Conversations in Consciousness
Quantum physicist David Bohm and philosopher Jiddhu Krishnamurti
I can barely contain my delight in (finally) being able to read the conversations between Dr. David Bohm and Jiddhu Krishnamurti. Their discussions have inspired me to open up a bit about some personal experiences in the Nothingness, which both men refer to and talk about at length.
The subject is deeply significant, to the point where it seems necessary to make a bit of a lengthy introduction. First, I think it’s important to get some background on both men, to help establish their credentials when it comes to the subject of Nothingness. But, secondly, it’s also important because later on I’ll be interweaving my own experiences into their insights.
1. World-class explorers of Nothingness
In the book The Ending of Time: Where Philosophy and Physics Meet, we meet two esteemed seekers. One is a giant figure from the world of quantum physics and the other a deeply respected philosopher who emerged from the world of Indian mysticism. By the time they met in Ojai, California, both men were already seasoned travelers in their respective fields.
There is a great deal of information available on the lives and work of David Bohm and Jiddhu Krishnamurti. I’ll simply provide the briefest of summaries here. One of the things that is interesting is that they both got off to rocky starts, with controversy plaguing them through much of their lives. We’ll start with Krishnamurti, because at first glance his background seems to be a universe away from attracting someone like a David Bohm, one of the 20th century’s most esteemed quantum physicists.
2. The Theosophical Society’s part in the story
Jiddhu Krishnamurti’s (1895–1986) early life is a strange tale. It has its roots in an organization that was established to promote the philosophies of a Russian noblewoman and mystic.
Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, who was the first Russian woman to be naturalized as a citizen of the United States, considered herself to be what was termed at the time, an ‘occultist.’ To understand Krishnamurti, we need an introduction to Madame Blavatsky and the organization she eventually founded, The Theosophical Society.
Helena was an exceptional child, and at an early age was aware of being different from those around her. Her possession of certain psychic powers puzzled her family and friends. At once impatient of all authority, yet deeply sensitive, she was gifted in many ways. A clever linguist, a talented pianist and a fine artist, she was yet a fearless rider of half-broken horses, and always in close touch with nature. At a very early age she sensed that she was in some way dedicated to a life of service, and was aware of a special guidance and protection.
When almost eighteen, she married the middle-aged Nikifor V. Blavatsky, Vice-Governor of the Province of Yerivan, in a mood of rebellious independence and possibly with a plan to become free of her surroundings. The marriage, as such, meant nothing to her and was never consummated. In a few months she escaped and travelled widely in Turkey, Egypt, and Greece, on money supplied by her father.
On her twentieth birthday, in 1851, being then in London, she met the individual whom she had known in her psycho-spiritual visions from childhood — — an Eastern Initiate of Rajput birth, the Mahatma Morya or M. as he became known in later years among Theosophists. He told her something of the work that was in store for her, and from that moment she accepted fully his guidance.
Later the same year, Helena embarked for Canada, and after adventurous travels in various parts of the U.S.A., Mexico, South America and the West Indies, went via the Cape and Ceylon to India in 1852. Her first attempt to enter Tibet failed. She returned to England via Java in 1853. In the Summer of 1854, she went to America again, crossing the Rockies with a caravan of emigrants, probably in a covered wagon.
In late 1855, she left for India via Japan and the Straits. On this trip she succeeded in entering Tibet through Kashmir and Ladakh, undergoing part of her occult training with her Master. In 1858 she was in France and Germany, and returned to Russia in the late Fall of the same year, staying a short time with her sister Vera at Pskov. From 1860 to 1865, she lived and travelled through the Caucasus, experiencing a severe physical and psychic crisis which placed her in complete control over her occult powers. She left Russia again in the Fall of 1865, and travelled extensively through the Balkans, Greece, Egypt, Syria and Italy and various other places.
The Theosophical Society was founded by Blavatsky and others in New York City in 1875. While the headquarters of the Society eventually moved to Adyar in India in 1886, Blavatsky was committed to bringing both eastern philosophical wisdom and ancient western wisdom to the United States. The American chapter and the India-based headquarters both survive today, eventually becoming independent entities.
The Society’s stated purposes were to:
- To form a nucleus of the universal brotherhood of humanity without distinction of race, creed, sex, caste, or colour.
- To encourage the study of comparative religion, philosophy, and science.
- To investigate the unexplained laws of nature and the powers latent in man.
Spiritualism and the use of mediums were popular at the time. The Society also focused on the concept of Hidden Masters, who were seen as heavenly guides of great stature, whose purpose included overseeing and guiding humanity. By 1889, Blavatsky was pronouncing an additional purpose for The Theosophical Society — to prepare for the coming of an anticipated World Teacher.
