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A Buddhist Teacher’s Perspective To Donald Trump’s Presidency

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Trump’s presidential win left many people feeling let down by their fellow citizens. It came as a big surprise, particularly to many of the women of America, who saw a clear betrayal in the fact that not only did a woman not win the election, she was beat out by a someone who is perceived as a sexist womanizer.

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Aside from that aspect, I think most people were just left in shock. How could this man have become president? At the beginning many people, myself included, thought this whole thing was a practical joke at best. Toward the end, I was thinking that he was put there just to make Clinton look better. And then he won.

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It left many feeling hopeless for the future. If someone like Trump can become President of the United States of America, then we are doomed, right? Well, maybe not. There are more perspectives on this situation. And if you believe that everything happens for a reason, then surely, there is more to Trump winning the election than meets the eye…

A company called Lion’s Roar, which publishes a magazine on Buddhist wisdom for today, decided to reach out to some Buddhist teachers and hear their perspectives on what Trump’s presidency really means for America. Below is what the various teachers had to say about this presidential election and what it means for us.

Pema Chödrön

“During difficult times like this, I’m feeling that the most important thing is our love for each other and remembering to express that and avoid the temptation to get caught in negative and aggressive thinking. Instead of polarizing, this is a chance to stay with the groundlessness. I’ve been meditating and getting in touch with a deep and profound sadness. It’s hard to stay with that much vulnerability but that’s what I’m doing. Groundlessness and tenderness and sadness have so much to teach us. I’m feeling that it’s a time to contact our hearts and to reach out and help in anyway we can.”

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Norman Fischer, Everyday Zen Foundation

“I usually don’t completely believe what I think, so when Trump won the election I was, like everyone else, surprised, but not that surprised. Bodhisattvas are committed to their practice, which means to sit, to get up, and to sweep the garden — the whole world, close in and far away — every day, no matter what. They have always done this, they always will. Good times, bad times, they keep on going just the same. Bodhisattvas play the long game. They have confidence in the power of goodness over time. And they know that dark times bring out the heroic in us.

For those older among us who hold liberal and progressive political views, let’s not forget we survived Nixon, Reagan, and Bush. It wasn’t pleasant but we survived. We will survive Trump. This is not to say that the policies of those presidents weren’t bad, and that they did not make any lasting impact. They were and they did. Still, we survived. We will survive Trump. As of today, we don’t really know what will happen under Trump because nothing he has said so far means much. He seems not to have much commitment to his own words.

We have been fortunate to have had eight years with a decent, intelligent, thoughtful and caring human being in the White House. This is more we would have expected. Lets not forget that the same people who elected Obama elected Trump.

It’s OK to freak out, grieve, and vent for a while. Holds each others’ hands. Then we can get back to work, as always, for the good.

Think of what the Dalai Lama has gone through in his lifetime. He maintains daily practice, he maintains kindness for everyone, though he has lost his country and his culture at the hands of a brutal regime. Yet he doesn’t hate the Chinese and finds redeeming features in them. He maintains his sense of humor. He has turned his tragedy into a teaching for the world.

Lets do the same.”

Roshi Pat Enkyo O’Hara, Village Zendo

“We are all reeling from the election news. For most of us, it is unexpected and frightening. Naturally, we ask ourselves what teaching can support us and empower us at this time. I think of Avalokitesvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion who “hears the sounds of the world.”

And I realize how vital it is for all of us to listen to all the sounds of this unhappy nation. What suffering has led to the anger and hatred that has arisen? And, why are so many of us surprised at this outpouring? Perhaps we have not been listening to the cries of the world with ears of wisdom and determination.

This we must do, listen carefully, and while listening, we must move with determination to organize, to mobilize, and to find new ways to create change in civil rights, climate change, media ethics, and to inform and enlighten all the people, so that we can in fact relieve suffering and care for this planet, these peoples, all of us.”

