The Bhagavad-Gita

In the Bhagavad-Gita is a discussion-conversation between enlightenment and that which unknowingly seeks enlightenment. Enlightenment is represented by Sri Krishna who is said to be an avatar, which is a human way of trying to define “very big.” That is to say that Sri Krishna is not from the local area network, but he has come from a world that is different because his mind is different. He glows. He doesn’t experience the normal round of circumstances inwardly that most people do. He doesn’t experience depression. He doesn’t really experience elation as human beings would know it. He doesn’t experience the kind of grayness and deadness of the human condition. Instead he lives in a perpetual sunrise. He’s self-effulgent. The light that he seeks is not external. He doesn’t have to turn to the sun for light, or towards another being or towards a God, because he is self-effulgent radiance.

Arjuna, who is the fearless warrior in the story, on the other hand is a very worldly individual, we assume with high past lives, who’s engaged in a battle, a kind of a civil war, the battle of Kurukshetra. And a conversation, a dialogue, ensues in the middle of a battlefield, symbolizing the battlefield of life in which we are fighting through our illusions. The illusions that are most dear to us are Arjuna’s illusions. His illusions are the people he must fight against. It’s a civil war, and he knows a lot of people who are on the opposite side of the battlefield. They’ve been his friends. But simply because of a political difference, which was not necessarily their doing or his doing, suddenly they have to face each other down. You’ve got to kill your friends.

Arjuna is a warrior of great renown. Says he won’t fight. He tells Krishna, I can’t fight because I love these people. It’s immoral, it’s unjust. I can’t—what will it prove? Where is the success in battle to kill those you care about? There’s no winning. So he says, I won’t fight.

Now what this represents—of course, this was an actual battle—but symbolically what this represents is a place we get to inside our mind. We get to a certain place inside our mind where we’re slaying illusions in the practice of yoga and Buddhism. And we’re doing a pretty good job, and it’s going well. And we get to be a pretty good warrior, like Arjuna. But there comes a point where we reach certain attachments, certain illusions that we have to dispel. And we don’t want to. We see no reason; we’d rather not gain the benefits of enlightenment than slay those illusions. We’re so attached to them; it’s illogical, of course, but it happens.

The ensuing dialogue is a pep talk from Sri Krishna, who represents enlightened mind, to Arjuna, who represents mind that seeks enlightenment, unconsciously. And he explains to him the nature of that which is and that which is not. He talks to him about reality. In other words, Arjuna is so—his mind has been so eclipsed by his attachments and his illusions, he’s not seeing things well, that he doesn’t want to do what he does best. He doesn’t want to fight.

Krishna’s message, which is definitely not a pacifist message—I know pacifism is associated sometimes in the world of yoga and Buddhism, but not always. Not always. Buddhists make great warriors. And Krishna says, fight. He says, go out in the battlefield and kill those people whom it’s your job to kill. And whether they were your friends or not, you have to look at the big picture. In the big picture, you can’t go kill anybody, you can’t be killed.

In the big picture, we’re all eternal. Yet, strangely enough, even though we are all made up of light and we are all one light, life is a game and in that game we find ourselves cast in certain roles. We call that lila —when the light takes forms. And when the light takes forms, we get cast into a certain role. Now maya —which is illusion—means that we believe that we are the forms. We get so caught up in the formations of life that we perceive through the senses that we actually believe that we are the forms and we forget that we are really essence, not forms.

Lots of analogies, of course, are made in the world of enlightened study about this. They say, “Well, you see the surface waves of the ocean and you think that’s the ocean, but 99 percent of the ocean is below the surface. But if you just see the waves which are turbulent, you forget that the ocean beneath may be very calm.” You know, this sort of thing.

What he’s saying, what Sri Krishna is saying, is that it’s a terrible mistake to believe that this life we lead is real. Obviously it’s real, but it doesn’t last very long in its realness. It’s very ephemeral. And to mistake the forms of life—the shapes that life takes—for reality, is not wise. In other words, if you can stand back—let’s say that we have a lot of clay, a huge amount of clay. And let’s say we’re going to take that clay today and take cookie cutters and cut shapes. So we cut a bunch of shapes and we have these shapes, and then let’s say we take one of the shapes and we start throwing the shapes against the wall and breaking them. And you’ve made these shapes, or you’ve just been around them for a while and you like them so much that you get all upset about it. But what we’re going to do when we’re done with the shapes is—they’re not going to be destroyed, they’re still clay—we’re going to take the clay and kind of make them molten again and then cast new shapes.

