Wednesday 16 January 2013

How/why does "Self" seem to exist?

I have been thinking lately about how it is that a "self" (atta in Pali) seems to exist even though I cannot locate this "self," and I have no intellectual reason whatsoever for believing in it. Perhaps you, too, have been thinking about this. (At the same time, I worry I'm skipping over the "direct path" that Soh Wei Yu/An Eternal Now took, starting from the I AM/Advaita realization via self-inquiry.)

I've come to the conclusion that this self is seen to exist as a result of dukkha (stress/restlessness/lack of inner peace). Of course, it is all circular. Because we think self exists, we experience dukkha. But here is how I see dukkha creating self.

Imagine self as king of the kingdom. Why do we need a king or ruler in society? Because there are various conflicting forces in society which need to be kept in line, lest society devolve into chaos. In the same sense, the body/mind has various conflicting desires. If you view things materialistically (since material reality seems to be at least some kind of representation of reality if not the entire thing), you could say this is a result of evolution giving us various semi-autonomous nervous systems and neural networks. We have the enteric nervous system (which is controlled largely by microbes), the left and right brain hemispheres, as well as the reptilian brain (hindbrain+midbrain), old mammalian brain (limbic system), and the latest addition, the neomammalian brain (neocortex). Each of these various systems tug the whole body/mind unit (which we perceive ourselves to be at this limited stage) in different directions. If there is no part which dominates in any moment, either all the parts must be harmonized and at peace, with action flowing effortlessly, or else all parts are equally matched against each other, causing intense dukkha and impossibility to act.

It seems that the neocortex is what started the whole self-awareness experience in terms of evolutionary biology. But even without self-awareness, inner conflict between the various "minds/brains" is often going on. So self-awareness was the first evolutionary step needed in order to realize the extent of the inner conflict. We must know the disease in order to cure it. But most of us get stuck at this level of self-awareness, and we take this to be "the way reality is," with the consequence that we remain stuck in the awful cycle of birth and death indefinitely. In fact, self-awareness should be seen as merely a stage in our evolving perception of reality.

Self-awareness, when honed, leads to the realization of dependent origination, or how everything is dependent on everything else in the body and outside it. This leads to the realization that the self itself must be just a trick of some sort, some kind of conventional view useful only up to a point.

We can read neurological studies of people with various brain disorders in order to see how limited self-awareness really is as a way of perceiving reality. For example, a left-brained person (which most people are) missing his right brain hemisphere will not even notice that anything is wrong. They will be functional to a large degree, though they will, for example, not be able to see the left side of anything. But they won't think this is happening, because their consciousness will not know the meaning of "left side"... so imagine seeing only the right side of everyone's face/body, but not knowing that you are only seeing one side! Truly incredible how delusion works, isn't it? The left hemisphere is constantly fabricating explanations so that everything seems to make sense, even when it clearly does not. If you told this patient that they are not seeing things as they are, they would vigorously deny it, because they do not wish to experience cognitive dissonance. But they would not know that is why they are denying it. They would believe that what you are saying is simply nonsense.

Once we give up the idea that we are perceiving reality accurately, and admit that our labels are all meaningless/empty at the level of ultimate reality, we begin to notice the internal strife more intensely. We notice the process of "selfing" as it happens. We notice the various tugs from the various brains in us. We may become afraid of what would happen if there were no left brain, neocortex controller to prevent the various brains from doing whatever they wish. And so we may begin clinging even more to the false self controller, even as we recognize intellectually that it is empty of inherent existence and that its reification causes dukkha.

Perhaps this is where samatha (calming) meditation comes in to rescue us from our frightening insights. In calming, we activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which runs through all of the brains and reduces their urges. We begin to feel that there is less need for control, that instead of enforcing order among the brains, we can somehow spread happiness to each of them by harmonizing them with each other.

When we attain states of meditative absorption, we realize that the parasympathetic, harmonizing system is capable of delivering infinitely more happiness (sukkha) than we ever imagined in our perpetual dukkha of the sympathetic nervous system.

With this new knowledge from experience, we have greater ability to see, even in daily, active life, that we can have increasing compassion for the various brains, rather than whip them to keep them in check. Compassion cools them and harmonizes them.

The idea is that once they are sufficiently harmonized (or once one has attained an abiding deep samadhi in daily life), we can continue on the path of insight to break down all notions of what we are and what concepts are necessary to keep, leaving none. We can examine the emptiness of the self and all phenomena throughout each day and during sitting/walking meditation, until we gradually let go of all of the delusions.

The goal is to release all objects and see reality as merely interdependent, indivisible processes, such that goodness flows freely with no doer doing. At this point, we will laugh at the idea that there ever was a "self" to control anything.

Now, of course, this explanation does not work to explain why the self existed before the human body existed, as is required, I think, by the doctrine of rebirth and beginningless ignorance. However, I think we can use this explanation as a kind of metaphor for a more abstract/metaphysical explanation. In other words, let's just say that somehow there was disharmony perceived in nature due to ignorance or immaturity or initially imbalanced conditions or something, and that disharmony gave rise to a sense of self to try to harmonize things, but very quickly that sense of self became the problem rather than the solution.