Noah Levine, Against The Stream

“Here in the United States of Samsara ignorance is the status quo. The Buddha’s teachings guide us to go “against the stream” to develop wisdom and compassion through our own direct actions. As the path encourages, “Even amongst those who hate, we live with love in our hearts. Even amongst those who are blinded by greed and confusion, we practice generosity, kindness and clear seeing.”
Meditate and Destroy!”

Ethan Nichtern, Shambhala Meditation Center of New York

“When I was a child in New York City, I used to imagine that I lived in an island off the coast of America which was neither part of the continent nor the country. In the middle of the night last night, that childhood fantasy came back to me, but it was only wishful thinking. In fact, the source of all this disruption hails from the same city, which is a great reminder that we are all connected. I am a citizen of the mainland United States and I remain a very proud and patriotic one.

Right now my mindfulness practice is dedicated to my many friends who are expressing such unbearable hurt and fear at the hatred and abuse which this current version of America has directed at them. My many friends who are women, People of Color, members of the LGBT community, immigrants, and non-Christians are all rightfully expressing their fear and traumas right now, and I want to especially be there for them.

Soon, perhaps, I will try to make contact with those I know who voted for this outcome and do my best to listen to their fears and desires as well. I have no idea how that will go but I will do my best.

I also feel at least some optimism that this outcome sharpens and clarifies where humanity stands in the 21st-century. All of us must come together with empathy and connection if we are going to survive this era.

Tomorrow I will try to follow the lead of those whose vision I trust to see how I can help move our world forward with compassion. But today, it is OK to grieve the fact that we have taken a massive emotional and spiritual step backwards. Please remember, the point of meditation is not to suppress your feelings. It is to make friends with yourself. On days like this, meditation is simply a way to remember a glimmer of your own basic goodness. Please remember it is OK to feel exactly what you feel.

In loving kindness and solidarity with the human race, Ethan.”

Zenju Earthlyn Manuel, Still Breathing Zen Meditation Center

“Today, after the 2016 elections in the U.S., we are living out the example of what happens when what goes unacknowledged surfaces and it feels like a new reality but you know in your heart it is not. To suffer based on expectations is to live haunted and hunted. But we are fortunate. There could be no other answer to our meditation and prayers in dissolving hatred than to be placed front and center with it and be exposed. When a shift in a system has occurred, especially one that causes fear and discomfort, it allows for something strikingly different to appear, furthering our evolution as people. We can only know where we are going when we get there.

Many of us have been practicing Buddha’s teachings or walking a spiritual journey forever and preparing for every moment of our existence. We are ready and have been waiting for this time. Our rage, pain, and anger are to be exposed if only for us to transform and mature with it. In Buddhist practice we say congratulations because now is the time we have been practicing for. No more just practicing the dance. We must now dance. And this is not a dress rehearsal.”

Roshi Joan Halifax, Abbot, Upaya Zen Center

“Standing at the edge of this election, it’s clear we have our work cut out for us. It is the work of love and wisdom in the face of the terrible suffering of war, environmental issues, racism, gender violence, and economic injustice. We have to work together to shift the tide toward what will benefit our children, the natural world, the future. Part of this means that we have to change the mind, move out of harsh negativity, eroding futility and fear, and build toward the good and the wise. We also have to work to shift the mood of the country and of the world through compassionate education, deep practice, and service to others.

Let’s reach through differences, listen deeply, and “give no fear.”

So please, stop and look deeply, and let’s work together in not building a contentious future, but a generative one. And let’s not pretend we know, but be open and learn; let’s bear witness to what is happening in our country, in our world, and take wise, compassionate, and courageous responsibility. Let’s reach through differences, listen deeply, and “give no fear.”

Here are the four great vows of the Bodhisattvas in community:

Creations are numberless, we vow to free them.

Delusions are inexhaustible, we vow to transform them.

Reality is Boundless, we vow to perceive it.

The awakened way is unsurpassable, we vow to embody it.

…. do not squander life!”

