond explanation. However, what I am confident is that if you put your own head into it, you can understand it yourself. You really can.”
Given, that’s what I love by the way when I first encountered the Buddhist teachers, was the fact that they for one, unlike the western religious people, theistic religious people they didn’t say, “You just have to believe something,” whether it makes sense to you or not, because you can’t understand it ultimately. Only God can. I did it like that particularly.
Being then the scientist tell you, “Well, you can’t really understand everything. You can understand a small piece, analyze it, write it down, make a formula. But then that will open up to you how much more you don’t know sort of routine.” Finally, also you can understand.
Both those western options and actually other cultures too are pretty much weakening of the human ability to use that marvelous super computer we have in the wetware in our brain. It’s amazing. Whereas, the Buddha said, “Yes, you can really understand. You just have to put your mind to it. You have to learn. You can use for help, find teachers. But even without a teacher you can learn if you really examine yourself and your world.”
Remember Socrates, the own examined life is not worth living. Buddha never said that. He just said, “The owned examined life will be frustrating and the fully examined life will be blissful.” He took it a little further than dear old Socrates.
[0:14:43.7] MB: Before we get into the experiential understanding of the nature reality, which I’m fascinated by, I wanted to touch on the – just to clarify my understanding of this. I understand the meditative practice of sitting there, bringing your thoughts back to breath or something like that. This analytical or this insight meditation, is this an actual meditative practice, or is this more like journaling, linking, setting aside contemplative time?
[0:15:08.7] RT: Well, it is a kind of analytic practice. You see, the mindfulness craze that has swept the country tends to be taken by people as a method by bringing back to their breath of this identifying from the thought flow, and just being there, just breathing.
In a way, it’s a version of the approached state, you could say of one point it as a mind empty. In a way, its foundational of course for inside meditation, as well as one pointed or quiescent meditation. But the way most people do it, it pretty much tapers off into quiescent meditation. Inside meditation, where it is, is when you go in and you look and see how your mind is – you come to the breath, just as a way of actually heightening your awareness of the distractions really, rather than just breathing.
That is to say you begin to see what it is that takes your mind away. You look more objectively at the thought flow. You see where the mechanisms of the thought, or how does this thought arise from the sense stimulants from that memory? You penetrate that thought though. You actually then see where there are negative thoughts and where there are positive thoughts that open you, or that is thoughts that open you, or thoughts that close you down, which are the negative ones.
Then we have the words, it’s more penetrative, where you just don’t just, “Oh, that’s a thought.” But you say, “Well, what thought is that? How is it benefitting me and how accurate it is and what does it come from? Actually, who’s voice is it in? Is it my mother’s voice, my uncle’s voice? My elder sibling who always told me I was a pipsqueak or whatever it was, some put-down voice, or some teacher’s voice, or some preacher’s voice.”
The words, you begin to really gain a leverage over how the mind works. Then you begin to edit how the mind works and you reinforce the positive insights, and you reinforce the negative ones, the habitual ones that just have you spinning.
Some of the popular mindfulness insight practitioners do that to some degree, but unfortunately, I think the most of the populous ones just do it for the mind quieting. However, I’m not against that. I think that’s fine too, because some people need mind quieting. But if they just only do that, sooner or later they will be disappointed. Just the palliative of the mind quieting has not actually made them happy. It has not actually given them a deeper genius about the nature of life, and therefore they have not found bliss and they’re still frustrated.
Then really unfortunately was all would be they say, “Well, meditating is useless and it’s all useless. I’ll just go and watch TV or something.” On the other hand, of course TV is meditating, reading a book is critical thinking. In other words, when you learn verbally, externally or having the debate or a dialogue with another person is also critical thinking.
Just when you bring it inside as a meditation into your own mind, you intensify it. Although, in the tradition, I don’t know if you know anything about zen, but they have a tradition they call Dharma Combat in zen, where you debate other practitioners or your teacher. They have this very much in the Tibetan monasteries, because they say that to honestly debate yourself, that is to have one voice inside yourself challenge another one.
Like one voice, you have one habitual voice a lot of us have is, “You can’t really do that. You’re just you. You can’t really change. You’re always the same way you are.” Then the critical voice is, “Well actually, you do change all the time.” Why do you say that? “Every time you think something, you change and pushing toward transformation and seeing yourself as a work in progress and able to really develop yourself.”