For example, astrophysicists say that at the beginning of the universe, for some microseconds perhaps, there was likely a mysterious imbalance in particles to anti-particles. All matter that hit anti-matter was mutually annihilated, leaving only the remaining matter that now forms our universe (in which we so far find no anti-matter). So this imbalance was necessary for there to be something rather than nothing, but only for a split second. I find this an interesting, tho perhaps unrelated, corollary to the at one time useful evolutionary imbalance between the different brains in the body.


I guess personally, I'm still trying to develop deeper daily samadhi while still contemplating emptiness (sunyata). Lately I have made some important decisions in terms of letting go of superfluous activities. I am lucky to have no family to take care of nor intimate partner, so no karmic obligation there (and my mother is still healthy and independent). I've quit school at the age of 27, after finally feeling that I am done learning from conventional modern perspectives on how things are or should be. This leaves me with more time to meditate, which is deeply needed. As a result of quitting school, I hope to be leaving my tutoring job at the school, which was a source of ego entrapment. What's left is basically my pharmacy tech job, which is ok because it is mostly just anonymous work that anyone could do with a little training. I donate the majority of what I earn (at $8.50/hr) to charities (mainly this one), as part of my development of sila (virtue/morality) which encompasses dana (generosity), which seems to help calm me. At the same time, I try not to get attached to a self-concept such as, "I am a good generous person," because ultimate this being good and generous is merely a means to an end (liberation), which is itself a means to the beginning (more goodness and generosity, though of a deeper, subtler nature). I am still hoping to become a forrest monk, hopefully within a year, if I can find the right setting (perhaps Abhayagiri).


Update (01-20-2015): some time after writing this, I ended up getting married & having a baby. The marriage was a trial by fire due to my wife being bipolar and nearly strangling me to death after 2 years together (her idea of breaking down my ego). But our dukkha-filled time together was completely perfect, and I see that. We learned a tremendous amount from each other (she even had an awakening that lasted a week). I only hope we can keep the lessons in mind & that there is no more need for attempted murder! :)

I read somewhere that if you pray to "wake up to reality as soon as possible no matter the difficulties" then you better be ready for a hell of a ride. And that is what I prayed for! I didn't want the long boat ride, I wanted the damaged rocketship!

Saturday 5 January 2013

Intro to Tafka Jestdr's journey

The concept of an unchanging essence called "self" is logically impossible. You are a figment of mind's imagination. Your suffering is caused by imagining that you exist separate from the rest of reality. Self-clinging can be ended by letting go of all views, all attachments. This, just this, is eternal liberation of the mind from all conditioned phenomena.

A few quotes before we begin:

A man said to Buddha, "I want happiness."
Buddha said, "First, eliminate 'I'; that is ego."
"Next, eliminate 'want', that is desire."
"See? All that remains is happiness." (paraphrase)
"He who overcomes I, will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will he leave it." - Jesus, Revelations 3:12 (please note comma position is key in this quote)
"Whoever tries to preserve his life will lose it; whoever loses it will keep it." Jesus qtd in Luke 17: 33
"It depends on what the meaning of the word 'is' means." --U.S. President Bill Clinton, denying a romantic relationship in court.

"To be precise, the [fully purified] citta [Pali word for "heart/mind"] is beyond the conditions of time and space, which allows it to blanket everything. Far is like near, for concepts of space do not apply. All that appears is a very refined awareness suffusing everything throughout the entire universe. The whole world seems to be filled by this subtle quality of knowing, as though nothing else exists, though things still exist in the world as they always have." --Ajahn Maha Boowa (p.102 of Arahattamagga-Arahattaphala) 

"..But this true nature is obscured by the defilements (kilesa) 

within it. Through the power of fundamental ignorance, a focal point 
of the “knower” is created from which that knowing nature views the 
world outside. The establishment of that false center creates a “self” 
from whose perspective consciousness flows out to perceive the duality 
of the “knower” and the “known”. Thus the citta becomes entangled with 
things that are born, become ill, grow old, and die, and therefore, deeply 
involved it in a whole mass of suffering. " (ibid p.107)


Welcome to this belated blog of a spiritual seeker (you can call me, The Aggregates Formerly Known As Joel E. S. T. D. R. -- or just Tafka Jestdr).

I say belated because I probably should have started it a long time ago, but I felt I had nothing very useful to contribute until maybe now. My transformation is just beginning. But I have gotten some key insights that will guide me. Or maybe there's no transformation, no one transforming, and nothing to see here. I suggest you take everything I say with a grain of salt, though it is all what I've experienced.

I was raised in a family that believed in saving the world from greed and violence. My father believed that "God is the universe, and the universe is love" but he never tried to explain any spiritual or religious stuff to me, and I never asked. His goal was to show people that there is a bright future for humanity, but that dark times will come before the bright ones. In this way, he could give people the hope necessary to overcome the dark times. What exactly the bright future was, he seemed to be unsure of. He was spiritual but actually more into science as a means of salvation. And in his later years, he became convinced that humanity's salvation rested with the benevolent intervention of extraterrestrials/UFOs etc. I can't say he was ever illogical or of unsound mind, though I myself never came to rest my hopes on UFOs (though science, perhaps to some extent, at least briefly).

Until age 12, I was just a happy child who liked to play with friends. I didn't care much for toys, but I was a bit greedy for food and affection. Luckily, my mother was very affectionate, and food was not scarce. But around age 12, I somehow became aware of the misery of the wider world. This led to a lifelong feeling of sadness, angst, and hopelessness.