Now, what a fool to get upset, to go crazy, to pound your head against the wall or to try and kill the person who’s throwing the shapes against the wall, when they’re just going to go back and come out again in new shapes. It’s a process. So our lives are a process in which we take form for a while. We have a shape. And life itself, the world we perceive, the earth, the stars, the moon, the things of life—plants, animals, our careers, our relationships, our emotions, all the things that we perceive—are just shapes that the light has temporarily assumed. To feel then, that there’s anything you can’t do is absurd, that you have to hold onto anything because any shape that you hold onto will fade eventually. It goes back into light. And it will come out of light again in another form, as will you.

Yoga, then, is the study, not of the shapes but of the substrata form of the light which the shapes come out of. And we learn to see, in a larger picture of existence, the light, and therefore we’re not so concerned about the shapes.

Lao Tsu says the sound man is immune to the passing of human generations as to the “sacrifice of straw dogs.” If you’re Western, that doesn’t necessarily mean a whole lot because you’re not used to—at harvest time in the villages in the Far East, they used to have a sacrifice. To propitiate and thank at the end of the harvest or at the sowing of the seeds in the spring, they would have a sacrifice. They wouldn’t sacrifice real animals, they would make a dog out of straw and then they would burn it. Now, why get upset about the burning of a straw dog? It’s not a real dog; it’s just made of straw. It was straw, and then we whipped it into a shape and now we’re burning it. So the sound man is immune to the passing of human generations.

All that we love, all that we count on, all that we want is transient. And to care about it and to be upset when someone dies, to be upset when we die, to be upset when things don’t go our way, is to attach ourselves to straw dogs—to be upset about things that don’t matter. Because whatever happens is inevitable. To attach much importance to it is to hook ourselves to the forms, the transient forms of life, and this creates unhappiness that is unnecessary, unwarranted and certainly does nothing to change anything that is.

If you could see further into the process, you would understand that the transient forms—which go back into the light—are unharmed. The light cannot be created or destroyed. The intelligence of the universe—that makes things beautiful, that makes the things we love, that makes the things we fear, that makes the things we care about or don’t—cannot be altered. The intelligent, perfect consciousness of God, of the God-mind of infinity, cannot be tampered with by you or I or anyone. And we are all part of that.

So then, Sri Krishna says to Arjuna—through the form of the Bhagavad-Gita —don’t worry about all this. What you should do is, you should find what matters. Find that which takes you from the shore of the transient, where we just see endless pain and endless suffering and we see the most beautiful creations wither. The beautiful young maiden becomes the old woman and she hates her body because it isn’t what it used to be. The man with his dreams and plans and ambitions becomes the old doddard who has trouble remembering where he was going to go later in the afternoon. And he remembers all the wonderful experiences he had, and all the women he had and now all that’s gone, and he’s bitter, you see? This is inevitable. This is normal and natural; it’s a process.

If you live in the land of the senses, that is all you see. You see one thing after another destroyed. War destroys things, disease, or you just see the unconscionable misery of everyday existence where just through unkindness, which is really an outgrowth of lack of awareness, in their unconsciousness, human beings just hurt each other or they hurt themselves with their unknowingness. To be bothered by any of this is ridiculous. But if it’s all you see, if it’s all you know, if it’s how you perceive the world to be, then of course it makes one unhappy—because, of course, you have affixed yourself to that which you see and perceive because it’s all you know.

So Sri Krishna says, Meditate. Go within and you will find that there are other universes, that there are other dimensions, countless dimensions and universes, which are also transient. Some last longer than these worlds, some not as long as where we are. And you’ll see they all go through the same process, even the world of the gods, of godlike beings. The heaven-paradise realms don’t last. And the beings there don’t last. Everything goes back into the fire. Everything is straw for the fire. But that’s not the end. The fire transmutes and purifies the forms; it cleans them off. And then, the moon rolls round again and a new phase begins. Everything is born anew. Universes are born anew, creations and infinities.