These are two voices inside. They say, it’s difficult to be honestly truly critical with yourself, unless you are pumped up to it by being critical, emotionally debating. They have debating with others as an art forum, as a learning forum, as a pre-meditated launching forum that is very powerful actually. Particularly where they mobilize these emotions, like when you make – when you’re wronged and you fight to be right, but then actually rationally you finally realize you made a mistake, that’s how you change.
Then you can do that internally and you could strip away false images, false self-identities, false constricting self-labels and things and really develop yourself as a person. That’s really important.
[0:19:27.7] MB: How do we – going back to one of the ideas you talked about within this, how do you edit the mind to reinforce positive insights and as you said de-inforce negative insights?
[0:19:38.1] RT: It’s helpful to have help over others. You read the great enlightening teachings, or some other – that a lot of them are not in Buddhism. There is greater light in teachings in Hinduism and Christianity, especially mystical Christianity, the mystical Islam, mystical Judaism Kabbalah. You mobilize minds that are further than you along that path, and they left methods.
They couldn’t just transmit their experience unfortunately, or they would have of course, but unfortunately they can’t because you are the only one who can learn your reality in a visually transformative way. There are others who have done that in whatever tradition. You use their help and they give methods and patterns and templates of where you might want to go.
You go out into your own mind and you learn to see the note, that last time I lost my temper and had totally freaked out, the last time I got brooding vindictively about how I was going to get revenge over so and so for three weeks or a month, then they moved to another city and I just continued to brood, etc.
In other words, it’s like based on a combination of experience and learning and you start editing useless mind patterns that are completely useless to you and actually debilitating to you and they weaken you. You do that gradually by learning methods to do it, and also getting help of others to do it. There are qualified teachers, therapists and even noble friends who would really like you and therefore, dare to be critical of you.
All of that will – in the case us males, often those are females who have a very sharp intuition and can often give us pointers about where we need a little redo, a little improvement. They really can. We have to overcome our male tendency not to want to listen, because we got tired of listening to our moms at some point. We’re a bunch of chauvinists. Anyway, what can you say? That was you think, maybe not you, that I should speak for myself actually.
[0:21:43.4] MB: I mean, I think there’s a lot of different insights that come out of that. I want to come back to something, sort of a concrete, even a first step or one method or strategy someone listening can use. If they say, “Hey, I want to take a first step towards insight meditation, or more specifically reinforcing the positive insights of my mind.” What is sort of the first step?
[0:22:05.6] RT: Well, first step is a little bit to calm down and that’s what they do teach well about counting the breath for example, or you can say a mantra and bring your mind back to the mantra. It’s maybe even more effective than just counting the breath. Counting the breath is very time on earth hollowed one, so that’s good.
You begin to get a little calm, you feel better, your pulse decreases, your blood pressure calms down, your breathe will slow naturally actually. Then you’re more focused. Then don’t just drop out of thought flow that you observed in your mind, and don’t just say, don’t set out and then ignore it. But rather, start to look at the content of the thought flow.
Okay, there was a distracting thought, “What was I thinking about? Was I thinking about something that happened yesterday? Was I anticipating something I imagine might happen tomorrow? When I thought about it, how did I feel? Did I make me tense or uptight? Was I frustrated by something that happened yesterday? Am I frightened of something that will happen in the future, or do I anticipate with realization I get excited and palm-sweaty about something is going to happen?”
In other words, start to look at the distractions in fact. Then the trick as you get advanced is you keep the calm and you do it calmly. You don’t get excited by it and then get distracted from the distraction. You investigate that distraction and then you begin to apply your experience and you say, “Well, what I did that day was really not that good. How I lost my temper, how I got all jealous, how whatever it was.”
I say, “Well, I should see try not to do that.” Then another time, “What can I do? Well, instead of being jealous of that person, maybe I would a little bit take their point of view. What were they thinking during that incident? Due with, maybe they were very unhappy and dissatisfied, etc. Actually, why am I being jealous of someone who themselves is miserable?”
In other words, you begin to edit your interpretation of your experience, you edit the discursive thoughts. Don’t just drop out of them. Once you have a little bit and you drop out of them, so you have a little more common concentration then you start taking a look at them. You know the famous Eckhart Tolle. Great example was his how he saved himself from suicide.