James Ishmael Ford, Boundless Way Zen

“I rather feel like I’ve awakened on the day after the apocalypse. As a member of the progressive community I am shocked and profoundly saddened by Trump’s campaign, which unapologetically appealed to fear of, if not outright hatred of pretty much all others. He casually insulted anyone not precisely like him, and frankly seemed to be little more than an incarnation of America’s Id. And, whatever I think of him and that campaign, while he in fact does not seem to have won a majority of America’s voters over, he did win the Electoral College and with that the election.

So, what now? I find a couple of emotions rising within my heart. One is to flee. I understand Canada’s immigration website crashed due to the number of visits to it last night. Of course that also represents all the privilege I bring along with being white and male and middle class. And beyond those immediate facts, I am cautioned by the Buddha’s “last temptation,” to take the peace and equanimity he found and to retire from the world. While he was a renunciant, he did not retire away from the world, but rather brought his monastic practice into the larger community, and continued to live and teach among people living in the world. The deeper point to this is that we are in fact made up of the world and there is no escape.

The other emotion racing over my heart has been to place blame, mostly on others, but also on myself. What would have been a better, or more skillful, simply put, more successful strategy? Who is responsible for this mess? And what shortcomings are at fault? These are in fact important things to consider, particularly those relevant to our own individual hearts, but to take a necessary step and make it what we’re about would be just one more mistake on a long list of mistakes. In this world we have to make decisions and some large percentage of them will be wrong. I’m ever mindful of our popular Western adaptation of something Eihei Dogen said, “one continuous mistake.”

So, what to do? What to do?

For me I find a couple of things are critical. One is to not forget my practice. Taking time and returning to the pillow is critical. For all sorts of reasons, but most of all to help me recall the fundamental matters of presence and intimacy.

The bottom line is recalling there is no separation.

Another is to recall all the suffering of the world. For me this starts with those who are terrorized by the event, the immigrant, the person of color, the GBLT person, women, everyone who seems themselves the target of Mr Trump’s campaign of purity. But, also, to recall the hurt and fear that led so many people to support him. To simply dismiss their emotions by cavalier broad struck condemnations, while it feels good, and I do like doing that, ultimately does no good. The Buddha was right in the great play of cause and effect we are all of us caught up in layer upon layer of grasping after things in flux.

For me the bottom line is recalling there is no separation. We have to act. There is no alternative. But, what will that action look like? More hate? More blame and condemnations? Or, can we genuinely recall there is in the last analysis no goal, but only the path? I think, feel, believe, if we can recall that last thing, we are all of us in this together, we are all of us, at the end, one; well, then ways through will appear.

We met the enemy and he is us. We met the friend and he is us. That is the secret that will win the ultimate victory.”

Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche

“On this cheerful unaffected glorious day of democracy playing itself out, I am as shocked as many of you are by the election results. But, as Americans, we must respect the democratic system that our country was built upon, and welcome its results. Trump has won, and now we must see what happens next. While firmly believing in, and defending, one’s values and principles, we must also give this new president-elect the benefit of the doubt, and be open to see what he and his new administration can do for the good of our country. We want to honor the voice of many and trust in the goodness of the country. We want to respect our differences and also believe that there is goodness in everyone. We cannot afford to fall into pessimism. We must continually see where we can unite and keep looking forward together as this new era unfolds, without fixed pre-concepts.”

Much Love

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Consciousness

New Moon In Virgo: Efficiency & Practicality

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We are having a New Moon in Virgo on September 17th. This is initiating a 29.5 day lunar cycle and new wave of energy for the coming month; however, the astrological configurations mentioned in this article will be more prominent over the following two weeks. This cycle will include a Full Moon in Aries on October 1st/2nd.

Virgo season began on August 22nd/23rd, nearly a month prior to this Lunation, and will end on September 22nd/23rd when Libra season begins. However, his New Moon will still carry some of its Virgo themes into the first eight days of Libra season prior to the Full Moon.