I felt that I was worthless as a human being except for my ability to help others. But how could I help others? Religions were so varied that they could not all be true, and anyway I had never experienced God as real, so that was a no-go. At first, the answer seemed to be to get into politics. Communism or anarchism seemed like good ideas, and so I worked with groups who tried to educate the public about the need to change the political system. The one problem was that it seemed the alternative political systems were simply too advanced for most of humanity. Most of us are simply too ignorant and/or greedy to live in a free society that takes care of everyone. I came to this conclusion after getting a BA in history (with a focus on third world history).

Then I decided that although there was little hope of changing the world, I must at least do my part, because there is nothing else to do but to give up on life entirely. So I decided to become a history teacher. At age ~26, I got my M.Ed. in secondary Ed. I started student-teaching at a local Philly high school (Olney High West). But after 6 weeks, the kids convinced me that teaching was not for me. They simply did not want to learn. I realized that I could not force them to learn. And even if there were some incredible creativity I could have found to capture their interest, it would not be permitted by the administration. And quite honestly, I realized I hate grading papers and organizing learning. I hated the idea that people should even rely on anyone else to teach them. If they relied on me to teach them, and they believed what I taught, then what would prevent them from relying on anyone else for information? Intrinsic search for meaning must be the essential goal. I realized I could not spark that intrinsic search in these kids. Something greater than "me" was needed for that.

At this point, my personal life was at its peak in terms of happiness. I was punch drunk on love for my girlfriend all the time. But I began to feel an emptiness in the relationship despite the ecstasy of it. On the one hand, I felt that I wanted to be closer and more intimate with my girlfriend than was possible. Not just because she was content with the level of intimacy, but because I simply did not know how I could achieve the infinite intimacy I desired while still existing as a separate individual! On the other hand, my desire for greater intimacy also expressed itself (perhaps) as a desire for more sex. I had an insatiable appetite for her body. She enjoyed that I did, but she also felt it was a bit much and that I should be satisfied with what she was satisfied with in terms of frequency of sex (i.e. once or twice a week). I was always the one to initiate, which also bothered me. I began fantasizing about finding someone else who would be as lusty for me as I was for her. This fantasizing led to me feeling even less close to my lovely girlfriend.

Eventually, I ended up having sex with some girl that seduced me. Still lacking any moral integrity, I failed to tell this to my now semi-ex-girlfriend that I was still sometimes sleeping with, until one day she asked, not accusingly, if I had had sex with anyone else. When I said yes (I wasn't so low that I would lie about it), she became understandably furious. I could have given her an STD. It's true. I felt awful and still do feel that was an awful thing to do. A part of me felt that I simply had to do something awful to her in order to really finally stop seeing her. Of course I did not intentionally hurt her, but I did intentionally focus my awareness on self-gratification, which resulted to be at her expense. Luckily, there was no STD.

Now in another thread of my personal life, I had recently discovered drugs as a result of my best friend introducing them to me. The first time I smoked marijuana I had the most incredible experience of synesthesia. Sounds became colors and feelings. Words and concepts became feelings. My whole life was being seen as a cartoon, and I was a cartoon mouse. I smoked marijuana after that a few times but of course never had that level of experience again. I felt that there MUST be something more to drugs... this couldn't be the end!!! So I asked, and indeed, there was something more: magic mushrooms. So one day, I ordered some shrooms online from the Netherlands. Yes, it was maybe a bit risky, but I did not care! They finally arrived in the mail and I was overjoyed. I ate a low dose, having no idea what to expect. What happened was that I began laughing hysterically. Everything became hilarious. My friend S. suggested I go outside an enjoy nature in the hammock. So I did. It was Fantastic. Visually, everything became simply more beautiful. Everything took on a greater *meaning*... I could understand things about life that never made sense before. Contradictions evaporated. I felt I understood the minds of people like Lenin and Castro, with all of the contradictions that entailed.

At this point I felt I must share all of this wonderful insight with someone, lest I forget it all after the drug wore off. So I called my friend M., who suffers from social anxiety and stays in the house. I told him everything I was coming to understand. He was incredulous, yet still interested to hear my insanity. It was a good laugh for him. :)   I guess that made me realize that it would not be so easy to transmit the truth to others.

As the trip wore down, I realized that I had only touched the tip of the iceberg of what reality has to offer me. So I quickly googled, "What drug offers the ultimate psychedelic experience?" The answer seemed to jump out of Google: Ayahuasca. I read one man's account of drinking ayahuasca in which he became one with the entire universe. He could see everything, knew everything, and had infinite love, etc. WOW! This can't possibly be true, I thought. NO WAY! But at this point, my curiosity got the best of me. I MUST try this! So I ordered some B. caapi powder online along with some mimosa rootbark powder. When they finally came, I looked up some dosage info, and I brewed my ayahuasca tea for 15 minutes. It turns out the info I got was all wrong. I used about 10x too much mimosa, and I brewed it for way too short of a time. But I knew nothing except what I read, and God or ayahuasca or whatever, it seemed, would forgive my ignorance just this once. Instead of perhaps frying my brain from such an enormous dose of DMT in 50g of mimosa, the body simply vomited almost non-stop for 8 hours.