He wasn’t doing Buddhist meditation or probably no any such thing at the time. He was just being himself. He was seeker, a philosopher, a little bit of a mistake, but he got in a really depressive cycle and he was swirling down, right down the drain and this voice was telling him – his voice which he couldn’t resist, because it was acting like it was his voice.
He should do himself in there while of course it weren’t worth living. He was really getting close to and he was suicidally depressed in other words. Then what it is, is some other voice in his – he heard another voice that was also him challenging the voice that was cycling him into depression. That voice said, “Well, why should I believe you? Telling me I’m useless and worthless and life sucks and whatever it was.” Then there started to be a little bit of a debate between them.
The more critical voice began to say to the other one, “Take a hike. Stop putting me down.” He was no longer identifying that it was his immovable voice. He had another more – intelligent, more critical voice that was free. Then sooner or later, he survived very well. He wrote The Power of Now. He became Oprah’s guru. He’s a happy guy.
It had to do in becoming critically looking at his distracting thought, which in that case wasn’t distracting. He was already nailed on that bad thought that was taking him down the drain into suicide. He found this another thought. Now he doesn’t elaborate in the anecdote when he tells that in his Power of Now book. That happened, he doesn’t elaborate whether he eventually analyzed the voice that was putting him down, did it connect to a parental voice, did he connect to where they were – was the stories of that self-image that he identified as himself disapproving of himself.
I don’t know. Or maybe he did in another book. I haven’t read into that. But the Buddhist psychology totally elaborates such things, because it codifies the experience of thousands of people over thousands of years exploring themselves in that kind of a way and improving themselves and getting rid of obstacles and so and so. That’s a very concrete example, I think is very good.
Also anyone can concretely just sit, count their breath, have a distracting thought. Mind would say, “Why am I doing this?” Sometimes it’s usually criticizing yourself for what you’re doing, or that I’ll never get anywhere to do this. Or I can’t get to 10. Or even cheating. Like okay, I lost track at four. Then I’ll jump in seven, because I’ll consider that I got those out of three. People, they even cheat themselves trying to get to 10.
There will be distracting thoughts like that, and then you calm those down. But then you say, “Well then, why am I having that distracting thought?” Then find the voice in yourself that always puts you down, that always expects you not to get the best, that always expects you to fail, expects you to always be stuck in that, and find out where does that come from and look at it.
Now the trick is doing the same thing when you go to a psychotherapist in the sense that you talk to them and the push you to keep probing into your memories and things and to locate different experiences and different forms of self and different self-narratives, and help you get that improved narrative, but just took long and laborious often with them. Sometimes not, but you can do this yourself, to yourself much cheaper and actually quite quickly and effectively.
I think really a good trick that I know and some of the really best ones, I would call them insight oriented shrinks, mindful shrinks. They have the patience to do that, because they have so many they can’t – they have any scarcity of people who are frustrated and happy. They urge them to do that to accelerate the process, and I think it works very, very well. Not every case and not everybody have lived it very, very well.
[0:28:06.4] MB: In many ways, that makes me think of something we’ve talked a lot about on the podcast in the past and we’ll include this in the show notes, but we call limiting beliefs and how to root out and remove these limiting beliefs that can be holding you back, or causing you suffering in your life.
[0:28:20.1] RT: Yeah, that’s right.
[0:28:20.8] MB: We’ll put that in the show notes for listeners who are looking for some of those concrete tools. I want to circle into another topic that you talked about, Bob, which is this idea that – the concept of the experiential understanding of the nature of reality. That reality is beyond anybody’s ability to describe it. Can you tell me more about what that is and what that mean?
[0:28:42.6] RT: That’s a really fabulous thing, which can also lead and has led a lot of people to misunderstanding. That is you and I and Austin and everybody listening, we are in contact with the nature of reality all the time. Our body is touching it, ourselves are aware of it, our peripheral awareness is aware of it and so forth.
We are not attending to our contact with reality, to our own Buddha nature, you could say, where we are merged with our environment, we’re merged with others, the boundary between us and them is not so rigid. Occasionally we have like an aesthetic breakthrough and we like either delicious apple, and for a moment we just lose our mind eating that apple. That’s being in touch with the nature of reality.