3. Krishnamurti and “that which is beyond words”
In 1907, Annie Besant became the president of The Theosophical Society. Charles Leadbeater was influential in the Society. In 1909 he discovered a young 13 year old Indian boy named Jiddhu Krishnamurti, playing on the beach in Adyar, India. As noted in Gregory John Tillett’s biography of Leadbeater:
One day in April, 1909, not long after he had returned to Adyar, Leadbeater, accompanied by some of his disciples, including Johan van Manen, Ernest Wood, and B.P. Wadia, walked to the beach on the TS Estate for a swim. A number of Indian boys, the children of Theosophical workers living on the Estate, joined the party and Leadbeater was especially attracted to one of the boys whom he had not seen before. He patted the head of this thin, unhappy looking child, and commented to B.P. Wadia that he felt a sense of well-being with the boy.
When they had returned from the beach, Leadbeater told Dick Balfour-Clarke that he had been interested by the size and beauty of the boy’s aura, as also by that of his brother. He was startled when Ernest Wood commented that the boy, whose name was Krishnamurti, was particularly dim-witted, and that Wood, who had been assisting him with his home-work, considered him to be without any great potential. Undeterred, Leadbeater predicted that the boy would become a great spiritual teacher and speaker. Wood was astounded, and asked whether he would be as great as Mrs Besant. The reply shocked them all: Krishnamurti was to be much greater than Mrs Besant.
Certainly it was not his physical appearance that attracted Leadbeater; as Mary Lutyens noted:
“…apart from his wonderful eyes, he was not at all prepossessing at that time. He was under-nourished, scrawny and dirty; his ribs showed through his skin and he had a persistent cough; his teeth were crooked and he wore his hair in the customary Brahmin fashion of South India, shaved in front to the crown and falling below his knees in a pigtail at the back; moreover his vacant expression gave him an almost moronic look…. Moreover, according to Wood, he was so extremely physically weak that his father declared more than once that he was bound to die.”
The boy was subsequently groomed for many years to become the vehicle or host body for the expected arrival of The World Teacher. This teacher was envisioned to be a new form of Moses, Jesus, Buddha or Mohammed, and it was believed the Teacher would create a massive reset of religion around the world.
It took time, but in 1929, still a young man, Krishnamurti disavowed that he was any kind of World Teacher. He disbanded the order which had been created to nurture and support him, moved on and never looked back.
A few years earlier, in 1922, Jiddhu and his brother Nitya had moved to Ojai, California where it was thought his brother, who suffered from tuberculosis, would benefit from the climate. Benefactors purchased property there. What happened next in some ways catalyzed the remainder of Krishnamurti’s life. (source: Wikipedia)
At Ojai in August and September 1922, Krishnamurti went through an intense ‘life-changing’ experience. This has been variously characterized as a spiritual awakening, a psychological transformation, and a physical reconditioning. The initial events happened in two distinct phases: first a three-day spiritual experience, and two weeks later, a longer-lasting condition that Krishnamurti and those around him referred to as the process. This condition recurred, at frequent intervals and with varying intensity, until his death.
According to witnesses it started on 17 August 1922 when Krishnamurti complained of a sharp pain at the nape of his neck. Over the next two days the symptoms worsened, with increasing pain and sensitivity, loss of appetite, and occasional delirious ramblings. He seemed to lapse into unconsciousness, but later recounted that he was very much aware of his surroundings, and that while in that state he had an experience of “mystical union”. The following day the symptoms and the experience intensified, climaxing with a sense of “immense peace”.Following — and apparently related to — these events the condition that came to be known as the process started to affect him, in September and October that year, as a regular, almost nightly occurrence. Later the process resumed intermittently, with varying degrees of pain, physical discomfort and sensitivity, occasionally a lapse into a childlike state, and sometimes an apparent fading out of consciousness, explained as either his body giving in to pain or his mind “going off”.
These experiences were accompanied or followed by what was interchangeably described as, “the benediction,” “the immensity,” “the sacredness,” “the vastness” and, most often, “the otherness” or “the other.” It was a state distinct from the process. According to Lutyens it is evident from his notebook that this experience of otherness was “with him almost continuously” during his life, and gave him “a sense of being protected.” Krishnamurti describes it in his notebook as typically following an acute experience of the process, for example, on awakening the next day:
… woke up early with that strong feeling of otherness, of another world that is beyond all thought… there is a heightening of sensitivity. Sensitivity, not only to beauty but also to all other things. The blade of grass was astonishingly green; that one blade of grass contained the whole spectrum of colour; it was intense, dazzling and such a small thing, so easy to destroy..