This is a good period of working with and co-creating with the energies of this sign. Virgo is associated with productivity, duties, service, health, cleanliness, and purity. It is organized, adaptable, conscientious, skillful, orderly, punctual, diligent, efficient, analytical, detailed, discerning, precise, and practical.

Virgo is about problem solving, adjusting to changing conditions, and coming up with solutions. Negatively, this energy can be cynical, fussy, high strung, and perfectionistic. It can also be exorbitantly mentally oriented as well as overly critical and discriminating.

Mars began its retrograde a week prior to this New Moon which will last until mid-November. This energy is a significant part of the current astrological backdrop. Generally it is a time that can ultimately help to facilitate a change in how we apply ourselves in certain areas of life, however, the retrograde period itself can bring frustrations and challenges that help with that process. You can read more about this Mars Retrograde here.

New Moon Trine Saturn & Quincunx Mars Retrograde

This New Moon is in a tight trine with Saturn in Capricorn which is transitioning out of its retrograde at the end of the month. This can be a good period for operating in a responsible, cautious, orderly, productive, realistic and practical way. However, considering that Saturn is finishing up its backwards motion, these next couple of weeks are generally better for getting things sorted out and prepared as well as perhaps focusing on tasks that you have already been working on.

It is possible that in late September and in early October, we can experience some sort of shift, or change in gears, that can take things into a different direction. Saturn will be in a square with Mars Retrograde at that time, and we may have to contend with limitations and obstacles that can affect how certain things move forward.

This New Moon is also in a quincunx with Mars retrograde which can reflect annoyances, tension, or conflicts that may require adjustments and adaptability. Issues that come up may be at odds with our needs or the way we want to express ourselves. This energy is the strongest on the 19th/20th but can also be more noticeable on the day of the New Moon.

New Moon Square Lunar Nodes, Mercury Square Jupiter

This New Moon is also in a close square to the North Node in Gemini opposing the South Node in Sagittarius. We may be at odds between the past (South Node) and the future (North Node), beliefs (Sagittarius) and facts (Gemini), our immediate aspects of life (Gemini) and the world at large (Sagittarius).

However, the focal point should be the North Node in Gemini and expressions of the South Node in Sagittarius energy should be serving that focal point and not be the emphasis. The rulers of the Nodes, Mercury (Gemini) and Jupiter (Sagittarius) are also in a tight square with each other at the time of this New Moon. This can reflect tension between these two sides and potentially conflicts between ideas, viewpoints, and opinions.

Jupiter is in the limiting Saturnian sign of Capricorn while Mercury is better placed in Libra, the sign of diplomacy, seeking common ground, considering different needs/perspectives, and fairness. Mercury square Jupiter can be good for learning but it can also be excessive when it comes to information and we can more easily be mentally scattered.

Mercury Quincunx Neptune, Then Square Pluto, Saturn & Opposing Mars

Mercury is in a quincunx with Neptune which is strongest on the 18th/19th. This energy makes it harder to integrate or juggle our intuitive, creative, imaginative, compassionate or spiritual expression with our mind, communication, tasks, and thought process. Issues pertaining to lack of boundaries, flakiness, delusion, escapism, intoxication, may come up.

Mercury moves towards a square with Pluto which is strongest on the 20th/21st. Our thoughts and communications can be deep, powerful, penetrating, investigative, raw, real, and potentially intense. This can also reflect obsessive or compulsive behavior, suspicion, fears, anxiety, or conflicts pertaining to power or authority.

Mercury then moves to a square with Saturn (22nd/23rd) followed by an opposition to Mars retrograde (23rd/24th), creating a t-square formation in that time period with the separating Pluto energy (20th/21st, mentioned above) tied into it a bit. This can be a time of obstacles, delays, communication issues, pessimism, and conflicts while we can get more easily irritated or angered. Circumstances may come up that can be pushing us to be more cautious, realistic, or responsible.