The problem we have is that our conceptual apparatus is what we pay attention to. Their conceptual apparatus, all it says is apple, delicious, nice. It just has some a fewer labels. It’s latched on. We don’t cover the whole thing. They just make it fit into our preconceived idea.
Then that removes us from being in touched with the nature of reality. Therefore, some people misunderstand by thinking that, “Oh, the mind emptying meditation is the really great one, because then I won’t recognize – I won’t use my concepts and I’ll concept-free. That means I’ll be enlightened.”
Unfortunately, it’s a little more complicated, because our concepts are rooted at a deep level in the brain, in our instinct, in our culture, in our acculturation. We can suppress their manifestation briefly just by not using them, but they’re still there. They still are carving up. They happen so fast, like when you see a blue painted wall, your mind immediately sees a blue – “blue painted wall.”
Actually, your perception when you look up and see this blue surface, you don’t have code blue, but you see something. You see a surface, and actually you’re of course not seeing something out there, because buttons are bouncing off things and hitting your neurons and your brain is desperately trying to organize it, and if you’re not color blind, it organizes it into blue.
The point is, it happens so fast though the conceptual overlay, and the conceptual overlaying structure which is huge in the brain is there even when you quiet it for a while. To really liberate yourself where you can have gut experience of the whole universe, you have to use the concepts to unravel the concepts. The thing is like, in the old time when you make fire with wood, like a boy scout, when you rub a bow back and forth over a stick, or spin it with your hands, with some little dust, or a little kindling there, then the stick itself will burn.
You use the concept like a fire to stir the concepts, to where then they consume themselves and then your experience, your perceptual experience, your intuitive, direct, unmediated experience will move out into feeling at one with the things that you’re seeing and experiencing as a Buddha does.
What’s needed by that, what I love about it is yes, it’s a far development to become fully enlightened, but actually we have that full enlightenment already in ourselves, right there hidden in our fingertips. But then we don’t pay attention, because we only think we have a “fingertip,” and we don’t get down to the cellular level of experience. We don’t want to let ourselves go into that.
We feel insecure when we don’t have a description and a narrative about what we’re doing that makes us feel it’s under our control. But the problem with keeping it under out control then is boring. It’s not fulfilling. It also it’s very, very partial.
You go to a concert, or you go to a museum, or you encounter an art object, or you have a personal experience, essential experience even and some of this says, “Well, how was that, or what happened to these things?” You say, “Well, I was really blown away,” you say. What means by blown away, of course in the gangster movie is that means killed. What gets killed or blown away is once fitting once experience into a set of preconceived concepts that actually don’t allow for that much ecstasy, or that much bliss, or that much self, losing yourself in something, where you feel – makes you feel really great and you really get it.
The goal is to be like that all the time. Not meaning that they’re like dead, then you’d be like a vegetable, you wouldn’t know what was going on and you would be just wondering around, lost in the universe without knowing who you were. No.
The good thing is where you completely are aware of the network, but you’re completely free of it at the same time. Although you can use it. That’s a great thing about this experiential thing being beyond our concept. It’s know this. Shelley said, “Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of mankind.” What he meant by that was that a poet sees something everybody else sees and fit into their preconceived idea. The poet sees something completely new and different, then articulates that in a poem, using some of the old concepts, but using them in a way that then the reader or the listener gets a hint of that new experience.
Then of course, that new experience then becomes a formula and a concept, which you then slap on the thing and it takes another part to come and break past that. What he meant by legislator, that they legislate the terms or more perception. The point is our habitually conceptually dominated perception is limited and it has value, of course, but it’s limited. The direct experience of things is where we go beyond that.
That’s where we – Buddha science really likes contemporary science, which is now just western of course, it’s worldwide. That they privilege the experience, which is the empirical experiment, like experience experiment and they privilege that over the theory. They say that theories are all just hypothetical accounting for previous experiences. If you have new data from new experiences and experiments, then you revise the theory.