I drank the entire tea, including the caapi and mimosa powder. YUCCCKKKKK!!!!!! Within about 10-15 minutes, I realized, "OH shit! This is for REAL! I had no idea!" But there was no point in fighting it, because I realized it was infinitely more powerful than me. So I simply puked a bunch and then ran to my room to lie down in my bed (luckily a cheap mattress that was already stained). The trip started with me seeing 2 infinitely multi-colored mummies/aliens who danced in front of me, and stared directly into my soul, hypnotizing me. I was scared as hell but I also knew there was nothing for me to do. I couldn't move. I felt that I had simply made the wrong choice and now life was about to end for me forever. I felt death coming on. I began to see my room open up and extend into a vision of infinite corpses heaped upon each other. Now I saw photos of my childhood, as if to say to me "This life was just a story you identified with. Now it is over." At some point, I closed my eyes and then I disappeared from this dimension entirely. I was in some kind of alien limbo prison now, where these entities would swoop in constantly just to stare at my soul. The feeling I got was that this existence of dreadful limbo would continue forever. That the nice little story of life was over and all that was left was insanity and misery. It got really dreadfully boring, and I finally just said, "Ok, fine. I accept it. If this is to be eternity, then so be it." At that moment, the scene shattered, and I became one with the universe just as described by the other experiencer. I could literally SEE everything in the universe. I experienced BEING the universe at the time of the Big Bang up until the time of the Big Collapse, over and over. I experienced the evolution of all life forms in nature. When all of that was done, or when I got bored with it or something, I was simply one with everything from all time. There was infinite love, and infinite knowing. Now I understood the nature of reality. All religion must have come from some small piece of this experience. At the same time, however, I still somehow had my earthly questions. Like I already knew everything, and yet it didn't fit with anything I could have expected, so I had to ask how it really did relate.

I must have directed my consciousness back toward some kind of semi-duality so that I could ask questions of other entities. There was one message repeated to me over and over. It said "You are not from here." And the "here" part seemed to refer to Earth. I didn't get it. I found the most glorious, luminous entities in the vicinity of this duality bubble, and, in awe, I asked, "Are you God?" These formless beings of light telepathically chuckled at my question. That was the only answer. I understood that this question was simply inapplicable to reality. I asked about the meaning of life and why we created the universe. The answer for every question was, "Wrong question." Or, it might be "Yes" if a yes/no question was asked, but since there was never a "No," the "Yes" answers were not to be taken seriously. Basically, all questions were inconsequential. Knowing was simply all there was. I had to accept that. After an eternity of this (6 hours in Earth time, tho), I came back to my body. I felt as if I were reborn in every imaginable sense. I could still see into infinity/eternity but I could also see normally as well. My bed was full of vomit. I began to clean up the vomit. The most astounding thing was that I was BACK in this same body. This experience did not fry the brain! In fact the brain seemed to be working at peak efficiency, better than ever! Love was pouring out of my every cell into the ether. I told my housemates how much I loved them. The infinite joy was indescribable.

After cleaning up all the vomit, I went downstairs and told my friend E. that I had attained enlightenment. He didn't know what that meant. I couldn't explain it. I tried to explain it, but nothing I said convinced him of anything. How could it? I said that all seeming duality was just an illusion. But he didn't even know what duality meant.

The next day, I felt that my entire being had been purified and was so light and joyful. This ayahuasca stuff really must be very natural for the body, I thought. How lucky I was to have found God's plants. But I also became more and more cemented in my previous way of seeing things dualistically. It seems that drugs simply do not offer one any permanent change except for some opening to the idea of change. My hardcore materialist atheism was beginning to be challenged. But my identity was so solidly based on my materialist atheism that I soon attributed the entire experience to merely a "drug trip" with no meaning for my life!

Perhaps the greatest lesson here is that. No matter what you experience, your identity can write it off as unreal if it conflicts with who you think you are.

But because I wrote the experience off, I was drawn to do it again. I did ayahuasca over 8 times (luckily with the proper doses after the first time). I had the same exact experience each time. There was no new understanding at all. And each time, I wrote it off days afterwards. Finally, I decided that I didn't want to go through this mini-death experience every week just to continue feeling good. I decided I needed to accept that this experience was just as true as my regular life. After all, how could it not be just as true? We experience what we experience and that is that. Actually, if anything, it was more true in some sense... certainly it felt more true while I was in the experience. It felt like home.

I decided that my mission must be to save the world by bringing ayahuasca to the world. But first, I wanted to experiment with other psychedelics to see if they offered any different ways of seeing things. I got a bunch of "research chemicals" and tried them. Nothing seemed to feel natural and true the way ayahuasca did. Because of that, I did not take very high doses of any of those things. The more interesting experiment was to do a kind of "research ayahuasca"--I got 95% pure tetrahydroharmine from FlowingVisions (it is one of the harmala alkaloids found in B. caapi which people say offers the most clarity/power of knowing), and I took 200mg of that sublingually along with 50mg of DMT. First off, I think the THH dose was at least twice as much as it should have been, and anyway most people do not use THH by itself, but I was ignorant of that. So anyway, what happened is that it came on really intensely. I thought I could handle it, but for whatever reason, I simply couldn't this time. Maybe because drugs were no longer "for" me, or maybe due to the ignorance in dosing etc.