This period is the beginning of Mercury’s pre-shadow period in which it will be returning to another square with Saturn. Some of the issues or developments that occur at this time may be connected to things that will play out during the retrograde (October 13th/14th until November 3rd/4th) and weeks surrounding that period. It will also be the Equinox and therefore this energy is imprinted into the following three months in which it can manifest in other ways/areas separate from this initial period.

Making Intentions & Things To Consider

What can you do to be more practical, productive, and efficient? Is there anything you can or should implement to improve your health and functionality? What have the circumstances, developments, or challenges over the last week (leading up to this New Moon) shown you in how you should be applying yourself? Do you need to implement stronger boundaries? Do you need to be more adaptable? Are you clinging to the past or are you willing to take steps to help you grow? What aspects or details of your immediate life, surroundings, or relationships do you need to focus on more and what excesses or broad aspects of your life are getting in the way of that?

These are just some examples of what to consider or focus your intentions on at this time. However, it is good to reflect on anything else that is coming up for you. It is generally best to make any intentions within the first 24 hours following a New Moon. The exact moment it will occur is 11:00am Universal Time on September 17th. You can click here to see what that is in your time zone.

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Consciousness

Why We Get Into Fights When Sharing Information

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We’re in a time when mainstream media and traditional conversations are failing to address a number of important topics within society, anything from current events to politics and so on, and this is birthing a great deal of ‘alternative conversation’ that often stems from alternative media.

But with this, comes to the common ‘fight’ between various ideas and ideologies that is much more avoidable than we often realize. I wanted to share a quick tid bit from a recent episode discussing how we can reflect to develop better communication and connection faculties that can make a big difference in how we communicate important ideas that are emerging without creating such huge divides ad tension.

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Consciousness

Thoughts On Life After Death – Does ‘Consciousness’ Survive When We Die?

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In Brief

  • The Facts:

    Some fascinating research has been conducted over the past several years that make the discussion of life after death quite interesting.

  • Reflect On:

    Ancient wisdom and teachings have been 'proven' right with regards to quantum physics, neuroscience and health in many different ways. Would the same apply to life after death? Can we ever really know?

With over 100 years of research into the nature of death and survival of consciousness, a more sophisticated way of looking at the evidence seems to be emerging. Based on a number of interviews and wide reading, Lance Butler outlines a new understanding based on science as well as spiritual experience.

Even Life after Death changes; like everything else, ideas about Survival have both a history and, if I can put it this way, a future. Some changes are modestly noticeable if one first looks back to the heyday of Spiritualism and the founding of the SPR in the late nineteenth century and then forward to the late twentieth century. In that time ouija boards, to put it schematically, were replaced by NDE research. But there is also a feeling of sameness, even latterly of stagnation, over the period.

During the last twenty or thirty years, too, things have moved forward slowly, but the feeling one still gets reading the main summarising or investigative texts in the field – say Gary Schwartz’s The Afterlife Experiments of 2003 or David Fontana’s Is There An Afterlife? of 2005 – is that the paradigm has remained unchanged. If we put together, for instance, recent examples of mediumship, the NDE material collected since Raymond Moody’s Life after Life of 1975, the ITC evidence (by definition modern), and Scole we find that although it constitutes more evidence, it is roughly the same kind of evidence as it was thirty-five or, in the case of mediumship, a hundred-and-thirty-five years ago.

Fontana, for instance, is able freely to cite nineteenth-century material, stories from the 1920s and 1940s, research from the 1960s, his own experience of poltergeists from the 1980s and the Scole material from around 2000. It all fits quite well; it all adds up to an interesting case for Survival; and it’s still there. One of the strongest arguments for Survival seems to be the fact that, in spite of modern scepticism and modern analytical and investigative techniques, Life after Death hasn’t simply gone away like Phlogiston theory or Geocentrism or Phrenology or bloodletting. Fontana’s evidence is not of a new nature, but it is increasingly solid.