Therefore, you don’t try to capture reality in some absolute dogma in theory. But of course, unfortunately do and they’re a particularly thing nowadays is the dogma of materialism that has no mind and no power of mind. That is self-defeating and self-limiting and unnecessary. I’m sure your audience in the topic just then shows that you’re aware of people who want to develop the mind, they want to know about mind over matter, they want to get their own minds in order and empower them and they should and they will and we have to, because it’s up to we individuals to straighten out this messed up society, planet, what have you. I won’t go into that.
One example though I like to give, because it’s my main topic nowadays is the Dalai Lama. People always wonder how he keeps up his joy, his good humor, his friendly presence and his own personal enjoyment of life, relish of life when he’s facing this empire that’s chasing him on the planet, that’s persecuting his people, that has for 60 years has been in exile and so forth, and they’ve been wrecking this country and harming his people?
He was fixing incident, he resisted. He hasn’t give into it, but he doesn’t let it destroy his daily existence and therefore, is more capable of resisting because he stays happy in spite of the adversity. How do you do that this is the direction we’re talking about? If you could do that, it seems like he can set an example for us to be able to do that like that, then we can certainly do it with whatever level of adversity we experience.
It makes you open. For example, say a bad thing happens to you in adversity and if you close on that with your concepts and your narrative about, “That’s a terrible adversity. That’s horrible, you know.” Then you’re just going to suffer. You will intensify the suffering that you already got from the adversary.
If you are more open, where what you experience will go ahead – the pay and dimension is more than whatever your identified pain is, and there is another side to it then you can find silver linings. You can make the best of it, then you can take advantage of it actually. You can use adversity to empower yourself for more success, but you can’t do that if you’re just wrapped one concept on it and get dogmatic about it and that’s it and close your mind around it.
All of the Buddha science, the masterful psychology they have for thousands of years is all about that the nature of life itself is blissful, is reality itself is something good. It’s nirvana actually. You don’t have to go off somewhere on icebox, or a vast empty space someplace for nirvana. This is nirvana. The more you’re open to reality, therefore the happier you are. The more closed you are and the more imposing of what your preconceived idea of reality is, whereas one that someone has brainwashed you into, the more miserable you will be. It’s generally the methodology, the art, the science of how to open the human mind and heart and have a happy loving life.
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[0:39:09.1] MB: This is a topic that fascinates me and I want to dig deeper into this. How does somebody like the Dalai Lama, mind this happiness and joy in a world that’s so full of suffering?
[0:39:17.7] RT: Well, somebody comes up and insults you. That’s bad, and you’re not happy and sorry that they felt that way. Then you will take note your inventory and you realize a lot of other people didn’t. You throw some awful stuff. Gandhi had a nice way of putting it that the Dalai Lama I know agrees with. Where he said, when something terrible happens and it’s very sad and there’s so many things he said today’s goods that are really sad. Yet, you reflect on the broader pattern of life.
If somebody killed somebody, that’s – or somebody had OD’d and died, but you didn’t think about people who didn’t hurt anybody else. Somebody who helped that old lady across the street, somebody helps somebody carry their package, somebody who returned a – the other day I lost my laptop in a cab. Mohammad brought it back and he didn’t even want a reward. We had to contact him. We had to tell him how to contact us. I didn’t have to find my Mac, which I hadn’t turned that on, but we did locate him finally and they told him where to bring it, and he just rushed right back with it.
Like a 3.5 grand laptop and he didn’t want a reward. I’ve seen things like – then somebody else stole stuff. I lost this. I got ripped off on that. A lot of people who did rip me off. In other words, the Dalai Lama counts his blessings. He doesn’t deny his sufferings and he resists and he speaks out and he fights, non-violently fights to try to right the wrongs. He’s very honest and can be very blunt and so forth and can be unpopular when he has to take a stand sometimes, but he counts his blessings.
He looks at a flower on his way to a meeting where he’s going to be told, “You can’t get a Visa to go see your old friend on his 80th birthday.” He then sees the flower and he realizes his friend is looking on a flower. In other words, you brought your attitude and your orientation and you don’t fixate on the bad things, but you don’t – and you do that without just trying to live in denial of them.
In other words, you embrace that they’re there and you resist that, and you also you even are motivated not to be only focused on the bad things, because you know if you do that, you will get bad and you will be totally ineffective doing anything about it.