I felt sure that if I allowed myself to leave the body as usual, I would never, ever return to individual existence. Of course, I'd felt this every time I did ayahuasca, but this time there was no hypnotic element to prevent my from simply freaking out. I began going to the beginning of eternity, which makes no sense, and as Buddha said, anyone who contemplates such a subject will go mad. So, mad I went. I began screaming for my friend E. as loud as a lion (if that makes any sense). I literally believed that my voice was so loud, it could be heard throughout the universe. But E. was not close by. Instead, his uncle, our landlord, C., heard my scream in his house (apparently it was a very loud scream in reality!) and he came by to check on me. I was in the attic, which was hot, and so I had on only underwear, also. :)

Anyway, C. comes up to the attic and, being the good Quaker that he is, he (as I recall) talks to me in a very gentle, understanding way. The funny thing is, I had been avoiding C. for a while because I was sure he hated me for having given his 17-year-old son (what I would later realize to be) a way too high dose of 4-aco-dmt (60mg, equivalent to maybe like 7g dried cubensis shrooms) as his first intro to psychedelics <smacks head>, leading to him freaking out in his bedroom. Well, I was a raving maniac at this point. I was telling C. "the truth" so that at least if I did leave existence forever, someone would understand why. I told him, "We are God, C." He was actually glad to finally understand why his son wanted to do psychedelics. But he simply told me, matter-of-factly, "Oh, yeah, I know. I'm a Quaker." That made me love him so much! But the energy coursing through my veins was so extraordinarily overpowering, that I was forced to go on and on about every insane thing that floated through my mind. I told him that we should all go back to living in the jungle and having orgies in Africa like our ancestors did, in my imagination at least. I guess that's just my ultimate fantasy. Anyway, he patiently listened, and then took me down to get some fresh air.

While sitting on the porch, in my underwear, I continued screaming at the top of my lungs every now and then, as well as cursing, saying "FUCK!!! FUCK!! It's too MUCH!" I wanted it to be over so bad. But I also felt glad that I was experiencing this, so that I could bring "the truth" down to these mortals, despite the pain of it all, and also so that I could warn people not to do this themselves, ironically. Finally my housemates arrived, and I started schooling them on the meaning of life. As I saw it, they were actually starting to understand everything! But later they explained to me how they saw it, and basically I guess I just imagined them experiencing it the way I wanted them to.

One interesting thing is that while on the porch almost naked, I was not bitten by a single mosquito. I had the utmost feeling of love for all beings, it seemed, such that they could not harm me, even as they bit the bejesus out of everyone else around me. Another interesting thing was that C. asked if he should take me to the hospital. I said it was not necessary (though I admitted that I also had no preference over going or not going to any particular place), because the trip would be over in 3 hours, which turned out to be accurate. He asked me what time it was now, and I told him exactly the time, without looking at any clock. So although there was indeed some madness, there was also some kind of gnosis going on. Something was "real" about all of this.

One last drug note... before that crazy last trip, I did try iboga, and that was another godsend. At low doses, it made me feel like a child again. Like natural ecstasy, or something. I wanted to do a high dose of iboga, but it is a much more serious undertaking than ayahuasca, and anyway most trip reports I found on iboga seemed to be more personal and less universal in their nature. I actually did attempt to do a "flood" dose of iboga one time, but half of the cup spilt out, and so I didn't get enough for a real experience. What I got was interesting, and it basically showed me how absurd every line of reasoning is if taken to its ultimate logical endpoint. It was hilarious. But I didn't understand how that could help humanity.

I became active on ayahuasca and DMT forums. I soon discovered that only maybe 10% or less of people who drank ayahuasca had an experience anywhere near what I had. And those who smoked DMT were far less likely to have the experience I had.

My friends who I managed to cajole into trying ayahuasca did not have anything near my experience. In fact, most of them got nothing from it but vomiting. One of them, who at the time was considering suicide, faced his demons and through my suggestion ended up in a blissful free-fall experience, but that's all (by the way I now feel it may have been irresponsible to cajole these folks into trying ayahuasca before they were called to it). This discouraged me. I realized I couldn't simply save the world by giving people ayahuasca to wake them up. It seems that one must in some way be ready, or be chosen, or something.

I learned how to make a smokable version of ayahuasca ("changa") so that I could hopefully gain more understanding of the higher reality without being so overwhelmed by it. It took much experimentation to find the right proportions in my recipe for changa. Everyone had different recipes. But finally I got a very potent blend produced. It was extraordinary. I gave my friend E. some changa to smoke. He said it didn't make him feel good. What?? I couldn't believe it. Others, who later tried it, loved it. Anyway.

Around this time I began selling psychedelics, including shrooms that I grew myself. I felt that this stuff needed to be distributed. And if I got money for doing so, that was fine as well. I would just end up giving the money away anyway, to some good cause, for the most part.

I also had other schemes of making money illegally which I believed were moral because the money would be put to better causes.

But the changa had other ideas. Before I hit rock bottom in my moral understanding of things, changa came and smacked the shit out of me. It made me realize that I could not represent the holy and sacred universe in any way which could be imagined as having to do with money. So I began simply giving away my psychedelics and dropping all my schemes.