The Theosophical Society no doubt felt these experiences were a predictable messianic cornerstone in the expected incarnation of The World Teacher.
While Krishnamurti repudiated the World Teacher veneration, paradoxically his life and teachings came to deeply influence many world figures including Indira Ghandi, Aldous Huxley, Bruce Lee, John Lennon, George Bernard Shaw and Deepak Chopra. Ekhart Tolle wrote: “Jiddu Krishnamurti, the great Indian philosopher and spiritual teacher spoke and traveled for more than fifty years attempting to convey through words-which are content- that which is beyond words, beyond content.”
In this volume of selections from the writings and recorded talks of Krishnamurti, the reader will find a clear contemporary statement of the fundamental human problem, together with an invitation to solve it in the only way in which it can be solved — for and by himself. The collective solutions, to which so many so desperately pin their faith, are never adequate. “To understand the misery and confusion that exist within ourselves, and so in the world, we must first find clarity within ourselves, and that clarity comes about through right thinking. This clarity is not to be organized, for it cannot be exchanged with another. Organized group thought is merely repetitive. Clarity is not the result of verbal assertion, but of intense self-awareness and right thinking. Right thinking is not the outcome of or mere cultivation of the intellect, nor is it conformity to pattern, however worthy and noble. Right thinking comes with self-knowledge. Without understanding yourself you have no basis for thought; without self-knowledge, what you think is not true.”
This fundamental theme is developed by Krishnamurti in passage after passage. ‘’There is hope in men, not in society, not in systems, organized religious systems, but in you and in me.” Organized religions, with their mediators, their sacred books, their dogmas, their hierarchies and rituals, offer only a false solution to the basic problem. “When you quote the Bhagavad-Gita, or the Bible, or some Chinese Sacred Book, surely you are merely repeating, are you not? And what you are repeating is not the truth. It is a lie, for truth cannot be repeated.” A lie can be extended, propounded and repeated, but not truth; and when you repeat truth, it ceases to be truth, and therefore sacred books are unimportant. It is through self-knowledge, not through belief in somebody else’s symbols, that a man comes to the eternal reality, in which his being is grounded. Belief in the complete adequacy and superlative value of any given symbol system leads not to liberation, but to history, to more of the same old disasters. “Belief inevitably separates. If you have a belief, or when you seek security in your particular belief, you become separated from those who seek security in some other form of belief. All organized beliefs are based on separation, though they may preach brotherhood.”
I’ve discussed the dangers of belief before. In The Suspension of Belief I hint at belief as being like a black hole, a gravitational force which sucks and separates us, turning us inside out, essentially turning us against ourselves and each other.
The Krishnamurti Foundation of America was established in 1969. Krishnamurti himself traveled extensively throughout his life. His enormous body of work, comprising approximately 100 million words, is hosted at https://kfa.org/the-foundation/.
4. David Bohm, and the underlying reality
David Bohm (1917–1992) was raised in Pennsylvania and attended Pennsylvania State College. He concluded his formal education at the University of California, Berkeley, where he earned his PhD in physics under the famed Robert Oppenheimer. Bohm’s communistic-leaning political views prevented him from getting a security clearance to work on Oppenheimer’s Manhattan Project, a troublesome detail that eventually caused him to flee to Brazil during the McCarthy-era Red Menace scare of the 1950s. Bohm was an assistant to Albert Einstein at Princeton for a brief period before leaving for Brazil. Einstein and Oppenheimer both helped Bohm secure a professorship of physics at the University of São Paulo. The tragedy of Bohm having his passport lifted by the U.S. Consulate in Brazil, together with the animosity he continued to experience from his own government, drove him into depression and also gave him no choice but to live abroad for years.
Bohm’s work eventually took a turn. His book Quantum Theory, published in 1951, was well received, including by the esteemed Einstein.
“But Bohm became dissatisfied with the orthodox interpretation of quantum theory he had written about in that book. Starting from the realization that the WKB approximation of quantum mechanics leads to deterministic equations, and convinced that a mere approximation could not turn a probabilistic theory into a deterministic theory, he doubted the inevitability of the conventional approach to quantum mechanics. Bohm’s aim was not to set out a deterministic, mechanical viewpoint, but to show that it was possible to attribute properties to an underlying reality, in contrast to the conventional approach.” (source: Wikepedia)
Bohm’s work in quantum physics was not without controversy, but his brilliance was undeniably top-tier and his insights deeply impacted the world of quantum physics.
Among Bohm’s many contributions was his proposition of a “hidden order which was at work beneath the seeming chaos and lack of continuity of individual particles of matter described by quantum mechanics.”