So Krishna says, Arjuna, don’t be so concerned with all this. There’s a pathway that leads beyond this, that takes us to the place where all of this comes from. Obviously, if universes are coming out and going in, they’re coming in and going out of something. Obviously, we have come forth from something and we are returning to something. He says, you can go through the cycle forever and always be on the outer peripheries of attention, of consciousness, and only see the surface, and of course you’ll be filled with dread and apprehension at the loss of your own life because if you feel that your life is terminated by death, that could be very frightening—or very relieving if you have a horrible, horrible life. But still we don’t know what lies after death. So he says, meditate and you’ll see these various ephemeral worlds, or various ephemeral beings, all of them going through the same thing—some are rich, some are poor, some are more knowledgeable, some are less knowledgeable—in countless myriad universes forever.

But there’s a source, there’s a perennial source from which all things come forth. We call it the Godhead, nirvana, the tao, enlightenment. It’s big, it’s bright, it’s perfect, as are all of its children, as are we. He says, know that if you meditate more deeply you will come, in your meditation, in the stilling of your mind, you will come to enter into that. Sounds sort of nebulous, but it’s not. It’s just like giving somebody directions. Sometimes I’m out running on the street and a car pulls up and they ask me how to get someplace, and I tell them, well, you go a mile down here and turn left, and go another half a mile and then make a right, and you’ll find the street you’re looking for.

So the directions for meditation that Sri Krishna gives are very exacting. He tells him exactly how to get past all of the things that cause suffering and transient pleasure, to something that is perpetual ecstasy. His directions are that exact. He just goes, it’s down here a mile or two, and take a left, and go past the old gnarly tree and turn right, and pay no attention to those people on your left and right that are shouting at you—just keep going, and you’ll get there. Pay no attention to all of the people who are inviting you into their houses for a wonderful dinner or something in addition, a little bit more, dessert, just keep going, just keep going and you’ll get there. Just keep meditating and ignore these transient forms. Because they’re all aggregate manifestations of your mind—meaning, the way you see them is incorrect.

We’re all the same; we’re all one. It isn’t that you have to get away from them—how can you get away from life? You can’t get away from people, places and things. And even if you managed to get away from people, you’re still with yourself. What he’s saying is that you want to see beyond all this, and running away from the world and from jobs and homes doesn’t accomplish anything. You can sit out in the forest and meditate, but you’ve still got the squirrels to deal with and the trees and the sound of the wind and the bugs. It really isn’t much different.

He says to bring your mind into the center of being. Meditate. When you make the mind still, when you stop thought, at that time a doorway opens that you go through. Then you go into the land of perceptual perfection. And the more you do that, the less you leave it. Till eventually, while your outer form may be in this world experiencing pleasures and pains, ups and downs, growth, maturation and decay of the cycle, your mind will not be here. Your mind will be absorbed in perfect light. Then he explains how to do that, how to hold the mind one-pointedly by concentrating on a singular object and so on and so forth.

And then he answers a lot of philosophical questions that Arjuna has, and he explains what we call the dharma, meaning the road to truth beyond the transient. He says, what you really need to do is get yourself a teacher, that’s number one. Because there’s absolutely no way you can understand any of this without a teacher, or you may fool yourself and think that you are meditating when you’re not. He says, follow explicitly the teacher’s instructions because the teacher will show you, step by step, how to become free, how to free yourself from the samsara, from the wheel, as Buddhists describe it, of birth and death, of these transient forms that we’ve become so attached to. We’ve become attached to them because we don’t see what else there is.

Sri Krishna’s message is the message of anyone who comes from far away, anyone who’s come from that world, anyone who has been to, seen and melded their mind with the eternal light. His message is the same as Buddha, Lao Tsu, Bodhidharma, Milarepa, Padmasambhava—Eastern famous spiritual sorts and people whose names we don’t know. Anyone who has gone deeply into the world of light experiences the same thing, light. And the experience of that light teaches us, changes us, nurtures us, modifies us, rearranges us and makes us of it. The more time we spend in it, the more we are of it. When we are of it perpetually, all the time, when the light can’t be separated from us, we say that one is enlightened.

