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Vol. 13, No. 5, 2014
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Robert J. Lewis
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the great escape



The thief left it behind,
The moon at the window.

I should have been a pair of ragged claws,
scuttling across the floors of silent seas.
T.S. Eliot

Om. A mystic syllable that is repeated (as in a mantra) by someone who is praying or meditating = oming. An omer (not to be confused with Homer) is one who oms.

A serious omer aspires to the state of satori, or enlightenment, or higher being, or Zen’s no-mind, or oneness with the universe. Whatever we might say about omers, they are not lacking in ambition -- of a different (metaphysical) sort.

Very much related, integral to oming is the emphasis of being in the present. Yoga instruction, meditation centers and Hindu religious retreats (ashrams) are dedicated to teaching initiates to learn how to rediscover and stay in the elusive now where the body, unlike the mind, continuously dwells. The calculus, like Einstein’s famous equation, is simple: mind + body in sync = oneness. Formalized physical postures combined with concentration techniques train the distracted mind to focus on the present. Are we not all reduced to wraiths if when walking in the woods we don’t connect to the sounds, scents and colours in whose midst we find ourselves?

Omers, to facilitate their transmogrification into higher being, are encouraged to disentangle themselves from their especially material attachments, but also emotional dependencies.

According to the script (the founding myth), man fell out of oneness when he separated himself from the world, and since then he’s been comporting himself like a lost character in search of an author.

When the initiate oms, he is expressing a desire whose fulfillment is realized when the sum total of his preoccupations and distractions, however temporarily, cease to exist, at which point the omer can be said to be knocking on the gates of satori. When we hear about a brave someone who regularly performs cold weather meditation (in a T-shirt, cross-legged on a towel, oming in below zero temperatures), we must conclude that he doesn’t feel the cold because he feels at one with the universe, which subsumes the cold.

However, does not the transcendental mind sometimes wonder what life was like prior to oming, before the fall, before the great separation? Since man is excluded from that paradisiacal golden age of pure unmediated being, of oneness, what was there? In short, everything: sun, sky, ground, plants and animals, noting that even the most evolved animal is not separate from the world in which it dwells.

But all that changed, for the worse according to the omers, when “I am” was uttered for the first time in the history of life on earth. At that very first instant of self-consciousness, man simultaneously discovers himself and the world from which he is now separate. So on the one hand (clapping), the metaphysician regards the first “I am” declaration as the most significant event in the evolution of life, while the omer synonymizes that same event with falling out of oneness, with being un-whole, unholy

Is it not man’s distinct privilege from all other forms of life to know himself as separate from the world, and be able to question the meaning and purpose of his life and life in general, as well as meditate on, dwell in the past in order to better deal with events that have not yet happened, that are awaiting him in the future? Being in the world, while at the same time being distinct from the world, decisively allows man to rise to the top of the taxonomic order as the most successful form of life on the planet earth. Why would anyone want to return to the state of consciousness – om-induced mindlessness -- enjoyed by plants and animals?

Is not this mania of wanting to exist in and for the infinite an insult to the gift of neo-cortical consciousness, a denial of one’s fundamental humanity?

From the esteemed Basho: “How admirable he who thinks not.”

From Te-shan: “Only when you have no thing in your mind and no mind in things are you vacant and spiritual, empty and marvelous.”

And closer to the present from Alan Watts: “Zen awareness is attended by the most vivid awareness of nondifference between oneself and the external world.”

And from Peter Mattheissen's masterpiece, The Snow Leopard: "And surely this is the paradise of children, that they are at rest in the present, like grogs or rabbits."

By my shallow reckoning, what is being described above is not enlightenment but an idiot’s joy.

If satori’s endgame is no-mind, one must conclude that human beings are not constitutionally equipped to deal with self-consciousness (being one’s self), which is why every society in the world sanctions drug or alcohol use, or activities that facilitate being in the absolute present. “Zen is a medicine for the ill effects of . . . mental paralysis and anxiety which come from excessive self-consciousness,” counsels Alan Watts. During Brazil’s carnival, people are encouraged to escape from themselves by dressing up as someone else. But no matter what variety of escape is employed, it all reduces to the same theme and variations on om.