His interests included the concept of the holographic model of the brain and of the universe. Michael Talbot’s excellent book The Holographic Universe is relatively easy for a layman to sift through. It is here that we meet the ideas of both Bohm and neurophysiologist Karl Pribram (1912–2015), who, independent of Bohm, also arrived at the theory of a holographic model of the brain.
Bohm was also deeply interested in consciousness, which eventually led to his meeting with Krishnamurti. Today, Bohm’s brilliance as a physicist is unquestioned, and well represented by the words of an unexpected admirer:
“He was neither arrogant nor proud. On the contrary, he was humble and easy to talk to. True to his scientific training he was unbiased and open-minded. I consider him to have been one of my scientific gurus.” The Dalai Lama
5. Meetings in consciousness
Bohm’s interest in Krishnamurti emerged in 1959. Krishnamurti was becoming known as a leading beacon on the subject of consciousness. In Bohm’s words:
My first acquaintance with Krishnamurti’s work was in 1959 when I read his book The First and Last Freedom. What particularly aroused my interest was his deep insight into the question of the observer and the observed. This question had long been close to the centre of my own work as a theoretical physicist who was primarily interested in the meaning of the quantum theory. In this theory, for the first time in the development of physics, the notion that these two cannot be separated has been put forth as necessary for the understanding of the fundamental laws of matter in general.
Because of this as well as because the book contained many other deep insights, I felt that it was urgent for me to talk with Krishnamurti directly and personally as soon as possible. And when I first met him on one of his visits to London, I was struck by the great ease of communication with him, which was made possible by the intense energy with which he listened and by the freedom from self-protective reservations and barriers with which he responded to what I had to say. As a person who works in science, I felt completely at home with this sort of response, because it was in essence of the same quality as that which I had made in contacts with those other scientist with whom there had been a very close meeting of minds. And here, I think especially of Einstein who showed a similar intensity and absence of barriers in a number of discussions that took place between him and me. After this I began to meet Krishnamurti regularly and to discuss with him whenever he came to London.
. . . Krishnamurti’s work is permeated by what may be called the essence of the scientific approach, when this is considered in its very highest and purest form. Thus, he begins from a fact like the nature of our thought processes. This fact is established through close attention, involving careful listening to the process of consciousness, and observing it assiduously. In this, one is constantly learning, and out of this learning comes insight into the overall or general nature of the process of thought. This insight is then tested. First, one sees whether it holds together in a rational order. And then one sees whether it leads to order and coherence in what flows out of it in life as a whole.
Krishnamurti constantly emphasizes that he is in no sense an authority. He has made certain discoveries, and he is simply doing his best to make these discoveries accessible to all those who are able to listen. His work does not contain a body of doctrine, nor does he offer techniques or methods for obtaining a silent mind. He is not aiming to set up any new system of religious belief. Rather, it is up to each human being to see if he can discover for himself that to which Krishnamurti is calling attention, and to go on from there to make new discoveries on his own. (The embedded book link above is mine.)
Their recorded in-person meetings, which form the basis for The Ending of Time: Where Philosophy and Physics Meet, took place at the Oak Grove School in Ojai.
6. Nothingness — some context
When we set out to examine ‘Nothingness’ within either the context of mysticism or physics, we find it surprisingly easy to converse in a way that both fields of study can relate to. But there’s an essential conversational rule that must be observed. And it’s clear that both Bohm and Krishnamurti understood it: don’t talk jargon. Bohm didn’t bound out of his chair and frantically begin laying out equations on the chalkboard. Krishnamurti did not lapse into long droning references to the Vedas. Both men simply talked. Talked simply.
As we shall discover, there are many ways to approach the concept of Nothingness. We shall focus on two.
What is ‘Nothingness’ meant to convey? It is meant to convey, in part, a state of mind. In another sense, however, it is meant to express the so-called ‘void’ out of which creation myths describe that all things rose. Where do creative ideas come from? Or where do thoughts themselves arise from? It is not a term that’s meant to imply oblivion or deep cynicism, e.g. nihilism. Instead, it is a term that points both to a still mind and points in the direction of the limitlessness of potential. (source: The Monastery of Nothingness)
To be clear, I come out of the world of the martial arts. A good student, one who is privileged to have an excellent teacher, has a chance of emerging from their training with at least a sense of what we call a still or empty mind. I don’t prefer the term “empty mind” because it can be mistaken to imply mindlessness or being absent, non-attentive. Whereas a ‘still mind’ can better convey a calm mind, a mind that can control itself.
An empty mind might suggest the lake has been drained, but a still mind suggests the lake is calm.