Now back to my relationship with my girlfriend. She was concerned about my use of psychedelics, which she thought was not only imprudent, but showed that I was not satisfied by my relationship with her. Indeed, I wasn't, and I admitted it now. I told her that she should try ayahuasca so that we could be more intimate. She said she wanted nothing to do with it. I decided I had to break up with her, though the process of actually doing so lasted months, due to how attached we were to each other. Even now, over a year later, I still miss her a lot, though I know that we are not right for each other, and I am beginning to think it is silly for me to desire anything for myself at all, but back to the timeline...

One day, after having broken up with my girlfriend, I was watching the movie Amelie with my friend E in his room. The movie was incredibly boring at first. After about an hour, I couldn't take the boredom, and so while watching the movie, I smoked a small amount of changa. Something unexpected happened at that moment. GOD exploded in my brain! No other way to describe it. I was still there as a witness, but God had taken up most of my brain. I knew it was God. There was no other word. I screamed to E, "OH MY GOD! GOD IS REAL!" This God was just there, with its infinite wisdom and its infinite love. There were no communications. I just basked in its glory as I watched the movie. I never knew it was possible to have such an amazing experience of life while still being totally functional. It was over in 15 minutes, as usual for changa trips. But now that I knew, I also knew that I must pursue this state of being until it was mine permanently.

Meanwhile, back to my love (eros) life. I set up a profile on OKCupid which I thought was fantastic. I thought any girl in her right mind would want to be with me. Not only had I started my spiritual journey, not only did I in some sense know everything of absolute reality, but I also had the worldly ambition now of becoming a neuroscientist so that I could learn to give people the God experience without drugs, in a more predictable manner.

For months, I went looking for suitable girls on OKCupid. I never found any. Finally I got a message from a girl (D.) who just set up a profile. She said she never thought she would try something as silly as online dating. She was really into finding God, and she looked pretty. I couldn't believe it! Finally, I found my soulmate! I had been reading about soulmates and such, and was starting to believe in that stuff. We both deleted our OKCupid profiles, because I guess we felt we had found what we were looking for.

After about a month of talking with D., we finally met up at a book store. She also had a teaching job, though she was now out of work due to the hiring freeze in the school system. The first "fault" I realized about her was that she was very insecure. But I was ok with that. In fact, I thought it a good thing, because I really wanted a girl who would be as clingy as I was, if not more so! Her other "fault" was that she wanted to wait until marriage before sex. But she made up for it by showing me that the wait would be worth it. She seemed to have a very high sexual energy about her, though it was only implied indirectly. The other interesting thing about her was that she actually said she had direct communication with God every now and then. WOW! No drugs and yet she was doing that? Amazing!

So after a few dates, I asked D. to ask God if we were right for each other. She didn't want to ask God that! She was afraid God might say "No." I insisted. Well, God said "No." It was awful. But I accepted it. What else could I do? Then, a month later, D. let me know that she had realized spirituality was a sham unless it was entirely tied to the word of Jesus as written in the Bible. Because Jesus said he was the only way to God. "Wow," I though, "that's awfully closed-minded of her." She gave me a book to read about spiritual seekers who found enlightenment and then repented because Jesus told them to or something. I was unconvinced. I told her that she didn't understand the ultimate truth as I did, and I hoped that one day she would. But I felt bad because I knew that I myself did not truly understand anything, except in some small intellectual way.

We stopped talking. Then, a month later, she got back in touch and said she just wanted to see me again. I agreed. We got together and we "made out" (kissing and such) in a cafe. Oddly, her younger sister somehow found us by chance in that cafe which was a bit embarrassing. Anyway, we kept seeing each other despite what God said, because it felt so good. Lust was at play, and we knew it. I felt I wanted to marry her, mainly because of how much I wanted to have sex with her. Although I was uncomfortable with her fundamentalist Christianity, I started attending her non-denominational yet still fundamentalist Christian church. I learned to let go of my judgements a bit and open up to their spirituality. I tried to see Jesus as just another divine vehicle, despite their claims that he was the ONLY vehicle. I was beyond all that duality stuff--is, isn't, etc. Finally, one day, I realized I simply was not happy being with D., because I wasn't able to satisfy my lust for her. She felt the same way, but I had to initiate contact. We started making out and although we never actually took any clothes off, and I never even got to "second base," somehow it felt like we had had sex. She called me afterward and said she was very guilty and she felt very vulnerable, and when she woke up the next morning, she was sad to see me not there in bed with her. I told her not to feel guilty, because we didn't do anything wrong. We would still wait until marriage to actually have sex, I assured her.

But then during the day I did some meditation, because things didn't feel right. I felt I was ignoring my conscience and what was true. I got a clear message to stop messing around with D. I was being told by whatever higher wisdom, that D. was not to be messed with. That I would only end up hurting her. I knew it, deep down, to be true. After all, so did she, thanks to her communication with God. I realized that I was so selfish in my lust for her that I didn't even care about her values at all. I honestly wanted to  have sex with her as soon as possible. Yes, I would have no problem marrying her, but I just didn't want to wait. That's the power of lust. When I realized that my so-called love for her was actually mostly lust, and that I would probably not be at all interested in marrying her if not for the lust, I told her that we should stop talking. I told her that God explained to me that I had no idea what love was, because I was too selfish. She was shocked, but she understood, and we stopped talking after that.

