the great escape
ROBERT J. LEWIS
thief left it behind,
The moon at the window.
should have been a pair of ragged claws,
scuttling across the floors of silent seas.
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.
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.
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?
to facilitate their transmogrification into higher being, are
encouraged to disentangle themselves from their especially material
attachments, but also emotional dependencies.
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
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.
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.
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
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?
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
the esteemed Basho: “How admirable he who thinks not.”
Te-shan: “Only when you have no thing in your mind and no
mind in things are you vacant and spiritual, empty and marvelous.”
to the present from Alan Watts: “Zen awareness is attended
by the most vivid awareness of nondifference between oneself and
the external world.”
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."
shallow reckoning, what is being described above is not enlightenment
but an idiot’s joy.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
from the Amma Ashram:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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:
on a Hot Tin Roof
A Line in the Wilderness
Rooms & Infidels
Idea Will Travel
Reader Feedback Manifesto
Caste the First
Let's Get Cultured
Being & Baggage
The Eclectic Switch
What is Beauty?
In Defense of Heidegger
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