A mind that can control itself is a mind that can be still. A mind that can be still has an opportunity to observe that which cannot be observed when the mind is occupied. Another way of putting this is:
“If you have too many thoughts, you can’t think.”
There’s a different kind of student. A devoted student, one who is privileged to have an extraordinary teacher, has a chance of emerging from their training in command of a still mind. It took many years, but I was one of these students. I only point this out because the abilities that I learned were vital in my personal discoveries and experiences within the context of the Nothingness. In other words, I would never have been able to conduct myself in a manner that allowed such experiences and notions to emerge, without an exquisite training of the mind.
When Krishnamurti and Bohm discuss Nothingness, they are discussing it in terms of the second perspective, which is the so-called void. I have no idea if either of them had sufficient training to still their minds in the sense or context of my example. I strongly suspect it was the case with Krishnamurti.
Either way, the point is to establish some context regarding two things.
- First, what is it they are describing?
- And second, what is it that I am describing?
There are other major inquiries discussed in The Ending of Time which are too vast to encounter in this simple essay. So again, we’ll focus on the theme of Nothingness.
The following sections will include quotes from the conversations of Krishnamurti and Bohm. They are not necessarily presented here in sequential order. I replicate the style of the book, which utilizes the two men’s initials to denote the speaker.
7. Separation distorts our perception
The first time we approach Nothingness in The Ending of Time we land within a conversation about where man begins and ends. This has less to do with creation and dying, and more to do with the philosophical implications that man has separated himself from nature. That man no longer considers himself to be a part of the whole. Both Bohm and Krishnamurti struggle with the notion of separateness. Each man, from his own perspective, see man and the universe as intricately linked. As the same thing.
Krishnamurti is explaining that this desire of man to individualize himself is the reason for suffering, and is also the reason time itself exists. He further states that man cannot possibly sense he’s a part of the Whole — i.e., that he is the Whole — unless he first gives up his need to be separate. Otherwise, he’s too immersed in being distinct and separate.
In man’s desire to feel fulfilled, he resists relaxing and ‘letting go’ and allowing himself to harmonize with his true nature. This act of defiance both distorts his perceptions of reality and confines him to a fear-based life, consumed with the prospect of annihilation.
But when he does let go, he eventually winds up facing the Nothingness. If he can stay calm and relaxed in that circumstance, he finds that time itself disappears. That things which matter disappear. And he begins to experience his true nature, which lies beyond time and matter.
As the conversation unfolds, Bohm finds it logical to then consider what lies beyond. They both agree that whether we examine the micro or the macro, something must always lie beyond.
We come into the conversation when a question is being asked about the greater Mind and why it allowed the ‘mistake’ of separateness to occur in the first place. The segment ends with a question wondering what lies beyond Nothingness.
Conversation: Separation distorts our perception
JK: But if that intelligence was operating, why did it allow this mistake?
DB: Well, we can suggest that there is a universal order, a law.
JK: All right. The universe functions in order.
DB: Yes, and it is part of the order of the universe that this particular mechanism can go wrong. If a machine breaks down, it is not disorder in the universe; it is merely part of the universal order.
JK: Yes. In the universal order there is disorder, where man is concerned.
DB: It is not disorder at the level of the universe.
JK: No. At a much lower level.
DB: At the level of man it is disorder.
JK: And why has man lived from the beginning in this disorder?
DB: Because he is still ignorant, he still hasn’t seen the point.
JK: But he is part of the whole, and in one tiny corner man exists and has lived in disorder. And this enormous intelligence has not . . .
DB: Yes, you could say that the possibility of creation is also the possibility of disorder; that if man had the possibility of being creative, there would also be the possibility of a mistake. He could not be fixed like a machine, always to operate in perfect order. The intelligence would not have turned him into a machine that would be incapable of disorder.
JK: No, of course not. So is there something beyond the cosmic order? Mind?
DB: Are you saying that the universe, that that mind has created nature which has an order, which is not merely going around mechanically? It has some deeper meaning?
JK: That is what we are trying to find out.
DB: You are bringing in the whole universe as well as mankind. What makes you do this? What is the source of this perception?
JK: Let’s begin again. There is the ending of the “me” as time, and so there is no hope; all that is finished, ended. In the ending of it. There is that sense of nothingness, which is so. And nothingness is this whole universe.
DB: Yes, the universal mind, the universal matter.
JK: The whole universe.
DB: I am just asking: What led you to say that?
JK: Ah, I know. To put it very simply, division has come to an end. Right? The division created by time, created by thought, created by this education, and so on — all that. Because it has ended, the other is obvious.
DB: You mean that without the division then the other is there — to be perceived?
JK: Not to be perceived; it is there.