Om is the vegetative state raised to the highest eminence, om is lobotomy, om is non-being, om is anti-being, om is dereliction, om is abdication, om is inauthentic, om is dumbness, om is rap, om is Indian drone, om is minimalism, om is drug addiction, om is sports addiction, om is games addiction, om is danger addiction, om is any activity that (by design) keeps you imprisoned in the present where there is no past, no future, no self-consciousness, no judgment. Omers are cowards and like Neitzsche’s Christians and priests, they are the antithesis of life, of the will to power. Om is pure cop-out, and the gurus and Zen masters are the great escape artists; and, taking liberties with the Beatles lyric, yes indeed "living is easy with eyes closed oming all you see." When an evolved omer claims his eyes are open but he doesn’t see because he’s not separate from the world, he has willed himself to occupy the lowest rung on the chain of being, which is a mere syllable away from non-being. Behind every om ever uttered lurks a closet suicide looking to out himself on the end of a rope.

Why would anyone who doesn’t harbour a death wish to transcend duality? I love duality. I love -25 Celsius because it enables me to appreciate + 25. If there were always and only 25 Celsius, the very concept of temperature would disappear, along with the four seasons. Viewed from afar, all human endeavour -- doctrinally frowned upon by the oming fraternity -- implicitly aims at cultivating an appreciation of duality: we work hard to play hard, we travel far to better appreciate what is near.

The difference between metaphysics and the philosophy of oming is that the former encourages us to dwell in the sacred nexus between being and nothingness while the latter is a death wish.

In an ashram, which enforces a monastic code, the genders are separated and the living conditions are primitive. Initiates are obliged to suppress worldly appetites and instincts and accord the highest respect to abstemious teachers for whom celibacy is confused for a virture. But human nature is not so easily bested -- a lesson the unsuspecting (no-minded) idealist is bound to learn the hard way.

A friend of mine recently spent three months doing the ashram circuit in Kerala. Not even a month after separating from his children and vivacious wife, he found himself unable to resist the charms of a goddess in stone.

From his blog:

It isn’t the most beautiful statue I've seen, but it’s got something. She’s very graceful, elegant, and I can’t help going back repeatedly to the perfect rotundity of her breasts.

Satisfied, I take two steps away, but then change my mind and go back to her. I am alone, not a soul in sight. I cannot resist the urge to touch her, initially just to feel the stone, which has a very pleasant touch, then, a bit for fun and a bit for pleasure, I start to run delicately my hands along her body. Of course I cannot resist the urge to wrap them around her breasts.

And from the Amma Ashram:

There’s an Indian girl aged probably 20 sitting on the floor in lotus position, about ten meters away to my right but slightly ahead. She has a thick long plait of black hair going down her back which is as straight as the north face of the Eiger, looking totally comfortable . . . I’ve been observing her for more than half an hour now, and as far as I can see she hasn’t batted an eyelid. She is clearly in a different space, totally absorbed in Amma, the music and in her devotion. She truly is beautiful. How I wished I could photograph her unseen, or, even better, how I wished I could draw her.

Clearly there is a pattern here and it is as disturbing as the parallels to be drawn between my friend losing his focus and the fallen priests that have brought the once venerable Catholic church to its ankles. And we shouldn’t be surprised to learn that Mount Athos is sarcastically referred to as Mount Assos; os, in French, means bone.

By refusing to grant human nature and duality their due, we increase our peril and perishing. Had my friend’s agitations been videotaped and uploaded onto youtube where it would have gone viral, he probably would not have survived the consequences to himself and his family; and the desecrated statue would have become as famous as Monika Lewinsky’s fecundated blue dress.

“Moderation in all things, especially moderation,” reminds Emerson. Up to a point, and when the occasion calls for it, there is indeed a time and place to be wholly in the present, just as there is much to learn about our unessential attachments and distinguishing between what we think we want and what we really should want. If I am constantly distracted while walking in the woods, then my weak mind might indeed benefit from ashramic discipline.