One can have enlightening experiences and meditate and go into the light, but when you’ve gone into the light so much that there’s really no difference between the light and yourself, we say one is enlightened. The light always flows through you. There’s a very near, thin, almost transparent personality structure which allows a sense of independent being and perception, but there’s only the light.

So the road out for Arjuna is unexpected. Sri Krishna says you have to face that which you fear the most and that which you’re most attached to, and eliminate it. In this case he has to fight a battle, and the battle is his attachments. He says, you can’t kill these people you love. This is a game. And in this game, it’s like playing Monopoly. You have some good friends who are on the other side. But it’s only play money; don’t take it so seriously. The way the game has shaped up in life is these guys are going to try and kill you and you’re going to try and kill them. That’s not your doing. There’s nothing you can do about it. You can choose not to play the game. That’s a mistake.

He says whatever role we have in life, we have to play it to the hilt. We have to take it all the way. We have to assume responsibility for our role. To run away from it causes misery. To assume responsibility for the role that life has given us and to play the hand perfectly, as well as we can—with all the skill and cunning and knowledge, all the bravado, all the power, all the humor—to do that is what we must do. Those who would lead us away from doing that, we consider the enemy. Those are the illusions. Anything that convinces us to go away from what we know in our hearts is our responsibility, is an illusion. It’s blinding you; it’s causing you not to see the truth. Those who say, well come on, you don’t really need to do that, do this instead. Those are—that’s what we mean by illusion. Because only you know what it is that you must do.

So he surprises him [Arjuna]. He says go fight, go kill. Do this because it’s only play money. You can’t kill your friends any more than they can kill you. But play the game to win. He says it’s better to be a winner than a loser, and if you’re going to lose, it’s OK to lose if you’ve played as well as you can. It’s better to be a loser and have played well than not to have played at all. That’s interesting advice. It runs counter to what a lot of people would think because they have a very defined idea of that which is spiritual and have watered-down, quasi-religious ideas about that which creates enlightenment—it’s very different than what most people would think.

The world of enlightenment, and that which creates enlightenment, is much different than what most people would think. Most people have Hallmark Card descriptions of what creates enlightenment. And if their descriptions were correct, then everyone who is in religious practice would be enlightened, which is certainly not the case. So it’s quite surprising when we find out that in order to become enlightened, to get the big picture, to become free from the transient, what we have to do is face life with a smile and take out our sword and start cutting—and the more we hack down the illusions, the better we feel. And that it’s really a game. Life is a game. And there’s winning and there’s losing in every battle, and there’s winning and losing in the battles that comprise a war.

A war is an incarnation. A battle is a day of your life. If we win more than we lose, we say that we’ve won the battle. If we lose more than we’ve won, we’ve lost the battle. So we do one day at a time in self-discovery. Just one. And we win. Because our method is sound. Because our yoga is sound. If we meditate well, then we can’t lose because meditation will give us the insight, the power, the integrity, the knowledge and the sense of humor to cut through the most difficult illusions.

When you meditate and you enter the light and you stay in that light as long as you can, using your will and your love of the light and your aversion to that which is of the transient, then that light makes you what you need to be. It’s the best trainer there is; it’s the best war master. Just sitting absorbed in the light of meditation—if it’s deep, bright, perfect light, if there’s no thought in your mind—will make you what you need to be, to turn and face the illusions, to face the things that you don’t want to do and be able to do them, and not just do them but win.

If we lose a battle, if we lose a day, then we learn from it. We learn from our opponents who defeated us, and we beat them tomorrow. We come at it in a new way. Always respect the opponent. And the more talented the opponent, the luckier you are. Because in order to beat a talented opponent, you have to draw a great deal of strength from your being. And the harder the opponent, the more power you have to pull and the more power you pull, the further you’ll accelerate your growth and development. So the difficult opponent is the one that’s best. The more difficult the opponent, the better. Not impossible—difficult. No opponent is impossible. Even death can be overcome, simply by seeing that it doesn’t matter. It’s a hollow opponent; it’s a straw dog.