DB: But then how does one come to be aware that it is there?
JK: I don’t think one becomes aware of it.
DB: Then what leads you to say it?
JK: Would you say it is? Not I perceive it, or it is perceived.
DB: Yes. It is.
JK: It is.
DB: You could almost say that it is saying it. In some sense, you seem to be suggesting that it is what is saying.
JK: Yes. I didn’t want to put it — I am glad you put it like that! Where are we now?
DB: We are saying that the universe is alive, as it were, it is mind, and we are part of it.
JK: We can only say we are part of it when there is no “I.”
DB: No division.
JK: No division. I would like to push it a little further; is there something beyond all this?
DB: Beyond the energy, you mean?
JK: Yes. We said nothingness, that nothingness is everything, and so it is that which is total energy. It is undiluted, pure, uncorrupted energy. Is there something beyond that? Why do we ask it?
DB: I don’t know
Commentary: Separation distorts our perception
I have experienced, on multiple occasions, an effortless sense of timelessness. My personal experiences have been completely lucid. They’ve been brought on by a variety of methods, including clinical hypnosis, guided and non-guided meditation, and spontaneously.
I have nothing against using drugs to catalyze experiences, although it seems they could cause distractions. Personally, I’d only occasionally used marijuana recreationally going back to the early 1970s. But once, around 1990, I decided to use it to focus on a question: where is my mind? In this case, I was all-in with half of a too slim joint, maybe less.
I began by exploring the most obvious place, my head. Almost immediately, it occurred to me to reframe my question: where do my thoughts come from?
I had been thinking about this question for quite some time. I kept encountering New Age people and books, some of whom purported to be channeling spirits. It struck me as peculiar that a number of the mediums claimed they were channeling the Archangel Michael. They were quite specific about that, and clearly proud. I read samples of the alleged channeling, replete with childish expressions like ”Beloved children” and “Dear little ones” — and well, it all seemed a bit immature. But taking their claims at face value, it occurred to me that the Archangel couldn’t possibly have the time to be simultaneously authoring all these books in addition to streaming perhaps thousands of live sessions.
Anyway, it got me thinking about how someone could discern if their own thoughts were theirs or if they belonged to some other entity. How would you know? How could you tell the difference? And what made the mediums so impeccably certain it was the real Archangel? Maybe it was some guy named Joe who wanted to step up his game.
In the case of the mediums, they generally adopted a different voice, whether spoken or written. It was inevitably juvenile, even childish. But if I assumed their experiences were genuine, I wondered how you’d know if thoughts were your own if. Let’s say, the incoming transmission adopted a perfectly normal ‘voice’. Not a childish voice. But your own voice.
I started my exploration inside my own head.
In everyday life I have a strong sensation of thoughts originating in my head, but the answer was far from clear. I quickly checked with my right wrist and then my abdomen, trying to determine if there was any sense of thought originating in a part of my body other than my head. There wasn’t.
I returned to my head, and focused my mind into various parts of my brain, diligently looking for some kind of sign that I was nearing the origin of thought. I was unsuccessful. I could kind of feel thoughts swirling around in there, but I had no sense of origin. I was not content to put my hand in the river. I wanted to see the source.
On a whim, I decided to see if perhaps my thoughts were originating just outside my head. They weren’t, but something began to feel like I was getting ‘warmer.’
As I expanded the radius of my search, focused and moderately intensified by the joint, yet again I had a sense of getting even warmer. Increasing my radius yet again, I began to get a strong sense that my thoughts were connected to a far larger, far more undefinable part of myself. An undefinable field. I had an equally strong sense that if I kept expanding my search, as though it was being defined by ever increasing concentric rings, I would not be able to find an origin. I had a sense of something infinite. Not a being nor a presence, but a field of some type. Imagine walking into a cool room when it’s hot outside. There is no sense of a being or presence. You are aware, however, that something has changed. You’re in something a bit different.
At this point in my life, I had little to no sense of the so-called Nothingness. But I was scratching on a window of sorts, glimpsing something that provided me with an early hint of the limitless nature of the mind. And out of this experience I began to cobble together the idea that the brain is essentially a form of step-down transformer for something we call mind.
My first ‘journey’ had given me a significant revelation. Beyond my question about the origin of my thoughts, I had discovered that my unspoken questions were far from a useless waste of time. They actually had merit. It was a strong vote of confidence. Given that such pursuits can span lifetimes, it was a welcome boost.
Obviously I wasn’t considering the power of the mind or the ramifications of separateness in the way Krishnamurti and Bohm were. But I was at the beginning of gaining priceless personal experience. And experience is the key.