Now I was back to being alone. I had more time to meditate again. I felt awfully lonely, but I felt I was now on the right path. I was feeling more peaceful and less selfish.

As I began meditating in ernest, I realized I needed to know HOW to meditate. So I bought Ajahn Brahm's book, "Meditation, Bliss, and Beyond." It had high ratings. Then I found out another friend had also been reading that book, by coincidence. Brahm stressed the importance of attaining what Buddha called "jhana", which is a state of meditative absorption requiring a great deal of relaxed concentration on the breath. I was really curious to find out if I could have some kind of psychedelic experience without drugs. Within one week, I managed, while sick, to meditate into either 1st or 2nd jhana. As I focused more and more on the breath, it became to feel like the most beautiful thing I had ever witnessed, just as Brahm suggested it would. Then, again as he suggested, the breath turned into a shimmering light of immense beauty, called a nimita. I entered into this nimita, and my body dissolved into molecules of luminous, infinite bliss, for I don't know how long. It was incredible! It truly was infinitely better than sex, just as Brahm described. Wow.

For months I was meditating a few hours a day, hoping to attain jhana again, but I never did. One thing I did enjoy was getting up early in the morning and meditating for an hour or two and then going back to sleep. This always produced a lucid dream. In the dream, I would continue meditating. I found that this in-dream meditation was far more powerful in terms of mind-expansion capability. It was like a real psychedelic drug, and I could expand with the universe. I also found that I could leave my body through my navel area if I became hyper aware of the border between waking and sleep states.

But my most interesting dreams were not really ones I controlled. Once, I dreamt I was "a god"... that I could roam around the universe freely, in bliss. Wow, it was amazing! And once I dreamt that I was going back to "God," and there was the infinite beauty and love that I always dreamed of! But a friend's dad was shaking my body, telling me to come back to life, and so I didn't end up being with God forever. I put "God" in quotes just because I have no idea what made me think it was God. There was no being there, but I just KNEW it must be God, due to the infinite love.

As I continued meditating daily, I began to have mostly awfully boring dreams. Dreams so boring, I would wake up feeling like total crap, feeling absolutely forced to meditate in order to feel better. One thing that started changing for me in real life was my head. I started feeling a pressure at the top of my head that often lasted all day, and was especially in charge at night. It wasn't really painful, but it was kind of intense at times. And that pressure sometimes "discharged" into my brain, causing some high pitch sound which seemed to dissolve my mind and body into timelessness and spacelessness. Scary but also blissful. It happened for less than a second a few times each day, though sometimes it would be less intense but last longer.

At some point in this process, after taking a number of chemistry and biology classes at community college, I realized that neuroscience is not the answer, because ultimately one must choose to let go of clinging to one's self, just as Buddha said, and if it was done artificially, either by drugs or technology, then that would not last, because it was not true letting go of one's own free will. On the other hand, I did have an appreciation for the neuroscience research into the apparent lack of the existence of our "free will" as well as the research into the default mode network which meditation is able to permanently put out of action, thus shutting down self-referencing and day dreaming. (If you want to see what neuroscience says about enlightenment, check out Todd Murphy's page, and Gary Weber's blog). I longed for the day when my day dreaming would end. For the day that I would be selfless enough to help others let go of their selves.

One day I had a dream that God was in the sky, in the form of some nebula. God told me I now had the choice to end my separate existence and unite with God. I said yes, but I found that there was not enough conviction in my yes to allow me to fly up to the nebula and leave everything behind. I simply could not give up clinging to my life as a separate self! When I woke up, I thought, oh well, I simply have a lot more meditation to do before I can be desperate enough to let go of myself.

Honestly, though, I did not know HOW I could let go of myself. I just didn't understand how I could do it. I began considering that I might need to become a monk in order to let go.

Then, somehow I found this website called Liberation Unleashed. The founders of this site had a simple, direct technique for eliminating self-clinging. Instead of imagining there was something one had to let go of, as I had done, the instructions were simply to realize that there never WAS a self to let go of in the first place! Well, it's not like I hadn't heard of that before. But I felt there was something to their approach, and I started considering this deeply, and I came to the conclusion that, indeed, this so-called self was nothing but a part of nature. It was driven by hormones, by DNA, and by its environment to do every action that it did. Even thoughts simply came and went with no one deciding anything. I realized that I had never decided a single thing in my life. I was simply aware of decisions that happened. My brain was a simple computer algorithm that imagined the pros and cons of any action and then selected that course of action which had the best ratio of pros to cons. But because the brain had limited knowledge, and so much pressure from hormones and drives, no decision it made could be considered "free." After pondering this a few days, I finally just realized that it was true. There was no denying it. It was just as Buddha said: all conditioned things are not me, not mine, not myself, because they are constantly changing, arise codependently, and therefore they cannot be satisfying. I had read this hundreds of times but NEVER understood what it meant at all! How could I have been so blind?!

There are different sects in Buddhism. The main two branches are Theravada ("the way of the elders") and Mahayana ("the great vehicle"). The Mahayanas call Theravada "hinayana," meaning "the lesser vehicle." They say that Theravadins selfishly pursure their own liberation instead of working to liberate all beings. Meanwhile the Theravadins say that the Mahayanas can't possibly liberate any beings because they themselves are not liberated. Indeed, the Dalai Lama said in a youtube video I saw that he does not even have enough time to meditate, so in this life he sees no chance of enlightenment.