As you know, when you’re miserable, you’re very ineffective in dealing with people or anything. When you’re really happy, not in a hysterical way, but in a zingy way, then you’re really skilled. You can help someone overcome a tantrum, a kid who is so focused because they want that candy bar and out the window you get them thinking about Big Bird or something, or is looking out the horse out there distracting him. You’re really skillful and humorous about it, because you feel good. You share your good feelings automatically.
Therefore, it isn’t just a selfish thing. It’s a motivation to resist the bad is to be happy about the good. Then they’ll make you better able to resist the bad, because you have stronger motivation and more skill.
When someone loses their temper, then psychological studies they lose – I don’t know how they came with that exact figure, but they say they lose 85% of their judgment about how to mend, or how to deal with the situation that they’re so mad about. They had that bull in China shop that crash into stuff, they break things, they say things they didn’t mean, they overdo it, they got a big out reaction to tell the person they were trying to do something with. That’s how he does it.
[0:42:33.5] MB: I think I’ve heard a similar anecdote about the Dalai Lama, but it reminds almost when you’re on an airplane and they say you have to put your own oxygen mask on first before you can help somebody else.
[0:42:43.4] RT: That’s right. That’s right. You got that. That’s a good one. That’s really good. Love is like that. You have to be happy yourself already to have genuine, according to Buddhist psychology, define love. Meaning, not that just possessive wish, but the wish for the happiness of the beloved. Because how can you wish for someone’s happiness if you have no touch with happiness yourself? In other words, “I want you to be happy, I’m so miserable.” No, that won’t work. Then say, “Well, thanks a lot. But that doesn’t make me happy.”
[0:43:15.9] MB: Another topic that I’m fascinated with is the relationship between, or the idea of the illusion that we’re our own isolated egos oppose the universe and the reality of the interconnectedness of everything.
[0:43:27.4] RT: Right, right. Well, that’s what you’re talking about there is the second noble truth, or second noble fact taught by the Buddha, which is the fundamental miswiring of a human, come from probably many previous existences as a lesser intelligent animal that I’m the only absolute thing around here. Other lives are – I could be in the matrix and they could just be illusions and I’m the only real one.
Therefore, most important to me and that’s the one that puts you in this hopeless situation of suffering, of frustration. Because nobody else will agree, universe doesn’t agree, not just people, but germs, heavy objects that falls down over mountainside, the earthquakes, fires, they all don’t agree that you’re the most important.
When you’re up against death, there is all that. As long as that’s your thing, you’re going to be miserable. That’s a second noble fact. That’s a far for a noble person, noble being defined by a more altruistic, more well-connected, more relativized person. But nirvana, the third noble truth is the fact that the universe is empty of any non-relational entity. There is no such entity that is relevant to the universe that is not related to it. That’s all that empty just means. Empty does not mean it’s faced like a nothing, that’s like space. Nothing is not a space either. Nothing is actually nothing.
Point is that Buddha’s discovery 2,500 years ago anticipated Mr. Einstein, Dr. Einstein’s one of one a century ago or so. That is that relativity, because the great teaching of emptiness itself is this is a teaching of relativity. It teaches that you are totally interrelated, I am totally interrelated. We are a nexus of interrelationship of all that’s around us, space and time and we are a work in progress, and that does not disable us from being – making ourselves best work we can, making ourselves a work of art.
Which is there is apparently no limit, because the unlimited work of art is Buddha actually. Buddha’s manifestations are a work of art, and we’re having life itself becomes art. Because it’s all related and so there is infinite energy to be drawn on, there is infinite opportunities, there is also a lot of negativities, but all the negativities are weaker than the opportunities, because the negativities come from living beings thinking they got to just get out from number one, and then therefore each of them only has one small master, which is themselves, their ego, their little ego.
Whereas, the more altruistic ones, the more enlightened ones, they are serving everybody else. They draw energy from the need of infinite number of others, not just their own needs. They’re much stronger in the long run. Even in the short run, if one understands the short run. That’s what I was like to say, Buddha turned the old adage of ignorant people on its head. Their old adage being ignorance is bliss, implying they don’t want to really know reality, because it would be too unpleasant.
In the Buddha’s case he says, “No. Ignorance is the cause of suffering and reality is bliss.” Therefore, when you understand reality, you will know your own bliss, which you already have. The final really weird one that I’m loving more and more is that since I still I’m not that blissful, I’m busy, busy, busy, but although I love it, I love being busy with bliss, but it’s still not that blissful, because I’m still stupid.