JK: We said nothingness, that nothingness is everything, and so it is that which is total energy. It is undiluted, pure, uncorrupted energy.
At the end of this segment, Nothingness is brought back into the conversation. A topic which makes no sense to most of us, is being emphasized by both men. Nothingness is not being presented as a void. It is being presented as ‘no thing’. And that concept has great significance.
In the short essay “Nothingness,” I state:
I have experienced the Nothingness something like this — there is a vast, dark sea of stillness — darkness, yet inexplicably full of light. Out of that vastness, that darkness, that stillness… something emerges. The vastness, the darkness, the stillness is what gives birth to intention. This, while my opinion, is based in my own personal experience. The basis for my statements are not based on faith, are not based on the sayings or writings or teaching of others. Although they may be in agreement with others, any agreement is simply because I have seen and experienced it — and it happens to agree with what others have said or written. In other words, I am not saying it because I want to be agreeable.
So, this is one of the things I have experienced and realized: that before thought is intention. But before intention is what? Before intention is the vast stillness, the darkness, the potential. Everything, in my experience, arises out of the darkness, the living stillness, the Nothingness.
8. Facing emptiness: the fear of annihilation
Mystics and zen masters have been telling us for centuries that we don’t get it. And for centuries we’ve been marginalizing their teachings- precisely because they’re right… we don’t get it.
One of the things we all struggle with from time-to-time is a disturbing sense of emptiness. This feeling that we have some kind of hole inside ourselves is the playground of psychology. Professional and armchair therapists alike tell us we turn to drugs, sex, drinking, money, travel, ambition and more. All in an attempt to fill up the emptiness.
Instead of considering the emptiness, the Nothingness, to be something to explore or even embrace, we flee. It becomes like trying to fill up a sink hole — no matter what gets tossed at it, everything gets swallowed up, and the emptiness continues to loom…
Conversation: facing emptiness
JK: That is just it. There is nothing. The ordinary human being wants something to which he can cling.
DB: He may feel not that he is clinging to the past but reaching for something.
JK: If I reach for something, it is still the past.
DB: Yes, it has its roots in the past, but that is not often obvious, because people say it is a big, new revolutionary situation.
JK: As long as I have my roots in the past there cannot be order.
DB: Because the past is pervaded with disorder.
JK: Yes. And is my mind, my brain, willing to see that there is absolutely nothing if I give up the past?
DB: And nothing to reach for.
JK: Nothing. There is no movement. So people dangle a carrot in front of me and, foolishly, I follow it. But if I have no carrots, no rewards or punishments, how is this past to be dissolved? Because otherwise I am still living in the field of time that is man-made. So what shall I do? Am I willing to face absolute emptiness?
DB: What will you tell somebody who is not willing, or feels unable, to face this?
JK: I am not bothered. If somebody else says, “I can’t do all this nonsense,” I say, “Well, carry on.” But I am willing to let my past go completely. Which means there is no effort or reward or punishment, no carrot, nothing. And the brain is willing to face this extraordinary and totally new state to it of existing in a state of nothingness. That is appallingly frightening.
DB: Even these words will have their meaning rooted in the past, and that’s where fear comes in.
JK: Of course. We have understood that; the word is not the thing. My brain says it is willing to do that, to face this absolute nothingness and emptiness, because it has seen for itself that all the places where it has taken refuge are illusions . . .
DB: I think this leaves out something that you brought up earlier — the question of the damage or scars to the brain.
JK: That is just it.
DB: The brain that isn’t damaged could possibly let go the past fairly readily.
JK: Look, can I discover what has caused damage to the brain? Surely one of the factors is strong, sustained emotions, like hatred.
DB: Probably a flash of emotion doesn’t do so much damage, but people sustain it. E
JK: Of course. Hatred, anger, and violence not only shock but wound the brain. Right?
DB: And getting excessively excited.
JK: Of course. And drugs and so on. The natural response doesn’t damage the brain. Now the brain is damaged; suppose it has been damaged through anger.
DB: You could even say that nerves probably get connected up in the wrong way and that the connections are too fixed. I think there is evidence that these things will actually change the structure.
JK: Yes, and can we have an insight into the whole nature of disturbance, so that the insight changes the cells of the brain which have been wounded?
DB: Well, possibly it would start them healing.
Commentary: facing emptiness
We typically associate a mind full of active and moving thoughts as a productive and healthy mind. But is it?
The mind has many thoughts, but it’s rarely empty. Yet, when it’s able to pause, it can glimpse the emptiness. And a mere glimpse can change you forever.
The mind leads the body. When we become aware of tension, and our mind tells our body to relax, it usually does. And as the body relaxes, the mind — focusing on relaxing the body — begins to also relax. And as the mind relaxes, it starts to become more and more still. More and more clear.