I was getting very caught up in the contradiction between the two sects. I tended to side with the Theravadin view, simply because they read only the canonical texts, supposedly Shakyamuni Buddha' true teachings, rather than those written in later centuries. But it wasn't quite clear exactly what nibbana was, or what the goal was in Theravadin Buddhism. It seemed to be some sort of cessation of clinging, certainly, but nothing else was really indicated in its place. Buddha said he was not a nihilist, nor an eternalist. He dodged the really juicy questions and simply recommended that people stop clinging to themselves.

I found a blog which was written by some clearly advanced meditators, called Awakening to Reality. In that blog, the Bahiya Sutta was stressed, in which Buddha taught Bahiya the essence of liberation, which is to realize that "In seeing, there is only seeing. In hearing, there is only hearing." I.e. there is no self. That's all. I felt that this blog really had things right, and that as I let go more and more, I would experience this eternal impersonal now of experience as it happens with no one as the subject. In fact, I had experienced that as the first part of each ayahuasca session, when I was the universe as it expanded and contracted. But there was something missing... because I knew that there was something real about the divine realm that I experienced after the expansion/contraction stuff got boring in those trips. Where was the experience of the divine in all of this "in seeing, just seeing"?

One thing that's true is that Buddha warned against thinking there is a God who can save you. This is because he simply had no experience of God... because all knowing comes from experience. On the other hand, if you experience that God is real, then once again your relying on mere "personal" experience. What made Buddha all the more sure of his knowledge was that he he seemed to have effected his own liberation, and he was able to help others do the same. It really seemed that God had nothing to do with anything and was purely imagined by Hindus. I remember one Buddhist saying, "If there is a God who would feed everyone, then I would bow down to that God." I thought, yes, that is a good point. In fact, Buddha said that there are many gods, and that the first god that comes into existence at the beginning of each universe thinks it is the one, the highest, the ultimate God. And if you identify as that god, or try to appease that god, then you may end up as a god in your next life, but that life would be over after an eon, when the universe collapsed (matching my ayahuasca experience! but who cares!). And in fact, Buddha said that in the last universe, he was that god. So I felt that I really needed to steer clear of the thought of any god-being, and just follow the simple instructions on letting go. If there's truth, it will simply come.

Anyway, so I started feeling that I was losing more and more self-clinging, and I was becoming more and more now-focused. All mental chatter had evaporated for me, which was wonderfully peaceful. I felt I was going to become one with experience, just as indicated in the Bahiya Sutta.

One night, I woke up and started meditating while half awake. Because I was half awake, my defenses were lowered. First, I believe I experienced a state of impersonal union of awareness which Ed Musika labeled nirvikalpa samadhi in his article on Liberation Unleashed (maybe this would be called 6th jhana or 2nd immaterial jhana in Theravada?). That was quite nice and interesting (not really sure if it was only nice and interesting retrospectively, or if such things could be said as being a part of the experience). Then, perhaps going deeper, or maybe just in a different direction, I experienced 7th or 8th jhana, a state of neither perception nor non-perception, a very peaceful and happy nothingness that was outside of time and space. It's quite interesting and baffling that all of these states are even possible to "experience."

After all of that, I was a bit disconcerted, because I felt that I had gotten these deep experiences that I've always yearned for, and yet no wisdom was obtained from them (except to know them). I asked myself (or the universe) how these things compared to my experiences of the divine which were given to me by ayahuasca. And how free will comes into play here. Is it true that I have no choice about what happens in my life at all, as Sam Harris says? What is the point of that? How depressing.

After a while meditating on this, the answer seemed to come that I was misunderstanding Buddha's teachings. If you look at the whole of them (not that I've read the entire tripitaka, but I've read a good little sample I think), it appears that there is more than just this nothingness, this cessation that one can attain thru insight. There is true, supreme, eternal, transcendent knowing and happiness in this nothingness. We can choose to cling to what we experience, or not to cling. Those are our only real choices.

A note of caution must be added here from my talks with the author of the Awakening to Reality Blog: Most spiritual seekers and OBE/NDErs get stuck at the non-dual "luminosity" of I AM (I am the universe, as opposed to the universe is simply all there is). It feels wonderful, and true. But they are foolishly chaining themselves to the "I" once again. Don't trust anyone who tells you to "be yourself" ... "follow your passion" etc. That is wrong view, and simply illogical. And that which is not logical cannot last.

One reason I tend to believe that No Self (anatta) is more an ultimate truth than One Self (atman/brahman), is that people have reached the state of One Self, union with God and all, and then years later, have lost all sense of self, including any sense of others or of a personal God or anything. One example is Bernadette Roberts, a Catholic nun who attained the state of mystical union with God that lasted for many years, until one day, she went thru a portal into No Self. Having no clue what to do now, since this seemed to be beyond the Christian teachings, she had to turn to Buddhism to understand what had happened. Interestingly, she chose to integrate what she learned from the Suttas into her Christianity. Well, actually, she says she never chose to do anything in her life, that God chose everything that happened. Which is true when you realize there never is/was a real self to do the choosing.

To be continued.... maybe.