So don’t be afraid. Don’t grow so attached to the things of the world. Just do yoga. Meditate. Follow the recommendations of the most knowledgeable teacher you can find who will teach you to discriminate and tell you, “Do this and avoid this. This seems important, but it’s not important. This doesn’t seem important, but it is important.” You do those things and you meditate, then you will find you will become more of the light and less of the world. And your pain will lessen and your ecstasy will increase, and this will just continue as long as you are in this incarnation.

Don’t be concerned about the next incarnation. The next incarnation will take care of itself, and it will be based upon this incarnation. There’s no point in being concerned about it. If you’re concerned about it, do well with this incarnation. And if you have more winning days than losing days, then you’ll do OK, particularly if your winning days are in the latter half of the incarnation.

Sometimes we get a slow start. But our days and nights can be very powerful. We can meditate very well after we get out of our teenage years. We get more of a sense of purpose. We’re not so distracted by the world of parental bonding and societal constructs. We begin to see beyond these transient forms, and we see that there’s something eternal, purposeful, worth knowing and worth being, something that really matters, that we love, that empowers us, makes things bright—eliminates the sense of alienation that we experience in life, eliminates the boredom, the dullness, the terrible fatigue. All that comes from just paying too much attention to the transient and from resisting fighting the battles that we should be fighting.

When you pick up that sword and you start to fight, a power comes to you. When you shy back from it, that’s when all the little doubts, the insecurities, the terrible deadness of the human condition surrounds you. You can absolutely convince yourself intellectually that you’re doing the right thing by avoiding those things that you know you should do, by doing those things that you know you should avoid. The mind is wonderful; you can rationalize anything, but you know.

Sri Krishna’s message is eternal—fight. Fight. Everyone is afraid when they face an opponent, so use the fear to make you a better fighter. You’ll use that fear to pump that adrenaline. You’re so afraid that that opponent may destroy you, that you must destroy them.

It’s only illusions that destroy us. It’s illusions that convince us that we can’t. It’s the illusions of the transient that tell us that all of this matters. Mental control is the way out. Strength, balance, a kind heart and a steadfast purpose, a wonderful sense of humor and the correct focus of the will—this is how it’s done, this is how you go from the transient to the eternal.

It doesn’t happen with good wishes. It doesn’t happen because you’re a nice person. It doesn’t happen because everyone likes you. That means nothing. What occurs occurs because of you. Not someone you know or someone you are married to or someone you are friends with, it’s irrelevant. You work it out. No one affects your attention field but you.

If there are forces, powers, people, influences that you focused on that are unimportant, or even that hinder your journey, that tell you that it isn’t important, [then] you have to cast them off with all the power you have, and move forward. And if you keep moving forward and you don’t open up, they’ll leave you alone. They’ll go bother somebody else. When they see they can’t get to you, they leave you alone. For a while they hang around because they figure if you went for it before you may go for it again, but then, when they see that you won’t, then they have to leave. Then focus on those things which matter.

What matters most is to meditate. Then you have to make your physical body very strong to deal with life, the world, and to deal with the energies that we experience as we go into the light. It’s very demanding. It’s very hard on the body going into the light. You have to be strong. Then we have our work, our careers. Those are our battles.

Then we have our associations to support. We must assume responsibility for the little things that are in each of our lives and do them impeccably. And if you do that, whether anyone notices or not doesn’t matter. Infinity is aware, meaning your consciousness will reflect how you’ve handled your life. Humility simply means that you do a great job at everything and it isn’t really a big deal. You do your best. But you meditate and you focus all of your efforts on moving from the transient to the eternal.

In other words, running off to the ashram and meditating doesn’t create enlightenment. Talking to gurus and teachers for hours on end doesn’t create enlightenment. What creates enlightenment is a person of steadfast purpose who meditates for several hours a day, who has a teacher and who has a sense of respect for their teacher—respect which is shown by the fact that they listen to what they say and follow their recommendations in the practice of yoga. And then they lead a relatively quiet life, just going about the average tasks that are whatever our life gives us. And you do them well, with a sense of serenity, a sense of stillness, a sense of balance, with a kind of a wry sense of humor, knowing that whatever we accomplish is going to be washed away, whatever castles we build down on the sand today at the beach are going to be washed away. But we know that, and that’s fine.