One reason the mind resists truly relaxing is that a deeper and deeper state of relaxation inevitably leads us in the direction of Nothingness. I think most of us reflexively pull back from going that deep. It’s too unknown for us. So we either recoil, fall asleep or otherwise distract ourselves.
Giving up certainty allows us to be open to the unknown.
Is it really all that disturbing to be uncertain? To live adrift in the tireless flux of the unknown? To no more understand the depths of our own self than the expansiveness of the universe? I think we underestimate our desire for the unknown — for the mind-expanding sense of a universe and a self without end. For the sublime rewards of a world of no clear and definitive answers.
What is it that’s so appealing when we stand on the edge of the ocean and relax in its vastness? What is it that rejuvenates us when our gaze extends across wide scenes viewed from a mountain? It’s expansiveness, a sense of vastness, a sense of something large, unknown.
So it is with the Nothingness.
“When love and hate are both absent, everything becomes clear and undisguised. Make the slightest distinction, however, and heaven and earth are set infinitely apart. If you wish to see the truth, then hold no opinions for or against anything. To set up what you like against what you dislike is the disease of the mind.” — Hsin Hsin Ming
Martial arts, if nothing else, is certainly a study of cause and effect. We might call it a study of the Art of Movement. Martial arts is an intensely subjective experience, taught and practiced with the strictest and most insistent forms of objectivity. It represents the merging of objectivity and subjectivity into a singular set of experiences.
It is through these experiences that awareness grows for the martial artist. For the mystic it is about the inner journey and perhaps also about cataloguing that journey objectively. For the physicist, it is about observation. For example, Einstein spoke of Nothingness:
“Nothing happens until something moves.” — Albert Einstein
A different way of addressing this notion is to state that Nothingness exists, until something moves. Movement emerges out of the Nothingness. Now there’s something.
In my own experiences, I have observed that the Nothingness is a vast, dark sea of light. How can that be? How can something be dark but also light? Because there is no separation of the two. They are unified. They are potential.
Let’s take a brief look at how a philosopher and a physicist discuss movement.
JK: I have listened very carefully to everything that you, who have insight, say. What you have done is to dispel the centre. In darkness I could invent many things of significance; that there is light, there is God, there is beauty, there is this and that. But it is still in the area of darkness. Caught in a room full of darkness, I can invent a lot of pictures, but I want to get something else. Is the mind of the one who has this insight — who therefore dispels darkness and has understanding of the ground which is movement without time — is that mind itself that movement?
DB: Yes, but it isn’t the totality. The mind is the movement, but we are saying movement is matter, movement is mind. And we were saying that the ground may be beyond the universal mind. You said earlier that the movement, that the ground, is more than the universal mind, more than the emptiness.
JK: We said that. Much more.
DB: Much more. But we have to get this clear. We say that the mind is this movement.
JK: Yes, mind is the movement.
DB: We are not saying that this movement is only mind?
JK: No, no, no.
DB: That is the point I was trying to get correct.
JK: Mind is the movement — mind in the sense “the ground.”
DB: But you said that the ground goes beyond the mind.
JK: Now, just a minute. What do you mean by “beyond the mind”?
DB: Just going back to what we were discussing a few days ago. We said we have the emptiness, the universal mind, and then the ground is beyond that.
JK: Would you say beyond that is this movement?
DB: Yes. The mind emerges from the movement as a ground and falls back to the ground; that is what we are saying.
JK: Yes, that’s right. Mind emerges from the movement.
DB: And it dies back into the movement.
JK: That’s right. It has its being in the movement.
DB: Yes, and matter also.
JK: So what I want to get at is I am a human being faced with this ending and beginning. And X abolishes that.
DB: Yes. It is not fundamental.
JK: It is not fundamental. One of the greatest fears of life, which is death, has been removed.
I am floating in the Nothingness. There is a sense of being enveloped and superbly relaxed. Content.
There is no movement other than the occasional thought. Each time a thought occurs, something arises out of the Nothingness. Small or quick thoughts are like very tiny pillars temporarily coming upward and out. But nothing is quick, even if it happens instantly. Rather, everything is deliberate.
When the thought disappears, they fall back in but without any splash or ripple. A larger, more formed thought causes a greater movement or pillar. Some thoughts congeal and take form. I think of someone and someone emerges, walking toward me.
Yet all the while, the vast dark sea of brilliant light, Nothingness, remains calm. When I intend something to happen, it does. And I begin to realize that there is something that exists which precedes even intention. I’ve never considered that before, but it is clear that within the Nothingness is that which precedes intention. I can only call it Potential.