The Need For A New Paradigm

And the evidence has continued to stack up, but it’s still apparent at the end of the first decade of the 21st century that the paradigm has not changed much. More veridical channelings, identifiable voices of the dead on untuned (sometimes even unplugged) radios, better NDEs, everything that happened at Scole – these are all useful grist to the Survival mill, but they do not seem to do have done much for a widening of scientific acceptance of any sort of afterlife. In particular we do not yet seem to have digested quantum physics properly, nor the recent thinking in consciousness studies.

In these circumstances I set out in 2009 to interview a handful of people, all well-known to the SMN, to find out ‘where they are now’ on the matter of Life after Death; I hoped thus to see if there are currently any developments of our Survival paradigm. The interviewees were Rupert Sheldrake, Bernard Carr, Peter Fenwick, David Lorimer, Iain McGilchrist, Matthew Manning and Pim van Lommel[1].

Van Lommel’s response to my opening question, which asked directly about the afterlife, was a little startling: ‘I never talk about life after death,’ he said. My heart sank a little. Had I got hold of the wrong Dutch cardiologist? But no, it appeared that what he meant is that ‘life after death’ may only temporarily resemble life as we know it here and now; more importantly the quantum ‘non-locality’ of the other side means that it is without time and can be considered to ‘contain’ past, present, and future simultaneously. It is ‘a space or dimension without place or time.’ The simultaneity of the Life Review during many NDEs is well known and that may give us a hint as to what the ‘infinite consciousness’ that apparently awaits us (while not of course really ‘awaiting’ anything) might be like.

Many people, van Lommel continued, have experienced non-duality, non-locality, greater or ‘cosmic’ consciousness. That is the ‘thing’ that is always there, timelessly; it is the incomprehensible greater ‘place’ with which we interface only at very special times. From the perspective of this quantum zone life and death are irrelevant concepts. ‘Life’ in this present world is a species of illusion that we go through, indeed that we actually create. Life ‘over there’ however is certainly not ‘life as we know it.’

Interestingly, van Lommel is quite happy to accept that NDE survivors cannot find the right language to describe their experiences adequately. Of course not. Our language is a tool for the here-and-now, for space and time. As is the case with quantum physics, we are able to mouth words about cosmic experiences, but the words have difficulty in demonstrating any significant content.

Beyond The Self?

I will return to van Lommel at the end of this but for now come with me to visit Peter Fenwick, who also managed to take the feet from under me when I questioned him; in his case the moment came after a good hour of explanation of his research into End-of-Life Experiences when he said, with the smaller of his two smiles, ‘But we do not have a personal self. We are embedded in the matrix of the universe which is our consciousness.’ Different words for pretty much what van Lommel was saying, then, and incidentally what Neale Donald Walsch says repeatedly in his Conversations with God series (‘There is only one of us’).

Fenwick suggests, following Alain Forget, that we can be ‘awakened’ here in this life (to moments of cosmic consciousness) and says that the ego ‘casts a pall over our consciousnesses.’ We are parts of a whole and need to ‘crystallise the light body’ as we do in dreams in similar states. The ‘limited ego’ is a ‘false self’ but even a glimpse of universal consciousness (‘available right now!’) shows us a bigger self.

In extreme NDE cases, Peter pointed out, people seem to go very far, ‘to the point where the illusion of separateness is about to collapse completely.’ In this life we merely make up our stories of life and death. When we recognise that the real is universal consciousness, questions of Survival become non-questions because there is really no birth and no death, just consciousness. Religions, seeking vainly to sift the saved from the non-saved, have lost their spiritual nature by not recognising this universality.

Bernard Carr filled in some of the detail of this radical and rather Buddhist conception of the afterlife. He suggested a ‘hierarchy of dimensions’ that may lead up to or end in ultimate consciousness (‘anatta’ – the empty centre of the onion) but meanwhile there are astral levels and reincarnation possibilities as we all head for what must, by definition, be the only possible goal. For Carr there are different levels of space to accommodate these dimensions and the mind creates the world both here and hereafter where a species of ‘dream-world’ awaits us.