But let us be clear as it concerns satori and enlightenment. The yearning for oneness, to lose oneself (one’s ego) to the universe is nothing but a cleverly disguised death wish, or in Freud-speak, a yearning to “return to the inanimate.”

And finally, to those tax-exempt religious institutions that would have me leave my wife and unburden myself of my material entanglements, I say this: om-you.


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The goals you state are misunderstood. You transcend 'duality' every time you go to sleep and have a dream. In a dream all you experience is your mind. You are not experiencing 'duality'.

So transcending 'duality' in that sense is not hard. In every deep state of meditation where you are not attending to your external senses you are transcending 'duality'.

These states are enjoyable and worthwhile, even if you don't hit the highest levels of samadhi or God-realization you can get into wonderful states of bliss and peace.

So yes it's vague, because it's all internal and subjective, but these states are powerful and enjoyable.

Also there is a wonderful sense of healing. These states can be mind-blowing and profoundly transformative.

You don't have to get to the highest levels of merging with everything and all that, although I know people who have gotten there.

One of the monks I know who has gone beyond the ego says that this state is really wonderful, and that letting your ego run your life is a really bad idea. He says 'just look at your ego's track record. You're letting that run your life?'

So some goals are easier to attain than others. But bliss and expansion of consciousness are much easier to attain. But you have to experience it first to understand it.

In particular Om is a profound phenomenon that extends beyond merely the physical chanting of it.

The goal of the yogi is to actually listen to this sound in deep meditation and eventually merge his consciousness with it, and use that sound to expand his consciousness.

The actual physical or mental chanting of the sound is just a preparatory practice.

However Om is not a simple physical phenomena, so it can take some time for the aspiring yogi to get to the levels of consciousness where actual perception takes place.

So it's a bit disingenuous for someone who has not experienced the profound power of these practices to criticize them.

It's a little like a deaf person criticizing an aspiring musician practicing scales. We know that this is ridiculous, because we are familiar with the power of music.

For the amazing experiences beyond ordinary physical consciousness, the casual critics can be similarly handicapped as the deaf person if they have not personally experienced these states.

These deep states of meditation can be profoundly healing and transformative.
You have pushed the stereotype (tongue in cheek fashion) to the limit.

And it’s true that omers have no lack of ambition.

But there are a few minor corrections that need to be addressed. The “distracted mind” is a straw man. It’s not focus. If there is anything antithetical to yoga it is focusing, which is stressful, which requires attention, effort and determination. Perhaps to slip into the present, find oneself embraced by it, be in it, but certainly “not strive” to be there.

I agree with ”idiot’s joy” – if taken too seriously. But from personal experience, I can objectively report there are definite physical advantages to yoga. There are no better exercises out there than yoga; every single part of your body gets a work out, from the toes to the internal organs.

Meditation is also rewarding. It invites one to find the “phenomenological zone.” Abstracting oneself from the world is not divorcing from it but, paradoxically, it is more deeply engaging if only by getting rid of prejudicial conceptual baggage otherwise fogging experience. I am totally convinced Heidegger was very much influenced in his thinking by Buddhist philosophy (yoga).

The phenomenological zone is the aim of meditation, and it works. The dentist's chair is no longer worrying to me (as it once was). I can phase out almost at will, silence anticipation considerably – as it’s an illusion -- and significantly reduce fear and anxiety. I have also grown more attentive to phenomena as trivial as ambient air touching my skin, or the mere lifting of a limb, walking etc.

I no longer have the need to run back upstairs after leaving the house not recalling if I switched off the stove or locked the door, as each and every one of my actions is recalled in the “presence” of my doing it. This, in my view, is not a getting away or escaping from the world. Au contraire.

But I agree with your point about pushing anything to the limits. Fundamentalist yoga can be ridiculously bizarre and perhaps even culturally harmful.

And no, I haven’t given up on my meats, I do not eat bird seed and still do a fair bit of embibing. Then again I was never encouraged to, though I did quit smoking.