What’s happening is that we go through those tasks doing them perfectly, even though they’re all going to be washed away—it’s creating a strength and solidification of our mental processes. So that at the moment of death we can focus on the clear light with the same power that has molded each activity in our life—cleaning the house well, driving the car well, doing our career well, doing our meditation well, controlling our emotions, not getting angry, not getting frustrated, not allowing depression to overcome us. Instead being optimistic and enthusiastic even in the most difficult circumstances because we know that everything leads to the light—remembering that.

By handling everything well, we’re developing a hidden power, and as that power increases it stays with us. So every year you file a tax form. You work. And at the end of the year, the work is done. The tax form reflects how we did economically. You could say, “Well, why keep working? I mean all I do is do this, and then it’s reflected in the tax form, but at the end of my life I’ve just worked and I have nothing to show for it. And if I die, even if I have something to show for it, it doesn’t go with me.” Wrong. If you’ve worked well and worked hard, then you have disciplined your mind and body. And in the doing of that you’ve perfected yourself, and that strength stays with you and it leaves the body with you.

People think that—they have funny ideas—they think that, “Well gosh, to be enlightened, to be in these wonderful altered states of consciousness, I have to leave everything and just kind of sit around in rooms with people who are dressed in fancy ochre robes and incense is burning and sitar music is on in the background and we have philosophical conversations.” In most cases, that won’t do a thing to strengthen your mind. That isn’t yoga. That’s Hollywood movies.

Yoga means we accept responsibility for the tasks in our life, and we know that being a king, being an enlightened teacher, being someone who sweeps the streets, we know that nothing is a greater yoga than anything else. Whatever we are supposed to have karmically, life gives us.

The question is, how do we handle it? It is in the handling of whatever our tasks are that we achieve greatness inwardly, that we achieve power. You don’t need a special task. Every task is special. We always want something glossy. We expect that it has to be different. But what can be different? There only is what there is, in the physical. So it really doesn’t matter what the job is, it really doesn’t matter which house it is, karma will bring us to whatever one is right, at whatever moment we are in. The issue is, do we handle it?

We may have a tiny little room that we rent, and if we keep it clean and it’s impeccable, then we gain a power from that. If we have a giant mansion and we don’t keep it as well as that room, then our yoga isn’t good and our attention field will be very poor and we won’t have power, and we’ll be totally hooked into the transient. If President Bush does a lousy job, then he’ll lose power. If the guy at McDonald’s who’s selling burgers does a great job, then he’ll be much more powerful than President Bush. It isn’t the job that makes us powerful. It’s how we handle it.

Naturally, a powerful person should have a job that is on the level of their attention field. Otherwise they won’t develop. If you’re lifting ten-pound weights but you can easily lift a hundred pounds, your muscles aren’t going to get stronger, they’re going to get weaker. So we have to take on a task that is equal to our strength and a task that is actually a little more difficult because by lifting weights that are a little heavier than we actually can, we get stronger. And once that’s not difficult to do, we have to upgrade the task.

So yes, everything is transient, but no, we gain a strength in each lifetime. And that strength does go with us. So there is no task that’s in vain; there is no effort that’s lost. And just to not do things well because we think it doesn’t matter, because we have some etheric notion of self-discovery and since all this is transient, what difference does it make, let’s just meditate—you can do that. You can just meditate. And if you can for 14 or 16 hours a day sit with the mind in a perfect field of attention with total concentration and no thought, then that’s the same thing as sweeping a room perfectly, as programming a computer perfectly.

Sure, it’s the same thing; you’re just using the mind through focus to accomplish the same end. But it’s not more powerful than anything else.

Whatever will cause your attention to articulately develop and to learn control is the same. Then you just turn it to the light. The person who’s in the Zen monastery, who’s doing a kind of poor job at meditating and a half-ass job cleaning the gardens—but he’s got the right robes on and he’s in aesthetically what we think is the right place to do self-discovery, and he’s hanging around with teachers but he may not be absorbing or understanding truly on a deep level what they’re saying—is not doing very good yoga. The person in the business suit who works on Wall Street, who does their work perfectly, is probably evolving a lot faster, if they also meditate.