New Metaphors

For Rupert Sheldrake, we already know what it will be like to be disembodied because we have the experience of possessing a ‘dream-body’ at night when we sleep. And, of course, for a physicist like Carr, everything comes down to energy, that is frequencies. Already for Sheldrake there are, famously, morphic fields in which the unknown energies, perhaps those of the ‘non-local’ quantum ‘world,’ operate. And all this, to go back to van Lommel’s opening remarks, is here as may become apparent after death when we may begin to ‘know the place for the first time.’

Sheldrake also observed, as many now would, that, for a while at least, we may get the Life after Death that we expect. We can move beyond our entrapment in desires and the unreal and come to expect something higher and more real, but then again we may not escape from our present lives all at once. He approves of imagination in the shape of myths, fairytales, and dreams, and points out that these are fields that are not based in material reality. They enact some of the possibilities contained in the infinite quantum field. Like Carr, Sheldrake is ‘not dualistic,’ ‘not a super-naturalist’; there is no separate realm into which we can ‘go.’

Mathew Manning, speaking from the deepest and widest experience of things psychic, spiritual, or, as I would now say, ‘non-local,’ stressed that knowledge of Life after Death is not ordinary knowledge. In his view we learn what we need to know in this life and then move on to less knowable realms. He is also more interested in energy than in ‘life’ as a metaphor for Survival. His famous psychic recreation of Durer’s drawings, and of many other works of art and texts in languages unknown to him, are not so much, he says, ‘Durer coming through’ (the older version of Life after Death perhaps) as a psychic picking-up of the energy of the original moment of artistic creation; it is less a matter of an individual’s survival and more a matter of energy circulating as the scientists tell us it does.

Personality & Beyond

By this time I felt that some sort of a pattern was building up. The new paradigm is perhaps only subtly different from the old one but it seemed to be emerging with some new and useful emphases. The claims now made about Survival are less personal than they used to be, for one thing, and the respect for the ideas of quantum-physics more solid. David Lorimer, for instance, told me that he sees Life after Death as ‘another state of consciousness’ in which it may be ‘a less distinctive personality that is you.’ He says he is less concerned now with the survival of his own personality as such. We may come to see that each ‘personality’ is ‘an expression of the universal.’ He quotes Betty Kovacs: ‘Birth is a coming into being of form (‘me’) and death a dissolution of form.’ Cosmic consciousness would be the ‘dissolution of all boundaries.’ We are like blocks of ice floating in the Arctic Ocean of universal consciousness; there is development, evolution, both here and hereafter, but we all belong to and return to the same sea in the end. This is not new, of course, it belongs in Hinduism and Buddhism where we become more ‘ourselves’ by becoming less our individual selves; it is also, according to Lorimer, the inevitable direction of consciousness studies as pursued since the founding of the Journal of Consciousness Studies in 1994.

The most ‘materialist’ person I interviewed was Iain McGilchrist. For him, ‘materiality is an important part of any kind of being we might have’; as he pointed out to me, ‘the universe has gone to an awful lot of trouble to produce this material world.’ Surely a useful corrective. If, to put it bluntly, cosmic consciousness is so terrific, why did it have to add us, messy as we are, not to mention the immense quantum charade of the universe, to what it already had? Why bother to Big Bang if you could just go on being perfect? I know that there are good answers to these questions but McGilchrist’s approach reminds us not to fall into the trap of treating spirituality as if our dinners, our doings, and our bodies didn’t matter at all.

But McGilchrist too is singing off the same page of our now-slightly-revised hymn book. As he put it, ‘the notion that one would be forever oneself is an appalling idea.’ For him consciousness ‘pre-exists us and isn’t created by our brains; our brains simply transmit or transduce it.’ But there is and always will be an ‘I’ – it is ‘God,’ we may come to see, who is the ‘Great I’ that is all of us.