The point is that the bliss that I will eventually find of nirvana, which would be Buddhahood is my own bliss that I already have. It’s just that I have blocks in me from really knowing it. It’s not some remote thing, exotic thing I have to go to Mt. Everest to find. It is me. We’re made of it, and you too, we all are.
That’s really encouraging, I think actually. Rather than all these big put-outs. Reality sucks, you suck. There’s some guy outside, like a God or something, or at least minimally nothing that will anesthetic for you, is like space out in. Instead of all those put-downs is like, reality is bliss, you’re made of bliss, you have the intelligence to get rid of the walls and blocks between you and knowledge of yourself, your habitual identity and knowledge of yourself. It’s very cool. Be happy. How about it?
Now, you go to go.
[0:47:41.3] MB: Yeah, we’re out of time, but that remind me of one of the fundamental conclusions of modern physics essentially is the same idea that every single thing in the universe exists interdependent of everything else, and that you would completely inseparable. You can’t ever really see one thing, except as a connected or relationship in some former fashion to everything else that’s ever existed in space and time.
[0:48:06.0] RT: Absolutely. The false thing was to doing to run away from the inquisition in the church, which I applaud them doing. But still, the idea that all those relative things, the one thing that’s excluded is the mind of the living being. That’s unnecessary. The mind is just super subtle awareness, and actually it is that with which we can go beyond the way of particle paradox into the area of Heisenberg on certain the principle, into the plenum of infinite energy of the vacuum, where everything is happening, but where we can’t reach conceptually.
We can work on the surface with probabilities and statistics and invent wonderful magnificent things. But our mind is this one that is – can reach that completely, seemingly inaccessible, non-objective, Copenhagen interpretation in forced real, which is the constitutive realm of reality of infinite energy, with no need for any scarcity or deprivation of anybody.
They should get over not having that be part of their world. I love this when Henry Stapp, a great senior and magnificent quantum physics guy, who explained to me for finally for the first time I finally figured out what was wrong, why the whole science wasn’t brought back into a thing of being accepting the presence of mind and nature by the Copenhagen declaration of Bohr and Heisenberg, because Einstein rebelled against it.
That’s not an innocent, as a harmful statement that God does not play dice with the universe. He harmed himself because he said he wouldn’t accept that there was a non-objective reality that was a deep energy level, but it was you can’t grab in there with any kind of observation, mechanical observation, because the observing act disturbs what you’re observing. The mind that observes is engaged with the object served. There is no absolute objectivity and theory can’t reach them.
He then freaked out about that and said, “I’m going to come up with a grand unified theory.” Ran back to Princeton, got himself a big grant and never did come up with such a theory, because there is no need for that theory, because we rather need the experience. It’s waiting there for all the scientists to get it.
Actually, Dalai Lama had been a big help in having these dialogues with them, and without being too pushy about any spiritualist or religious business with them, and just talking with them on a rational scientific level. A number of them have really gotten into it beautifully. Richie David and these kind of people, they’re really great. I’m sure you have them on your show, or I should think so.
[0:50:39.7] MB: Well, Bob. This has been a fascinating conversation and there’s so many other avenues and roads and things that I want to dig into, but I know we’re out of time. For listeners who want to do some research, find you and what you do online, what is the best ways for them to find you?
[0:50:53.6] RT: Bobthurman.com. That’s www.bobthurman.com. There is like a 100 some podcast on that, and there is a lot of stuff there. Access to my books and the one I’m promoting nowadays is the Man of Peace, which is a illustrated novel biography of its own, the Dalai Lama 80 years of life. It’s like a giant comic book. It’s lot of fun.
He’s a new mutant actually. He hasn’t beaten the bad guys yet, but he will, because he’s doing non-violence and that will win over this ridiculous, self-defeating violence that no one can really use.
[0:51:29.7] MB: Well, Bob thank you so much for coming on the show, sharing all these wisdom, so many interesting insights. It was great to have you on here.
[0:51:35.3] RT: Thank you, Matt. I enjoyed talking with you and another time I’d be happy to, and I’ll try to be on time. Take care.
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