The background is unimportant. It doesn’t do a thing. As a matter of fact, it’s dangerous. Because when you’re in a monastery the problem is you can think simply by the fact that you’re there, and by the fact that everyone is talking about the dharma and that’s what everyone does, you can think that somehow that automatically gives you a passport to eternity. Wrong. So you don’t work as hard. You sit back. You figure, “I’m already on the train, all I have to do is get on the train and I’m there; eventually I’ll arrive.” Not true.

It is better to be, I think, off in a worldly situation accepting the daily tasks of what we would call human life and doing well with them and then to have a teacher, to have a guru, to have a master, a Zen master, whatever it is, a Buddhist monk—to have someone whom you go to and see regularly and to follow their instructions and then to lead a daily life out in the world—I think that’s better. I’ve taught in monasteries and I’ve taught outside of them. I think you can make a lot faster progress outside of the monastery. That’s my opinion—if you have a teacher and you see the teacher as often as you need to and you practice meditation. While the monastery does, to a certain extent, provide a refuge from the lower human aura, and since there’s a tremendous support network, it does certainly, to an extent, allow us to interface with, on a fairly regular basis, higher ideas and ideals—and that’s supportive. But the danger is great.

That [the monastery] works well for a person who is a real go-getter, who will not let that environment fool them. But I have observed that more people than not, don’t do well in monasteries. The mere fact that they’re there, and they have the robe, and because they get up in the morning and meditate from four till eight, and because they work all day and then meditate again in the evening—going through those motions they think is enough. But what’s really happening when they’re sitting meditating and how well are they working? They may just be sitting there kind of spacing out because they figure they’re on the train and that’s all they need.

So I think sometimes it’s better to be in a difficult situation and you can tell, since the environment is abrasive, it inspires you to do better. If you’re in a monastery and everything is great, why try? If you’re living out in the world dealing with abrasive things, it reminds you that this is reality and this is why you’re meditating and this is why you’re going beyond the transient. It inspires you. Because if the person who meditates in the ashram or lives in the monastery is fooled by it, then at the end of the incarnation when they die, yes, they’ve had a pleasant environment, but no, they haven’t worked hard. Then the environment is removed and they’re thrown into the bardo. The bardo is not sympathetic.

The state between birth and death is not sympathetic. It’s strictly—it’s a flow system. Whatever your conscious level, automatically, that’s how you will reincarnate. So maybe it’s better sometimes not to be in a monastery. To have a teacher, to meditate, to follow the instructions—and maybe it’s good sometimes to be in painful surroundings because they remind us that that is how life is until we establish ourselves fully in the light. Maybe that’s a better motivator. Because most of the monasteries I’ve visited are slack. Occasionally you’ll have someone who’s just a go-getter and they use the environment. But more than half don’t. They abuse the environment; they’re lulled into a false sense of security.

I think it’s better—you know when you’re in the world where you are. You know how much pain there is. You can tell how established you are in the light. And simply to remove yourself from the things you desire or the things that you find difficult to deal with is no answer. What you need to learn to do is walk among the things that you desire and your aversions, the things that you fear, and be unaffected. That’s Buddhism. That means that the reason you’re unaffected is because you’re so established in the light that you don’t give a fuck.

I mean, if you’re eating a fantastic food and it’s in your mouth, and somebody walks by with a mediocre food, you don’t go “Whoa, I want one of those.” Because you’re so absorbed in the ice cream cone from Ben and Jerry’s that you could care less about a cheese waffle.

So the way that you go above the transient, the way you go above pleasure and pain is through ecstasy. When your ecstasy is great, who cares about—you know, who’s afraid? When you’re established in the light and you see that everything is transient, there’s nothing to fear. You see that, so things don’t bother you.

You establish yourself in the light through meditation and through work and through listening to the instructions—meaning, following them—of a teacher who is established far more in the light than you are. Obviously, they know how to get as established in the light as they’ve gotten to. And they can pass that on to you. Then you have to do it, and it will happen to you.

It’s good to have companions. It’s good to have people who also meditate who are friends. It’s good to have contact. It’s helpful. When you associate socially with other people who are headed into the light, it’s definitely inspiring; it doesn’t necessarily make you lax. It’s like joining a running club where everybody runs together. You may run more miles because you are spending some time with some good runners. But I think to be in a monastery or an ashram is not always the answer—because we don’t fight, we kick back. We don’t listen to Sri Krishna.