New Directions

The publication in 2010 of Pim van Lommel’s Consciousness Beyond Life has been tremendously convenient for this small investigation. His book, subtitled accurately ‘The Science of the Near-Death Experience,’ seems to me to effect the shift in thinking that we have needed.  It is not a huge shift but it should now change the quality of the debate.

Encouragingly, the interviews which I conducted before Pim’s book had been translated into English fit very well with its proposals. After undertaking them and reading Pim’s book I begin to discern the outlines of the altered paradigm. Here are some of its main features:

  • We shouldn’t be naïve about any possible life after death. The appearance of deceased relatives at the death-bed or during NDEs or channeling, in particular, may not mean that Granny is continuing her old life more or less as before. Life in another ‘dimension’ may be more a matter of thought, of our wishes and, of precisely, appearance.
  • The hitherto rather weak connection between Quantum Physics and Survival looks as if it has gained a toe-hold in the intellectually-respectable world. ‘Non-locality,’ a term with origins found exclusively in QP, may be an appropriate replacement for the older term ‘spiritual.’ Physics too does not stop and will surely become less and less like its nineteenth-century avatar; in other words it will become weirder, looser, more improbable, more closely associated with consciousness, more ‘non-local,’ less simply ‘materialist.’
  • Life after Death is really not either ‘life’ as we know it nor ‘after’ our deaths, for the ‘non-local’ is always with us and underpins our world and our lives all the time; or perhaps I should use some unthinkable expression such as ‘all the non-time.’
  • NDEs do definitely occur during periods of negative brain activity. Whatever else they may mean they constitute clear evidence that the brain cannot be the whole story when it comes to explaining consciousness. Van Lommel’s research has changed things a little, and it is only the beginning of a long process whose end seems, at the very least, less and less likely to be straightforward materialism as we have known it.
  • In the matter of Survival we should expect both everything and not too much. By ‘everything’ I mean that Survival is connected with the universal or ‘infinite’ consciousness from the perspective of which all other things are apparently in some way illusory. By ‘not too much’ I mean that one of the main things one may see through, as consciousness is liberated from the material, is one’s ‘own’ personality.
  • ‘Energy’ is perhaps the metaphor that best connects the world of the non-local (or transpersonal or spiritual) with the world of physics. We do not yet know how energy can exist in the non-local where the energetic, involving movement by definition, should be absent because in that ‘dimension’ there is no time or space. But that there is some energy there – in Dark Matter or as Dark Energy perhaps – is evident from the fact that we are here at all; it was some sort of energy that brought about the Big Bang and before that there was no locality by definition.
  • Here, and hereafter, we seem to create our own worlds through our personal consciousnesses. The great or universal consciousness may be what creates the universe. We may do the smaller job of creating our own ‘worlds’ and ‘lives.’ Language makes all, but it cannot describe adequately the process by which it does this.
  • Buddhists, Hindus, and mystics of all stripes have the right approach. We need to read Angelus Silesius rather than too much academic philosophy. We, or parts of us, may be temporarily reincarnated. For a while after death we may perhaps need to ‘live’ in a place that we recognise (we won’t find that too hard to create presumably) but there would then be a moving on, into realms literally indescribable.
  • Body is particle and consciousness is wave. Our particles at death undergo what they have always undergone, change into something else. The waves of consciousness persist just as the scientists tell us all energy forms persist, forever. But we do not infinitely persist as the ‘us’ we currently think we are; ‘we’ will persist, if we do, as something endlessly ‘greater’.
  • This is all embarrassingly similar to the propositions of many religions. But it is not, in itself, religion at all.
  • Inverted commas are needed in this area passim. ‘Life’ ‘after’ ‘death?’ We do not, and cannot, really ‘know’ about all this. Not even with the sensible and modest knowledge of science. Especially not with that.

——————–

Written by Lance St John Butler, who is a Professor of British Literature in the University of Pau.

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