The “getting rid of/indifference to the world” is a very unfortunate unhappy stereotype of yoga. It misses the mark. The yogi is most concerned with the world, meaning he is “moved” to the ways of the world. The yogi is a lover who does not allow the object of his love to pain him indefinitely. The yogi does not shun the world. He learns to find no offense with it but does not shun it, so he will not take a fit if while reading a book or meditating the laughter of children is all the while going on in the street below, or if the worker’s jack hammer is in full throttle. He “accepts” it for a while.

The yogi is tolerant, hence the poses. One learns to live with “discomfort,” to ignore it; though not “pain.” One heeds pain and stops.

What kind of discomfort? Well, if you were to swim underwater and felt the need to come up for air that need would to the yogi be mere discomfort. In fact when you and I and most other mortals feel the “need” for a breath we could probably still stay beneath for an additional 30 seconds without any physical damage whatsoever.

Can I do that? Absolutely not. But this would not be a concern to the yogi. What is important is recognizing the experience. There is much more to yoga than most of us know.

In general, my issue is not with yoga (and philosophy for that matter), but with the individuals teaching it. Some are intelligent, well intended, others are profiteers and fools. When an instructor tells me that animals are smarter than humans because they learn to adapt to their shortcomings, as in losing a leg, without too much difficulty, what else is there to conclude but that “strange days have found us.”
You don't know anything about nothing of what you wrote in your article. Meditation, yoga is not about emptying the mind; it's about mind control. We know that small stuff takes up way too much of our mental time. But we can't do anything about it. Meditation empowers the mind to control its agenda, and not the other way around. You should try it before you criticize it. "Om purifies bliss and pride (realm of the gods); Ma purifies jealousy and need for entertainment (realm of the jealous gods); Ni purifies passion and desire (human realm); Pad purifies ignorance and prejudice (animal realm); Me purifies greed and possessiveness (realm of the hungry ghosts); Hum purifies aggression and hatred (hell realm)." You tell me where the empty mind is?
You make good points but no mention of the sexual predation by these supposed gurus and they are not isolated events but they don't get reported because it's a seduction of innocence and it might be months or years before you realize what really happened.

I don't know where to start from to comment this article. The more I observe my thoughts, the more I realize that it's like defending music with a stone deaf person who staunchly believes that the passion of people for their favourite music is a symptom of imbecility. And it's a very lukewarm analogy, in that it implies that people dig spirituality because it gives them pleasure. Granted many do, but for the true practitioner it is a non-negotiable call that comes from much deeper.
The yoga discipline/practice/life-style does not purport to eliminate anything, let alone personal issues (whether hang-ups, a lost love, death of a loved one). Yoga in fact is the antithesis of elimination. The Yogi embraces all, the good and the bad, the joyful and the painful, and, as the mind can only hold one thought at the time, the all-embracing experience will de-focus the individual from annoying/painful singular distractions, thereby liberating the ego from tormenting pain-ensuing emotions.

Problem is (at least for some of us anyways ) we can hold more than one thought at the time. I can hum a song and perform a mathematical puzzle at the same time. And if this might not be available to all, we could certainly all enjoy a Shakespeare play all the while experiencing pain from some existential piece of knowledge inhabiting the deepest wells of our very being. But of course the Yogi would have an answer to this, too.

There are no greater masters in the art of sophistry (bullshit) than Yogis. For ex., Krishnamurti (though I suspect many have referred to him as a genius, too). This being said, yoga does have its benefits, both mental and of course physical.
Meditation is not an escape from life. It is a medium to allow us to calm ourselves for a few moments from the the fast pace of of our lives .


also by Robert J. Lewis:
Actor on a Hot Tin Roof
Being & Self-Consciousness
Giacometti: A Line in the Wilderness
The Jazz Solo
Chat Rooms & Infidels
Music Fatigue
Understanding Rape
Have Idea Will Travel
Bikini Jihad
The Reader Feedback Manifesto
Caste the First Stone
Let's Get Cultured
Being & Baggage
Robert Mapplethorpe
The Eclectic Switch

Philosophical Time
What is Beauty?
In Defense of Heidegger

Hijackers, Hookers and Paradise Now
Death Wish 7 Billion
My Gypsy Wife Tonight
On the Origins of Love & Hate
Divine Right and the Unrevolted Masses
Cycle Hype or Genotype
The Genocide Gene


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